Lessening the environmental footprint

TradeWinds Island Grand Resort on St. Pete Beach is known for its eco-friendly presence in the community. From reusable hand towels in the restrooms to air-conditioning units that automatically turn off when a patio door is opened, the beach resort lives by the Green Lodging lifestyle.

TradeWinds employee, Jessica Leonard, is taking that to a whole new level. In June, Leonard created the TradeWinds Eco Team (TWEC).

Jessica Leonard helped create the TradeWinds Eco Team geared toward lessening TradeWinds Island Grand Resort’s environmental footprint.photo by Courtney Aurich

Leonard is an internal communications and training coordinator at the resort. She is mainly responsible for the employee culture side of Human Resources. Part of her job includes enrolling employees in the Habitat for Humanity program. She’s in charge of getting TradeWinds employees to volunteer 200 hours building a house for another employee in need. Leonard is also an active volunteer and enjoys making a difference in the community and in the environment

“I value people. I think if somebody else is in need and I have … or if I can provide for myself and someone else can’t, who am I to not help them?” said Leonard.

Leonard often gives her change to war vets begging in the street. She has picked up the tab for a homeless man at local buffet. She finds joy in helping others.

Leonard’s generosity dates back to volunteering at a local animal shelter when she was a teenager

“They always needed your parents to go and it was really hard before 16,” said Leonard. She would push her mom to come with her, just as she pushes people at work at Habitat for Humanity.

Familiar with her inspiring ways, Leonard’s co-worker, Sophie Bajack, proposed the idea of starting a beach cleanup on St. Pete Beach.

“I shut her down right away,” said Leonard. “There’s not enough trash on this beach to make a tangible result. People are going to pick up two straws, and be like, ‘why the hell did I wake up early and come out to this?’ I said no.”

She did like the eco-friendly concept, however, and the idea of helping the environment. From that, the TWEC was born.

The TWEC, as described on the organization’s Facebook page, is an organization that plans to “lessen the footprint they leave on the environment” through education, teamwork and outreach. TWEC attempts this by preserving wildlife and maintaining clean waters.

Leonard and Bajack are the founders of the TWEC with TradeWinds is the sponsor. TradeWinds provides meeting spaces, snacks and merchandise giveaways for the organization and partner, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, donates gloves, safety equipment and cleaning supplies.

“There’s food. You get a free T-shirt that says, ‘Eco Team’ on it. It’s completely free,” said Leonard.

Recently, TWEC adopted its first sea turtle nest which will hatch anywhere from 68-102 eggs. They have also created their own beach cleanup that takes place twice a month.

The first beach cleanup was June 8.

“We picked up 68.9 pounds,” said Jessica. “We had like 25 garbage bags full. It was horrifying.”

Since then, TWEC has hosted beach cleanups every second Tuesday and fourth Saturday of the month. Pickups take place from 8-11 a.m. Volunteers begin at the TradeWinds Island Grand property and end at Guy Harvey Outpost Resort. Volunteers are as young as 7 years old and any employee or community member can attend.

“Last cleanup, we found a fire extinguisher, a knife, and a rolled-up dollar bill for — it was definitely a drug-related paraphernalia. You find a lot of condoms and just weird stuff,” said Leonard.

Eco team member, Victor Cifuentes, 28, believes in “lessening footprints” on and off the beach. At the bar where he works, he cuts six-pack rings before throwing them into the trash. Cifuentes worries the plastic rings will eventually end up on the beach and hurt sea life.

“You got to respect where you live,” said Cifuentes.

 

Little League children taught to succeed off field

Bianco Berry (left) and his daughter, London. Photo by Katie Ebner

The vice president of Progress Village Little League teaches children more about life than baseball in hopes of inspiring a misunderstood community.

Progress Village was created less than 60 years ago—before the height of the civil rights movement—to give black people an affordable community to call home. Only a railroad track separated it from the Klu Klux Klan, who terrorized members of the new community.

Progress Village changed a lot over the years, but it still fights a bad reputation from its drug problems and murders that seem to be the only reasons the community makes the news.

Little League Vice President Bianco Berry, however, sees Progress Village differently than outsiders. Though he did not grow up there, the tight-knit community enjoys a rich storytelling culture, which is how he learned about its history.

“Just to hear the old stories is really, it’s almost like, you growing up, you wasn’t always here, but you always feel like you was always involved in the community,” said Berry.

Berry started volunteering with the Little League when he moved to Tampa in 2006. His passion for giving back to the community and being a positive influence for his children and the children he coaches earned him a spot on the Little League board, and eventually the title as vice president.

During his stint as vice president he coached both of his children, and even coached his daughter’s softball team when it won the district championship two years ago. His daughter, London, 11, cherishes her relationship with her dad for more than what they have accomplished on the field together.

“Many people don’t have a dad that can just tell them that, ‘oh you’re amazing, you’re worth it in life,’ so I just feel like respected that like I have someone that is there for me that can tell me that,” said London.

She credits the Little League for playing a big role in teaching children like her valuable life lessons.

“I think that kids can develop great leadership because Progress Village, we hold a lot of like activities for the children to do, just to get involved more, and also it gives the kids like new opportunities to learn something new, and to experience things off of others,” said London.

His primary focus is not winning games. It’s helping children learn how to achieve great things beyond Little League Baseball.

“We’re trying to teach you the game, trying to teach you the fundamentals, trying to teach you this is how life is,” said Berry.

As one of the league’s leaders, Berry wants players to recognize the importance of working together.

“We try to give you the tools that’s not necessary to succeed in sport but to succeed in life as well,” said Berry. “This has to be like a team organization. You got to have teamwork when you go to your job, you got to have a team, got to be able to rely on others, you try to teach them it’s not always about ‘me me me.'”

He also emphasizes the importance of giving at-risk children a positive atmosphere to learn and grow, instead of falling into bad habits.

“[We] try to teach them to be respectful of everyone, and just try to provide a safe and fun environment for them to come out and do stuff, and not have to be always in the streets, always doing something negative,” said Berry. “Try to turn something negative, and try to make them keep, keep a positive attitude.”

Bianco and London spoke to WUSF as part of its “Telling Tampa Bay Stories” radio series. Photo by Katie Ebner

Berry teaches his own children these same values. On every family vacation, he and his wife take their children to different universities wherever they visit to show their kids what they can achieve if they continue to work hard and be positive influences on others. These trips gave his daughter a new perspective, and inspired her to make a difference in others’ lives.

” … Until like a few years ago I didn’t really realize that most people don’t exactly get like I have,” said London. “[I’m] able to do stuff in life, [and] not always [be] one of those people who’s always down. I can always stay positive.”

According to Berry, both of his children exemplify the values he tries to teach Little League players, and he could not be more proud of them. His daughter talks about how she stands up for kids who get bullied at school, and how she is involved with Sisters Network—an organization that raises awareness for African-American women impacted by breast cancer. One day, she wants to be a doctor or professional athlete.

“I mean, she’s a pleasure,” said Berry about his daughter. “Both my kids are, so I’m just happy trying to do the right thing by them, make sure they can be productive citizens in life.”

Tampa Fire Museum gives back

On March 1, 1908, Tampa experienced the largest fire in its history. Cottages, factories and stores were burned down to ashes and two thousand people were left homeless.

The fire was discovered inside a boarding house in Ybor City. Before the volunteer firefighters came, many homes and businesses were already destroyed. The flames were extremely difficult to control.

“Everything was built out of wood,” said Joy Bunch, employee for the Tampa Fire Museum. “Back then trying to get it contained, they just couldn’t get ahead of it. When it was all said and done, it burned 55 acres and 17 city blocks.”

According to Bunch, city officials decided to rebuild everything destroyed by importing brick. This decision was also the reason why the Tampa Fire Museum is made out of brick.

Built in 1911, the museum was originally the headquarters for the Tampa Fire Department (TFD) until 1974.  Now the museum holds all the history of TFD and the Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR). Everyday visitors come in not only to learn about the history of both departments, but also to learn more about safety education and fire prevention. The museum is free of charge but donations are accepted and appreciated.

“We have an area for kids to play in,” said Scott Mays, a local firefighter. “We also have a couple of trucks and things like that for people to see. We also have a store where we sell memorabilia and other firefighter stuff and museum items as well.”

One part of the museum contains fire truck exhibits. One truck, nicknamed the “Little Mack” can still be used in a fire today if need be, but it’s mostly used for personal events such as parades and funerals. The truck was sold to TFD in 1949 for $13,884. It was last served in Firehouse Station Three.

Close by the fire trucks, one will see how the firefighters’ uniforms have changed over the years. During the 1920s and 1960s, firefighters wore less gear than the one’s today. You will see that in earlier decades, they wore a helmet, bunker pants, boots, quick-close fasteners and held a pick-headed axe. Now they’ve replaced the axe with a hose and added reflective strips, gloves, goggles, a face piece and more. According to the museum, the total amount of gear a firefighter wears adds another 75 pounds to their weight.

TFD originally consisted of volunteer firemen. The first volunteer company was created in 1885 and 10 years later the department became a paid company.

“The city budget was $18,000,” said Bunch. Bunch has been working for the museum ever since her son, Matt Bunch, passed away due to a rare cancer. He was a firefighter that was stationed across the street from the museum. He served the community for nearly 6 years.

“Tampa Fire Rescue supported him and our family,” she said. “While it was a very short battle, they were just tremendous to our family and still are. I started volunteering here and then they offered me a position.”

There is a room where visitors can pay their respects to the local firefighters that have passed away. Near the memorial room there is also an exhibit in honor of the firefighters that passed away saving lives on 9/11.

The museum also welcomes guests to host special events such as birthday parties, retirement functions and weddings.

“We do all types of events here at the museum,” said Mays. Before becoming a firefighter, Mays worked for the museum and stopped by occasionally to help out when needed. “We also do community things when we just have folks come in from the street for tours.”

Educating the community on fire safety is one of the goals of the museum. They wish to educate as many people as they can, especially children. This is one of the reasons why there is no charge to enter.

“We try to give fire prevention, what to do in a fire, things like that…where we don’t want to charge people for that information,” said Mays. “We want people to be able to get that information without having to pay for it because we feel that it is necessary and extremely important that people understand what to do during a fire.”

The museum has been designated a “local historical landmark” by the City of Tampa Architectural Review Historic Designation Division. You can visit on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

“Besides the stop, drop and roll…get out and stay out,” said Mays. He says that is the best tip he can give to people who may not know what else to do in case of a fire. “If there is something left in there, let the firefighters know.”

For more information visit www.tampafirefightersmuseum.org

Camp Kesem helps kids impacted by cancer

Camp Kesem at Florida State University is gearing up for its annual Make the Magic event, which benefits the kids at the camp.

According to the nonprofit’s mission statement, it is a “nationwide community, driven by passionate college student leaders, that supports children through and beyond their parent’s cancer.”

The organization has over 3,000 student leaders at over one hundred colleges across the U.S. The camp reached 6,000 kids in 2016 alone, 65 of which came from the chapter at FSU.

Make the Magic – a fundraiser geared toward making the camp free – will include a cocktail hour, a formal dinner and speeches from leaders at all levels of the organization. Guests will be able to connect with camp counselors and participate in activities related to the camp.

Last year’s Make the Magic event raised over $6,000. With more time and resources dedicated to advertising and marketing, the organization has plans to nearly double that amount this year.

“Last year was definitely a successful fundraiser but we know we can do better,” said Zack Tregoe, Camp Kesem’s FSU branch co-director. “With repeat donors and the growth of Kesem we want to reach a donation goal of $11,000.”

Zack Tregoe, originally from Tampa, is a co-director for Camp Kesem at FSU. Photo/campkesem.org/fsu

Proceeds from each event go straight to the campers themselves, ensuring that every child who attends the camp is doing so for free. Each counselor must raise at least $500, which is then combined.

The camp itself is six days and five nights that include activities from sports to arts and crafts. The camp provides an escape for children dealing with the impacts of cancer on their family.

The camp encourages open dialogue through the Empowerment Ceremony. At the ceremony, campers are encouraged to talk about why they are there. Campers all share that one or both of their parents have been affected by cancer to some degree.

This includes parents who are actively battling cancer, are a cancer survivor or have lost their battle. This ceremony works to bring campers together.

“My favorite event at the camp is Wow-Pow-Chow, something we do every night,” Tregoe says.

Wow-Pow-Chow (WPC) is a part of Cabin Chat, a large group discussion focused on that specific day. The ‘wow’ is for the best part of the day, the ‘pow’ is for the worst part of the day and the ‘chow’ is for the best food of the day.

“I love the way WPC is able to give every camper a voice, but it also helps us in bettering the camp for the future,” Tregoe said. “When feedback from a certain activity is positive, we know to emphasize it the next year. If the feedback is just so-so, we either replace it or ask our campers how to improve it.”

Make the Magic will take place March 4, 2017. Those looking to attend will be able to purchase tickets for $50 at campkesem.org/fsu.

Help from local hurricane relief group extends to Puerto Rico

TAMPA— Members of the community have united to form Decentralized Response, a grassroots response coalition, in the wake of the environmental and economic devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Decentralized Response previously operated under the title Irma Decentralized Response. The name was changed when the group’s relief effort extended beyond hurricane Irma.

Volunteers have supplies sent to a three-bedroom house in Tampa that they call the hub.  They store goods there and distribute them statewide.  The group is even planning a relief trip to Puerto Rico.

Pictured left is one of the rooms in the response hub. The whole house holds a variety of relief supplies that volunteers distribute in the hurricane relief packs. Photo credit: Decentralized Response Facebook Page

Dezeray Lyn, a woman who assisted in the formation of the response group, discussed the group’s main mission, where they’ve been and where they’re going.

“We are here to feed and supply anyone in the community who needs it,” Lyn said. “We also traveled to Apopka, Immokalee and the Keys to give the community there assistance.”

Lyn is also a co-founder of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.  According to the Facebook page, MADR is a grassroots network with a mission to provide disaster relief based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid and autonomous direct action.

Members of MADR and other activists began mobilizing, as the threat of Irma loomed, to help those in need before, during and after the storm. They formed distribution teams to take hurricane packs containing food, water and hygiene products to refugee families days before Irma hit. The group was a saving grace for those trapped in the rain and high winds.

“We received a call to our relief line from someone trapped in the storm,” Lyn said.  “They were stuck on the side of the interstate, and the police said the winds were too high to send anyone to help them, so we sent our people to pick them up.”

Mostly, the poorer communities were without water and power for extended amounts of time after Irma passed. Decentralized Response provided those neighborhoods in need with water, food and even generators, in some cases.

Dezeray Lyn is featured to the left helping with the delivery of goods to citizens in the Florida Keys. Photo credit: Justin Garcia

Lyn and activists also traveled to Apopka and Immokalee to provide relief. Apopka residents found themselves without power for many days in their small, farming community. It was loosely estimated that 70 percent of the citrus crop was lost during the storm.

Immokalee was hit harder by Irma than many other parts of Florida. More help was needed, so the Coalition of Immokalee Workers worked hard to receive and distribute goods. The town of migrant farmers didn’t have power for weeks and lost a major portion of their crops. Some even lost their homes.

Relief efforts continue.  However, the aid priority of Puerto Rico and other islands has made itself apparent.  The Decentralized Response crew is gearing up to make a trip to the devastated island.

“We are leaving on a weeklong trip to Puerto Rico on October 12,” Lyn said.

Their goal is to help people in need after hurricane Maria. They will distribute relief goods that are being collected in a shipping container before the trip. It should be there when they arrive.

This is a donation flier from Decentralized Response that lists the products needed to be collected and distributed to the victims of the hurricanes. Photo credit: Decentralized Response Facebook Page

Members of Decentralized Response feel that state efforts are not enough considering the destruction in Puerto Rico.

“We must demand that they do more, but also help as a community however we can,” Lyn said.

 

 

 

USF’s Muslim Students Association and Rise Against Hunger work together

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Muslim Students Association at the University of South Florida held an event in conjunction with Rise Against Hunger to package nutrient rich meals that will be distributed communities who suffer from hunger.

In 2016, there were roughly 793 million people who did not have an adequate amount of food. That is one in nine people who do not receive the sufficient amount of nutrients needed to live a healthy life. The MSA at USF is working with Rise Against Hunger, not to reduce that number, but to eradicate world hunger completely.

Rise Against Hunger is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending world hunger by 2030 through grassroots community empowerment. They partner with communities and local organizations to raise money to sponsor meals, and then hold volunteer based events to pack them. They then distribute the nutrient packed meals to in need communities around the world. The packaged meals consist of hearty portions of soy, protein, grains, and vegetables.

Ryan Elfallah, president of Muslim Students Association, at the Stop World Hunger event.

“I have worked with Rise Against Hunger for three years in a row, and I think they are great organization,” said Ryan Elfallah, the president of MSA at USF.

In the months leading to the event, MSA at USF raised money from the surrounding Tampa Bay community. They asked their friends and family to donate, fundraised at local mosques, and asked community members and organizations to sponsor them. Elfallah believes that Muslim involvement in a charitable cause goes hand in hand with Islamic practices.

“In our religion of Islam, one of the core principles is to give food to the poor and those who need it,” said Elfallah.

They ended up with approximately $8,800 in funds raised, enough money to fund nearly 30,000 meals with every meal priced at 29 cents.

The event consisted of stations that were tasked with a specific job. At the first station, volunteers would measure out the correct amount of food into a bag and pass it on to the second station. The second station consisted of volunteers who would weigh the meal bags and add rice if it wasn’t within a certain range. Sealers would then seal the bags and pass them on to people who packaged the meals into boxes which were given to Rise Against Hunger for distribution. Volunteers were dancing to a funky playlist throughout the event.

Attendee and junior at USF, Hajera Bano was humbled by the event.

“This event is so important because it brings people together for a good cause and also raises awareness about the severe food shortages rampant in the world today,” said Bano.

MSA at USF conducted this event last year and packed roughly 15,000 meals. Although they raised more money and were able to get double the amount of volunteers this year, only 20,000 meals were packed due to lack of time.

However, Elfallah still considers this a great success. He also compliments Rise Against Hunger for having the community that raised the money be directly involved with the process.

“Hand packing these meals is different than just raising money or donating it and not seeing…. what you’ve actually accomplished,” said Elfallah. “It makes an impact on you.”

Bano echoes that sentiment. Following all of the natural disasters in the past month, and the devastation they resulted in, Bano felt like she needed to do something productive to help people in need.

Hajera Bano, junior at University of South Florida, weighs the meals.

“I wanted to do something, no matter how little, to counteract the negativity and help the people who don’t have even necessities,” said Bano. “This event helped me because I felt like I was doing something to directly help those who need it.”

Elfallah appreciated that the event gave people a chance to help and encourages more people to work to end world hunger.

“There are people dying from starvation while we are throwing food away,” said Elfallah. “Think about that.”

Local shelter provides safe place for Tampa’s homeless

It’s a homeless shelter run by homeless people. Located on Florida Avenue in Hillsborough County, Homeless Helping Homeless houses dozens of people.

“We are 100 percent donation based, so that limits the amount people we can help,” said marketing and social media coordinator Kristen Ellis. “We’re limited in the things we can do.”

The organization is looking to expand their outreach to at least 36 more beds within the year. Currently, they have room for 18 beds in the main office, and rooms for more people in need at their women’s facility right down the street.

“We don’t take grants because we serve a niche of people that don’t qualify for those grants,” Ellis said.

If they take federal assistance, they would have to drug test their clients and make them meet certain rules. Ellis wants people to know that is not Homeless Helping Homeless’s calling.

“These people have their own journey, though it may be why they’re in this situation. We believe everyone has the right to a safe place to sleep,” Ellis said.

Current client and former heroin addict Celeste Dogmi is a testament to this. Dogmi has been sober for over a year and says it’s because of the homeless shelter.

“I was thrown out of rehab with no place to go,” Dogmi said. “It’s helping me with sober living, food, shelter and stability.”

The organization’s intention is not to change an addict’s lifestyle, but to help in whatever way a client wants them to. But if their help leads to someone getting clean, they consider that a win.

Students work with service organization to give back to community

 

Many students from all over Tampa Bay have joined SALT (Serve and Love Together) and meet every Monday at St. James Church in Tampa to give back to those in need.

Mina Hanna and Maggie Attia are two of the volunteers at the organization, and SALT teaches them about how they can improve the city they live in one week at a time.

“Well this is a wonderful organization as you see it gives back to the community,” Hanna said. “It gives back to the community and we see our fruits produce more fruit.”

Everything is donated from people in the community who are willing to help out.

“We also teamed up with another organization that hands out blankets and toiletries and socks,” Attia said.

SALT partnered with Blanket Tampa Bay and they have access to many necessities to share with those in need throughout the Bay Area.

People like Hanna and Attia truly see the difference that the organization makes on people’s lives every day by talking to people about God and giving them hope. SALT is affiliated with a Coptic youth group in the area.

“There used to be a guy on drugs, and his whole life was messed up, and I cannot tell you how much this organization influenced him. And now this guy is the most spiritual guy you’ll ever meet,” Hanna said.

SALT does a small gesture once a week, but it leaves a lifelong impact on some of these people that they get the pleasure of serving.

To learn more about this organization, please contact Mina Hanna at (727) 333-5318

Feeding Tampa Bay, Home to Those Who Want to Help

Volunteers from all throughout Tampa Bay come out to give back to their community at Feeding America Tampa Bay every week Monday through Saturday.

Volunteers from throughout Tampa Bay come out to give back to their community at Feeding Tampa Bay every week Monday through Saturday.

Feeding Tampa Bay works with smaller organizations such as Metropolitan Ministries and Trinity Café to help distribute food to those in need.

The organization makes it easy for anyone who is willing to help out in the bay area to join.

University of Tampa freshmen, Peter Peirce and Kaelin Willette both volunteer at Feeding Tampa Bay. They learned about the organization through their school and have been coming voluntarily ever since.

“Every time that I’ve come since has been voluntarily just because the first time I did it I enjoyed it so much that I figured I’d keep coming back and it’s always been good to me,” Peirce said.

Feeding Tampa Bay is an enjoyable volunteering environment for all who come.

“I love the energy here, I think everyone that comes here has such a positive energy and vibe and they make it a lot of fun,” Willette remarked.

Megan Carlson the organization’s community engagement manager  has been working for Feeding Tampa Bay for two years now and enjoys her working environment immensely.

“There’s something for everybody and we kind of satisfy every desire that people might have to give back to the community which is really cool,” Carlson said.

To learn more about this organization, visit feedingtampabay.org

 

 

Local Dog Trainers Give Back to Veterans

K-9 Partners for Patriots is not the typical dog training class—veterans are pairing up with pets to help them enter back into civilian life.

Mary Peter, who has over 30 years of experience as a master dog trainer, founded the program a few years ago to help veterans struggling with PTSD and other brain related injuries.

“People would come for obedience training and I started noticing more and more veterans coming back from combat with a dog trying to get into an obedience class,” said Peter.

Before taking the class, veteran Aurthur Moore found it difficult to complete day-to-day activities.

“I would lay in bed all day, said Moore. “I would stay in the house.”

Having gone through the training program, Moore is inspired to help others by studying to become a dog trainer for veterans.

“I want to help other veterans like they’ve helped me,” said Moore. “It makes me feel good helping other people, it helps me feel good inside.”

166 veterans are in or have gone through the program. Similarly, 55 dogs have been rescued and found a new home.

“90 percent of our funding goes directly to our veterans,” Peter said. “We try to save two—a dog and veteran together.”

For Peter, helping veterans is a gift she feels honored to be a part of.

“To see and honor those who have suffered so much in service to our country—it means everything to me,” said Peter. It’s not a job to me, it’s my passion. I love each and every one of these men and women and it’s an honor to serve them and help them.”

Local Café Offers Food For Some, Hope For Others

 

Inside the Box Café and Catering is a social enterprise of the Metropolitan Ministries, providing both vocational training and opportunities for work experience to the less fortunate.

Chef Cliff Barsi founded the culinary school program to help individuals transitioning out of homelessness and poverty learn their trade. The kitchen at Metropolitan Ministries is their classroom, and Inside the Box Café is their training ground.

“The reason we started Inside the Box Café is because I wanted a real life restaurant for them to work in,” Barsi said. “They go out to the cafés, they work on the line with the cooks there so they get that skill of urgency-something that you just don’t learn in a normal culinary school. Then, they go back to the kitchen and they do some practical cooking classes with our chef.”

The 16-week program is funded by JP Morgan Chase Bank. All students that are accepted into the program receive a full scholarship.

Eliu DeLeon is one of those students, preparing to graduate. DeLeon hopes to become a chef at a fine dining restaurant upon leaving Inside the Box.

“A lot of my peers that have already graduated have ended up in a lot of fine dining companies,” DeLeon said.

Chely Figueroa is the catering coordinator at Inside the Box. Before that, though, she had become homeless in 2009.

“I found myself walking 18 miles to this place here, Metropolitan Ministries, to find a safe haven,” Figueroa said.

Barsi called her one day, asking her to run the downtown storefront.

All proceeds from Inside the Box Café and Catering go directly back to Metropolitan Ministries to help others in need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brooksville Group Coming Together to Help Homeless

People from all over Hernando County came together in a room at The Grande, an assisted living community in Brooksville, to help the homeless.

Dianna Seijas, a resident of Brooksville, is the project coordinator for Mats for a Mission, a volunteer group that makes mats for the homeless out of recycled plastic bags.

“Unfortunately it can happen to anyone, it doesn’t take a lot to change your life overnight,” Seijas said. “We do have a lot of people sleeping in the woods.”

Since starting in January, Mats for a Mission is getting a lot of attention. Volunteers ranging from teenagers to the elderly make up the over 200 members involved in the project.

Carly Nichols, who teaches at Fox Chapel Middle School, can see the benefit of getting her students to become a part of a mission like this.

“I teach sixth to eighth grade and they’re at a time where they are very impressionable, so it’s really important that we build a strong character base for them,” Nichols said.

It takes many hands and about 700 plastic bags to make one mat. From flattening bags, to tying yarn together, it takes a community to be successful.

“Come, volunteer, we have a lot of fun,” Seijas said. “Take it back to your community, we’d be happy to teach you.”

The goal of the group is to have 500 mats made by the end of the year.

“We realize that’s a lofty goal,” Seijas said. “But we have all the confidence in the world in this group and our volunteers that we will meet this goal.”

Mats for a Mission meets Saturday each week from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at The Grande.

 

 

Franchise a way to help center

By Ciara Cummings

TAMPA—This Dairy Queen franchise located on State Road 64 in Brandon works as a charity to financially support the Lakeview Center, a behavioral health and child protective services agency.

“We were on the way home from the golf course when we passed by,” said DQ customer Rita. “It looked like a really nice facility so we decided to stop here for dinner.

Like many customers, she had no clue that this franchise was purchased by Lakeview Associated Enterprises in order to keep their health center in Pensacola afloat.

The center that provides therapy, aid and treatments to abused children and adults who struggle with disabilities, needed some help of their own, more income revenue.

Instead of traditional methods of fundraising, they purchased an ice cream franchise. This Brandon location is just one of the three franchises the Lakeview Associated Enterprises owns. But in the future, they plan to own at least eight Dairy Queens.

All proceeds do in fact go to Lakeview Center, which makes DQ employees more motivated to come to work and perform their best.

Libby, a cashier, says “You come in, it’s not just like a normal job. It’s like you’re working for something and you’re helping out other people.”

Co-worker Hilary Borhas said seeing the customers reactions are even better. “I think the best part about it is when the customers read the plaque and they are motivated to keep coming back because they know their money isn’t just going to some big company.”

The employees receive their paycheck from Lakeview Associated Enterprises. If the store performs well during the quarter, the Enterprise has enough money to support their health center which allows them to take money from elsewhere, like state and federal funding, to support their employees.

 

Annual Christmas tree lighting collects toys for hospitalized children

The Marriott Waterside located in downtown Tampa held its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony Dec. 1 and invited local vendors to join in the event.

Vendors and guests were asked to bring a toy to donate to the Miracle Children’s Network, a charity that raises funds and awareness for children’s hospitals for providing care for patients and furthering research.

After the event all donated items were gathered and shipped to the different locations for the toys to be dispersed.

“A couple of the local vendors we have out here are the Coppertail Brewing Company and the St. Pete Distillery,” Chris Adkins, the marketing and sales director, said.

The event included music, food and good spirits. There was also a Candy Land themed gingerbread model crafted with over 300 pounds of gingerbread by the pastry chefs from Marriott.

Sinai Vespie, the pastry chef at the event, credited his great team as the key to pulling off such a large event.

Vespie went on to talk about how the whole process started in August, but took until the week of Nov. 21 to start putting it together. The event happens annually on Dec. 1 and each year the theme of the gingerbread model changes.

The Marriott Waterside is located downtown on Old Water Street next to Amalie Arena.

 

 

USF Army Cadet Wins Award for Service in Community

A USF Army ROTC cadet was awarded the Cadet of the Year Award by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for her service in the community.

Cadet Abby Kingery was selected as the top cadet out of all four service branches of USF ROTC.

“The awards that they give out are more geared towards community service—how military members are contributing to the Tampa Bay area,” said John Sarao, director of the Joint Military Leadership Center at USF.

Kingery contributes in multiple service organizations to help those less fortunate in Tampa Bay. “Faces of Courage” is one of the main programs that she participates in to give back, Kingery said.

“It’s a camp that’s put on for children and adults that suffer from cancer or sickle cell anemia,” Kingery said.

She encouraged others to get involved in selfless service to make a difference.

“It really humbles you,” Kingery said.

 

Veteran Garden Opening

https://youtu.be/tgq3kTbPWhg

The Sustainable Living Project is getting veterans back into society through the construction of their Veteran Garden, set to open Feb. 16.

“We thought if we did something here that would welcome veterans, they may enjoy coming to see where their food is coming from and engaging in fellowship with other veterans here,” Will Carey, the project’s operations manager, said.

Located at 918 W Sligh Ave., The Sustainable Living Project works to grow food and to teach sustainable living techniques.

“I’ve done a couple of little grow boxes at my house and from what I see here, I can change a lot of things to make it a lot better,” Kenneth Jackson, a volunteer, said.

Carey, who’s worked 20 years in the field of hunger related issues, wanted to do something for veterans. All food is being donated to those in need.

“Everything else we’ve been doing here is going to folks that needed healthier alternatives injected into their diet,” Carey said. “We deal with a lot of homelessness, and veterans make up a good portion of that.”

Carey, who sees this as a stepping stone to other gardens, says these types of programs will only get bigger and become more accessible to everyone.

The Sustainable Living Project opened on Earth Day in 2013.

Radio show helps fight hunger

99.5 WQYK partnered up with Feeding Tampa Bay for the fourth year in a row to collect food for those in need in Zephyrhills on Friday.

The country music station is in the middle of their event known as Food Fund November. Every Friday of the month, the morning show broadcasts live from a city in the Tampa Bay area. Their tent is set up right next to Feeding Tampa Bay’s tent, where you can drop off food for donation.

“We started Food Fund Friday’s as a way to both help families and to get out to the community to say thanks for everything that you do,” Veronica Alfaro, co-host of the morning show said.

Roughly 100 people showed up to donate food. Among those was state Rep. Danny Burgess, who donated food and participated in the radio show.

“The community always turns out for these type of events,” Burgess said. “We’re always looking for ways to help our neighbors and to help others.”

Unfortunately, those in need are suffering throughout the year, not just during the fall. For this reason, Feeding Tampa Bay wants people to know that their services are available year-round.

“Fall is when people tend to focus on people being hungry,” Maxine Rice, a Feeding Tampa Bay employee said. “But really we need to make sure people are aware throughout the year.”

Feeding Tampa Bay is part of the national Feeding America network. Over the last three years, the nonprofit organization has nearly doubled the amount of food that is provided to the public. They went from 20 million meals to 37 million meals a year.

If you want to reach out and help your community, you can go online to Feeding Tampa Bay’s website at feedingtampabay.org to learn more.

Crafters unite for good cause

TAMPA—The Humane Society of Tampa and Keep me In Stitches are hosting a sew-a-thon to make beds, blankets and bandanas for animals in the shelter in preparation of the cold winter months. The event will take place on Thursday and Friday at all three locations of Keep Me In Stitches.

“It helps so much in not only keeping the animals comfortable,” said Karen Ryals of the Humane Society. “But also making them look even cuter at the holidays so we can get them all in homes by Christmas,” she added with excitement.

As an animal lover, the owner of the sewing supply store, Melissa Helms, donated supplies and the space for the event.

“We really admire the work that they do in our community trying to help animals that are less fortunate,“ said Helms.

The store’s loyal customers also came out to support the cause, even with limited sewing skills.

The Humane Society will also bring out cats and dogs that are ready for adoption in hopes that anyone who visits the shop will take them home. The tactic proved to be successful last year when Carmen DePalma came to sew and left with a new pet.

This is the third annual sew-a-thon. Last year volunteers made over 500 beds and blankets and 300 bandanas. Ryals remembers the great success of the event.

“When volunteers brought all of the blankets and bandanas and crate covers back it looked like we had just robbed a store,” she recalls.

The humane society is also urging people to make donations to the shelter. Anyone bringing supplies into the shop during the event will receive up to forty percent off their fabric supply purchase. The Humane Society is looking for toys, treats, food, cat litter, leashes, collars and cleaning supplies.

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning Host Hockey Fights Cancer Game

The Tampa Bay Lightning and members of the Tampa Bay community came together Nov. 3 to join the fight against cancer at the Lightning’s Hockey Fights Cancer game.

“It’s really important that we lead by example and we inspire others and in the fight against cancer I think we all know someone fighting that fight,” said Lightning Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Frazier.

Players rallied together; wearing purple jerseys with purple taped hockey sticks to show their support for the cause.

“It means so much to see the entire community give it their all to support people like myself,” said Kerry Roopchand, Moffitt Cancer Center patient.

The event will benefit research efforts at Moffitt, the Lightning’s charitable partner, to help find a cure for cancer. Moffitt team members were taken back by the support.

“It’s so amazing to see such a turnout from our community to help with the prevention and cure of cancer,” said Dr. Damon Reed, Moffitt sarcoma department medical director.

To learn more about the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, visit https://www.nhl.com/community/hockey-fights-cancer.

Bulls Get Fit For A Good Cause

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and students at the University of South Florida are making sure they are actively staying involved.

The USF Campus Recreation center hosts an event called Bulls Fitsgiving. It allows students to team up and compete in obstacle courses not only for fun but also to give back to others in need.

Brandon Miller, a fitness coordinator at USF, wants students to realize how important events like this are to the community.

“We want to make sure that they know this is more than just about them,” said Miller. “We want to make sure they are making an impact globally, making a really holistic student out of what they are doing here.”

As an incentive to give back, students are asked to bring canned food, clothing or hygiene items that will be donated to local charity. If they do so then five seconds will be taken off their team’s total run time.

Dominique Richardson is a fitness coordinator at USF and she is the one who has planned and coordinated the event for the last three years.

“I think people are definitely excited,” said Richardson “It’s a good way to take a break from finals that are coming up. It’s a good time to get fit and have fun.”

The event was completely sold out and fourteen teams participated in Bulls Fitsgiving.