Florida Focus News Brief 10-19-16

In this episode: a prisoner took a Bartow deputy hostage while the crew was out on lunch; two men and a woman who stole a wallet containing credit cards earlier this month are seen using the cards on Walmart surveillance video; healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson hosts a ribbon cutting ceremony in Tampa as they unveil a brand new North American Global Services Center; Visit Tampa Bay held it’s 31st annual meeting today and says Tampa tourism is hitting record-breaking numbers; “Walkin’ the Beat,” a new Bradenton Police initiative that requires officers to get out of their cars and walk for one hour during each shift, hopes to ease tensions between law enforcement and residents.

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International Players Represent More Than Just USF

The University of South Florida soccer defenders Estefania Fuentes and Grace Adams are not your typical college athletes, because both play soccer for their countries national soccer team.

Fuentes plays for Mexico’s and Adams represents Ghana’s national soccer team.

“In the national team you are representing a whole country, like everybody is paying attention to you and you need to be focused and know you can have fun, but with responsibility, because it’s not only you or your university,”  Fuentes said. “It’s millions of people on your back.”

Coming from opposite sides of the world, both players are strengthened by their strong religious beliefs, which they believe is the key to their success. Adams says she always prays.

“I talk to my God communicate with him to give me the strength and remind me off everything that I learned in the field that my coaches taught us,” Adams said. “That is what I always do all the time.”

While both athletes continue to have a successful season, they also face challenges within the team.

“The language is a huge difference here at USF,” Fuentes said. “The language comes slower than Spanish so I have to be more focused.”

The language barrier does not intimidate either player. Both defenders strive for a victorious season finale at USF.

San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run

The 50th annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run took place over the weekend in San Antonio.

There were many different activities, games and events for attendees to enjoy. Some of these events included shows like Cowboy Tom’s Wild West Show and the Croc Encounters demonstration. Rock climbing, corn hole tournaments and wooden gopher tortoise races were open both days, while the Rattlesnake Run only occurred on Saturday.

Children and their parents were both able to take pleasure in the festival. One child in particular was quick to express his favorite part.

“Well the first thing we’ve done,” Owen said, “we got loads of candy!”

The Croc Encounters show drew an exceptionally large audience. The crew brought four large alligators that were between seven and eight feet in length, one medium sized alligator and two small alligators.

“Croc Encounters is an animal rescue,” said John Paner, manager. “We do educational programs with the animals, we take them to events, we do shows with the animals, we do traveling exhibits.”

Another popular attraction was the pumpkin patch, where families were taking advantage of the great photo opportunities. One local resident spending time in the pumpkin patch was excited to bring her children to the festival again.

“We actually haven’t been for a few years,” Sarah said, “because my son was playing football so we kind of always had a football game, but this is our first time back in quite a few years.”

Over the two days it was open, the festival brought in a great number of people. As of now, it is planned to be held again next fall.

Couple Starts Healthy Farm Business

Katy Sierra and Rosalyne Follman are the happy owners of a healthy, new business called Dirty Girl Farming. They grow microgreens and raise chickens on a farm in Wimauma, Florida.

“We both grew up in agriculture-based families—always outside—farm life, always doing something like that,” Sierra said. “So we that we wanted to head in that direction, so we came up with the idea for microgreens.”

The women have many tasks on the farm that range from finding the right balance of pH levels to sanitizing every individual seed before it’s planted.

“We only use pH balanced water so I have to find the right balance,” Sierra said. “Constantly moving things around during the day to get different parts of the sun, different times of the day where the sun hits it differently.”

They have dreams of expanding their business into a nationwide franchise.

“We definitely have plans of expanding,” Sierra said. “Not only here on this property, building more and more structures but we have plans to purchase neighboring properties as well but even beyond that I would love to see us in other states.”

Before they expand outside of Florida, they want to expand their own line of products and start offering home baked goods.

“I’m really excited about products that we have to come,” Sierra said. “We’re going to do baked goods and maybe skin care products and things like that.”

Their investor, Jessica Bellman, is fully supportive of their endeavors and points out the passion they have for the business.

“I think Dirty Girl Farming has not only a passion,” said Bellman. “But an interest in the education and putting healthy food on family tables.”

For more information or to purchase their products, you can visit their website at www.dirtygirlfarming.com.

Campus safety event with USFPD encourages awareness

The University of South Florida hosted a brand new event, National Campus Safety Day, on Sept. 28 that highlighted campus safety awareness.

Multiple organizations such as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department and the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue came out. The idea of the event was to demonstrate awareness to the citizens of Hillsborough County.

“What we hope is that the police alone, the fire alone, the first responders can’t be always everywhere they need to be all the time,” said USF Police Chief, Chris Daniel. “By educating our community, that makes everybody part of the solution.”

The event lasted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and was full of students looking to participate. Demonstrations such as CPR with just your hands and how a police K-9 takes someone down were just a few on scene.

“This way there’s an incentive to listen to the information and to meet different people that you ordinarily would not meet,” Daniel said.

For more information regarding campus safety, visit USF’s annual security report and safety guide.

Local Junior College Begining to Make its Mark

Led by recruiting coordinator Antonio Nelson and starting quarterback Brandon Conner, the Gattaca Junior College football program, a local Tampa Bay junior college, is making a name for itself.

Entering only its third season of football, GJC is striving to not only win games on the field, but develop the character of its players off the field as well.

“How to treat people, uh, be respectable, yes sir no sir,” Nelson said. “Just become a better young man overall.”

Located in Tampa, GJC offers full-time college credit classes online as well as in person at Hillsborough Community College campuses.

“That’s not only on the field, its off the field,” Conner said. “it taught me a lot, honestly like, but being a man is number one you know it’s time to step into the real world.”

As the recruiting coordinator, Nelson has the responsibility of bringing talented young men to the program. One of the main recruiting tools that GJC uses to keep in touch with recruits is the use of social media.

“Right now our biggest hit is Facebook,” Nelson said. “We get a lot of kids from the Facebook page.”

Although being a Florida-based program, GJC still travels all over the east coast to play other junior college opponents.

“We travel all over,” Nelson said. “We travel to Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.”

Gattaca started its program in August 2013 and will travel to Kentucky this season for the first time in school history.

 

 

 

College tuition hinders student success

Michelle Fernandez, a first-generation Cuban-American, hopes to be the first one in her family to graduate from college but with the high cost of tuition that may not be a possibility.

Fernandez, a sophomore at the University of Tampa majoring in Biology, has had to acquire two jobs in order to pay the university’s high tuition rate.

“I went to college thinking that it was going to be difficult because of the coursework but I never really expected the cost of tuition to be as big of a factor as it is,” Fernandez said. “I realize I go to a private university, but the cost of school can be a huge distraction from actual school work and scholarships are never really as easy to get as people make them out to be.”

Currently, student debt has skyrocketed to new heights. According to findings by the Federal Reserve, as recent as March, student debt in the U.S. has reached about $1.2 trillion across the board.

With the upcoming election, this issue has become even more pressing. Politicians on both sides are trying to come up with a reasonable solution. For instance, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is in favor of eliminating college tuition, stating that he believes a college education should be free in the U.S.

This idea may seem radical to many people at first, but many universities in the U.S. previously operated in such a manner. Currently, a small portion of universities does not charge tuition. These universities still may charge for things such as room and board, but tuition is not included.

However, not all students find the cost of tuition to be an issue. Both sides of the spectrum are equally represented when it comes to this particular issue.

“I am personally from Jamaica and I know that some people that are from the U.S. might find the tuition expensive, but for international students like me, it is worth it to get the experience of going to school in the United States,” Wainwright Heron, a senior at the University of South Florida majoring in economics, said. “For the opportunity to get a quality education abroad, I see no issue with paying the cost.”

Even at schools where tuition is charged there are alternatives to paying out of pocket. Most universities offer programs such as federal work study, grants, and scholarships in order to ease the financial burden on students.

“The controversy over making universities tuition-free is not holistically an economic one but rather the monetary aspect is a portion of a greater issue,” Javier Rodriguez, an economist, said. “By making tuition free to everyone, unfortunately, we would be devaluing the merit of earning a degree. A college degree would be as useful as a high school diploma.”

There are many issues that impact students from homesickness to depression, and the cost of tuition is another one of these problems for some. Fernandez said the best thing she can do is to remain positive.

“The best case scenario would be for me to graduate and find a good enough job to pay back all my debt and still have enough money to live comfortably,” Fernandez said. “I just have to keep my eyes on the prize.”

A cappella group increases presence at USF

A new performance organization has made a name for itself at the University of South Florida. The women’s a cappella group, officially called Rocky’s Angels, formed because of three USF students, but has grown to have 16 members.

All the Angels have a passion for singing, but most have never participated in a student-run collegiate organization before. Rocky’s Angels has provided them with a space to share their love with each other.

“I’m looking just to be in a place where everyone likes to sing, and I like to sing,” said new member, Daniris Ocasio. “I’m just looking for a friendship, community kind of thing.”

Even though Rocky’s Angels has only been around since the fall of 2015, students around campus are already familiar with their performances. In the spring of 2016, the Angels decided to participate in an annual philanthropy event hosted by Theta Chi fraternity, “Singing for Shriners.”

“We helped them close the show and performed two of our songs from last year’s repertoire,” said executive director and founder, Justine Cardenas. “It was a lot of fun, and I think we’re going to do it again this year.”

All of this hard work is just practice for the Angels, who hope to attend the 14th annual SoJam A Cappella Festival in Atlanta, Georgia in November. While spending the weekend at the festival, Rocky’s Angels will be primarily viewing performances and studying how the other organizations plan and execute their sets.

With the women’s dedication and desire to leave a legacy at USF, there is no doubt that Rocky’s Angels will soon be performing competitively, thus gathering more support and providing more students with the opportunity to share their love for singing for years to come.

Kayaks Allow for Interaction with Wildlife on Weeki Wachee River

The Kayak Shack is a small business that is located on the Weeki Wachee river. Visitors from all over the world come to The Kayak Shack to visit the crystal clear spring. One can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The Kayak Shack has been operating since 2009. Owners Jonathon and Amber Cone have been running this small business since its inception.

“[When] we started out we weren’t running our shuttles to the top of the river.” said Jonathon Cone. “It was mainly beach people coming over from Rogers Park to rent kayaks here; they would do it hourly…and started out with 16 boats and absolutely…this entire area has gotten extremely popular; …each summer it’s busier and busier; spring break and even the winters are…starting to pick up.”

Now, they have two transportation buses and over 30 kayaks to rent out.

Once you’ve rented one of their boats, they transport you to the top of the river. Then, paddle about five miles back to The Kayak Shack where your car is parked.

While paddling along the river one may many fish, birds, and perhaps even a manatee.

“We see manatees to the point where you’re kinda used to those, even though they are really cool,” said employee Jason Burry.

You can also go swimming in the nearly constant 72-degree water, jump out of trees or swing on a rope swing.

Visit their website or call and make a reservation in order to schedule a rental.

website: www.weekiwacheekayakrental.com
phone: (352) 610-4169

Paralympic Sports Program Motivates Locals

 

Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay is a program of Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation with the mission to promote health, independence and personal growth through sports for people with physical disabilities.

Andy Chasnoff started the program 15 years ago and he, with the help of this staff, focused his time helping people reach their maximum potential in sports.

“We focus on their ability and not their disability,” Chasnoff said.

Logan Krepop, 14, is a student at Manatee School of the Arts and has been a member of Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay for the past two years.

“It’s a great experience with kids with my disability to throw the discus and do a bunch of sports with the kids that are like  them,” Krepop said. “It’s really nice.

Travis Leigh, 33, has cerebral palsy, but feels like everyone else. He is grateful the paralympic events in the area, because they were not around when he was young.

Members of the Paralympic Sport Tampa Bay are competing in local and national competitions. Over 300 athletes participate in at least one PSTB program or event each year.

“Well first I’m going to try and go to the Adaptive Sports National Championship and then once I get older, going to train up for the Paralympics,”said Krepop.

Social Media helps small business thrive

Local business owner Dee Laskowski is using technology to her advantage. She advertises her business products through social media sites including Facebook, Instagram and Etsy.

Laskowski and her husband own a small craft business called We Sell Sea Shells and More. She crotchets mermaid dolls in the comfort of her own home.

“I crochet the head and the body and I do it in custom colors so people can order whatever colors they would like,” Laskowski said.

Each mermaid doll costs about $45 depending on how customized the purchaser wants it to be. A lot of hard work goes into making the dolls and it takes an average of three days to make one.

“It takes about two hours to cut the yarn and put it on the doll’s head,” crafter Liana Laskowski said.

Laskowski advertises her business on social media sites including Facebook and Instagram. Recently she created a business account on Etsy, a popular crafting website.

“It seems like a lot of small businesses, craft businesses and baking businesses are using social media sites in this manner and getting orders that way,” Laskowski said, “there’s generally a website associated with the account where they can click on the link and go to that account to make purchases.”

Social media has become a prevalent part of today’s society. With Apple’s recent release of the iPhone 7, technology continues to change our everyday lives.

Millennials Will Be The Deciding Vote

Millennials get a bad rep and have been called the “narcissistic generation.” Campaigns do not depend on the millennial vote although they could actually be one of the most important demographics to target. The rising cost of college education and the labor market affects this generation, causing millennials to be concerned about their futures.

According to the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, 22-23 million young Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election Millennials currently make up the same proportion of the U.S. voting-age population as the baby boomers.

“That’s why Romney lost because Romney lost the youth vote and so, therefore, lost the general election,” said Chairman of the USF Republicans, Georgia Pevy. “We’re a big swing category. If people don’t focus on us, then they’re not going to win.”

More than ever, politics are gaining popularity on social media as candidates are trying to reach young voters, and while there has been the notion that millennials are apathetic towards public affairs, they are projected to make up 40 percent of the eligible voters by 2020, as per the Center for American Progress.

eVolunteers and polling center employees encourage voter participation and give a rousing ovation to first time voters.

The 22-23 million millennials who voted in 2012 make up nearly half of eligible young people. This year more is expected to take part and engage in the elections.

“There’s a lot of them, and if they did turn out, it would be a big deal,” Pevy said.

Local Photography Studio Captures Memories

Senior year of high school is best described as bittersweet: happy times mixed with sad. Mojo Studios is a professional photography business owned by Patrick Myers, which specializes in capturing the happy memories through a lens.

“We really focus on our customers and make each photo shoot unique to every individual,” Myers said. “That is what really sets us apart from every other photography business.”

Located in Wesley Chapel, Mojo Studios is family-owned and has proudly supported customers all over the Tampa Bay area over the last eight years.

He compares their likeness to that of the restaurant business, saying they’re similar to a steakhouse, suggesting that their higher prices come with a higher quality.

Wharton High School senior, Katy Kipp is beyond happy with making the decision to get her picture taken by Myers.

“I would highly recommend Mojo Studios because it’s just like you’re own personal photo experience that you wouldn’t get with any other photographer.”

The school year is just getting under way, but Kipp wanted to get her pictures done before the school year comes to an end. She said she first heard about Mojo Studios through social media.

“I got super jealous of all the pictures on Instagram and told my mom I wanted to schedule an appointment.”

For more information, visit their company website at www.mojo-studios.com, or call (813)-774-9444.

 

 

Girls on the Run Empowering, Educating Life Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Focus News Brief Oct. 12, 2016

In this episode: the Florida voter registration deadline is extended until Tuesday the 18th; Hillsborough and Pinellas counties make a nationwide list of of counties with the most death sentences, according to a Harvard report; the ride-sharing company Uber is partnering with the Tampa Bay Lightning for an exclusive pick-up lane; Halloween costume stores are stocking up on presidential candidate masks.

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Trinity Cafe helps people in need in more ways than one

Trinity Cafe is a nonprofit restaurant in Tampa that serves meals to the hungry and food insecure — people who are not sure where their next meal is coming from.

“I can tell you what it’s not,” Don Gould, a volunteer manager, said. “It’s not a soup kitchen.”

Trinity is open every day of the year. The cafe is able to run smoothly with the help of 32 volunteers per day, as well as grants and donations from the community. The staff prides themselves on being able to set Trinity apart from other restaurants of its kind by the way they treat their guests.

“Their motto is to serve with dignity, kindness and respect,” Ellen Wolfe, a three year volunteer, said. “Why this place is different is because we want to pat them on the back, we want to hear their story, we want to love them.”

Guests at Trinity Cafe receive a three-course meal and a volunteer host at their table. The host’s job is to sit with the guests and have a conversation with them. Last year, 10,690 volunteers helped serve 99,222 meals. Trinity served their one millionth meal last year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to a retired policeman and military veteran named John.

“For the people that we serve, it’s priceless,”said Gould. “There’s a huge hunger need across the country, especially in Hillsborough County.”

Trinity Cafe has been serving meals for 15 years. A second location, Trinity 2, will open on Busch Boulevard this year.