Throughout 2021, First Lady Casey DeSantis reaffirmed her commitment to support and advocate for Florida’s families, children, and the environment by furthering the goals of the administration.
“Floridians have shown tremendous resiliency over the past two years and I am humbled to help Florida’s families, children, and environment to prosper,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “I am proud of the work we have done over the past year and I look forward to our state doing even more in 2022 to help Floridians respond to and triumph over life’s challenges.”
In 2021, First Lady DeSantis has:
- Advocated for a substantial increase in funding for cancer research and care;
- Developed a program to help families realize economic self-sufficiency through community collaboration (Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity);
- Reinvented and rethought the way substance abuse is taught in schools (The Facts. Your Future.);
- Worked with the State Board of Education to emphasize resilience, especially as it pertains to character development and mental wellness (Resiliency Initiative);
- Created more than 100 social clubs in middle and high schools to focus on volunteerism and mentoring (Hope Ambassadors); and
- Passionately put a spotlight on Florida’s environment as the lifeblood of our state.
Supporting Mental Wellness and Providing Resources for Floridians Struggling with Substance Abuse
In June, Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady DeSantis reinforced their unwavering commitment to strengthening Florida families through significant funding in the 2021-2022 budget to provide life-changing behavioral health services:
- $158.4 million for the State Opioid Response Grant, which addresses the nationwide opioid epidemic and provides access to treatment for those struggling with opioid abuse;
- $120 million for the Mental Health Assistance Allocation to support school mental health programs, an increase of $20 million;
- $1.4 million to provide behavioral health services for those rebuilding from Hurricane Michael; and
- $3 million to allow Florida’s 211 provider network to expand mental health supports.
In July, First Lady DeSantis announced an expanded Hope for Healing website that makes it easier for Floridians to access help for mental health and substance abuse. The updated Hope for Healing website includes resources from several state agencies, including the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Health. For more information about Hope for Healing, visit www.hopeforhealingfl.com.
Following the tragic Surfside Building Collapse, First Lady DeSantis worked with state, local, federal and non-profit organization partners to launch Surfside Strength, a webpage to support families and first responders and help them receive much-needed emotional support. First Lady DeSantis and Governor DeSantis met with many of the impacted families to offer any support they could and expressed appreciation to the first responders who performed rescue operations 24 hours a day for 29 days.
In December, First Lady DeSantis announced $12 million to expand peer-to-peer mental health services available for first responders through DCF. First Lady DeSantis made the announcement at the Tampa Firefighters Museum while highlighting providers in the Tampa Bay Area who are already engaging in the peer-to-peer model of support. In addition to expanding peer-to-peer services, DCF has launched the First Responder Resiliency resource page, which directs first responders to available resources and gives organizations access to the application to apply for funding.
Empowering Florida’s Students
Since 2019, First Lady DeSantis has supported initiatives that empower Florida’s students to make positive changes in their lives. In 2021, the First Lady continued to expand opportunities for Florida’s students.
In February, First Lady DeSantis announced the launch of a resiliency initiative for Florida schools to emphasize key character development skills, including volunteerism, teamwork and problem solving. Professional sports teams, organizations and athletes from across the state lent their support for these resiliency efforts, including David Beckham, Peyton Manning, Lou Holtz, Tony Dungy, Charlie Ward, Joey Lagano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Orlando City SC, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, NASCAR, LPGA, Miami Marlins and Inter Miami CF. To view the resiliency toolkit, visit http://resiliency.cpalms.org/.
In July, First Lady DeSantis announced that an additional 100 schools will receive $500 each to launch Hope Ambassadors clubs. By December, all 100 clubs had formed across 39 school districts. Hope Ambassadors clubs create a setting where students can volunteer, mentor their peers and help foster kind and compassionate environments. In the 2020-2021 school year, 25 schools started clubs. For more information about Hope Ambassadors, visit www.fldoe.org/hopeambassadors/.
In July, with the support of First Lady DeSantis, the State Board of Education adopted new student performance standards that will strengthen Florida’s already nationally recognized education standards. The standards approved include Character Education and Substance Abuse Prevention. In November, First Lady DeSantis and Governor DeSantis announced the launch of the anti-drug campaign The Facts. Your Future. This statewide initiative directly engages youth in Florida to improve their understanding of the life-altering effects of drug abuse and empowers teens to reach their full potential. Through a series of school assemblies, The Facts. Your Future. will provide an interactive space for schools to educate their students on the consequential impacts of substance abuse. For more information about The Facts. Your Future.
Launching Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity
In September, First Lady DeSantis launched Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity. This new initiative spearheaded by First Lady DeSantis and implemented by DCF utilizes ‘Care Navigators’ to guide Floridians on an individualized path to prosperity by focusing on community collaboration between the private sector, faith-based community, nonprofits and government entities to break down traditional community silos, maximize resources and uncover opportunities. Services are available to Floridians statewide, including children aging out of foster care, pregnant mothers contending with substance abuse disorder and other families in need of assistance. Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity is now available in every county in Florida and has served more than 6,600 individuals since the launch in September.
In December, First Lady DeSantis hosted a roundtable with the faith-based community to discuss collaborating through Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity to help Floridians overcome barriers, find hope and realize economic self-sufficiency. At the event, First Lady DeSantis recognized five organizations with the First Lady’s Medal for Courage, Commitment and Service for their roles in helping Floridians who are struggling.
As a part of Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity, DCF launched a hotline (850-300-HOPE) and website (www.HopeFlorida.com) available 24/7 for those who are seeking help and hope.
$100 Million Proposal for Cancer Research and Care in Florida
In December, First Lady DeSantis announced a $100 million proposal for cancer research and care in Governor DeSantis’ Freedom First Budget – an increase of $37 million, or nearly 60%, over prior year funding. The funding will be used to forward cancer research and care at Moffitt Cancer Center, the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the University of Florida Health Cancer Center. First Lady DeSantis made the announcement during a roundtable at Moffitt Cancer Center with Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo and representatives from the center.
Since 2014, cancer has been the second leading cause of death in Florida behind heart disease. This funding will help three centers in Florida continue to provide treatment and perform cutting-edge cancer research.
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