Friday, April 8, City of Winter Haven employees gathered with leadership to celebrate the launch of a brand new program: The Bright Ideas Innovation Program. This program encourages employees to share great ideas that can improve the City. Adopted ideas that demonstrate cost savings to the City, and ultimately the taxpayers, are eligible for a cash award, up to a maximum of $3,000. Ideas that improve customer service or safety but have no measurable cost savings or cost avoidance are still eligible for a gainsharing award of up to $100. More info at mywinterhaven.com
A trio of Polk County students received special awards during the National Migrant Education Conference in San Antonio. Michelle Leon-Garcia and Agustin Lozano — both from Fort Meade High — were two of just four national scholarship winners at the event. Each received the $5,000 Albert Lee Wright, Jr. Memorial Migrant Scholarship, which honors migrant farmworker students who have overcome barriers, performed well academically, and provided service to their community. Aracely Rendon Morales from Summerlin Academy received the first-ever Humanitarian Award presented by the National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education. Morales earned the honor (which includes a $2,000 scholarship) for “extraordinary service to migrant families” in her community by providing more than 600 hours of volunteer work.
GiveWell Community Foundation (GWCF) has hired Callie Neslund as its Chief Operating Officer, reporting directly to President and CEO John Attaway. Neslund will work with Attaway and the GWCF team on future initiatives stemming from the United Community Needs Assessment currently underway, strategic planning, and day-to-day operations for the organization. Neslund’s prior experience spans the government and private sectors including over a decade of work in corporate philanthropy for The Mosaic Company and service on nonprofit boards.
Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) is officially entering the world of competitive video gaming, also known as Esports (electronic sports). For this pilot season, teams have been assembled from six schools and are competing against each other in the game “Rocket League.” The inaugural season of PCPS Esports is scheduled to conclude with a championship held in May at Florida Southern College. PCPS Esports is officially part of the district’s Athletics department, holding the same status as all other sports. Accordingly, Esports student-athletes must meet the same standards in academics, attendance and conduct in order to participate.
Winter Haven Public Safety is creating a new position within the Police Department to help address this critical need in our community. The Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) position will work in a proactive capacity to provide services and will be responsible for community health support for individuals identified by Winter Haven Public Safety personnel to be at risk relating to mental health. The Licensed Clinical Social Worker will also be available to support Winter Haven Public Safety personnel, which includes both Fire and Police departments. They will be available after critical incidents when firefighters or police officers may need assistance decompressing.
In a hallway at Dundee Elementary Academy, thousands of paper butterflies have found a home. Each is a symbol, representing a fraction of the estimated 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. Janine VanCura’s fourth-grade students are responsible for this display. After reading “Linked” by Gordon Korman, the students decided to create their own tribute. Research led them to the Butterfly Project, an international art and educational program. The students shared their project among family and friends, and VanCura posted it on Facebook. “We received an overwhelming response, so we mailed packets of butterflies out to people around the nation,” she said. There are now more than 5,000 on the wall.
After 34-years with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Larry Williams, Jr., the Chief of the Department of Law Enforcement is leaving the agency to accept the Chief Executive Officer position at the Peace River Center. After entering into the Florida Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), Williams was preparing to officially retire based on his years of service, but then came an opportunity with the Peace River Center. Following a national executive search that began in December of 2021 to replace the retiring CEO Bill Gardam, the PRC’s Board of Directors unanimously chose Larry Williams. Williams will officially begin as CEO at Peace River Center on May 2, 2022.
Congressman Darren Soto recognized Polk State College’s Associate Dean of Student Services Yulonda Bell on the U.S. House of Representatives floor and during a virtual reception in honor of Women’s History Month. Bell’s accomplishments and service to the community were celebrated alongside eight honorees, including Kissimmee Police Deputy Chief Betty Holland, former director of Polk State’s Kenneth C. Thompson Institute of Public Safety. In addition to the virtual reception, Congressman Soto read Bell’s biography into the congressional record on the U.S. House of Representatives floor. Her biography will be entered into the U.S. Library of Congress.