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Secretary's Message

May 16, 2014

Secretary Walters’ Weekly Letter

I am so proud to share every week the great work occurring here at the Department of Juvenile Justice, and I hope you will take a moment to read the stories about the accomplishments of our colleagues, both DJJ employees and those who work for our contractors, and the youth in our care.  I am always looking for opportunities to showcase the work you do – on and off the clock – to enrich your communities. I know there is even more going on than what I report here, so I would like to encourage each of you to keep the weekly letter in mind and remember to share your good news. It’s easy – email news@djj.state.fl.us or call (850) 921–5900 by Thursday at noon (submissions after that time will be considered for the next week’s letter).


Wansley Walters

Reaching Youth Presentation

Gina Castaneda, a juvenile probation officer from Santa Cruz, California, presented to a standing room only crowd in Orlando at a pre-conference seminar on Monday. I had the honor of meeting Gina on a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative site visit previously and was thrilled that she agreed to come to Florida and speak to the DJJ staff.

Gina has an amazing life story and is changing the lives of youth every day. She has taken the challenges and obstacles she faced growing up and put them to use in working with delinquent youth and gang members in her community. I encourage those of you who were unable to attend to watch her presentation on the Florida Channel website by clicking here. I can say without any hesitation that you will be moved and inspired by Gina.

FJJA Director Cathy Craig-Myers, Wanda Finnie, Guest Speaker Gina Castaneda, me, Christy Daly and Joan Wimmer

FJJA Conference

I was so pleased to speak in Orlando this week at the 19th Annual Adolescent Conference entitled: “The Way Forward: Our Communities, Our Youth, Our Future.” This event, presented by the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, brings together stakeholders in the juvenile justice arena to discuss and learn about innovative tools and programs to improve and enhance the quality and effectiveness of justice services for youth and their families.

The Conference also gave the FJJA the opportunity to honor those outstanding individuals in the field who have made extraordinary contributions in the areas of direct care services and leadership.  Winners were selected in five categories:

1. Public Service Award - Adam Wiegand, Department of Juvenile Justice, Circuit 12, for participation in community initiatives that educate and foster understanding of issues facing at risk youth.

2. Creativity/Innovation Award Jeff McSpaddin, Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Bristol, for participation in the development and/or implementation of creative and innovative approaches that impact their agency.

3. Client Services Award Rachel Hillegass, Department of Juvenile Justice, Circuit 4, for demonstration of enthusiasm, resourcefulness and compassion in the response to client need, concerns and emotional well-being.

Public Service Award winner Adam Wiegand, Client Services Award winner Rachel Hillegass, Joan Wimmer, Karen Knight, and me. 

4. Leadership Award Kimberly Vollmer, PACE Center for Girls, Marion, for demonstrating leadership in the juvenile justice arena by promoting high quality programming and interventions as well as systems advocacy and change/reform through collaborative relationships and teamwork.

5. Youth Leadership Award Warren Williams, G4S Youth Services, LLC, Cypress Creek Juvenile Offender Correctional Center, for demonstrating leadership among his peers and making a commitment to positive change. 

Children and Youth Cabinet Meeting

During my visit to Central Florida, I was pleased to preside over the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet’s Quarterly Meeting at the Orange County Park and Recreation Headquarters in Orlando. Back in February, Governor Scott appointed me as chairwoman for this fantastic cabinet which strives to accomplish the goal that all children in Florida grow up safe, healthy, educated and prepared to meet their full potential.  By communicating, promoting increased efficiencies and improving services provided by all agencies that serve our children, youth and families, we hope to achieve that vision.

Secretary Elizabeth Dudek from the Agency for Health Care Administration and I spoke to the Cabinet about our respective agency initiatives.  The Cabinet discussed workgroup updates and highlights from the 2014 Legislative Session as well as heard presentations on the Florida Early Learning Program and the Women, Infants and Children Program.

Prevention Update

Last Thursday, the Circuit 15 Juvenile Justice Advisory Board sent well wishes to all for a Happy Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day during their meeting in Palm Beach County.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1,100 communities and 136 national collaborating organizations recognized the 2014 National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: Inspiring Resilience, Creating Hope.  This year’s events were designed to highlight the importance of being part of the nationwide strategy focused on the need to care for every child's mental health from birth.

Students from the PACE Center for Girls for Volusia and Flagler Counties completed a two-month project to inform peers about cyber-bullying, bringing an extended call to action to appropriately respond to all instances.  Students discussed this issue in the “Spirited Girls” class.  They conducted a survey to find the incidents of cyber-bullying among the student population and found that the majority of girls have been victims or know of victims.  They found data to inform others of the potential harm and used a video clip as a discussion starter.  They then shared tips on self-advocacy if they were a victim and how to appropriately respond if one of their friends was a victim.

Faith Network Coordinator Craig Swain and members from the Circuit 4 Faith Network held a faith network meeting on April 18 at the New Life Temple Church in Jacksonville.  This meeting was held for the purpose of introductions and information sharing, and identifying the network’s strengths to expand the faith network. 

Craig also held another Faith Network meeting in Miami on April 22 with Miami-Dade Faith Partners and law enforcement officers at the City of Miami Police Department. Major Dennis Jackson and his wife/Pastor and First Lady of New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist of Miami, are actively involved in diverting youth from the juvenile justice system. The purpose of this meeting was to meet faith partners, identify and gather support for the Department’s faith efforts and identify the needs of the faith community as well as the overall community.  

(from left to right): Craig Swain, Minister George Ellis, Mrs. T.  Jackson, Major Dennis Jackson, Commander Dana Carr, Commander Evens Ford

The Tampa I Prodigy Program, a DJJ Prevention Provider began running a new recognition program on May 1 entitled, “Who is a Prodigy?”  This program serves to further benefit students, friends, family and staff.  The series involves video shots and sound bites highlighting the benefits of the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program. Videos will be shown during family and friends’ events to help promote the values Prodigy students explore in the classroom.

The first student to be highlighted for the month of May is no stranger to the staff and students at Tampa I Prodigy.  An aspiring music producer, athlete and FAMU enrollee, Nick credits his Prodigy experience with helping him garner the right attitude to achieve success.  Nick’s track record has been an inspiration to his peers, and his musical gift has encouraged other teens to enter Tampa I Prodigy’s music production class.  During a three-day internship at Prodigy, Nick even demonstrated valuable project management skills by creating an inventory process for music production software and hardware.  His experience was rounded out with attendance to Children’s Week in Tallahassee last month.  Nick met legislators and DJJ personnel who are advocates of the very program helping his aspirations become realizations.  

Nick is the epitome of the positive outcomes Tampa I Prodigy tirelessly works towards to help students realize.  The strive and hunger mentioned in Nick’s Who is a Prodigy piece speaks to the passion and commitment Prodigy aims to instill in all of the youth they serve.

Assistant Secretary for Prevention Wanda Finnie and Delinquency Prevention Specialist Marie Boswell attended a community discussion during the Circuit 15 Advisory Board meeting last Thursday at Glades Central High School in Belle Glade.  The community discussion was for the Circuit Advisory Board to hear from the youth about issues facing them and their perception of what could be done to better meet their needs.  There were approximately 200 youth in attendance.  The Circuit Advisory Board will develop an action plan to address the issues identified by the youth.  

After the Community Discussion, the Circuit 15 Advisory Board meeting convened.   Assistant Secretary Finnie updated the Board and others on ongoing Prevention initiatives, legislative session wrap up, and other important department matters.  She reminded the circuit board of the application process for membership on the Florida Youth Commission and strongly suggested nomination of local youth.  Many of the youth were interested and were provided the information to submit their applications.  

Last Saturday, Community Engagement Coordinator Verla Lawson-Grady set up a DJJ educational booth at the Emancipation Celebration 2014 Festival of Freedom in Tallahassee.  On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing those enslaved in the rebelling southern states.  More than two years later, on May 10, 1865, Union General Edward McCook arrived in Tallahassee to take possession of the city from Southern forces.  General McCook established his headquarters at the Hagner House, now known as the Knott House.

On May 20, he raised the U.S. flag over the state capitol, and declared the Emancipation Proclamation in effect.  Former slaves celebrated this announcement with a picnic at Bull Pond, today’s Lake Ella.  Every year since 1865, communities in the Tallahassee area have celebrated May 20th as Emancipation Day.

The 2014 commemoration included a Living History parade and a day in the park with re-enactors representing the 2nd Infantry Regiment, Buffalo Soldiers and others.  It was hosted by the 2nd Infantry Regiment and Living History Association.  Jackie Johnson of MIS was one of the organizers of the festivities and is a member of the 2nd Infantry.

Probation Update

Last Thursday, Circuit 4 JPO Darrell Cope was named Juvenile Justice Probation Officer of the Year during an awards banquet entitled “The Ripple Effect” which was hosted by the Jacksonville Youth Commission, the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Mental Health America of Northeast Florida.  The event was organized to honor those persons for their valuable contributions to Children’s Mental Health Awareness.  Darrell was given this prestigious award for his outstanding and ongoing work with children who have mental health and behavioral challenges in the Jacksonville area. 

Circuit 16 Reform Specialist Elaine Thompson attended the first day of vocational training held at the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Key West.  Elaine and the local church community put this training together for the six youth in attendance in order for them to identify strengths and skills for a resume and receive an introduction to finances as well as an introduction to hand and power tools.  Drug Court Counselor Andrew Baily and CEO of A Positive Step, Billy Davis, were also on hand as the youth successfully cleared the rooms to be renovated. 

I would like to recognize Circuit 20 Data Integrity Officer Jeff Clarcq for his hard work, dedication and passion in volunteering his spare time as a head coach with the Cape Coral Soccer Association.  Jeff has been a coach with the league since 2007 and his under twelve boys team were undefeated champions in 2012.  Jeff shows great interest in coaching and in doing so has helped many of our youth learn the value of sportsmanship, dedication, teamwork and most of all having fun.  He recently coached the under fifteen boys team to a championship this spring and has invested a lot of volunteer hours to help young children by recognizing each one of them and their unique abilities and growing skills

Residential Update

Francis Walker Halfway House, a moderate-risk program for females, ages 13 to 18, located in Titusville and operated by The Center for Drug-Free Living, Inc., hosted a Spring Family Day.  The event included the participation of the Family Reunification Multi-Family Group; a residents’ Youth Talent Show, featuring singing, dancing, poetry reading and a praise dance; tours of the facility; and a luncheon.  Huge thanks go out to the staff members who volunteered on their days off to help with the event! 

Detention Update

Tampa Bay Rays’ relief pitcher Chris Archer continues to be a positive role model with the youth in our community.   On April 28 he visited the Pinellas RJDC for the second time in the last six months mentoring the youth at the facility. Chris, an at-risk kid himself, shared the stories of his youth and how the kids at the facility can turn their lives around for the better.  Chris’s lasting motto is, “You are the sole creator of what you can be.” The Tampa Tribune published a story about his visit to the RJDC, and  you can read it by clicking here

Juvenile Justice Academy Graduation

Congratulations to the following juvenile detention officers (JDOs) who graduated today in a ceremony at the Department of Juvenile Justice HQ, Alexander Building in Tallahassee.  JDOs supervise youth in state-operated regional juvenile detention centers (RJDCs) as they await an appearance before the court, or placement in a juvenile residential treatment facility.  The graduates successfully completed 240 hours of training to become certified officers.  They will work in the DJJ facility listed next to their name. Thanks to Cody Wood, Superintendent of Leon RJDC, for delivering the graduation address. Kudos to Artavia Parrish, Christina Ash and Robert Rutherford, who trained the officers for this position of critical responsibility.

Front row (left to right):  Joseph Randolph-Leon RJDC, April Shed-Volusia RJDC, Ashley Robinson- Alachua RJDC, Chasity Colton-Volusia RJDC, Tremayne Flanders-Duval RJDC, Tanya Calhoun-Marion RJDC, Melvin Thomas III-Duval RJDC, Joseph Smith-Duval RJDC

Back row:  Levuris Smith-Duval RJDC, Harry Desile-Duval RJDC, Johnny Guilford-Volusia RJDC, Kenneth Johnson-Escambia RJDC, Jordan Mitchell-Escambia RJDC, Erica Acree-Leon RJDC, Jamie Kent-Escambia RJDC, Candace Wilson-Alachua RJDC, Carlass Wilson-Duval RJDC, Rebecca Seeber-Marion RJDC, Michael Johnson-Duval RJDC, Daniel Gray-Escambia RJDC, James Woods-Duval RJDC, Michael Jacques-Duval RJDC, Bernard Goods-Duval RJDC

Education Update

Each year, the Pasco School Superintendent honors a student from each middle and high school as a recipient of the Turnaround Achievement Awards.  This year Cadeshia Jackson, who successfully transitioned from a DJJ Residential Program into the Pasco County’s Graduation Enhancement Program, was honored as the Turnaround Student of the Year.  This award recognizes students for their hard work in positively transforming their academic achievement and behavior.  We are very proud of Cadeshia and all of our former youth who go on to do great things.  The Tampa Bay Times provided an excellent write up of Cadeshia’s recognition and you can view it by clicking here.