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Secretary's Message

December 17, 2019


Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

The holiday season is a special time of celebration, where together with our friends, family and loved ones we reflect on the year and look towards the future. I want to thank our DJJ staff, providers, partners, and friends for their dedication and support of our agency this past year. DJJ has achieved great success this year which could not be accomplished without a deep commitment to provide the very best services to Florida’s youth and families. I would like to wish each and every one of you a safe, happy, and joyous holiday season and a wonderful new year.


Secretary Simone Marstiller



Staff Announcements and Kudos

josie tomayo receiving awardCongratulations to Chief of Staff Josie Tamayo who recently won the Judges Choice award at the Legal Services of North Florida’s Dancing with the Stars fundraiser in Tallahassee. The event paired ten local celebrities with professional dancers from Fred Astaire Dance Studios to compete to raise funds to provide free legal aid to those who need it most in our communities. In addition to winning the Judges Choice, Josie raised an astonishing $7,200 for the cause! In total, this event raised $118,000 for Legal Services of North Florida.








Captain Gabrielle Mashburn, Captain Mahogany Brown, JDOS Deatric Beckton and JDOS LaShanda MingCongratulations to Juvenile Detention Officer Supervisor (JDOS) Deatric Beckton for being named the Employee of the 1st Quarter North Region. JDOS Beckton shows great leadership to all the staff at Leon Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC). She is always willing to offer a helping hand or the guidance needed to complete any task or assignment.







douglas fergerson with awardCongratulations to the Central Region Employee of the Quarter Captain Douglas Fergerson. Captain Fergerson’s leadership at the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center is on display daily, and Captain Fergerson is always present to assist and teach others.











captain zoe sextonCaptain Zoe Sexton of Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center was excited to receive her bracelet for 15+ years of service. Congratulations Captain Sexton on your tenure with the Department!  













Circuit 3 Chief Probation Officer Rebecca Rogers and Assistant Chief Probation Officer John Hancock would like to congratulate Unit 101 Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Desirae Moody and Unit 201 JPO Kent Thompson who were named JPOs of the Year for 2019.  The Circuit held their annual meeting last week at the Lake City Probation Office.  Both Desirae and Kent exemplify the meaning of teamwork and exhibit a high level of care, concern and compassion for others, as well as for the youth and families served.  Also, the following staff were recognized for their years of service with the State of Florida and Department of Juvenile Justice:


5 years of service

JPO Jim Hanusek

SJPO Samantha Hartzog

JPO Dakota Reddish


10 years of service

Secretary Specialist Sheryl Hudson


15 years of service

JPO Cari Dixon


25 years of service

JPOS Alan Hall

SJPO Brad Hatcher


35 years of service

JPOS George Williams


kent thompson and teamdesirae moody and team



















mike shoemaker and cathy lakeThe Circuit 6 Management Team along with Regional Director Cathy Lake recognized Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Mike Shoemaker for his 35 years of service with DJJ.  Mike has accomplished so much during his time with DJJ and is an essential part of the management team in mentoring new JPOs as well as new supervisors. He is very compassionate and always takes the time to assist others. He participates in Pasco County Truancy Court and Pasco County Alliance for Substance Addiction Prevention. He is greatly appreciated and is being celebrated for his dedication to the Department.










alice griggs and teamCongratulations and best wishes to Circuit 1 Juvenile Probation Officer Alice (Faye) Griggs on her retirement from DJJ!  Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor (JPOS) Geneva Davis, JPOS Sabrinia Wallace-Jordan, JPOS Janise Best, and the Circuit 1 staff gathered together to congratulate and extend best wishes to Faye on her retirement.  She has proven herself to be a steadfast and great asset for the last twenty-three years!  Thank you Faye for everything you have done for the youth and communities you have served.  We wish you continued success and enjoyment in your retirement!


Residential Staff Donate Gifts to Seniors

holiday giftsThe Headquarters Office of Residential Services (ORS) chose to participate in the 15th Annual Carol Butler Senior Angel Tree through the Chapter Two Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency. Fifteen years ago this month, Carol Butler created her first “Senior Angel Tree” in the Department of Corrections Central Office. The idea was to assist seniors during the holidays who live in health care facilities and have no family. The ORS team selected two seniors and purchased the items on their wish lists.  Last week, the ORS team gathered together to wrap the gifts with holiday cheer. This opportunity was mutually beneficial and brought great joy to help others in need.  The ORS team looks forward to holding this event again next December! Special thank you to Lytha Belrose for spearheading this joyous event!





broward youth with anti bullying signThe youth and staff at Broward Youth Treatment Center (BYTC), operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, recently recognized Anti-Bullying Week. Whether it’s verbal, physical, online, or even in-person, bullying has a significant impact on a child’s life well into adulthood. BYTC provided youth the opportunity to portray their talent, and two youth created an anti-bullying banner for the program. Two speakers also came and shared how vital it is to be a part of the solution in a bullying situation.




brooksville staff and graduateBrooksville Youth Academy, a non-secure program operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, celebrated their most recent graduate, Youth R. He successfully passed all the required GED tests on his first try. The ceremony took place 11/25/19, a date with great significance for Youth R. Not only was this Youth R.’s graduation date, but it was also his release date from Brooksville Youth Academy. His peers, program staff, teachers, school board members, and family members were all in attendance to congratulate him and wish him continued success.




logoEarlier this month, Residential Commitment Managers and Chiefs visited DJJ HQ for a meeting with Secretary Simone Marstiller.  Also, in attendance were Deputy Secretaries Timothy Niermann and Heather DiGiacomo. This visit provided the team an opportunity to sit down with one another to discuss all things residential services and to conduct a fruitful questions and answers session. Following the meeting, commitment staff were able to take a tour of the JUST/Twin Oaks located in Sumatra. Both experiences allowed commitment staff to spend time with one another in a face-to-face setting instead of the normal email and phone contact.


Staff at Okaloosa Youth Academy (OYA) received the following letter of thanks after their most recent facility Family Day:


To all or whom it may concern,


I would like to take a moment to recognize excellence in humanity and the caring service of our youth by all the staff at Okaloosa Youth Academy. My family and I are blessed to have everyone at OYA for guiding and providing care for our children and support for the parents. As you all know, this is a very stressful and heart wrenching time for all the children and our family’s lives. Your commitment, work ethic, and care are very gratefully appreciated and has not gone un-noticed.

The Thanksgiving/Christmas luncheon was a great experience. Inspiring hope for our children. We cherish every moment with our kids. The time OYA gave my family to spend together was much needed and sincerely appreciated. (OYA staff was very kind and not required to have this gathering spending their Saturday for others in need!) A very enjoyable time of re-bonding for my family.

All counselors, management, and staff thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Please continue to be patient and passionate. You are tasked with a very difficult and sometimes un-rewarding duty to our youth. I want to tell you that every one of you made a difference in my sons life. I can tell when I talk to him he has grown in confidence, decision making, critical thinking, and humility. I am so happy with this outcome.

Deeply indebted to all your awesome and impressive service.


Proud and loving parents,




Pasco RJDC Decorates for the Holidays

pasco holiday decorThe food service team at Pasco RJDC had fun decorating the dining area for the holidays. Thank you Food Service Director James Vanscyoc, Food Service Worker (FSW) Sonia Rodriguez, FSW Marian Topakian and FSW James Moore for preparing the detention center dining area for the upcoming holidays!






st lucie thanksgivingSt. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center continues to reward youth exhibiting positive behaviors while in detention. Two youth recently had lunch with the facility Major Dedilia Finlayson.  The youth have modeled and maintained positive behaviors over 50 days while in detention.  Lunch was provided by Major Finlayson.

Major Finlayson also rewarded staff at St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center with a Thanksgiving breakfast and dinner. This is an annual event the Major does for the St. Lucie staff. Staff had the opportunity to eat and have fellowship with each other.  A-shift and C-shift were served breakfast while B-shift was served dinner.

st lucie staff thanksgiving

st lucie youthYouth at St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center also celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday by participating in Bingo. The youth received prizes or canteen. Visitation with family members was also conducted on Thanksgiving Day.






volunteerPinellas RJDC recently recognized volunteer Margie Brown who is a member of the Kula for Karma Yoga and Meditation program. Margie comes to Pinellas Detention on Wednesdays and brings a beverage and snack for the girl’s Yoga class. Team Pinellas Proud is honored to have Margie work with the youth and recognized her with a Pinellas Proud pin and the limited-edition drink Tumbler.  Thank you, Margie, Team Pinellas Proud appreciates all that you do.






group drum circlePinellas RJDC would also like to thank Steve Turner of Giving Tree Music, who recently received a grant from Pinellas County and chose Pinellas RJDC as the recipient. Youth are taught communication through drums and meet weekly to learn the traditional ways of communicating through sound. Six youth are participating in this program geared towards the art of communicating. The youth really enjoy this program and look forward to the weekly circle.

book flyerSpecial thanks to the Community Alliance for the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center who organized a book drive in an effort to establish libraries in both the east and west buildings at the detention center.  The Community Alliance is also working to get bookshelves donated as well so that a more formal library room can be set up.






palm beach buffetThis year, Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center hosted another Thanksgiving Dinner for the youth and their parents. They had a total of 40 parents and 30 youth participate. The youth also created a picture wall for everyone to enjoy and to take pictures in front of and cherish this moment. Pictures were also printed for the youth to have in their rooms.









DJJ Staff Partner for Office Food Drive

food collectionPrevention, Detention, Probation, and Residential in the Tampa Bay area partnered to participate in the Kind Mouse 8th Annual Holiday Office Food Drive. The Kind Mouse is a local non-profit organization that feeds chronically hungry children and has fed over 300,000 tummies since inception. This food drive will enable elementary school children to go home with four bags of food, each bag containing 10 items for the holiday break, so the children do not go hungry. 28 very large bins of non-perishable food items were collected and delivered to the Kind Mouse.

Special thanks go out to Circuit 6 Probation, the Central Region Office of Probation, Eckerd Project Bridge, the Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center, Central Region Office of Detention, Prevention Specialist Pat McGhee, TrueCore Behavioral Solutions (Les Peters Academy, Tampa Residential Facility, Hillsborough Girls Academy, Lake Academy, Charles Britt Academy) and Pinellas County School for all the non-perishable food that was collected to feed hungry children. Additional thanks go out to our community agencies who partnered with DJJ to help make this food drive a great success!



toy driveEach year, the Circuit 10 Probation Office participates in a philanthropic event for the holidays.  This year, Circuit 10 joined in the Heartland for Children's Rudolph Round-Up Toy Drive. Circuit 10 Probation staff gathered together and donated toys and other gifts for children of all ages. Heartland for Children is not-for-profit child welfare agency will brighten the holidays for many children in our local foster care system, independent living, and in-home families. The agency serves Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. 




holiday luncheonCircuit 20 Assistant Chief Probation Officer Lut Clarcq hosted an appreciation luncheon for field staff who volunteered to work at the Lee County Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) in Fort Myers. The appreciation luncheon was the opportunity for circuit management to extend the gratitude and appreciation for their volunteerism and being a team-player when the Lee JAC was in need of assistance.  

Circuit management commended each staff member for their amazing work ethic. Their dedication and diligence has not gone unnoticed, rather, they have proven time and time again that we can all work together and carry the vision of our agency in our day-to-day activities. We are absolutely honored to be working with each of them.


Each of the following team members were given a certificate of recognition for their dedication, commitment and being a valuable team-player:


  • JPO Supervisor Sandra Burgado
  • Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Cathy Hillman-Wittwer
  • Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Byron Brown
  • Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Jonathan Gonzalez
  • Circuit 20 Liaison Senior Juvenile Probation Officer Peter Knowler
  • Juvenile Probation Officer Stephanie Wise
  • Juvenile Probation Officer Samantha Hitchcock
  • Juvenile Probation Officer Michelle Luciani
  • Juvenile Probation Officer Nayi Matarazzo
  • Juvenile Probation Officer Danielle Borden
  • Juvenile Probation Officer Justin Clark


youth with basketsYouth M.S. is a client of the Circuit 7 Project Connect program. With the assistance of her Life Coach Mandolyn Rorem, Youth M.S. has been job searching and is positive that she will obtain employment soon.  However, with the challenge of another housing transition recently, the Circuit 7 Project Connect team felt that the family needed a positive boost during the Thanksgiving season.  So, they reached out to the local Daytona community and received donations on behalf of the family to ensure they had a warm and filling Thanksgiving Day meal.  Youth M.S. and her mother were overjoyed at the donation and the Circuit 7 Project Connect team was thankful to help such a wonderful family that is such a pleasure to serve.   




familyYouth O.N. is a 17-year-old young lady who has had to deal with many obstacles in her young life. However, she has been working diligently to overcome these obstacles to her success. Youth O.N. is a very smart young lady and she is making many strides to be a productive and positive role model for her siblings. For Thanksgiving, the Circuit 7 Project Connect team, led by Lead Transition Specialist Monica Simpson, pulled together to provide this family with a full, hearty Thanksgiving meal.  Youth O.N. and her family were very deserving of this donation and very thankful to receive it.  The Circuit 7 Project Connect team was proud to be able to serve such a wonderful family with unlimited potential. 








speaker with youthYouth from AMIkids Tampa recently had the pleasure of meeting with a local businessman, Raphael Vargas, and hear his personal story of perseverance to overcome a troubled childhood. Mr. Vargas runs a very successful real estate investment company, RealStep, and imparted some wonderful insight for our kids!







youth visiting construction companyAMIkids Clay County has a great relationship with Vallencourt Construction Company of Green Cove Springs. They recently hosted another successful career day where they took youth to one of their job sites and showed them every aspect of building a local community from the ground up. Then to top off the day, the boys were allowed to get in some of the equipment and use it under the supervision of the experienced operators. After each one of the boys got to operate the equipment, everyone went back to their office and enjoyed lunch. One of Vallencourt’s supervisors gave an encouraging speech about his personal challenges of growing up in foster care and how you can achieve anything by not giving up and by working hard. Vallencourt left the boys with an open invitation to work with them when they turn 18!

ami kids guest speakerThe youth at AMIkids Greater Ft. Lauderdale had a special guest speaker recently: Ricky Jean Francois, NFL defensive tackle! He spoke to the kids about life’s challenges, overcoming adversity, the importance of your education, and entrepreneurship. He also helped the kids prepare for their upcoming job fair and interviews!








Prevention Staff Donate Holiday Gifts to PACE Youth

Khalisa't Mollins, Volunteer Coordinator - PACE Leon; Eugene Morris, State and Federal DirectorDJJ Prevention team members “adopted” a student from PACE Center for Girls - Leon, a DJJ prevention program in Tallahassee.

Prevention staff got to play Santa Claus for the student, who is a 7th grader that has been at the PACE Center for four months.

In the letter that she addressed to “Secret Santa,” the teen asked for a sketch book. “I like to draw,” she wrote, “because it’s a way to express myself.” She also asked for a pair of Converse athletic shoes. She requested rings because she likes jewelry, air-pods, and Chick-fil-A gift cards.

State and Federal Director Eugene Morris delivered the gifts the teen requested and few surprise items to PACE Volunteer Coordinator Khalisa’t Mollins. The gifts will be delivered to PACE girls at a their holiday celebration party.

Executive Director of PACE Leon Kelly Otte wrote to those who “adopted” girls: “Because of your generous support, the Adopt a PACE Girl for the Holidays program ensures each PACE girl experiences the magic of the holidays and is reminded that people are kind and caring.”

In her letter to Secret Santa, the PACE student wrote: “Thank you for picking me. I hope you have a lovely holiday season!”



In the above photo: Ms. Higgins, Levy County Prevention Coalition program staff, prepares popcorn for youth.Delinquency Prevention Specialist for Circuits 2, 3, and 8 Saba Shariat-Pearce recently conducted a site visit at the Levy County Prevention Coalition in Williston.

The Levy County Prevention Coalition, a DJJ prevention provider, recently worked with local school teachers to implement a program that rewards youth for good behavior. As a reward for their good behavior, several youths were given the opportunity to gather after school to watch a Disney film. As a part of the reward, they were served treats including popcorn and cookies

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Saba Shariat-Pearce was conducting her site visit when the event was taking place and had the opportunity to meet with two youth mentors and toured the classroom.

The Levy County Prevention Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to prevent youth substance use and spread mental health awareness. The Coalition is composed of various community members and leaders that all have one goal in mind: to build and sustain a healthy community for our youth.