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First Lady Casey DeSantis unveils two mental health initiatives at Hillsborough High School.

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Casey DeSantis unveils two new mental health initiatives during Tampa stop

The First Lady is emphasizing kindness and compassion in mental health awareness.

Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis is launching a statewide community-based team that will help connect students and parents to mental health information and resources.

The team, “Helping Organizations, Professionals and Educators Transform How Florida Understands Youth Mental Health,” called H.O.P.E. Innovators for short, will work under the purview of the Florida Department of Education’s Chancellor for Innovation.

The initiative also includes Hope Ambassadors, who will provide peer-to-peer student mentorship to help foster a kind and compassionate environment in 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,” DeSantis said.

“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.”

DeSantis announced the pair of programs during an event at Hillsborough High School Thursday with students, educators and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.

“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,” Chronister said. “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.”

DeSantis also announced her first “Courage, Commitment and Compassion Awards” through her Hope for Healing Florida initiative. The award recognizes individuals for showing random acts of kindness to others. The first two awards went to Hillsborough High School teacher Yolanda Driskell and high school senior Jacob Lasevoli.

“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,” DeSantis said.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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