• Nov 02 2015

    Junior League enlists Girl Power to mentor troubled kids

    by Bridget Roberston

    By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff 
    Published: November 1, 2015   |   Updated: November 1, 2015 at 01:42 PM

    LUTZ — Chavon moved 30 times by the time she turned 13, giving her bragging rights of a sort among the children who live at the Joshua House.

    The cost she paid for this time in and out of foster care was high — anger management issues and struggles in school. But now 16, Chavon turned her life around during the three years she has lived at the home for abused, neglected and abandoned children from the Tampa area.

    One reason is the mentoring she gets from a group of 21 women who have taken the girls at Joshua House under their wing. A committee formed by the civic association Junior League of Tampa, they call themselves “Girl Power.”

    They encourage progress in reading and writing, offer career advice, and teach lessons many girls would get from a mother, sister and grandmother — things like feminine hygiene, cooking and sewing, balancing a checkbook.

    “It’s the best thing to happen to me here; I love when they come,” said Chavon. At the request of Chavon and the Joshua House, the Tribune is not using her last name. “They teach me things I don’t learn anywhere else and they’re role models who believe in me.”

    The Joshua House offers onsite services such as tutoring and professional counseling. Girl Power is an independent group that has visited the home in Lutz once a month for the past three years. The Junior League is considering now whether to renew the commitment in January.

    “It’s needed,” said Aleks Jagiella, chairwoman of Girl Power, who said she is confident the renewal will come. “I cannot envision the Junior League taking us away from the girls.”

    Jagiella, 43, a Tampa attorney, knows how foster children need adults they can trust to lean on for support. She was 16 and a senior in high school in Georgia when she entered the foster care system.

    Her parents had a bitter divorce, she said, and her father was left to raise her alone. He was not an ideal parent. She then became a difficult teen and a runaway so the court decided to place her in the foster system.

    She lived in two foster homes over a six-month period and both sets of foster parents treated her well, Jagiella said. Still, it was among the hardest experiences of her life.

    “I was uprooted from everything I knew,” she said.

    She was afraid, confused and felt alone.

    “I was in the same school and a bit embarrassed to suddenly become a foster kid so I became isolated to avoid talking about it with other kids.”

    ❖ ❖ ❖

    Jagiella credits the mother of her best friend with helping her through it. She did little things like taking her shopping or simply providing a shoulder to cry on. She was a woman the young girl could trust.

    “It was then I decided I would do the same someday,” said Jagiella, who is in the process of adopting two young foster children. “Not everyone is as lucky as I was to have such angels in their life.”

    The Junior League is an international, all-female organization that works to improve communities and develop women who want to become civic leaders.

    Each local chapter decides its focus based on community needs.

    The Junior League of Tampa, with 1,800 members, focuses on child welfare and education.

    Among its initiatives are working in schools with high populations of low-income students to ensure they receive proper nutrition and educating the community on issues such as human trafficking of children.

    “The Junior League is always searching for new ways to help the community,” said Tampa chapter President Stacy Carlson. “Unfortunately for girls at Joshua House, there have not been consistent role models in their lives. We felt we could help.”

    The Joshua House is a residence for 36 children, 24 of them girls. An estimated 150 foster children live there for some period each year, said philanthropy director Janet Caramello.

    Some are orphans. Others have parents living in the area but home life is troubled.

    Joshua House can serve as a short-term transitional residence during the search for a foster home or, as with Chavon, a long-term home if a child can best benefit from consistent access to its therapeutic services, Caramello said.

    The average length of stay is five to six months.

    ❖ ❖ ❖

    Every year, more than 1,000 Florida teens and young adults leave foster care without families, according to the Children’s Home Society of Florida. Thirty-three Percent of those who leave without a support system will be homeless within three years.

    In addition, 50 percent of young adults who leave foster care at 18 are unemployed and for those who do have jobs, the average income is less than $14,000 a year, the society says.

    By promoting self-esteem and scholastic success, Girl Power hopes to turn around those statistics.

    “Girl Power provides the girls at Joshua House educational opportunities and stresses the importance of education,” Carlson said. “But I think showing them that there are adults in our community who care about them and are concerned about their futures is just as important.”

    Still, the girls at the Joshua House did not take to the Junior League women at first, Jagiella said.

    “They saw us as nothing more than women in pearls,” she said with a laugh. “Like typical teenagers, they would roll their eyes at us when we talked.”

    What won them over, Jagiella said, was the return visits. The foster children came to realize that the Girl Power would come back month after month, not leave them as so many others have.

    It also helped to learn that Jagiella and another committee member had been foster children.

    “It’s nice to have role models who experienced what I have and succeeded,” Chavon said. “It proves I can do it, too.”

    ❖ ❖ ❖

    In Girl Power’s first year, the volunteers seldom would see more than half the female residents of Joshua House attended an event. Today, all 24 usually turn out.

    “The girls here say Girl Power is among their favorite activities,” Caramello said. “Chavon in particular has taken their mentorship to heart. It has changed her. She is more confident now and plans to go to college.”

    The learning process has extended to members of the committee, too.

    Originally, they focused primarily on applying for college, career advice or literacy. Then a year ago, employees of the Joshua House informed the Junior League women that the girls could use some woman to woman talk, as well.

    Now, the get-togethers cover a wide range of subject matter. The Girl Power volunteers also bring along small gifts a parent might give out — sewing kits, diaries, makeup and hair accessories.

    Recently, when a few of the teenage girls had a school dance to attend, Girl Power helped them with dresses for the occasion.

    Still, the group is about more than giving. It is also about teaching to give.

    In October, for instance, Girl Power brought a seamstress to Joshua House to teach the girls to sew. Using their new skill, the girls stitched Teddy Bears for a Ronald McDonald House as presents for the sick and injured children who are served there.

    In December, the girls will buy holiday presents for a poor family.

    The lesson is civic-minded thinking, that there is always someone in greater need.

    This has inspired Chavon.

    An honor student now, she wants to become a doctor — maybe a heart surgeon.

    “I want to help people,” she said, “because people are helping me.”

  • Aug 31 2015

    Triad Employees volunteer at Joshua House

    by Bridget Roberston

    A group of Triad team members from the St. Petersburg headquarters used their company-sponsored volunteer day to help spruce up a few buildings at Joshua House.

    Watch their video here.
  • Jan 28 2015

    Ardent Joshua House kids' supporter to host open house


    TEMPLE TERRACE — Jan Sutton has never been one who seeks attention.

    But she has no qualms in telling people about her passion for collecting teddy bears and Beanie Babies — and selling them to benefit a group of children she believes deserve special consideration all their own.

    “It’s not about me,” she said. “It’s about the kids.”

    Toward that end Sutton is planning to host an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 31 in her home at 6814 Monet Circle in Temple Terrace. It’s where she houses the countless donations she’s garnered in recent months in anticipation of the upcoming event.

    The public is invited to stop in, browse and buy whatever cuddly creatures catch their fancy.

    Sutton has raised more than $25,000 over the past six years, which in turn she’s donated to Joshua House, a residential group care program in Lutz for children 6 to 17 who’ve been abused, neglected and abandoned.

    She specifically stipulates that the money be spent on activities for the kids, such as pizza parties, movies and trips to area attractions.

    Sutton — who when she invites guests to her home for special occasions requests they bring teddy bears or Beanie Babies in lieu of wine as tokens of their appreciation — also raises money for children’s holiday parties at Joshua House as well as raises funds for the boys and girls softball uniforms.

    To supplement the sales of the donated items she assembles and mans a large booth — of course with an array of teddy bears and Beanie Babies for sale — near Dillard’s at the Shops at Wiregrass from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Saturday of every month.

    “I just can’t imagine what it’s like for her to set up the tables and all the bears,” said DeDe Grundel, executive director of the Friends of Joshua House Foundation. “She is a wonderful lady who just wants to help those kids.”

    In recognition of Sutton’s generous contributions for the children at the Joshua House, the foundation awarded her the 2013 Olin Mott Golden Heart Award, named after one of its founders.

    Terry Perkins is the fire chief of the Medulla Volunteer Fire Department in Lakeland and an employee of the company Sutton’s husband founded, which is now run by their son. Perkins said that during the Christmas holidays his crew raised enough money to purchase more than 150 new teddy bears — bears they donated to her cause.

    “We were happy to do it because Jan is so supportive of Joshua House and those kids,” he said.

    Donations, however, need not be new because Sutton also is in the doll repair business and is happy to mend a “broken” arm or most any other “boo-boo” an item may have.

    For more information or to donate items, call (813) 980-2507.

    Joyce McKenzie can be reached at

  • Jan 13 2015

    DCF Recognizes Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Says Increase in Calls Reporting Human Trafficking Points Way to Success

    by Florida Department of Children and Families

    For Immediate Release: January 13, 2015

    TALLAHASSEE, FL – Calls reporting suspected human trafficking in Florida have doubled since 2010, a reflection of successful awareness and education efforts that are being recognized and applauded during Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

    “While the horror of human trafficking is unspeakable, talking about it is our only hope for eradicating it,” said Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), which houses the Florida Abuse Hotline and Florida’s Human Trafficking Coordinator. “Very few people are unaware of what human trafficking is, which was not true four years ago, and that is a sure sign of the effectiveness of our partnerships.”

    In fiscal year 2011, the Florida Abuse Hotline received 480 calls regarding human trafficking. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, the Hotline received 978 calls. More than half of the calls came from central and southeast Florida.

    Multiple local, statewide and national partnerships, including state agencies, Community-Based Care lead agencies, service providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, the judiciary and concerned citizens, are driving the fight against human trafficking in Florida.

    DCF also works closely with its Community-Based Care partners and now more than 250 case managers and child protective investigators have special certification in human trafficking. In addition, a Department of Children and Families and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Statewide Tools workgroup has developed a Human Trafficking Screening Instrument that will help child welfare professionals and DJJ staff identify victims of human trafficking so appropriate services can be provided. Training on the new tool is under way.

    DCF tracks human trafficking by three primary categories: sexual exploitation by a non-caregiver, such as an adult entertainment club or escort service; sexual exploitation by a parent, guardian or caregiver; and labor trafficking, also referred to as slavery or servitude.

     Heart-wrenching examples of how children are used in sex trafficking include:

    • A minor trading a sex act with an adult in exchange for a place to sleep.
    • A pimp prostituting out an adolescent.
    • A father trading his underage daughter for crack.
    • A mother allowing her landlord to have sex with her child as rent payment.
    • A fifteen year old trading a sex act with an adult for money
    • A nightclub owner providing shelter and food for minors in exchange for exotic dancing.

    The Florida Legislature last year provided resources to enhance screening and assessment of safe houses and therapeutic foster homes and created the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, on which Secretary Carroll serves as vice chairman.

    Human Trafficking Awareness Month is recognized every January.

    Media Contact: Michelle Glady, DCF Press Secretary, 850-717-4450

  • Jan 12 2015

    The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce introduces Hannah's Shoebox as a member of the 2015 Start Up Scholars program

    by Bridget Roberston

    Congratulations to Friends of Joshua House Board member R. Colette Glover-Hannah! 

    The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce introduced her company, Hannah's Shoebox- age appropriate tween shoes in women sizes as a member of the 2015 Start Up Scholars program. The Program is an initiative which aims to encourage innovation as a part of our community culture and increase instances of entrepreneurial success. Hannah’s Shoebox is an online retailer that exclusively provides fashion footwear to tween/preteen girls who wear women sizes 5-13. The online store offers a variety of styles including
    boots, flats, dressy/casual sandals and those hard to find special occasion shoes.

    Check out Hannah's Shoebox. They have already graciously provided shoes for our girls several times this year and the selection is wonderful.
  • Nov 26 2014

    There is always a reason for giving thanks

    by Joe Henderson

    Celebrating a national day of thanks, as the nation will do Thursday, might seem a little weird right now.

    The news is dominated by riots, looting and fires after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. The weather is lousy in much of the nation and getting worse. Our national political leaders apparently believe in governing by polarization.

    And according to the latest report in, 17.6 million households in the United States were “food insecure.” I’m not sure who came up with that term, but I think the translation means a lot of people aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from.

    So why celebrate?

    Because we are still basically a nation of good people, and that’s reason enough.

    My friend Margie Fox, of Temple Terrace, was so excited the other day. She and two of her sisters began raising money in June to buy a wheelchair van for their other sister, Mary, who has lived with cerebral palsy for her 63 years and is a quadriplegic.

    She is also more than a little amazing. Among many other things, Mary earned a degree in social work from the University of South Florida.

    Her old van, with 157,000 miles on it, was her lifeline to doctor appointments and other necessities, and it was falling apart. That’s when her sisters went to work.

    Margie said she knew some of the people who donated money so the van could be replaced. Others, as she noted, are “new acquaintances.”

    They all have a common thread of basic compassion.

    You know people like that. Give thanks that you do.

    Goodness really is all around. Sometimes you just have to look.

    Need doesn’t take a holiday, so Metropolitan Ministries will still be feeding and supporting people in Tampa and Pasco County, just like always.

    The vital work of caring for neglected and abandoned children goes on at Tampa’s Joshua House, and always with memories of two others for whom our community should perpetually give thanks — Olin Mott and Dottie Berger MacKinnon, both of whom died in 2013.

    They were fierce advocates for society’s most vulnerable citizens. Could anyone’s legacy be better?

    Today in Sarasota, police will deliver a van filled with shoes, blankets, jackets and other necessities to a homeless shelter called the Resurrection House. Those won’t be the only acts of kindness from one human to another, far from it.

    And for all the talk about retail workers forced to work on Thanksgiving at the expense of family time, it’s no holiday for law enforcement and other first responders either.

    Emergency rooms will still be staffed.

    Nurses will work their hospital shifts to care for the sick.

    Doctors will be on call.

    And, of course, soldiers will still be stationed abroad and apart from their families. MacDill Air Force Base won’t be closed for the holiday. All of those people give their time to cover our back.

    Give thanks for that.

    Goodness enriches us every day, although sometimes we forget.

    We can and will disagree on how best to deal with issues that affect us all, but that doesn’t mean we have to assume the worst about each other.

    If you think about it for a minute, everyone basically wants the same things — health, happiness and hope. Sometimes it just takes a day like Thanksgiving to remind us of that.

    No matter what the news of the day may be, we have more in common than we realize. We’re all in this together, folks. Give thanks for that, too.

  • Nov 25 2014

    FOJH Executive Director DeDe Grundel honored at Breakfast of Champions

    by Bridget Roberston

    Our Executive Director, DeDe Grundel, was honored, on Friday, November 21st, at the Breakfast of Champions by the Centre Club’s Executive Women’s Council. Breakfast of Champions honors local residents who are seen as a “Children’s Champion” through their work with children who need assistance to survive and succeed.
  • Nov 20 2014

    Help give foster kids back their dignity with the suitcases you no longer need

    by Sarina Fazan

    Patty Wyman, the owner of Day Spa 580 in Dunedin, was on her Facebook page when she came saw a plea for suitcases posted by friend Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel.
    “Our nothing could be a child’s everything,” Wyman said.
    Wyman sprang to action.
    "I just started asking, ‘Do you have bags or luggage you are not using anymore?’ and they just started dropping them off by the day spa," Wyman said.
    Levent wanted to get luggage for foster kids who typically arrive at homes like Friends of Joshua House, a home for abused, abandoned and neglected children, with all their belongings in a garbage bag.
    Levent, a longtime supporter of the home, asked its executive director, DeDe Grundel, if the children could help name the charity.
    They came up with “It's My Bag.”
    Talking about the effort moved Levent to tears so much so it was hard for her to speak about her mission.
    "We have so much. It's time to share. It's time to give," Levent said.
    She started using her contacts through her own agency and soon people from as far as Australia wanted to help.
    She's already collected dozens of suitcases. Business owners like Wyman are taking it one step further, sponsoring the program and then personally delivering the suitcases and filling them with everything from socks to blankets.
    Grundel said it's changing kids’ lives.
    "It's the point you carry yourself with dignity, and that someone thought of you as a human being, that they did not think your stuff is garbage," Grundel said. "Tammy Levent hit this on the nose. It's what these kids need.
    Grundel  hopes Tammy's idea will spread  and all foster children no matter where they go, either this facility or another, will get back a piece of pride.
    The residents of Friends of Joshua House are provided luggage, but so many come in at the last minute, like at so many other foster care facilities, with their belongings in garbage bags.
    Levent also said if you drop off a bag, there's an added incentive: Each drop off location will give you a reward, such as a gift certificate.
    To find out more information you can  just head to .
  • Oct 24 2014

    Friends of Joshua House Foundation, Inc Has Reached the GuideStar Exchange Gold Participation Level as a Demonstration of Its Commitment to Transparency

    by Bridget Roberston

    – Friends of Joshua House Foundation today received the GuideStar Exchange Gold participation level, a leading symbol of transparency and accountability provided by GuideStar USA, Inc., the premier source of nonprofit information. This level demonstrates Friends of Joshua House’s deep commitment to nonprofit transparency and accountability.

    "We have worked hard to showcase our progress toward our mission, and our long-held belief in being transparent about our work, to our constituents," said Executive Director, DeDe Grundel. "As a GuideStar Exchange participant, we use their platform to share a wealth of up-to-date information about our work to our supporters and GuideStar's immense online audience of nonprofits, grantmakers, individual donors, and the media."

    In order to be awarded the GuideStar Exchange logo, Friends of Joshua House had to fill out every required field of our nonprofit report page on for the Gold level of participation.

    "I encourage you to check out our profile on GuideStar to see what we're all about," added DeDe Grundel. "We are engaged in exciting initiatives, and we are thrilled to have another platform for communicating our advancement and progress."

    About the GuideStar Exchange

    The GuideStar Exchange is an initiative designed to connect nonprofits with current and potential supporters. With millions of people coming to GuideStar to learn more about nonprofit organizations, the GuideStar Exchange allows nonprofits to share a wealth of up-to-date information with GuideStar's many audiences. Becoming a GuideStar Exchange participant is free of charge. To join, organizations need to update their report pages, completing all required fields for participation. The GuideStar Exchange level logos, acknowledged as symbols of transparency in the nonprofit sector, are displayed on all Exchange participants' nonprofit reports.

  • Sep 22 2014

    2014 Joshua House Schools Supply Drive a Huge Success!

    by Bridget Roberston

    The school year has begun!  Papers are being written, science project topics are being chosen and “new” math homework is being solved.  The children of Joshua House have settled into their school schedules just like any other family – and that is because of you, our wonderful and caring donors. 

    New school clothes and backpacks filled with school supplies were generously donated by so many people and organizations.  We are, once again, humbled and grateful for such an amazing and giving community that keeps our children in your hearts.  There were 28 companies that held collections for School Supplies and/or Uniforms and hundreds of people donated to help our children start the school year with the tools that they need to be successful.  Some gave more than others, but every donation makes a difference! 

    With the help of our community, the children at Joshua House have what they need for school and we are also prepared for the children who will come to us throughout the school year.   Thank you so much for giving our children a brighter future.