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In keeping with Mayor Teresa Jacobs' number one priority of providing for the public safety, health and welfare of local residents, Orange County is deeply committed to strengthening the safety net for those in need, with a special emphasis on caring for the LGBTQ, LatinX and Hispanic communities, and all those recovering from the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Orange County is also committed to the continued success of crucial initiatives to impact affordable housing, domestic violence and child abuse, veteran, chronic and family homelessness, youth and adult mental health, and opioid, drug and alcohol addiction.

Orange County and Orlando United Day Honored and Remembered the 49

On June 12, Orange County joined the City of Orlando and onePULSE Foundation to observe the one-year remembrance of the Pulse nightclub tragedy on Orlando United Day | A Day of Love and Kindness. The community remembered the 49 innocent lives lost, their family and friends, as well as those who were physically injured and those who bear the deep emotional scars of survival. The community also extended its support for the Pulse family, Pulse nightclub owner Barbara Poma, and the LGBTQ, LatinX and Hispanic communities.

A joint proclamation ceremony with Orange County and the City of Orlando established Monday, June 12, 2017 as Orlando United Day, an annual commemoration moving forward, dedicated to honoring the memory of the victims, supporting survivors and recognizing the compassion that was displayed by the community and the world during the most difficult day in Orange County's history. The ceremony was hosted at the Orange County Administration Building during the unveiling of the iconic “Section 93” Sea-to-Sea rainbow flag. Section 93 is a 25-foot section of the world’s largest 1.25-mile original eight color LGBTQ rainbow flag. The flag has become a globally recognized symbol of the LGBTQ movement since its creation in 2003 by Gilbert Baker. Section 93, one of 250 sections of the original flag, has an incredible history. It has represented the LGBTQ community in more locations globally than any other, including being displayed at the Winter Olympics, the Supreme Court and at pride celebrations in cities across the nation and Europe for more than 12 years.

Mayor Jacobs and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer jointly presented the Orlando United Day proclamation, with City of Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Barbara Poma. Those in attendance were also able to donate blood and tie rainbow ribbons on trees with messages of love. Throughout the day, the community participated in the One Orlando Alliance’s Act, Love, Give movement, which encouraged local residents and those around the world to honor all who have been impacted by the Pulse tragedy. The One Orlando Alliance reported more than 2,500 volunteers participated in community volunteer initiatives, completing more than 5,800 service hours.

At noon, Central Florida and worldwide churches tolled their bells 49 times to remember the 49 innocent lives lost. More than 190 churches committed to and participated in this global remembrance. The Orlando Love: Remembering Our Angels event was held at the Lake Eola Park Amphitheater. The ceremony included remarks by community leaders, the Lutheran Comfort Dogs, musical performances by Olga Tañón and Sisaundra Lewis, and a memorial reading of the names of the 49.

Members of the community were also welcomed at Pulse nightclub throughout the day and were invited to conclude the evening at Pulse, which hosted a series of prayers, musical remembrances, inspirational dances and reflection.

One Orlando Collection Launched on Orlando United Day

In the days following the 2016 Pulse tragedy and under the leadership of Mayor Jacobs, the Orange County Regional History Center worked on an immediate short-term response to the tragedy, which was later formally named the One Orlando Collection Initiative. History Center staff members were physically onsite at major memorial locations — including Lake Eola, Orlando Health, Pulse nightclub and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts — to photograph, collect and preserve thousands of memorial items.

To date, more than 5,000 items are included in the Collection. These extraordinary items — hand made with love and in grief — are a very important part of the story that Orange County wants to share with this generation, the next generation and generations to come. By memorializing the heartbreaking loss that so many suffered, and the incredible response of love and unity through the One Orlando Collection, Orange County hopes to educate and inspire future generations.

Orange County, Central Floridians and virtual visitors from across the nation and the world continue to view these touching tributes at the Keep the Pulse website, The One Orlando Collection was launched on June 12, 2017 and will expand as curation efforts continue.

Orange County Recognized as LGBTQ Ally

In February, Mayor Jacobs joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the New Orleans LGBT Hospitality Alliance at Mardi Gras. Mayor Jacobs was in New Orleans at the invitation of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., which extended an invitation to Mayor Jacobs in October 2016 when the organization presented Orange County with a one-of-a-kind fleur-de-lis sculpture honoring the Pulse victims and families. This year, Mardi Gras included a Pulse remembrance and welcomed Pulse survivor Leo Melendez in the procession. Leo sustained devastating injuries and spent several weeks recovering at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Mayor Jacobs was privileged to join Melendez on a Mardi Gras float hosted by the Krewe of Orpheus and to proudly represent Central Florida.

In further acknowledgement of Orange County’s strong connection with the region’s LGBTQ community, Mayor Jacobs was recognized by Watermark magazine in its 2017 Central Florida Readers’ Choice Wave Awards as one of the “Greatest Straight Allies to the LGBTQ Community.” Mayor Jacobs was also honored with the “LGBT Ally Award” presented by the GLBT Center at the Harvey Milk Diversity Awards in May.

Additionally, the Orange County Regional History Center received the Golden Brick Award for its ground-breaking exhibition Pride, Prejudice & Protest, which told the story of Central Florida’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The exhibit received honors in the diversity category in March in partnership with the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida. Presented by the Downtown Orlando Partnership, the Golden Brick Awards celebrate community and development projects that have made a positive impact on downtown Orlando. The History Center was also awarded the American Association for State and Local History 2017 Award of Merit and the 2017 History in Progress Award for its work on the One Orlando Collection and efforts in documenting the Pulse nightclub tragedy.

Mourning the Loss Of Lt. Debra Clayton and Deputy First Class Norman Lewis

As demonstrated by the community’s response to the Pulse tragedy, the heart and soul of Orange County is filled with kindness and understanding, and serves as the foundation for the region’s world-wide reputation as a community that cares deeply. Tragically, the peace and tranquility of Orange County was again shattered on January 9, when the community experienced the heartbreaking and incomprehensible loss of two cherished local law enforcement officers, the Orlando Police Department’s (OPD) Lt. Debra Clayton and Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy First Class (DFC) Norman Lewis.

Lt. Clayton lost her life while protecting local residents when, without hesitation, she approached a dangerous and wanted fugitive who was later apprehended by law enforcement. DFC Lewis also died while serving in the line of duty when he immediately responded to the call for help in searching for the dangerous suspect.

The loss of each officer has been staggering. Beyond her contributions as a 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, Lt. Clayton was a loving wife, mother, daughter and sister who dedicated her life to serving and protecting Orange County and the City of Orlando. At her deeply touching memorial service, family and colleagues reflected on Lt. Clayton’s extraordinary passion for assisting children and families from challenged neighborhoods. Orlando Police Chief John Mina posthumously promoted her to the rank of lieutenant, and on behalf of Orange County, Mayor Jacobs was honored to present a proclamation to Lt. Clayton’s family members at her memorial service.

DFC Norman Lewis was an 11-year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. A former offensive lineman for University of Central Florida, his alma mater, DFC Lewis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and was sworn in as an Orange County Deputy Sheriff on August 15, 2005. At his emotional January 15 memorial service, his peers, family and the extended law enforcement community reflected on DFC Lewis’ infectious smile, easy laugh, positive attitude, strong work ethic and passion for his family and community. As told by several deputies, DFC Lewis was famous among his peers for receiving “thank you” notes from motorists to whom he had actually given traffic citations. One motorist wrote that while “I am now poorer in my wallet than when we met, I am richer for the experience of someone who truly exemplifies a good cop.” Once again, Mayor Jacobs was deeply honored to present a proclamation in tribute to and remembrance of DFC Lewis to his family.

In May, local lawmakers took action to rename two Central Florida roads after Lt. Clayton and DFC Lewis, and the bill went into effect on July 1. A portion of Silver Star Road, between Princeton Street and North John Young Parkway was renamed “Lieutenant Debra Clayton Memorial Highway” on August 14. A portion of Pine Hills Road between Silver Star Road and State Road 50 in Orange County was renamed “Deputy First Class Norman Lewis Memorial Highway” on August 16.

The community will never forget the sacrifices made by Lt. Clayton and DFC Lewis, and we remain heartbroken for their parents, grandparents, children, sisters, brothers, fellow officers and friends. One way to honor these and all law enforcement officers is to respect and appreciate their contributions, and to remember that each and every day, the brave men and women of law enforcement leave their homes and families knowing they may not return and risk their lives to keep us safe.

Orange County Prioritized Affordable Housing Issues

Through Mayor Jacobs’ INVEST in Our Home for Life initiative and innovative community partnerships, Orange County is working to transform Central Florida’s affordable housing marketplace — not just by increasing inventory, but also by transforming how the region approaches housing at all income levels. Mayor Jacobs’ INVEST in Our Home for Life initiative, announced in 2015, is one of the largest infrastructure programs in Orange County’s history. The $300 million investment program provides for affordable housing, public safety, infrastructure, parks, pedestrian safety, road construction and transportation improvements.

At the 2017 State of the County, Mayor Jacobs reported on three pioneering workforce housing initiatives. It included the redevelopment of the Wayne Densch Center into a 77-unit permanent housing rental community for at-risk homeless families with Ability Housing; Goldenrod Pointe, a new 70-unit affordable rental community with an emphasis on low income families with Atlantic Housing Partners; and a partnership with area Habitat for Humanity agencies to construct a 56-unit affordable-housing subdivision.

Orange County provided $1 million of INVEST funds with $1 million of State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) funds to Ability Housing for the redevelopment of the Wayne Densch Center in Eatonville. This project will provide affordable rental units primarily to homeless families and individuals who are most at risk of homelessness. The Goldenrod Pointe Community received $1 million of INVEST funds and $1 million of SHIP funds to construct a new complex with an emphasis on serving low- and very low-income families. The development is located on Goldenrod Road and celebrated its opening in May.

In an effort to address the shortage of affordable housing for low- and very low-income households in Orange County, the County has utilized $724,000 of INVEST funds for construction activities related to the site development of Arbor Bend and Juniper Bend. Both are planned neighborhood subdivisions in Apopka that will feature a total of 56 single-family homes and are being built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando and Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County and Greater Apopka.

According to a 2016 report by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford Metropolitan Statistical Area has a deficiency of 33,577 units for very low-income households. This is the third-highest deficiency in the state. Orange County Government continues to work hard on changing this statistic by collaborating in partnerships with other counties and with the private sector.

As such, in May regional partners and residents from Central Florida gathered at Orange County Government’s first Affordable Housing Workshop, hosted and organized by Mayor Jacobs, to discuss inclusive communities and housing solutions. Held at the Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners’ Chambers, the first in a series of three workshops identified and explored affordable housing solutions in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, as well as the City of Orlando. Identifying areas of opportunities for affordable housing were based on proximity to public transportation, major employment centers, and availability of community resources and services. 

In October, Mayor Jacobs invited millennial community leaders and business professionals to explore affordable housing solutions in Central Florida and also hosted the second Regional Affordable Housing Workshop in Osceola County. The workshop titled “The Millennial Lifestyle” included interactive stations for attendees to engage and learn more about Orange County’s new code process, Orange Code. The Affordable Housing Workshop in Osceola County explored creative housing and showcased various affordable housing products built throughout the state.

Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness

Under the leadership of Mayor Jacobs, and in partnership with numerous non-profit, community and agency partners, Orange County Government is committed to helping low-income and homeless families to raise their families in stable, nurturing and safe places. Through an integrated approach, which includes creative affordable housing initiatives, a wide array of resources to nurture strong families, a robust commitment to rapid re-housing for families and permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, Orange County is improving lives.

In addition to $4.5 million budgeted for targeted family and homeless services, and as part of the overall strategy to impact homelessness, Orange County has allocated a total of $5 million of INVEST in Our Home for Life funds, to be leveraged with other resources to create new affordable units for low- and very low-income households. Through the INVEST initiative, there are multiple other programs and projects aimed at expanding access and inventory of affordable housing.

In June, Mayor Jacobs gathered with Florida Hospital, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness (CFCH), Homeless Services Network of Central Florida (HSN) and area leaders for an update regarding the region’s inaugural “Housing First” pilot project. Since the project’s kickoff in 2014, when Florida Hospital established a $6 million Impact Homelessness fund with the Community Foundation, community partners have worked collaboratively to break the cycle of chronic homelessness by transitioning to the Housing First model. This prototype provides the chronically homeless a place to live independently, extensive support services and a case manager. Through HSN, and in partnership with the CFCH, Florida Hospital, Orange County and its partners, the project has been able to make progress in housing a very vulnerable group of high-need, chronically homeless individuals.

Additionally, Mayor Jacobs helped launch “Impact Families,” a pilot program to house and employ homeless families in Orange and Osceola counties. Impact Families will focus on increasing housing stability through a strong emphasis on employment and education that aligns with the Housing First model. Key partners in this initiative include the CFCH, HSN and Goodwill Industries.

Heroin Task Force Efforts Continue

In August, the Heroes Against Heroin website launched as one of 37 targeted recommendations made by Mayor Jacobs’ Heroin Task Force in March 2016. This website provides critical educational and instructional material that informs and engages citizens to be part of the effort to combat the impact of heroin and opioid abuse in the community. Information will help the public better understand the opioid abuse epidemic, learn about treatment resources for those dealing with addiction and educate the community on how to prevent substance use before it starts.

In July, nearly 50 local substance abuse treatment providers, social service representatives, law enforcement and community activists gathered at the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office for a screening of the film “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict.” The 2016 film depicts real stories of individuals addicted to heroin and other drugs. Produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, the film examines the nation’s heroin epidemic and addiction. The title, “Chasing the Dragon,” is a phrase commonly associated with an addict’s relentless efforts to “chase” the next and new high. Attendees left with a copy of the film and drug prevention information to take back to their organizations and an offer for additional screenings.

Let’s Read Initiative Celebrated Literacy Week in Orange County

In conjunction with the Florida Department of Education’s Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! initiative, and to help raise awareness about the importance of reading and libraries, Orange County held a series of literacy events that concluded with Mayor Jacobs reading to 40 local children during Orange County Head Start’s 20th Annual Guest Readers Week in January. Mayor Jacobs read The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems to Head Start children, discussed the importance of reading and reminded children about the benefits of having a library card. Additionally, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) recognized Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! with a proclamation at the January 24 BCC meeting.

Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!, observed January 23-27, provided an opportunity to highlight Mayor Jacobs’ Let’s Read Orange County initiative, which aims to improve reading and access to books by providing library cards to local residents. Let’s Read Orange County is a partnership between Orange County Government, the Orange County Public Library System and the Orange County Citizens’ Commission for Children.

The initiative is co-chaired by Sarah Dewitz, founder of Just 1 Book, a charity that collects and distributes books to children in need. Since 2010, the organization has donated more than 500,000 books to children in Florida. Orange County has proudly supported Dewitz throughout her charitable journey, including the donation of the Just 1 Book Mobile — a van that was formerly used for Orange County Head Start and is now used to distribute books to families across Central Florida.

In honor of National Reading Day on January 23, Mayor Jacobs and District 6 Commissioner Victoria P. Siplin also teamed up with the WWE and First Book for the WrestleMania Reading Challenge at the Orange County Library in downtown Orlando to encourage literacy and highlight the importance of reading to more than 150 first- and second-grade students from Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). As part of WrestleMania in Orlando and through donations, WWE donated 20,000 books to OCPS in conjunction with First Book, an organization that was also involved in the library event.

Additionally, the Orange County Neighborhood Centers for Families (NCFs) is the host location for four Lending Libraries as part of Mayor Jacobs' “Let’s Read” initiative. These libraries are located throughout the County and offer access to books from every genre. The NCFs also provided applications for Orange County Library cards and, since the "Let’s Read" kick-off in November 2016, more than 1,000 library card applications have been completed and submitted. It is Mayor Jacobs’ hope that these libraries, and access to the Orange County Library System, will ignite a love for reading among Orange County residents.

Milestones in Higher Education Recognized

In May, Mayor Jacobs joined community leaders at the Creative Village campus groundbreaking ceremony, ushering in a new era in downtown Orlando. The Dr. Phillips Academic Commons is the first building to be built at the new campus that the University of Central Florida (UCF) will share with Valencia College. The campus is expected to serve 7,700 students from both institutions when it opens in 2019. It is located across the street from Orange County Public Schools’ new K-8 Parramore school, which will allow children to progress from Pre-K to graduate school while remaining in the same community where they grew up.

Aside from being the second-largest university in the nation, with a population of more than 64,000 students, UCF has seen phenomenal success in its partnership programs, athletic program development and community relations. Recognizing UCF’s milestones and accomplishments in March, Mayor Jacobs issued a proclamation to honor and recognize UCF President John C. Hitt on his 25th anniversary as the university’s president.

In February, Mayor Jacobs also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Valencia College, which has grown from 500 students in its first semester in 1967 to more than 60,000 students today. Valencia College President Sandy Shugart has served as the college’s president since 2000. In 2011, the college entered a partnership with UCF to provide bachelor’s degrees in targeted workforce areas.

Since its inception, Valencia College has been recognized as a national leader among two-year colleges. In 2001, Time Magazine named Valencia one of the nation’s best schools at helping first-year students excel. In 2007, The New York Times named Valencia one of the best community colleges in the nation. And in 2011, Valencia was the first to win the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.