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Secretary's Message

August 1, 2017

Secretary Daly’s Weekly Letter 

Florida students will soon return to the classroom and many school districts are gearing up for the start of the new school year in the weeks ahead. In preparation for the school year, I wanted to share with you that the 2017 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday will begin Friday, August 4 and end Sunday, August 6th.  For more information and a list of qualifying items, please review the Department of Revenue's Tax Information Publication (TIP) on the 2017 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday, as well as the Frequently Asked Questions document. 

It is my hope that all of our students return to school prepared and with the tools they need to have a productive year. I encourage all of you to take advantage of this holiday and help a child in your life achieve academic success.


 Christina K. Daly

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Amy Snow (right) and Maureen Wines (left) for being recognized as the Information Technology (IT) Employees of the Month for June 2017.  Each month, IT recognizes one employee from headquarters and one from the field using a peer nomination process.  Being nominated by their peers speaks volumes to their work ethic and dedication to this agency.


Congratulations to Administrative Assistant Ashley Walker from the Monroe Juvenile Detention Center who earned Employee of the Month honors for the month of July. She was presented the award by Superintendent Vincent Vurro

Pictured above (from left to right): Vincent Vurro. Ashley Walker, Whitley Waymon and Kierstyn Cox. 

DJJ Education Students Create an Anthology that Celebrates Women

The students of Hillsborough Girls Academy participated in A Woman’s Standard, Affirmative Expressions Anthology Project. Affirmative Expressions, headed by Ms. Tierica Berry, is vendor funded by Project Promise. The three-month activity was included as an enrichment activity during the Language Arts/Reading/Writing class at Hillsborough Girls Academy. During that time, the students worked with Ms. Berry and other teachers, including Kheilani Parker and Ricardo Neblett, to create and publish their own collection of stories, poems, letters, and lyrics into a book.

The students produced insightful original works and ideas for the project. They were able to tell their stories of reality without the fear of being ridiculed. Students created the title of the book, the idea for the cover, the chapters/topics of the book, content of the book, and wrote the descriptor of the book. The dedication and determination of these young girls to complete such an honest and well worth read is the result of the support of their teachers, Ms. Berry and facility staff, and the self -motivation exhibited by each of the contributing girls.

The dedication and book signing for “A Day in My Shoes: If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything” was held on June 30 during Family Day at Hillsborough Girls Academy. The book can be purchased at MyAnthologyProject.com for $12.95. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to purchase various items identified by the students on their wish list as approved by the school and facility.

Detention Staff Attends Local Job Fair

Superintendent Ariel Veguilla from the Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) represented our agency during the recent Career Expo hosted by CareerSource of Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Over 150 job seekers attended the expo which included 78 veterans and 16 military spouses. These individuals came from a wide variety of backgrounds from entry level to seasoned professionals. Major Veguilla spoke to prospective job seekers about our agency and the role of a juvenile justice detention officer. 

Probation Staff Collects Canned Goods for Local Non-Profit

Circuit 6 Probation staff coordinated a food drive for The Kind Mouse, a local non-profit with a mission to assist families in transition and their chronically hungry children. The Kind Mouse believes that no hardworking individual should ever feel despair due to economic hardships.

Each probation unit in Circuit 6 was challenged to see which one could collect the most non-perishable food. During the challenge, probationary youth with community service hours were approved to participate and donate cans of food to the cause. Congratulations go to the winning unit, Unit 207, which donated a whopping seventeen boxes of food. A total of 36 boxes of food were donated. President of The Kind Mouse, Gina Wilkins, picked up the donated food and was very thankful for the hard work of our staff. 

DJJ youth from AMIkids programs across the state including Gainesville, Jacksonville, Panama City, Pensacola, Fort Lauderdale and Miami attended the annual Presidential Dive trip at John Pennekamp State Park. More than 40 staff members were on-hand to help approximately 50 youth get the most out of the camp. The youth were so enthusiastic about getting into the water and discovering the full potential within.

DJJ youth from AMIkids of the Emerald Coast recently attended a “touch pool” presentation at Henderson Beach State Park. The youth had the ability to handle a variety of sea life and creatures living in their local waters. From fiddler crabs to angel’s breath, Park Volunteer Doe Schuster, who has been conducting these presentations for several years, explained and showed the AMIkids many different and unique types of sea life.  Many AMIkids got to pick up these sea creatures for a close up and personal look. The students enjoyed their education field trip and were eager to write about their experiences when they got back to school. 

Recently, Transition Specialist Jonathan Balcar transported a Project Connect youth to the beach to volunteer with Arc Surf Camp.  Arc Surf Camps give at-risk, inner-city youth the opportunity to experience the beach and learn about surfing and water safety.  Youth AB was able to help teach these kids water safety while completing community service hours and learning a lot about teamwork and responsibility.  He loved the positive experience he gained in helping others and wants to volunteer again.  The director of the camp appreciated his help and was grateful to have him on board.  Project Connect praises the important services that Arc Surf Camp provides at-risk youth and values their partnership! 

Reform Specialist Natalie Montgomery and other staff members from the Circuit 10 probation office attended the “Refuse to Lose” Youth Summit hosted by the City of Lakeland. Refuse to Lose is an initiative by the City of Lakeland’s Gang Task Force, which focuses on steering kids away from drugs and gang violence. A total of 292 youth were in attendance and each one of them took a pledge that they “Refuse to Lose” to teen violence, drugs and peer pressure. The event also included a parents workshop with guest speaker Reverend Kenneth Irby from St. Petersburg.

Pictured above (from left to right):  Lysa Antoine, Wakesha Phidd, Natalie Montgomery (RS), Tonya Jackson, Sarah Legg, Joseph Vazquez,

The Circuit 17 Juvenile Assessment Center held their annual barbeque on July 20. The four agencies located within the facility including DJJ, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Juvenile Services Program, Inc. and the Broward County Juvenile Predisposition Services participated in the barbeque where ribs, chicken, burgers and hot dogs were served. Sargent Anthony Thomas manned the grill while Jean Peters assisted in the kitchen. Everyone walked away with a full belly and a smile on their face.


DJJ youth from the Eckerd Kids Project Bridge in Circuit 10 had the opportunity to have a fun day at Fun Spot. The students joined Keeping It Real Ministries (KIRM) and mentors on a sponsored field trip.  Students were able to ride any attraction they wanted, unlimited!  Students assisted with passing out lunches and cleaning up after lunch. Both young men said they had a blast!

Prevention Staff Hits the Road to Discuss DJJ Circuit Advisory Boards 

DJJ staff from the Offices of Prevention and Probation as well as the Chairman of the Circuit 2 Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board (CAB) visited city and county officials in Jefferson and Wakulla counties to encourage participation in statewide CAB activities. These visits were to ensure that youth and families of Circuit 2 reap the greatest rewards from the juvenile justice programs designed to assist all deserving parties.

On July 6, Alice Sims, assistant secretary, Office of Prevention and Victim Services; Marcus Smith, policy chief; and Donnie Read, Circuit 2 CAB chair; and Michael Byrd, Circuit 2 reform specialist met in Monticello with Jefferson County Sheriff David Hobbs and later with Jefferson County Commission Chair Gene Hall.

On July 13, Eugene Morris, state & federal director; Donnie Read and Michael Byrd, met in Crawfordville with Wakulla County School Superintendent Robert Pearce and Vicki Benton, administrative assistant to the superintendent. They also visited the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office.

The members of the Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Boards serve as advisors to the Department of Juvenile Justice and work closely with DJJ staff to plan for services that meet the identified needs of juveniles and families within the local community.

Statewide Community Engagement Coordinator Verla-Lawson Grady set up a DJJ educational display at the Community Based Ministries, Inc. (CBMI) 6th annual Dance You Out the 4 Walls conference called “Praise in the Park,” at Cascades Park in Tallahassee. The mission was to “win souls, inspire, build character, promote positive self-esteem, leadership and to impact the community by expressing God’s word and love through drama and dance.”

Pictured above (from left to right): Chad Harvey, his dog Cali, and Verla Lawson-Grady.

The evening was packed with live entertainment, vendors, information booths, food trucks, and family fun. The goal was to bring the community together for an evening of entertainment and fellowship.  A very special thank you to Selena Boles, DJJ Human Resources, who served as one of the coordinators/steering committee members. Selena is also the mother of Gabrielle and Dwuan Boles, who are a part of the Dance Ministry.

Additionally, Chad Harvey with DJJ Support Services attended and volunteered to assist at the DJJ booth along with his canine companion, Cali.  Other DJJ staff in attendance were Lisa Leath, contract manager supervisor, whose son Ezra is a part of the Dance Ministry and Nikita Wiggins, contract manager. This event provided an opportunity to network with others like CBMI, who desire to make a difference in the community.

DJJ Headquarters Staff Tour Residential Facilities

Recently, DJJ headquarters staff from the Office of Research and Data Integrity and the Office of Legislative Affairs toured the residential commitment programs in nearby Sumatra, which are operated by Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Inc., the Juvenile Unit for Residential Treatment (JUST), a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 17, and Twin Oaks Academy II, a non-secure program for boys, ages 10 to 13.

Facility Administrator Don Lasseter conducted the tour with assistance from Clinical Director Randi Hardin. The tour showcased the JUST woodshop and welding bay, the Twin Oaks Academy II educational classroom, the youth living quarters for both programs, as well as the facility’s on-site garden and swine program.  Tour participants witnessed the JUST welding class in action, dismantling a donated cast iron tank in order to create one-of-a-kind cast iron fire pits and grills.

According to Katherine Gomez, who organized the tour for DJJ-HQ employees, “The Twin Oaks staff members we met were courteous and professional and obviously love working with the youth. The program’s litter of recently-born piglets was a highlight of the tour.” The facility disposes of its food waste with the help of the resident pigs and it uses non-food compostable waste as organic fertilizer in the garden, which is harvested each day to provide fresh vegetables for the boys in the program. 

Many thanks go to the Twin Oaks staff and residents for their hospitality and to Northwest Regional Director Lori Jernigan, SMA-II Dwight Poole, and Operations Review Specialist Patrice Richardson of the Office of Residential Services for facilitating the tour.

Pictured left (from left to right): Lytha Belrose (Office of Residential Services), Marybel Cortez (JDAI), Don Lasseter (Facility Administrator, Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Inc.), Katherine Gomez (Office of Research and Data Integrity), Michael Maguire (Office of Research and Data Integrity), Allison Reagan (Office of Research and Data Integrity), John Haggerty (Office of Research and Data Integrity), Jasmine Armstrong (Office of Research and Data Integrity), and Sam Kerce (Office of Legislative Affairs). 

Not pictured: Patrice Richardson (Office of Residential Services) and Rosie Hutchins (Office of Research and Data Integrity).


Last week, the young men at Okaloosa Youth Academy (YA), a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 19 which is operated by Gulf Coast Treatment Center, were able to participate in equine-assisted therapy led by one of the program’s therapists.  The therapist uses these horses in her community work with autistic youth. In developing other programming opportunities for the OYA residents, the treatment team decided to bring the horses to the Okaloosa YA campus. 

In equine-assisted therapy, the natural behavior of the horses is used to assist humans in developing problem solving skills, communication skills, increased self-esteem and self-awareness.  Youth learn about the horses’ natural behaviors that keep them safe and how it relates to a human’s own ability to solve problems and maintain personal safety. 

The program begins the process of developing self-esteem through working with horses and overcoming hesitations of working with a large animal, relating that to life circumstances.  Through experiential exercises, the youth learn the importance of effective communication skills, developing and using those communication skills in equine therapy.  In learning about the horses’ body language and their responses to the humans working with them, utilizing cognitive-behavioral therapy, the youth can learn about themselves and begin the process to changing thought and behavior patterns.

Over the past 10 months, 12 young ladies have graduated high school from Alachua Academy, a non-secure program for girls, ages 12 to 18 which is operated by Sequel TSI Florida, LLC, with four receiving their standard high school diploma and others obtaining GEDs.

These graduates are from the second graduation ceremony held this year.  This achievement is a result of the commitment and persistence of the students and staff to get the job done! The looks on the girls faces says so many things….” I am somebody”, “I do matter”, “people do care”, and most of all, “I CAN MAKE IT”.

Their self-esteem has been boosted now that they have completed their high school education requirements. Job well done to the young ladies and the Alachua Academy team!

Four youth from Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correctional Center, a secure program for boys, ages 15 to 21 which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, recently transitioned into the next phase of their treatment plans in preparation of program completion. The program held a celebration in their honor that included the youth being invited to the management meeting, where they were praise by administration staff and were even rewarded with a sweet treat of Gobstoppers. The significance of gobstoppers was to remind the youth that they are the only ones who can stop the transition process by going back to their old behaviors and thoughts.

Hastings Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment Program and the Gulf Academy, both of which are non-secure programs for boys and are operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, recently took nine residents to the movie “Transformers.”  They had a great time and enjoyed getting out and seeing a first-run movie in a theater. One youth commented that “The Transformers movie was awesome because the action was non-stop”.

Hastings and Gulf Academy have also recently partnered with Keep Putnam Beautiful to maintain the county’s urban bike trails. Last week, six youth participated in ensuring the safety and cleanliness of the bike trail. The youth were able to cover a two-mile radius and pick up a large amount of trash. The youth have expressed their new-found understanding of the importance of not littering.

Later that day, 12 youth were rewarded with a meal at the local Golden Corral because they exhibited positive behavior and progression in the program and also because they completed the requirements of the activity risk assessment. The youth enjoyed many helpings of food including steak, shrimp, and a variety of desserts. All of the youth left satisfied and expressed their desires to go back as soon as possible.

Earlier this month, recreation therapist Robert Griggs with the Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18 which is operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, LLC, scheduled three professional barbers from “Divine Cutz” in Jacksonville to come to the facility and cut the hair of 20 residents at the facility. The youth really enjoyed getting their hair done by professionals.  The program plans to have these barbers on call as needed. The youth are constantly reminded that people assess you based on how you look before you say a word.

Also at Duval Academy, two of the youth recently took the GED test. They have been preparing for the test for weeks and were nervous and excited to take this test. The test was administered by Mr. Dick Sidney


Pictured above (from left to right): Mr. Michael Forrester, Ms. Patricia Richardson, the two youth taking the test, Mr. Dick Sidney, and Principal Robinson.

Finally, five youth from Duval Academy went to Golden Corral and had an excellent time. These youths are level four youth who have been performing at high levels in all areas of the program. They stuffed themselves full with delicious food and had a very enjoyable day. 

Twice in July, five youth from Spring Lake Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 15 to 18 which is operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, went to Desoto Middle School to participate in the Summer Fun Camp. The School District of Desoto County, in association with the United Way of Desoto, sponsored the summer enrichment program. This was an opportunity for the students to tap into their creative and athletic abilities as they enjoyed classes full of fun learning experiences. The youth were praised for their sportsmanship and positive attitude.

Also happening at Spring Lake Youth Academy, eight youth got the opportunity to participate in a football camp located at Brewer Park in Arcadia, FL. The youth got the chance to develop the fundamentals of the game; as well as learn teamwork, leadership, and self-discipline.  The boys had an awesome time integrating with the community and they were praised for their sportsmanship and positive attitudes.