Tag Archives: “david wilkins”

Aime’s Story

Post by DCF Secretary David Wilkins

Yesterday and over the past few weeks, we have been holding events in honor of World Refugee Day. More refugees flee to Florida than any other state, and DCF is charged with administering federal funding to refugees to help them acclimate to American culture and society.

This unique population encounters many challenges—from learning English to becoming familiar with modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing and electricity. Despite these obstacles, we know many refugees who are living in Florida are not only getting by, they are thriving.

Aime Kalangwa

Aime Kalangwa

Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Aime Kalangwa a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aime and his brother came to Florida in 2011 as the only survivors in their family of their country’s ongoing civil war. They were adopted by a supportive, loving family just as he was beginning his senior year of high school.

With the help of his adoptive parents, Aime tackled cultural and language barriers head-on. He dedicated himself to his studies by working with tutors daily to pass his classes and learn English. Learning American history was particularly challenging because all the material was new. He had never heard of George Washington, the Bill of Rights or the Civil Rights Movement—it was all new to him. But he didn’t just get by; he excelled. His dedication to learning the history of his new country was recognized when he received the award for Outstanding Achievement in American History at his senior awards night.

Today, he continues to pursue his education at Broward College studying Criminal Justice. He is an activist, spokesperson and mentor for other young refugees and is looking forward to becoming an American citizen when he graduates.

Aime’s is just one of the many stories of refugees who flee from war and oppression, build a new life and thrive. Their stories truly inspire and show us that the American dream is alive and well here in Florida.

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

Day 1: A river of tears

Guest post by DCF Director of Digital Media and Outreach Niki Pocock. This blog series will follow her first trip to DCF’s Child Protection Summit. 

A news clip comes in about a baby that was shaken – I cry. I hear about a foster child who has found a forever family to call their own – I cry. I see a photo of a brightly colored mural on the walls of the room where human trafficking victims are given help – I cry.

At Summit the goal is to inspire and educate, which means lots of stories. And so … all day I have cried. The stories are uplifting, but still derived from sadness:

A foster child throws his arms around his foster mother’s neck, calling her “mom” as he gives her a huge hug.

A foster parent is recognized for showing great support for a child’s birth mother, even supplying the mother’s breast milk for the child.

A mother’s child died from medical complications. DCF helps her emotionally so she can continue to take care of her surviving child, a little boy. Her thanks towards DCF is overwhelming and humbling.

A case manager travels hours to visit all the children she helps, knowing that she is the one constant in many of their lives.

A father falls under intense financial and life stress and begins taking his frustrations out on his family. He cries as he thanks DCF for helping him get back on his feet and get mental health care. He is now a successful husband and father.

These are just a few of the many stories that made me tear up today. They are the stories that keep DCF staff in the field. Stay tuned – more blog posts (and awesome videos) to come! And be sure to follow #DCFSummit on Twitter for up-to-the-second updates.

Staying close to home

Guest post by Life Management Center, a DCF-funded mental health facility in Bay County.

DCF Secretary Wilkins talks with Keith, a former FACT patient

Imagine being so sick that you are not able to take care of yourself and your family doesn’t feel capable of caring for you. You have to leave home for care for an extended amount of time. This happens every day for people with severe and persistent mental illness when their illness does not respond well to traditional treatments.

We often see these people sent to state hospitals to receive treatment far away from friends and family, sent to jail after committing a minor crime, or even homeless and on the streets without any help in sight. Wouldn’t it be better if we could help these people right in their communities where they still have the support of their friends and family? Wouldn’t it be better if they were able to function well enough to return to school or get a job? Of course it would!

With the help of several key stakeholders, Life Management Center of Northwest Florida is so pleased to be able to once again offer these types of services in Bay County. In January 2013 we will be able to reinstate a program called Florida Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) in our community. Through FACT we will be able to provide people with improved psychiatric care and supportive services that will help them rebuild their lives. From medication management to supportive employment services, these clients will be offered every support needed to get back on their feet.

We were thrilled to be able to recognize DCF Secretary David Wilkins yesterday for his part in making the funding for this program possible. While he has visited Life Management Center a few times over the last year, this time was different. With this visit, Secretary Wilkins had a chance to visit with Keith, one of our former FACT clients, who was quick to point out how much the program had helped him regain his independence. Sec. Wilkins was able to talk to him about some of the obstacles he had encountered while trying to get well, including the high cost of psychiatric drugs. Keith explained how the FACT program had helped him with those costs and other support.

The staff of Life Management Center is excited to be able to offer the FACT program again to our community members, and we look forward to helping people with severe mental health problems regain their lives.

That’s MY Bag.

Guest blog post by Maritza Moreno, the 2009-2011 president of the South Dade Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, and founder of My Bags.  She and her husband have been foster parents since 2008. 

The “seed” for the My Bag project was placed in our hearts by a child protective investigations supervisor in Miami, Jenny Soriano-Priestly.  She related how distressing it was that most of the time when children are removed from their parents they don’t have a bag or suitcase to put their belongings in.  CPIs would have to resort to using trash bags to transport the belongings of children while they were undergoing the trauma of being removed from their parents. This was horrifying to me; these “little things” we just don’t think about in our day-to-day lives, but these “little things,” the subtle messages, are the ones that children learn from.

At the time, we unfortunately didn’t have the money to fund the project.  However, at the end of 2011, our Association received a generous donation and, with matching funds from Our Kids of Miami-Dade & Monroe, our current president, Martha Pedroso, made sure that the project was a success.

We have bought 250 “My Bags” that are being distributed to the DCF hubs and also some police stations in Miami.  When CPIs go to remove a child, they bring one of the bags to help the child collect their belongings – a bag the child can call their own.

Mrs. Pedroso’s marketing background has proven very effective to get the community involved at all levels. One volunteer heard about us through social networking. A Davie student, Ari Kaplan, chose to participate in the My Bag project by fundraising and collecting duffle bags as his Bar Mitzvah special community project.

The next step is to obtain comfort items to include with the bags, such as toothbrush/toothpaste, a small toy or book.  We understand that sometimes these children may not have these items or there may not be enough time to obtain them.

We wish to ease the trauma children must endure. They are innocent victims.