Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness

woman, human trafficking victim, in clinic room with a concerned look in her face.

The month of January is recognized nationally for Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness. Human Trafficking primarily involves exploitation but comes in many different forms. LSF has a dedicated program in Tampa Bay to help trafficking victims— Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (TVAP).

Helping trafficking victims may look different than you think as trafficking victims are often physically and emotionally abused, threatened, lied to, and tricked.  It involves more than linking victims to services, it’s about providing comprehensive, wrap-around services, and support so victims can recover safely and be set up for a successful future.

LSF’s TVAP program builds relationships with faith-based organizations, survivors, law enforcement, service providers, and members of federal, state, and local governments. Community partnerships are essential to raise awareness about human trafficking and reach the most vulnerable populations in our community.

LSF has a great relationship with Homeland Security and in 2019, LSF’s Anti-Trafficking Outreach Coordinator was invited to be a part of an operation in recovery of minor victims of sex trafficking. LSF was able to connect with a minor recovered victim after the operation and referred the victim to LSF’s TVAP program.

Additional collaborative efforts between Homeland Security, the Administration for Children and Families, and Victim Assistance Specialists ensured the survivor could recover safely.

woman, human trafficking victim, in clinic room with a concerned look in her face.

From there, LSF connected the victim to comprehensive case management to ensure that the victim was referred to Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, legal services, and assisted with paperwork so the victim could immediately start receiving financial assistance.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, LSF was able to extend the victims case management services and financial assistance.

While receiving services the victim became pregnant and her newborn was born during an emergency delivery, transferred to the NICU, and had to undergo surgery. This additional stress caused for a greater need for assistance from LSF and the local community.

LSF’s Anti-Trafficking Outreach Coordinator had the victim make a list of her immediate needs. The number one thing the victim listed was food. Others listed were clothing, personal care items, diapers, assistance with transportation, and more.

LSF’s Anti-Trafficking Outreach Coordinator reached out to community partners, spoke with colleagues at LSF, and as a result was able to provide the victim with an abundance of food, diapers, multiple bags of clothing and personal care items, money for transportation, and additional financial assistance to help with housing.

The newborn is now released from the hospital and both the victim and infant are doing well.

For more information on LSF’s Trafficking Victim’s Assistance Program and Comprehensive Case Management Services, visit:

Elections 2020

This has been a trying year for America and our communities.  We have weathered storms, wildfires, a global pandemic, acts of injustice, peaceful protests, violence, and a contentious election.

Now, we find ourselves facing uncertain election results and threats of a contested outcome.   While voting has ended, the results of this election are now in the hands of state and local officials charged with counting and certifying the vote tally, as they have throughout our history.  As always, the integrity of our democracy is entrusted to their hands.

At this time, I ask you to join me in praying for those shouldering this responsibility.  Let’s also lift in prayer our divided nation that we may find healing and peace in the days and months ahead.

Sam Sipes, President & CEO

National Adoption Month in Florida

Diversity portrait of children laying together on grass outdoors.

On this #NationalAdoptionMonth, we celebrate the 4,548 children in Florida who were adopted during fiscal year 2019-2020. Approximately 700 children, including teenagers, siblings, and children with medical needs, are still waiting to meet their forever family.

To learn more about LSF’s foster care and adoption services, visit

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Take Voting for Granted

Terri Durdaller, LSF VP of Communications.

Voting has always been a true action verb for me. I grew up in a political household where family members ran for political office and religion and politics were discussed over cake and coffee during weekend get togethers. The cliché, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” struck me this weekend as my extended family gathered in Orlando and conversations inevitably circled back to baptizing our newborns cousins under Covid-19 restrictions and the upcoming Presidential election.

As our CEO Sam Sipes pointed out in his Hands of Hope message last week, asking “who are you voting for” can be a trigger for lively conversations and that’s no different for my family. Whether we agree or disagree, we must focus on unity, following the example of late U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia with their strong friendship despite deep ideological differences.

I spent the first 8 years of my career in communications posts for elected officials. We used to joke with each other and say, “talk to people about voting like your job depends on it.” Seriously, I believe that everyone should vote because everyone has an opinion on how taxes should be spent, which laws should be passed, and which leader best represents their voice.

19th Amendment  

One Sunday night over traditional spaghetti and meatballs, my mom shared a revelation: women didn’t always have the right to vote. SAY WHAT? I spent my early teenage years making sure I didn’t stew in anger. Instead, I became more involved in “get out the vote activities” such as phone banking, delivering yard signs and attending rallies. My first vote with national impact was in the 2000 presidential election.

My thoughts overwhelmed me as I went to the polls that morning alongside my mom. On one hand, I was proud of the ways empowered women brought social change to our country after fighting for their right to vote and ultimately winning through the ratification of the 19th Amendment. However, the amendment was complicated in legacy and reality because it was left unfinished. Despite the contributions of women of color to the suffrage movement, suffrage didn’t happen for them upon its passage in 1920. Black women couldn’t vote unimpeded until nearly 5 decades later.

Close elections

Close elections happen and a single vote can make a difference. If you don’t think every vote counts, remember the 2000 election when democracy was hanging by a chad. It’s true tens of millions of people voted, but that election was decided, after the recount and the U.S Supreme Court intervention by 537 votes.  Your power is in your vote!

To the polls and beyond!

Florida has made changes to voting procedures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that includes mail-in ballots, early voting and corporate partnership to leverage larger polling places. Many of you have already taken advantage and cast your vote. Good for you!  Me? I am a sucker for waiting in lines, the sweet sound of a voting machine and of course posting my selfie to social media on election day! I dug up this old Facebook post from Tuesday, November 6, 2012:

“Waited an hour in Hillsborough County at my polling place. High-fived the hot guy wearing a ************* t-shirt on my way out. Got rear-ended returning to DCF causing a three-car pileup. Waited another hour for the cops to arrive. A little inconvenienced. A little sore. But proud to vote, drive and work in the greatest country in the world.”

Florida fun facts

The election is a week away and you may be asking yourself why both candidates and their star quality sidekicks are stumping in the Sunshine State. Florida is always close and takes an enormous effort to win, but the battle is worth winning. Floridians’ chosen winner has prevailed in the last six presidential election cycles. Call us a purple state, a bellwether state – whatever nickname you like, the bottom line is in a state of 21.9 million people with 29 Electoral College Votes up for grabs – your vote matters.

A good friend reminded me that not all family or friends know the boundaries when dinner conversations turn political. She recently hosted a dinner party that left her looking for ways to deescalate the conversation. She distracted them with apple cobbler and vanilla ice cream, but wished she had seen this article on emotional intelligence before her party. It’s worth a read, especially as the race for commander in chief sprints to the finish line.

Today I emphasized why political conversations don’t have to be taboo and why voting matters. Just remember if you do engage with friends and loved ones, I hope Sam’s words “there is significant value in focusing on what unites us” remain at the heart of your dialogue.


Make your voice heard – go vote today!

Congo Refugee Family Finds Hope in Florida

We are so thrilled that Palangwa, Mupunga, and Batatu Makemba graduated high school after working with LSF’s Comprehensive Refugee Services (CRS) since 2019. They are now attending college after the help they received from CRS’s Youth Services and Mentoring programs. Let us tell you their story.

Palangwa, Mupunga, and Batatu are triplets from a large family born into the Congo of Africa. Their parents feared for their lives because of ongoing wars and violent conflict. They made the difficult decision to flee the Congo when the triplets were only one month old.

From left to right: Palangwa, Batatu, and Mupunga Makemba graduated high school after working with LSF’s Comprehensive Refugee Services (CRS) since 2019.

Their parents were terrified but put on a brave face and made a 750-mile trek on foot and bicycle with their newborn triplets and other children. They arrived safely in Zambia where they resided in two different refugee camps over close to 17 years.

Palangwa, Mupunga, and Batatu grew up in Zambia confined to their refugee camp. They couldn’t leave, because it was not safe for them. It was the only life they knew. While their family continued to grow, Palangwa and Mupunga eventually started going to work with their father in fields. They learned how to play soccer, but only with others inside the camp.

For years, their parents completed applications and interview processes repeatedly to seek political asylum in a safer county.

They were notified in June 2018 they would be able to leave for the United States. At first, their parents were told they would be resettling to Arkansas. But to their surprise, they were handed plane tickets to Florida. They were scared and nervous. Because most of their lives they lived confined to camps, they didn’t know if Florida was outside of the United States or where it was.

When they arrived in Tampa, they were greeted by one of LSF’s CRS representatives who assisted in finding them a place to live and schools for the children to attend.

The Makemba family said all their doubts and fears were gone after meeting with someone from LSF.

LSF CRS provided wrap around services to make sure the entire family was comfortably integrated in America and set up for a successful life. The triplets were assigned a Mentor and a Youth Specialist.

Their assigned mentor, Marie Cloutier, worked hard to provide the triplets extra support while navigating high school in America. She made sure they would have the best high school experience. She connected Palangwa and Mupunga with the high school soccer coach and they made the varsity team! Palangwa even won Rookie of the Year! At the end of the season banquet, they got to experience receiving their varsity letters—which is unlike anything they ever had in Zambia playing soccer at the camps.

Marie kept on going and wanted to make sure the triplets had the best senior year experience. She found financial assistance to buy them outfits for the Homecoming Dance and even drove them there herself to make sure they could attend! She even made sure there was funding to get their senior portraits taken.

Meanwhile, while Marie was working on the triplet’s senior year experiences, their Youth Services Specialist Ana Chavez Vivo, was focused on making sure they made it to high school graduation. She connected the triplets to 56 hours of tutoring and stepped in during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure all three of them continued to make strides in core classes, even while attending school virtually.

The triplets gained confidence while attending high school and continued to work towards having a better life. Although the end of their senior year was different than expected, they did not stop working towards their goal of walking across the stage at graduation. Just before graduation, Ana set up an appointment with a vocational planner to see how LSF could connect the triplets to education after high school.

Palangwa, Mupunga, and Batatu successfully graduated from Hillsborough High School and now are attending Brewster Technical College. Which is incredible! CRS’ programs worked together so the triplets could feel a sense of pride in graduation, then moving on to college to build their future. Congratulations Palangwa, Mupunga, and Batatu!

Parent Letter- Head Start

Good morning teacher, nice to greet you. I wanted to thank you for the dedication and the activities you do with the children.

 In the case of my son Luis, I am happy because I see the progress he has made in his work. We review the activities they do at school and Luis talks to us and explains everything. He sings and gestures to pronounce letters. He is also learning more of the language. Put into practice at home, singing or playing in English, or when greeting a neighbor and chatting. I am proud of my son.

Thank you very much teacher.

Ms. Sanchez

Ms. Rolle, teacher in Classroom A at Southwind Villa.

Dear Ms. Sanchez, thank you for the encouraging words. I am trying to get to know my students better by observing them throughout the day. Luis, is a very smart child.  Today, Luis made a race car out Legos; I told him that, that’s what an engineer does. And I said, that there are many types of engineers, and then I began to name them. He seemed very excited. I enjoy his enthusiasm and wish to keep in interested in learning. Thank you again, and have a very pleasant evening.

Sincerest regards,

Ms. Rolle (Teacher)

LSF Launches ‘Beauty is a Silent Teacher’ Campaign, Raises $146,000 in Cash/Commitments

Lippman Youth Shelter front building

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – 10/15/2020 Lutheran Services Florida set a high fundraising goal of $250,000 to revitalize a 36-year-old youth shelter, reflecting a trend of nonprofits seeking more private donations anticipating future cuts to social services with the economic challenges Florida is facing from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lutheran Services Florida is one of the most experienced at running youth shelters with its oldest in operation since 1984. Lippman Youth Shelter located in Broward County injects hope for better tomorrows by supporting at-risk youth and healing families that have been torn apart by conflict. Unfortunately, given the age of Lippman Shelter and program grant limitations – which cover room and board, staffing, transportation and daily needs – many ongoing facility needs are not covered.

LSF has launched a capital campaign, “Beauty is a Silent Teacher,” to restore beauty and integrity to the aged shelter. This campaign will significantly enhance the aesthetics and programing capabilities for the most vulnerable youth who come through the doors, providing the best environment for our youth and social workers to thrive.

We are thrilled to announce the chair of our campaign, Reverend Dr. Gary Leopard of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lake Park, Florida. In just the first month, LSF has raised $146,000 in cash and commitments, which is more than half of the $250,000 campaign goal.

“Recently reaching 44 years of Ordination was a sentimental milestone for me and to serve LSF as the chair of this campaign felt like the perfect way to celebrate. As a Lutheran pastor and from a Lutheran pastor’s perspective, I was drawn to their mission to bring hope-filled tomorrows to Florida’s most vulnerable in the name of Jesus Christ. I am dedicated to helping LSF raise the other half of the campaign goal, pleading to the most generous and compassionate of Broward County,” said Reverend Dr. Gary Leopard of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

LSF has an estimated 98 percent success rate of youth returning home to their families to rebuild their lives following their stay at one of our shelter. Many of our youth stay in touch with the counselors who have helped them through their most difficult times. Some have even said the shelters feel like a second home.

“Before LSF I was lost. I was tired. I wasn’t able to sleep, eat or smile when I got home. I wanted to disappear. I felt like I just didn’t belong. I thought everything would be better if I was GONE. Now here at the shelter I feel freer, more open. I’m happier. I’m smiling more. This shelter hasn’t just helped me to become a stronger person, but it has also become like a second HOME for me. A place I can always find positivity,” said Marc a teen impacted by an LSF Youth Shelter.

Covid-19 has not stopped LSF from ambitious fundraising efforts as our EVP of Community Relations, Jim Clark stresses that our partners understand the need for philanthropy and are happy to give back to LSF even during these unusual times.

To partner with us or schedule a tour of Lippman, contact Jim Clark, Executive Vice President of Community Relations at or 813-415-7231. Visit for to make a gift today.

# # #


Media Contact:

Terri Durdaller, LSF Vice President of Communications




Happy International Teacher’s Day!

Almost everyone growing up had one teacher that touched your mind, heart, and soul. Mine was Mr. Jim Smith; he taught sociology and history. I wasn’t a typical A student, except for my shop and welding classes. I attended two high schools, a ‘regular’ high school and a vocational program.

Mr. Smith was a student counsel advisor and representative for several programs I wasn’t even a part of. But, for some reason he took interest in me. He saw something within me, that I didn’t know was there. When I asked to be in his class, he only allowed me to enroll if I promised to get an A. You know the saying; a promise is a promise – I got my A. After that, I enrolled in his history class… and yes, I got another A. Then he asked for me to take the American College Testing (ACT).  He pushed me to become a better student.

Mr. Jim Smith and his family have been a part of my family since high school. We talk every week, we send prayer requests, we vacation together, and stay together when visiting. He made a difference and continues to make a difference in my life. I am a better person because of the influence he had in my life.

Teachers can touch that one child, influence that one child, mold that one child, and love that one child. I am so proud that all our teachers are LSF Teachers. Thank you for making LSF your home!

Bob Bialas

EVP Children and Head Start Services

A Story of Resilience

Recovery Month 2020

September is recognized nationwide as Recovery Month to increase awareness and understanding of mental health and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover from these devastating diseases.

The stress we are all feeling from Covid-19, hurricane season and a possible economic recession is real and concerning.  Increasing anxiety and worry makes right now a critical time to take care of your mental health.

Sherry Warner, LSF’s Certified Recovery Peer Specialist Success Coach, went through her own mental health journey. She tells her story of hope and finding the strength to recover.

I grew up with an alcoholic father, an unstable emotionally abusive mother, and a stepfather who molested me for years. Their own traumas impacted their parenting, perpetuating a cycle of harsh shaming tactics and extreme physical discipline. I left it all behind after running away at 18 years old and married my husband at 21. We are on the tail end of raising 5 kids, with the youngest now 16 years old. It’s been no piece of cake.

At an early age our oldest displayed extremely aggressive, violent, even abusive traits that only got worse in time, severely injuring our family dynamic. He lived away from home for 3 years of his teens and I felt broken and as if I had failed as a mom. The trickledown effect of the trauma hurt us all. As a family of 7, we have survived debilitating mental health diagnoses of all the kids and two suicide attempts. We are no strangers to Baker Acts, lengthy behavioral health hospitalizations, and rides in police cars. Our determination was one of the only things that kept us pushing on.

After four decades of chronic stress and unprocessed trauma, both as a child and as a mother, my mind and body started breaking down. I realized I didn’t care if I died, but I wasn’t going to do it myself. I was exhausted, beaten down and hurt by the judgment of family and friends all around me. I experienced panic attacks, crying episodes, constant nausea. I was overweight, bloated, irritable, easily frightened, overwhelmed, and just plain miserable. I wanted, needed, and craved peace and joy but it felt so far away.

I had put the kids first and neglected myself. It was time to use the same advocacy and determination I used in raising my kids and apply it to myself. I saw (and still see) a doctor and therapist regularly. I allowed myself to feel “it” in order to heal “it.”  I started scheduling time for me.

In time, I adjusted who and what I allowed in my life, creating boundaries long overdue. I said no to things that no longer served me and no to all the extra things that were keeping me from taking care of myself.

I left a church that made me feel oppressed and not enough, especially because this church didn’t take kindly to my transgender son and my lesbian daughter. I lost family and friends in this process, but I started feeling better, eating better, and exercising. I started breathing. I was learning to inhale so I could exhale.  I stopped trying to solve everything, because I couldn’t. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around.

Today, I have developed a resiliency that was always waiting to be cultivated. I went to work in a field I was passionate about and realized I have something to offer. I have developed a wellness & recovery action plan for myself and put self-care as paramount in my life. I have helped my kids learn to do the same. We are all doing well now and have a healthy trajectory.

I continue to read, keep an open mind, and listen to my body. These days, I label my feelings for myself and I ask myself why I feel the way I do. I dig deep to understand myself so I can better myself. I can look in the mirror now, tell myself I’m awesome and I believe it. There is a bright future ahead. I know some of it will be rocky, but I also know I have the tools to navigate the terrain and I’m not scared of it.

Cheers to braving my own wilderness.

Recovery Month celebrates all the individuals living in recovery and recognizes the dedicated workers who make it possible. For more information, visit

Suicide Is Preventable

What I Didn’t Know Then, What I Do Know Now.

Donald Mingle (left) at 8 years old with Bryan Mingle (right) at 9 years old

By Bryan Mingle

CQI Specialist- LSF Health Systems, Jacksonville


I will never forget that evening in early April 1987, the week before Easter, when my dad called the newsroom where I was working in Orlando. When I walked over to the landline and picked up the receiver, I heard a halting voice fighting back tears. “We lost Donald.”

Almost immediately and for days, weeks and years after I heard those words, I thought back on conversations with my brother the previous months. One haunted me. Donald, the youngest boy in our family of 3 boys who was born on my 1st birthday, was lying on his bed in his old bedroom in our Jacksonville house. He was visiting from California where he was employed, at 27 years old, as a prison guard with a new baby boy in a marriage that wasn’t going well. He showed me the scars on his wrist and said he tried to kill himself after returning to the United States from Germany on a hardship discharge from the Army, where he had met his wife. My impulsive sports jock and jester clown of a brother began to cry. I was completely caught off guard. I felt helpless. Uncomfortable. I did not know how to respond. “Don’t be silly, brother. Don’t talk like that.” I quickly changed the subject.

For years after my brother’s suicide completion, my parents and other family members rarely spoke of the sudden loss. Risk factors were not in anyone’s vocabulary. People would say, “Donald was sick.”

Fast forward to 2015, after several years of my own moments of hopelessness fueled by escape, wonder and guilt, and I am working in a dream job as a Quality Improvement Specialist at LSF Health Systems (LSFHS). I had returned to Florida from California, where I moved to live six months after my brother’s death. After working as a co-occurring addictions counselor in Jacksonville, I landed a role at the first Northeast Florida Managing Entity. I embraced the LSF mission: to serve families and children and help to keep them safe. One day I found myself in a Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) suicide gatekeeper training with my clinical staff colleagues. QPR is a staple of the aspirational Zero Suicide approach to suicide prevention, which was shaping up to be a priority in the under-funded and vulnerable Sunshine State. LSFHS was embarking on grant projects that continue to this day to make LSFHS stand out amongst its statewide peers.

My message today is about the life-changing information I learned in that QPR and subsequent QPRT (advanced) training. It is my calling to share it so that, 33 years after Donald’s suicide, you may feel encouraged to have a conversation with someone struggling in life. During these COVID-19 months of extreme anxiety and unknowingness, it is more important than ever. Once you’ve discovered you can overcome your own discomfort and fear about suicide, linking a person to hope is easy. I am grateful to say I’ve done it many, many times since I was taught how to do it.

Thanks to the elements of Zero Suicide, which addresses and increases the confidence level of anyone, licensed therapists included, Americans are starting to burst the many myths around suicidal thoughts. (You can’t cause someone to attempt suicide by talking about it; it is just the opposite, research shows.)

Donald Mingle, age 17.
Bryan Mingle, age 17.

Listen and observe

  • If the person has not confided in you but you sense there is something off in their behavior or demeanor, ask questions to start the conversation. Some examples:
  • “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately, is there anything going on?”
  • “I know you and something is going on. Let’s talk about it. I want to help.”
  • “I’m worried about you. Are you OK? It’s OK to not be OK.”

Ask if the person is thinking about suicide. Be direct and calm.

Some examples of questions:

  • “Have you had thoughts of suicide?”
  • “Do you ever feel so bad that you think about suicide?”
  • “Do you have a plan to kill yourself or take your life?”
  • “Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?”
  • “Have you thought about what method you would use?

Listen without judgment.

  • Let the person talk without interruption and have them feel heard.

Avoid the following:

  • Minimizing their problems or shaming a person into changing their mind.
  • Sharing your opinion. Trying to convince a person suffering that it’s not that bad, or that they have everything to live for, may increase their feelings of guilt and hopelessness.
  • Avoid arguing or challenging the person.
  • Avoid preaching or prophesying
  • Avoid making promises (like keeping it a secret)

Respond and persuade with kindness and care.

  • Phrases that are helpful:
  • “You are not alone. I’m here for you.”
  • “I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
  • “We will get through this together.”

What to do:

  • Stay calm.
  • Acknowledge that they are in pain and that their pain is REAL.
  • Stay with the person.
  • Remove sharp objects or lethal means
  • Go with the person to the ER or mental health clinic


CALL 911 if someone has caused bodily harm to themselves or is actively threatening to hurt themselves or others

If they say they are NOT suicidal:

  • Reassure the person that you are not there to judge them or do anything that makes them uncomfortable. You only want to understand their thoughts and feelings so together you can make the best choice for their health. Remind them that if they ever have suicidal thoughts that you are there to listen and help.

Refer to Treatment

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Listen to the prompts: press 1 for Veterans. A veteran will answer. You can also text 838255.

  • The LSF Access to Care Line can provide referral and information for mental health counseling and to continue the instillation of hope: 1-877-229-9098.
  • The NAMI Collier WARM Line is answered by certified peer specialists who each have personal experience with mental health and/or suicide attempts. Call 1-800-945-1355 between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m weekdays and weekends EST to talk because it’s OK to not be OK.

If you or anyone you know has lost someone to the completion of suicide, please know there are support groups and help for you. The loss and grief surrounding suicide is a known risk factor for an individual’s own suicide.

Thank you so much for letting me share my experience. The QPR training was so helpful for me and I hope all the resources I shared above are helpful for you.

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