LSF Head Start to Continue Virtual Learning for Remainder of Academic School Year

virtual learning

A grant from the PNC Foundation to acquire Chromebooks and print educational booklets will help families participate in early learning efforts during COVID-19


TAMPA, Fla., April 30, 2020 – Lutheran Services of Florida (LSF) Head Start Centers announced today that the PNC Foundation has awarded a $21,000 grant to equip families with educational resources, including 30 Chromebooks during this pandemic. Consequently, this grant affords LSF the opportunity to continue educating the more than 5,400 children it serves through virtual learning for the remainder of the academic school year.

Most of the families served by LSF in the Head Start program are below the federal poverty line and face unique challenges at home. Understanding its client’s great need, the organization sought funding streams during the onset of the coronavirus to ensure it could bring resources to families’ long term. To enhance in-home learning, LSF educators created 6,900 supplemental early learning educational activity booklets, tailored to age and native language, to better prepare parents for home schooling and provide a more hands-on experience for kids.

In this context, three different PNC regional markets in Jacksonville, West & Central Florida and Southeast Florida joined forces to offer this grant to LSF.

“As we navigate these tough times together, the health and well-being of our customers, employees and the communities we serve remains our top priority,” said Chad Loar, PNC regional president for West and Central Florida on behalf of the other two regional presidents in Florida. “Through PNC’s grant, families around the state will be able to arm their children with the resources necessary to keep their kids at home during this pandemic, while enhancing their early learning journey toward a successful education.”

LSF continues to work with those impacted, providing a variety of solutions that make the most sense for meeting their particular needs.

“Connectivity is incredibly important during times of crisis, especially for those who struggle financially,” said Bob Bialas, executive vice president of LSF Children and Head Start Services. “We are grateful for our association with PNC and on behalf of our Head Start families we thank them for choosing us.”

The PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group (, actively supports organizations that provide services for the benefit of communities in which it has a significant presence. The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes the arts and culture. Through Grow Up Great, its signature cause that began in 2004, PNC has created a bilingual $500 million, multi-year initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

LSF Head Start serves more than 5,400 children and families in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Duval counties. The virtual school has shown tremendous success with participation averaging 70 percent throughout the programs.

To partner with LSF, contact Jim Clark, director of community relations, at or 813-415-7231. Visit for the latest information on LSF’s response to the pandemic.

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Media Contact:

Terri Durdaller, LSF Vice President of Communications


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LSF Health Systems Provides Comprehensive, Holistic Training in Lake City

Behavioral health supervisors, case managers, therapists, system leaders and peers converged at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in Lake City in late January for High Fidelity Wraparound Training.  Wraparound is a behavioral health service delivery model that focuses on an individual’s strengths, needs and the culture of the family.  It involves supporting the family by developing an integrated plan for a person’s behavioral health needs.  It is designed to teach family skills and the confidence to be independent.  It’s different from other delivery strategies and provides a holistic, youth and family-driven way of responding to mental health and behavioral challenges.  People in Wraparound treatment tend to have better outcomes regarding mental health as well as better functioning at home, in school and in the community.  This saves money by minimizing the time that young people spend in out-of-home facilities like residential treatment centers or psychiatric hospitals, which can cost $1000 – $3000 per day.

The training is intensive and divided into two sessions. The first part is the three-day live face-to-face training.  The High-Fidelity Model provides instructions on the skills needed to implement its ten principles, four phases, theory of change, staff roles, behavioral rehearsal and the supervision of Wraparound. The second part is once monthly coaching that is offered to obtain certification.

Community Action Team (CAT) trainees in Lake City

This training is important as it helps provide structure and practical application to keep children and families in their communities.  After being out of the community, it is often hard for children to come back and do well in their home communities and schools.  However, the collaboration between local child service providers, the Florida Department of Children and Families and LSF Health Systems (LSF) helps minimize barriers for the child and ensures a holistic and family-centered approach.  This year, LSF has conducted four trainings to-date while 9 trainings were conducted last fiscal year.  Below are some comments from participants:

  • “I learned so much about the Strengths, Needs and Cultural Discovery Assessment Tool, how to properly create SMART Goals and how Wraparound helps my families.”
  • “I learned how important it is to include the family, draw from their strengths and that needs are not necessarily services. I will be providing services differently to include more support and delegate responsibility to empower my client.”
  • “I learned how to go deeper in my questioning from my assessments.”
  • “I will start my job ahead of the game because of this training.”
  • “I understand the difference between Wraparound as a process and Wraparound services.”
  • “Because of this training, I break up my treatment planning into multiple sessions to gather the most information during assessment.”
  • “I learned the true meaning of teamwork.”
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Recognizing Those Who Make Our Mission Possible

Earlier this year, LSF employees took a moment to step back and reflect on the organization’s core values during “Mission, Vision, Values Week” (MVV) which took place the week of February 9.  Each day, employees celebrated a different theme, such as “Living the Values,” giving employees the opportunity to recognize others as well as business partners who share LSF’s values.  Employees were encouraged to recognize co-workers and thank them for living the values that LSF embodies.  During “Living the Values Day,” Meghan Riley-Reynolds, LSF Project Coordinator for the Marion County Mental Health Court, and Paul Tarnowski, LSF Housing Resource Specialist, recognized their stakeholder and partner, Marion County Mental Health Court (MHC), for serving individuals with a chronic mental illness with compassion and integrity.

From left to right: Meghan Riley-Reynolds – LSF’s Project Coordinator for the Marion County Mental Health Court; Regina Lewis – Court Alternatives Administrative Manager; and Paul Tarnowski – Housing Resource Specialist.
LSF Health Systems’ Housing Department provided co-workers with a powerful display that included examples of makeshift sheltering found nationwide.

The court’s mission is to divert non-violent defendants with mental health issues from criminal prosecution in the Marion County Court to appropriate community-based treatment and support services in order to protect public safety, reduce recidivism and help defendants build successful lives.  The program served 145 individuals in the 2018-2019 fiscal year; participants in the mental health court are adults age 18 and older who have been arrested or charged with a misdemeanor committed in Marion County and have serious mental health challenges.

Meghan Riley-Reynolds says the partnership, which is grant-funded, creates care.  “The compassion shown by our partners in the Mental Health Court is remarkable.  Often the MHC team is the only stable part of a participant’s life and they tirelessly serve with heartfelt kindness.  Whether the participant is in crisis or celebrating success, it is their MHC Case Manager whom they turn to which is an outcome of the relationship built by the program.”  Participants benefit by being linked with community resources such as counseling, medication management as well as benefits and housing application assistance.  The program is a great example of the vision of LSF and the employees and community who make it work by living the value of compassion.

If participants successfully complete the requirements of the MHC program, then their pending charge which brought them to the program will be dropped or dismissed.

Meanwhile, LSF’s Housing Department put up this compelling display for MVV week.  It depicts homeless individuals living in a tent and a cardboard box and asks the question, “Should people live in tents?”  Housing System Coordinator Nancy Eisele created the idea for the display.  “We wanted a display that provided information but also got people thinking about the impact they can have on others when they help individuals find permanent housing,” said Eisele.

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MudGirl Run: Honoring Colleagues and Loved Ones

Hundreds of women and girls, including two LSF Health Systems employees, gathered in Jacksonville on February 15th to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research, however this was not a dress-up gala with a sit-down meal and silent auction.  This was dirty work.  The MudGirl Run came to the Jacksonville Equestrian Center on a chilly morning.  Competitors work through a mudpit-laden three-mile obstacle course to complete the challenge.

Buffy Reeder, Director of Compliance and Liz Nettles, Network Manager, battled the obstacle course to honor a colleague at an LSF Health Systems Network Service Provider (NSP) organization who is fighting breast cancer, as well as Liz’ grandmother, who also fought the disease.  They also competed in honor of a good friend who died from the disease following a five-year battle that ended in 2000.

Liz Nettles (left) and Buffy Reeder at the MudGirl Run in Jacksonville on February 15.

Reeder says the camaraderie was compelling.  “I was wet, cold and muddy, however I was inspired by the thousands of ladies who came out to participate in this event and the teamwork and encouragement we all gave each other to finish the run.  Hope and encouragement, that is what I felt at the end!”

“It was amazing to encourage and be encouraged by fellow women of all generational and cultural spectrums,” said Nettles.

Reeder says it is important to honor those currently fighting breast cancer as well as those who have lost the battle.  “Cancer does not discriminate, any of us can be affected by it at any moment, whether it is our own personal battle or a loved one’s battle.  This race was to raise money for breast cancer research.  I hope one day they find a cure.  In the meantime, the research and efforts to eradicate the disease are improving leaps and bounds.  Women can beat breast cancer today by early detection and improved treatments.  Raising awareness and money to find a cure is so important and it allows us to honor our friends, mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers.”

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Dusty Pye Nominated for Lifetime Achievement Award

LSF Health Systems Chief Integration Officer Dusty Pye

LSF Health Systems’ Chief Integration Officer Dusty Pye has been nominated for a lifetime achievement award for his tireless work to prevent child abuse.  He will be honored at the upcoming 27th Annual Child Abuse Prevention Luncheon and Awards Celebration to be held in the near future.  The award will be presented by the Exchange Club Family Center of Northeast Florida, which offers free services helping parents across Northeast Florida prevent child abuse and strengthen families.  Parents learn to provide safe, healthy and nurturing home environments so that children can thrive.  Dusty has worked for decades in the religious arena as well as with non-profits advocating for children who need assistance.  “Children are the future of a meaningful society.  Some kids face precarious challenges while growing up, so I am thrilled to be honored for helping develop resources that assist kids as well as connect them to those resources.”

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LSF Health Systems and Partners Work Tirelessly to End Human Trafficking

Annual Human Trafficking Symposiums bring lawmakers and stakeholders together.

The 3rd annual Human Trafficking Symposium, hosted by the Gateway to Fr33dom Human Trafficking Task Force, was held on January 22 in Lake City.  LSF Health Systems’ (LSF) Community Engagement Specialist Lesley Hersey is the co-chair of the task force.  More than 170 people attended this year’s event, including law enforcement, school nurses, employees with the Florida Department of Health, as well as child welfare and behavioral health advocates.  Attendees heard presentations, including a survivor presentation.  A statewide, award-winning drama team performed as well.  Other topics included how to build rapport with youth being trafficked and how to get involved in the fight against trafficking.  A special thank-you was noted for the Columbia County School Board, which held the event in its auditorium in Lake City.  Agencies report that more than 50 youth were involved in cases of human trafficking in circuits 3 and 8 in the last two years, including four cases in the news in those circuits from May to August 2019.  “Human Trafficking is the silent epidemic affecting our communities and we are bringing light to the horrendous crime in order to end it,” says Hersey.

Corporal Alan Willkett from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office speaks at the Human Trafficking Symposium.
Julie Sercus with the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution (left) and Christina Gillis of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Meanwhile, on January 29th in Daytona Beach, LSF co-sponsored a Human Trafficking Symposium covering Florida’s Circuit 7.  There were 127 people in attendance for this soon-to-be annual event, which was also sponsored by HOPE agency.  Event sessions included presentations by Florida Prosecutor Julie Sercus as well as Dr. Patrick “Doc” Nave from Bikers Against Human Trafficking along with a survivor presentation.  Evening events included parents and children for separate sessions, with parents learning how to monitor their child’s social media and children learning how social media can be used to lure them to human trafficking

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Northeast Florida’s Homeless Population Comes Out of the Shadows Thanks to Regional Volunteers

LSF Health Systems’ (LSF) Housing Team helps tally homeless individuals during annual count.

Pictured from left to right during the PIT Count: Shawn Liu – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Tammy Smith – employee at Magellan Complete Care of Florida; Elisa Malo – LSF Health Systems; and Lauren D’Amico – Community Solutions

Early on a cold January morning, members of the LSF Housing Team, in partnership with lead agency and provider Changing Homelessness, participated in Duval County’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of homeless individuals.  The nationwide homeless population census is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  LSF Housing Team members participated in counts across several counties that LSF serves, at different times of the day.  Volunteers also provided individuals with a care package consisting of toiletries and information about available resources.

“It’s important that we identify homeless individuals and have a record of the numbers, because that affects the amount of future funding and resources obtained,” says Elisa Malo, LSF Housing Care Coordinator.

Malo says a few people they counted had hard hats with them and work in the construction trade. “A lot of people think the homeless are not employed.  But in many cases, they are working.”  A local television news crew highlighted Malo’s team as they searched for individuals to count.  To help conduct Putnam County’s homeless count, LSF’s Housing System Coordinator Nancy Eisele volunteered along with 23 others from area agencies including LSF Health Systems, various other non-profit organizations, members of the community and SMA Behavioral Healthcare.

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Meeting the Need: Home Again St. Johns

Earlier this year, LSF Health Systems employees collected toiletries and clothing for homeless individuals served at the Home Again Drop-In Center in Saint Augustine. The items were delivered to the center by LSF Housing Care Coordinator, Elisa Malo and former LSF Network Manager, Elizabeth Maxwell who coordinated the drive.  “Donating items frees up dollars for direct services,” says Malo.  Located at 1850 State Road 207, the Home Again drop-in center offers an opportunity for homeless individuals in the community to do laundry, take a shower, have a meal, and access case management resources and assistance

Home Again St. Johns is a not-for-profit agency working to alleviate homelessness in St. Johns County.  Services include the “Dining with Dignity” program which provides meals to the homeless, as well as the Drop-In Center, which allows homeless individuals to come inside, rest, and get out of the weather.

For more information about Home Again St. Johns, including new hours and procedures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.

Elizabeth Maxwell (left) and Elisa Malo stand alongside the bins, boxes, and bags filled with donated items.
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A Message from Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO

Dear Friends and Partners,

Our personal and work lives have all been greatly impacted by COVID-19.  As our hospitals’ physicians and nurses put their lives at risk to treat those diagnosed with coronavirus, we continue to owe them much gratitude. Yet, I believe there is another group of healthcare professionals that deserves the same recognition. They are the physicians, nurses, social workers, mental health and substance abuse counselors, peers, psychiatric technicians, and other caring workers that are treating individuals who are homeless, those who live with mental illness and those who suffer from addiction.

These brave and caring professionals are on the front lines, providing treatment for those with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, opioid addiction and other behavioral health disorders. COVID-19 has escalated symptoms, increased the rate of relapse as well as incidences of domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. Numerous individuals who are receiving treatment for behavioral health concerns have also tested positive for the coronavirus or are exhibiting symptoms that necessitate quarantine. The dearth of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, sanitizers and other supplies has also impacted our Providers who are continuing to work tirelessly to serve those in their care.

Yet, in the midst of these challenges, we have also witnessed countless acts of kindness by individuals, civic organizations, churches, our own staff and their family members, and many others in the community who are sharing time, skill and resources to provide meals and protective equipment for our essential workers.  Our Provider organizations are employing innovative ways to meet the increased demand for services, including utilizing telehealth when appropriate. Our team is collaborating with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to address funding and operational issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. Managing Entities around the state have been working together with the Florida Children’s Commission and DCF to place bulk orders of masks, gloves and hand sanitizers and make them available to our providers.  Meanwhile, we are working to ensure we are meeting all performance measures, reconciling and paying Provider invoices promptly, manning our 24/7 Access to Care line, performing compliance audits remotely, completing required reports, and so much more.

I am amazed and humbled by the professionalism, commitment and dedication of our team, our Network Service Providers, and our valued community partners.  Together, we are overcoming unprecedented challenges and finding ways to meet the needs of those who count on us in their darkest hours.

For that and for all you do, I thank you!





Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO



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Head Start Staff and Families

Dear HS Staff & Families,

Head Start will continue virtual learning through the academic school year! We know it may not be the news you want to hear, but based on the Governor’s announcement, our centers made the difficult decision to temporarily close through the end of the school year.

Please know that our commitment to your child’s development, learning, health, and safety remains unchanged. As you work to make appropriate preparations for your family, including decisions around how best to support your child during this time, please know we are here to help.

Thank you to our staff for their continued dedication and mission to closing the achievement gap! Our programs have provided links to Google Classroom or Ready Rosie to provide a virtual learning environment with resources for families to keep your child learning. And participation has been incredible, in some areas it is upwards of 80%.


We are also providing additional tips for you to do at home with your child:

Encourage conversations about what’s happening.

Your child likely has questions about what’s going on, why she isn’t going to school, or even why the news suddenly sounds scary. It’s important to encourage her to ask questions and provide enough detail to make her feel informed, reassured, and safe. We recommend asking your child daily how she’s feeling and encourage you to validate her feelings while providing reassurance. Remember that children often express themselves better when talking about story characters or creating art than they do through direct questioning, so be on the lookout for all kinds of messages your child may send.

Build and maintain routine and structure.

Each day your child walks into the classroom and feels confident that he knows what the daily schedule and routine will be. Consistent routines and structures offer comfort and security for children by helping them take ownership of their experiences, which in turn leads to gains in their learning and development. We encourage you to think about ways you might mimic some of these times of day in your home. How might you best provide a sense of structure and normalcy to your child right now?

Find authentic opportunities for meaningful learning.

Young children learn best through meaningful play. Your child has opportunities for deep and meaningful learning through everyday, authentic experiences. For example, as you begin to cook dinner, involve your child in measuring ingredients, reading the recipe, and talking about the flavors and smells. As you get dressed for the day, compare the size of your shoes to hers. Discuss which one is bigger, which one is smaller, and make a game out of lining up all the shoes in your house from smallest to biggest. Then try categorizing the shoes by different attributes, such as color or brand.

Focus on having fun and bonding as a family.

Talk to your child about the things you enjoyed most as a young child—and then do them together! Singing and dancing, snuggling up to share a favorite children’s book or movie, playing with dress-up clothes, or building a fort from couch cushions have been popular activities with generations of children for a reason. Quite simply, they’re fun, they’re easy, and they are sure to spark your child’s imagination.

We look forward to sharing additional strategies to support you and your child during this time. If you need any assistance, are having any difficulties, or have any questions, please reach out to your Family and Community Engagement Specialist.


Bob Bialas

EVP of Children and Head Start Services


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