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First Lady Casey DeSantis Announces Three New Statewide School-Based Initiatives

December 12, 2019

Governor's Press Office

First Lady Casey DeSantis Announces Three New Statewide School-Based Initiatives
First Lady launches H.O.P.E. Innovators Initiative, Hope Ambassadors and “Courage, Commitment and Compassion” Awards

Tampa, Fla. — Today, First Lady Casey DeSantis, as part of her Hope for Healing Florida initiative, announced the creation of H.O.P.E. Innovators, a new statewide community-based team tasked with developing innovative ways to connect Florida students and parents with mental health information and resources. The new team, “Helping Organizations, Professionals and Educators Transform How Florida Understands Youth Mental Health” (H.O.P.E. Innovators), will work under the direction of the Florida Department of Education’s (DOE) Chancellor for Innovation, Dr. Eric Hall.

First Lady DeSantis also announced the creation of Hope Ambassadors, a youth peer-to-peer student mentorship program that will recruit student volunteers to work with their peers and help create an environment of kindness and compassion in their schools.

First Lady Casey DeSantis said, “I am honored to announce three new initiatives which aim to deliver meaningful support to our schools. As I’ve traveled across the state, I’ve had the honor of meeting some amazing kids who have inspired me to create ‘Hope Ambassadors,’ which will be comprised of young men and women who understand that simple acts of kindness and compassion can change the trajectory of their fellow students’ well-being.

“While the simple act of just saying hello or inviting a fellow student to sit with them at their lunch table may seem small, we believe these Ambassadors will have a significant impact. Additionally, our new H.O.P.E. Innovators program will identify ways to connect students and parents with resources and information so they can get meaningful support to lead happy and healthy lives. 

“Through these innovative approaches, together we can deliver hope and healing to our families and communities. It is also important that we recognize the heroes in our communities who are working to help others, often behind the scenes. I was proud to present my first 'Courage, Commitment and Compassion’ awards today to Yolanda Driskell and Jacob Lasevoli. Like Yolanda and Jacob, we should all aspire to perform acts of kindness throughout our daily lives, even the smallest gesture can make a big difference to help others.”

“It is an honor to stand with First Lady Casey DeSantis as she announces the Hope Innovators and Hope Ambassadors programs,” said Dr. Eric Hall. “As part of her Hope for Healing initiative, these new programs will connect students, educators and education leaders, and community-based organizations with available resources, increase awareness and determine the most effective ways to battle the ravages of substance abuse and promote mental health wellness in our schools. I look forward to continuing the dialogue across the state with First Lady DeSantis as we work to address these serious issues.”

“As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the parent of a high school junior in Tampa, I’m keenly aware of how necessary it is to address the emotional and mental health needs of youth in Florida,” said Clara Reynolds, President and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “Through our programs at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, we’ve seen how powerful and effective it is when peers reach out to other peers. This type of grassroots effort has tremendous appeal and can do wonders to raise awareness as well as normalize conversations about behavioral health.” 

“To be able to speak and work with children before they believe that their only avenue of expression is through anger and violence is going to have a tremendous impact on our local communities,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “I believe many of the people our deputies come in contact with daily are interactions fueled by mental health issues. I truly believe this innovative program launched by First Lady Casey DeSantis will help curb those issues before it’s too late.”

Prior to making the announcement at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, First Lady DeSantis held a roundtable with students about the importance of recognizing and addressing mental health needs.

First Lady DeSantis also announced her first “Courage, Commitment and Compassion Awards” as part of her Hope for Healing Florida initiative. First Lady DeSantis created the award to recognize those who live by the Golden Rule and have been caught in an act of kindness. Today, she presented the first two awards to Hillsborough High School teacher Yolanda Driskell and senior Jacob Lasevoli. Ms. Driskell was recognized for offering compassion and guidance to move students forward in life. Jacob was identified by his peers as someone whose compassion is shown in several ways – from his willingness to help in any way to the kindness that he shows fellow students.

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