Gala honors programs and students

The Marion County Children's Alliance presented the 2024 Dr. Mike Jordan Awards of Excellence and Vision on May 10.

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Posted May 11, 2024 | By Susan Smiley-Height, / Photos by Bruce Ackerman,

The Marion County Children’s Alliance recently hosted its annual gala event and awards ceremony to recognize the 2024 Dr. Mike Jordan Awards of Excellence and Vision.

The criteria were that an organization has demonstrated exceptional performance in initiatives for or with the children of Marion County. The alliance combines numerous groups in support of local children. Jordan was one of MCCA’s founders and an 18-year volunteer and executive director.

The May 10 event took place at the Country Club of Ocala. Executive Director Beth McCall provided materials about the awards, honorees and Jordan.

“His passion for wanting a better life for all children of Marion County and the work that he did to try to provide that was significant in helping the alliance reach the status of what it is today. The naming of the Award of Excellence and the Vision Award for Dr. Jordan is a way we continue to recognize his contributions,” McCall shared.

The honorees included:

The Rock Program

The Rock Program transforms school campuses into “hubs of possibility, where dedicated volunteers and staff work tirelessly to ensure that more than 10,000 local students can feel like the champions they are,” noted the provided material.

“From the crack of dawn till the last bell rings, The Rock is there, supplying essential gear like deodorant, confidence-building clothing and shoes directly to students right on their school campuses. But The Rock is about more than just material support. It’s about igniting a spark of greatness in every young mind it serves. Imagine a community where every student knows they’re valued, resilient, and destined for greatness. That’s the culture The Rock is building—one student at a time,” McCall shared.

Since its inception in 2016, The Rock has opened 17 Rock Rooms, each serving an average of 800 students annually. Locations are primarily on middle and high school campuses, but support has recently been made available to alternative schools as well.


Ocala/Marion Fire Rescue Mentorship Program

This program has demonstrated a “profound commitment to mentorship, providing invaluable guidance and support to youth within the Ocala Marion community. Through personalized mentorship, participants have been able to develop essential skills such as basic problem solving, teamwork, effective communication techniques and leadership principles and practices.  In addition, cadets undergo rigorous physical training through which they gain confidence and learn how to pursue their aspirations with perseverance and grit,” stated the provided materials.

To date, the program has served 209 participants. Forty have transitioned into professional roles within their fields of interest, two cadets enlisted in the armed forces and 34 have received scholarships totaling $255,000.

In 2018 when the program began, Ocala Mayor Ben Marciano and his wife Danielle were fostering two teen boys. The Marciano’s were introduced to Capt. Chris Hickman and the mentorship program, and the teens began to participate.

“Not only did Capt. Hickman get these boys, who were otherwise pretty sedentary, moving, he inspired family and camaraderie these young men had never known. This is not just a program to build up incredible EMT firefighters, it’s a program to build unbelievable people,” Ben Marciano noted in the material.


Early Childhood Court

This Problem Solving Court was established in 2018 and is designed to provide specialized support to families in the dependency court system who have at least one child under the age of 5 who has been removed from a home. The families voluntarily participate and receive support and services until permanency for the children is achieved. A strong benefit is having access to the program coordinator, who assists with connecting families to appropriate services. The program has proven to increase parental visits with their child, ensures specialized evidence-based family therapy sessions and parenting education as well as coaching and other services that may help them succeed. The Early Childhood Courts are designed to focus on the infants and toddlers who are the largest age group in foster care and there is much evidence that the cycle can be broken with early intervention and family support, stated the provided document.

Since August 2021, under the leadership of the Program Coordinator, Martha Firkins and General Magistrate Joshua Soileau, the Early Childhood Court has served more than 35 families and over 74 children. Twenty-six cases resulted in children being reunified with their parents, six cases closed in permanent guardianship with family members with parental rights and visitation intact, and three cases closed through adoptions in which all caregivers were long term placement options for the children while parents had the opportunity to work their case plans.

The Early Learning Court collaborates with community partners such as Kids Central Incorporated, The Pearl Project, Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, the Marion County Children’s Alliance, Perspectives, Ocala Consulting and Prevention, SMA, Children’s Home Society and many more to ensure that each individual’s needs are met so the family can heal from the trauma they have experienced and move forward positively, the material stated.

Youth of the Year

The alliance presented its inaugural Youth of the Year Awards to Jasman Thomas and Takyrn Hayes. The criteria included academic achievement, behavior, attendance, consistency with meeting with the mentor and tutor, and positive feedback from faculty and staff.

According to information shared by McCall, “Jasman Thomas has become a true leader of his class at Fort King Middle School. He is a student athlete who maintains an above average GPA and comes to school every day ready to learn. His teachers all agree that Jasman is a pleasure to have in class. They’ve seen him blossom into a young man who exhibits genuine kindness to his teachers and peers. Jasman encourages his friends to make good choices and to stay focused on their overall goals. We’ve seen these leadership skills grow with Jasman since joining the SKIP (Supporting Kids, Involving Parents) mentoring program. His mentor, Jeremy Vickers, has given him opportunities to show his leadership skills during group sessions.”

The material noted that “Takyrn Hayes is a student at Oakcrest Elementary. His tutor, Ashley Dries, said Takyrn has improved this year not only academically but as a student overall. He has worked hard to reach his goals in the core subjects of math and reading, while at times he struggled he continued to push through to be successful. Takyrn has become a leader in his grade level as students look up to him for support and encouragement.”

A special resolution was presented for the annual Concert for Good.

The materials from McCall noted that “Caleb and Luke Lombardo, in discussion with their parents Adam and Lisa Lombardo, wanted to do something to make a difference for the Marion County Children’s Alliance and Brothers Keepers. For three years they produced the Concert for Good. We wanted to recognize them with a resolution from the board of directors.”

The event included local artists Mel Fiorentino and Aaron Thomas, who created artworks during the evening.

According to McCall, the alliance in 2023 served 304 children/youth in the Mentoring and Tutoring program. The Family Violence Prevention program provided emergency services that included shelter, food and other necessities to 259 families, which included 437 children. The nonprofit organized Friday Night Done Right and Natural High Events for teens to encourage fun without alcohol or drugs and 1440 teens were in attendance. The alliance also started the Safe Street Partnership of Marion County to help provide solutions and prevention for teen violence.


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