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.

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Media Contact:

Terri Durdaller, LSF Vice President of Communications




Oasis Teen Defies the Odds

Justin came to LSF’s Oasis Youth Shelter in February 2020 after being released from the Juvenile Assessment Center with pending criminal charges and no place to live. Today, he is flying home to Turks and Caicos, leaving Oasis as a proud high school graduate, criminal charges dropped, and a bright future ahead.

Justin was frustrated when he first came to Oasis. But staff were able to engage him and start conversations around goal setting. It took time for Justin to put his trust in Oasis workers to help him work towards bettering his life.

Justin worked diligently with his diversion tasks to clear his criminal record and told Oasis Shelter Manager, Samuel Laguerre, he wanted to graduate high school. At the time, Justin was only 17% completed with his requirements to reach graduation. Samuel said it became an all hands on deck approach, everyone at Oasis became committed to ensuring Justin reached his goal of graduating, workers even came in on their day off to support Justin!

Samuel said at times, he was unsure how they were going to accomplish such a large goal of helping Justin complete more than 80% of his required schoolwork, but he said there was no other option-everyone was committed to Justin graduating. Samuel and others reminded Justin to keep his head in the books and off video games, so he wouldn’t lose sight of graduation. With Justin’s hard work and Oasis workers dedication, Justin was able to receive his diploma.

Justin was heading down a dangerous path before coming to Oasis. He could have been in a DJJ commitment program or worse, a high school dropout direct filed to adult local incarceration. Justin told staff he is leaving Oasis more mature and more open. Congratulations Justin!

Children’s Art Fundraising Campaign Blesses Manatee CMO

LSF’s Case Management Organization (CMO) in Manatee County is receiving a heartfelt donation for from two children who wanted to support children involved in case management services. Heather and Christian DeFazio have been completing philanthropy projects with their children since voluntary pre-kindergarten to show them how important giving is.

Ryan, 9 years old, and Ava, 8 years old, have been spending their time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic painting pictures of pets to raise money for child welfare (view their amazing art below). They first got the idea when they had a friend over who suffered from a minor asthma attack. They wanted to raise money for extra inhalers and thought offering to paint their neighbor’s pets for a $5 donation would help.

After raising money for inhalers, they decided to continue the project. Their parents have taught them about child welfare, and they understand not every child is fortunate enough to have two parents and a safe place to live. Ryan and Ava wanted to keep helping children, so they started soliciting more neighbors, friends and family members.

In total, they have raised $85 but plan to keep painting for donations. They’ll be sending this donation to LSF’s Manatee County CMO to use it.

Tiffany VanDeMark, Program Director for LSF’s Manatee CMO, was surprised and excited to be supported, especially by two children. She said, “When I learned Ava and Ryan made a grass roots effort to support children in need, it just made my heart soar. The donation, no big or how small came from their hearts and I am excited and grateful they chose to send their very original and creative pet campaign donations to LSF!”

JOANN Stores Donates 700 Yards of Fabric to LSF’s Stitching for Service Project

Tampa, Fla. – 4/27/2020 Lutheran Services Florida, a statewide nonprofit, dedicated to helping families in crisis has found a solution to the barriers of attaining masks for front line staff by creating Stitching for Service: A Project to Address the Mask Shortage.

Our organization has nearly 1,200 essential workers and getting masks has been a struggle. We put together a Mask Force and created a project pulling together 25 sewers within LSF who are committed to sewing masks. JOANN Stores partnered with us by donating 700 yards of fabric to get our group started.

“JOANN was instrumental in realizing our vision to be self-sufficient in providing masks to our people,” Jim Clark, Director of Community Relations said. “We had the idea and plan, but without JOANN supplying the fabric we wouldn’t be able to provide protection for our people so quickly during this time.”

LSF is also partnering with The Villages in Orlando and Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa who provided us with over 2,000 masks. We want to ensure we are ready to supply another wave of masks to our people as we begin reopening our offices across the state when it is safe to do so. We are anticipating masks will still need to be worn long after Florida reopens for business.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the use of cloth face coverings, along with social distancing, to slow the spread of the coronavirus as people who have the virus but don’t know it can transmit it to others.

LSF is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to helping the most vulnerable Floridians. We do this by reducing the suicide and drug addiction rate, giving families in crisis the support they need to persevere, and making sure those in poverty get the education they need to close the achievement gap.

To partner with us 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


Sarasota veteran gets a surprise of a lifetime

“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever had.” Jay, a Vietnam veteran born and raised in Sarasota, said as he put his feet up on his new couch. “I just can’t believe anyone would do this for me!”

Today is moving day for Jay, a Vietnam Veteran born and raised in Sarasota suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). LSF Adult Advocacy Services has handled Jay’s finances for nearly 20 years. He was living in deplorable conditions for some time, but wouldn’t move because of anxiety and triggers from his PTSD. He is also legally blind and did not want to leave his current trailer park because it is familiar to him with his limited eye sight.

LSF employees Tammy and Renee wouldn’t give up on Jay. They convinced him now was the time. The two women found a newer, cleaner mobile home in the same park then got busy finding local donors, nonprofits and businesses to make this Jay’s very own home.

Thanks to Heroes Welcome Home, Shelby Estate Sales, Wal-Mart, Knights of Columbus, Tom Latronica, Sarasota Senior Advocacy Council, Debbie Cole, Community Resources Council, Sarasota County Aging Network, Manatee Habitat for Humanity Jessup’s Appliances and many others, this has now become a reality!

Today was certainly a day of celebration. Jay’s former mobile home was about 100 sq feet with no air conditioner. It was so small and cluttered that he literally had to shimmy around furniture to move from the kitchen to the bedroom. His new mobile home is a sprawling 1000 sq feet with an outside patio decked out with furniture. A place for him to relax in the fresh air.

“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever had,” Jay said as he put his feet up on his new couch.

“I just can’t believe anyone would do this for me,” Jay exclaimed!

Every time someone new showed up to install appliances, set up cable or bring food, you would hear, “Tammy!” That’s Jay yelling for the one person in the world he trusts – his Case Manager.

“He doesn’t understand the enormity of the fact that this home and everything in it is his. He owns it,” said Renee, Community Liaison for LSF in Sarasota.

A New beginning

LSF Palm Beach Head Start Parent Meets with Tallahassee Legislators

By Tamar Belizaire
Head Start Parent from LSF Palm Beach Head Start 

As a Head Start parent here in Palm Beach, Florida I was honored and excited to meet with local legislators while in Tallahassee, for Children’s Week. We had a great discussion about the need to support our Head Start programs.

Thanks to LSF Head Start, I am happy and proud to say that in a few months I will be graduating with my AA and I will have the opportunity to enter the Nursing program this year.

I spoke about the positive impact Head Start has on so many families across the country, including my own. Two years ago, my life took a difficult turn because of family issues. I had to make sacrifices to meet the obligations for my son and me like leaving him with babysitters who were nearly strangers, working two jobs and neglecting my studies. But since my connection with LSF, once again my life changed but in a positive direction.

Now my son goes to a place where I know that he is protected, educated and watched by good people. I finally have the peace of mind that I needed to work on my personal development. Thanks to LSF Head Start, I am happy and proud to say that in a few months I will be graduating with my AA and I will have the opportunity to enter the Nursing program this year.

My story helped me to emphasize the transformational impact Head Start has on Palm Beach County’s children, and how critically we need support.

Our leaders in Washington must continue to step up on behalf of our most vulnerable early learners. Every child deserves the Head Start advantage!

Make a Difference

We want to encourage our supporters with the knowledge that you are making a difference.

Consider the words below from Yzabelle, a 16-year-old foster teen, about her time living at LSF Grace Place—our newest program in Palm Beach County that exists to help at-risk youth thrive. Her years have been fraught with challenges, abuse and rebellion, including a dark, hopeless period of being trafficked…

It’s honestly, changed me completely. I was definitely headed down the wrong path and when I got placed [in Grace Place] everybody there has been the biggest support team I’ve ever had. They motivated me to get a job. They make sure that I attend school every day. There’s not a day where they don’t wake me up in the morning smiling, telling me to get ready. They’ve encouraged me in ways that I can’t even explain. They have boosted my self-esteem.

Out of everybody, Miss Sabrina (a Grace Place houseparent) is that person to talk to and come to if you need anything. She’s been my biggest cheerleader. She’s definitely motivated me to get my life together and pushed me harder than anybody else. I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for her.”

Yzabelle was destined to become a statistic; just another difficult teen sliding through “the system” and growing up to become a troubled adult. But for most in her situation, what they are looking for—what they really need—is for someone to pour genuine love and support into their lives.

Like a flower when it is planted in good soil, watered, and positioned in sunlight, Yzabelle is blossoming, and it’s your support that has made it possible.

Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate giving, specifically the birth of Jesus, God’s ultimate gift of grace to mankind.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Our gratitude to God overflows to you as well this holiday season, for your sacrificial giving in support of our important work of providing God’s healing, hope and help to people in need in the name of Jesus Christ.

If you would like to make a gift today, know that it will be well used to support others, like Yzabelle, who are starving for their own opportunity
to blossom.

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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