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Ocala public policy program, Phoenix Rising, recognized by Harvard’s Kennedy School

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Florida might be home to Bright Futures, but the Harvard Kennedy School is known for its “Bright Ideas.”

Since 2010, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation announces an annual list of Bright Ideas it collected from across the country. These ideas come from local governments who show innovation in public policy, like programs that focus on teaching cyber safety to initiatives that make streetlights more energy effective.

The Ocala Police Department, partnering with city of Ocala, Workforce, and Marion County Habitat for Humanity, made the list of 2012 Bright Ideas this week, which featured 111 ideas total. According to the Ocala Star-Banner, the Center received 600 applicants this year.

The Phoenix Rising program helps “get young adults, 18- to 21-year-olds, the experience they need to be able to get a job, balance a checkbook, have their own apartment, buy a car,” said Laurie Whitaker, the grant manager of the Ocala Police Department. “To do all the things that a lot of us take for granted.”

Whitaker said the goal is to “mainstream them into the community.”

She thinks the program, and this new recognition by Harvard University, will inspire other cities or communities to do the same.

“We’re currently working with Habitat International to possibly garner funding to be able to put it out to their affiliates nationally,” Whitaker said.

Until then, the department is starting to work within Florida’s communities to try and institute the Phoenix Rising program in their areas.

Phoenix Rising is one of five “Bright Ideas” to come from Florida. The other four programs from Florida include:

  • The Charter School System from Pembroke Pines created a “municipally-managed public charter school system” in 2000, and the curriculum of the schools has been award-winning. This year marks the graduation of the first kindergarten class.
  • In Lee County, their entry was Animal Euthanasia Reductions. The program’s mission is to reduce the number of animals who are euthanized due to “poor economic conditions, including a high rate of home foreclosures and job loss by residents.” To combat pet overpopulation, shelter intake and taxpayer expenses, “the agency implemented several initiatives to provide services to keep pets in loving homes rather than be surrendered to overcrowded shelters with limited capacity.”
  • Guests First, also in Lee County, provides “free hospitality education and training program to support and strengthen the economic viability of its primary industry.”
  • To provide a different level of visitation for inmates, the Mobile Inmate Video Visitation Bus was created by Pinellas County. It facilitates “visitations for residents with family and friends incarcerated at the Pinellas County Jail who otherwise would be unable to make the trip to the jail’s on-site visitation center.”

 Sami Main edited this story online.

About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a journalist at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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