Holiday Fun For A Good Cause

 

The Festival of Trees offered an early holiday experience for visitors this past weekend. An entry fee of $5 allowed visitors the chance to venture through a gymnasium where hundreds of decorated trees were displayed.

In its 32 years of existence, the Festival of Trees has raised over $1 million toward its mission to foster community awareness, involvement and financial support for The Arc Tampa Bay, a non-profit organization providing services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Tampa Bay community.

Private citizens, craft clubs and even other nonprofit organizations donate their holiday themed decorated trees so that they can be sold in an effort to benefit the Arc Tampa Bay.

Kiersten Finchum, Festival of Trees Co-chair and Arc Tampa Bay volunteer, Driven by her passion to give back to the Arc  decorated her own tree for the festival this year.

“The Arc Tampa Bay is a great cause,” said Finchum. “I happen to be the parent of a special needs child and it’s nice to be working in a community with people who share a common thread.”

Although not everyone who walks through the Festival of Trees’ doors know the cause behind the annual event, they are certainly left enlightened by the end, much like Denise Fougere who came in support of a friend who had a tree on display.

“This is my first time visiting the Festival of Trees and I love it. It’s like a magical winter wonderland walking in the doors,”said Fougere. “the fact that all of this money and all of this is going toward that foundation is such a blessing.”

 

Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market’s Unique Vendors Attracts Throngs Of Curious Crowds Weekly

On Tuesdays, vendors line the sidewalks of Gulfport’s historic Waterfront district. The Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market attracts more than 1,000 people from October through to April.

In 2006, the market got its start in a small courtyard with only three vendors. Today, the market hosts up to 80 vendors on any given Tuesday during the season and contributes to community projects by providing grants with the money generated.

Susan Blankenship, market operations manager, appreciates the community element of the weekly event as well as the opportunity for visitors to find out about the Gulfport community.

“It gets people who live close to come down and walk around,” Blankenship said. “They get to know each other and socialize, and (it) gives new people an opportunity to find out about our great community.”

In an effort to maintain variety, prospective vendors are decided upon by a committee that reviews application submissions.

Variety is something that does not come short at Jerky Man Dan’s, where jerky, ranging from kangaroo, ostrich, duck, elk, alligator and more, can be found.

After being idle for one year, Jerky Man Dan’s is now up and running but with a new purpose and owner, Ted.

After the death of his brother, 58-year-old Ted decided to continue his brother’s entrepreneurial pursuit with the aim of aiding his mother while she struggles with her diminishing mental health.  

Since coming to the market each Tuesday, Ted has seen a light in his mother. Coming to the market is something that his mother, Marie, enjoys doing.

“I’m blessed enough to be able to spend some time with my mother before she passes away, to get her out of the house and let her enjoy life,” he said.

Zumba helps Tampa residents get active

According to the Presidents Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 28 percent of Americans aged six and older are physically inactive.

Every Tuesday, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is the site of an active, free fitness opportunity, known as Zumba In The Park, which is open to the public.

Zumba combines music with dance moves to create fitness routines that incorporate both interval and resistance training for a full-body workout.

Less than a month away from the end of daylight saving time, local participants are taking full advantage of the sunlight before the program ends.

Stacey Komanowski enjoys the outdoor aspect of the program; the Tampa skyline and Riverwalk.

Komanowski introduced her long-time friend, Lynn Trujillo, to Zumba In The Park.

“I absolutely loved being outside and getting a little exercise and fresh air,” Trujillo said.

Currently, there are over 200,000 Zumba class locations worldwide.

Meagan Simmons has been instructing Zumba for four years, starting out in Phoenix, Arizona before moving to Tampa.

Simmons was previously a professional hip-hop dancer but after an injury, she began participating in Zumba. After her first Zumba session, she was asked whether she was an instructor, which led her to become one.

“You know, the best part about being a Zumba instructor is just being able to inspire people every day,” Simmons said.

Simmons also thanks Zumba for allowing her to develop as a leader, saying that it is something that she has struggled with her whole life.

“Being out in the front of everyone, being able to talk, act crazy, dance… has really opened me up in a positive way.”

Girls on the Run Empowering, Educating Life Skills

In its criss-cross through the nation, the Flavor Run 5K has left its mark through Girls on the Run in Tampa Bay.

Founded on a drive to create an affordable, fun and family-friendly event, The Flavor Run has transformed into a means of supporting local charities and businesses across the country.

“We have about 1,800 participants, and I’d say there are approximately 30 percent of first time runners,” said John McMahan, the event director and founder of the Flavor Run. “We focus on family, quality, and we also focus on partnering with local charities.”

Girls on the Run is a personal enrichment program for young girls that help to teach young girls life skills through a physical activity-based curriculum.  The program was established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has since grown to over 200 councils in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Laura Moore serves as the director of Girls on the Run Greater Tampa Bay.  She said for the volunteers and runners of the 5K that designates Girls on the Run as their group during registration, a donation will be made to the program.

“For every volunteer that we bring, they can raise money for charity,” Moore said. “And for every runner that is in our team, they can donate a certain amount. There was about $2,000 that was donated last year, and all of those funds goes directly to our scholarship program, so that every young girl can be part of Girls on the Run.”

Over the course of a few years, the Flavor Run has become a vital piece in allowing Girls on the Run the opportunity to offer scholarships to members.

“We were a small part three years ago and then last year we were the exclusive charity partner, and we’re back again as the exclusive charity partner.  Moore said.  “We love the Flavor Run.”

The goal for Girls on the Run is to empower young girls in developing a strong sense of character, and feel confident in who they are and make connections with their peers.

McMahan said what motivates him in his role at the Flavor Run is being involved in a family-friendly atmosphere.

“It has to be the people that I surround myself with,” McMahan said. “The organizations that we work with, Laura, including Girls on the Run in Tampa Bay, it has been unbelievable.”