Category Archives: Public Assistance

How one mother “stepped up” for her son’s education

Guest blog post by Step Up For Students, the nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Step Up’s goal is to provide an equal education opportunity for low-income Florida students. To receive notifications about scholarships available for the 2013-2014 school year, sign up for alerts.


Davion Manuel-McKenney was just weeks away from starting his new life as a college student when he was flipping through a family photo album and came across an image of his mother and him from many years ago. In the photo, the toddler is perched atop his mother’s lap, and her arms are wrapped around his tiny body.  And both flash electric smiles.

The reminiscing inspired Davion to post the photograph on his Facebook page with a note to his mother: “We have come a long way. Love U Ma.”

In the beginning, the odds to attend college weren’t in his favor if only the basic facts of his life were considered. He was born to an unwed teenaged mother who at the time hadn’t completed her own education. But with the love of his mother and family, and the help of many others along the way, Davion is now a freshman at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Both mother and son said they were saddened to have Davion move about 85 miles north of his home in Ormond Beach, but it was time for him to live out what they have been working toward since his mother, Faith, was just 15.

She married Davion’s father, Nicholas McKenney, and they went on to have two more children. While the couple’s marriage didn’t last, their dedication to their children remained intact and does today. Still, for Faith, the financial struggles that often come with being a single mother were very much a challenge. When it came time for her eldest child to go to middle school, Faith didn’t like what she saw in the school he was zoned for.

Desperate not to send Davion into such an environment, she started researching alternatives – and a way to pay for them. It was her dream to put her kids in a private school. She was thrilled when Davion received a Step Up scholarship to Calvary Christian Academy, which was part of their church in Ormond Beach. The fit was perfect.

At Calvary, Davion had fewer distractions than at his previous schools and was able to focus more on academics.   He also was on the school’s track and basketball teams, took on the role of student chaplain and enjoyed spending time with the pre-school children. He graduated from high school in the spring of 2012.

Davion is now considering a career in teaching. He  points to people like his teacher Ms. Crickenberger, whom he described as having so much love and passion for her students,  his Calvary family as a whole, and the Step Up scholarship as things that have made a difference in his life. But he always goes back to his mother on the one who has truly blessed him.

When he held the photograph of his younger self and his 17-year-old mom in his hands recently, he reminisced about his life and the woman who made it the best she could. He is also proud that she now has an associate’s degree and plans to further her education as well.

Working together, keeping families safe

Guest post by Arlene Bettencourt, Hendry/Glades Manager with United Way/United Way 211 and a Kiwanis Club of LaBelle member. 

The other day we helped a young lady with disabilities who was literally fleeing from a home where she felt unsafe.  She came to the LaBelle United Way House by taxi, one of our 14 Houses in the Lee, Hendry and Glades counties area.

Our partners generously stepped up to help: The Hendry Glades Homeless Coalition put her up for a weekend, the police accompanied her home to get her belongings, Salvation Army provided her with food and United Way helped her get into low-income housing.

We helped her to see that she is self-sufficient on her income. Additionally, The Kiwanis Thrift Store provided free housing supplies and furniture as she had nothing.

Except for the police, all agencies work out of this United Way House and we were able to work together to help this individual gain independence and self respect. United Way Houses provide free space for agencies to meet with clients. The United Way House in LaBelle is a one-stop shop for residents that includes partnerships with 16 agencies.

This woman is now happy, self sufficient and enjoying life.  Her family lives in town, but she has the willpower to maintain control of her life and future.

If you or someone you know may be in need of help, please dial 2-1-1 to connect with the United Way.

Experiencing Poverty

Guest post by Jeanna Olson, DCF Northwest Region community development administrator. Jeanna was one of 23 Franklin County social service employees and residents participating in the Bridges to Circles poverty simulation. Franklin’s Promise Coalition and Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida sponsored the poverty simulation program at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Apalachicola.

I recently got a personal view of what it is like to experience poverty. According to the 2010 Census, 25.6 percent of the people in Franklin County live in poverty, compared to 13.8 percent statewide.

The poverty simulation breaks participants into family units, and each participant is assigned an age and identity. As a family (we were a married couple with two children, ages two and ten), we were given a list of our bills, some items we could pawn or trade, a title to a car (our family had a car; however, we couldn’t afford gas most weeks and had to walk or purchase bus tickets) and identification. There were various stations set up representing different places and agencies we could utilize, such as a bank, grocery store, food pantry, pawn shop, police station, court and a social service agency.

Social workers and residents participating in the poverty simulation

The program is broken into 15-minute time blocks, each representing a full week. We had to “survive” on what was in our packet. There were scenarios we had to “live” that really made me think about the struggles our clients experience on a day-to-day basis, a day much longer than 15 minutes.

Our day usually began with me (I was working and my spouse was unemployed) rushing to purchase gas and get to work. I was late to work one week and my salary was docked. Week two, I did not make it to work because I had some unexpected bills and was trying to help my spouse get his necessary paperwork for a job he found. Weeks three and four, I had to get walking passes to get to work, because my work paychecks had to pay for the rent. In the end, we never did make it to the food market.

If you have an opportunity to participate in a poverty simulation, I recommend that you take that opportunity. It really opened my eyes to the struggles our clients and neighbors are living with every day.

Franklin’s Promise Coalition hosted the simulation to bring awareness to other community partners and solicit Allies for the next step of the Bridges to Circles program. An Ally is a person living in middle class or wealth who volunteers to be an “intentional friend” to someone working on his or her plan to break out of the cycle of poverty and who has completed the “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” class. The goal is to create a mutually beneficial relationship with someone who is different from you so you can both grow and change and to help participants gain access to tools and resources to help them become self-sufficient.

Four individuals from the Bridges to Circles “Getting Ahead” class were at the poverty simulation. Each reported how much they appreciate the support and guidance they have found in the class and how they can work on their goals and get the support to reach them. Currently Franklin County has 27 individuals in the “Getting Ahead” class.

If you would like to participate in the Bridges to Circles program, please register at Volunteer Franklin.




Floridians Helping Floridians in Crisis

Franklin County residents wait in line to get help

People around Apalachicola Bay are hurting. With the decrease in oysters and fish, boat captains would lose money if they went out to fish. Restaurant owners, like those at Captain Snook’s, use to go through eight truckloads of seafood a week; now they are going through three. The financial situation is so bad that families are without work and food on their table – literally. Crises like this have a trickle-down effect that has an impact everyone in Florida.

Yesterday Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Bill Montford, DCF Secretary David Wilkins, DEO Executive Director Hunting Deutsch, Franklin County Commissioner Pinki Jackel, members of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board and many other  local officials and organizations came together to give food, medical help, job assistance and benefits to the people affected by the decrease in fishery resource.

Florida Gov. Scott listens, talks to Franklin County residents

Gov. Scott listened to and talked with local residents, business owners and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association for hours while Farm Share loaded residents’ cars with much-needed food.

The main reason for the small numbers of oysters and fish is a decrease of fresh water in the bay. The governor told everyone at the event he is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to address the water flow issue. He is also making sure job training and resources are in the region to build a healthy economy, but also making sure help for immediate short-term needs taken care of – like food, medical help and shelter.

DCF staff help residents sign up for benefits

DCF has been and will continue to be in the community every day. We’ve held resource fairs (the next one is Oct. 12), trained volunteers and hired a temporary employee to make sure residents get the help they so desperately need.

We’re also working with organizations like Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida and Franklin’s Promise Coalition to get help directly to residents. They are also helping keep families together – this is a stressful time and families need each other. It is important to give these families emotional support.

The people of Apalachicola Bay are good, strong, hard workers. Gov. Scott, DCF and our many partners will be there to help our friends and neighbors make it through this crisis.

Florida Farm Share loads food into a Franklin County resident's car

Breaking the Cycle of Family Violence

Guest post by a graduate of Healthy Families, a home-visiting program that prevents child abuse and neglect by teaching positive parenting skills, promoting healthy child development and improving family self-sufficiency.

When I enrolled in the Healthy Families program, I was 24 years old and just had my fifth child. I had no sense of direction or purpose as a single mom trying to raise all of my children. I never finished high school, did not have my GED and was unemployed. I was living in a very bad domestic violence situation with the father of my children and thought I had no way out. He had me believing that I could not make it without the little bit of financial support he provided to us.

One of the first and most important things my family support worker did was help me learn how to set goals for myself. She taught me that I could achieve things on my own. She believed in me and, more importantly, helped me believe in myself. She pushed me and told me not to give up even when I faced setbacks, and I faced a lot.

With the help of Healthy Families, today I am proud to say that my children and I no longer live in fear of domestic violence because my support worker showed me where to go for help and I got it. The father of my children is in jail where he belongs and I helped the police get him there.

My children and I are safe, I am working full-time, I have gotten my own transportation and my own home. Now I want to get my GED, and I know I can do it! Healthy Families has helped me to see that once I had my kids, my life became about them and their well-being and no longer just about myself. I have learned how to be a better parent and how to help my kids be the best people that they can be too.”


Almost 25 percent of Healthy Families participants are identified as having experienced, or currently experiencing, domestic violence at program enrollment. As indirect victims of domestic violence, children who witness family violence experience similar trauma to those who are abused. This trauma significantly alters children’s brain development leading to emotional and behavioral problems, poor school performance, and increased risk of criminal behavior as youth and adults. A child’s exposure to domestic violence is also the most significant predictor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. 

Healthy Families home visitors prevent child abuse and neglect by teaching positive parenting skills, promoting healthy child development and improving family self-sufficiency. Home visitors also connect families to other community resources that can address domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health and other issues that place children at-risk. 

For more information, visit