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Secretary's Message

June 13, 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

The Governor’s Corner by Governor Rick Scott

We recently reached a great victory when the It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget was signed into law.  With the support of Florida’s public servants, our state has experienced incredible growth during the past three years. Our unemployment rate is down to 6.2 percent and Florida’s private sector has created more than 600,400 jobs since December 2010. Floridians all across the state are finding more opportunities to work and provide for their families. The investments in this budget will help Florida maintain our positive economic momentum as our state continues to add jobs and opportunities for families.

Some of the highlights in this year’s budget include investments in job growth, cancer research, Florida’s children and seniors, individuals with disabilities, state infrastructure, veterans and their families, our state’s  natural treasures, and historic funding for K-12 education, state colleges, and universities. This Budget’s investments in Florida’s future will help our great state continue on a path towards prosperity and opportunity for generations to come.

Prevention Update

On Tuesday, Delinquency Prevention Specialist Tina Levene attended the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. Big Brothers Big Sisters (BB/BS) of Tampa Bay is a DJJ Prevention provider. The mission of BB/BS is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.  A simple but powerful mission that serves as the foundation for what they do. Thanks to dedicated volunteers and generous donors they’re able to serve children from all walks of life.

(from left to right): Stephen Koch-CEO of Tampa Bay Big Brothers Big Sisters; Tina  Levene; Brian Auld a Big Brothers Big Sisters board member; and Pam Iorio, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters nationally and former mayor of Tampa

Last month, students from Southeast High School in Bradenton held a book drive which resulted in the school donating 500 books to the Manatee RJDC. Manatee JDC is a 42-bed holding facility for juveniles’ ages 8 to 18 that have gotten into trouble. They stay from one to 21 days. Since July 1, 2013, more than 800 youths have passed through, all required to maintain their Manatee County School District classwork using computers with help from the center's teachers.

"We do have 1,000 to 1,500 books in our library for the students, but most of those books are donated by people who don't want them anymore," said Frank Gargett, chief of administrative services. "The unique thing about what you did is that you brought us books our students' peers would read."

The Bradenton Herald provided an excellent write-up concerning the event and you can read the full story here

Southeast High School students Lincoln Hulbert, Armando Cruz Vasquez and Becky O'Brien drop off donated books Thursday at the Manatee County Juvenile Detention Center (photo was produced by Bradenton Herald)

The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, a DJJ Prevention Provider, held their annual awards luncheon last Tuesday in Sarasota to honor Network member agencies and their staff for the hard work and dedication that they provide to the youth and families of Florida.  We were also pleased to honor Attorney General Pam Bondi for her work on human trafficking and Senator Rob Bradley for his leadership in the Florida Senate in juvenile justice.  Senator Robert Bradley served as the guest speaker.

“This is a joyous event when we are able to thank and acknowledge the hard work of those that dedicate their lives in service to troubled youth and families,” commented Stacy Gromatski, Florida Network President and CEO. “Their contributions lead to stronger families, safer communities and youth who can live up to their full potential.”

Florida Network Chairman, Chris Dudley stated that he was truly humbled by stories of the award winners. “These amazing individuals never give up on the children and families that they serve.  Because of their contributions, Florida is a recognized leader in the nation when it comes to the prevention and diversion of children and teens from the deep end of the juvenile justice system.  We all owe them our undying gratitude.”

(from left to right): Top Left: Mike Mincie (CCYS Street Outreach), Innovative Program of the Year;  Chris Dudley, Florida Network Board Chairman; Cassandra Houston (YFA), Youth Development Specialist; Senator Rob Bradley, Chairman’s Award; Mark Shearon (Arrnette House), Networker of the Year; Tracy Salem & Paulette Hinton (Orange County Youth Shelter), Agency of the Year. Bottom Left: Taylor Biro (CCYS Street Outreach), Innovative Program of the Year; Marlene Lopes (Mr. Bethel Ft. Lauderdale), Manager of the Year; Teresa Clove (Thaise), Network Executive of the Year; Sonia Santiago (Sarasota YMCA), Counselor of the Year; Kristi Walsh (CHS-Treasure Coast WaveCREST Shelter), Manager of the Year; Julie Sercus (Assistant State Wide Prosecutor / Attorney General Pam Bondi’s representative); Presidents Leadership Award

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Tina Levene attended the National Foster Parent Association’s Educational Conference in Orlando last week. On June 7, Tina delivered the motivational keynote address to the conference on the topic of "Transforming Trauma into Purpose" to assist conference attendees to better understand and to assist people experiencing traumatic experiences. The next day, Tina conducted a workshop at the conference for foster parents and social workers.  More than 100 youth in foster care nationwide attended Tina’s keynote entitled: "’B true 2 u!: A look at self-acceptance & resiliency to be better not bitter."

On Wednesday, the Department received artwork from the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program in association with Saint Leo University’s Department of Social work.  The Prodigy Cultural Arts Program provides classes designed to teach youth effective communication, problem solving, and conflict resolutions skills through visual and performing arts. Bree, a youth from the Pasco Prodigy location who also attended the Children’s Week festivities this year,  has learned these valuable lessons through the Mastering Media, Creative Discovery, and Imaginative design classes. She has also exhibited these talents through her artwork, which is displayed throughout the community. The artwork is a 3D painting that included sand leaves, the Florida shoreline, and the sun glowing with the word Prodigy above. Bree created this piece in particular to represent the beautiful state of Florida and to show the Secretary how much her support has meant to past, present, and future Prodigy youth.

On Tuesday, Assistant Outreach and Community Engagement Coordinator Brittany Claybrooks facilitated a personal development workshop for girls ages 8-17 in the Tallahassee area who were attending the So Unique Summer Enrichment Program. So Unique is a gender specific program that promotes self-confidence and personal development through modeling, dance, music, and acting courses, as well as weekly life skills workshops.

Probation Update

Last Saturday, Circuit 4 Reform Specialist Donna Clayton attended the grand opening of the River Region’s Youth and Family Services entitled the “R Zone.” The “R” stands for the words to rebuild, rejuvenate and restore the lives of children and their families. The grand opening event included a tour of the facility which includes a brand new computer lab that youth can utilize for homework and tutoring, as well as a spacious comfortable room for counseling and group services. The facility is located in the center of Jacksonville where many of the youth reside. 

Last month, the weekly letter featured an article about a basketball league in Circuit 4 that was created by SJPO Bernard Collins for at-risk youth in the area.  On May 27, the league held their last all-star game, and prior to that event, the youth were treated to an old school basketball game that consisted of probation officers, detention staff and our faith-based partners. The probation staff that played in the game consisted of Bernard, SJPO Ben Fleming and JPOs Dwayne Barton, Tori Boatman, David Paden and Cliff Anderson. The game was well attended by the youth and their families and gave our staff the opportunity to connect with the communities we serve. 

Last Tuesday, Deputy Chief Lori Bright and Reform Specialist Randy Reynolds from Circuit 5 participated in an Agency-to-Agency vendor fair in Citrus County. DJJ was among 32 agencies and organizations that were in attendance. The fair provided an excellent opportunity to network with other organizations in Citrus County.  Lori and Randy gave out helpful information on civil citations and family engagement. 

Last Friday, Circuit 14 Reform Specialist Bree Thaxton attended the Bay County Teen Court’s Annual Awards and Appreciation Banquet. DJJ Staff and Advisory Board members were among the many agencies who presented the teen court with thanks and appreciation. Teen Courts provides alternative judicial court sanctions in a number of counties throughout the state.

Pictured left to right are:   JPO, Patty Stalnaker; C-14 Reform Specialist, Bree Thaxton; JPO Erica Chennaux; SJPO, Kevin McKenzie; JPO, Donna Smith; and JPOS, Michelle McCaskill.  

On May 16, a youth in the care of JPO Jennifer Mefford at the Escambia Boys Base reached a very important milestone as he obtained his GED and finished his first semester of college with a 4.0, resulting in the youth making the President’s List.  As a result, Jennifer along with Reform Specialist Bree Thaxton and CPO Wanda Jackson worked with Mike Johnson from the Panama City Housing Authority to get this young man into a home. The Department donated furniture, kitchen supplies and food for the youth, who plans to continue his college education and work. 

JPOS Melissa Fuller hosted a table at the Together We Stand community event on Tuesday for school, staff and community partners of Pasco County. The networking hour provided an opportunity for those in attendance to obtain knowledge of resources and stakeholders in the local community.  

Reform Specialist Khalilah Daniels attended the graduation for the Carver Exceptional Center in Tampa. Carver participated in a collaborative effort with our agency and the Hillsborough County alternative schools to develop ways to improve attendance, participation and overall performance for DJJ youth.  As a result, Carver held DJJ Life Skills classes on campus and introduced the Alternative Education Incentive Plan. This plan gives our youth the opportunity to receive community service credit for improvements in school. One of the Carver graduates this year participated in the Life Skills Classes held on site at the school and was able to complete his community service work hours through the Alternative Incentive Plan and assisting with Metropolitan Ministries.  

In addition, Circuit 13 CPO Judy Roysden received a letter from Carver that talked about the significant increase of JPO involvement in their program and the difference it has made in the youth. The letter, shown to the left with the text below, also thanks Khalilah for all of her efforts and support of the community service work program. 

On behalf of our students and staff at the Carver Exceptional Center, I would like to thank you and commend your staff for the tremendous support that has been provided to us during the 2013-2014 school year. When we initially discussed a collaborative inter-agency effort, we had no idea that the impact would be as meaningful or substantial.

We have noted significant involvement with our students by probation officers. When contacted by school staff the officers have made themselves available for increased outreach and/or meetings with students. Their engagement often provides the additional controls that our students may require to improve their attendance, grades and/or behavior. We appreciate their increased efforts this year.

We are also extremely appreciative of the support that Khalilah Daniels, your agency liaison, has provided to us. Ms. Daniels has been instrumental in providing support to our school social worker, Deborah Thompson, in developing a potential project that assists our students with accumulating court ordered community service hours. We thank you for allowing usage of the van that transports our students to Metropolitan Ministries. Ms. Daniels has not only assisted with coordinating the driver and the van, but she has also accompanied our students with Ms. Thompson. Our students have enjoyed participating with her as she easily engages then in a supportive and warm way.

Ms. Daniels’ participation in our community service project was a natural segue for her, Ms. Elliott, Mr. Sosa and Mr. Holmes to provide the Life Skills Program to our DJJ students at Carver. Our students were taught critical skills that will hopefully assist them with maturing and remaining free if the criminal justice system. Our students were thrilled that they were also able to obtain community service hours by participating. They were very responsive to your staff’s involvement and we hope you will be able to offer the program again during the 2014-2015 school year.

Circuit 18 JPO Robert Mitchell in cooperation with the Brevard County South Alternative Learning Center initiated the “Garden of Eden” Project for youth to bring a garden to life while earning valuable community service hours. Robert personally purchased pipes and arranged for system installation for a sprinkler system that the youth dug trenches for to make happen. The youth have shown a willingness to learn, and have begun making preparations to start their own gardens at home. 

Last Thursday and Friday, JPOS Tracie Foss and SJPO Francoise Petit from Circuit 20 partnered with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for a two-day community service project at Golden Gate Elementary School in Naples. This project gave ten of our probation youth the opportunity to complete some of their court ordered community service hours. With the school year ending on June 4, the school needed furniture and computer equipment moved to different locations throughout the school and some equipment was moved to facilities throughout the county. 

Detention Update

Bay District School Board liaison Anne Martin held a Safe Serv class for seven youth at the Bay RJDC. The Safe Serv program stands as a wonderful opportunity for our youth to gain useful knowledge that they can use every day and to achieve a viable certificate that will assist them in obtaining a job once they return home. All seven youth completed the class in its entirety and passed the certification test. 

The Duval RJDC recently received an upgrade as they changed the scenery on the girls mod. Level 3 girls received a new room and it was big hit with all the youth in our facility. I would like to thank JDO Robert Yonts from the Marion RJDC for coming over to help paint. Thanks to the Duval female officers for doing such a great job getting this going!

Last Tuesday, the Duval RJDC held a graduation ceremony for one of its youth who received his diploma from the Duval County Public Schools. Staff from the detention center and the school board along with the youth’s family were in attendance for this first ever graduation ceremony at the RJDC. The graduate made up his mind to complete his academic requirements and pass his exams while still housed at the Detention Center.

Superintendent Darrell Johnson stated “This event gave me chills and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room! Just to see him so happy and his family crying tears of joy was a unbelievable feeling. His Grandmother give a brief speech that was heartfelt and she said she never would’ve imagined that he would graduate because he was locked up.”

Representatives from the Jacksonville Zoo visited the Marion RJDC recently to give a presentation about a variety of animals. Our youth enjoyed seeing a horned owl, scorpion, bearded dragon, a Florida alligator and an 8-foot python. The zoo keeper was very knowledgeable about the animals and answered a ton of great questions from the youth and staff. They also shared information on the many work and volunteer opportunities that are available at a zoo.

Recently, the Pasco RJDC completed a Grief to Relief program designed to allow our youth to let go of their grief and channel that energy into a more positive outlook. The topic of grief strikes each individual in separate ways, yet there is a commonality of loss. The physical being that once graced us with their emotions, laughter, and tears is to no longer be felt. We as individuals mourn the loss, and yet do not know how to fill the void. This ceremony was a letter writing, balloon releasing ceremony. The energy that all brought was a chance for two things to occur. First, as a group we can reach out to those lost to use and take a moment and reconnect and say hello. Second of which is most important, we lend our energy, our strength to those currently suffering. We show them that the trail is hard but survivable.

Recently, The Brevard RJDC welcomed the Pixel Fund to their facility. The Pixel Fund is a non-profit organization with a mission to save the lives of shelter pets through education, advocacy, rescue efforts and through participation in community activities. Brevard Superintendent Dyanne Alves was referred to the Pixel Program when the Brevard Humane Society didn’t have any puppies to help with Brevard’s pilot program, Teens Assisting Puppies Program.

Dyanne said, “The litter is Labrador and Huskie mix and they are six weeks old.  There are 5 males and 1 female. The kids are submitting names for the male puppies and I got to name the female, Lilly. The kids and staff are so excited.  I think what I love the most about the program is seeing a youth holding and cuddling the puppy and the gentleness they show in their care of the puppies.  The bathing is always fun.  The puppies splash, the kids get wet, but the kids laugh it off.  Several of the youth said that they had to keep their level 3 so they could spend more time with the puppies. It is a great incentive for many of the youth.” 

We are thrilled to partner with The Pixel Fund as our youth and staff benefit as much or more than the puppies.

The Duval RJDC received a special visit last Friday night as Mirror Image, a senior high choir, made a presentation at the facility in preparation for their mission trip this summer to visit juvenile detention centers across the United States. Mirror Image presents the gospel to youth using contemporary Christian music accompanied by a live band. The youth and staff both enjoyed the presentation. 

Residential Update

ITN Negotiator Training Held Monday

On Monday, those who serve as lead negotiators in the Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) process for residential services—which included regional and headquarters staff members from the Office of Residential Services and the Bureau of Contracting—participated in an ITN Negotiator Training that was facilitated by Director of Special Projects from the Office of the Secretary Brenda Posthumus and Director of the Office of Program Accountability Amy Johnson

The goal of the training was to build stronger teams of negotiators.  The workshop enhanced team dynamics and empowered all individuals involved in this critical mission.  Participants were involved in activities and discussions regarding several important areas: characteristics of successful teams, communication styles, customer service, problem solving, and conflict resolution.  

The Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Corrections Center (OJOCC), a high- and maximum-risk program for males, ages 13 to 21, operated by G4S Youth Services, LLC, provides an industry certification program in cooperation with the Okeechobee County School District, providing career education (grades 6 to 12).  Recently, 16 students at OJOCC successfully completed the “Introduction to Telecommunications” program and earned certification in Telecommunications Technologies. 

The “Introduction to Telecommunications” course provides students with the fundamental background knowledge in the theory, transmission media, topologies and functions of systems used in businesses and Smart Homes—a system that integrates the electrical devices within a home into an automated system where the devices communicate with each other and with a remote control.  The students assemble, test and troubleshoot audio, visual, infrared, wired and wireless connectivity systems to explore these principles.

During this 40-hour course, students also learn on-the-job safety procedures to ensure personal protection and protection of networking devices.  Upon successful completion of the program, the students are eligible for certification.  Students are taught to apply their knowledge by using the Interactive Telecommunications Board (ITB) developed by C-Tech Associates, Inc. 

This proprietary innovative teaching aid (shown right) provides simulations of 4-pair data systems, coaxial cable systems, and a fiber optic system all in one unit.  In conjunction with the ITB, the students use electronic testing equipment to do the following:

  • Test and verify the operation of connectivity systems.
  • Develop block diagrams to represent systems connectivity.
  • Perform a “Tone and Trace” on a copper cabling system.
  • Perform an optical continuity test.
  • Troubleshoot a malfunctioning system.
The course provides opportunities for students to combine their knowledge with their creativity in solving communications problems drawn from real-world scenarios.  

The DOVE Academy, a low- and moderate-risk program for females, ages 15 to 18, which is operated by Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Inc., held a tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou that celebrated her life and contributions to the world.  Maya Angelou was a beloved female role model and inspiration to millions of women and young girls.  Her death on May 28, 2014, had a profound effect upon people from all walks of life—including the young ladies who reside at the DOVE Academy.  Upon learning of her death, the program commemorated her life and literary contributions with a tribute ceremony that included a Power Point presentation created by a student in her Business Technology class.  Afterwards, the girls and staff released balloons in celebration of her life.

All of the dorms at DOVE are named for women in history who have made a significant contribution to our society:  Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lucy Stone, Sacagawea, and—last but not least—Maya Angelou.

SkillPro Annual Training

If you have not already begun completing your annual SkillPro online training requirements, please start soon. If you have any questions, please submit them using the Get Help! button in SkillPro. Required online courses are linked on your My Learning page. Annual online learning requirements must be completed by December 31.

FIRST TIME SKILLPRO USERS: If this is the first time you are logging into SkillPro, you can get your User ID by clicking “I forgot my User ID.” Click “I forgot my Password” to get a temporary password, and be sure to set up your security questions when you re-set your password. Click the logo above for the SkillPro login page, or access it via your DJJ computer desktop by clicking here.

Staff Development and Training Update

On June 5, Tanesha Blackmon, a learning consultant and master instructor in protective action response (PAR) with the Office of Staff Development and Training, served as an expert PAR consultant to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) as they conducted a quality improvement audit of policies and procedures related to training. A Memorandum of Understanding allows DJJ to assist with training SCSO officers, and SCSO sends all their newly hired detention officers to attend DJJ detention academies.

Tanesha and the other DJJ SD&T lead master PAR instructors are often called upon by DJJ program areas and external offices for assistance in training staff or evaluating the use of intervention techniques with youth. Kudos to Tanesha as well as master PAR instructors Kiva Hagans, Andrea “A.J.” Minnis, and Duane Pace, who frequently share their expertise to promote and reinforce best practices for youth conflict resolution using DJJ-approved verbal and physical de-escalation techniques.