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Secretary's Message

February 13, 2018

Secretary Daly’s Weekly Letter 

Last week was a productive and busy time for DJJ staff, our providers, and our stakeholders, as we continued our work in bettering the lives of Florida’s children and families.  I hope you will take a moment to read the stories about the accomplishments of our agency staff, our colleagues, and the youth in our care. 

As a reminder, don’t forget that I am always looking for opportunities to showcase the work you all do – on and off the clock – to enrich our 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. 


Christina K. Daly

Staff Announcements and Kudos

Congratulations go to Rhonda Hartwell who was recently promoted to the position of superintendent of Bay Regional Juvenile Detention Center (RDJC). 

Major Hartwell has been with DJJ for 27 years, serving at the beginning of her career as an OPS detention staff member.  Major Hartwell has a broad range of experience throughout her years in Detention Services.  In the past few months, Major Hartwell has begun bringing more of the local community into her facility and has initiated programs to include the inaugural Parent-Youth Holiday Party and the Leash on Life program.  We are excited to see all of the wonderful things Superintendent Hartwell will do at Bay RJDC! 

Congratulations to Circuit 7 Juvenile Probation Officer Jon Johnson who was recently recognized as the circuit’s Employee of the Month. Officer Johnson was nominated for this honor by two separate juvenile probation officer supervisors for his willingness to do whatever needs to be done around the office and for going out of his way to help his fellow officers. One supervisor said that, “Jon Johnson is the definition of a team player.” 

The Circuit 7 probation team would like to recognize Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Jillian Lewandowski for her years of service to the probation team. Jillian is leaving the probation team to take a position with the Bureau of Monitoring and Quality Improvement. During her time with DJJ, she has served as the supervisor of Unit 303, the gang task force liaison for the circuit, a quality improvement peer reviewer and program reviewer, and filled in as the circuit’s mental health liaison. We thank Jillian for all of her hard work serving the youth and families of Volusia County and wish her well in her new position.

Pictured: Jillian Lewandowski with ACPO Adrian Mathena.

FJJF Begins Clothing Collection Project With Help from HBI Students 

Part of the mission of the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation (FJJF), DJJ’s direct support organization, is to promote workforce readiness skills.  DJJ youth with the Home Builders Institute (HBI), and in conjunction with the FJJF, recently built a clothing collection box under the direction of FJJF board member Tadar Muhammad.  FJJF board member Pastor Cindy Lane with TrueCore Behavioral Solutions is coordinating the collection site in Hillsborough County and promotion of the pilot project. The clothing that is collected will be made available for DJJ youth in need. 

Youth at HBI built the collecting box which allowed them to use their math and measuring skills and helped them learn design and carpentry skills as well as roofing installation.  Another important benefit youth received was learning to work as a team to complete a project.  The goal is to establish more sites throughout the state with youth at HBI building more collection boxes.  

Donate here to help FJJF and their partners with projects like these! 

Prevention Staff Hosts Bridging the G.A.A.P. Conversation and Community Café

Delinquency Prevention Specialist Onazina Washington and Operations and Training Director Yvonne Woodard hosted a Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives) discussion between youth and law enforcement at the Boys and Girls Clubs (BGC) of North Central Florida in Perry. Onazina led the forum which was co-moderated by BGC staff member Ishia Vaughn.

The purpose of the forum was to help create a more productive understanding between youth and members of law enforcement. During the discussion, risk factors were addressed by asking both parties a series of questions which were designed especially for them. By the time the forum was over, there was a newfound respect between youth and members of law enforcement.

Pictured above (from left to right): Onazina Washington; Ishia Vaughn and Teresa Compton, of the Boys & Girls Club of North Central Florida.

Yvonne Woodard closed the forum with some enlightening and encouraging words, where she emphasized the importance of the G.A.A.P. discussions and the ability to help build and maintain healthy relationships between youth and law enforcement.

As a part of the Department’s new Youth and Family Advocacy Program, Delinquency Prevention Specialist Pat McGhee hosted a Community Café discussion at the Wildwood Service Center in St. Petersburg. Pat spearheaded the event and Circuit 6 Reform Specialist Adrienne Conwell and Juvenile Probation Officer Supervisor Marilyn Walker were also involved.

The Community Café was designed to bring organizations from south Pinellas County together that provide family engagement services to have a dialogue on how to better serve families. In addition to knowing what other organizations are doing in Pinellas County this event allowed for discussion on how to collaborate, refer families, learn techniques on retention, and assist families in crisis.

The group enjoyed the dialogue so much that they decided to meet every two months and to do a practitioner study to research family engagement.

Those present included Larry Butler, Pinellas County Housing Authority; LaDonna Butler, Pinellas County Urban League; Julia Neely, Moffitt Cancer Center; Brittanee Harris and Eldon Hollomon, Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast; Samara Louis, Operation Par; Amy Manning and Yastira Gonzalez, Family Resources Inc.; Dr. Valeria Brimm, Pinellas County Schools; and Lashante Keys, Empath Health.

Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Coordinator Minnie Bishop spoke at the Prevention staff meeting at DJJ Headquarters. Ms. Bishop said she planned to work with staff from all program areas to strengthen the Department’s DMC initiative. DMC refers to the disproportionate number of minority youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

Ms. Bishop is also working with the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group and circuit advisory boards to develop scripts on DMC related topics that will be used to create information videos that will be accessible on the Department’s website. She has also partnered with DJJ’s Office of Staff Development & Training and the University of South Florida to begin the development of an implicit bias course for juvenile justice professionals.

At the meeting, she provided an overview of the Mirror Project that she plans to implement in middle schools. The Mirror Project grew out of the federally-funded DMC program. It is an effort to build positive relationships between minorities and police. 

I am pleased to share the following success story from the PACE Center for Girls of Hillsborough County about a young lady named Lisraydis and how working with PACE helped her succeed in school. Lisraydis enrolled in PACE Center for Girls, Hillsborough in March of 2016. She was 17 years old and in her 3rd year of high school.  Mid-way through her junior year, she was desperately behind in academic credits with a GPA of 0.972. Her failing grades and missing credits were a result of years of skipping school, disruptive behaviors, fighting and a general lack of motivation.

Feeling discouraged but refusing to accept failure, Lisraydis and her family followed through on a referral for PACE Center for Girls of Hillsborough County. Despite the challenges at her local high school, Lisraydis was determined to start a new life at PACE. Initially, she struggled with peer relationships, staff interactions and overall motivation to complete her work. She discovered that old patterns were difficult to break. As she worked to find her way, she noticed that despite her behaviors and challenges, her counselors and teachers continued supporting and guiding her.

She became increasingly engaged and began to see the results of her efforts. She earned credits, testing in classes as she completed the required curriculum.  She began to receive acknowledgements such as Girl of the Week and consistently moved up on the Center’s point and level system. As her credits increased and her behavior stabilized, Lisraydis’ motivation and determination grew.

Lisraydis successfully completed the PACE program and returned to her local high school with a total of 20 credits and a GPA of 2.0.  She continued to utilize services through the PACE Reach and the Transition Services Program, respectively, to support her re-adjustment.  Lisraydis completed all the requirements for her high school diploma in the summer of 2017 and proudly walked across the stage at Leto High School.

She then set her sights on continuing her educational journey at Hillsborough Community College with the goal of becoming a dental assistant.  Lisraydis' involvement with PACE continues to be very strong. She participates fully in the transition services program taking advantage of opportunities such as college tours, resume writing workshops and job fairs.  As a result of her ongoing participation, commitment to her academic success and overall focus and determination, Lisraydis was one of the first recipients of the Richard & Barbara Manners Journey to Success Scholarship to attend Hillsborough Community College.  She is currently enrolled at Hillsborough Community College and is looking forward to a very bright future.

Detention Youth Learn the Art of Yoga

The young men from the Pasco Regional Juvenile Detention Center have been learning the art of yoga with the help of volunteer instructor Rochelle Morris. The boys are really enjoying the lessons and have become very involved in the practice. Yoga has also provided the youth with an activity to calm themselves down in a stress-free environment.

The Leon Regional Juvenile Detention Center recently welcomed Field Training Coordinator Dennis McClure from DJJ headquarters for training sessions at the facility. The training topics included completing intakes, suicide risk assessments and mental health referrals. Mr. McClure trained the entire staff at Leon in a matter of three days.

My thanks to Fiscal Assistant II Randi Greene from the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center who recently went above and beyond by cutting the grass at the facility. With the absence of a maintenance mechanic at the facility, Ms. Greene has shown true initiative by stepping up when her facility needed her the most.  

Probationary Youth Compete in Winter Challenge Event

AMIkids recently hosted their annual Winter Challenge in Hudson, FL. These annual events bring AMIkids programs together from across the nine states they operate in to develop comradery and teamwork among the youth they serve.

This year’s Winter Challenge featured 18 AMIkids programs, with more than a dozen from Florida. The three-day event included a variety of challenges for the youth including creative writing, science fair projects, track events, first aid practicums, an academic quiz bowl, tug-o-war, a spelling bee, a volleyball competition, speech contest and even nautical knot tying known as Marlinspike (a nod to AMIkids’ historical beginnings as a marine-based rehabilitation program). 

I’m pleased to share the following letter that was sent to Circuit 4 Juvenile Probation Officer Ines Parker from a grandmother of a youth on her caseload. The grandmother thanked her for going above and beyond to support the youth and his family under her supervision. 

The Circuit 14 probation team celebrated Youth Success Day on January 23 by honoring two of their most deserving youth. Senior Juvenile Probation Officer (SJPO) Laura Garcia recognized youth HB (pictured below, left) for her outstanding accomplishments which included a successful completion of her probation requirements. SJPO Garcia provided the youth with a certificate and a pizza dinner.

In addition, Juvenile Probation Officer Kevin McKenzie recognized youth PH (pictured below, right) for his inspirational hard work and achievements. PH has accomplished most of his probation sanctions and was honored with a framed certificate and a pizza dinner. Congratulations to both of these youth and the best to them both in their future endeavors.   


My thanks to Circuit 18 Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) Matt Garboski who recently went above and beyond for a young man on his caseload. The youth’s mother died suddenly and marked the second major tragedy in his young life as his older brother was killed two years ago. The young man’s family was living on a fixed and restricted income and relied on his mother for all of his everyday needs.

JPO Garboski and the transition officer from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office took the young man shopping for new clothes and new shoes so that he would have something to wear for his mother’s funeral. This kind gesture allowed the young man to feel confident in his appearance with friends and family while mourning his great loss. Officer Garboski provided a helping hand without being asked during a very trying time in this young man’s life.  He is committed to helping him through this and has shown strength in his character and integrity. 

The Circuit 19 probation team held their annual youth success events in Okeechobee, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. The event provided youth and families with food, games, and giveaways. Each youth earned community service hours for their attendance and community stakeholders and providers were on hand to distribute information. Guest speakers during these events included Oakland Raiders Defensive End Khalil Mack and Sargent Brian Kenny from the Port St. Lucie Police Department.

Pictured above (from left to right): JPO Sonja Binns, SJPO Allis Richardson, ACPO Dorothy Malik, JPOS Ann Marie Campbell, JPO LaSheri Baker, and SJPO Felicia Fowler.

Residential Youth Attend Construction Career Day and Visit a Local Law School

At the end of last month, students from Marion Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 19, operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, attended the 2018 Central Florida Construction Career Days in Orlando. This was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for these students to explore the dynamic and high-growth transportation construction industry.

The students could experience many facets of the transportation construction industry and meet industry leaders. A sample of topics were: Intro to Bridges, Concrete and Density Testing, Masonry and Rebar, Diesel Technology, and Heavy Equipment Technology.

The highlight of the event was Marion Youth Academy students were given the opportunity to operate heavy equipment and participate in construction competitions. Two Marion Youth Academy students won one of the competitions.

This was truly a great experience for the students and one that the program hopes to be involved with in the future.

Youth from Jacksonville Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solution, spent a day at Florida Coastal Law School. During their visit, the youth had an opportunity to learn about the judicial system, speak with a variety of different attorneys, and participate in a mock trial. It was a fun-filled day of hands-on learning.

The staff and youth of Duval Academy, a non-secure program for boys ages 14 to 18, which is operated by Sequel TSI of Florida, are working hard to enhance the culture of the facility. The youth have helped with painting, pressure washing, and cleaning up the facility. Duval Academy also has barbers come in to cut the youth’s hair once a month. The youth are taking pride in their appearance and in the cleanliness of the facility. Duval Academy has also seen a change in youth behavior since the TAILS program started. The youth are doing a great job with the puppies and are learning all about patience and responsibility. Duval Academy youth and staff are working together to create a positive, caring environment, where the youth can learn and grow.

Last month, Senior Counselor Richard Langley and Transporter Denise Thomas from Challenge Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 13 to 18, operated by Eckerd Connects, accompanied four youth on a fishing field trip to Jenkins Creek Park in Spring Hill, FL. The youth had to meet the Behavioral Management System criteria to participate in the field trip. Prior to the fishing trip, the youth were taught how to string and set up their poles. Also, they had lessons on tides and the ecosystem and learned why it’s important to keep debris out of our waters and how important it is for our ecosystem.

Upon departing from the program, it was a chilly day and the sun wasn’t shining. However, upon arrival, the sun came out and the weather warmed up. The staff and youth started the fieldtrip off with a picnic. After the picnic, the youth proceeded to fish. For some of the youth, it was their first attempt at fishing and others had been fishing before. Live bait was used and the youth who hadn’t fished before were scared to touch the live bait. The staff helped the youth bait their hooks so they wouldn’t have to touch the bait.

Even though there were only a few fish caught, the fieldtrip was a success. The youth enjoyed learning about the tides and ecosystem and they had a great field trip to Jenkins Creek Park. The youth learned about different things they had not experienced in their past and this will assist them in being open to new experiences in the future. Special thanks go to Denise Thomas and Richard Langley for making the fishing trip a success.

At Miami Youth Academy, a non-secure program for boys, ages 14 to 18, operated by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, LLC, the students learn marketable skills and life skills through culinary arts with help from our outstanding partners, the Miami Dade County School District. One of the most extraordinary educators and vocational instructors, Debbie Sanchez, provides youth at Miami Youth Academy and Dade campus with Safe Serve certification. Then, the students really have some fun learning how to create from scratch delicious creations, including various pastries, cookies, and entrees.