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Mock public hearings engaged more than 200 student leaders from 21 Orange County public high schools, who were invited to attend Mayor Jacobs’ third annual Youth Leadership Conference (YLC). The goal of the conference is to harness the collective talents, energy and passion of these student leaders for a better future in Orange County.

The teens were selected by their high school principals and student government advisers to attend the event at Rollins College in Winter Park. Through lively “give and take” in numerous different break-out sessions, the students experienced firsthand what public hearings on land use, zoning and code enforcement are like, including one “mock hearings” where students interacted with Mayor Teresa Jacobs during a simulated code enforcement hearing. They learned how county government functions, how best to participate in community initiatives and how to strengthen their leadership skills.

Special guests from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) Superstars and WWE Divas made a surprise visit and spoke to the students. Each school was also invited to collaborate on a video and post it on Facebook recapping what they learned at the conference. The winning video earned the school a day of job shadowing the Mayor.


Mayor Jacobs recognized Apopka High School senior Taylor Chou with the inaugural Charles T. Smith Community Service Award. The award, presented at the Apopka High School Senior Awards Night, recognizes an outstanding high school junior or senior who has shown dedication toward making a positive impact in their community through service and volunteerism. Chou volunteers with the Orlando Music Club, a nonprofit organization, where she helped organize community recitals at Central Florida nursing homes to bring joy to residents through music. She also has volunteered at Florida Hospital and tutored students in her community.

The award honors the life and memory of Charles “Chase” Smith who devoted his life to public service and improving his community. Smith joined Mayor Jacobs’ administration as an Aide for Constituent Relations and Outreach, and later was chosen by the Mayor to serve as Orange County’s first Ombudsman. Smith was selected for this role because of his extensive understanding of County government divisions and his passion to serve the community. He lost his battle with cancer in 2013. This award commemorates the unwavering level of devotion to good government and citizen service that Chase brought to his work.


For the third consecutive year, Mayor Jacobs’ “Summer of Service” 2014 program encouraged a lifestyle of community service and promoted volunteerism throughout Orange County. Summer of Service is a month-long initiative of planned activities through which citizens can serve their community. It was created by Mayor Jacobs to connect citizens – and especially students – with service projects supporting local municipalities, nonprofits, community partners and Orange County agencies seeking volunteers. It continues the tradition of Orange County’s “neighbors helping neighbors” philosophy.

From the Environmental Protection Division's community clean-up and storm-drain labeling event in Winter Park to the house-painting partnership with Seniors First in the Rio Grande Terrace neighborhood, citizens and Orange County staff did an outstanding job of giving back to the community in 19 volunteer events. More than 400 volunteers participated in “Fixin’ Up the Neighborhood’s” two annual projects, which focused on the Washington Shores and Meadowbrook Acres communities. The projects assist qualifying residents with home repairs and improvements sponsored by the Orange County Neighborhood Preservation and Revitalization Division.

In addition to these projects, Orange County provided service opportunities with partner agencies that included Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, the Adult Literacy League and Volunteers for Community Impact.


Mayor Jacobs hosted students from “Family and Friends United, Inc.,” to help the group of young people learn how best to cope with challenges in their neighborhoods, at school and at home. The students came to the Orange County Government Administration Center to meet with the Mayor, and shared stories with her about their backgrounds and what they hope to accomplish in the future.

The group of teens and young adults, ranging in age from middle school to college graduates, learned about the importance of being connected to their community and the value of becoming involved in local government, and also about the community resources available to them and their peers. The local charitable organization was started more than 20 years ago by Sharon Warner, driven by her strong belief in the importance of families and friends coming together in support of children.


More than 350 neighborhood and community leaders joined Mayor Jacobs and the BCC at the 2014 Florida Neighborhoods Conference in July to recognize individuals for helping their neighborhoods flourish. Sharon Warner received the Mayor’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year award. Warner is the founder of Family & Friends United, Inc., a program started locally more than 20 years ago to give children the tools they need to handle challenges at school and outside the home. Each district Commissioner recognized a district “Citizen of the Year.” More than 25 workshops were held during the three-day conference to educate and help citizens from around the state improve their communities.


Sharing information via social media to increase public awareness and engagement is a growing trend. Orange County took it to a whole new level last year, eventually earning a national award for its groundbreaking success of citizen outreach on social media.

Mayor Jacobs invited online influencers to be Social Media Ambassadors before and during the 2014 State of the County address in June. The goal was to expand the online conversation and create a dialogue with a broader demographic. The ambassadors used their large followings on social media networks like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to share information about the County’s “Year of Transformation.” One ambassador even used Google Glass to record and share live from the event, a first for any County government in Florida.

The initiative proved to be one of the most successful digital outreach initiatives in Orange County’s history. From June 2 through June 6, the campaign achieved nearly 1 million total online impressions on the Mayor’s official Twitter and Facebook pages.


Following the successful “ambassador” launch, County’s Communication Division was thrilled to win the Ragan PR Daily’s 2014 Digital Award for Best Community Engagement, in recognition of their hugely successful online citizen outreach campaign launched during Mayor Jacobs’ 2014 State of the County Address. The award was announced in October, and generated national publicity in recognition of the Communication team’s plan was to utilize online influencers from the region’s social media, blogging and technology sectors to increase citizen engagement and facilitate dialogue with a broader demographic. Ten Social Media Ambassadors with large followings on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram did just that.

A panel of judges selected the winners of the Ragan awards based on how the campaign engaged online community leaders and opinion makers, transforming them into advocates for the brand. The Social Media Ambassadors reached thousands of citizens in Orange County and achieved nearly one million total online impressions.

In addition to Orange County, winners of PR Daily’s 2014 Digital Awards included the U.S. Olympic Committee, global PR solutions provider Cision and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente.

The successful launch of the Social Media Ambassadors also prompted the creation of the Technology and Social Media Workgroup, with the goal of maintaining and growing momentum for citizen engagement. Establishing a permanent workgroup allows the social media influencers to be advocates for the burgeoning tech community and talk to a new generation of community leaders.


The social media conversation was at a high point in September, when hundreds of independent voices from the blogosphere heard from Mayor Jacobs at one of the largest conferences of its kind in the southeast. The Mayor gave the opening remarks at the fourth annual “Florida Blogger and Social Media Conference,” held at Full Sail University. Known as FLBlogCon, the event boasts more than 350 attendees from across the state, who reach more than 9 million readers a month. The Mayor told the bloggers that their amazing reach as social media influencers has redefined how the broader community views its news.

Bess Auer, founder and organizer of FLBlogCon and a fourth generation resident of Winter Park, joined the Mayor onstage to take an #ussie, a lexicon used in social media to describe a group selfie. The Mayor’s #ussie included the entire room of attendees and trended on Twitter, engaging hundreds of conference attendees and social media enthusiasts.


Student athletes from four local championship high school basketball teams received an extra honor when they were invited to the Orange County Government Administration Center in March to help Mayor Jacobs fill out her NCAA 2014 Basketball Championship Bracket. The NCAA Division 1 Men’s Championship Second and Third Rounds were held at the Amway Center March 20-22.

Participating students were selected by their high school principals. The high school basketball champs – wearing their uniforms from the boys Winter Park and Evans teams and girls Edgewater and Wekiva teams – joined the Mayor in her conference room to fill the bracket. In a televised segment for local and national media, they predicted a National Basketball Championship for the University of Florida, since Florida State University had won the National Football Championship – what great loyalty!


Nearly 50 students, college administrators and professors from Valencia College got real-world governmental experience by spending the day as a Florida Model Legislature in the Orange County Board of County Commissioners’ Chambers. The Model Legislature shifts civics teaching from a lecture-based approach to a dynamic experience, allowing students to learn how a bill becomes a law on both federal and state levels.

Student participants wrote, debated and voted on legislation while representing individuals in their legislative districts through mock legislative sessions. As students learned about state politics, Mayor Jacobs and members of her administration shared information about the intricacies of local government and public policy.

Valencia College is one of the nation’s largest and most-recognized community colleges. It won the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2011 based on the strength of its graduation and transfer rates, as well as the high job-placement rates of its workforce training programs. Valencia teaches 70,000 students on six campuses in Orange and Osceola counties. Through their outstanding efforts, they are creating future leaders!


Members of Girl Scout Junior Troop 967 were only Brownies when they first wrote a letter to Mayor Jacobs in 2012 revealing their observation of safety issues at a busy intersection near their school. After an in-depth traffic study was conducted by Orange County, and traffic counts and crash data were analyzed, a new signal was approved.

Mayor Jacobs honored the girls from Cypress Springs Elementary School and Andover Elementary School in August for having a vision, getting engaged and staying proactive in local government. The Mayor commended the girls for their effort and presented the group a plaque, then unveiled at the site a permanent sign dedicating the signal to Troop 967. The Mayor, District 3 Commissioner Pete Clarke and District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Thompson officially activated the traffic signal at the intersection of Dean Road and Cypress Springs Parkway, which has a heavy flow of traffic and pedestrians, especially during the school year. Congratulations to these wonderful young women, and their parents and troop leaders, for caring about Orange County!


More than 30 people committed to this year’s “Orange County Experience” – the highest number of participants since the series of classes was first offered in 2012!

The 12-week series of classes kicked off in September and provided local citizens and leaders the opportunity to learn more about Orange County, and the vital services that the County provides – from technology and infrastructure, to neighborhoods, and health and family services.

During the course, participants met staff and took tours of the Orange County Convention Center, Fire Rescue, Parks & Recreation and much more. They also participated in a behind-the-scenes facilities tour of the popular television series “Dr. G: Medical Examiner.” Dr. G is Dr. Jan Garavaglia, the Chief Medical Examiner for Florida’s District 9 in Orange and Osceola counties. Graduates of the program often go on to serve on county citizen advisory boards and through other volunteer opportunities. Thank you, Orange County Experience graduates, for investing in yourself and your community!


For the fourth year, Orange County employees and the community put smiles on the faces of children in need by donating 4,655 toys in November and early December through Mayor Jacobs’ Holiday Heroes Toy Drive. Through this Orange County tradition of “neighbors helping neighbors”, the spirit of giving was brought to life for thousands of infants, children and teens throughout the County.

Giving back to the community has been a top priority of Mayor Jacobs’ administration. This year, toys were collected in big holiday boxes placed in Orange County facilities and then distributed to children and young adults through Orange County’s Neighborhood Centers for Families, Wraparound Orange, Orange County Public Schools’ homeless program, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in Orlando, the Community Food and Outreach Center, the American Red Cross and Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, Inc.

A highlight of the annual giving campaign provides families in need an invitation to “shop” at their local Neighborhood Center for Families to select toys for their children. This year, the NCF held 20 shopping events at their 13 centers, which provided 520 youth and their families the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with 1,832 gifts. Additionally, almost 400 Wraparound Orange children received more than 835 toys through the generous hearts of donors. Orange County Public Schools received 748 toys and Toys for Tots were given 347 items for infants and toddlers. This heartwarming effort continues to be a high point of the holidays for our entire community!


Citizens showed their appreciation for Orange County’s critical first responders by adopting their local Fire Station during the holiday season. Mayor Jacobs started the tradition three years ago to help make the holidays special for Orange County firefighters spending the season on-call at the Fire Station rather than at home with their families.

Neighborhood groups, scouting, business and community organizations provided a meal or volunteered at their adopted neighborhood Fire Station. The Orange County Fire Rescue Division has more than 40 stations in six battalions throughout the County and 28 were adopted by 45 various organizations, families, businesses, and high schools. Many of the stations held open houses for residents to visit and received a variety of creative care packages, including holiday meals, special decorations, and much more.


The annual community event to flip the switch at Heritage Square once again drew families from across Orange County to the Orange County Regional History Center. This free downtown Orlando event has quickly become a tradition for many Orange County families, and serves as an informal “kick off” to the holidays for many.

Mayor Jacobs led the countdown and lit the tree lights at the holiday celebration that included musical performances by Faith Assembly Church Choir, Clare and the Chocolate Nutcracker, the Grand Avenue Elementary School Choir and Hillcrest Elementary School Choir. Santa Claus listened to Christmas wishes and posed for photos, while families made holiday themed crafts. Children enjoyed cookies and milk donated by the Florida Dairy Farmers. Regional mascots and special Ice Princesses from blockbuster animated films also entertained the revelers.