It's all about the STORY!

Posts tagged ‘youth’

Pinellas County presents the “Learn and Succeed Network”–New focus on education from cradle to career

Link to full article here:

Education from cradle to career: Learn and Succeed Network

I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council for Pinellas to conduct a one-on-one interview with David Lawrence. Who is David Lawrence? He is the former publisher of the Miami Herald and head of The Children’s Movement of Florida. When I sat down with Lawrence, he began to interview me at once. He wasn’t subtle about it, and I didn’t resist. I was intregued–having been with myself my whole life, I’ve never found myself to be very interesting. I’m curious when others do.

Anyway, the few questions I did present to Lawrence ended with me being extended an invitation to attend a small, invitation only meeting–a gathering of some very influential leaders in Pinellas County spanning nonprofit, government and business sectors. It was here that I learned a little about the formation of the Health and Human Services Coordination Council’s establishment of Learn and Succeed Network, but more why the formation of this Network is of critical importance to our community.

From the article:

Lawrence has researched and stays up-to-date on many compelling facts to make his case for children in Florida. He reported alarming facts about the state of education right now. These facts illustrated enormous need in that 28 percent of third graders cannot read proficiently, and 3/5 of eighth graders are not reading at grade level. About 80 percent of childcare is nothing more than storage and warehousing with little to no education and learning taking place. When 90 percent of a child’s brain growth ends at the age of five, it is clear that early learning is critical to the future success of our county and its children.

Lawrence also is a man of intriguing etiquette, fully knowledgeable on Pinellas County statistics as well. He knew his audience. He went on to discuss some of the strengths that Pinellas County has, which can be leveraged to make an impactful change for this initiative, including diminishing unemployment, a manageable population growth rate, higher than most Florida counties’ per capita income, strong foundation and infrastructure.

Lawrence also mentioned that Pinellas County has in its midst a pioneer for children’s services—the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas—which was the first children’s services council in Florida. JWB has served as a model for the other 10 children’s services councils in the State.

Yet, while Pinellas County has many strengths, one overarching concern that commonly plagues discussions about education is finances. The cost of reform and new initiatives is a marked concern across the nation, state and even locally.

Recently, Governor Rick Scott allocated an additional $1 billion to education for the State. At first glance, that may seem like a helpful move, but it isn’t. In February of last year, Governor Scott cut Florida’s education budget by $1.3 billion. Now that $1 billion has been added back, the State is still $300 million behind while the State has approximately 30,000 additional students to serve. Additionally, as property taxes support schools, and as property is valued far less than it was two years ago, this is even more revenue subtracted from education.

While this does sound dismal, hope rests in the fact that Pinellas County considers education and children a priority. Lawrence said, “It is not that [we] lack resources. The resources need to be reallocated to reflect the priorities of the people.” Lawrence stresses that for education reform to really be effective there cannot be a focus on “those kids—the disadvantaged ones, the minorities, the ones living in poverty. The focus must be on equality—equal access to high quality education, resources and opportunities of all children.”

One sixth of our schoolchildren are living in poverty and about 50 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many of these same children come to school with more base problems that trump the need for reading, writing and math today such as food insecurity, homelessness, neglect, etc. Schools must then divert its role away from education to managing social problems and triaging issues.

In the end, all of this knowledge needs to translate to change. And this is what the Learn and Succeed Network is hoping to accomplish. The biggest return on investment is in early childhood development. This knowledge is echoed even through St. Petersburg College President William Law. Dr. Law states that even St. Petersburg College is examining pre-kindergarten and elementary school as an initiative, because it is the foundation of all education. Beyond this, career training, apprenticeships and diploma programs are being examined to provide greater employment opportunities to provide a smoother transition from education into careers.

As for the Learn and Succeed Network, it is currently under rapid development. I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council to interview David Lawrence and to learn about the emerging Learn and Succeed Network. I ended up attending a meeting with a select group of rather powerful individuals comprised of local leaders and business persons in Pinellas County. These individuals have been asked to consider participating with this new Network due to the wide breadth of pertinent knowledge and resources that could help ensure the Network’s success.

As a native to Pinellas County and a graduate of Pinellas County Schools, I for one am grateful for these efforts, and I hope for much success as the Learn and Succeed Network forms and begins its important work. On February 8, 2012, the first official activity of the Learn and Succeed Network will take place at the St. Petersburg College, Seminole Campus. This event will focus on creating a common agenda through identifying key goals and measures. Additionally, workgroups will begin developing strategies to achieve these goals. This is an open event and registration is required through the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council here:

“i own me” Local Caregivers Empower Teens To Stay Safe

The Spring of Tampa Bay has partnered with Ad2 Tampa Bay to develop a statewide social marketing campaign, “i own me,” empowering youths to set boundaries and prevent violence.

LINK to full article:

Abuse Can Seem Subtle but Lead to Danger

I  recently interviewed Brenda Rouse, director of communications of The  Spring of Tampa Bay, who described how abuse begins in a relationship.  According to Rouse, abuse begins as a situation in which one person in a  relationship does not honor and respect the personal boundaries of the  other person. Boundaries are critical; these are the rules a person  establishes for him or herself and how he or she wants and expects to be  treated.

Rouse gives an example: “If I were a teenage girl, my  boundaries could include how late at night you can call me on the phone,  the words I allow you to use when you speak to me, the pet names you  give me, and even whether or not you display affection to me in the  halls at school. Violate these boundaries, and it’s abusive. These  personal boundaries are often violated before physical violence and  sexual abuse begins.”

Rouse explains that teaching young women how  to recognize, establish and enforce their personal boundaries is  becoming much more difficult in this age of cellphones, Skype and  Facebook and Internet communications. Rouse said that many girls who  have been abused will tell you that the problem often begins when young  men expect girls to answer calls and respond to text messages on a  24-hour cycle. There is no allowable downtime for communication.

Get Teens Involved

Teens can take the pledge “to  demand respect from my boyfriend or girlfriend. I expect to be treated  properly by establishing personal boundaries and to be honored in my  decisions concerning privacy, sex, and affection. I will not tolerate  being physically, verbally, or emotionally hurt” by visiting They also can like the “i own me” Facebook page and follow “i own me” on Twitter.

Why Preventing Teen Violence Is Important

According  to studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine,  Journal of Adolescent Health, Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report,  Journal of the American Medical Association and by other researchers:

  • About 1 in 4 teens report verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse each year.
  • About 1 in 11 teens report being a victim of physical dating abuse each year.
  • About 1 in 5 teens report being a victim of emotional abuse.
  • About 1 in 5 high school girls have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • 80 percent of teens regard verbal abuse as a serious issue for their age group.
  • 1  in 3 teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched,  kicked, slapped, choked or otherwise physically hurt by his or her  partner.
  • About 72 percent of students in 8th and 9th grade report “dating.”
  • By the time they are in high school, 54 percent of students report dating violence among their peers.
  • Nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused in their dating relationships continue to date their abuser.
  • Nearly  1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend  had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
  • Almost 70 percent of young women who have been raped knew their rapist either as a boyfriend, friend or casual acquaintance.
  • Teen dating abuse most often takes place in the home of one of the partners.
  • The  overall occurrence of dating violence is higher among black students  (13.9 percent) than Hispanic students (9.3 percent) or white students  (7.0 percent), according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Spread the word, and help teens stay safe!

The Cardboard Stories: community theatre brings messages of hard truths about homelessness with inspiration and hope

The Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless (PCCH) in partnership with Joyeous Productions premiered its first theatrical production, The Cardboard Stories‘ “Blissful Turmoil”, in November of 2010. The brainchild of PCCH Director of Development and Performance Evaluation George Bolden, its mission was to instill hope and inspire action, telling a story of the true faces of homelessness. A bold mission, and I must admit, from the very first show: mission accomplished!

From the Palladium Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg, the setting of the play transported us all right down the street. Down the street and just around the corner to nearby William’s Park. I was struck by the scenery, from the busses to the park benches that had armrails installed down the center to make it difficult for St. Petersburg homeless to stretch out. Then, the people started filling the stage. The homeless, police, a familiar mix.

This scene brought me back to my childhood–memories of attending church at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, right across from William’s Park. Countless interactions with the homeless who have always seemed to be a part of the park’s landscape as far back as I can remember. I remember feeling uneasy around them, watching the uneasiness of the adults around me, watching them avert their eyes, watching them take effort not to acknowledge these humans, no smiles, no hellos and not a word about them following the experience.

It’s as if they were ghosts. Some supernatural entities that we are not to mention for fear that then, if they were to be acknowledged or to come up in conversation, we would ultimately have to face our individual responsibility to do something. Something helpful. Something kind. Something outside of our familiarities.

Children learn through example, but all along, I knew this behavior was wrong. Averted eyes, speeded gates, tugging on their children’s hands to move them swiftly by. Wait!  These are people. We should smile at them. We should say hello. We should be kind. We should acknowledge humanity.

Then, the characters started to come alive on the stage, telling a profound tale of an all too common scene: a young mother who recently aged out of foster care to find herself homeless with a baby, living on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. An original stage play written by a local playwrite, Marvia Joye Watkins “Joye”brought a difficult story to her audience in a balanced fashion that wasn’t too uncomfortably hard yet moving and real.  

Blended into the story was original music brought to us by recording artist and The Cardboard Stories Music Director September Penn. Tears welled up in many eyes as the message came home to us all: Faces of Hope… what about us, we know you see us… we were displaced now we’re searching for faces of hope… For the full song, click here: 

Keeping it real was a primary focus of the production from day one. Several key figures responsible for shaping this production spent Labor Day weekend living as homeless persons on the streets and in shelters in St. Petersburg. They came back with an altered, realistic perspective that influenced the production. Some of the cast members were homeless themselves. The Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless provided well-research statistics of homelessness in Pinellas County, which was integrated within the play (about 65 percent of homeless persons are women and children; less than 40 percent of homeless have issues with addictions). Theatergoers were provided with the facts and some of the realities of homelessness, yet with an overarching message of hope and inspiration.

A closing message: may we remember to at the very least acknowledge humanity. Do not invert your eyes any longer. Just take a moment and have the courage in your heart to look, smile and say, “hello.”

The Cardboard Stories is actually a series of four plays. The curtain has closed on the first, though the production is receiving invitation to take the show on the road and perform encore productions! Meanwhile, the cast and crew are back at work, producing the next in its series, “Sweet Atrocity” to be premiered in the Spring of 2011. I invite you all to stay posted by “liking” The Cardboard Stories on Facebook, and sharing this inspirational story with your family, friends, coworkers and faith-based communities.

For more information on The Cardboard Stories, please visit:



Media (St. Petersburg Times): 

Media (Bay News 9):

Slideshow (



Promo Ad:

Tag Cloud