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

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!

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 www.nationalrecoverymonth.org.

Career Opportunities That Make a Difference

Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) envisions a world where children are safe, families are strong, and communities are vibrant. We are hiring for several bilingual residential services positions.

Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of others and serving children at work? We are searching for a Lead Case Manager, Lead Teacher, Case Manager, Teacher, Youth Care Coordinator and Youth Care Specialist. and more!

Visit LSF’s career page to learn more and apply: https://www.lsfnet.org/careers/

We offer an incredible benefits package including medical, dental, vision, 13 paid holidays plus 1 floating holiday, a generous PTO plan, 403(b) retirement plan with 3% discretionary employer match, employer paid life insurance, long term disability, teledoc, health and dependent care FSA, employee assistance plan (EAP), and tuition reimbursement.

Lutheran Services Florida embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion in all business practices. LSF is proud to be an equal opportunity employer.

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 www.lsfnet.org.

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.

Preventing the Financial Exploitation of Seniors

A success story

Financial exploitation is the leading form of elder abuse and thrives through silence.

*Mary had $250,000 in a trust, a pack a day smoking habit and an incapacitated mind. She was living in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) that was charging $4,000 a month and staff were using her ATM card to make frivolous purchases. Stopping financial exploitation of the elderly is hardly easy, but a traveling nurse visiting the ALF did something that changed Mary’s life.

When this traveling nurse walked in on a meeting with a relator, investor and ALF staff member who were coaxing Mary to sign over her condo – for much less than the value – she immediately called LSF Sarasota Guardianship for help.

Our staff were able to step in and protect her dwindling finances. $25,000 was left after leaving the ALF. We were able to sell her condo for a good price and put the money into a guardianship trust. Mary has cut back on her smoking drastically and most amazingly she has been able to nearly walk across the room, the first time she has taken steps in five years.

While exact numbers are hard to come by, a recent study estimated that 2.9 billion dollars each year are exploited from older Americans and 10 cases of elder financial exploitation go unreported for each case reported.

*Name changed to protect the rights of our client

About Guardianship

At any given time, there are men and women, across the state of Florida, whose lives are in jeopardy because they are unable to care for themselves. People who can’t care for themselves and have nowhere else to turn would be left with no hope without Lutheran Services Florida’s (LSF) Guardianship services.

LSF Guardianship program focuses on three areas:

Protection – stepping in to protect the individual from potential abuse neglect or exploitation by completing an initial assessment to determine care needs and protect the person, property and assets

Coordination – promptly applying for benefits, coordinating services, overseeing care plans, medical appointments and any necessary treatments plans.  All efforts are made to adhere to the ward’s wishes and support the least restrictive safe environment.

Advocacy – Educate the ward, their family and the community about guardianship and the alternatives. This includes facilitating the Family Guardianship Course in partnership with SCF twice a year, and providing community education to individuals and groups.

17 Family-Friendly Recipes for St. Patrick’s Day

Pinellas Head Start Job Fair | February 21, 2019

Dunedin, FL –Lutheran Services Florida Pinellas Head Start/ Early Head Start will be hosting a job fair at United Methodist Church for positions to help promote school readiness. This job fair will include numerous full-time positions with many benefits.

Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start provides high-quality educational services to children who lack these resources. The benefits to Head Start are education which is aligned with the Head Start Performance Standards, health, and family engagement. These factors combined will enrich children’s learning and prepare them for higher education.

LSF Pinellas Head Start has many positions available. These positions range from teacher to program nurse. In addition, LSF Head Start offers numerous benefits for their employees. Some include bi-weekly pay with 12 paid holidays, tuition reimbursement, competitive health package, and more! Make sure to come down to the job fair on February 21st to help promote school readiness for children. Learn more and apply online at: www.LSFnet.org/careers or call (727) 547-5979

WHO: Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start

WHAT: Job fair with positions available ranging from teacher, program aid, specialist, etc.

WHEN: Thursday, February 21st, 2019 4 pm to 7 pm.

WHERE: United Methodist Church  

421 Main Street Dunedin, FL 34698

 

About  LSF Pinellas Head Start:

Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) Pinellas Head Start and Early Head Start is transforming communities throughout Pinellas County through our growing partnerships with the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB), and Pinellas County School Board, among others. These partnerships allow us to make high-quality, early educational services available to children and families who otherwise would lack access to these life changing child and family support services.

Pinellas Head Start Job Fair | February 19, 2019

St. Petersburg, FL –Lutheran Services Florida Pinellas Head Start/ Early Head Start will be hosting a job fair at Jordan Park for positions to help promote school readiness. This job fair will include numerous full-time positions with many benefits.

Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start provides high-quality educational services to children who lack these resources. The benefits to Head Start are education which is aligned with the Head Start Performance Standards, health, and family engagement. These factors combined will enrich children’s learning and prepare them for higher education.

LSF Pinellas Head Start has many positions available. These positions range from teacher to program nurse. In addition, LSF Head Start offers numerous benefits for their employees. Some include bi-weekly pay with 12 paid holidays, tuition reimbursement, competitive health package, and more! Make sure to come down to the job fair on February 19th to help promote school readiness for children. Learn more and apply online at: www.LSFnet.org/careers or call (727) 547-5979

WHO: Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start

WHAT: Job fair with positions available ranging from teacher, program aid, specialist, etc.

WHEN: Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 4 pm to 7 pm.

WHERE: Jordan Park

2390 9th Avenue South St Petersburg 33712


 

About  LSF Pinellas Head Start:

Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) Pinellas Head Start and Early Head Start is transforming communities throughout Pinellas County through our growing partnerships with the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB), and Pinellas County School Board, among others. These partnerships allow us to make high-quality, early educational services available to children and families who otherwise would lack access to these life changing child and family support services.

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