Category Archives: Volunteer

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

The Ripple Effect

Guest post by Sharon Groover, Safe Children Coalition Foster Parent Trainer. SCC is the lead agency for Community Based Care in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

This story starts with a young mother of two going into labor and having no support system. Having no other options, she drove her two children to the labor and delivery room with her. When she arrived, she learned her 11 month old and 3 year old would not be permitted to stay with her during her delivery and hospital stay.

Awakened at 4 a.m. by the sound of a ringing phone, a very tired but understanding foster family, the Brophys, accepted placement of the two siblings. Later that day, Cindy took the children to the hospital to see their mother and to meet their new sibling. Learning that the mother could not be released because she did not have another adult to pick her up, Cindy arranged to return with another foster parent, Zena, to drive the mother, baby and the mom’s car home from the hospital.

In addition to giving the mother a ride, Cindy and Zena gave the mother their contact information and encouraged her to reach out for help. This provided the mother with an instant support system.

The Ripple Effect began when Gena Davis, a very experienced foster and adoptive parent and new president of the Sarasota Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, heard the story. She soon texted Cindy to acknowledge her efforts and to report some sorely needed help to restore Gena’s hope and passion for fostering children and making a difference in the lives of others.

Gena will now continue the ripples as she leads the Sarasota FAPA members with renewed sense of purpose. Cindy, Zena, Gena and their families are shining examples of the Quality Parenting Initiative and Family Centered Practice. Foster and adoptive parents have a tremendous power to make a positive impact on yourselves, your families, each other, your community and your world – one child and family at a time.

Day 3: Rising Up

Guest post by DCF Director of Digital Media and Outreach Niki Pocock. This is the last in her blog series following her first trip to DCF’s Child Protection Summit.  

After hearing from Judo Olympian Kayla Harrison and Secret Millionaire Marcus Lemonis, the Chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises (hoping to get guest blog posts from them in the near future!), I took a minute to talk to some of the kids in foster care who were at the Summit.

Florida Youth SHINE

There was an awesome group from Florida Youth SHINE, which helps kids in foster care or aging out of foster care. Most of them were vice presidents or presidents of their local chapters, so I was seriously in the presence of greatness. I loved that one young man, Brandon in Southwest Florida, told me that when he was invited to be a part of starting a new Youth Shine chapter he said, “Yeah, as long as I can be president.” How cool is that?!? That’s how to do it!

And there was a young lady from Pinellas who was placed in foster care as soon as she was born. The social worker she met when she was 8 adopted her when she was 12. She is involved with helping the other kids in foster care and her defining moment was when she attended the Eckerd Wilderness Camp at age 17. She saw how the younger girls looked up to her and she realized that her story made an impact on them. She was also inspired by the camp staff, who truly wanted to help her and the other campers. She now wants to be a social worker and also plans to get a law degree. She currently attends St. Petersburg College.

Florida Youth SHINE

A young man named Edward from Miami may have said it best: “Who better to help them than me? They can hear from another foster youth who has been through what they have been through. Felt the depression. I understand them and have experienced it all first-hand.”

Another young woman, Tracey from Fort Myers, who aged out of the foster system in March. She said that she got into Youth Shine because they kept calling her … and calling her … and calling her. She eventually gave in and attended a meeting – and she was hooked. She found out tons of info, like that she could have a Guardian ad Litem and she could initiate going to court if she needed to. She wanted to be in a position to help other kids learn more about the services available to them.

Then I spoke to Alan Abramowitz, the Executive Director of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program. He told me about a 17-year-old kid in foster care he met who had not seen his family in two years. Alan located his cousin, who was like the foster child’s sibling, and set up a little reunion. He said it was one of the most emotional things he has ever seen. He’s seen children change the entire direction of cases in the courtroom. Hearing the child say they love their parents even after everything they’ve been through has often given parents the strength and motivation to completely turn their lives around and become great parents.

I spoke to Samuel Morris, who licenses foster homes in Northeast Florida. He said he makes sure the homes he approves for kids will really be homes, not just a place they land. He told me about a lady who showed him a hallway full of children she had fostered and told him, “These are my kids.” Homes like that help the kids reach their highest potential.

And then I met Tina, a child protection investigator executive in Santa Rosa and Walton counties. She said that her day is filled with positives, and was even when she was a CPI in the field. She reunited families, helped parents become real parents, became a mentor to foster children aging out of the system and seen parents get off drugs and back with their kids. She has been to high school graduations and often gets wonderful calls from kids and biological parents, even if they are separated.

My biggest take away from this Summit is how proud I am to be a part of such a wonderful system. The people who work and volunteer in child welfare. Everyone I spoke to had the same thing to say – I am here because I want to help people.