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Secretary's Message

January 22, 2019

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Thank you to those of you I’ve met and to others around the state for welcoming me so warmly to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. I am excited to join the team and be a part of our agency’s work in providing needed services for Florida’s youth and families. I am eager to serve alongside all of you as we focus our efforts on improving public safety and helping those among us who face great challenges and adversity get back on the right track. I look forward to meeting the entire team as I travel our great state and to hearing your thoughts on how we can better accomplish our goals of serving Florida’s youth, families, and communities.

Please continue to share your stories and take the time to read the stories of others in the DJJ family who are making a difference. Your stories inspire us and remind us that with hard work and dedication, we can have the greatest impact on those who need our help the most.


Secretary Simone Marstiller 

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Kudos to Juvenile Detention Officer (JDO) Derek Jackson from the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center for his outstanding work using the center’s new behavioral management system. From day one, JDO Jackson has done a splendid job utilizing the level system, putting into practice the knowledge he has gained during his behavioral training. Furthermore, JDO Jackson always has a positive attitude while working with youth and his fellow peers. Thank you JDO Jackson for your dedication, hard work, and for going above and beyond in your duties. 

Probation Youth Go Fishing and Staff Recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Youth from AMIkids Pinellas, AMIkids Tampa and AMIkids Y.E.S. (Youth Environmental Services) participated in a fishing clinic at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach. The group consisted of 15 youth and six staff.

The program started with a general overview of the facilities and activities available at the 6,000 square foot building and the Florida Conservation and Technology Center. A theory presentation with a portion of the Summer Camp Fishing curriculum followed.

The group divided into smaller teams for specific clinics such as casting, de-hooking and measuring. Once the small group workshops were complete, the youth had an opportunity to practice what they learned and catch some fish in the SYYC natural pond. The program ended with the youth working together to drag a seine net through the channels to sample marine life and learn hands on.

Experiential education has been at the core of AMIkids programming from the beginning. Field trips are also a motivational incentive within AMIkids programs.

Twin Oaks’ Project Connect Circuit 5 Transition Specialist (TS) Stacy Baker first met Youth N.M. when she was just shy of her 14th birthday. TS Baker knew Youth N.M. was very interested in braiding hair so she bought her a hair mannequin and enrolled her in the hair braiding course offered by Project Connect.  Unfortunately, Youth N.M. was committed to a residential program however, TS Baker received permission to keep serving Youth N.M. through her commitment program. TS Baker faithfully maintained contact through the residential program staff by writing the youth letters, making phone calls as allowed, and visiting the program to see the youth often. 

When Youth N.M. was released from commitment, she remained on TS Baker’s caseload. During this time, the youth enrolled in school and received her driving permit. Youth N.M. worked very hard on her goals and was determined to rise above her situation.

In December, Youth NM completed her goals and was scheduled for discharge. Discharge day was a sad day for TS Baker, who had grown quite fond of Youth N.M. and her family over the year and a half of assisting them on their journey. TS Baker surprised Youth N.M. with a pair of basketball shoes, something Youth N.M. had at the top of her “one day” wish list. 

This story is indicative of the hard work and complete dedication TS Stacy Baker has for the youth she serves and the legacy she is going to leave behind in transition/aftercare services in Circuit 5.  There are many stories much like this when it comes to Stacy Baker. However, Mrs. Baker and her husband have recently made the tough decision to move back to the upstate New York area to be closer to their grown children and their growing families.  Project Connect is going to miss the grace, faith, humility and basic care for humanity that Mrs. Baker exhibited daily, and her legacy will live through the success of the youth whose lives she touched.      

The Circuit 6 Probation team dressed up in blue for National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on January 11. Staff pledged their solidarity with survivors and victims of this heinous crime and plan to continue raising awareness in the community. In collaboration with St. Petersburg College, Circuit 6 is planning its next Salon Talk, a human trafficking awareness event, to take place in February 2019.

The Circuit 3 Probation Office in Live Oak also raised awareness for Human Trafficking Awareness Day by wearing blue. Our team in Circuit 3 asked that we remember all victims of this terrible crime, and that everyone do their part to spread awareness and help identify and rescue these victims.

Pictured above (from left to right): Jim Hanusek, Desirae Moody, Jeanette Ryder and George William

Circuit 2 Reform Specialist Michael Byrd and Director of Human Trafficking Katherine Gomez joined the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) as they unveiled a new police vehicle wrap in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month. TPD is working to promote education and awareness about human trafficking. The vehicle wrap serves as a perfect opportunity to get the message out, right on the hood of their patrol car, to let the community know that there is local help and resources to deal with this awful crime. 

Prevention Staff Attend Youth Engagement Event

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Jashett Omeally and Community Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady served as panelists during the Close Up “Rally to Tally” event at the Florida State University Center’s Grand Ballroom. Close Up is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that educates and inspires young people to become informed and engaged citizens.

For more than 45 years, Close Up has partnered with schools, districts and organizations across the country to design challenging and hands-on civic, history and government-based educational programs. 

The Close Up “Rally to Tally” program allowed young people the opportunity to travel outside of their home communities, meet new people, develop ideas and exercise their voices in a democracy.  The “Rally to Tally” Program helps students further understand the Florida state government process through hands-on learning and exchanging ideas with other students.  Students leave the program feeling empowered to continue to make their voices heard and government officials are able to engage with a segment of their constituency with whom they may not otherwise interact.  The topics addressed included migrant student opportunities, domestic violence against women, school security and safety and multiethnic inclusion. Students also gave recommended solutions to address their proposed topics.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Willie Smith III, Circuit 5 Reform Specialist Ryan Dorenbush and George Schmalstig from Filter Youth Development hosted a family G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) discussion between youth, parents and local law enforcement at the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Inverness. It was an eventful night, moderated by Mr. Schmalstig, with an outstanding discussion between the Filter youth, parents and deputies from the  Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.

At the end of the night, all participants walked out with greater insight and understanding of each other’s perspectives. Together, we are strengthening partnerships and bridging the gap between youth and law enforcement to enhance positive relationships in the community. These G.A.A.P. discussions build trust with our youth and they need to know that police are a caring part of our community. When we build trust in our youth, we can build legitimacy.  We talk, share, care, and show respect for each other.

DJJ Education Staff Attend CEEAS Unjammed Event

Last month, TrueCore's Miami Youth Academy (MYA) had the pleasure of hosting the Unjammed South Florida program, sponsored by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS). Unjammed blends traditional classroom teaching with technology integration to transform teaching and learning in juvenile justice programs. MYA has been using the Unjammed program since 2016. DJJ Education Director Julie Orange showcased the Unjammed program to several juvenile justice educators and agencies who were interested in using blended learning in their schools.

As a part of Unjammed South Florida, MYA and Miami-Dade Schools are committed to opening internet access to students, while working with CEEAS to put in place smart policies, including filtering and monitoring tools and responsible use agreements with students. MYA lead educator and DJJ’s Juvenile Justice Teacher of the Year Daniel Wynne will work with any programs that would like to visit MYA and to see the potential of this program and experience the technology integration firsthand. 

Residential Youth Take Part in Pet Therapy and DJJ Staff Volunteers with Disney Marathon

Okaloosa Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Gulf Coast Treatment Center, is excited to announce its continued partnership with Pixel Fund to foster puppies within the program. This program is led by head of the Okaloosa Youth Academy Puppy Committee, Substance Abuse Therapist Jesse Hanson. Youth are also members of the puppy committee and bear the primary responsibility for the care of the puppies. This program assists the youth in developing valuable skills such as empathy and responsibility.

Northeast Region Commitment Manager Kristina Picone had the pleasure of volunteering at the annual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. This was her fifth year volunteering at the event, which benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. On Saturday, Kristina worked the half marathon at the water and Powerade stop at the 12.3-mile marker. Sunday’s shift during the full marathon was a food stop at the 20.2-mile marker. While passing out the food and drinks, Kristina and her group cheer on the runners to keep them motivated.

Last week, Miami Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, youth H.E. and D.S. demonstrated empathy and care for Caroline. The youth had fun bathing and grooming the American Kennel Club certified canine under the supervision of staff. The ongoing care for Caroline is an opportunity for the youth to complete community service hours, learn about pet care, and have playful interactions with her.

Also at Miami Youth Academy, beloved master gardeners Tody Davidow and Steve Rawlins from Master Gardeners of Miami Dade made a biweekly visit to work with four youth, checking on the tomatoes, bush beans, scallions, collard greens and broccoli. They imparted invaluable lessons about their harvests. The youth harvested scallions, broccoli and tomatoes to enjoy over the next several days. Special thanks to the master gardeners and Physical Plant Worker Garfield White for supporting the youth.

Detention Center Welcomes State Representative and Youth Achieve Academic Success  

Congratulations to the students from the Duval Regional Juvenile Detention Center who were recognized for their outstanding academic achievements in English, math and science. We are so proud of these youth who have strived to make an extra effort in the classroom.

The Brevard Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) held a holiday luncheon for youth and their parents during visitation hours. The luncheon consisted of sliced ham, turkey, yams, macaroni and cheese, green beans, potatoes, gravy, and stuffing. Chief Probation Officer Denise Devlin and her talented granddaughter Isabella also came to the center to provide some entertainment. Isabella played the Ukulele and sang songs with the youth.

In addition, the Brevard RJDC held a general staff meeting to conduct their annual fire extinguisher training. The training was provided by Lieutenant Barry Pettingill of the Brevard County Fire and Rescue Department. Once the training was completed, Major Margie McKinney held a raffle and there were several gift cards, gift baskets and other surprises given away to some lucky winners. After the meeting, a nice pot luck dinner was provided and all staff enjoyed good food and fellowship.

The Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) welcomed newly elected State Representative Juan Fernandez-Barquin to the facility for a tour. The facility had the opportunity to show off their recently remodeled mods as well as the HOPE Mural project which can be seen throughout the grounds of the facility.

Following the tour, Representative Fernandez-Barquin, who represents District 119 in Miami-Dade, along with local and regional administration, gathered in the conference for a wrap up session.  

In attendance during the tour (pictured to the left): Monroe RJDC Superintendent Samuel Thelon, Miami-Dade RJDC Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wallace, Miami-Dade RJDC Superintendent El Fance, State Representative Juan Fernandez-Barquin, Miami RJDC Assistant Superintendent Duviel Rosello, and Chief of Detention Services South Region Vincent Vurro. 

Also happing at Miami-Dade RJDC, the detention center recently received some new furniture for their mods and common areas. The softer, more appealing look is a part of DJJ’s ongoing trauma informed care practices.