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Secretary's Message

April 1, 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


First Lady Casey DeSantis Honors 2019 DJJ Youth Ambassadors


Last Tuesday, First Lady Casey DeSantis honored the 2019 DJJ Youth Ambassadors at the Florida Governor’s Mansion in celebration of Youth Success Day. Joining the First Lady in honoring this year’s ambassadors was Secretary Marstiller, DJJ leadership, community partners and members of both the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation (FJJF) and Florida Juvenile Justice Association (FJJA). Governor Ron DeSantis also proclaimed March 26, 2019 as Youth Success Day in Florida!

Each Youth Ambassador shared their story and how they were able to overcome adversity and change their lives. Youth Ambassadors each had their pictures taken with First Lady DeSantis who recognized the remarkable achievement and great success they had made and will make in the future.

First Lady DeSantis and Secretary Marstiller Youth Ambassador Savannah Frietze and First Lady DeSantis
Pictured Above: First Lady DeSantis and Secretary Marstiller  Youth Ambassador Savannah Frietze and First Lady DeSantis
 Youth Ambassador Rontarrious Hughes and First Lady DeSantis  Youth Ambassador Timmy Lee and First Lady DeSantis
Youth Ambassador Rontarrious Hughes and First Lady DeSantis Youth Ambassador Timmy Lee and First Lady DeSantis


Our 2019 DJJ Youth Ambassadors are as follows:

Savannah Frietze
Savannah has faced challenges from a very young age and has been involved in both the foster care and delinquency systems. Savannah was committed to a juvenile residential commitment program and after successfully completing the program, she was placed on post-commitment probation. Since that time, she is living independently through the Children in Crisis Independent Living Program, excelling in her classes and is looking for part-time employment. Savannah has also met with a local Marine Corps recruiter to discuss enlistment after completing school.

Rontarrious Hughes
Rontarrious attends the AMIkids Gadsden’s after school program where he receives prevention services. Rontarrious has faced difficult challenges in his life, particularly when it comes to his family, but success for Rontarrious means overcoming these adversities. While at AMI, Rontarrious has earned the rank of master sergeant, he is a member of Students Against Drunk Driving, and at AMIkids Winter Challenge in January, he was awarded the Hartwell Leadership Award for exhibiting exceptional leadership qualities. Rontarrious plans to attend Tallahassee Community College.

Timmy Lee
Timmy has faced many challenges, including spending time in foster care due to a house fire that almost destroyed his family home. Even though the environment Timmy found himself in was at times difficult, he did not allow it to define who he was as a person. Timmy has experienced challenges at times, but with the efforts of the local Boys & Girls Club and the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, combined with self-will, he has become a hardworking, inspiring, and empowering young man. When it was announced that Lacoochee Elementary School in Pasco County may close, Timmy knew the devastating impact this could have on his tight-knit community. He attended school board meetings, created support groups, and even spoke at the final hearing regarding the school closure. The school board decided to keep Lacoochee Elementary School open. Today, Timmy is the leader of the “Improve Lacoochee Trilby” group that meets annually to discuss what can be done to progress the community he calls home.



DJJ 2019 Youth Ambassadors with Secretary MarstillerThat same evening, Secretary Marstiller, the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, members of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, legislators, and community partners honored the 2019 DJJ Youth Ambassadors during the Florida Juvenile Justice Association’s legislative reception at Florida’s Historic Capitol. Youth Ambassadors received a certificate and Youth Investment Award from the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation.

Also being honored that evening was Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Richard Christie, who was selected as one of this year’s FJJA Service Excellence Award recipients. JPO Christie was chosen as an FJJA Service Excellence award winner for his outstanding service to Florida’s at-risk youth and their families. JPO Christie has been with the our agency for more than 30 years and while his case work is admirable, it’s the amount of heart he puts into his work that is so inspirational. Most recently, JPO Christie and another JPO picked a youth up from the detention center who had been dismissed by his family. Seeing the youth had nothing and with the weather being quite cold, JPO Christie gave the youth the jacket off his back, literally. He then gathered more clothing items to provide the youth and made sure he had a safe place to go.

Deputy Secretary Tim Niermann, JPO Richard Christie, and Secretary Marstiller

Pictured above: Deputy Secretary Tim Niermann,
JPO Richard Christie, and Secretary Marstiller




DJJ Takes Part in Children’s Week in Tallahassee

Secretary Marstiller Speaking for Children's WeekLast week was Children’s Week in Tallahassee, an annual event that brings together Florida’s families, students, teachers, and child-serving agencies and organizations to advocate for issues related to child welfare, education, and health.

Secretary Marstiller participated in several Children’s Week events at the Capitol first participating in the Teens Town Hall meeting, hosted by the Florida YMCA Youth in Government. This event provides a forum for students from across the state to address and interact with members of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet on important issues relating to children’s services. Following the Teens Town Hall, Secretary Marstiller attended a meet and greet with youth from the Prodigy Cultural Arts program where the youth presented Secretary Marstiller with a portrait, welcoming her as the DJJ Secretary.

Secretary Marstiller Participating in Children's WeekSecretary Marstiller also spoke at the Children’s Week Press Conference where she discussed the importance of prevention services as well as collaboration between agencies and organizations tasked with helping Florida’s at-risk youth and families.

Although it was a very busy day, Secretary Marstiller had the opportunity to stop by DJJ’s Children’s Week booth, located inside the Capitol. The booth was manned by our Statewide Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady from the Office of Prevention. Verla was on-hand to share information about prevention and agency-wide initiatives and services.

 Secretary Marstiller Participating in Children's Week

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations to Senior Juvenile Probation Officer (SJPO) Valerie Tyson who was recently named Circuit 8 JPO of the Quarter. SJPO Tyson was recognized at the circuit’s quarterly meeting in March for her outstanding work and accomplishments. JPO Tyson serves as the Circuit 8 Human Trafficking Liaison, a circuit trainer, and conducts detention hearings in Alachua County. She is most appreciated for all her hard work and dedication to the youth and families we serve. Below is an email that Assistant Chief Probation Officer Sandi Brannan received from Assistant State Attorney Rebecca Shinholser, expressing her appreciation for SJPO Tyson.

“I started working in the juvenile justice system a little over 15 years ago. One of the first people I met was Valerie Tyson. The quality that immediately stood out to me about Valerie was her kindness. I quickly learned that Valerie is not only incredibly kind, but she is very smart and conscientious. She takes pride in making sure her work is accurate, and in the rare event that she makes a mistake, she corrects that mistake as quickly as possible. (Mistakes are few for Valerie!) Those of us who work in the courtroom never doubt that Valerie’s risk assessments are correct, and we rely on her for answers when we don’t necessarily know the answers ourselves! Valerie has the utmost respect for the Court and the judicial system and always presents information to the Court articulately and respectfully. Although all of these things are wonderful attributes, the quality I admire most about Valerie is her humility. I do not think I have ever worked with someone as gracious and humble as Valerie. We are all truly blessed to work with Valerie!”

ACPO Sandi Brannon and SJPO Valerie Tyson

Pictured above: ACPO Sandi Brannon and
SJPO Valerie Tyson



Statewide Training Coordinator Dennis McClure who was recently named March Detention Employee of the MonthCongratulations to Statewide Training Coordinator Dennis McClure who was recently named March Detention Employee of the Month. We thank you for your dedication to our team and your commitment to serving Florida’s youth!












Captain Hudson The Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center wishes to thank Captain Hudson for his service to our agency. The detention center also would like to wish him the very best in his future endeavors as he begins a new career outside of DJJ.







Residential Youth Attend Duval Raiders Football Game

Youth from Hastings Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment Facility and Gulf Academy attending a Duval Raiders football game.Nine lucky youth from Hastings Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment Facility and Gulf Academy, both non-secure programs for boys, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, recently attended the Duval Raiders football game in Jacksonville. Some youth had the opportunity to be a ball boy and work on the field during the game.

During halftime, the coach invited the youth to the locker room and they were able to interact with the football players. The team also offered free food to the youth and staff and have agreed to provide opportunities for community service hours for all the kids. Hastings and Gulf Academy are proud of this new partnership and look forward to attending games in the future.



Youth outside Florida Licensing on Wheels mobile unit.Dove Academy, a non-secure program for girls operated by Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, recently had the Florida Licensing on Wheels (FLOW) mobile unit stop by the program. This unit provides a convenient process for individuals to renew, replace, or obtain an identification card.

There are 13 FLOW mobiles within the state of Florida, making the services more accessible to the public. The youth had the opportunity to receive their identification cards while the FLOW mobile was on site. Dove Academy is grateful for how easy this process was made and anticipate utilizing this service for other youth.


Fountain of Life Bible Church The Hastings and Gulf Academy received a visit from Fountain of Life Bible Church located in Tennessee. The church shared their insight with the youth and played 30 minute sets for each program. At the end, the youth asked questions and were able to perform if they felt compelled to do so.

Youth played the guitar, drums and performed lead on some songs. Overall, it was a great event that both the youth and staff enjoyed!





Youth from Columbus Youth Academy attending "Invitation to Knowledge".For the second year in-a-row, youth from Columbus Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Sequel, attended an event at Springfield College in Tampa, titled “Invitation to Knowledge.” Accompanying the youth were Case Manager Tonia Turner, Recreational Therapist Josh Glanton, and Youth Care Worker Rosby Anderson.

This event was presented by Coaches Mentoring through Basketball, Inc. (CMTB) to provide enlightenment to teenagers with CMTB, Columbus Youth Academy youth, and other youth from the community. The youth and chaperones enjoyed two insightful guest speakers: Roderick Cunningham, a consultant, entrepreneur, retired military member, and author and Jamal Crook, a minister, educator and trainer. Both speakers touched on pertinent issues that today’s youth struggle with, including abandonment, loss, abuse, and rejection. The speakers also spoke about choices and the importance of making appropriate decisions, including making the right choice when choosing what type of people to associate with in life. Lastly, the guest speakers spoke on coping skills and forgiveness, counseling, purpose, journaling, and spiritual development. The event was well attended with over 30 teenagers who actively participated during the function. The youth also received backpacks full of school supplies and lunch was provided for everyone.



New Canteen at Brooksville AcademyBrooksville Academy, a non-secure program for boys operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, opened its canteen in March. The canteen was integrated into the program’s behavior management system to reinforce positive behavior at the program.

Points that the students earn daily are added to their “bank account” and serve as their money in the store. The items in the canteen were decided upon by the program’s student advisory board. The board oversees brainstorming and running the canteen, with the assistance from Recreational Therapist Greg Malone and Vocational Case Manager Rachael Woods. The canteen will operate every other Friday and has items that include snacks, juice, hygiene products, and even Nike slides. Staff are incredibly grateful to the student advisory board for handling this amazing task!



Representatives from DJJ and the Florida Department of Education were treated to a tour of the program Charles Britt Academy, operated by Sequel and in partnership with Pinellas County Schools, continues to strive for excellence in offering exciting academic and vocational opportunities for students. Representatives from DJJ and the Florida Department of Education were treated to a tour of the program and had the pleasure of meeting the program’s Technology Club.

The Technology Club offers an opportunity to develop unique skills that most people never get the chance to learn. The youth of Charles Britt Academy have taken on numerous projects, using their creative minds and putting ideas together, which not only motivates the youth, but also teaches them how to collaborate with one another. They have worked on projects such as wooden high school diplomas, wooden keepsake boxes, plexiglass and wooden combs, tumblers, and glass paper weights. They have also experimented with paper and fabrics.

The Technology Club is a fun, productive way to spend time learning. The program hopes that this opens doors for youth who come to the program who want to serve their time bettering themselves.



Detention Youth Receive Visit From National Recording Artist

DLOW - a hip-hop dancer, rapper and choreographer from ChicagoEscambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently received a visit from national recording artist I Am DLow, better known by his stage name, “DLOW.”

DLOW is a hip-hop dancer, rapper and choreographer from Chicago. DLow spoke with both the boys and girls about the challenges he experienced growing up and how he made a choice to follow his dreams. DLOW also performed one of his classic dance routines and some of the youth even performed the dance routine with him and sang along to his hits.












Special thanks to Red Winderweedle from Operation Provision International Inc., and the Garden of Grace Inc., for providing breakfast sandwiches and hash browns for the staff and volunteers of the Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center. We appreciate their thoughtfulness and for giving back to our hardworking staff and volunteers at the detention center.

Mr. Red Winderweedle and Captain Quick

Pictured above: Mr. Red Winderweedle and Captain Quick



Haley Hunt and youth from Orange RJDCNational speaker and singer/songwriter Haley Hunt and her organization, Life Group, made another visit to our Orange Regional Juvenile Detention Center. Ms. Hunt and her group spent time with the girls painting their nails and discussing life choices. Ms. Hunt’s organization provides mentoring for the youth in the program and has completed art projects and also arranged guest speakers to visit and engage with the youth.








DJJ Staff Participate in Human Trafficking Event

Circuit 2 Reform Specialist Michael Byrd and Director of Human Trafficking Intervention Katherine Gomez participated in the “Traffick Stop 2019” event in Tallahassee.

This event was a day of purposeful discussion, fruitful engagement and decisive action. DJJ, experts, officials and industry leaders were brought together to advocate for dynamic change that will assist in ending the sexual exploitation of children everywhere.

The day began with a legislative prayer breakfast and ended with a march and rally at the Historic Capitol building.

Reform Specialist Michael Byrd and DJJ Director of Human Trafficking Intervention Katherine Gomez

Pictured above (left to right): Reform Specialist
Michael Byrd and DJJ Director of Human Trafficking
Intervention Katherine Gomez



Reform Specialist Natalie Montgomery attended a faith leaders event hosted by Healthy Start Coalition - Teen Pregnancy Prevention Alliance (TPPA). Reform Specialist Natalie Montgomery attended a faith leaders event hosted by Healthy Start Coalition - Teen Pregnancy Prevention Alliance (TPPA). The event was a panel discussion consisting of different faith leaders throughout Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.






Panelists discussed topics centered on pregnancy prevention and awareness. Also present at the event was a representative from One More Child, who informed participants about their agency’s services for human trafficking victims.

We would like to send a special thank you to Administrative Assistant Lillie Singleton with Eastside High School in Gainesville. Ms. Singleton recently learned of the needs of the community’s homeless youth and youth with little to no family support.  Ms. Singleton spent her weekend shopping and putting together sixteen Walmart care packages for our staff to pass out to youth in need.

This is a special mission Ms. Singleton commits herself to every year, based on her faith and compassion for the less fortunate. A big thank you to Ms. Singleton for her generosity. If anyone has a youth at the GRACE Marketplace in Gainesville or who is trying to find lodging on a nightly basis, please contact Circuit 8 JPO Debbie Pruitt.

Ms. Lillie Singleton and JPO Debbie Pruitt

Pictured above: Ms. Lillie Singleton and JPO Debbie Pruitt



Participants in the "Party in the USA" EventCircuits 9, 10 and 18 concluded their spring break week by hosting a “Party In The USA” event. In collaboration with DJJ Probation Unit 104, youth, mentors and Project Bridge staff enjoyed catering from local BBQ restaurants, played basketball, board games and cards.

The youth also earned community service hours by helping set up and break down after the event. The activity was the last day of a 5-day spring break celebration, which included an airboat ride in Kissimmee, community service at a local nursing home, Orlando scavenger hunt, and a trip to an escape room!




Prevention Youth Attend Lecture Series at USF

Members of the Girls Plan-It GroupPACE Reach Regional South Tampa Bay’s Girls Plan-It Social Action group attended the University of South Florida Lecture series in which Tarana Burke served as a guest lecturer.

Tarana Burke is an African-American civil rights activist, most well-known as the founder of the ‘Me Too’ movement in 2006, which has blossomed into a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment, abuse and assault in society.  In 2017, Burke and other influential female activists were named "The Silence Breakers" by Time magazine. She currently serves at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn, New York, as its senior director.

Members of the Girls Plan-It group felt empowered by attending Ms. Burke’s lecture. The girls increased their knowledge on social activism and the racial and gender inequalities experienced by survivors of abuse. One main topic the girls felt inspired and motivated by was the concept of empathy and validating everyone’s experience from a place of respect and action. 



Participants in "Briding the G.A.A.P. event at Hillsborough RDC.Delinquency Prevention Specialist Pat McGhee, in collaboration with Detention Superintendent Marcus Wilson and Circuit 13 Reform Specialist Sandra Pinkney a Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) at Hillsborough Regional Detention Center.

This event was moderated by Darrell Daniels of the Derrick Brooks Foundation. Mr. Daniels engaged the youth in a conversation discussing the following topics: probable cause, reasonable suspicions, and warrants. The youth and officers spoke freely on the differences between them while also understanding the role of the officers and that they are human just like them.

There were a total of 10 youth from detention and two officers from the Tampa Police Department and two deputies from the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office. Following the discussion, the youth and officers had a bonding session where refreshments were served and certificates were given out. This event was insightful and everyone involved gained a new appreciation for the other.