September 30, 2023
Role models as a tool against crime
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the goal is to empower at-risk students to make good choices.

Northeast Florida Roundup

Role models as a tool against crime

A Jacksonville school program hopes mentors can help curtail violence.

Ron Word | 10/28/2015

The end of the last school year in Jacksonville saw two First Coast High School students killed and a third wounded in what police believe were gang-related shootings. As schools opened this year, the fear of additional violence led the district to close a preseason football game to fans, parents and media.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that 1,973 boys were arrested in 2014 in Duval County. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office estimates about 45 gangs operate in the city, with about 2,000 members.

At the beginning of this school year, Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced a program called 5000 Role Models of Excellence, aiming to recruit 5,000 mentors for African-American male students over a 10-year period. Vitti hopes to provide 500 mentors in five high schools and five junior high schools this year. The program is based on one that's been successful for more than two decades in Miami-Dade, where Vitti once worked as a principal and administrator.

About 100 mentors have signed up so far. Among them are 50 Sheriff's Office members, judges, musicians, military veterans and businessmen. M"Not enough of our young men are growing up in a house with a father, grandfather or uncle, and I want to fill that gap," Vitti says.

The program is meant to provide at-risk minority youth with role models and experiences that will empower them to make good choices and encourage healthy living, responsibility, respect and achievement, Vitti says.

The students will participate in cultural activities and take workshops on etiquette, job training and career building. The program will cost about $80,000, which pays for field trips, uniforms, stipends for sponsors and a district-level employee to coordinate the work. Vitti hopes to get state funds and private support to provide scholarships for graduating seniors in the program.

The district, the 20th-largest in the country with 125,164 students, has an array of schools designed to promote success, from single-gender to college preparatory to one for students with dyslexia. The school board also is considering boundary changes and other programs to take advantage of underused inner-city schools.


Oscar Munoz is leaving his post as president and COO of CSX to become CEO and president of United Continental Holdings, the parent company of United Airlines. Clarence Gooden has been named CSX's president. He was previously executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. Cindy Sanborn was named the executive vice president and COO. She had previously been executive vice president/operations.

Michael Schatzlein has been named CEO of St. Vincent's Health Care in Jacksonville. He replaces Moody Chisholm, who left in March. Schatzlein had been president and CEO of St. Thomas Health in Nashville, Tenn.

Brian Reed is resigning as CEO of RS&H. He is being replaced by David Sweeney, executive vice president of the Jacksonville engineering and consulting company. Chairman Leerie Jenkins Jr. Will now be executive chairman.


Sweet Pete's

Sweet Pete's is the brainchild of Pete and Allison Behringer, whose appearance in 2014 on CNBC's "The Profit" changed their lives. From that appearance, millionaire entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis helped them grow their candy business. With his guidance and financing, the company moved out of a historic neighborhood into the remodeled Seminole Club in downtown Jacksonville. The space contains a factory with a gallery, two retail areas, a restaurant and bar, rooftop patio and dessert bar. An event center hosts school field trips, catered events, birthday parties and weddings. A big draw is Pete's candy-making classes.

"We've become a destination," Allison Behringer says.

Pete Behringer's mother ran Peter-brooke Chocolatier, which grew into 32 locations. He left in 2010 to form Sweet Pete's. A second Sweet Pete's is opening this fall in Lake Forest, Ill.

Business Briefs

GAINESVILLE - The University of Florida received $706.8 million in research grants in fiscal 2015, $5.1 million more than the previous year's record and 32% over the total in 2005-06. The university also received a record $315 million in donations in 2015. > The neonatal intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Children's Hospital is adding 16 beds, a dedicated neonatal neuro-intensive care unit, a dedicated breast-feeding area and sibling play area. The $20.7-million addition is to be finished in 2017. > The U. S. Economic Development Administration has awarded $8 million to the University of Florida to build the second phase of the Florida Innovation Hub, including an entrepreneurial center for women. > Uber has partnered with the city, ElderCare of Alachua County and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce to launch Freedom in Motion, an Uber app-based transportation pilot project to provide Gainesville seniors with an additional option for transportation. The city has invested $15,000 in the initiative. > Crime Prevention Security Systems of Gainesville has acquired Jacksonville-based Scott Alarms.

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Calavo Growers has leased a 208,000-sq.-ft. distribution facility and plans to hire 262 for an avocado processing plant. The Clay County Commission has approved an incentive package worth $78,407.

JACKSONVILLE - Citi Consumer Banking and Credit Services plans to create 500 new jobs in Jacksonville, where the company already employs 3,500. Firehouse Subs plans to open 90 restaurants in Canada over the next 10 years. The first will open this fall. The company has 900 restaurants and plans to reach the 2,000 mark by 2020. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is planning to build in indoor practice facility outside EverBank Field for $30 million. The facility is part of Khan's Shipyard project plans. > One Spark 2016, Jacksonville's annual crowdfunding festival, will be cut from six days to three days and reduced from most of downtown to 10 square blocks. In the past three years, Chairman Peter Rummell has contributed $3.5 million of the $6.1 million needed to put on the festival, which will be April 7-9. > Anheuser-Busch is investing $170 million in its Metal Container plant in Jacksonville, creating 75 jobs. The city is offering $12 million in incentives, and the state is providing another $2.8 million in grants. > Walton International Group USA of Scottsdale, Ariz., is expanding into northeast Florida, paying $3.91 million for 692 acres for residential development.

PALATKA - The St. Johns River Water Management District approved a project to enhance the water flow of Alligator Creek to the Keystone Heights chain of lakes. The lakes are a major recharge area for the Floridan aquifer. Clay County and Camp Blanding will partner with the water district on the $250,000 project.

Tags: Northeast

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