Category Archives: Volunteer

Random Act of Kindness Project

Guest post by Dena Sokolow, a Florida mother, attorney and Cwazy Town blogger.

Jenna putting quarters on a candy machine as a part of the Random Act of Kindness

There is nothing like experiencing the holidays through a child’s eyes, with all of its magic, joy and tradition. This is the first year my 3-year-old daughter, Jenna, seems to genuinely understand Christmas/Hanukkah (we celebrate both in our house) and it makes this holiday season that much brighter. In this time of overindulgence, it is important for me that Jenna learns to appreciate what she has and understand that not all children are so lucky. This is a big concept for a 3-year-old. I decided it would be easier for her to grasp if she was actually participating and doing charitable deeds. So I started the Random Act of Kindness Project for our family. Every day in December we do at least one nice thing for someone else without wanting or expecting anything in return.

We started small. First, we took carts from people in the parking lot at Walmart and pushed them back to the store for them. We also picked up toys on the toy aisle that were on the floor and put them back (Jenna did amazing at this). Jenna also wanted to contribute to the Salvation Army bucket. We both walked away that day in such a good mood and for the first time EVER Jenna did not ask me for one of those tiny princess dolls they so brilliantly place at the checkout aisle.

Jenna putting a note and present in the mailbox for the mail carrier

We kept going. Together we made a “kindness list” of things we could do.  Once I gave her suggestions Jenna came up with a lot of ideas on her own: draw pictures for her favorite teachers, hand out candy to kids in the park, bring cookies to the firefighters she met on her recent field trip, give blankets to people who are cold.

The next day Jenna asked me for a quarter for a piece of candy from a gumball machine.  I asked her if she would rather leave surprise quarters for other kids to find.  She loved the idea and taped quarters to the gumball machines herself with a note saying how we were celebrating the holidays by performing random acts of kindness (RAK). She giggled the whole way home about how some little boy and girl was going to be “soooo happy” when they found those quarters.  She never did get a piece for herself. I could see she was enjoying the thought of surprising another child.

Jenna brought cookies to the firefighters and left treats and thank you notes (drawn and decorated by Jenna) for our mailman and the garbage collectors. She handed out candy canes to kids in the park (after first asking permission from their parents) and gift certificates at the grocery store. She delivered holiday goodies and a picture she drew for the servers at her favorite restaurant. Every RAK is greeted with surprise, enthusiasm and gratitude.

Now Jenna wakes up every morning and asks, “what are we going to do nice today?”  Our “kindness list” of ideas grows every day. This project has turned into so much more than I anticipated. It has become a wonderful way to spend quality time with my daughter while teaching her an important lesson of charity and generosity of spirit. The feedback we have received has been overwhelming. People are so touched and grateful. I love hearing how people are adopting this tradition for their own family or “paying it forward” after receiving a RAK. It is what the holidays are all about.

For more information or ideas about RAK please visit my blog, Cwazy Town. There is also a download on the blog for our RAK card that we leave behind.

The greatest joys in my life

Guest post by First Lady Ann Scott

First Lady Ann Scott reading to children at the Child Abuse Prevention kick off at the Governor's Mansion

First Lady Ann Scott reading to children at the Child Abuse Prevention Month kick off at the Governor’s Mansion.

Being a mother and a grandmother, with two more grandsons on the way, is the greatest joy in my life. When my children were growing up, I wanted them to feel safe, loved and cared for and know that we supported them as they worked to achieve their dreams.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful children around our state that have persevered through terrible family situations. Some of these kids have been neglected, abandoned and abused, yet they have smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. We can each make a difference in the lives of these children by getting more involved in our communities. I believe that strong communities help make strong families, so I encourage all Floridians to donate their time to children’s causes and participate in youth-focused organizations. You can volunteer as a youth mentor, help out at an afterschool program or a local literacy program. We can all make a difference in the life of a child by sharing our unique skills and abilities.

As Child Abuse Prevention Month comes to a close, my hope is that all Floridians become more involved in their communities so that all of Florida’s children experience the happy childhood and bright future they deserve.

Making sure “farm-to-table” includes everybody’s table

Guest post by Sandy Veilleux, owner of Flora Bama Farms. FBF is a farmers market in Pensacola that recently installed free EBT-processing equipment from the Florida Department of Children and Families and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Flora Bama Farms market

One Halloween when I was a child I volunteered to carve what seemed like hundreds of pumpkins. Why? To put them on the lights of the fire trucks and police cars as holiday décor for their patrols around the neighborhoods to keep residents safe. It was a pretty amazing – and unique – volunteer experience, and one my dad still likes to tell tall tales about.

The pumpkin effort was just one of the many volunteer activities I got myself into when I was young. My parents volunteered endless hours to help their community. It was instilled in me at a very young age that you always give back as much as you can.

Customers at Flora Bama Farms

Now, as an adult, what I know about most is food. So I am doing everything I can to find ways to make sure “farm-to-table” really includes everybody’s table. We want to stretch people’s money so they can eat really well and have the freshest food available.

Installing the free EBT-processing equipment from DCF and the USDA was just one quick way we can make it easier for people of all income levels to have access to great food – all while supporting local farmers! I just attach a bumper buddy to my iPhone and it’s done. It hooks up automatically to a printer, so it has been really easy to use. And did I mention it is FREE? Can’t get any better than that!

Our farmers Markets has partnered up with “Four Blades of Grass,” a chef based effort that provides fresh food to stuff backpacks for kids in school. Our kids are our future. You can’t grow minds on an empty stomach.

Flora Bama Farms yummy produce

These are just small ways we give back that are so easy for us to do because we know food. Giving people access to the things we know and the resources we have just makes sense.

I encourage all Florida farmers markets to take advantage of this free equipment. If your family is going to the market this weekend, be sure to ask if they accept EBT. It’s just one small way to make a huge difference in the health of your community.

Delivering Holiday Cheer for Local Elders

Guest post by DCF Northwest Regional Managing Director Vicki Abrams

Ms. Jennings sat in her wheelchair in the nursing home, looking a little misty eyed as she saw holiday decorations around her. Her husband of 61 years had passed three years earlier and her twin sister died last year. She felt very alone.

Suddenly her face perked up – she saw two big smiles on little faces coming towards her. Her two grandchildren, ages 3 and 6, had come to visit her. Their parents had arms full of presents and holiday treats. Her eyes filled with tears as she embraced her grandchildren.

The holidays give us a wonderful time to come together as families and friends, sharing memories and good tidings. But for many older and disabled adults, the holiday season can be a lonely, stressful and even depressing time.

Here are just a few ways to help the elderly and vulnerable adults during the holiday season.

  • Spending quality time strolling down memory lane with loved ones
  • Talking with and listening to elders in nursing homes and assisted living facilities
  • Helping with holiday shopping or hanging seasonal decorations
  • Bringing holiday treats or preparing a special meal
  • Helping out with home repairs or routine chores
  • Making sure elders have warm clothes and proper heating and air
  • Helping children to make handmade holiday cards for elders and delivering them to nursing homes

This week, escorted by Santa Claus himself, Senior Santa volunteers in Panama City will deliver handmade holiday cards from area children to local nursing homes, distribute gifts donated by Jerry Wilson’s Roofing and Charlie Coram’s Place and delight residents with traditional holiday carols and food.

Connect with an elder family member or friend this holiday season. To help people outside your family, contact local nursing homes to see how you might be able to bring a little holiday joy to residents this season. Even little acts of kindness will surely be greatly appreciated.

Happy holidays!

Operation Santa “Cause”

A mother adopted four children, three of whom have since been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an inherited disorder. Two children have died. They are seeking help with funeral and Christmas present expenses. Details at bottom of this blog post.

Yard work for a disabled adult. Deposit money for a new apartment for a struggling family. A donated car for two former foster children. Holiday gifts for children.

These are just a few things that families in need across Florida are looking for this holiday season. We’re hoping to partner with community organizations to fulfill all of the wishes in our Operation Santa Cause campaign.

DCF’s mission is to help those most in need. That job is daunting. We investigated 188,000 child abuse cases and helped more than 62,000 children in child welfare last year. More than 4.8 million people receive public assistance, more than 52,000 Floridians were served in our domestic violence shelters, and more than 54,300 people are reported homeless.

However, the most exciting part of being in the business of helping others is when we are allowed the opportunity to witness communities helping their neighbors. Our Partners for Promise initiative, which kicked off one year ago, now has more than 1,550 local partner organizations signed up to provide real change in the lives of others.

Below are 12 stories from individuals and families in this state who need a helping hand this holiday season. These are 12 individuals or families whose challenges we have witnessed firsthand. If you know of anyone in your community who would like to make a difference this year, please contact us at the number provided below each story. We will then connect you with the local organizations making these wishes come true this holiday season.

The families listed below are just a small sample of the people in need this season. Contact your local foster agency to find out ways to help foster children in your area.

•    Leon County: A single mother of three who is currently homeless, is diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and her youngest is diagnosed with ADHD. Her oldest son serves our country through the U.S. Army and her second oldest lives with other family. She provides direct care for her youngest child who is 11 years old. The mother isn’t looking for a handout; she is simply looking for a helping hand. A home safe and secure and just enough for her family to live in, instead of with friends, in cars and in local shelters. She believes she can make monthly payments, but has no money to set up a new home.
Wish: A place that she, her son and her mom can call home. They need help with the deposit and initial rent – total $1,200.
Contact: Nicole Stookey, 850-488-0568, or Nicole_Stookey@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Escambia County: The Carver Community Center in Escambia County is 100 percent funded by community donations. The facility provides a safe place for children to go after school and during the summer, meals for 150 to 200 children each day, and also tutoring services for children year round.
Wish: The Center needs Internet service and 15 computers to replace the current computers that are old and very slow. To assist the children in developing reading skills, the Center uses “Ultimate Speed Reader” software. Each license costs around $35 and they need 15. The cost of a computer varies but is about $650 each for Dell All In One computers. The Internet service is about $100 each month.
Contact: Nicole Stookey, 850-488-0568, or Nicole_Stookey@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Jacksonville area: A single mom works full time and takes care of her 18-year-old son who has Muscular Dystrophy and hearing loss. The mom strives to meet the demanding needs of having a special needs child. She recently was advised that her son’s teacher had been working with him using an iPad and that he had really developed an interest in using it. They now believe that it would be beneficial as a new way for him to communicate. It could open a whole new world for him. Such a potentially useful piece of technology is not funded by insurance, supplied by the school or affordable for the family themselves, so obtaining one is difficult.
Wish: An iPad for this amazing young man to call his own.
Contact: John Harrell, 904-723-5470, or John_Harrell@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Marion County: A disabled adult needs a new roof for her home and is unable to afford the cost. Her roof leaks severely when it rains and as a result the home has active mold. This is detrimental to the client’s health as she is on oxygen due to respiratory issues.
Wish: An organization or group of individuals willing to assist with repairing her roof and removing the mold. Estimated cost for roof repair is thousands of dollars. Professional skills could also be donated.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Orlando area: A woman adopted a sibling group of four several years ago. At the time of the adoption, she knew one of the siblings passed away from a degenerative brain disorder. Since that time, three of the four children have been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an inherited disorder, and almost always fatal within 10 years of symptoms. In January, one of the children died at the age of 13 and in October, the 8 year old passed away. The mother lost her job and has since taken a pay cut working a job from home to continue to care for the other two children.
Wish: Provide holiday joy for the two children that are still in her home. Financial assistance to alleviate the outstanding $1,700 in funeral expenses, $500 to cover the cost of the family’s holiday gifts on layaway at Kmart.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Orlando area: A single mother of four children between the ages of 2 and 14 has no car and travels with all of her children by walking or public transportation. She currently works in a plant nursery. She is a humble, hard-working mother who is grateful for the opportunity to work and provide a safe home for herself and her children. These hardships have not prevented her from ensuring her children attend school regularly.
Wish: Child care for the younger siblings would help and ensure they are in a safe and nurturing environment while their mom is at work. A licensed child care facility could donate up to a year of care. Or an organization or individual could provide financial assistance to keep the children in quality child care.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Polk County area: A disabled adult would benefit from someone helping to maintain her yard. Her grass is not yet a code violation, but there are very unkempt, high weeds and there are bushes that need to be trimmed away from doors and windows.
Wish: An individual or organization willing to donate lawn services.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Hillsborough County: A young single parent with two small kids who is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now living in a roach-infested and crime-ridden apartment complex because she is struggling to start her new life here in America. She is working at a local hotel and very involved in a local church and is an incredible example of resiliency.
Wish: She and her family have identified a possible house to rent. To make the move, they need help with the deposit, first month’s rent and transferring utilities. A total of $2,500 would cover costs.
Contact: Teresa Durdaller, 813-337-5854 or Teresa_Durdaller@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Broward County: With each passing year, a 16-year-old boy’s dreams of finding a forever family dwindled. However, through the work of a team of persistent social workers and case managers, the young man’s older sister was identified as a possible adoptive parent. The new adoptive mom is 21 years old and is a former foster child herself. She is working to support herself and her 2-year-old son. Despite having a lot on her plate, she adopted her teenage brother. Since the young man has been adopted, he is thriving. However, transportation is a barrier. The case manager has worked with the sister to help her budget for fuel and insurance, but the cost of a vehicle purchase remains out of reach.
Wish: A donated car would put the icing on the cake so this newly reunited family can continue on their path to success.
Contact: Paige Patterson-Hughes, 954-202-3209, or Paige_Patterson-Hughes@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Broward County: Two sisters, one 16 and the other 13, are currently being raised by their grandmother due to their mother’s mental health and substance abuse issues. The family is living well below poverty. The 16-year-old has an emotional disability and the majority of her disability funds are used to help her grandmother pay rent and other bills. The girls slept on the floor prior to receiving beds from the community-based care organization ChildNet.
Wish: The holidays would be extra special if the girls could get a room makeover. The
girls need a dresser, curtains, sheets and other small items for their room. Estimated cost for the room makeover is around $2,500.
Contact: Paige Patterson-Hughes, 954-202-3209, or Paige_Patterson-Hughes@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Miami-Dade County: A single working mother adopted her nephew and another foster child. They are very good boys, very well-mannered and do well in school. The mother is struggling since her sister moved out and she cannot afford rent on her own. She has been looking for another place, but has not been able to find anything decent for the boys to live in and not disrupt their school. Even under these pressures, she continues to fundraise for foster kids and is a moral support to the foster and adoptive families that participate in the local foster parent association.
Wish: Rent assistance and holiday gifts for the boys. Rent for six months is estimated to be $6,000. Toys for the two boys are estimated to be $500.
Contact: Lissette Valdes-Valle, 786-257-5056, or Lissette_Valdes-Valle@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Miami-Dade: A 24-year-old father who grew up in foster care and was never adopted had a baby with a woman that had a drug problem. The baby was placed in the care of a foster parent when he was born. The foster parent co-parented with the birth father until he was able to get custody of his baby boy who is now 18 months old. The birth father is young and has no family support, but he is doing a great job caring for his son on his own. He is searching for a job but has not had any luck.
Wish: Calls from prospective employers about job opportunities would be welcome. Holiday gifts for an 18 month old and help with basic needs would also help to make the holiday special. Gifts $300; basic needs $1,000.
Contact: Lissette Valdes-Valle, 786-257-5056, or Lissette_Valdes-Valle@dcf.state.fl.us