Mending Fences uses horses
to help drug addicts
overcome addiction

Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © May 26, 2017 at 4:07 p.m.
Just on the other side of the Levy County-Marion County line, a residential treatment facility for drug addicts uses horse as a centerpiece of the therapy to help those afflicted individuals overcome their addiction to drugs.


     Mending Fences, 15530 W. Marion County Road 326, in Morriston, held an open house on Thursday (May 25). Many organizations and individuals toured the facilities on the 437 acres, including a contingent of representatives from the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.

In this video, Katarina Campagnola speaks about the ‘Trust Walk’ exercise. Here a person is escorted as they put their hand and arm on a horse and walk with their eyes closed as the handler guides the horse. In this video, the horse is named Gator. He is a retired horse who was a family-owned horse. The horse handler is Terry Libera, and the person walking is Karen Woodbury. Campagnola agrees Marilyn Sokolof, a psychologist who specializes in using horses in mental health treatment, in regard to how this is a very effective method of diagnosis and treatment. Mending Fences Chief Executive Officer Scottie Collins said this treatment method has exceptional outcomes. The average stay for a client is 24 to 60 days, Collins said, but the treatment period is customized for each client.

     Rob Miller owns the facility, although it is listed as an LLC.
     There are 16 horses and 14 clients as of Thursday. Each client is assigned to a horse. This is a residential treatment facility, with separate areas for male and female clients.
     This facility is a reformation from its previous function as a place to help horses with treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.
     In February of 2012, one woman and one horse were killed and one woman was seriously injured in an explosion in a hyperbaric chamber at this former equine medical facility.
     Investigators found that the horse was kicking, when it knocked down part of the protective coating inside the chamber.
     The kick of the horse caused the metal horseshoes to create a spark and that is believed to have been the cause of the explosion in the chamber that has a high intensity of oxygen in it – for healing.
     Rather than close the facility, Miller revamped it into the rehabilitation unit it is today.

     Mending Fences uses retired horses as part of the psychological treatment to help people learn about themselves, and to seek to overcome addiction problems.
     There is not riding of horses during the therapy.
     The facility will only accept private insurance and cash-pay clients.
     Marilyn Sokolof, a psychologist who specializes in using horses in mental health treatment, works at Mending Fences.
     The Mending Fences website notes that “Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) is a powerful part of our treatment process. Utilizing the horse, human bond therapists can help guests let down their emotional walls allowing them to learn more about how they relate to themselves and others.”
     Equine therapy is at the core of the Mending Fences program. It is “designed to help the individual build trust, confidence, social skills communication, impulse control, perspective and learn boundaries.”
      During the tour Thursday, staff members mentioned that “treatment also needs to address what happens when you leave our doors.”
     Upon discharge, the client receives a lock of the mane hair from the horse that he or she was partnered with. There is a photo too, and planning includes help in for clients continuing the vocational training and/or career enhancement programs they began at Mending Fences.
     “Our goal is to ensure that your chosen field is a good fit and will support rather than hinder your work towards recovery,” the website notes. “Your stay with us also includes a year of phone monitoring to make sure you are following your treatment plan as we know that the pull off the path to sobriety can be daunting.”

FWC saves lives
and conserves natural resources

Justin Geiger (aboard the boat) and Adam Hayes help an FWC officer check out their material for safety before they depart to be in the Chiefland Rotary Fishing Tournament. Thomas Race was in this fishing crew although he is out of camera view at this moment. A Rotarian said he would relay a request from to be provided with results from this year’s tournament.

Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © May 21, 2017 at 4:37 p.m.
In conjunction with National Safe Boating Week, Gov. Rick Scott has issued a proclamation declaring May 20-26, Safe Boating Week in Florida.

     Four Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers started their day in Cedar Key as they were among the FWC force throughout the state on the first day of Safe Boating Week on Saturday (May 20).
     FWC officers Robert Johnson and James Fox initially assisted FWC officers Jordan Hilliard and Brennan Starling as Hilliard and Starling focused on saving lives and conserving natural resources at the Rotary Club of Chiefland’s Annual Fishing Tournament.

In this two-minute set of video clips, FWC Officer Robert Johnston and FWC Officer James Fox are at the wheel of the boat. At one point Saturday morning, the boat was brought up to a relatively fast  speed to catch up with a boater who appeared to be leaving quickly once the FWC had started toward him. That boater said he was not trying to escape from the FWC officers. The clips end with Officer Fox bringing the boat in for a very smooth docking at Cedar Key.

FWC Officer Robert Johnston is seen as the sun rises in the background near the launching point of Cedar Key.

FWC officers (from left) Jordan Hilliard, Robert Johnston, James Fox and Brennan Starling pause for a moment to be captured in a photo.

Charlie Kennedy, a participant in the Chiefland Rotary Club tournament, looks happy before launching that day.

John Meeks, a participant in the Chiefland Rotary Club tournament, checks out the boat as it sits on a trailer.

     Every one of the 61 boats registered for that Rotary Club’s fishing tournament -- that showed up -- was provided a safety inspection.
     Boaters might want to take the necessary steps to assure they are complying with laws before going on the water with their vessels.
     All vessels in Florida, except non-motor-powered vessels shorter than 16-feet long, and except for canoes, kayaks, racing shells or rowing sculls regardless of their length, must be registered through the local Tax Collector’s Office.
     All recreational vessels are required to have size-specific safety equipment on board, according to Florida law. The regulations for commercial vessels are more stringent.
     FWC Officer Johnston explained that the FWC first seeks to protect lives and to assure the legal use of natural resources is occurring.
     FWC officers have no quota of citations and they often use verbal and written warnings to stress the importance of abiding by the law, rather than issuing citations.
     FWC officers Johnston and Fox, after completing their assistance of their colleagues at the boat ramps in Cedar Key, launched in a 2005 22-foot Pathfinder boat, powered by a 250-horsepower Yamaha marine engine.

Two boats with oysters harvested by two men are checked Saturday morning.

Some of the many beautiful natural scenes that can be observed from a boat in the Gulf of Mexico off of the coast of Levy County show why this part of the Gulf is a destination for boaters and fishermen. The natural beauty here remains untarnished by buildings on the shoreline.

     These two officers on that Saturday patrolled waterways in Levy County, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Suwannee River.
     Gulf sturgeon have begun their annual migration back into the Suwannee River, FWC Officer Johnston mentioned as he and Officer Fox provided information.
     “The best course of action is to go slow, wear your life jacket and keep people off the bow of the boat,” FWC Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional commander, stated earlier this year in regard to sturgeon safety. “The Suwannee is a beautiful river, and we certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from enjoying it. We just want those recreating there to be aware these fish are present and can jump at any time. There have been injuries and, tragically, even a death in past years due to sturgeon strikes.”
     Watching and speaking with FWC officers Johnston and Fox provided more insight from their perspective as they conducted safety and resource checks on recreational and commercial vessels, starting with the parking lot next to Cedar Key City Park and the boat ramps there, and then on the Gulf of Mexico until noon.
     At noon, the officers docked the Pathfinder boat to enjoy lunch in Cedar Key at Steamer’s Clam Bar and Grill. Their journalist ride-along guest of the day was forced to finish that part of his day off of the water -- due to other (less fun) demands of owning a daily news website.
     Once on the water in the morning, however, the officers knew they would not be checking fish sizes of the tournament participants too soon, because it takes some time to catch fish.
     With Officer Johnston occasionally being the captain of the vessel and with Officer Fox also accepting that responsibility, the three men first headed north in the Gulf of Mexico from the launch point at Cedar Key.

A young fisherman holds a mackerel he caught as the FWC officers were checking safety equipment.

The mackerel is measured. This picture was taken before the fish’s lips were slid up to the point where measurement began. It was longer than 12 inches long. A flounder caught within minutes of this fish also measured to be proved as a keeper.

FWC Officer James Fox looks through binoculars to determine what is happening on a distant boat.

FWC Officer Robert Johnston checks safety equipment on a vessel used by a commercial oyster harvester.


A group of commercial oyster harvesters cruises through the Gulf of Mexico off of Levy County.

     During the hours of touring, some things became obvious.
     People operating recreational and commercial boats are not always the registered owners, and sometimes they do not have the paperwork to prove the vessel is registered with a valid, paid registration.
     Thanks to radio communication and computer databases accessible by FWC personnel in dispatch centers, officers are able to confirm vessel registrations and valid fishing licenses.
     Officers Johnston and Fox did not -- between 6 a.m. and noon on Saturday -- issue citations, which might include a fine, and they did not have occasion to place into handcuffs any suspected criminals.
     Nevertheless, people did receive written and verbal warnings to update vessel registrations, and to purchase the proper type of flares and life vests. Commercial and recreational boaters also enjoyed the opportunity to have all of their questions answered when they asked them of the two FWC officers.
     In regard to these officers’ actions to save lives, one primary duty was assuring that children wore life vests in any vessel that was underway. The law requires children 6 years and younger to be wearing a life vest if the boat is underway. If a boat is not anchored, it is underway.
     Another lesser known method for these officers to keep people from becoming sick or from dying relates to oyster harvesting.
     In Wakulla, Dixie and Levy counties, oyster harvesting is prohibited from June 1 through Aug. 31. The two officers checked at least five harvesting vessels in the morning on May 20 as those shell-fishermen (and women) earned money by taking oysters from the Gulf.
     Not only is there a specific season for harvesting oysters, but within the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off of Levy County, for instance, there are zones where harvesting is prohibited.
     Likewise, there are time-of-day limits for harvesting the oysters and that varies by month. The water and air temperature varies between September and June.
     The time of day restrictions for delivering two classifications of oysters – one that can be eaten on the half-shell and the other that is cooked or processed – are different as well. That time notes the time of day when those oysters are to be delivered to their final destination (prior to the final destination of the dinner table).
     The regulations controlling the harvest of oysters relate to temperature and microscopic organisms that can present health issues – especially to humans with weaker immune systems.
     Officers Johnston and Fox provided commercial oyster harvesters with either a complete verbal approval of everything on the boat as being safe and proper, or the boaters received verbal or written warnings about safety equipment.
     There was one, written one-month past-due vehicle registration warning issued.
     If an oyster harvesting person violated certain laws, they could have been arrested for a criminal violation of the law. Those criminal laws are to protect people’s lives by reducing the odds of oyster eaters becoming sick.
     Another law where Officer Johnston mentioned he is not inclined to give only a verbal or written warning is when he sees a vessel operator not requiring a child younger than 6 years old to wear a life vest. That will result in a citation, and upon conviction or an admission of guilt, the person will pay a fine.
     Every person younger than the age of 6 years old must wear an approved Type I, II, or III life vest while the vessel is underway.
     The goal of the FWC is to protect lives, FWC Officer Johnston said.
     During the few-hour tour Saturday, all four officers who were observed -- Johnston, Fox, Hilliard and Starling -- demonstrated their high level of professional service to save lives and conserve the natural resources of Florida.
(Please see the related story on the Leisure Page about boat safety.)

Levy County TDC Strives
To Fill Empty Seats;
Williston Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat Acts

Captured here during one-sixtieth of one second during the two-hour meeting on Thursday night (May 18) are (from left) Williston Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat; Casey DuQuette of the Levy County Road Department; Levy County Tourist Development Council Director Carol McQueen; TDC Chairman John Meeks; and TDC members Kathy Carver, Daryl Kirby and Heidi Schwiebert and TDC Vice Chair Helen Ciallella.
Williston Mayor Hethcoat is the person recommended by the City of Williston and by the TDC to fill a local government seat on the TDC. None of the five Williston City Council members were able to schedule the time to meet once every two months on the TDC. That is when Mayor Hethcoat volunteered, because he cares about Williston and Levy County enough to revise his schedule to attend. The TDC asked him to commit for two years. The mayor said he can only promise until next March, because then there is an election. Absent from this meeting on May 18, were TDC members Teresa Barron of the Chiefland City Commission and Capt. Rick LeFiles of Yankeetown. There is also a vacant seat available for a representative of the tourism industry in Levy County. The members present Thursday night spoke about some individuals who may fill that vacant seat. In other action, the TDC voted to next meet on July 13 at 6 p.m. It reviewed marketing plans to attract more tourists to Levy County and it reviewed financial matters related to this agency of appointed volunteers. The TDC is funded by a 2 percent bed tax that comes from hotels, motels, RV sites and other temporary dwelling places where tourists sleep in Levy County. The Levy County taxpayers (other than the ones who sleep in those beds on occasions) do not fund this council. Another topic of lengthy discussion was Tourist-Oriented Directional Signs, which may in the future help visitors find attractions such as Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens. DuQuette said the Levy County Road Department will allow the signs to be posted on the right-of-way, because Florida Statutes allow it. This will be a Florida Department of Transportation program, he said, although the county will be involved to some extent. As for the cost of signs, maintenance of the signs and the grass-trimming around the signs, that entire cost is to be covered by the business owners who apply and are accepted for these signs to help people find their businesses 'off the beaten path.' Neither the county government nor the TDC will be putting money into that sign project. In other action, the TDC agreed to endorse the potential of participating in the Old Florida Coastal Trail (U.S. Highway 98 Corridor) project, which was presented by Franklin County TDC Administrator Curt Blair. The Levy County TDC also saw the final product of 18 months of work -- The Big Bend Shellfish Trail Working Waterfront Communities (Dixie, Levy, Jefferson and Taylor counties) map and brochure. Click HERE for a starting point to check out the Levy County part of this working waterfront trail.
Photo by Jeff M. Hardison © May 19, 2017 at 2:57 p.m.

Dixie County Chamber
needs volunteers for
installation of flags

Dixie County Chamber of Commerce Secretary Cindy Bellot, who is also the librarian at the Dixie County Public Library in Cross City, is seen with Dixie County Chamber of Commerce Co-Vice President Arthur Bellot shortly before the start of the monthly meeting on Thursday (May 11). Mr. Bellot is a retired county manager who is among the core of active Chamber members.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © May 13, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.
     CROSS CITY --
The Dixie County Chamber of Commerce has 285 American flags with names of veterans that are being honored by them, and the Chamber needs more volunteers to help put the flags in the ground on May 22.
      One week before Memorial Day Parade, which is May 29, the Chamber puts up the flags along the eastern side of U.S. Highway 19 in Cross City.
     Terry Dembo, Chamber Co-Treasurer Debbie Dembo and Chamber Co-Vice President Andrew Rains are the leaders in the Chamber’s program to honor veterans for Memorial Day and Veterans Day with the posting of the colors.
     Chamber President Carol West on Thursday (May 11) mentioned that men and women can volunteer to help.
     Volunteers are needed on May 22, before 9 a.m. and into the day.
     People who want to volunteer to help the Dixie County Chamber with the flag project, other projects or who want to learn more about the Dixie County Chamber are asked to send an email to

Lunch And Learn teaches
that hope springs eternal

Lesley Hersey, a community engagement specialist at Lutheran Services of Florida Health Systems, welcomes participants to the third Lunch and Learn training session on Thursday afternoon (May 4).

Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © May 7, 2017 at 1:17 a.m.
Hope springs eternal.
     During part of her training session for people involved with children, Latanya Urquhart said on Thursday afternoon (May 4) "It is never too late."

Latanya Urquhart, a care coordinator specialist with LSF Health Systems, tells listeners that she plans to show them better methods for them as they all seek to heal others from trauma so that those people can become more resilient.

Latanya Urquhart, a care coordinator specialist with LSF Health Systems, shares insight with about 50 professionals from across a broad spectrum of agencies that help people.

     Urquhart , a care coordinator specialist with LSF (Lutheran Services of Florida) Health Systems, was the keynote speaker. She was providing a two-hour session as an introduction to Adverse Childhood Experiences and some of the short-term and long-term effects from trauma in individuals' lives.
     This introduction to “trauma-informed approach to promoting resiliency” may be among the methods listeners consider as they work with children and others in the various professions represented at the event.
     Even the 50-year-old man who has become a homeless schizophrenic that talks in response to voices he "hears" as a result of a lifelong abuse of alcohol and other drugs can start turning his life around, Urquhart said.
     While all absolutes are flawed, except perhaps that all absolutes are flawed, the theme of “It’s never too late” may be likened to the thought that hope springs eternal, and it is an idea to bolster caregivers’ spirits.
     Before a person reaches that point of homelessness and drug-induced dementia, though, there are opportunities for caring humans to help reduce the odds of that outcome, she explained in the training session.
     This was the third Lunch and Learn training session sponsored by the Levy County Prevention Coalition, the Anti-Drug Coalition of Dixie County, the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office, the Lutheran Services of Florida and the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Here are some of the Subway sandwiches and fixings provided to the 50 attendees at the most recent Lunch and Learn. There were also brownies and many different kinds of bagged potato chips. Sweet and unsweet tea was the beverage of choice. This lunch, the two before it for this set of training events, was free to participants. The next sets of Lunch and Learn events are probably going to cost participating diners $10 each.

     The very first one was held in Fanning Springs at the Bible Ministries building, which is a former bar on U.S. Highway 19 near State Road 26. The second two were held at the Otter Springs Campground and Park, home of the ForVets Inc. organization.

Katrina Gross VanAernam, of the Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition, shares with the group that a coalition of people can bring positive change to communities.

     The first three of these sessions provided a free lunch. Lesley Hersey of LSF and Katrina Gross VanAernam of the Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition asked participants to consider paying $10 each to cover the lunch for the next session.
     The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office has covered the cost of one lunch and GCSO retiree Anita Moore covered the lunch cost more recently.
     The next Lunch and Learn is set for Sept. 21 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the ForVets Lodge at Otter Springs Campground and Park, 6470 S.W. 80th Ave., in the Trenton area. The next session will be in regard to drug crime diversion programs, where people who have drug problems are given help to overcome their addictions, rather than just incarceration.
     There were 82 people registered for the session on Thursday. Fifty people arrived. There was a broad spectrum of participants from law enforcement officers, to public relations staff, to mental health counselors, to school nurses and many more professionals.
     One table with five people at it won plastic glasses with straws, and another promotional gift for having the five people at one table with the most years of experience – they had 130 years.
     VanAernam spoke about the series. She said some people in Dixie County thought there was a lack of resources to help people who have become addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
     Instead, she found there are many resources. The problem she unraveled was that there appeared to be a disconnection between the providers of services and the people who needed them.
     She said the Anti-Drug Coalition of Dixie County is modeled after the Levy County Prevention Coalition. These groups show that people working together can bring about “population level change.”
     “We want to see,” VanAernam said, “our entire community change.”
     To achieve that goal, she continued, takes everyone working together.
     Members of the Levy and Dixie counties’ coalitions wanted to hear about training. Another goal was to have people speak with each other and visit with one another in a networking format.  
     There was some very light networking on Thursday afternoon at lodge in Otter Springs Campground.
     There was about two hours of lecture as “training.” One key element of the basis for the lecture Thursday afternoon was a study conducted using 17,000 people from a population based of equal male and female participants, from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds. The mean age of the participants was 57 years old.
     Urquhart, who mentioned that LSF provides help across 23 counties, sought to impart to listeners so they could understand concepts from research into Adverse Childhood Experiences. She lives and works in Jacksonville.
     Urquhart works with “high utilizers” of the mental health and substance abuse system. These individuals, she said, often cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.
     In this introduction to Adverse Childhood Experiences, Urquhart spoke about research that shows how adults in positions where they can provide support to children may improve that effort by thinking more about the children’s lives outside of when they see them in the classroom, in the church, in the community center or on the playing fields of athletic sports and the like.
     People do well when they live in a community that wraps them in services where they can feel successful, even if they may be suffering from mental health issues or even facing the dilemmas and demons from substance abuse.
     Teaching children proper coping skills was among the ideas that the trainer shared. This helps children get through issues they may be experiencing at home.
     There are many forms of trauma that affect children. These include child abuse (sexual, physical and psychological); childhood neglect (physical and emotional); and then there are congenital issues (heredity) as well as environmental issues such as growing up in a home where there is mental illness, a family member with a severe physical illness, family members in prison, a family where substance abuse is not understood as abuse but rather as better living through self-medication, and the loss of one or more parents by death, divorce, separation or abandonment.

* Representing the agencies sponsoring the event are (from left) Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sheryl Brown, Levy County Prevention Coalition Project Coordinator Rose Wilder, Lesley Hersey, a community engagement specialist at Lutheran Services of Florida Health Systems, Katrina Gross VanAernam of the Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition and Levy County Prevention Coalition Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Lewis.

* Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sheryl Brown (left) and Levy County Prevention Coalition Project Coordinator Rose Wilder

Lesley Hersey, a community engagement specialist at Lutheran Services of Florida Health Systems (left) and Katrina Gross VanAernam of the Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition

Levy County Prevention Coalition Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Lewis

     Among the many concepts Urquhart shared in the session was that adults who interact with children that come from backgrounds with trauma need to provide support rather than ridicule.
     When a child is acting ill-mannered or worse in a classroom for instance, rather than saying to the child “What’s wrong with you?” the person who can serve as a parental figure outside of that child’s home might ask “What happened to you to make you so angry?”
     Even trying to help with a question about the cause of the child’s actions can present a barrier. Children who are 7 to 12 years old, or even older, might lack the communication skills to share with a caring adult their experiences from their homes.
     They may not be able to explain that they live in a house with six brothers and sisters who all compete for a space on the carpeted part of their one-bedroom house floor, where they sleep every night. Or they may not be able to explain that they are very hard-pressed to win in competition for the available food in the house.
     When the person finds a place to cope with adversity, that helps the person move on to a better point in their lives, Urquhart said.
     “If I don’t ever find that adult,” Urquhart said, “and if everyone around me always thinks I am bad, and I am constantly getting punished because I don’t have the language or the words at 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12, sometimes older, to tell you what my life experience is when I am not with you, then I get labeled.”
     Those labels are not “good” labels, she added.
     Adults in professions that deal with children look at those tags and form a method to work with that child based on the label, rather than seeking to find what led to that action where the child became so labeled and trying to provide the child with a safe and comfortable place to discuss what might be one or more of the factors causing the deviant or antisocial behavior.
     Children who are unable to find a safe and supporting adult figure won't learn proper coping methods to deal with the stress caused by the adversity they see in their daily lives.
     Instead of having a versatile coping method, the affected children act out. They lash out from the anger and frustration caused by no one giving them a place to start learning better methods for a positive lifestyle.
     “But there is hope,” Urquhart said. “I don’t mean to be such a bleak creature. There is hope, because there are people like you in the room. And you are caring. And you are willing to work with individuals, and help them get to that safe place. And they can become whole and healed.”
     Hope springs eternal.


Top For Chamber Of Commerce Ads


FRIDAY  May 26  4:07 p.m.
Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties

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Ad For Weeks Bail Bods


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Ad For Putnam Lodge Hotel And Spa  Fine Dining




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