USF students host picnic for Syrian refugees

Students Organize for Syria (SOS) hosted a picnic for refugee children and families to kick off the sunny April weather. The University of South Florida organization used to focus on advocating awareness and activism about Syria, but when many Syrian refugees came to Florida, the group shifted to catering to their needs.

“This year, we focus most on integrating the refugee families that are in Tampa into our communities,” said Nour Shahout, president of the USF organization.

SOS often collaborates with Radiant Hands, a local help agency that focuses on women and children empowerment. The organization is centered on immediate help as well as providing long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency programs for those who reach out to them.

The volunteers tutor students in a center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Earlier in 2018, they added an additional location to accommodate elementary students too. There are  now students from first through 10th grade.

The picnic was a way for the tutors to interact with the children without being in a classroom setting. They also wanted to introduce them to new field games.

“At the picnic, we played games. Growing up in the United States, we’re very familiar to them,” said Shahout. “But for refugees that are coming from Syria, they’re not familiar with the three-legged race, hula hoop chain or sponge relay.”

Most of the families do not have transportation, so many of the volunteers drove them to the event, which was held at Riverfront Park. Because transportation is difficult, organizers said it’s hard to have all the children socialize together at the same time. Events like this take SOS weeks to plan and coordinate.

“It’s very rewarding, and you can just tell the kids are very grateful and very happy to see that there’s people, there’s a group of young people that really care and are willing to help them,” Shahout said. “When we go out, either if we’re going to drop something off at their house, or we’re you know tutoring them we have more of a personal relationship with them.”

The children got to let out a lot of their energy with students they see as mentors and role models.

“Most of us are college students, so we can relate to them, we are like their friends,” Shahout said. “We treat them like our younger siblings. They feel loved, they feel cared, and they feel like they want to excel and do their best.”

Another board member, Nour Bitar, was pleased with the turnout.

“It was a ton of fun for everybody,” said Bitar. “It’s just so satisfying when in the end of the day, you go and ask these kids ‘was there anything we lacked or need to improve on?’ And they give you a big smile and they say no it was so fun it was perfect thank you guys so much for doing this. That smile just keeps you going, recharges your battery, and makes you want to put in more work and never stop helping these people.”

Clearwater Beach voted best in U.S.

Clearwater Beach was named the best beach in the United States in TripAdvisor’s 2018 Traveler’s Choice Awards.

Being the best beach isn’t anything new for Clearwater. The beach was also ranked #1 on TripAdvisor’s list in 2016.

In 2015, Clearwater Beach was the only beach from the U.S. to be ranked in the World’s Top 25 Beaches category on TripAdvisor.

The beach was also named in the Top 10 Best Family Beach in 2018 according to a recent article.

Clearwater Beach is known for its white sand and sparkling water. The beach is about 2.5 miles long of never-ending beach activities, such as jet skiing and beach volleyball.

Florida locals are not surprised the beach was ranked so high.

“Clearwater being the No. 1 beach doesn’t really surprise me at all,” Amanda Carlton said. “There’s a bunch of people here and everybody loves it.”

Carlton moved to Tampa five years ago. She was born and raised in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Clearwater Beach was the first beach she discovered in the area.

In the middle of the beach there is Pier 60, where people can get great views.

The beach is perfect for any occasion and any group of people. There is a playground to entertain children, and live music and local vendors for adults.

“I definitely think this beach is very energetic.” Carlton said. “There are so many activities for you to do. You got the pier, you got beach volleyball, jet skiing, there’s music and games, and all of that going on at all times.”

Clearwater’s west coast location makes it a perfect spot to watch the famous Florida sunset on a nightly basis. Whether it’s cloudy or not, there’s always a great view.

Clearwater Beach isn’t just ocean and sand. It is a must-see beach town, full of culture from the Tampa Bay Area.

“If you are visiting for the first time this is a great tourist attraction,” Carlton said.

 

Florida Focus News Brief April 26, 2018

In this news brief the Tampa Museum of Art at Riverwalk offers a cultural and affordable experience.

Anchor: Maria Laura Lugo
Camera Operators: Sabrina Olivier and Gabe Freitas
Floor Manager: Gabe Freitas
Graphics: Dakota Galvin
Technical Director: Emily McCain
Audio: Alex Trivino
Prompter: Zack Taub
Director: Kimberly Traub
Producer: Jacon Stulec
Web Content: Dakota Galvin
Faculty Advisor: Cathy Gugerty
Graduate Assistant: Kelsey Baker
Teaching Assistant: Dakota Galvin

Florida Focus News Brief April 25, 2018

 

Clearwater police officer brings bicycles to kids

A Clearwater police officer is making sure every kid at Sandy Lane Elementary has a ride to school through local donations.

Officer James Frederick Jr. is what the Clearwater Police Department likes to call a “community champion.” He brings bicycles to students in need or simply to reward their good behavior.

“It provides hope to these kids, so, by being able to give them a bike and when they’re smiling,” said Officer Frederick. “It just says for that moment in time that they won something. Someone cares about them enough to say you special, you’re being brought out in the middle of school to be given a bike.”

He receives the bikes from a local Walmart. The partnership started around Christmas time when Walmart reached out to the Clearwater Police Department to inform them that they had a few extra bikes. The Police Department took the bikes off their hands and started the program at Sandy Lane Elementary.

Some of the bikes that Walmart gave to Officer Frederick were in need of repairs. He brought them to a local bike shop to get them back into working condition.

“It’s a good partnership that I have with the school,” said Officer Frederick. “The administrators there, also Ms. Rivera, we talk often and she’s able to say, ‘Hey I have two kids that are coming in or such and such.’ Then I’m able to kind of link them up with the bikes we have.”

Not all of the bikes came from Walmart. Many have been donated by people from the Clearwater community.

As rewarding as the bike may be to a student, it seems like Officer Frederick enjoys the gift of giving just as much.

“It makes me feel great,” said Officer Frederick. “It brings me back to when I was a kid, and I remember all the little tricks I did when I got my bike, and jumping over ramps and different things like that.”

Officer Frederick thinks it would be beneficial for the youth if it could be more of an event.

“It will also be good too to have the community with us when we give out the bike,” said Officer Frederick. “The more the merrier. These kids, they are kids, and they are impressionable and sometimes being able to have the community centered around us, as police officers, as we give this bike away to the kid would be pretty cool.”

Besides attending the bike presentation, there are other ways of showing support for the program. The Clearwater Police Department says they could always use more bikes and people with the skills to repair them. Donors are welcome to bring their bikes to the station and they will be passed along to Officer Frederick.

USF students start frozen cookie dough business

Look out cookie dough lovers there’s a frozen treat for you around the Tampa Bay area. Fro-Dough is a new creation for Florida no matter the day or the weather.

Bree Sparks, sophomore, and Cameron Austin, freshman, a couple at The University of South Florida have combined the trend of edible cookie dough and the cold sweetness of ice cream to create Fro-Dough.

“People are super excited anytime they see it, they have to do a double take because it still is a really new concept,” said Sparks, founder of Fro-Dough.

For those worried about uncooked cookie dough making you sick, do not fear. Fro-Dough is completely harmless because it is made with safe flour and a replacement for eggs. Compared to other cookie dough companies it is unique because it is frozen. Many of the flavors are actually vegan or gluten-free.

Sparks is vegan and a huge cookie dough connoisseur herself. “Edible cookie dough has been like one of our many passions, like everyone else we love to eat it straight out of the bowl,” said Sparks.

There are a variety of flavors ranging from chocolate chip, sugar cookie, cake batter, brownie batter, sweet and salty and even a mixed berry cobbler flavor.

Vegan Brownie Batter is just one of the many flavors Fro-Dough has to offer around the Tampa Bay area. Photo by Deanna Salt

“Our flavors if we don’t absolutely love them, we don’t sell them and we freeze it. Not a lot of other people freeze it and in our opinions, it just makes it so much better,” said Austin.

While Fro-Dough does not have a specific location you can try free samples at many different events throughout the Tampa Bay area.

“We do markets around Tampa Bay like right now we’re selling every week on Wednesdays and Thursdays at USF Bull Market and we also do an array of events over the weekend that you can find on our Facebook page,” said Sparks.

Sparks and Austin have come a long way from when they first started making cookie dough for fun at home.

“It was pretty lengthy cause there’s really no instructions on doing it, especially like us, where we’re selling at markets rather than starting an actual brick and mortar place,” said Sparks. “It was a bit confusing to get licensed. We had to go through the Department of Hotels and Businesses and get licensed by them; a business license. We had to get our freezer, we had to get our trailer and perfect all our recipes.”

Fro-Dough uses a commercial kitchen in South Tampa where the whole dream comes together.

“This place helped out a lot because I went in here not knowing anything and I talked to the owner. She gave me a whole list of all the things that I needed to do which was super helpful,” Sparks explained.

After recently starting this business in 2017, Sparks and Austin have a lot of hope for Fro-Dough and want to open a physical location soon. They are partnering with a local non-profit, Keys to Kindness, which they will donate all proceeds from their Kind Blast-Mixed Berry Cobbler flavor.

Keep up with Fro-Dough on their Facebook page at Frodough.co and their Instagram @fro.dough.

67-year-old yoga instructor promotes a healthy lifestyle

Healthy living is a concept many are concerned with. Organic items fill the shelves and gluten-free products seem to come out of nowhere. For 67-year-old June Kittay, a healthy lifestyle involves more than just healthy eating.

“I did 25 minutes on the treadmill, then I lifted weights and I did a few yoga poses,” Kittay said about her morning exercise routine.

Her lifestyle wasn’t always as healthy. In her 20’s, she was an elementary school teacher with very dangerous habits. The effects of these habits became clear after some years.

“I existed during the week on a pack of cigarettes a day and two liters of diet soda. Fast forward 40 years later, I have osteoporosis. That’s what happens when you don’t take care of your body,” Kittay said.

A car accident motivated Kittay to bring awareness to the importance of health and fitness.

“I went into a seated fitness class and I said this is what I want to do when I grow up! So that’s what happened. I became a fitness instructor in 2004 and I’ve been doing it ever since. And I love it. I wish so many other people would do it,” Kittay said.

To keep up her promise to the community, Kittay teaches a “Yoga in the Gardens” class in the Botanical Gardens at the University of South Florida. USF student Jasmine Ehney has been a recurring visitor to the classes.

“I really like how she emphasizes nature, mindfulness and how to appreciate the trees and the earth. Things that we don’t usually notice,”  Ehney said.

The class is held every Friday at 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Students and visitors can come to the class free of cost.

Florida Focus News Break April 2, 2018

In this news brief: A murder investigation is underway after a woman is found dead in Manatee County; a Sarasota man is shot after aiming a pellet gun at police; gas prices are climbing; a new Seminole Heights restaurant has patrons talking with interesting menu options; and people around the Bay Area are wearing blue for World Autism Day.

 

The Lights Fest makes Florida debut

For the first time ever, The Lights Fest and its incredible lantern launch took to the skies in the Sunshine State.

Over the past two weekends, the worldwide festival made its first stop in Florida at the Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. Originally starting in Utah, The Lights Fest now spans across the United States and Europe. Each location includes food, games and live performances from local artists across the globe. It is a celebration for family and friends as well as a way to find closure and peace. Event Director Tiffany Townsend believes the festival is a way to put troubling matters to bed.

“The Lights Fest is special because it allows people to have closure about certain things,” Townsend said. “What happened in Florida, last week with the school shooting. Some people have bought tickets just to get closure about that, and really that’s what the company is about; giving people closure, giving people hope, giving them a chance to say goodbye to loved ones, and to pray for their loved ones if they’re injured or whatever it may be. So, it’s just a really good chance for people to think about their lives and basically look back at the good things and pray for the not so good things.”

The company has made a conscious effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Guests are reminded to properly dispose of their bottles and cans. The lanterns are designed for low flight, making them easier to track down and properly throw away. Even if one is lost, the lanterns are biodegradable, allowing them to break down naturally. The Lights Fest has also adopted a “Leave No Trace” policy, promising to leave venues the way they arrived.

While the festival is an all-day event, its well-known lantern launch is the grand finale. Each guest is given his or her own lantern to decorate and design as they please. Many are encouraged to write wishes, prayers and personal goals on their lanterns. Once they are launched, it is a remarkable sight to see. Samuel Malachowski, who acts as the master of ceremonies during the lantern launch, knows what the spectacle means to its guests.

“The main attraction why people come is for the lantern launch,” Malachowski said. “Just like what people have seen in the movie Tangled, you know it’s something seriously amazing, and it can become quite spiritual and very emotional for people. So, that’s what brings people to the event, and we’re just trying to leave good vibes, a good atmosphere for everyone to hopefully leave as a better person.”

For those interested in the event, The Lights Fest is planning to make Florida a regular stop with four planned events annually. The next two dates this year will be sometime in the fall. Cities such as Jacksonville, Gainesville and Tallahassee have already pre-registered to host future events. With The Lights Fest now touching base in the Tampa Bay area, it is encouraged that people experience the event first-hand.

“It’s just a really good experience. I think everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime, just because it’s a cool thing to experience. Very spiritual. Magical.”

Tampa welcomes Bay Area Renaissance Festival

Hear ye, hear ye. The Renaissance Festival has officially made its way back to the Bay Area. This year, the festival is celebrating 39 years of existence. What started as a small get-together of Renaissance style partying and contests, evolved into what is loved by many today.

The festival opened its gates Feb. 10 and will continue to run through March 25. Operating hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekend, including Festival Friday on March 23. It’s located next to the Museum of Science and Industry and directly across USF.

It features 12 stages of various comedic Renaissance-themed shows, arts and crafts, roaming musicians and food that reflects both traditional and modern times.

Kiersten Lyons, a festival employee who has traveled with them for many years, expressed her excitement over the event.

“I absolutely love the fun freedom of all the different walks of life that come through here,” she said. “Anybody from the U.S. to the U.K. comes here. It’s an amazing event.”

Entertaining festival-goers this “statue” stays on his podium for most of the day. Photo taken by Yara Zayas.

Once you enter, you are immediately transported back in time. Everywhere you look you can see people dressed in Renaissance attire, speaking phrases like “huzzah” or “good morrow” and you may even see someone who will address themselves with a title of nobility, such as Lord or Lady.

“You got to get here! It’s awesome, it’s amazing to celebrate your heritage and your history,” said Lyons.

The gates have opened. #timetraveler #bayarearenfest

A post shared by Bay Area Renaissance Festival (@bayarearenfest) on

The event also features several activities that kids and adults will enjoy.

You can practice your ax throwing, try your hand at archery, ride a camel, test out your strength with a hammer game and do some bungee jumping. Also, if you know where to look, you’ll even find a mermaid cove or get a chance to have a photo taken with a unicorn.

“The mud show’s great, the jousting’s great, and they have a human chessboard,” said Lyons. “It’s absolutely wonderful. You get the best of everything around here.”

Lyons also made sure to mention how many of the people who put shows together make their living that way.

“The shows are definitely a great experience,” she said.

Festival-goers can also enjoy the shops that can be found throughout the grounds. You can find items such as swords, magic wands, hand-made mugs and art pieces from local artists all up for purchase. Prices vary with each vendor.

Most vendors and food booths accept credit and debit cards. However, you should always bring some cash. For convenience, there are ATMs available throughout the park.

The event offers seven differently themed weekends such as Pirates & Pets, Time Travelers, Shamrocks & Shenanigans, and Barbarian Brew Fest.

Travel back in time to the 16th century by visiting the Bay Area Renaissance Festival! With 12 stages of live…

Posted by Yara Zayas on Wednesday, March 7, 2018

If you’re interested in attending, tickets vary in price. Adult tickets are about $22, students with a valid ID can get in for about $18, and tickets for kids cost about $14. They also offer a military discount with proper identification.

Parking is always free for attendees, courtesy of MOSI.

Pets are also allowed inside the park after terms and conditions are met.

For more information visit the Bay Area Renaissance Festival site at http://www.bayarearenfest.com/.

New boba store hopes to appeal to USF students

With the rising popularity of boba, it’s no surprise that people can now enjoy a spot for the delicious dessert beverage near the University of South Florida.

Chewy Boba Co. opened its doors Jan. 11. It’s located at 2572 E. Fowler Ave., which is only a mile away from the university.

“We already have five stores in Orlando, Florida, and one in Las Vegas,” said Steven Page, the manager of Chewy Boba Co. “This is a great location. We get a lot of traffic from Chipotle and then the shopping center here is really good too.”

Chewy Boba is a new boba joint in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Yara Zayas.

Boba is a Taiwanese tea-based delicacy made from tapioca. Visitors can choose from an exotic menu that showcases flavors such as jasmine, mango, passion fruit and ginger honey.

“Our most popular are Thai and taro, and original milk tea and honeydew. ” said Page. “Those are the ones we have on tap. We also have other popular flavors like our blended specialties such as California Dreamin’.”

The shop also offers an assortment of macarons to complement the boba.

As customers enter the store, they are brought into a unique atmosphere filled with various pieces of art, books, board games and arcade cabinets. There are several tables and couches for people to sit and relax.

One of the favorite arcade games for customers to play is Dance Dance Revolution.

“The DDR machine, when it’s going, gets people in here all the time trying to play that,” said Page.

Customers can also participate in video game contests during certain weekends. Page described it as a great way to hang out and make some new friends.

“We have tournaments that we run for fighting games every other Friday, and then we have ‘Smash Bros.’ tournaments every other Saturday as well,” he said. “There’s no small spaces, people aren’t cramping together, everyone can walk around, it’s really great.”

Chewy Boba Co. displays a variety of artwork inside its store, which helps create a fun, modern environment.

Some of the art portrays “Star Wars” characters such as Chewbacca and Boba Fett. One of the founders of the company, Quan Vu, explained that the similarity between the name of the store and the movie was merely a coincidence.

“I’m an artist by trade, graphic designer, animator, illustrator and I do video productions,” he said. “I just came up with a few characters that kind of intertwined with the whole Boba thing and it worked out good.”

Vu originally started his business in 2002 as a trademark license under a different company. He was unsatisfied with how that company ran itself, which led him to creating his own business.

“They weren’t providing,” said Vu. “So, we decided that we would just switch over completely and start our own brand.”

Vu hopes Chewy Boba Co. will become a staple of the USF community. The store’s manager believes that it’s well on its way.

“We actually encourage USF students, they get a 10 percent discount,” said Page. “Students come in here all the time looking to study and kind of just hanging out. We got chill music all day.”

For more information about Chewy Boba Co., visit the company’s website: http://chewyboba.com/.

Buying local this holiday season is good for the environment and the community

As the holiday season approaches, Americans will begin to purchase more gifts and perishable goods than any other time of year. Choosing local vendors could have a positive effect on the environment, as well as the local economy.

Luckily, Tampa Bay offers lots of local shopping options that reduce buyer’s carbon footprints and benefits the area.

Sustainable produce and dairy options are offered at places like Sweetwater Organic Farm and Tampa Bay’s Farmer Market.

Buying produce, goods and meat from a high traffic supermarkets may mean that your fresh breakfast is coming from hundreds of miles away, and could of been held in storage for days.

It may also mean that Christmas gifts contributed to the global crisis of industrial pollution.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, industrial pollution is responsible for nearly 50 percent of American pollution.

Local businesses mainly hire Tampa Bay residents. These business owners are mostly locals, who contribute to the Tampa community through their consumer choices and donations.

The profits from large retailers like Walmart, don’t linger in the local economy, but go to the top of the business’s pyramid.

According to the  Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, local businesses generate 70 percent more local economic activity than large retailers.

Not only this, but supermarkets and malls get their products from over long distances. Large scale businesses burn lots of  fossil fuels through the processing, packaging and shipping of goods.

Locally sourced retailers cut out most of the shipping and transporting fuel use because the items are sourced in Tampa.

Consignment shopping is also good for the environment because it eliminates waste.

Local plants, flowers and garden decorations are available at Parkesdale Farms. Photo by Abby Baker.

“If you want to buy gift or even some groceries for yourself, places like Parkesdale here is going to give right back to Plant City,” said Parkesdale Farms consumer Josie Carlson. “You know, they give a lot to charities and all around here.”

Between Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other festivities around wintertime, entertaining in your home requires more than a few trips to the grocery store.

If meat and dairy is on your menu, considering local, organic farms could be healthy for you and the planet.

Buying local meat is Eco-friendly. Photo by Abby Baker at the Hay Exchange in Plant City, FL.

Farms like TrailBale farm, Chuck’s Natural Food Market and Nature’s Harvest Market offer poultry and red meat that has not been treated with unnatural chemicals and is fed a natural diet.

On top of this, large factory farms contribute to pollution and water waste.

According to the EPA, animals on American factory farms produce around 500 million tons of waste annually.

Smaller, sustainable farms offer meat that is raised in a way that doesn’t destroy the land and water it utilizes. Buying from these farms also supports the farmers that use these green tactics.

Supporting these green business owners strengthens the local economy at the most basic level, but with years of participation in local buying, big changes could be made to the U.S. economy.

“I buy most of my fruits and veggies here (Parkesdale),” said Carlson. “Really, it’s a little cheaper and I think the food tastes cleaner.”

If you’re looking for Tampa Bay shops to shop locally, these options will keep your local shopping cart full.

  • Blind Tiger Cafe in Ybor City offers an assortment of coffee and tea.
  • Penelope T is an upscale Tampa boutique that offers classy apparel and jewelry.
  • Paper Street Market in St. Petersburg offers vintage furniture and home decor.
  • Secondhand Savvys in Brandon is bursting with slightly used clothing and home goods.

Plant City businesses and churches continues to grow

In recent years, Plant City has experienced a wealth of community growth in many areas, including businesses and religious buildings.

Plant City — despite its small size — is home to more than 100 religious centers, including churches, worship centers and, since 2007, a center for Scientology.

In 2007, Plant City saw the opening of its first Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Center. The center opened in the heart of downtown Plant City in a historic 11,000 square foot building it purchased for over $600,000.

The grand opening included “bounce” houses, a slide, a bake sale and other activities. The grand opening also coincided with the opening of a St. Petersburg location for the Church of Scientology that same weekend. The church plans to use these two centers as examples as it works to expand to at least six more cities in the area in the years following the opening of these two centers.
Plant City has seen the juxtaposition of new churches opening near existing ones, which has redefined the architecture of the town. One new church is New Hope Worship Center, which opened New Hope @ Cornerstone in November 2016. The building was previously home to First Baptist Church of Plant City from 1923 until 1994, when the church moved to a newer, larger building. From 1994, until the opening of New Hope, the structure sat vacant.

Currently, First Baptist Church of Plant City is working on building a new, even larger, location in Plant City off of James L. Redman Parkway. The  building is expected to be completed in either December 2017 or January 2018.

Plant City has also worked hard to promote the growth of local business, and many small businesses have been born in recent years. New establishments have popped up across the street from, and even directly beside, older establishments. In addition Plant City, properties are regularly opening up for lease and rent.

Previously, a thrift shop and gun store, 1916 Irish Pub, opened in August of 2016 and recently celebrated the success of its first year in the community. Home to the winner of the 2017 Best Bartender recipient, the new business has seen a growth in clientele, advertising and partnerships with the Plant City Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations.

Similarly, establishments including Mr. Sebas, Krazy Kup and College Hunks Hauling Junk have taken over properties that previously were home to different businesses.

Mr. Sebas Ice Cream and More is a family-owned ice cream shop that opened in March 2015. The owners are the Ruiz family who also own other businesses in downtown Plant City. The family opened the ice cream shop not only to break into the food trade — but also — they say, to create a safe hangout for local teens.

Krazy Kup is a coffee shop that opened in downtown Plant City in October 2013. The two story building includes a coffee shop with pasties downstairs, a space upstairs where open mic nights are held, a conference room and an outdoor patio space in the alley. The owners of Krazy Kup , Frank Trunzo and his wife, Wenda Trunzo, dreamed of opening a coffeehouse for years and spent that time collecting the eclectic memorabilia on display at the shop.

The Plant City location of College Hunks Hauling Junk is owned by Plant City native and mayor’s son, Trent Lott. Lott grew up in Plant City, graduating from Plant City High School in 2012. He worked for College Hunks Hauling Junk, before deciding to make the jump to franchise owner. He opened his location on March 2016 at the age of 22.

Lott is also, involved in a local organization called RISE. The goal of RISE is to encourage young business men and women to stay in Plant City and promote economic growth locally, instead of commuting to nearby cities like Lakeland and Tampa. They hosts events regularly at new, upcoming businesses in Plant City to encourage not only the business owners, but also to encourage the growth of patronage at each establishment.

RISE has held events at local businesses including 1916 Irish Pub and The Corner Store. The Corner Store opened its doors in December 2007 aiming to create a local store where Plant City residents could not only enjoy some “slow food,” but also purchase ingredients. The owner and cook, Cynthia Diaz, opened The Corner Store after many trips made to other cities in search of just this sort of place. Celebrating its 10th  anniversary in Plant City next month, The Corner Store has become a fixture in downtown Plant City.

Local Tampa architect reveals unofficial Ray’s stadium design

The stadium design by Joe Toph includes a bird’s-eye view.

 

 

 

 

 

A Tampa architect has developed an unofficial visual concept for the proposed Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Ybor City.

Joe Toph released his vision for the new stadium on SkyScraperCity.com under the username Bueller. The designs are unofficial and the Ray’s team was not involved in their creation.

“I created these for fun,” Toph said. “I just wanted to get a creative dialogue started on the potential the location has.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan announced Oct. 24 that he found a site for a new baseball stadium. The 14 acre site is bordered by the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, North 15th Street, East 4th Avenue and Channelside Drive.

Locals and officials brought up one of the main issues with the location, which is parking. The lot is large enough for a baseball stadium, but there is concern that there may not be enough room on the proposed site for additional parking to be built.

However, the proximity to Ybor City and Downtown Tampa makes this site easily accessible through public transit. Toph’s plan includes the use of the trolley line, noting that it could also serve as a light rail line in the future. A possible Uber pickup lot and a water taxi marina are also included in the design.

If Toph’s vision does not pan out, and another garage cannot be built on the lot, there are other parking options. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told ABC Action News that the parking garages in Ybor City and in the downtown area are not used every night.

“The key will be to provide the linkages whether it’s a trolley or whatever to connect those garages to the stadium,” Buckhorn said.

The next hurdle for the proposed site will be finding the funding for the project.

“That’s going to be the $800 million question,” Buckhorn said.

The Rays will have to come to the table with a significant financial plan to fund the potential stadium. Mayor Buckhorn doesn’t want another stadium built on taxpayer dollars.

Raymond James Stadium is funded completely by taxpayer dollars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lease to play in the stadium. According to Buckhorn, another stadium funded the same way would leave future generations of mayors and locals with an unpayable debt.

Tampa Bay real estate agent and Palmetto Beach resident, Laura Meyer, is looking forward to the possible development of the new stadium in such close proximity to the neighborhood she has called home for over a decade.

“A stadium in Ybor would have a huge impact on the residential community here,” Meyer said. “It’s the kind of boost the neighborhood could use to really put it on the map as a new up and coming area for Tampa.”

Palmetto Beach sits south of Ybor, west of 22nd Street and tucked on the east side of Desoto Park. Meyer says the area has a lot of potential to be another residential hot spot like Channelside and Hyde Park have become.

However, other locals are not as convinced that a stadium located in Ybor would be good move.

“I don’t know how they are going to fit a stadium onto the lot they are interested in,” Justin Cales, a student at Hillsborough Community College, said. “The traffic would just be terrible, as if it isn’t bad enough already. A stadium over here would be chaos.”

Cales has been attending HCC in Ybor for over a year. The small brick roads have taken time for him to adjust to and the idea of stadium traffic on those streets isn’t comforting.

“Ybor is great the way it is now, I don’t why we’d want to mess up a good thing,” Cales said.

Father’s death inspires USF student

via Public Domain

‘Ready, aim, fire’ is a phrase that one USF student is very familiar with.

Clay shooting is one of the many activities that she enjoyed with her father before he died.

Sarah Gimbel, 20, and her dad had a very close relationship. As her parents’ only child she was always spending quality time with them. One of her family’s favorite pastimes was driving their motorcycle. Gimbel’s father was a motorcycle patrol officer for the Tampa Police Department for 20 years. On May 7, 2016 Gimbel’s father, Howard, was killed in a motorcycle accident while enjoying an off-duty ride with her mother, Tonya.

“I was in the driveway when my parents were about to leave for their motorcycle ride,” said Gimbel, “I remember telling him, ‘I will stop talking and let you guys go. I will just talk to you later! I love you!’ just a little later was when I got the call from my cousin.”

This is when her life changed forever. Gimbel shared a special relationship with her parents. She always loved having a police officer as a father. Gimbel and her friends always felt safe when her father was around.

“Sarah and her dad were very close,” said longtime friend Sarah Berry, “She always had the best experiences with him. When she was younger she truly felt that her dad was invincible.”

After the accident not only did she have to stay strong, she had to grow up fast for her mother’s sake. When her mother was in the ICU for over a week Gimbel had to make funeral arrangements for her father and sign the paperwork. She had to do all this on her parent’s behalf.

“Since my mom attended his funeral in a stretcher and by ambulance, I stepped up and gave a eulogy in front of close to 500 -700 people,” said Gimbel, “I became a stronger person because I knew that my dad deserved that. I can say today, a year and a half later, that I would have never been the person I am today without that tragic experience.”

After the outpouring support from the Tampa Police Department and the Tampa community Gimbel wanted to find a way to give back. The idea to create a memorial foundation in her father’s honor was only part of her plan.

“Competitive shooting clays is a sport my dad got me into,” said Gimbel, “We enjoyed shooting monthly tournaments together. When my father passed I was trying to think of something to do in memory of him and that’s when hosting a sporting clay shoot came to mind. It is now the most important thing to me.”

The annual shoot is an event hosted, planned and organized by Gimbel. After her first memorial shoot last year, Gimbel donated the money to a competitive youth sporting clays team for their trip to nationals.

For the other part of her plan, she was able to create a scholarship for a high school senior entering college. Her goal for the foundation is to extend the scholarship program and give more opportunities to students that have parents in law enforcement.

“Sarah is so quick to help others and she never complains,” said Berry, “she really embodies all of her dad’s great qualities. I see his humor, positivity and dedication in her.”

Gimbel also participates in other volunteer events with TPD. The annual Tampa Police Memorial 5k is one of her favorite events. Gimbel says that this is when she truly feels her father’s presence.

“It makes me so proud to be her friend,” said Berry, “I know that her father would be so proud of all her accomplishments and of the woman she has become.”

Local doctor creates library to help the community

The Dr. Walter Smith Library is a two-building, former residential home managed by Dr. Walter Smith, where students of all ages can go to study and learn.

“Each day I saw the children playing in the streets after school with no place to go,” said Smith. “I decided I’d like to do something that would make a difference so they could have some place to come in, read and learn some things they didn’t know.”

Dr. Walter Smith in his library. Photo by Tyrah Walker.

The library was once Smith’s parent’s home before they died.  He continues his parent’s legacy by welcoming and educating the community.

Walking into the library for the first time feels more like stepping into a museum.  The library’s building one holds a variety of magazines and books on math, science and history.

There is a computer room with an exhibit of famous African-American astronauts—Robert Henry Lawrence and Dr. Mae Jemison. The exhibit hangs over a collection of dinosaur skulls that Smith has collected over the years.

“If you want to study biology, chemistry and physics [at the library],  then you have what it takes to study it,” said Smith. “There’s the periodic table, too, on the wall.”

The library also has a collection of African-American art and sculptures that Smith obtained during the years he lived in Africa. During his time there, Smith was appointed senior fullbright scholar at the University of Malawi.

Building two of the library holds more books and magazines on Africa and African-American history, such as the national bestseller, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”.

There is a room filled with photos of Smith’s heroes: former President Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

Nearby the dinosaur collection is an exhibit of the human body that hangs over the computers, where students can do their homework.

Smith was born in Tampa in 1935. He grew up in Cairo, Georgia; Tallahassee and Harlem.

Smith received his associate’s degree from Gibb’s Junior College. He then received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in leadership from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

He later became FAMU’s seventh president. After completing his master’s, Smith received his doctoral degree in higher education from Florida State University.

“It’s not all just sitting down at a computer,” said Smith. “You’ve got to read, you’ve got to do research, you’ve got to talk, you’ve got to travel. You put all that together and you grow.”

For Smith, it’s important that young people know their history.  One can expect a short history quiz when they come in the library and meet him for the first time.

“Education is very important,” Smith said. “We need to start educating our young people in our homes. Far too many parents don’t take the time to read the books.”

In honor of his mother, Smith has an area within the library that exhibits a dress she handmade for his retirement party. She was always proud of his achievements, he said.

“I told my mother I would never sell this property,” Smith said. “I bought the facility and began to make it like we wanted and care for young people. God works in mysterious ways.”

Smith has been given over 100 awards since his early adulthood.

He received the Soaring Eagle Award in 2003  for his lifetime contributions to American community colleges. Other awards relate to his outstanding professional achievement and work within both the Tampa and Tallahassee communities.

Smith’s library is located on 905 North Albany Ave. and is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

https://youtu.be/5OBgcbDKqI0

Pam Colleton’s 57 years in Progress Village

 

Progress Village is Tampa’s first low income housing area and it has been through a lot over the years, but one resident has always stayed faithful and seen the best in the neighborhood.

Pamela Colleton has lived in Progress Village since the 60s. Colleton loves “The Village” and she knows almost everything there is to know about it.

“Our community was like one big family. You know how you hear that it takes a village to raise a family? Well this is our village. I raised my kids out here. I tried to move one time, but they didn’t want to move, so I couldn’t move and stayed here. I’ve been in my (current) home… it will be 40 years January 28. So, I just love the village,” Colleton said.

Colleton works in the parks and recreation center where she meets all the families that live in the village.

“Well I love the community. I have been here for 57 years, so I grew up in the neighborhood. So, I know a lot of the families here, the older families as well as the newer generations of families. I’ve worked at the parks and recreation for eight years doing the basketball program at the gym. So, a lot of the newer kids I met. So, it’s a feeling of home it really is,” Colleton said.

Colleton moved to “The Village” when she was eight years old. Before that, she lived in Hyde Park. Growing up in “The Village,” Colleton was able to share many stories about the park, where she spent most of her time when she was younger. The park was the place where everyone would hang out, and none of their parents worried about them because they knew their children were safe.

There was always plenty to do at the park like playing on the basketball courts or dancing to James Brown music. Mr. Johnson, who ran a concession stand at the park, would put a quarter in the juke box for the kids to dance to. Colleton was very active as a child and would constantly be engaged in games of basketball, volleyball, kickball and more.

Photo from Jeanette Abrahamsen

“The basketball courts. We had four goals and we had a four-square court and that stayed busy. The four-square court from the beginning to the end, that stayed busy. In front of the concession stand we had a large piece of concrete where the music was playing. You could go and dance if you wanted to,” Colleton said.

Colleton owns a family reunion booklet. The booklet is about Progress Village. “We had people coming back to Progress Village who haven’t been back in Progress Village for years. Pulling this all together we advertised it in the papers. We were just trying to get everybody back and quite a few people came back, every year quite a few people came back,” Colleton said.

The booklet was Progress Village’s yearbook and showed all the history that happened in the village. The book had history ranging from church history to the history of the first city council presidents. The booklet gives people the chance to see and learn about their own history.

Pamela Colleton is passionate about Progress Village and she loves being part of her community. She shared several stories with WUSF and you can listen to the whole interview below.

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.”

Walt Disney World Resort’s NBA Experience’s latest update

Preview poster for The NBA Experience. Photo by: Tea Piro

As of Oct. 19, the Walt Disney World Resort has given guests an updated first look into a sports themed experience coming to their main shopping and dining destination, Disney Springs.

In June of 2015, the editorial content director for Disney Parks, Thomas Smith published an article on the Disney Parks Blog, announcing The Walt Disney Co.’s collaboration with the National Basketball Association to create The NBA Experience. The announcement came just before the 2015 NBA Finals, which brought in an American audience average of roughly 20 million.

“We’re excited to join The NBA in offering this unique form of family entertainment,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “It will be a terrific addition to the world-class lineup of shops and restaurants coming to Disney Springs.”

The Oct. 19 announcement featured concept art for what will be the facade of The NBA Experience. The statement referenced the architectural design of modern basketball arenas across the U.S. as contributing factors to the design choice.

While detailed design ideas have yet to be released for the interior of the space, the venue is set to include shopping experiences, games with competitive features, a connected dining location and other interactive aspects.

“This one-of-a-kind experience is sure to be enjoyed by basketball and Disney fans of all ages who visit Disney Springs from around the world, ” said Sal LaRocca, NBA President of Global Partnerships.

On March 14, 2013, Tom Staggs, Chief Operation Officer for The Walt Disney Company, announced the transition of the resort’s shopping center, Downtown Disney, into what is now Disney Springs. The three year expansion resulted in the shopping center almost doubling in size.

The NBA Experience will be replacing DisneyQuest, an indoor interactive theme park that opened at The Walt Disney World Resort in 1998. DisneyQuest featured an array of video games that highlighted attractions found in the Disney parks as a way for guests to enjoy key elements without directly visiting one of the four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks.

In June of 2015, it was announced that DisneyQuest would close its doors the following year to make way for The NBA Experience. However, DisneyQuest did not officially close until July of 2017.

DisneyQuest demolition site as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro
DisneyQuest demolition space as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro

DisneyQuest was known for its old-school atmosphere, featuring pinball machines and other arcade-style games. While this aspect brought feelings of nostalgia to some guests, others viewed the indoor theme park as outdated. However, Walt Disney World Resort cast members noticed an influx of guests returning to DisneyQuest prior to its closure.

“People know that it’s coming to a close,” said Steve Ruffman, the General Manager of Disney Springs’ West Side and The Landing, to the Orlando Sentinel in June of 2017. “There are Disney gamers, there are Disneyphiles and there are people who are just excited that this has been part of their annual visit to Disney World. It’s now ‘a must-do’ when it was ‘a may-have-been’ a year ago.”

The NBA Experience is coming to The Walt Disney World Resort following the closure of NBA City at Orlando’s Universal CityWalk. NBA City, the themed restaurant that included NBA memorabilia, closed in August of 2015.

“Earlier this year, we decided not to renew the lease for NBA City so we could create an exciting, new concept for that space,” said Universal spokesman Tom Schroder to the Orlando Sentinel.

The NBA Experience’s new location to Disney Springs will add a significant space increase to the basketball themed restaurant. The location of CityWalk’s former NBA City restaurant, now The Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium, offered 17,500 square feet; however, the new location at the DisneyQuest space offers 100,000 square feet.

Although the opening date for summer 2019 has officially been announced, Walt Disney World Resort guests have been voicing differing opinions in the comment sections of the Disney Parks Blog regarding a NBA themed experience at Disney Springs.

Local elementary school opens food pantry to help support students

Clair-Mel Elementary School in Tampa has opened a new food pantry to combat child hunger among students.

Because 98 percent of their students qualify for free and reduced lunch, school principal Rick Grayes and school social worker, Delora Campbell, saw a need for the pantry.

“I had a lot of kids coming to me saying they didn’t have food in the refrigerator,” Campbell said. “A lot of parents coming to me saying ‘I have to make a decision on whether I can afford to pay my rent or feed my children.’”

One of those children was third-grader Heaven-Leigh Gillisford.

“When I didn’t have food in my refrigerator, it was butterflies in my stomach,” Heaven-Leigh said.

Clair-Mel partnered with the Just Full Service Center, a Tampa food distributor for the needy, and received a $2,000 grant to open the pantry.

The pantry is available for all students and families. Grayes and Campbell want the parents to know that they are there for support.

“We are very excited,” Grayes said. “This is the way that we are trying to provide a layer of support, and ultimately this is going to help students be successful in life.”

Clair-Mel has partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay and has applied for grants from Walmart. Their hope is to continue to receive donations in order to make sure the pantry stays open to help feed the students.