Author Archives: Colin

Jax First Lady, Molly Curry & Jax Children’s Commission launch 2016 JaxKids Book Club.


Thursday, May 26, 2016
Posted by: Admin

On June 1, 2016 Jacksonville’s first lady, Molly Curry will be helping the Jacksonville Children’s Commission launch the 2016 JaxKids Book Club. Mrs. Curry will be reading a Book Club original book to Pre-K Students at The Salvation Army (328 N Ocean Street, Jax, FL 32202). She will be reading to the children at 9:30 am. Then at 10:15 am Barbara Gubbins, Director of Jacksonville Public Libraries, will be reading to the VPK students at Community Connections (327 E Duval Street, Jax, FL 32203)!

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission’s JaxKids Book Club is a free early literacy summer reading program privately funded by local, civic-minded corporations and organizations who value the importance of early literacy and education for our children. (Funders include: 121 Financial, Early Learning Coalition of Duval, The Boeing Company, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, JM Family Enterprises, INC/Toyota Southeast Toyota Distrutors, LLC, Holland & Knight, Coker, Schickel, Sorenson, Posgay, Camerlengo & Iracki Trial Attorneys, Jacksonville Jaguars, The Chartrand Foundation , and Broadbased Next Generation Marketing.)

By the end of August 2016, 10,000 4-year olds will receive a FREE JaxKids Book Club Backpack. The Backpack includes five books written specifically about special people and places in Jacksonville! The books will be distributed at 405 Early Learning Centers and six Public Library sites listed below. Recipients must be four years-old by Sept. 1, 2015, AND entering kindergarten in 2016.

Since its inception in 2004, the JaxKids Book Club has provided 1,093,596 free books to more than 95,000 four year-olds throughout the city. As a national model, 19 states and 40 municipalities have consulted with Jacksonville officials to create similar programs that promote early literacy.

Goals of the JaxKids Book Club include: -Introducing high-quality books into the homes of children preparing to enter kindergarten -Encouraging learning over summer break to help prevent summer learning loss -Providing parents with practical tools to instill literacy as a core value -Increasing family awareness of the importance of reading with children every day -Providing family engagement events that include interactive and fun ways for parents and children to learn and bond together

How does your child receive a Jax Kids Book Club backpack? To register, visit

Children’s Commission CEO uses celebration as platform to say it can do more

Children’s Commission CEO uses celebration as platform to say it can do more

Florida Times Union
By Tessa Duvall
Thursday, April 21, 2016

At a celebration for all that the Jacksonville Children’s Commission has accomplished in its first 21 years, the head of the organization drove home the scope of the continued need for support of the city’s most at-risk kids.

“If this is really about kids, what would we do for more kids? And what would we do more for kids?” CEO Jon Heymann said. “We could provide more kids the ability to go to safe after-school programs all over the city because we’re only serving 20 percent of the eligible children. No more wait lists for summer camps. All little children, 0 to 4, deserve to attend safe early learning centers.”

The commission packed the City Hall atrium on Thursday afternoon with government officials past and present, heads of non-profits and area kids for a celebration of its 21st birthday. The commission was launched in 1994 with a budget less than $6 million under the administration of former Mayor Ed Austin, who throughout of the celebration was hailed as a champion for children.

Read the Full Article and see more photos of the event here!


The Jacksonville Children’s Commission Celebrates 21 Years of Child and Family Services! Join the Celebration at City Hall on April 21st at 4:30pm!
Click the link below to RSVP.


Jacksonville Children’s Commission focusing on role in crime prevention

By Tessa Duvall
January 20, 2016
Florida Times Union

The way the work of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission helps deter crime is poised to take a prominent place in the organization’s forthcoming strategic plan.

The group’s first strategic plan in five years began to take shape Wednesday at the commission’s annual retreat. The full plan will be laid out in a series of six meetings with completion expected in April.

While members said that educational programming will remain the commission’s primary focus, tying that work to its crime-prevention value will be a crucial element of its messaging and outreach going forward.

With renewed interest in the Jacksonville Journey program on the part of the mayor and city council, board member Davy Parrish said, the commission should show how its work aligns with the Journey’s goals.

Just as the board focused on improving the high school graduation rate and coping with city budget cuts in its 2011-12 plan, the current board is looking toward crime.

“I do think the focus of the city will be on crime,” board Chair Matt Kane said. “Incarceration rates in America, and who is incarcerated, what that does for that’s child life — for the entirety of it — is something this commission could have a huge impact on. We could drastically reduce the number of children who are incarcerated.”

Susan Main, president and CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Duval, said the connection between education and crime prevention is a “no brainer.”

See the full article Here.

New model increases student access to mental-health services

Moving Counselors into schools has referrals on track to double
By Tessa Duvall
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Florida Times Union

It wouldn’t be unusual to walk past Room 105 at Saint Clair Evans Academy before school starts and hear “The Electric Slide,” or maybe “The Cha Cha Slide,” coming from the other side of the door.

Inside, Tyrenia Cross has dragged her table and chairs off to the side and cranked up the music.

“Whatever your frustration is, whatever your problem is, whatever happened before you left home this morning, let’s dance it off because we have to be engaged in school today,” Cross tells students. “We have to be focused and we can’t have anything distracting us.”

She’s even getting teachers to bust a move.

“Girl, you need to come and dance with me in the morning,” she tells them. “‘Just give me five minutes. Five minutes. All I need is five minutes.’ … It just changes the atmosphere.”

Cross is not the school’s dance teacher, but its new licensed mental-health counselor.

Duval County Public Schools, alongside several of Jacksonville’s nonprofits, is piloting a nearly $1.2 million program called Full Service Schools Plus that embeds a therapist in each of the 12 schools within the Ribault High School feeder pattern in northwest Jacksonville.

The new approach aims to increase students’ access to mental-health services by reducing the barriers, such as transportation and demands on parental time, that sometimes prevent them from receiving help.

And so far, it’s working. Referrals in the feeder pattern are on pace to double over the previous school year.

The goal is healthier, happier children who are less likely to have behavior problems and more able to learn in class.

“You’d be hard-pressed not to talk to teachers today, especially in certain communities, and them not talk about the challenges children bring with them to the classroom, regarding behavior, sickness, even mental health,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. “Now we’re starting to talk about it in Jacksonville.”

View the rest of the article here.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission Chooses to Invest in the Future

By S.Mathur

The mission of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission is “to support families in their effort to maximize their children’s potential to be healthy, safe, and educated and contributing members of the community”.

Victoria Carlucci, Communications Manager, outlines some of the ways in which the Commission fulfills its mission: “The Jacksonville Children’s Commission currently funds nearly 70 afterschool programs around the city.

Read More Here

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Jax Journey Revival Showing Successes Already

Florida Politics, December 29,2015
By A.G. Gancarski

One of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s priorities has been public safety. But it’s a new school approach to law and order, one predicated on the assumption that Jacksonville can’t police our way out of its problems, and one rooted in a revival of the Jacksonville Journey.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Curry has said.

Curry advocates a “data-driven” approach that will make Jacksonville a “safer city” and a “more prosperous city,” and evidence of that data can be found in such documents as the monthly reports for the Jacksonville Journey, such as the recently released November iteration.

The Alternatives to Truancy and Out of School Suspension report, for example, reports on the five  ATOSS centers throughout Jacksonville, where students “are closely monitored and required to keep their school work current. In addition, the centers serve all students picked up throughout the day for truancy.”

“Short-term, this approach will dramatically reduce the numbers of students unsupervised throughout the school day, improve academic outcomes and reduce crime in surrounding neighborhoods. Long-term, it will reduce crime and lower the dropout rate of at-risk students.  Current projections show that the centers can serve 27,000 students annually,” the report asserts.

In terms of outcomes, there are verifiable successes here, in terms of students getting academic and social service support, including behavioral support and counseling. Of 152 students referred to an ATOSS center in November, 122 actually complied.

Another Journey program, Neighborhood Accountability Boards, utilizes principles of Restorative Justice with regard to juvenile civil citations for youth from the ages of 10 to 17 in Jacksonville’s most crime-plagued ZIP codes.

NABs are a pathway to allowing young people on a pathway to crime to make amends (via community service) and find a pathway back into being responsible members of the community, rather than falling through the cracks.

And they seem to be working. Out of 29 youngsters in the program thus far, 23 completed it successfully.

Successful completion of the program allowed them to have their civil citation dismissed, thus clearing their criminal record.

As well, those young people avoided alternative schools, and any adverse interactions with law enforcement in the interim.

The report from Jacksonville Children’s Commission program, which prepares at-risk youth for a GED and vocational training, contained a narrative snapshot of a success story from real adversity about a 17-year-old Hispanic girl who attends Sandalwood High.

“At the time of referral, she was struggling with Algebra and following the wrong crowd, which often affected her ability to make good choices. In addition, [she] was on probation for taking her grandmother’s car without permission. Upon entering the program, she was assigned a case manager, educational specialist and therapist,” read the report.

And therapy, it turned out, got to the heart of the matter.

“She expressed that she didn’t feel safe being alone with her stepfather. After DCF was notified, she was given permission to live with a family member,” which allowed her “to work through her depression and the grief and loss of living outside the home.”

“Her overall grades and grade point average has improved. Her relationship with her mother and stepfather has improved as well. … She is currently on track to graduation June 2016 and plans to enlist into the military, in the Fall of 2016.”

Additionally, the Journey includes the Library Equal Access Program, designed to boost literacy levels for teens and young adults, with a particular focus on acclimating them to reading and fostering a domestic culture of literacy appreciation for their children.

LEAP includes “story time programs” for parents and children to attend together, as well as pre-GED and technology classes, for people in Health Zone 1: 32202, 32204, 32206, 32208, 32209 and 32254.

The goal, ultimately: to provide the tools for personal development, so that the criminal world doesn’t seem like the logical alternative.

The initiatives, coupled with other housing and community development programs, make up the backbone of the Jacksonville Journey. They aren’t glamorous. They don’t come with guarantees of success. They are concerted efforts that require and thus far receive a holistic buy-in from City Hall.

During the 2015 campaign, a talking point from some quarters was of a “lost generation.” The Jacksonville Journey revival may just find them.

One person at a time.

Education groups look to future of after-school, summer programs

Florida Times Union, Mon, Dec 28, 2015
By Tessa Duvall

Millions of dollars are spent every year in Jacksonville to help children after school and over the summer. But a lack of coordination makes those efforts less effective than they can be, according to people who are setting out to change that.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission has convened an Out of School Time Design Team, which in addition to the commission, includes the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Duval County Public Schools, the Community Foundation and the United Way.

The team’s goal is to better coordinate and improve after-school and summer learning time. Its work begins with collection of data that isn’t currently available. For example, there is no countywide system for tracking waiting lists for after-school programs.

Pam Paul, executive vice president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, said the organization is conducting research on the current systems of out-of-school time programming, including locations, the children served and the outcomes. After conducting focus groups and interviews, she said, the fund will compile its findings in a report to be released in May.

Paul said while after-school services have always been done correctly, they haven’t always been state of the art. She’s hoping to see innovation and continuous improvement.

“Now is the opportunity to expand to this bigger world,” Paul said. “What are the ways that after-school program providers can really engage with kids that are really going to develop their leadership capabilities and other competencies?”

Trey Csar, president of the education fund, noted that more of a child’s life is spent out of school than in. He added that poorer children are hurt more when after-school activities aren’t helpful to them.

“Higher-income kids, they travel all summer, they go to sleep-away camp, they do a lot of things that expand their learning,” Csar said. “And lower-income kids oftentimes don’t, and it’s not just about summer learning loss, but disproportionate summer outcomes.”

Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the design team has the opportunity to streamline and be more strategic about how the agencies use after-school programming, and go beyond making sure students are safe.

“There’s an opportunity to go even deeper for a greater return on investment, and that is ultimately the goal of this partnership and analysis,” Vitti said.

Vitti said he wants to see an improvement in quality in the providers that receive contracts and grant money. Currently, the most effective school-based programs, called Team Ups, collaborate with school principals and are mindful of the challenges many of the children have, he said.

“They’re building off what they know is working during the school day; and with that additional time, they’re just able to go deeper with more continuity to have an impact on the child; and they see the return on investment on the academic and behavioral side,” Vitti said.

After-school programs locally have grown in recent years. JCC sites in schools and community organizations have grown in the last five years from 61 locations to 70. The programs served 10,135 children in 2011-12 and are projected to serve 11,509 kids this school year, according to JCC records. More than $10.8 million will be spent on after-school this year, an amount that includes grant money and city dollars.

In the last two years, the Children’s Commission received close to $1 million more from the Florida Department of Education, said Colin Murphy, senior director of operations at JCC. The two grants will allow the commission to serve close to 500 more students at five more school sites once those last two programs launch in January.

In addition to its work with the design team, JCC is looking at ways to provide more after-school programming for high school students. Murphy said in a given year, only about 500 of the students they reach in after-school programs are high-school age.

Murphy said JCC is researching other models that work well for teens, including college- and career-oriented programs. “It would have to look a lot different from the Team Up program,” he said.

Paul said the education fund currently only has a broad vision for the future of out-of-school time. But some of the findings — such as a comprehensive after-school waiting list — could lead to hard decisions.

“We’re going to have to make some tough choices about what it really takes to improve quality and what does it take to serve more kids; and with the resources we have available right now, what can we do?” Paul said.


Jacksonville Children’s Commission CEO: “I don’t want kids to hurt like I did”

First Coast News 2016
Watch Interview Here

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville man has dedicated his life’s work to helping children. His passion comes from knowing firsthand what it’s like to be abused and exploited as a child.

For five years, Jon Heymann lived in the Athens Infant Asylum in Greece. His recollection of exactly what went on within the asylum’s walls is at times sketchy.

Some of his experiences he prefers to forget. While going through old photos of the institution, he recalled how eerie it was to walk down its long hallways leading to rooms filled with children.

“It was creepy,” said Heymann. “Just creepy that any kid would even live there.”

During a visit to the asylum, now an art gallery, back in 2008, Heymann was approached by an older woman who worked there. She helped fill-in the blank spaces for the father of three.

“She brought (a photograph) to us and said, ‘This is the doctor,'” recalled Heymann. “I didn’t know about this part of my life. ‘This is the doctor that signed your death certificate.’ I said, ‘What?!’ And she said, ‘That’s how they could put you out in the community because your real parents then thought you were dead.'”

Heymann was told he and others left at the asylum were rented out to strangers. Families would put the children to work, sometimes as beggars in the street. “I do believe they abused us so that we looked hurt. And we were. We were famished. I mean we were skinny,” he said.

There’s a movie set in India that Heymann could not bring himself to watch until several years after its release.

“If you’ve ever seen the movie “Slum Dog Millionaire,” you know that they used the kids as professional beggars, and that was my memory,” said Heymann.

The Parthenon, a magnificent piece of Greek history, serves as a dark reminder for Heymann. At that very site, as a young child, he stole from tourists.

“I always remember handing that stuff to those adults,” said Heymann. “It was the rubble or any kind of coins and wallets. It was handing that to these adults and then they would feed me.”

In 1957, Heymann’s life took a turn that still leaves him wondering, “Why me?”

Unbeknownst to the Heymanns, they illegally adopted Pontelemon Coudounas, Heymann’s birth name.

Published articles, so-called bread box babiesand black market babies’ support groups share the stories Heymann was told over the years. There are allegations of illegal adoption rings flourishing in Greece for more than a decade after the 1946-49 Greek Civil War. They’re coupled with claims of babies being stolen from their Greek parents and shipped all over the world — to adoptive parents who were unaware of their origins.

A bill Heymann still clings to — dated January, 1957 — shows the Heymanns paid for their two adopted children to be flown from Greece to the U.S. supervised. But instead, they flew alone to New York. One was nearly five years old, thin and frail, and the other, Heymann’s adoptive sister, was still a baby, carried in a basket. The pair would become a part of the type of loving family Heymann says every child deserves.

His wife, Cheryl, says it wasn’t until they were married for several years and had kids that her husband decided to open up about his past, which helped her to more clearly understand the present.

“He has such a heart for children, he wants to do what’s best for kids and I think that comes from his ability to remember how it was,” said Cheryl Heymann.

Now the chief executive officer for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, he advocates on behalf of children working to make sure their needs are met.

“I don’t want kids to hurt like I did,” said Heymann. “And I know they do right here in Jacksonville.”

Unlike many so-called bread box babies, Heymann has no desire to find out who left him at the asylum on Piraeus Street. “The Heymanns loved me, I’m a child of the Heymanns.”

Heymann says as far as he knows, he was dropped off at the Athens Children’s Asylum possibly because his parents couldn’t afford to take care of him at the time.

That was the case for many parents after the Greek Civil War. He chose to share his story to inspire others to look outside of their own worlds and comfort zones and invest time in Jacksonville’s children.