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Secretary's Message

March 4, 2019

Department of Juvenile Justice’s Weekly Letter

Welcome to our weekly letter, with the latest on what’s going on 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

On Friday, February 15, 2019 juvenile justice detention officer graduations were celebrated for officers attending the Hillsborough and Valencia College Academies.

The Hillsborough graduation took place at the YBOR Campus of Hillsborough Community College and celebrated the success of 18 graduates. The guest speakers for the event were SMA II April Walker and Major Eris Womack from Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention (RJDC) offered the closing remarks. The class president was Jack Duvall from Pasco RJDC and the class motto was “One goal, one mission, one truth. Saving the lives of youth!”

Pictured above: Xavier Bonitto, Nickevia Chapalet, Luis Colon, Jack Duvall, Jairus Gainey, Natalie Gibson, Brett Holland, Jacqueline Mack-Stevenson, Willie Muhammad, Lindsey Norberg, Myia Otkins, Nelson Pabon-Rosario, Stephanie Shirley, Joseph Sigismondi, Niasya Walker Hinkson, Matthew Westfall, Christopher Young, Serge Zeze

The Valencia graduation took place at Valencia Community College School of Public Safety and celebrated the success of 15 graduates. The guest speaker for the event was Major Margie McKinney from Brevard RJDC. Captain Derrick Cason from Brevard RJDC offered the closing remarks. The class president was Roy Gibson from Brevard RJDC and the class motto was “Locking Arms Strong.”

Pictured above: Back Row Robert Burns, Brian Daly, Jeremy Jackson, Alexander Burke, Terrence Sturdivant. Middle Row: Roy Gibson, Dylan Lucio, Kendra Guilford-Scott, Janee Palmer, Lamar Dabney. Front Row: Angel Balay-Velez, Rose Christian, Gavrielle Touzalin, Freddy Morales, Margaret Jackson

On Friday, March 1, 2019 a juvenile justice detention officer graduation was celebrated for officers attending the Academy at the Alachua Service Center.

The graduation took place at the service center and celebrated the success of 17 graduates. The guest speaker for the event was Captain Robert Loyd from Alachua RJDC. The class president was Daniel Smith from Alachua RJDC, and the company commander was Troy Starling also from Alachua. The class motto was “Right, Wrong or indifferent; We have the wisdom to know the difference.”

Pictured above: Jarvis Bellamy, Patricia Brown, Drew Cossa, Tatum Desin, Jerry Huntington, Dwight Lancaster, Henry Miley, Jr., Isaac Morton, Jennifer Schultz, Dontay Sheppard, Daniel Smith, Troy Starling, Jamie Tartick, Johnny Thompson, Frankie Timmons, Antonio Williams

Congratulations to Circuit 16 Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Victoria Salazar who was named the circuit’s Employee of the Quarter for the last quarter of 2018. JPO Salazar is dedicated to her work with Upper Keys youth and does an exemplary job within the circuit. Circuit 16 and our agency are proud to have you as a valuable member of our team. 

Congratulations to Food Service Worker Sherri Henry from the Brevard Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was named the Food Service Worker of the Month. Ms. Henry previously worked in a school cafeteria and was a food and beverage manager at a Wawa for 10 years.

Ms. Henry also serves at the acting food service director at the detention center. Ms. Henry is always willing to step up and help when it is needed. Thank you Ms. Henry for all of your hard work!

Congratulations to Facility Training Coordinator Shelita Jones from the Brevard Regional Juvenile Detention Center who was named Employee of the Month for the Central Region of Detention Services. Sheila has over 10 years of experience and takes her job seriously. She became a certified PAR instructor in the Central Region and recently has become a certified CPR instructor. She is a fountain of knowledge and has a special talent for teaching. She is respected and loved by the staff that she trains. Shelita always makes sure that she is available to answer any questions long after a trainee has moved on and completed the academy. She also assisted in training Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center trainees for several months.

Although training is her number one priority, Shelita does much more for the team. She is always willing to provide coverage when the facility needs her, including when she provided coverage during Hurricane Irma last year. Shelita does all of this without complaint. We are glad to have her as a part of our team. 

Probation Staff Hold Salon Talk Event And Youth Take a Class in Etiquette

DJJ youth with the Eckerd Connect Project Bridge program celebrated Black History Month at their facility. Youth answered questions pertaining to some of the most influential men and women in U.S. History. Using the Jeopardy format, youth did their best to earn prizes, score the most points and increase their understanding of the role diversity has had in our country.

DJJ youth with Eckerd Orlando took part in a dining etiquette session with guest Barbara Gaines, who is the founder and president of “A Sense of Etiquette.” As a part of the experience, youth were waited on by Project Bridge staff who provided a delicious lunch. The youth learned about general dining etiquette, how to treat their server, and how to conduct themselves during business meetings at a restaurant. Youth reported the event was very insightful and something they will remember each time they dine.

Youth from Twin Oaks Juvenile Development’s Liberty-JUST program, in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club of Tabula Rasa, recently conducted a career exploration event and sharpened their vocational skills by volunteering to help a local church with Hurricane Michael repairs. Youth were afforded the opportunity to visit the City of Blountstown Fire Station to observe the firefighting equipment and vehicles up close. They attended a thorough briefing conducted by Blountstown Fire Chief Ben Hall on the fire service industry.

From there, the youth went to First Baptist Church of Blountstown to assist in repairs to the church’s youth ministry facilities. The church sustained over $300K in damages due to Hurricane Michael and have been unable to use the youth ministry rooms since that time. With a recently installed new roof , the rooms were ready for new ceiling tiles to be installed before the carpet could be replaced. The youth from Liberty-JUST used the opportunity as a working vocational lab whereby they could gain on-the-job experience in a specific vocational task. The youth were able to install ceiling tiles in over 1,000 square feet and prepared the rooms for the installation of carpet at a later date. Their efforts were not only valuable for their own vocational training but were much appreciated by the church staff.  

Senior Juvenile Probation Officers Tonya Emsweller and Charlie Robinson along with Juvenile Probation Officers Tearra Berry, Jimmy Close and Ofelia Dennis from Circuit 13 attended the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office 2019 Black History Month program entitled “Being the Bridge.” Sheriff Chad Chronister, along with prominent members of the community, gave inspiring speeches about “Being the Bridge” in the community. It was a celebration that was full of food, laughter, dance, and inspirational messages from diverse members of the Hillsborough County community.

Pictured above (from left to right): JPO Ofelia Dennis, SJPO Charlie Robinson, Lt. Anthony Collins (HCSO), SJPO Tonya Emsweller, JPO Jimmy Close, and JPO Tearra Berry

The Circuit 16 Probation team held a surprise baby shower for Reform Specialist Anna Mason and her husband for the upcoming arrival of their new baby boy. Juvenile Probation Officers Esther Noel and Jebreal Jones, Chief Probation Officer Elaine Thompson and Secretary Specialist Michelle Whitehead planned the event for months and made sure everything went perfectly.

Probation and Prevention staff in Circuit 6 partnered with St. Petersburg College Center for Public Safety to host its fourth annual Salon Talk in St. Petersburg. Salon Talk is a human trafficking awareness workshop geared towards hair and nail salons, as well as the larger business community.  Approximately 80 attendees obtained valuable information from a presentation provided by Zacchary Garrand with the Department of Homeland Security. The talk was followed by a panel discussion which featured experts in the subject of human trafficking and included DJJ’s own Tina Levene. A human trafficking survivor also shared her story and a corporal from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office concluded with a Call to Action. St. Petersburg’s local paper, the Weekly Challenger, captured the highlights of this successful awareness event. Circuit 6 would also like to thank the National Council of Negro Women for providing the delicious lunch.

The Circuit 6 Probation team served as a collaborating partner for a meeting entitled Community Connections: the Opioid Crisis and the Faith Community. This amazing event was held at Anona United Methodist Church and brought awareness, information and resources to the community through the faith-based network. The day consisted of a key note speaker who provided the attendees with a wealth of information on the opioid crisis in Pinellas County. There was also a panel discussion with representation from law enforcement, local social service agencies and substance abuse experts. In addition, a survivor was a member of the panel gave his testimony of personally going through this crisis. Eckerd Connects presented the Call to Action as it relates to the number of kids coming into state care due to this crisis and the dire need for foster homes.  There was a wide array of resource tables for attendees to obtain information on the services provided in Pinellas County as it relates to substance use/abuse. Approximately 280 people attended this event, with 65 congregations in attendance and 87 social service agencies. 

Probation staff in Pinellas County met with the Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement (HOME) team to educate each other on their roles and the goals of each entity. HOME consists of a team of 16 officers and crime analysts from nine different agencies working together to provide intensive surveillance and monitoring of the county’s most serious teen re-offenders.

The focus was on promoting collaborative efforts to implement effective community-based interventions for youth through open and effective communication. Pinellas County juvenile probation officers and law enforcement officers recognize the necessity to work together to ensure the success of youth and the safety of the public and officers.

Probation staff in Circuit 20 participated in a training offered by the Cape Coral Police Department along with staff from the Circuit 20 State Attorney’s Office. The training focused on the current issues with new methods of hiding THC content in vaping and other household items. Sergeant Carson from Cape Coral Police Department is kind and gracious to offer this training and will be providing additional training in the future.

Office of Prevention Hosts Personal Safety Training

The Office of Prevention recently hosted a safety training class conducted by Sergeant Maria Mercurio from the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) at DJJ Headquarters. Sgt. Mercurio said personal safety is everyone’s business. Sgt. Mercurio is the TPD Property Crimes Unit/Rape Aggression Defense Coordinator and offered valuable tips to stay safe at home, work, while shopping, traveling and elsewhere.

Sgt. Mercurio’s words of advice: lock doors to vehicles and homes; trust your instincts; know your neighbors; report suspicious activity; be aware of surroundings; and don’t put yourself in harm’s way.

The safety tips offered by Sgt. Mercurio also covered self-defense awareness. She encouraged participants to identify potential dangers, visually scan parking lots; and to verbally de-escalate potentially violent situations before they intensify.

After more than 20 years in law enforcement at Florida State University and TPD, Sgt. Mercurio knows the community needs someone with a vested interest in personal safety, crime prevention and watching out for their neighbors.

Pictured above: Sgt. Maria Mercurio (left) receives an award from Alice Sims, Assistant Secretary, Prevention & Victim Services

Residential Staff Celebrate the Opening of New Program in Ocala

The culinary arts program at Dove Academy, a non-secure program for girls operated by Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, prepared food to be served at the Tables of Love event. The event was a Pre-Valentine’s dinner where men served dinner to the female guests. The evening included guest speakers, music, and acting. Five youth from the Dove Academy volunteered to prepare and plate food at the event. The youth and staff had a wonderful time enjoying a night out while giving back to the community!  

Assistant Secretary for Residential Services Laura Moneyham and Northeast Regional Director Billy Starke visited Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel.  They had the opportunity to meet the program’s advisory board, who is very active in providing services to the youth and scheduling activities in the community. Partnerships are very important to ensuring the youth have resources that will assist them in changing their lives in commitment and as they return to their communities. Thank you to our advisory boards for all they do for our youth! 

Residential Northeast Regional Director Billy Starke participated in "Real Men Read" at Biscayne Elementary School in Jacksonville. This program seeks to encourage the students to read, promote love of reading, and celebrate the contributions of men in our society. More than thirty-five men from all walks of life participated in the program and read to multiple classes. The students were energetic and excited to see the men involved in the process. Director Starke read to Mrs. Byard's first grade class. Reading is fundamental and a picture is worth a thousand words!

Youth Opportunity Investments (YOI) recently opened a first of its kind program in Ocala. The new program, Center for Success and Independence – Ocala, is not only going to help up to 72 youth with mental health and substance abuse needs, but it will also incorporate an equine vocational component to include horses onsite at the program. Partnering with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, this unique program will allow youth to interact with horses in a therapeutic and vocational setting under the supervision of an equine program director. This is an exciting new initiative for DJJ and Youth Opportunity Investments.

Youth at the program will be clothed in Nike or Under Armour clothing that they will be able to take home with them once they graduate from the program. YOI believes that the youth will take pride in wearing these uniforms and this will help them to buy into the program culture right off the bat. Youth will have the opportunity to earn the right to be housed on an Honor’s dorm. The Honor’s dorm will allow youth to have their own room and customize the room to their liking. This dorm will also assist with transitions and prepare the youth to be re-established into their community appropriately. Center for Success and Independence – Ocala will also provide innovative youth incentives such as a surprise incentive day hosted by program administrators, Big Mac Mondays, and offsite community incentives utilized to motivate the youth to strive for their very best while completing the program.

Plans are in development to build the barn that will house the equine program. The program will be the first of its kind in Florida, and YOI believes this will help to open new doors not only in Florida, but throughout the country to serve youth who are in need of a new start.

Hastings Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment Program and Gulf Academy, both non-secure programs for boys and are operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, had 10 youth attend and participate in the 9th Annual Palatka Classic Airplane and Car Show. The youth completed community service hours and also met and communicated with Palatka’s Chief of Police Jason Shaw. The youth enjoyed themselves while giving back to the community through restorative justice.

Youth at Hastings and Gulf Academy Program are now provided the opportunity to spend weekends at home enjoying their family and friends while sharing the lessons learned and new skills they’ve developed. Five youth earned a home pass and one youth’s probation officer was so excited about the request that she walked the request over to the court immediately. When the youth received the approval, he was overwhelmed with joy. Another youth’s mother was overcome with joy to merely be able to have him home for the weekend and care for him during the three days of his visit. This incentive has helped the youth to stay focused on completing their treatment plan and continue exhibiting positive behavior with the expectation of receiving special privileges.

The youth at Bartow Youth Academy and Polk Halfway House, both of which are non-secure programs for boys and are operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, recently participated in football and basketball tournaments against each other. Polk Halfway House’s assistant facility administrator, Mr. Coles and Bartow Youth Academy assistant facility administrator, Mr. Dixon got together to create this wonderful sporting event between the youth. This was a great way for the youth at both programs to practice teamwork and sportsmanship. Youth that were not playing in the game were very encouraging of their peers. Bartow Youth Academy won the football game; however, the Polk Halfway House boys beat the Bartow Youth Academy boys in basketball. All of this made for a very fun event and the youth had a great time.

Miami Youth Academy (MYA), a non-secure program for males operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, welcomed many families, volunteers, interns, community partners, and the Miami Youth Academy staff to their 2019 First Quarter Family Fun Day.

The amazing education partner Miami Dade County Schools – Office of Alternative Outreach did an exceptional job with supporting and interacting with the families. The Recreation Therapist Arielle Deverson oversaw the three-day Titans-led preparations, and then hosted a truly interactive three-hour family event loaded with interactive activities, trivia games, prizes, and special treats for all guests and the Titans. Vocational Educator Debbie Sanchez did an amazing job with four Titans in the kitchen baking assorted sweet treats for the families and Titans to enjoy after the provided lunch.

The program ensures there is something for every participant to enjoy and the event is capped with a family photo and thank you note.

Special thanks to the program’s education team and MYA staff for supporting the youth and guests. Thank you also to the program’s volunteers/mentors Michael Marion, Jonathan Molina, Charles Brito, and Fernando Valdes for participating in the special festivities with the Titans.

Detention Center Opens New Soft Room for Youth

The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center has recently opened a soft room on the east side of the center. The room is designed to assist the detention center’s mental health department when dealing with youth in crisis.

In addition, the Orange RJDC held their inaugural meeting of the detention center’s advisory board. The board received an update on the progress the detention center has made during the last year, set some goals to achieve, started a list of projects, and began moving forward on establishing a partnership between the community and the detention center. The shared goal of all involved is to give the Orlando community a detention center that we can all be proud of!

Pictured above (from left to right): Central Region Director Monica Gray, Maura Smith (Retired Juvenile Court Judge), Major Adrian Mathena (Superintendent of the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center), Alberta Deering (Orlando Program Director for Kula for Karma), Captain Reginald Allen (Assistant Superintendent of the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center), Dan Quinton (Haley Hunt’s Life Group), Red Winderweedle (Garden of Grace), Karen Estrin (Women League of Voters), Tammy Druley (Women League of Voters), Tara Salmieri (PlanActive Studio), and Mike Luzinski (Pastor). Also present but not pictured: Phil Zeman (CenterState Bank), Kristen Richardson (C9 DJJ Assistant Chief Probation Officer), Prita Chhabra (Community Based Care) Kristein Falen (Kula for Karma), and Juvenile Public Defenders Sarah Krantz, Joanna Opato, and Bree Lawrenson. 

The Okaloosa Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently hosted a party to celebrate level three youth who have maintained positive behavior. The party included food, punch, video games and music. All of the youth had a great time. We would like to thank Corporals Angel Sanchez and Judy Tavae who came out to spend time with the youth as well as Sergeant Nikita Kirkland for being the DJ during the event.