Florida Focus: 11-24-2014

In today’s episode of Florida Focus: a police officer shot and killed a firefighter; a motorcyclist died in a crash earlier this morning; Metropolitan Ministries is serving families this holiday season; and Bay St has been transformed into an ice palace.


Lily Simone balances two careers: elementry teacher and Orlando Magic dancer

Lily Simone was once an ordinary girl with dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Now, she manages two careers: 3rd-grade teacher and dancer for the Orlando Magic Basketball Team.

“It has been difficult managing two careers,” said Simone. “However, I think I have gotten better as time goes on managing my schedule and doing both things at the same time.”

Simone works approximately 40 hours per week, but after school, instead of grading papers, she heads to Amway Arena to practice with her team, the Orlando Magic Dancers, or to perform on the sidelines and at quarter breaks during home basketball games.

The 20 members of the Orlando Magic Dancers, according to Jeanine Klem-Thomas, the Entertainment Teams Manager and dance coach, are all full-time students or have full-time careers.

“These are the strong, independent, intelligent women who are more than just big hair and red lips dancing on a court,” said Simone. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to dance on that court and manage an outside career and I don’t think the public understands that.”

The University of South Florida SunDolls dance team played a large role in Simone’s ability to manage a full time teaching schedule and a full time Magic schedule.

“Even though Lily is rookie, she has been fantastic on the team,” said Klem-Thomas.  “She is always smiling and goofy but she knows when to work hard and she always gives 200 percent.”

You can watch Simone and her teammates perform on Nov. 7th at Amway Arena as the Orlando Magic take on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I love teaching and interacting with my kids and I love performing for the Magic” said Simone.

The Zombie Invasion – Humans vs. Zombies at USF

Zombies used to hit the snooze button until late October. On the 31st, the undead knocked on stranger’s doors to collect Starbursts and Milky Ways in pillowcases and plastic pumpkin buckets that Mom got last-minute at CVS. When November peeked its head, the zombie spirit returned to hibernation, with the exception of their appearances in horror novels, TV shows, and the big screen.

But times are changing.

Zombies are hip. Zombies are cool. Zombies wear thick-rimmed glasses and study Chemistry on the third floor of the USF library.

Jesus was a zombie.

They play video games. They play football. They play beer pong.

They attack the Human Resistance outside of Cooper Hall and meet up for a Subway sandwich (sans brains) afterwards.

This isn’t folklore. It’s the Walking Dead fan’s dream.

While zombies may be myth to most, the club members of Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) know better. Participating USF members will enter a game where only foam NERF guns, blowguns, and balls of socks can protect the Human Resistance from bloodthirsty zombies Nov. 6-11.

“It’s a six-day-long, 24-hours-a-day game of apocalyptic tag,” said David Phillips, president of HvZ.

The rules are elementary. Humans try to avoid getting tagged, while zombies tag as many humans as possible. However, zombies can be stunned for a given amount of time if they’re hit with one of the approved weapons.

While an outsider might scoff at the use of a child’s toy, The Human Resistance takes their NERF gun game very seriously. Members show off photos on the HvZ Facebook of their occasionally hand-painted NERF arsenals like moms show off photos of their kids.

The HvZ garb is adhered to with the same amount of enthusiasm. To distinguish friend from foe, the Human Resistance wears a bandana around the upper arm, while zombies instead have them around their heads. Once hit by a weapon, a zombie must tieir the bandana around his neck to signal he’s been stunned and thus give the human a chance for escape.

The club’s origins are as mysterious as the origins of zombie folklore, but Phillips is sure of their future. On average, 300-400 players from freshman to alumni participate in the human massacre – and that number keeps growing.

“A lot of people tend to look at it as the video game nerds who play, and we love those people. They’re awesome, core players,” said Phillips, an engineering major. “But, we also have all different kinds of people.”

A testament to the club’s diversity of players, Vincent McCoige is one of the club’s advisers while working at USF as a teaching assistant and getting his master’s degree in psychology. Other noteworthy members include football players, track-star athletes, and sorority and fraternity affiliates.

Bewildered freshman and those who never found their niche in campus-life have also found camaraderie through screaming “brains” across campus. HvZ Moderator Jack Kelly said it opened the door for his social life.

“Some things that may seem strange at first can definitely change your life and impact it in different ways,” said Kelly.

Kelly formed a close-knit friendship through a faction within HvZ called the Rockstar Vatican Assassins, but other pre-made factions available to join include The Abandoned, a band faction promising hilarity; Squad, who assert, “We came here to kill zombies and chew bubblegum, and we’re all of out bubblegum;” and Naked, a faction that needs little further explanation.

Battling the undead isn’t just a USF phenomenon. Not only do members create friendships between other USF students and alumni, but also the bond of zombie-zapping undulates across campus-boundaries. HvZ has a national presence, played at universities all across the country.

While the USF HvZ game may be slightly different than zombie games at other schools, the basic rules are generally the same, said Phillips.

“With me, I was able to gain so many new friends, and we loved the game so much we went to Southeastern University and University of Florida to play,” Kelly said.

To stay updated on training missions and get lively with the undead Nov. 6-11, visit http://usfhvz.org.

Florida voters will finally resolve medical marijuana debate

This election, voters not only have the governor’s race on their minds, but also medical marijuana. Amendment Two is on the ballot and needs a 60 percent supermajority vote to pass. It proposes the legalization of the use of medical marijuana for specific conditions when prescribed by a licensed physician.

“I think that if enough young people come out to vote, it will pass,” says USF student Dillion Stafford.

If the amendment passes, it will allow the use of medical marijuana for debilitating diseases including cancer, HIV, hepatitis, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

However, surveys suggest the amendment will not pass this election. Many voters feel that the amendment needs to be modified to eliminate existing loopholes that would allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Attorney John Morgan fight on opposite sides of this controversial amendment. Morgan rallied to put the amendment on the ballot, and Judd fights to make sure it does not pass.

Judd says he is not against medical marijuana, but is against Amendment Two.

Despite arguments against the amendment, some Florida voters still think it should pass.

“It’s a lot of people it can benefit. Anything from people suffering from cancer and having to go through chemotherapy to elderly people who have a number of ailments, I know it can help. I think there probably is some room for the language to be clarified, but I don’t think we should axe any opportunity particularly for those people who need it medically because we’re concerned about the language,” says Florida voter Kathy Morris.

Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C. will be voting today to legalize the use of recreational marijuana.


Goody Goody, a slice of Tampa’s history to reopen

TAMPA, Fla.– Tampa’s longtime residents will once again take a bite of a burger, or a slice of pie, from the iconic Goody Goody restaurant. Former co-owner, Mike Wheeler, recently sold the restaurant and hopes its history continues.

“One of the motivating reasons of my selling it was that I wanted to see the Goody Goody remain a Tampa tradition,” Wheeler said.

The restaurant is now owned by businessman Richard Gonzmart.

“To sell it to somebody that we felt had high integrity and knew the restaurant business,” Wheeler said. “I think we found just the right person.”

Richard Gonzmart, the co-owner of Columbia Restaurant, used to visit Goody Goody, bringing food home to his family every Sunday. Michael Kilgore, chief marketing officer at Columbia Restaurant, says preserving the business was Gonzmart’s rescue mission.

“He wanted to try to preserve it and so as soon as it happened he started talking to Michael Wheeler about trying to buy the rights to it,” Kilgore said.

Goody Goody was first a drive-in restaurant, giving curb-side service from 1930 until 1984. The curb-side service was removed in late 1984.

A design has not been drafted yet, but it will continue as a family dine-in restaurant. As per the menu, the famous burger “POX”, pickles, onions, and secret sauce, is impossible to replicate, making it unique.

“They’re so unique and different and it’s just not like the hamburger with lettuce and tomato that you find in so many places,” Wheeler said. “They always go with a special…it’s called a ‘POX’, which stands for pickles, onions, and X, that sauce.”

Yvonne Freeman, also known as “the hamburger queen”, worked the last 46 years until 2005 as the manager and the official baker of those delicious pies.

The new location will open in South Tampa sometime in 2015.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown comes to Tampa



Are you in the Christmas spirit and looking for something to do with your family? No worries because the Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown exhibition has just arrived to the Tampa Bay History Center.

“The Charlie Brown Christmas special is such an iconic TV show. It’s something that has aired every year for 59 years,” said Rodney Kite-Powell,  curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center.

The 59-year anniversary is a main reason the exhibition was brought to Tampa Bay.

According to Kite-Powell, his committee waited for three years before the Charles M. Schulz Museum in California approved the history center of showcasing the seasonal exhibition.

The exhibition includes: reproduced comic strips, the famous Charlie Brown Christmas tree, a Santa letter writing station for children, many novelties and some Tampa Bay Christmas history.

“It’s neat to see the bigger strips because I haven’t read comics in years,” said local resident Casey Christopher.

Entrance to the exhibition is included in the admission price of the Tampa Bay History Center and will be open until January 11, 2015. For more details on the exhibition and its daily activities, please visit: http://tampabayhistorycenter.org

America’s Got Talent Hosts Open Call in Tampa

NBC’s America’s Got Talent held auditions for season 10 in Tampa this past Sunday, Nov. 2.

Thousands of people lined up outside the Tampa Bay Convention Center in hopes  that their talent would land them a spot on the new season.

Jason Raff, one of the executive producers for the show, highlighted what makes the program stand out from other reality shows.

“America’s Got Talent is the only show that’s open to any age and any talent. We have singing competitions out there, we’ve got dance competitions, but we really have no rules,” Raff said. “I think the diversity we find in Tampa has been great for us.”

Singers, dancers and performers of all sorts spent nearly all day waiting and practicing  for just 90 seconds of audition time.

One of the more unique talents exhibited was that of Cyliss Harrington, a Tampa herpetologist that willingly holds the head of two pythons in his mouth.

“I basically swallow its head,” Harrington said. “For people who are afraid of them, what I do is run a rescue, and I go out to Ybor City on the weekends and let people hold them and take their picture.”

Those who auditioned won’t know if they have made it into the next round until March of next year.

“I think I did pretty good, I just hope I didn’t creep out any of the judges downstairs.” Harrington said.

Season 10 is set to air in May and will run through Sept.

Raff was hopeful of the talent Tampa had to offer.

“It’s not even lunch time for me and I’ve already seen several singers, a horse come into my room and several snakes with a dog, so it’s looking to be a good season this year.” Raff said.

Naga Tea charms USF area with imported selections, ‘original’ boba flavors

Naga Tea opened its doors in early Oct. 2014. Carl Yen, owner of Naga Tea, is trying to bring a new tea drinking culture to Tampa. To accomplish this, he imports all his teas from Taiwan.

“Naga Tea is definitely an original place, it’s not a franchise, it’s not a chain,” Yen said. “We found our ingredients and everything from Taiwan. That’s a lot of work and research put into that.”

Naga tea is serving up over 50 different flavors of tea, including: herbal, milk and fruit tea. Yen uses only fresh and non-artificial ingredients in his recipes.

“How I see it, if you have good quality in your product, customers will definitely see that and customers should return and have the best product,” Yen said.

One of the unique things about Naga how they use boba.

“We add on boba just because boba milk tea is the original, it’s what Taiwan is known for,” Yen said. “Boba is just a tapioca mixed with a sweet potato powder that’s kind of closely related to yucca and provides this very chewy texture, some people call it gummy bears.”

Students looking for something different and refreshing from their tea drinking experience can learn more by visting Naga Tea.


Unique Gifts For College Greeks

Phyllis Grae-Nielson has just finished celebrating the 27th anniversary of Greek Unique, her fraternity and sorority based store. Located near the University of South Florida in Tampa, Greek Unique also serves the University of Tampa, St. Leo University and Florida Southern University.

Greek Unique offers hundreds of gift items for almost every fraternity or sorority. However, they are best known for their classic jerseys and made-to-order items.

“We have a lot of different options, we have about 208 different fabrics so people can come in and choose the fabric that we have and they can also bring in their own fabric,” said Cali Sanford, the store manager.

What makes Greek Unique so special is that everything that is made to order, besides the garments, is made by hand. The fraternity and sorority letters that are sewn onto the jerseys are hand cut and put together.

“The main things that we do are double stitch and embroidery, so double stitch is the twill letters that you see that go across most of the people’s shirts and the embroidery is just standard embroidery,” said Sanford.

Greek Unique is also a family-based business. The store was first opened by Grae-Neilson and her two daughters, both USF Alumni. Now it is run by Grae-Neilson and her husband Alistar Nielson, who does the embroidery.

“This is what I’ve been doing for 27 years, and I love it,” said Grae-Nielson.

Greek Unique is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.  to 6 p.m. and is located at 5025 East Fowler Avenue.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Loeffke: Medicine is the best medicine to mend U.S.-China relations

Maj. Gen. Loeffke lecturing at USF Patel Center. Image from USF World News.

Maj. Gen. Loeffke spoke for an hour in the Patel Center for Global Solutions on Sept. 19. He theorized a way to grow trust between the U.S. and China.

“I would like to live in a world that is connected through medicine,” Loeffke said.

With a 36-year military career in the United States Army, four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, Loeffke is committed to world peace and a better relationship between nations.

He also co-authored an OP-ED for the New York Times on U.S.-China relations recently.

Continue reading “U.S. Maj. Gen. Loeffke: Medicine is the best medicine to mend U.S.-China relations”

Help for new mothers expands in Tampa Bay

Located in Pinellas Park, Fla., the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County serves women in need of assistance. Whether it’s helping financially or giving counseling advice, the Pregnancy Center is willing to help.

Natalia Sierra, a Pregnancy Center client since the beginning of her pregnancy, is extremely grateful for the help she has received.

“I receive a lot of help still from the Pregnancy Center,” Sierra said. “Whenever I need diapers or extra wipes they’re always there to help me. When I have any questions about parenting they’re always there to help me as well.”

The Pregnancy Center has helped thousands of moms over the course of its existence. However, the number of struggling moms in need of assistance continues to rise. That’s why director Nancy Lathrop and her staff have helped the Pregnancy Center expand over the entire Tampa Bay area.

“We have three in Pinellas County and two now in Hillsborough County,” Lathrop said. “Roughly 2,000 moms a year come through our doors in one of those five centers.”

Stop by a Pregnancy Center location in Pinellas Park, Tarpon Springs or Largo to get proper assistance and guidance.


Tampa adults take to the kick ball field

The Kick Ball Society of Tampa Bay is an organization that provides a fun, social and athletic outlet for any adults interested.

Operations Manager Steven Israel has been with the organization from the very beginning and is pleased to witness its growth in such little time.

“There are so many teams that make up this organization; it’s amazing,” said Israel.  “It’s just $69 for the entire season, and for that you will take away lasting memories and relationships.”

Susie Mattos, league player for the team “Where My Pitches At,” is a first time member and has nothing but good things to say about the organization and her teammates.

“Since I began, my social life has expanded tremendously,” Mattos said. “I have met so many people throughout my time here and it has served as such a huge stress reliever.”

Humane Society supports animals of Tampa Bay

Do you feel like your family is missing something? Well look no further than the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. They are sure to have that special companion you and your family are looking for.

The Humane Society has been rescuing animals and changing lives all over the Tampa Bay area since 1912. Adoption Services Manager, Carie Peterson, has been working for the Humane Society for 8 years and every day is still amazed at all the good they do for people and for animals.

“It’s three lives changing. We save so many animals from other shelters that can’t keep them so the minute someone leaves from here, we can now go and save another one. So they’ve really saved two lives. It’s amazing that we can do that,” Peterson said.

The Humane Society also has unique programs for students, a lot of volunteers and a food assistance program.

“The food assistance program helps people in need if they have animals at home and the people are on hard times. We don’t want the animal to starve so we do have a food pantry where they can come and they can get a bag of food once a month,” Peterson said.

Keeping animals and their owners together is very important to the Humane Society so they help out those in need whenever they can. Changing the community one animal at a time.

Full Gospel Church on West Comanche Avenue: Tampa’s Unlikely International Community

There isn’t much to see when you drive through West Comanche Avenue.

On the corner where the road meets Hillsborough Avenue, you’ll find a Shell gas station. Next door, a rundown auto shop with faded signs and old abandoned cars lies unattended.  Heading further down, West Comanche is an uneven gravel road dotted with poorly filled potholes and weeds. Tall grass lines the sidewalks. Prehistoric looking trees cast shadows over the unkempt lawns along the street. The neighborhood of brightly colored houses remains quiet most of the time, except for the occasional car or bike-riding child passing through.

It’s not where you would expect to come across a Korean church.

Positioned between an empty plot of land and the predominantly Hispanic residential area behind it, the yellow church building with its stark white steeple and stained glass windows, stands out against the surrounding wire fencing and overgrown shrubbery. An American flag flies high on a flagpole in the front of the parking lot, right next to the church’s bright blue sign. Plastered on a thick marble pillar, the sign, written in white Korean and English lettering, reads: Assembly Full Gospel Church of Tampa.

This building and the off-white building adjacent to it is where the congregation, a diverse and eclectic mix of Korean and local culture, has gathered for the past 36 years.

The church sprouted up in this curious spot thanks to a Korean elder from the overseeing Assemblies of God denomination. Rev. Byong Chin Lee, senior pastor of Full Gospel,  cannot recall his name. He and his family arrived and took over leadership of the church just 11 years ago.

“Well, it’s not a typical spot for a Korean church, but it was God’s plan for us,” Lee said in Korean.

Originally, the church leaders intended to reach just the Korean community in Tampa. There were no plans to become a multi-ethnic church. Not that they had any objections, Lee said, it just wasn’t on the radar.

Over the years, people of all different walks of life have found their way through the doors of the church. The church’s nationalities include Vietnamese, Caucasian, Filipino, Black, Puerto Rican, Chinese and Korean.  Lee said the influx of ethnically and culturally diverse church members is exciting.

“It makes the church feel more alive,” Lee said.

Lee said there is a downside–the loss of communication and a potential for misunderstanding between the older Korean generation of immigrants and the younger, non-Korean generation. In fact, the church is split into two parts, services for the Korean-speaking older parishioners, and English services for the younger members. Not every older Korean member speaks or understand English, and not every youth speaks or understand Korean. Both sides get lost in translation.

That’s where Pastor Joshua Kim came in. A Korean immigrant, originally from Baltimore and then Miami, he moved to Tampa with his family to be the English-speaking pastor at Assembly Full Gospel in 2013. He received recommendations from members within the church to take the position here.

“Every church has its own distinct identity,” Kim said. “For us, we cannot be closed off to other cultures. It’s not what God called us to do.”

So what is the vision for Assembly Full Gospel?

“To reach the lost souls of the world, starting with our own neighborhood,” Lee said. “We might be in a Hispanic neighborhood, but we can connect with them and impact them too.”

He believes it starts with prayer. The church holds hold a prayer meeting every morning at 6 a.m., and on Friday nights as well. The meetings are not just to pray for the church members and attendees, but for the entire neighborhood. The entire city. The world.

The Sunday morning sun beats down on the church’s 36th anniversary. Lunch is special today. People cram into the small air- conditioned lunch room. It’s lined with long folding tables and packed with plastic chairs. Korean and English chatter fills the air as people get in line for food. Korean, Chinese, African-American, Filipino, and Vietnamese, all different faces, but one family.

A Saturday Morning in Downtown St. Petersburg


Musician Chris Brudy serenaded people who made the trek out to North Straub Park on Saturday morning for the annual Outdoor Living and Home Expo. Brudy encouraged those passing by to get out and vote in between songs. “I don’t care who, just do it. Voting is awesome,” Brudy said.


The annual two-day event featured renovation professionals, horticulturists, glass blowers and organic food stands.


Supporters of Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie picketed outside the event. Patricia Moore (center) said she felt the picketers were more of a nuisance than informative.

Continue reading “A Saturday Morning in Downtown St. Petersburg”