Public Works Deputy Director Wes Moreno, left, poses with Escambia High student Joshua Dufurrena. Click photo to view more images.

Sign Shop Staff Welcomes Visit from Biggest Fan

     Escambia High School junior Joshua Dufurrena has loved street signs since he was in elementary school.

      “For as long as I can remember, really little, maybe 6 or 7,” said Jamie Dufurrena, Joshua’s mother, when asked when his passion first began.

     Joshua, who is autistic and takes special education classes at Escambia, recently sent a letter to the Escambia County Roads Department with suggestions for upgrades to various signs throughout the county, as well as drawings of a number of signs. One of his favorite activities involves his parents driving him throughout the county to take pictures of signs so that he can recreate them at home.

     Each year, Joshua’s parents would allow him to select his favorite signs to photograph so he could draw them.

     “We used to take a Polaroid camera and he would pick 27 street signs in Escambia and Santa Rosa County to take pictures of,” Jamie said. “He would map them out and we would go and take pictures of them as he checked them off his list. After we picked up the photos from Walgreens he would take them home and cut them out so he could trace them.”

     Joshua spends his time after school drawing his favorite signs on copy paper and putting the matching codes on the back.

     His letters and drawings caught the attention of Wes Moreno, deputy director of Public Works, who contacted Joshua’s mother to schedule a visit to the sign shop.

     “We are very impressed with the detail in his sign drawings, even down to the inspection dates on the back,” Moreno wrote in an email to Joshua’s mother. “Understanding his passion for street signs, we would like to invite Joshua to visit our sign shop here at the road department where he would have an opportunity to see some of the work on the signs and hear more detail about street signs.”

     That afternoon Joshua called Moreno to schedule his visit.

     The sign shop and road department staff rolled out the welcome mat for Joshua in late October, giving him nearly an hour-long tour and allowing him to help make a sign. And while it may not have been a speed bump sign, his favorite, it was one of the highlights of his visit.

     Moreno and his staff also presented Joshua with a special treat before he left. The ‘Joshua Street’ sign was made in custom colors to match the Escambia High Gators logo. It now hangs above his bed.

     And if there was ever any doubt before the visit, Joshua’s plans are now clear. “When I grow up, I want to be a street sign man,” he said.


Participants in the after school program at the Marie K. Young/Wedgewood Community Center take a break from studying to smile for the camera. Click photo to view more images.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

Free After School Program Gives Students an ‘Extra Push’

     For children who participate in Escambia County’s “Play, Learn, Grow” After School Program at the Marie K. Young/Wedgewood Community Center, learning doesn’t stop when they leave school each afternoon.

     The free program offered by the county’s Department of Neighborhood & Human Services strives to enhance the academic experience for students in grades K-12, while offering a fun, safe environment.

     On weekday afternoons during the school year, the community center is bustling with activity as students enjoy recreation time, get homework help and participate in special projects and reading groups, among other activities. And although the program provides plenty of fun, the vision for “Play, Learn, Grow” is much bigger than entertainment.

     “The goal of the program is to help assist with trying to give them some kind of increase in reading and mathematics,” said Shurlitha Jones, who oversees the program as Escambia County’s community center coordinator. “Because if they increase their reading and mathematical ability, then they’ll increase social studies, they’ll increase science – those types of things. We’re basically trying to provide a support system or supportive network for schools and at home.”

     In addition to helping students with homework and offering remediation in math and reading, Jones said the program has a partnership with the Escambia County School District to utilize Google Chromebooks, which allows students to access the same accounts and educational websites they do at school.

    Kathryn Lovely, who teaches at the after school program along with teaching fourth grade at O.J. Semmes Elementary School, said using the Chromebooks is a big help for students, allowing them to get personalized help and do research on their own.

     “I think it’s important, because it goes along with our school district’s vision where students are getting that extended help beyond the school hours,” Lovely said. “And it’s motivating, it’s fun – it’s a way for students to stay focused and have something positive to do in our community.”

     On Fridays, the program focuses on project-based learning for each age group, where students are able to incorporate different subjects such as reading, language arts, math and science into a hands-on project. Third through fifth grade students have created constellation charts and artificial rock formations, and the kindergarteners through second graders have learned about bear hibernation and created a thankful tree while learning about Thanksgiving.

     “We provide them with something where they’re learning, but they’re having fun with it at the same time,” Jones said.

     Samantha Byrd, whose children Jordin and Jasmine have participated in “Play, Learn, Grow” since the beginning of the school year, said the extra push through the program has helped improve their grades in all subjects. Byrd said the program serves as an important resource for parents, especially those who work during the week like she does.  

     “I think it’s great,” Byrd said. “The ladies here are really great – they help me a lot…if you don’t have stuff like this, then you have so much more to do at the end of the day.”

     Along with assisting students and parents, the program serves as a support system for teachers. Latris Garner, who teaches at “Play, Learn, Grow” and teaches kindergarten at Lincoln Park Elementary School, said the extra help is much needed for teachers and parents, who may not have the time and resources to dig in after school and work.

     “So we provide support and fill the gap that (teachers) may see during the school day,” Garner said. “Me being a classroom teacher, you know it’s a huge need. You can see children who need that extra push, but they may not have that support at home. It’s somewhere to go in the community.”

      The "Play, Learn, Grow" After School Program meets Mondays-Fridays from 3-5:30 p.m. through May 26, 2017. For more information, click here or contact Community Center Coordinator Shurlitha Jones at 850-426-1234 or For information about The Youth Connection at Ebonwood/Oakcrest Community Center, another after school program offered by Escambia County, click here.

Public Safety Sharing at Christmas Campaign

     Every year in December, Escambia County Public Safety employees donate money to fund a “Public Safety Sharing at Christmas” campaign. Employees are asked to nominate a family or families within the community, or the department, who may be experiencing financial hardships during the holiday season. This year with the help of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics R5-325, the department collected just over $1,000 to purchase gifts for the children of two families.

Staff pose with gifts donated for the public safety "Sharing at Christmas Campaign."


Want to Go?

  • WHAT: Escambia Cares Community Resource Expo
  • DATE: Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017
  • TIME: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • LOCATION: Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. DeSoto St.

NHS Links

Children from Regency Park help plant a tree. Click photo to view more images.

Escambia County Arbor Day Giveaways a Success

     Every year, people around the world celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees in hopes of making a difference in the environment for future generations. The first Arbor Day took place in 1872 and an estimated 1 million trees were planted nationwide in a single day.

     Escambia County joined forces with several local agencies to give away over 350 trees in observance of Florida's Arbor Day. The county held one of its tree giveaway and public plantings at Regency Park. Support for the event was provided by the USDA Forest Service, Florida Forest Service, Escambia County UF/IFAS Extension, Master Gardener Association and Keep Pensacola Beautiful.

     The Regency Park event was a success despite a few downpours. Staff gave out more than 100 one-gallon trees and were thrilled to see participation by some future arborists (pictured) in the neighborhood. Several neighborhood children helped plant one of 20 new trees meant to help mitigate damage from the 2016 tornado. These trees will provide many recreational and health benefits for years to come.

      UF/IFAS Extension and Florida Forest Service hosted a tree giveaway, public art show and mail art contest awards at Davisville Community Center. Support for the event was provided by Resource Management Services.

     What started as a blustery, rainy day ended with sunny skies and over 250 trees being given away including crabapple, redbud, shumard oak and river birch. Over 120 area residents participated in the event, which included a tree being planted at the community center for visitors to enjoy. Three of the art contest award winners were also recognized for their submissions.

      Residents, businesses, schools and children have planted over 1 billion trees since Arbor Day took root in American tradition over 150 years ago, with the number of planted trees climbing each year.