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Secretary's Message

February 12, 2019

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter, with the latest on what’s going and what the team is doing across the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. I hope you will take a moment to read about the ways our DJJ staff, providers, and partners are working to improve the lives of Florida’s youth and families and how we are working to make our communities even better.

Please keep sharing your great work, successes, and accomplishments both on and off the clock in serving the youth, families, and communities touched by DJJ. Your stories inspire us all to do more. So, send your good news to news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon.


Secretary Simone Marstiller

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Juvenile Probation Officer Geraldine Cox who was recently named Circuit 19 2018 Employee of the Year. Since becoming a JPO, Mrs. Cox has done an outstanding job. Her work is beyond reproach, she is meticulous with every document she prepares, and completes all assignments with diligence and accuracy. As an employee of the Department, the best words to describe her are dependable, honest, and helpful. She often covers court when the court liaison is not available and covers drug court as needed. JPO Cox is a true professional in her interactions with community stakeholders, court personnel, the public defender, and the assistant state attorney. Above all, she treats everyone with dignity and respect. She embodies the mission of the Department and is a true example of what a juvenile probation officer should be. 

Last week, the Statewide Interagency Review Team conducted its monthly meeting where it honored the Office of Probation’s Director of Policy and Programming Jeannie Becker-Powell for her many years of service and dedication to Florida’s youth. The Statewide Interagency Review Team consists of various state agencies including DJJ, the Department of Children and Families, Guardian ad Litem, and the Department of Health, who staff high level cases involving children who may crossover over into two or more of the member agencies. 

Jeannie Becker-Powell will be retiring from DJJ and will be greatly missed. Thank you for your service to DJJ and the state of Florida Jeannie!

The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RJDC) recently presented Statewide Trainer Jason Pimentel with an honorary “Orange Tough” award for his ongoing support to the center. Mr. Pimentel continues to provide support, encouragement, and leadership to the youth and staff at Orange RJDC and exemplifies what it means to be “Orange Tough.”  

Office of Staff Development and Training Hosts Trauma Informed Care Training

The Office of Staff Development and Training was honored to host a Trauma-Informed Care training event featuring Ms. Tonier Cain in Tallahassee.

Ms. Cain is an international and national spokesperson for trauma, an author, and the subject of the award- winning film “Healing Neen.” She has been arrested 83 times and convicted 66 times and she is a victim, survivor, and a mom. Ms. Cain presented her very compelling life story, which dramatically illustrates the inconceivable resilience of the human spirit. The presentation

was well received by an audience of over 60 headquarters employees.

Ms. Cain’s message of hope reminded us of the heroes work our direct care detention and probation officers do every day and to never forget, “where there is breath, there is hope.”


Probation Youth Build Wheel Chair Ramp for Elderly Woman

DJJ youth with AMIkids Pensacola partnered with the Pensacola Civitan Club to help build a wheel chair ramp on the home of a local elderly woman. The mission of the Pensacola Civitan Club is to build good citizenship by providing a volunteer organization of clubs dedicated to serving individual and community needs with an emphasis on helping people with developmental disabilities. Seeing a need in their own community, the youth used the skills they learned in the vocational construction classes to help get the job done.

AMIkids Greater Fort Lauderdale participated in a weekend of swim training and SCUBA diving certification. The dives were conducted by Gerard Smith, SCUBA Instructor at Greater Fort Lauderdale and Executive Director Felix Collazo.

As the original founding program of AMIkids, AMIkids Greater Fort Lauderdale is dedicated to helping kids discover the potential within themselves, transform their lives, and strengthen our community.

Through their vocational education programming, AMIkids Clay County recently brought nearly 30 youth to an education class at the Jacksonville Zoo. During the trip, the youth were introduced to a variety of animals and discussed careers in the zoology field. The youth also toured the zoo and enjoyed the numerous educational exhibits.

Twin Oaks Project Connect in Circuit 4 recently hosted senior staff from the City of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance (KHA). KHA CEO Joe Peppers, KHA Chief Strategy & Programs Officer Dr. Jennifer Blalock, and KHA Juvenile Justice Services Director Katoia Wilkins visited Project Connect’s Jacksonville offices for a program overview, which was conducted by Area Director Kimberly Hixson. Transition Specialist (TS) Lemar Colleton then took the KHA staff on a service ride along so they could get a first-hand view of how Project Connect delivers services to youth in the community setting. KHA staff were able to view a community action team meeting with one youth/family and were able to observe transition service delivery with four additional youth in their homes. These youth are all receiving services from Project Connect through a contract with the City of Jacksonville that focuses on transition services for youth returning to the city from high/max residential placement.

 Pictured above (from left to right): KHA CEO Joe Peppers, Project Connect TS Lemar Colleton and KHA Director of Juvenile Justice Services Katoia Wilkins.

Circuit 2 Probation would like to recognize and thank Project Connect Transition Specialist Sabrina Cotton for all her hard work, dedication and success with the DJJ youth and families we serve. Mrs. Cotton enjoys a unique rapport with both the youth and their families under DJJ supervision. She epitomizes the family engagement component of Project Connect by ensuring that the family is served, along with the youth on her caseload. She takes the time to consider the restorative justice needs of the family when building the individualized service plan for each youth. She not only ensures that the family has input, but that family goals are included in the plan to build back any trust issues that may have suffered due to the youth’s involvement with the juvenile justice system. Mrs. Cotton’s diligence pays off in the relationships and cooperation she enjoys with the parents of her clients. 

Circuit 4 Reform Specialist Donna Collins recently taught a “Know the Law” class at the Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Duval County, with close to thirty high school youth in attendance. These youth are all currently involved in the after-school program at the Boys and Girls Club, which helps them prepare for employment and adult life after graduation. This “Know the Law” class provides very important information that they can carry with them throughout their adult lives and can assist them in making good choices.   

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Pat McGhee, Juvenile Probation Officers Erica Cruz, Angela McIntosh, and Armoni Clarit from Circuit 6, Special Projects Coordinator Jill Gould and Reform Specialist Adrienne Conwell hosted a Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) discussion at the PACE Center for Girls in Pinellas County. The discussion was held in collaboration with the St. Petersburg Police Department, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Clearwater Police Department and Gulfport Police Department. The moderator for this G.A.A.P. discussion was Judge Patrice Moore. 

The dialogue covered police brutality, entering dangerous situations, attitudes when questioned by police, and legal search/warrant questions. This powerful event truly allowed girls to talk from the heart and develop relationships with the law enforcement officers.  

Detention Staff Participate in Local Job Fair

DJJ staff from the Alachua Regional Juvenile Detention Center attended a veterans dedicated career fair at CareerSource in Gainesville. Captain Robert Loyd, Field Training Coordinator (FTC) Tonya Bell and Administrative Assistant Lillian Simmons spoke to several people about careers with our agency and how to apply. Ms. Simmons explained what was needed on the application to help the process go a little smoother. FTC Bell explained the training and how the process worked while Captain Loyd spoke about being a team player and the important role we all play in the lives of the youth we serve in detention. Alachua RJDC had three openings during the career fair and several applied online and are scheduled for testing this week.

The Circuit 9 Public Defender’s Office is continuing their weekly tradition of sponsoring level three girls and the Honors Mod at the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center with a weekly treat. This past week, the office brought in tacos for the youth to enjoy.

Orange RJDC also recently welcomed nationally renowned speaker, ambassador and singer-songwriter Haley Hunt to the center. Ms. Hunt spent time with the girls at Orange RJDC and brought ice cream for everyone to enjoy.

Prevention Team Host Visit with Olympic Marathon Runner

Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Victim Services Alice Sims teamed up with President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Big Bend Lee Wagner, Area Director Kacey Dennis, and David Yon from the Gulf Winds Track Club to host a meet and greet with Olympic marathon runner Meb Keflezighi and prevention youth. Over 88 youth were in attendance and had the opportunity to hear Olympian Meb speak about setting goals, achieving their goals and working through challenges and adversities. The youth also asked questions during the visit and took pictures.

The meet and greet coincided with the 45th Annual Tallahassee Marathon last week, where Mr. Keflezighi participated in the half marathon.  

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Big Bend is a prevention provider and is a member of the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls, Inc. The Office of Prevention Service provides funding for over 35 Boys and Girls Clubs statewide. 

Pictured above: Alice Sims and Olympian Meb Keflezighi 

It has been an exciting time at the Pace Center for Girls Alachua in the realm of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM). Recently, students in Ms. McTier’s science class had the opportunity to choose a group project on the solar system.

Group 1 chose to depict the phases of the moon on t-shirts. One student wore an orange shirt representing the sun; another wore a blue shirt representing the earth. The rest of the students in the group wore shirts they created with a phase of the moon depicted on it. They then stood in-between the “earth” and “sun” and shared facts with the audience about each phase.

Group 2 chose to do a scratch off solar system model. They drew a model of the solar system and individual objects in the solar system, colored over the template, added a layer of mixed paint and detergent on top of the crayon and finally scratched out the picture underneath. The result was a beautiful colored display of the solar system and all its objects.

Group 3 created a 3-D scaled model of the solar system and displayed it on the ceiling of the classroom.

Group 4 created a 3-D model of planets in the solar system. Students expressed that this project would help them remember planet names and relative positions in the solar system.

Roles were reversed, students became the instructors, and a fascinated audience of staff and students were educated about the vast complexities of our universe. Regardless of the approach, the students were excited to participate in such a creative, collaborative project.

The PACE Center for Girls of Hernando County recently celebrated their one-year anniversary. Many community members came out to the center to celebrate with our girls and staff. This was truly a momentous occasion and a great time was had by all. The tremendous efforts of the center staff over the past year has been nothing short of spectacular. The PACE executive team is so proud of everyone’s accomplishments and the success of this center and all of the young ladies enrolled at this school. This event was crafted out of the tremendous passion PACE has for these girls and the desire for them to be a part of something extremely memorable.

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Pat McGhee spearheaded the 2nd Annual Tots Fashion Show at the Johns Hopkins All Children Hospital Educational & Conference Center in St. Petersburg. Over 127 children and families attended and donations were collected to assist families in need. There was a drama fashion play creating awareness though monologues, singing, dancing and fashion. Guest performers included Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church’s Youth Praise Dancers. Pat works with these tots on a weekly basis on the importance of team building  and self-esteem through “I am” exercises. Pat wanted to work with a younger group to show them the importance of giving back to their community and team building.

Sponsors and partnerships for the show included Florida Healthy Start, National Council Negro Women, Personal Agenda, Style Lab and the House of Make Believe.  

The North Carolina Outward Bound Families in Need (FINS) program recently held their first wilderness expedition of the year. Eight young men gathered in a small welcome circle and took a moment to reflect and acknowledge the outer circle of family members and staff that would be supporting them along their journey. Then they said goodbye to their loved ones and their 20 day journey began. During their 75-mile canoe expedition along the Ocklawaha and Indian Rivers, the group will develop skills in teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, anger management, and self-esteem. All electronic devices were left behind which will allow them the opportunity to connect on a human to human level with staff and peers with no distractions. After the expedition, staff will help the students transfer their newly learned skills into the home and school environment with a six-month follow-up. 

Residential Youth Help Feed the Homeless in Their Local Community  

Seven youth at Columbus Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, volunteered with Women Helping Others of Tampa Bay at Borrell Park. At this community event the youth, along with Recreational Therapist Josh Glanton and Youth Care Worker Rosby Anderson, helped the homeless and less fortunate citizens in the area by serving hot food, drinks, and by passing out essential hygiene items and clothing. The youth were able to help serve about 40 people and made a difference in someone’s life, all while experiencing how good it feels to give back to others.   

Assistant Secretary of Residential Service Laura Moneyham recently led a moment in mindfulness class at HQ, which consisted of strategies to practice mindfulness to assist in calming your breathing and mind during the busiest of days. The staff that participated were able to practice techniques to help them be more mindful in their jobs and personal lives. It was a really good reminder to stop and remember to breath during the hustle and bustle of our day to day. Our many thanks to Assistant Secretary Moneyham and the staff who participated in the class.  

Five students from the Highlands Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, volunteered their time to help the Heartland Horses in Sebring. This program helps individuals with disabilities to improve their confidence, mobility and self-esteem. During this visit, the youth helped repair the fences in the fields for the horses and they removed a tree stump that was in the horse paddock. Recreation Manager C. Gordon and Recreation Therapist Longley helped assist the students.    

Okeechobee Youth Treatment Center, Okeechobee Youth Development Center and Okeechobee Juvenile Correctional Center, which are operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, participated in an annual Spelling Bee. The Spelling Bee competition was hosted by the Washington County school district. The youth were practicing for this special event for several months and were finally able to showcase their knowledge and spelling abilities to the Okeechobee County School Board, their peers, and Washington County school representatives who were all in attendance in the Auditorium at OYTC.

Okaloosa Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Gulf Coast Treatment Center, hosted its 4th Annual Pine Wood Derby Car Races. The race was hosted in conjunction with the program’s exceptional education department, specifically Mr. Hammonds, the program’s wood shop vocational teacher. The 37-participating youth were able to build their own derby cars. The youth were able to learn important skills about craftsmanship and the physics associated with racing. They loved the hands-on activity and the friendly competition. Okaloosa Youth Academy looks forward to their 5th Annual Race next year!

Thirteen girls at Lake Academy, a non-secure program for girls operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, had the opportunity to celebrate their monthly accomplishments with a field day and lunch. The youth celebrated their personal behavior goals, participation in groups, and academic progress. The girls enjoyed a special BBQ lunch and balloon house obstacle course, demonstrating not only can they conquer their daily obstacles in the program, but in the balloon house as well!