Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is Human trafficking awareness month, shining light on an issue impacting some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation and state.  According to the Human trafficking Hotline, Florida ranks third in U.S. in human trafficking cases reported. LSF’s Trafficking Victim Assistance Program works with trafficking victims to help them rebuild their life and get a new start, like was the case for J.M. – a survivor of human trafficking here in Florida who we first met three years ago. (We are using the survivor’s initials to protect his anonymity.)

Every day J.M.’s heart ached with regret. He would have done anything to see his family again.

J.M. came to the United States in 2011 under a legal work visa, lured by morally bankrupt traffickers using the promise of higher wages and a better life for his family. He was told that he’d be able to send money home to them in Honduras, and that eventually they would be able to join him for a new, prosperous future in America.

The promise of prosperity given to J.M. turned out to be a living nightmare.

For five years, he was forced to work abusively long hours for meager wages while being restricted from communication with outsiders. He was housed in the unsanitary conditions of an overcrowded trailer with no AC or shower, sleeping on the floor without pillows and blankets. Any objections were met with threats to his family back home in Honduras. Every day J.M.’s heart ached with regret. He would have done anything to see his family again.

Miraculously, J.M. was able to escape after making sure that his family had moved to another area of Honduras, safe from the traffickers.

We are happy to share that J.M was reunited with his family and was able to celebrate the holiday season together for the first time in almost 10 years.


To report a trafficking tip, call the
National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888
a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

If you suspect someone is in immediate danger, please call 911.


Learn how to recognize potential human trafficking victims and how to report it.


Would you like to request an LSF representative to come speak on how to prevent human trafficking or provide on-site training?

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A Day in the Life of a Counselor

Jancita (left) and Sandra, (right) LSF counselors.

Leviticus 19:34

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

By Terri Durdaller, Vice President of Communications


Jancita and Sandra were complete strangers before they started working together at LSF Case Management Organization in Fort Myers. They have the difficult role of licensing new foster parents and helping find placement for kids coming into care.

I stopped by their office, in my usual fun loving spirt, with the agenda of taping a video about LSF. I caught a quick conversation between Jancita and Sandra that summed up a day in the life of a counselor.

Sandra: We have two kids to place today and they have tough behavior issues. It’s Friday and there are only three of us on call today. You know Fridays are crazy.

Jacinta: I hear you, but I was here this morning at 6 am and I have to leave at 3 pm to pick up Jace from school. (Jace is a 7-year-old boy who was moved away from everything he knew, but it was best for him.)

Sandra: Well I was here until 9:30 pm last night after hours of looking for a foster home that would take Michael. (Michael is a 17-year-old who tested positive for marijuana after a check-in with his parole officer. The foster parents said, “don’t bring him back” after they learned the test results.)

Jacinta: We will make it work, girl. We always do.

After witnessing this exchange, I couldn’t help but see that these two are difference makers because their hearts are emotionally connected to the job they perform. They smiled at each other during the conversation. I heard respect in their voice as they spoke to one another. It was a quick but powerful glimpse into their important work of keeping kids safe.

Jancita and Sandra were once strangers. The families they meet are strangers. But the love they have for those working in and served by the child welfare system forever bonds them.

I share this story today because I want you ladies to know that I see you. We see you as an organization. You are juggling caseloads. Your work goes home with you. You are up late at night. Bad images of what you see never leave you.  But you don’t walk away. You stay and fight through the chaos for another day, for another child…a stranger who you love.

We admire you and are grateful for you.

Thank you.

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LSF Grace Place Opens Its Doors in Palm Beach County

Lutheran Services Florida recently opened our doors to LSF Grace Place, a collective of seven group homes in Palm Beach County caring for children who face some of the greatest challenges in child welfare.

LSF was able to leverage our history of delivering strong clinical services through our CINS/FINS program in order to provide enhanced behavioral services to teens residing at Grace Place.  It’s our hope that over time we will turn this collection into a new model that meets all Quality Residential Treatment standards.  As such, the homes have a no eject/reject policy, which fits well with our philosophy that we never give up on any child.

“I have personally visited the group homes multiple times and met two young ladies who have impressed me with their maturity and drive. Both are enrolling in college this upcoming year, said Mike Carroll, EVP of Programs. “Statistics tell us that less than two percent of foster children go to college, so kudos to these young women.  This is one of the ways we hope to define success at Grace Place!”

We are partnering with Childnet, the primary funder of services at Grace Place, and working closely with Children’s Home Society, the agency that provides case management services to these youth through the child welfare system.

“We believe this model could be fully integrated and become a model for all community partners,” Carroll said.

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On this Parent’s Day

Parent’s Day is celebrated on the 4th Sunday of July. It’s a day that commemorates parenthood and appreciates all parents including mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, stepmothers and stepfathers, adoptive parents and foster mothers and fathers, as well as their contribution to society.

On this special day, we want to celebrate those who chose to open their hearts to some of the most vulnerable children within our communities– foster parents.

Hattie Parsons, LSF Foster Parent.

“Parent’s Day as a foster parent to me means being an active mother in their lives.  I treat every child as my own,” said Hattie Parson, an LSF foster parent. “I work very well with birth parents, even taking them on vacation with me.  They know that I have an open-door policy. We all have a goal of reunification.”

Lutheran Services Florida served 4,600 children in foster care in 2018 and foster parents provided love, comfort, guidance and reassurance to foster children as they worked with the families to be reunited.

Dyecol and Taneasha Walker, LSF foster parents, shared a little more of their experience as foster parents.

What does Parent’s Day mean to you as a foster parent?

Parent’s Day is a special day on the calendar of foster parents because it is a grand occasion where parents are venerated and appreciated for their hard work, love and dedication that they have meted out to children that have come under their care.

How is it working with birth parents?

For the most part we have had a harmonious relationship with the biological parents. There is always an open line of communication to ensure that all the parties involved are able to maintain an optimal level of civility, thus reducing the shock on the child.

Dyecol and Taneasha Walker, LSF Foster Parents.

What would you say to encourage others to become foster parents?

Children are our future and sometimes dysfunctionalities threaten the potential spark that these children are capable of. Hence, every potential foster parent has a critical role in ensuring the best outcome of each child. It is gratifying knowing that for a period of time you are able to offer care and to positively impact the life of a child.

Becoming a foster parent


Fill out the information below and an LSF representative will be in touch with you with more information.

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Thank you, Head Start dads!

Father engagement is a vital and integrated aspect of parent, family, and community engagement work. LSF Head Start and Early Start staff engage fathers as advocates, lifelong educators, and first teachers of their children. Male family members and father figures serve key roles in the healthy development of their children and families and have much to add to their Head Start communities.

This Father’s Day we celebrate our Rock Star fathers throughout our LSF Head Start and Early Head Start programs!

Mr. nicolas

LSF PEPPI Head Start

Mr. Billy

A New Beginning Child Care 2 LCC

Duval Early Head Start Childcare Partnership:  A New Beginning Child Care 2 LLC spotlights “Mr. Billy Little”

“Mr. Billy” is a dedicated father who shows a high level of concern regarding his child’s education. We love having his son at A New Beginning Child Care 2 LCC! Mr. Billy looks for activities to assist his son with learning at home and does not depend solely on the teachers for his child’s education. Initially apprehensive, Mr. Billy made a 360 degree turn around with the Director of the Child Care Center as he came to trust that his child was in a safe place that offers the kind of quality care that every parent should expect.  Mr. Billy can be spotted participating at the parent meetings and helping out around the center.

Mr. Billy volunteers and gets into the trenches to help keep the center clean.  Mr. Billy is an inspiration to the child care team and a dependable father.  He is a shining example for the other fathers.

Happy Father’s Day Mr. Billy! We appreciate you.

-Submitted by Bridgette Carter, Owner/Director for A New Beginning Child Care 2 LCC

Mr. Gregory

Superior Christian Academy


Mr. Gregory is a phenomenal dad and I want to recognize him on Father’s Day!  He supports his daughter’s early learning experience at 100 percent.  He loves to stick around in the classroom to see the teacher’s interactions with his daughter and the children.

On his off day, he will pick his daughter up early to spend extra quality time with her. He is always asking her about the day and if there is anything she needs. He also offers help for other children who may not be able to afford at home supplies to enrich at home learning.

This dad wants to be informed on different strategies and ways to help him work with his daughter at home. We appreciate Mr. Gregory’s honesty and his hard work to provide a safe and caring place for his daughter.

He is LSF Duval Early Head Start’s champion dad!

-Submitted by Linda Reid, Owner/Director for Superior Christian Academy

Anel Nicolas is a father of two young children and recently took on the responsibility of adopting his wife’s niece. Anel is a hard-working father who generously helps others. Anel has been involved with our Head Start program for two years. Anel started out by attending every training/parent meeting that was offered to parents. Each time we had a parent meeting he would translate to the Creole parents and made sure they had a ride to the meetings.

Anel not only help the parents at PEPPI but throughout the Glades community. He was a part of our “Bikes Give-away” and he also passes out food to homeless in the community. He stated that his goal is for everyone in PEPPI and the Glades Community to come together and make a better future for our kids.

Mr. Nicolas is one the most dependable parents we have in our program. What more can I say about Anel Nicolas besides Happy Father’s Day and we are happy to have him as part of our program!

-Submitted by Shirley Coney, Director of LSF PEPPI Head Start


is a fatherhood involvement initiative program for the male staff, fathers or male figure that have a positive impact within our Head Start families.

The purpose of this initiative is to increase parent/guardian involvement in the Head Start program through center and local program activities that encourages positive child development. This initiative will also help the families by providing resources to participants and their families while helping them understand the importance of father involvement in a child’s life especially in the early development stages.

If you desire to join one of our parent engagement programs, please contact the main LSF Head Start office in your county or contact your Family and Community Engagement Specialists.

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World Refugee Day Celebration in St. Petersburg, FL

St. Petersburg, FL –Lutheran Services Florida along with other community partners will celebrate refugees and their successes during World Refugee Day on June 14th at Pinellas Technical College (PTC), St. Petersburg Campus.

“We are excited to be part of today’s celebration to raise awareness of the situation of refugees throughout Tampa Bay and share the wonderful stories of hope. Refugee resettlement is the American ideal in action – people facing impossible odds to come to the United States to make lives better for themselves and especially their children who, in turn, make our communities better and stronger,” Lourdes Mesias, LSF Statewide Director Refugee Services said.

The day will include refugee success stories, cultural dance performances, “making a world of difference” awards, craft market, food and PTC Career Technical scholarship awards. Media is invited to attend and interview speakers as well as capture any of the visual activities happening.


Speakers Stories

Former refugee Mirela Setkic arrived here in St Pete in 1996 as a refugee from Former Yugoslavia. Although she spoke little English when she arrived here at age 12, Mirela graduated from Pinellas County Schools and went on to receive both her undergraduate degree in Management/Marketing and her MBA from University of South Florida.  Mirela then founded the Kapok Marketing firm in downtown St. Petersburg.  Kapok Marketing, where she is also the co-president and chief marketing officer, provides digital and online marketing for small and mid-size businesses in Tampa Bay.

Tommy Nguyen arrived in Tampa Bay in 1993 with his father as a refugee from Vietnam. Tommy graduated from Pasco County Schools, went to the police academy and now serves as an officer for the Tarpon Springs Police Department. Tommy eventually became certified as a canine officer and his police dog, Dobies, won the prize for being the number one dog in the U.S. for drug detection.

Carlos Bohorquez is a newer arrival to the United States. Carlos was forced to leave Venezuela and arrived with his wife, Andrea, in 2014. They came to this community seeking safety because Carolos was a journalist and he had two attempts on his life by the regime in control of Venezuela. Carlos is now working at Univision, a Spanish-speaking Broadcasting Company in Tampa and does the Spanish voiceover for all Tampa Bay Bucs games. Carlos also works with Casa de Venezuela, a nonprofit organization assisting new arrivals from Venezuela.


WHO: Rick Kriseman, Mayor of St. Petersburg, Lutheran Services Florida, Department of Children and Families, Pinellas Refugee Education Program (PREP)  

WHAT: World Refugee Day

WHEN: Friday, June 14, 2019 from 2:00 to 3:15 pm

WHERE: Pinellas Technical College, St. Petersburg Campus


Media Contact:

Terri Durdaller, LSF Associate VP of Communications


Cell: 813-802-8790


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21st annual Good Samaritan Awards

On June 2nd, around 200 people gathered in Miami, FL to honor good Samaritans who are making a positive impact in their communities. The event was hosted by the Christ the King Lutheran and was the 21st annual Good Samaritan event put together by Lutheran Services Florida.


Bay Shore Lutheran

These two Christian young men glorify God with their life and their service.

They currently serve at Bay Shore as acolytes, cross bearers, and lecterns. They have sung in the Sunday School choir, performed in the Christmas program, and they continue to participate in all youth related activities.

They help their father, Gabriel, with a community basketball camp.  This basketball camp has even gotten visits by Miami Heat players!

Both Daniel and Javier maintain a GPA even higher than a 4.0!  Chess anyone?  They are also chess champions.  They continue to enjoy and participate in High School sports at Columbus High School.

There’s no doubt about it, “the Twins” are fine examples.  They are visible signs of the Holy Spirit working in our youth of today for the future of the Church.

Kim Derr and Dennis Derr

Christ The King Lutheran

Kim and Dennis have something in common. They do not like to boast!  The Serving Commission at Christ The King has decided to do it for them!

  • Dennis was a steady hand on the recent Call Committee for a new Pastor
  • Dennis and Kim bake cookies for the Homeless facility Chapman Partnership
  • As a member of the ELCA, they faithfully participate in the “Gods’ Work. Our Hands” weekend of service. They work on the Habitat for Humanity Faith House one day and come back the next day to play bingo with the Vets at St. Michaels….. all while making homemade brownies and collecting and sharing clothes for the Vets!
  • Both Kim and Dennis serve on the Altar Guild
  • The participate in all the CTK Players plays and skits
  • Kim is Treasurer for the Miami Dade Monroe Conference and Dennis is the past chair.
  • They are a couple that you can count on whenever the need for a volunteer or support is presented!


Concordia Lutheran

Christopher Schur may only be 22 years old, but he has been one of the most active members at Concordia Lutheran Church for many, many years. He has helped with so many projects and activities at our congregation, it’s almost impossible to count.

He has led technology classes (some call him “Techie”), headed Vacation Bible School games and activities, and operated our sound system and laptop for worship services on Sundays and during the week. He has taught Sunday School, led “Trivia Night” activities, and has set up and taken down more tables and chairs than maybe anyone else in town!  Sometimes he does this as early as 4:00 in the morning!

He is always present at work parties doing yard work, power washing, and other tasks. He organized our shed and built shelves for it. He has visited people’s homes where help was needed with a variety of things such as cleaning and computer technology help.

He has participated in and assisted with several National Youth Gatherings. He helps regularly at our school. So many other things not listed here—and he does them all faithfully and never complains. His mother and father have also been Good Samaritan winners and he certainly follows in their tradition of service!  He is such a blessing to our Concordia family. We love you Christopher!


Grace Lutheran

Which hat does Susan have on now?

Susan has served as our Music and Worship Coordinator for over 8 years and Grace keeps begging her to stay on in this important position.  She has trained acolytes, given children’s sermons, provided altar guild services, ordered and delivered Christmas Poinsettias and Easter Lilies and she has even led the liturgical portion of our service when no pulpit supply was available.

Susan is always ready for more.  This year she became the Coordinator of the Diakonia Program.  This program is two years in length and provides training for Lay members in service ministries of the church.

She is also quick to join the fun of the numerous social events held at Grace.  Whether is it a musical needing a soloist, a banquet needing a cook or server, or a Bingo night needing a caller, she is an enthusiastic member of the team!

Did we mention her “real job”?  She is a Senior Training & Development Officer in Banking.  They are lucky to have such a knowledgeable, trustworthy professional!  So is Grace Lutheran.

Michael  Soltis

Lord of Life

We are honored to have Michael Soltis receive the Good Samaritan Award for Lord of Life Lutheran Church. Michael volunteer as a Liturgical Assistant, an Usher and he serves on the Church Council.  Michael completed the 2 year Diakonia program and graduated on May 19, 2019.  We know he will use what he has learned in this program to minister to those in need.

While his service to Lord of Life is a relatively new direction in his path, his path has always been one of service.  As the oldest sibling in a row house in a coal mining town, Michael has always had a hand in leading and counseling others.  That characteristic intrinsic personality also guided him in his decision to serve his country in the United States Army.  He did so, honorably, for many years.

His compassion and leadership forged his way in life towards becoming a good father.  This family path that was undertaken by he and his wife, Margaret, allowed him to once again serve others through his children.  He spent many hours as a youth sports coach and he ascended to become the President of a local Optimist Club chapter for many years.  This chapter serves many kids and their families in many positive ways.  His selflessness was further demonstrated day in and day out as he cared for his ailing wife, seeing to her every need.  His priority at this time was someone other than himself.  As is customary for him, he would have it no other way.

These are just a few of the many examples of Michael’s character and can only help to show what type of person he is and how his ascension into religion and the Lutheran Church came so easily.  Difficult in study but easy in the character needed to accomplish.  So many types of service over so many years has led him to this well-deserved award.


Lord of Life Latino Mission

We proudly select Myrna for the first Lord of Life Latino Mission Good Samaritan Award.

Myrna has been a member of Lord of Life Church for over 15 years, and part of the Latino Mission since 2017. Her educational background is in Clinical Nutrition and Food Safety, which she uses to help people in need of the basic knowledge on the topics, for their own wellbeing.

She dedicated 41 years to working in hospital settings in the active and tender care of patients. Her immediate plans include becoming a volunteer at West Kendall Baptist Hospital and to support the Lord of Life Community Group Assistance Program.

Since Myrna joined the Lord of Life Latino Mission, she has demonstrated strong faith.  She continuously responds generously to the needs of others.  By using her bilingual skills, she has become a leader in assisting with the Mission Development goals.  She assists the Program Director, Vicar Ignacio Estrada, in all activities as needed. She also represents the Latino Mission in the Lord of Life Church Council.

In the spirit of love, Myrna offers her daily service.  She is generous to all with whom she comes in contact. She strives to be kind and she is quick to help fellow members. She lives life to the fullest every day through her positive ways and in her thoughtful deeds.



Mision Luterana Sagrado Corazon

Mayra Aguilar is the first Good Samaritan winner from Mision Luterana Sagrado Corazon! Mayra stays very busy assisting their new pastor, Rev. Moises Carrasquillo, with all the needs of a new mission.

Mayra Aguilar is originally from Cuba. She came to the US at the age of 6 and Miami has always been her home. Mayra has been married to Carlos Aguilar for 17 years and they enjoy traveling to the Keys and the West Coast of Florida. They also like spending time with family and close friends.

Mayra keeps the Mission office running smoothly—she’s the person behind the friendly voice that greets you when you call. She has been with Mision Luterana Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart Lutheran Mission) since it began in August of 2018 and has been an integral part of its administration.

She’s not only the Secretary/Bookkeeper at the Mission, but she also makes sure that everything is ready for Sunday morning service.

She has been an integral part of getting the Good Samaritan Banquet ready this year and for many years. Getting our banquet hall set up, or our name tags ready, or our table assignments made or our themed table markers made, she does it all with a smile. That is just Mayra!

Ana Maria Alfonzo

San Pablo Apostol

Ana is a good Samaritan in and outside the church.

In the church she uses her musical ability to glorify God by playing the piano for our services. She is a warm and friendly member.

Outside the church she sends packages to the underprivileged in Cuba and in Peru. She aided in building a house for a needy family in Peru.  It was so appreciated by that family that the owner calls her “daughter” and she calls him “Papa Jose”. She also paid for his grandchildren’s studies.

She provides transportation to a group of ladies for their medical appointments. She took one lady to her dialysis for some time. Upon the death of this lady, her family donated the lady’s car to Ana.  She has provided such needed service to so many.

Eventually Ana donated this gently used car to a niece recently arriving from Cuba with no transportation options.  She gives, she receives, and she gives again.

For the gifts that God has given Ana, for her graciousness in sharing those gifts and for her love for those around, her we proudly nominate Ana as our 2019 San Pablo Good Samaritan.


South Miami Lutheran

In just two years of involvement, Katie Snyder has become a leader and integral member of South Miami Lutheran Church.  Katie is a lifelong Lutheran from Portland, Oregon and has been engaged in servant ministries in Central and South America since high school.

She did undergraduate and graduate studies in the engineering field before serving in the Peace Corps in Panama for three years. While serving there, she worked on water distribution, sanitation and hygiene, and AIDS awareness.

Katie became active at South Miami Lutheran after relocating to Miami in 2017 to work for an engineering firm involved in wastewater projects in Florida and Latin America.

She sits on the church council, serves as an assisting minister, and oversees many of the outreach projects of the congregation.  Her work has ranged from sandwich making, to hygiene kit assembly, to the crocheting of cancer caps.

She is a Good Samaritan in the community as well through her membership in Engineers without Borders and her mentorship of University of Miami student teams.

Whether working alongside people in need, organizing compassion ministries, serving at church, or offering her engineering expertise to bring hope and new life to others, Katie is a true gift from God to the community.

South Miami Lutheran Church is thrilled to have such a worthy recipient of the Good Samaritan Award.


St. John Lutheran

Nikye Joseph has long been a powerhouse among the congregation of St. John Lutheran Church of Miami Shores. However, she has now also become the powerhouse of the Miami-Dade/Monroe ELCA Conference as its Chairperson. It is for her extraordinary work with the Conference that we nominate her.

She has tirelessly made sure that all the ELCA churches in the Conference have the most up-to-date information on upcoming events by her use of email blasts, bulletin inserts and personal visits.

She shares her Sundays by traveling to the various Conference Churches and she listens to their needs.

She has launched numerous new events throughout the year and seems to never run dry of ideas to bring the churches together.

She has been a significant help to Pastor Marc-Charles at St. John, who serves as the Dean of the Conference.

Nikye is a gem which the St. John Congregation is happy to be able to share with the whole Conference, the community and with you tonight!


St. Paul Lutheran

Angelica Agosto, known as Angie, started attending St Paul Lutheran School when she was in the fourth grade.  Angie has since been a faithful, young servant of the Lord in our church and is always willing to be the acolyte for the day.

While attending college, Angie worked part-time at St Paul’s in the Before and After School Care Program.

She willing shares her many talents of crafting, baking and cooking with all her friends and with the children.

A few weeks ago, Angie graduated from FIU with her Bachelor of Science in Education and looks forward to serving children as a good Christian example and as a special teacher.  Angie always sets a great example for our young adults.

She has a loving smile and her laugh is infectious. It is with love that St. Paul Lutheran nominates Angie as our 2019 Good Samaritan award winner.

God Bless you always Angie!

Beverly Roy

St. Thomas Lutheran Church

Beverly Roy has been a member of St. Thomas Lutheran Church since 2003. Currently she is an usher, lay reader, and she serves on the Altar Guild.   She recently served as the Call Committee secretary and is a member of the Outreach Committee. Prior to joining St. Thomas, Beverly was a VBS teacher for 10 years and assisted with the children’s handbell choir at Cutler Ridge Lutheran Church.

Beverly has participated in many outreach programs and has dedicated her time, talents and treasures to the following: Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran World Relief and the Homeless Assistance Center in Homestead. As the Outreach Committee liaison for the Miami Southridge Senior High, she incorporated a food and toiletry pantry for the homeless students as well as a card ministry.

As the liaison for the Outreach Committee at St. Thomas, she has helped over 250 homeless teens at Miami Southridge Senior High which includes buying gift cards for hot meals, donating non-perishable items and providing especially needed personal toiletry items during the summer months. Recently she directed generous gifts given in her son’s memory to assure that homeless students had tickets to their prom.

Beverly is a 5th grade special needs teacher at Gulfstream Elementary School and is very dedicated to going above and beyond for the sake of the children. Some of her class projects include:

  • Christmas Cards and care packages to troops deployed and to wounded soldiers.
  • Whale and Dolphin Conservation Adoption Project.
  • Food, school supplies, clothing, and senior breakfast sponsorship money for the homeless students at Miami Southridge Senior High.

Beverly’s fingerprints are on all sorts of programs that live out Jesus words “Let the children come to me…”  Here are some:  2015 Alpha Delta Kappa Florida Lambda delegate at the International Convention in Salt Lake City,  Alpha Delta Kappa Altruistic Projects participant, Toys for Tots, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital,  Alzheimer’s Association, Branches, Samaritan’s Purse– Operation Christmas Child, Fundraising for scholarships for women pursuing a degree in education, providing Christmas stockings for homeless students at local schools and for children undergoing chemotherapy at Baptist Hospital, Autism Speaks Walk Volunteer, and  Past PTA board member.  Wow!

LSF Advisory Board:

Mayra Aguilar, Melissa Albury-Fernandez, Keith Berman, Olga Bostick, Emily Gomez, Donna Hennessy, Laurel Marc-Charles, Meredith Mills, Rev. Kit Robison, Rev. Alan Sielk & Tamara Thomas


Rev. Jean-Pierre & Laurel Marc-Charles

St. Paul Lutheran Church

Thrivent Financial, Keith Berman
Financial Sponsorship

Emily Gomez
Good Samaritan Flowers

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LSF Health Systems Developing a New Weapon to Combat Florida’s Opioid Epidemic

A powerful new weapon is emerging in the fight against the opioid epidemic in Florida.

It’s not a new overdose antidote, treatment therapy or zero tolerance law. It’s people who have experienced drug addiction or mental illness now trained and certified to help others recover, and it’s a game-changing movement for those on the frontlines of this deadly battle, said Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems, one of the state’s largest networks of behavioral healthcare providers.

“The early success we’ve seen in recent pilot programs has convinced us that certified peer recovery specialists could finally give us the upper hand against this devastating epidemic,” Cauffield said.

LSFHS has been working with Jacksonville-based Gateway Community Services and Ascension St. Vincent’s on Project Save Lives – a pilot program using certified peer recovery specialists as part of integrated emergency room teams. The tremendous success of the pilot has led to plans for expansion into other hospitals in Northeast and North Central Florida.

The Florida Legislature this month passed legislation that could greatly expand the use of certified peer recovery specialists in part by eliminating background screening barriers for peer specialist needed in hospitals and treatment centers. The bill, which is awaiting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, also authorizes the Florida Department of Children and Families to manage the credentialing and certification processes for peer recovery specialists.

These changes are crucial, said Danielle Rice, a certified peer recovery specialist who completed LSF Health Systems’ Certified Recovery Peer Specialist (CRPS) training program last June and now works with individuals recovering from addiction.

“If certified peer recovery specialists, clinicians, hospitals, jails, substance abuse professionals and mental health facilities all learn to work as a system, the sky is the limit for recovery programs,” Rice said. “It’s a powerhouse for mental wellness, to have support from all angles, that will raise individuals’ chances for recovery to remarkable levels.”

The certified peer recovery specialist concept dates back to the 1960s anti-psychiatry movement in the mental health field. It’s widespread use in substance abuse treatment began in the mid 2000s when the federal government called for a transformation of the existing system.

Despite extensive clinical research showing peer support specialists provide a path to lower relapse rates, decreased psychotic symptoms and reduced hospitalization rates, earlier pushes for peer recovery specialists in states like Florida faded as those trained in the field could not find employment.

“There were thousands of certified peer recovery specialists in 2007, but by 2011 the number had dropped to a couple hundred,” said Rice who first became a certified peer recovery specialist in 2008. “The problem was that you couldn’t get work if you had a felony on your record, no matter how long ago that offense was.”

Unsurprisingly, there were few people with real-life drug addiction experience who had no felony convictions. That catch-22, which doomed past peer specialist movements, has begun to change. And Stevenson’s pending legislation would be a huge step forward for certified peer recovery specialists in Florida, Cauffield said.

Another roadblock that is changing relates to the inconsistent credentialing for peer recovery specialists from state to state. A 2016 national study by the University of Texas found that 41 states have programs to certify peer recovery specialists. However, each state’s criteria vary.

To become certified in Florida requires a high school diploma, attestation of lived experience, 40 hours of training, 500 hours of supervised work or volunteer experience providing peer-to-peer recovery support services, and letters of recommendation — as well as passing the Florida Certified Recovery Peer Specialist Exam. A recent review from the federal Government Accountability Office highlights that as the demand for peer recovery specialists grows there is a need for “increased attention to standardizing the competencies of peer specialists through certification.”

To help meet this growing need, LSF won a 2016 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop a CPRS training program at Jacksonville University. The first class of 52 certified peer recovery specialists graduated last year. The course, now in its second year, provides participants with the state-required training, testing and 500 hours of experience providing peer support services. The grant provides funding to train up to 70 peer specialists a year for the next three years, which will greatly address the dearth of peer specialist in Florida.

Through the Project Save Lives pilot program, LSF’s state-certified peer recovery specialists work alongside emergency room doctors and nurses and then serve as advocates for patients as they progress through treatment programs. When overdose patients arrive in ERs, once they are stabilized, they meet with a certified peer recovery specialist who advises them through their withdrawal and recovery if they accept the assistance. The results have been impressive, said Christi Smith, MSN, RN, nurse manager of the emergency department at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside

“Our emergency room at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside was the first in the area to use certified peer recovery specialists as part of Project Save Lives,” Smith said. “They provide our nurses and physicians with a valuable new service that helps us provide compassionate, personalized care to patients who have overdosed and need treatment.”

Rice, who now teaches for LSF Health Systems’ CPRS program, said she knows better than most the value that certified peer recovery specialists offer in initial consultations and ongoing therapy for drug addicts and overdose patients.

“I know that in my case, I had no respect for the medical professionals because of my history with psychologists,” Rice said. “They were giving me homework to do, but they didn’t understand what I was going through. I’d be Baker Acted, I’d lie, and they’d send me home. Then I’d just lose it all over again.”

The conversations between addicts and certified peer recovery specialists are very different, Rice said. “They need someone who really knows what they are going through, who can relate and advocate for them,” she said. “They need someone they can call 24/7 when they can’t get in touch with a doctor or psychiatrist. That’s what the certified peer recovery specialist provides – not a friend, but an advocate.”

LSF believes its CPRS program is ready to expand to more hospitals and areas of the state in order to meet a tremendous growing demand in the mental health and substance abuse areas, Cauffield said. The training curriculum LSF developed has been approved by Florida’s Certification Board. The pilot project is expanding to Baptist, UF Shands and Flagler hospitals. And the certification program is coming to Volusia and Orange counties.

This expansion is happening thanks in large part to recent changes in attitudes among Florida’s medical and mental healthcare professions. In 2008, some physicians and psychiatrists saw peer recovery specialists as a threat or a potential interference, Rice said. That view is evolving.

“Times are starting to change, but we’re still not 100 percent understood,” she said. “A lot of clinicians still feel threatened, but an increasing number of them are now opening the door to letting peer specialists come in and do our jobs.”

That trend is why LSF Health Systems and its parent organization, Lutheran Services Florida, see the CPRS as a true game-changer in Florida’s fight against the opioid epidemic, said Sam Sipes, CEO of Lutheran Services Florida.

“We have an important destination, and we can only get there by creating innovations driven from our organization’s mission, vision and values,” Sipes said. “Expanding this program will reach more clients and help answer their prayers. That’s why it’s important.”

LSF Health Systems is a division of Lutheran Services Florida, a statewide non-profit organization transforming lives by ensuring safe children, strong families and vibrant communities since 1982. Read more about both organizations at

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10 Things to Do on Easter

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This Easter, Help Build Vibrant Communities.

Imagine never experiencing Christmas or Easter. No family gatherings, church services, or holiday traditions. No opportunity to experience the love and awe that surrounds the most significant days of the life of Christ. Instead, these holidays are exactly the same as every other day – filled with worries about the future and the challenge of meeting basic necessities.

Such was the case for Yarely Garcia, a loving mother looking to give her two children the life they deserve. In Cuba they experienced shortages of everything; food, drink, daily essentials – both physical and spiritual nourishment. The Cuban government ended religious activity after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power, and although that ban ended in 1997, the impact of an entire generation growing up without ever having attended church cannot be understated.

Last year, Lutheran Services Florida met Yarely and her kids after they left Cuba as political asylees. We helped them adjust to life in Ft. Myers through our case-management, employment, and legal support services. We also helped them have a special Christmas this year – complete with presents under the tree. As Easter approaches, not only do they have hope for tomorrow, they have experienced the love of Jesus in a practical way through the impact of LSF and through you, our loyal supporters.

But the task of serving those in need is monumental, and we need your continued support!

LSF has been bringing God’s healing, hope and help to the clients we serve for decades. In fact more than 35 years ago, we began in a tiny room of a church. Back then, like we do now, LSF was responding to the tremendous needs within our community. We accompanied people through incredibly difficult situations and tumultuous periods of their lives. We were there when people had no other hope. This has always been the core of our mission and will always be the focus of our work.

To continue our work, we count on your prayers to help guide us and your donations to help ensure we have the funding needed to transform lives. As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

You must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
– Acts 20:35

There are millions of people across Florida just like Yarley, for whom every day is a struggle. Only together can we achieve our vision of a world where children are safe, families are strong, and communities are vibrant.

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