Despite His Autism, Tampa Athlete Exceeds In Cycling During Special Olympics

Mark Zac, a Tampa native who was diagnosed with autism, has participated in special Olympic sports over the past few years ranging from a local level to the world level in the World Special Olympic Games.

Allen Zac, Mark’s father, trained with him for six months before the World Special Olympic Games. They lifted weights and cycled almost 10 miles a day to prepare Mark for the event.

“That year he went to San Diego on his own, on the plane with the team, did training for five days, and then went to Athens and was with the team for three weeks on his own. We never thought he could survive without us, somehow he did and he did awesome,” Allen Zak said. “He won a gold and a silver in cycling.”

Mark took home a gold and a silver medal and proudly wears them to this day. Although he plays many sports, cycling has always been his favorite choice.

Out of the wide range of awards he’s won, his gold medal is his favorite.

Mark Zac has proven to many people in his community and around the world that even with a disability, you can live out your dreams.

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.”

Tampa Pride Remembers Pulse Shooting

Ybor City welcomed thousands to the Tampa Pride Parade on Saturday to celebrate the LGBTQ community and pay tribute to victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Centro Ybor was packed with events on the strip of Seventh Avenue, including a parade and street festival, all of which were open to the public.

Tampa Pride featured a special ceremony to remember the lives of victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting last June. This was the first Pride event since the shooting occurred.

“Since the shooting, things have been very different,” said Alisha, a Tampa Pride attendee. “It is nice to see everyone come together to support the cause and still see there are people in the community that support what we are doing here.”

Many local and national celebrities came out to support the festival, including Congresswoman Kathy Castor, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Scotty Davis, a radio host from 93.3 FL-Z.

Rue, a gay rights activist, spoke about the changes he’s noticed in the over 25 years he’s been attending Pride parades.

“It was mainly a march saying this is who we are and we’re proud to do it,” Rue said. “We didn’t have any elected officials behind us, you know, sponsors to say, so it’s a really different atmosphere.”

The crowd gathered to pay homage to the victims of the shooting in Orlando, while also celebrating the differences that brought them together for such a unique occasion.

Minority women’s golfing group looks to bridge gap in professional world.

After leaving the corporate office one woman made the decision to build Women of Color Golf, an organization centered on golf and networking.

The organization’s founder and director, Clemmie Perry, made it her duty to increase the awareness of golf within the minority women community.

Women of Color Golf (WOCG) is a non-profit organization that sets out to promote and encourage minorities and women of color to learn the benefits of golf. Ms. Perry not only wants women to fundamentally understand the game of golf, but she also wants Women of Color Golf to be a gateway to networking and partnerships.

“We serve on various boards, such as the World Golf Foundation and other organizations that will help leverage our mission,” said Perry.

Many women within this organization have benefited from the outlets that Women of Color Golf provides. Robyn Thompson, the Millennial Leader for WOCG, says that this organization is the needed push to bridge the gap between male and female golfers.

“I think we have to educate women, and that’s one of the great things about Women of Color Golf. In the beginner session they basically educate you on what golf is, how you play the game before you even go out on the golf course,” said Thompson.

Perry has built an organization that is more than just “learning how to play golf.” Women of Color Golf has been national recognized by President Barack Obama for the diligence that it provides to the Tampa Bay area. There is hope for further expansion and an excitement for future endeavors.

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.

 

USF Alzheimer’s Institute provides care to families along with patients

The USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute provides one of many support groups across the country that is host to caregivers of a family member with a mental illness such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Edward Batchelor and Margaret Hammoutree have attended the Byrd Institute’s support group for many years, and understand the stages of caring for a loved one.

“They educate them on what they can expect,” Batchelor said. “What possibly can they expect? Because you never know, and you can never fully prepare for what you might come across.”

According to Alz.org, 15.9 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.2 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in 2016,  valued at $230.1 billion.

The Byrd Institute, which has dedicated their focus towards patient caregiving and research for mental illness, holds open events for long-term caregivers and newcomers who have not experienced the impact of a support group.

“If you realize somebody else is going through the same thing you’re going through, it’s that kind of comradery and support that, ‘okay if this person can do it, I can do it too,’” Hammoutree said.

Eileen Poilley, the support group moderator at the Byrd center, has witnessed the learning curve that caregivers experience.

“They may learn a better way to communicate,” Poilley said. “They may understand some of the behaviors that their loved one does and not get upset.”

Poilley has also seen the changes to Batchelor and Hammoutree, and their outlook on the importance of attending support groups.

Batchelor took notice of the newcomers who broke down in emotion during the meeting, as he did on behalf of his wife when he first started attending.

“I continue to be involved in the support group because I feel like I can kind of help somebody else who’s behind me in this process as they get to that point, be prepared and make those decisions in a way that’s a good fit for their family,” Hammoutree said.

Misleading Labels on Healthy Snacks in Vending Machines

When choosing a snack from the vending machine you may only pay attention to labels on the front of the package; make sure to not let certain labels fool you into thinking you’re eating healthy.

Vending machines have made an effort to partake in the healthy transformation of food offered on college campuses. Snacks that are below 250 calories are now labeled with a green sticker.

There are also “2bu” vending machines, which are advertised as only being filled with healthy snacks.

Many people may think they are eating healthy if they choose a snack that is labeled organic, gluten free, natural or fat free.

Registered Dietitian Dr. Theresa Crocker said “labeling as a whole often misleads consumers.”

“Just because something is labeled organic or natural, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. But if instead, you set standards that all of the components in a vending machine meet XYZ standards then it’s guaranteed that people have access to healthier foods,” said Dr. Crocker.

James Thach, a student at the University of South Florida, has fallen victim of the misleading labels.

“If I saw something that was organic, I would assume that it would be a lot healthier than something that wasn’t,” said Thach.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The “2bu” vending machine offers a selection of organic options, including organic jellybeans. One package of these jellybeans has 58 grams of sugar. That is double the amount of sugar than a Twix candy bar, which has 28 grams of sugar per bar.

Although these snacks may not be mislabeled, the labels can be misleading. The nutrition facts will reveal more about what you’re eating than the labels on the front of the package.

The New Confederate

There’s an organization in Tampa that wants people to know the confederacy is still alive and well.

Sons of Confederate Veterans is hoping to change connotations that come along with the word “confederate.”

“That this flag is a symbol of bigotry, this flag is a symbol of white supremacy, this flag is a symbol of slavery,” said a guest speaker at the Confederate Flag Day event. “Anyone that knows history from 1816 to 1865 knows there isn’t a shred of evidence.”

The organization is national, but has one of their largest chapters is in Florida. The Florida chapter claims to deconstruct myths that are associated with confederate ideals by replacing them with positivity.

“I feel pride,” Florida Division Commander, Don Young, said. “I feel that love. Those soldiers whom I talked about who feel that love see it as a symbol of protection of their family. ”

Young said that he recognizes there are differences in opinions and varying perspectives that are mostly “not good,” but he also suggests people study history outside of the classroom, alleging school assignments are not always right.

Young represents the common sentiments shared at the Confederate Flag Day event. Attendees were in consensus that Southern ideals and values had been villainized over the years.

Members of Sons of Confederate Veterans are adamant about protecting their history and their rights—that’s all they are trying to do according to member Jack Coleman.

“I don’t think they fully understand the history,” Coleman said. “And I think maybe they feel a little bit threatened, but they don’t have to be.”

Members want their opposition, like the Black Lives Matter movement, to learn the confederacy’s modern platform. Once they do, members, like Coleman, believe there won’t be so much backlash.

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.

Immigration Under Trump Administration

As the American people prepare for the upcoming election, many are excited about playing a part in the democratic process. But for others, like first generation Mexican-American Paloma Narvaez, each day closer to the election is potentially one less she could have with her family and friends.
There has been a lot of discussion on both sides about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposed plan to combat people entering the country illegally. Many people, like Narvaez, who are close with numerous undocumented people in the U.S., fear for the future of the nation if Trump’s plans are put in place.
Narvaez spoke of a friend of hers, an undocumented graduate student at USF conducting research in chemistry.
“She can get deported when she’s doing so much good here,” the junior accounting major said. “How are we going to lose someone so valuable?”
Trump’s plan on his website includes building a massive border wall on the southern border of the United States, extreme vetting for entrance into the country and the ending of sanctuary cities. The majority of Americans who oppose Trump’s proposals believe they are unethical and go against what America stands for. However, Trump’s supporters believe his plan will be a way to crack down on crime and aid in the safety of our nation in the future.
Michael Varicak, a USF alumnus with a degree in business, said he has been a Trump supporter since the day he announced his candidacy. Although he is an independent voter, Varicak said Trump’s “lack of a Washington, D.C. filter” got him listening to what Trump had to say.
Varicak said in a phone interview that he believes the immigration process has to be reformed. He also said he believes that although Trump may not build the massive wall he has been describing, he will definitely strengthen border security as a whole.
“I don’t think it’s unethical to enforce a country’s boarders and security,” the recent USF graduate said. “Especially at a time when you have ISIS and other things going on.”
The most talked about aspect of Trump’s plan is building a border wall, and making Mexico pay for it. David Jacobson, Ph.D., a USF professor and expert on immigration, said he doesn’t foresee the wall happening as Trump has described to his supporters.
Jacobson said although putting up a wall is legal, it would be nearly impossible to get another country to pay for it without using coercive measures. Jacobson pointed out that these tactics would pose issues, especially since the two nations are so close.
Since Jacobson doesn’t see Mexico paying for the wall in any way, he added that if the U.S. were to undertake this task alone, it would be a giant expense.
“It would be an enormous cost,” Jacobson said. “It would involve a massive investment, so it’s not really feasible.”
Originally, another pillar of Trump’s plan was mass deportations of undocumented people in the United States as soon as he went into office. Jacobson said mass deportation would not work on a logistical or legal level.
“That’s not really practical to deport 11 million people,” Jacobson said. “Each individual has a right to due process. It just becomes much more complex to even think about that.”
Although Trump has softened his stance on that in recent months, Narvaez said many in her community and family do not believe his change of heart.
“The way he portrayed himself initially, we already know he has that bias,” Narvaez said. “What has changed from then to now to change his stance?”
Narvaez and her family have a lot riding on this election. The outcome will likely determine whether many of her family members can stay in America, or will be forced back to the small Mexican town of Mazamitla, the name of which she has tattooed across her forearm.
Narvaez said regardless of what Trump says or does going forward, she will never respect him after his comments claiming that Mexican immigrants are bringing drugs and crime to the U.S. at the start of his presidential campaign.
“That’s my family he’s talking about,” Narvaez said. “Those are people I work with and study with.”

Student Loans Make Students Reconsider Major

Surrounded by dozens of students clicking away on their laptops and flipping through textbooks, Emmanuel Vasquez sits at a booth on the second floor of the USF Library and googles high-paying majors.

“At this point, I’m feeling desperate,” Vasquez said. “Anything that pays off the loans.”

Forty-nine percent of college graduates consider themselves either unemployed or earn low salaries and about half report they are not offered learning experiences that can help advance their potential careers. The number of student loan borrowers as of 2015 has amounted to 43 million, according to Student Loan Hero.

“After resubmitting my FAFSA earlier last week, I realized how financially destructive my degree could be for my future,” Vasquez said. “It’s actually been bugging me for months.”

A common struggle students face during their first years at college is deciding which major to pursue. Most are obligated by the age of 17 to choose a career field and pay thousands of dollars to work towards that degree for four years. The STEM majors — a curriculum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are what many students are leaning towards pursuing in order to make up for their student debt.

Vasquez is a USF sophomore and humanities major, a subject he has had a passion for since a young age. However, he is considering changing his major to business before the spring semester.

“The issue stems from this idea that students believe they won’t be successful unless they work towards high demanding jobs,” Dr. Sean Lyons, doctor of management, said.

Dr. Lyons is a professor and researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada who studies career development and expectations of young workers.

“We receive more students who have the potential to be great at subjects they excel at, who then feel they should settle for STEM majors, because they are told that those soft majors they love won’t grant them the income they need,” Dr. Lyons said.

63 percent of college graduates were encouraged to pursue a STEM degree in 2015, according to the Accenture Strategy 2015 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study.

Pablo Alava, a social studies teacher at Guinta Middle School in Brandon, said that the problem is created during early education.

“Things like standardized testing and mandatory grade requirements damage the ability for kids to be creative in things that aren’t generic subjects,” Alava said. “You have a kid who isn’t great at math but is a skill-born musician, and then he gets held back a year and is told that he is incompetent.”

Alava, who has been teaching since 2011 and has a master’s degree in education, has almost finished paying off his student debt.

“I graduated with flying colors and I still needed to depend on the money my parents helped me with as well, as connections I thankfully had from people I knew,” Alava said. “That is how you really make it after college. It’s all about the connections.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York states that 62 percent of recent college graduates are working in jobs that require a degree, yet only 27 percent are working in a job that relates to their major.

JoEllen Tharp, a mass communications student adviser for USF, considers the college experience to be a fair game. Most students are required to build connections within their college experiences, as well as complete internships and extracurricular activities.

“You have to maintain that balance of doing what you love, and also being realistic with what your outlook is and what your degree can offer, and make sure that you’re bringing in things to your resume to balance that out,” Tharp said. “Students need to make sure that they are ready to work in multiple fields until they reach the point that their passion and profession can sustain them.”

When it comes to their current jobs, about 53 percent of all employed college graduates in their mid-20s and early 30s say they are “very satisfied” at work, according to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center.

“It’s conflicting, choosing between being happy because I love my job, or being happy because I’m at peace with the money I make,” Vasquez said. “I just want all the money spent and work done to be worth it in the end.”

International Diversity Brings Students Together

The International Students Association at the University of South Florida organized International Night on Nov. 13, which is an event how diversity and union could go hand-and-hand.

Samuel Bai is a USF international, graduate student who was invited to perform at the event to show his passion for music. When he was just a little boy, Bai taught himself how to play the flute like his father.

“In China you have to get immersed into the atmosphere and feel the music,” Bai said.

Music, laughter and applause overpowered everything else during the event. Every group that performed included students from around the world and they incorporated their cultures in their performance.

USF Homecoming King, Kenny Ezevillo, hosted the event and showed great enthusiasm.

“The Diversity here is incredible,” Ezevillo said. You get to meet people from all over the place and everyone is so friendly.”

Most of these students are neither dance nor music majors. They join these groups as an outlet from the stress that comes from studying for tests and assignments. At the same time they are embracing new cultures and traditions.

“I think it’s really important to have these kind of events because it really opens culture to anyone who wants to come,” Kori Conklin, a USF molecular and microbiology student, said. “It’s really nice, because you get to experience something that’s not normal to you and it opens your world view.”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Environment: Where Some See Progress, Others Are Disillusioned

Laurie Walker bustles about the southwestern corner of the USF campus, where lies a 16-acre space of greenery frequented by human visitors, bees, butterflies and two resident cats.

It was 1969 when the university established its Botanical Gardens, which serves as a breath of fresh air for the community as well as a home and research center for plants and animals.  Walker has been the director of the Botanical Gardens for 15 years.

Despite the soothing quietness of the gardens, worries about environmental degradation and health bubble underneath.  Having to protect plants from damaging weather is always a challenge, suggests Walker.  But newer challenges keep rising to the surface.

On site is an apiary used in the gardens’ yearlong beekeeping course.  The effects on bees were deeply felt this year.

“We were not able to collect honey this year,” said Walker. “There was just not enough honey to take. And we don’t do it for commercial purposes. We just do it as an educational component of the course.  But our honeybees have not been stockpiling honey.”

Step outside of the gardens and back into the day-to-day of Tampa Bay, and you’ll find that concern about the environment comes second.

“Everyone cares about the economy, which I can understand because people are concerned about ‘I need to feed my family, I need to feed myself,’” said Samantha Szatyari, a junior environmental science and policy major.

Dr. Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of political science at USF, confirmed this sentiment.  MacManus notes that just because jobs and economy are at the top of the list does not mean Floridians don’t see its importance.  Many move to Florida because of its environment, so its health is already near the forefront of their minds.

MacManus directs the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey, which concluded last month that the environment was the second most pressing issue for Floridians.

“The environment will absolutely intensify as an issue because of its high priority for younger people,” said MacManus.

Walker holds on to this as hope.

“Easier said than done, but I think young people now, college students, get this, and with social networks, that information can get out to others,” said Walker.

But some college students are not so sure. At the very least, they don’t think their peers care enough.

“Back home, one of the major problems that we have is people throwing garbage,” said Awa Ndiaye, a sophomore engineering student. “You walk down the streets and you see a bunch of plastic bags or you see a bunch of trash that shouldn’t be there and it’s something that directly impacts your life.”

Home for Ndiaye is Senegal, where she says the difference in approach to the environment is an awareness issue—lack of knowledge generates inaction.  But in the U.S., she says, it’s apathy.

“Here, a lot of the people I’ve been around—they’re kind of conscious of climate change and environmental issues, but they don’t care because at the end of the day it doesn’t affect them,” said Ndiaye. “If they waste water or if they’re wasting food, it doesn’t matter to them because at the end of the day, they still get food.”

Inaction is also exacerbated by the feeling that it’s too big of a problem for a single person to tackle, both Ndiaye and Szatyari say.

But it’s also a matter of wanting instant gratification.

“To take care of the environment is to make an investment in the future,” said Szatyari.  “A lot of people don’t want to make that investment.  People want to see results now.”

Szatyari, who is also the director of networking for the Student Environmental Association at USF, felt her view was fairly pessimistic, but nonetheless true.  Still, she continues to be active.

“There’s that disillusionment, but then there’s that ‘well what if I can be that voice of change?’” said Szatyari.

To Walker, young people can be that voice.

“Few people understand that one person can make a difference,” said Walker. “We have to be vocal, we have to get the word out. We have to educate people.”

Sexual Assault Silence

The University of South Florida launched the annual “It’s On Us” campaign this month, which calls for students to stand up against sexual violence on college campuses through events like taking a pledge and the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”

The campaign comes hard on the heels of a recent sexual assault that occurred on USF’s campus. The university received national attention when a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman at a party.

Although one of the tools of the national “It’s On Us” campaign is to talk to your friends honestly and openly about sexual assault, many students at the university were unwilling to speak about sexual assaults on college campuses.

“It happened within Greek, yet it also could happen anywhere, for any other person who is not involved in an organization. But I think they should be talking about it,” said USF and Greek alumna Savannah Skuthan. “If it’s ‘on you,’ why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, approximately 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males will be the victim of sexual assault during their undergraduate career.

“I think people get worried about whether [reporting sexual assault] is going to be anonymous, whether they feel like they’re betraying someone,” said USF student Liz Stafford.

Conversations around sexual assault share this sentiment, as shown by a RAINN study in which 10 percent of college-aged females and 14 percent of college-aged males did not want to report a sexual assault fearing the alleged perpetrator would get in trouble.

 

 

 

The Office of Veteran Success Lends a Helping Hand

The University of South Florida was just named the best 4-year college in the nation for veterans.

USF’s Office of Veteran Success serves over 1500 student vets. Some of the programs that they offer are vet-to-vet tutoring, mentoring, success classes, VA work-studies and community networking events. The purpose of each program is to provide veterans with the necessary skills to succeed.

The office also works with USF staff members to help veterans transition back into school. Staff members can attend the “Got Your Six” workshop, which teaches them how to become better resources for student veterans.

Daniel McNeill is the office manager for the Office of Veterans Success. He says that the program is an overview of common stereotypes, strengths, weaknesses and ways to help veterans adapt back into academia.

“We created this presentation to educate USF faculty and staff to allow our veterans to transition more easily,” said McNeill.

McNeill also said that one thing he hopes that staff members take away from “Got Your Six” is that the transition phase isn’t something to take lightly. Student veterans are making drastic life changes, and they need support from faculty during this time.

Dr. Laura Anderson, a chemistry professor at USF, attended “Got Your Six” because she wanted to learn different ways to help student veterans in her classes.

Student veteran, Victor Perez, served in the Navy and is transitioning back into school. He says that the office has really helped him get back into the school mindset.

“The office of Veteran Success has taught me about all of the benefits that I could be eligible for… especially vet-to-vet tutoring [and] mentoring,” said Perez.

Bulls for Kids Pumpkin Day Benefiting John Hopkin’s All Children’s Hospital

 

The University of South Florida organization Bulls For Kids has begun their fundraising efforts in order to benefit John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital by hosting seasonal events on campus.

Appropriately named after the 1966 Charlie Brown televised special, The Great Pumpkin Day invited students to purchase a pumpkin, promising that one hundred percent of all the proceeds will go directly to the hospital.

“John Hopkin’s All Children’s Hospital is local, and it feels good knowing that you are helping out an organization that is really close by.” said USF student Jayla Pugh.

Bulls for Kids is part of USF’s Dance Marathon, a movement  of student-run philanthropies benefiting Children’s Miracle Network hospitals around the country. Bulls for Kids is the largest student run philanthropy on campus.

The Bulls for Kids Promotions Director, Clarisse Fres, provided activities that students could participate in with their pumpkin.

“You can decorate them with paint and these other art supplies. Or you can take it home and do whatever you want to do with the pumpkin,” Fres said.

With waivers signed and safety goggles worn, students were also given the option to smash their pumpkins by raising it above their heads, and launching it towards the ground. Pumpkin smashing was offered as a way for students to relieve stress.

All these smaller events are leading to the main Bulls for Kids event in the spring: the 12-hour Dance Marathon, which is where most of the donations come in.

According to leadandserve.usf.edu, Bulls for Kids broke its long-standing record at USF last year by raising $130,011.29 more than any other year before and an 82% increase from the 2015 marathon.

“It’s a year-long process,” Fres said. “Now that this year is around, we’re going to try and raise $200,000.”

Bulls For Kids has no doubt that they will reach this goal, especially with registration for the Dance Marathon already accepting teams and donations.

The Dance Marathon officially begins on Feb. 25, 2017. Registration ends Dec. 11, and donations are being accepted until 9 p.m. at the event.

Manatee Viewing Center Expects Bigger Crowds In 30th Year

 

Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center employee’s Jamie Woodlee and Bob Rast both share a common passion for the protection of Florida manatees.

Woodlee has worked for TECO’s Manatee Viewing Center for more than 30 years and has seen the facility grow into what it is today.

“I’ve actually been with Tampa Electric for 30 years, and started right away in their environmental department,” Woodlee said. “It’s just been an amazing experience being able to see how far we’ve come since I first started here.”

Located off of Dickman Road in Apollo Beach Florida, the TECO Manatee Viewing Center offers guests an up close and personal view of manatees in their natural habitat. According to tampaelectric.com, Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach delivered reliable electricity to the community for 16 years before the commercial operation of Big Bend Unit 4 in 1986. It was that year where people first took notice of manatees arriving in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal.

“We get visitors from all over the world,” Woodlee said. “We get anywhere from 150,000 to over 300,000 visitors in over five-in-a half months.”

The Manatee Viewing Center’s mission is to educate the public about the Florida manatee and its habitat. The center is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary, which has interactive exhibits and staff members educating visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges it faces.

Rast said when the waters of Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder, the manatees would seek refuge in the Apollo Beach area.

“They are a unique creature,” Rast said. “When the weather gets chilly and the manatees get cold stressed, they come here to get warm and recharge their batteries so to speak.”

Rast has worked for the TECO Manatee Viewing Center for over 16 years and has extensive expertise on manatees in the area.

With tourists and locals flocking in from November 1 until April 15, the Manatee Viewing Center is ready for another year of big crowds.

“We are this quiet little gem of a place that is really starting to get out there,” Woodlee said.

OneBlood seeks donations after Hurricane Matthew

Blood donation centers on Florida’s East Coast resumed operations after the threat of Hurricane Matthew forced them to close their doors and halt donations.

As residents in the region prepared for the impact of the storm, hospitals and blood banks also prepared by ensuring that blood provisions were available.

“On a daily basis, blood is used in so many different ways to save lives,” said Dan Ebert, donor and community director at OneBlood.

While blood banks on the East Coast were closed, residents of the West Coast of Florida were encouraged to go out and donate in order to boost the blood supply. However, that would not be enough.

For the four days that donation centers were closed, thousands of possible blood donations from the East Coast were lost. Additionally, not enough people in the unaffected areas stepped up to give.

After the storm passed, the supply of blood, plasma, and platelets was critically low. Organizations like OneBlood have again asked people to go out and donate.

Frequent donors like Angeline Diamond understand the importance of donating blood.

“I’ve had plenty of family that been in car accidents and need blood. So I donate whenever I can just to help the community,” says Diamond.

For others, donating is a matter of their own health.

“When you donate you receive a wellness checkup,” explains Ebert.

The free wellness checkup includes a blood pressure test and cholesterol screening, which are valuable in accessing a donor’s health.

OneBlood and the Red Cross will be conducting blood drives all week long in order to replenish the blood supply.

For more information regarding donations, visit OneBlood online.

Local Shoe Drive Helps Refugees in Need

National Welcoming Week is an event that encourages members of the community to promote unity by celebrating contributions from immigrants and refugees from all over the world with dance and performances. The University of South Florida hosted the event this year.

This year’s theme was centered on shoes for refugees with the theme being, “Small shoes, Big Journey.” Rachel Ackey, a 10-year-old volunteer, came up with the idea of a shoe drive to donate shoes to refugee children.

“I wanted to do something for them ’cause they have to run away from their homes ’cause of a war,” said Ackey.  “They probably just have the pair of shoes on their feet. So I wanna give them different shoes so they could feel welcomed and they could have new shoes for the school year.”

Volunteers hope to relay the message of unity to encourage the community to be welcoming to those transitioning from places where war, persecution or natural disasters are abundant.

In an effort to celebrate refugees and their backgrounds, event organizers hosted a fashion show where refugees got to participate in showcasing garments from around the world.

Over 100 pairs of shoes for kids were collected during the Week of Welcome, thanks to contributions and efforts from the community.