Florida Focus 03-24-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: A Bradenton man was murdered in his home this morning; A plane crashed into the back porch of a Citrus County home; Clearwater Police make an arrest for the 2006 murder of a security guard; SeaWorld is taking on their critics with an aggressive new ad campaign; More headaches for commuters in Tampa.

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Florida Focus 03-19-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: A murder case that opened almost 30 years ago closed today; A fire ripped through an apartment complex in Tampa; A Bay Area city wants to ban e-cigarettes in Citrus County buildings; A new bill is proposed that would allow liquor to be sold in Florida grocery stores; USF is ranked number two in overall performance for the second straight year; A rescued manatee is returned to its home.

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Florida Focus 03-10-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: Florida is the latest victim of a cyber security attack, the USF School of Mass Communications is receiving a 10 million dollar gift, police are searching for a suspect who attempted to kidnap a boy, deputies are conducting a murder investigation in Pasco county, and the Florida Aquarium is celebrating their 20th anniversary.

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Video: For Thelma Thompson, family is top priority

Thelma Thompson has demonstrated during the past three decades that family is the most important thing in her life.

Without hesitation, the Temple Terrace resident has seemingly always put her needs aside to help the ones she loves.

It started, Thompson said, after realizing her two grandchildren were not being cared for properly. Thompson — along with her late husband — decided to take on the challenging task of raising them.

But it wasn’t easy.

In 1985, when her husband became paralyzed from the neck down, Thompson faced the difficult reality that she would have to be the sole provider for the family in addition to raising the two children and caring for her husband.

“A lot of worry went through my mind,” Thompson recalled. “How was I going to take care of him? How was I going to meet my bills, since his pay was no longer there? How was I going to take of these two babies? But it all seemed to work out.”

Despite the struggles she faced, Thompson continued to help those in need. Her loving demeanor also drew in several troubled children outside her family.

Thompson received financial and physical aid from her daughter and son-in-law.

“I’ve always taken in kids who seemed to have problems. … ” Thompson said. “I guess it turned out to be between five and 10 kids that I have taken care of that were not mine in any shape or form.”

Nikki James, Thompson’s granddaughter, said she and her younger brother could have potentially lived drastically different lives if it weren’t for Thompson’s generosity.

“They (Thompson and her husband) were always there, and they took me in when the younger parents couldn’t handle the responsibility, and they have made a huge difference in my life,” James said.

Though there were plenty of hardships along the way, Thompson, now 80, said she always remained upbeat.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.

From Immokalee to USF: One Student’s Story of Academic Success

TAMPA – From the fields of Immokalee to the State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Marcos Gonzalez has had quite the journey. Gonzalez had the chance to share his life story in front of the Florida House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Gonzalez grew up in a poor migrant worker family but excelled in school and earned a scholarship to the University of South Florida.

Gonzalez, a third-year student double majoring in accounting and economics, is set to graduate a year early with two bachelor’s degrees as part of USF’s Provost’s Scholars Program.

“You really kind of step back and evaluate your whole  situation and say, ‘Maybe I’m doing something right,’” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has a keen interest in global affairs. He studied abroad three times, traveled the world in 80 days and founded the International Student Association at USF.

“The concept behind it was to create an umbrella organization to kind of bring together all of the cultures represented at USF and to give international students a voice,” Gonzalez said.

USF jump roper doesn’t let injury hinder competitive spirit

TAMPA — From playgrounds to gyms, people of all ages jump rope for fun and fitness. Graduate student Kaylee Couvillion, however, combines both aspects as a competitive jump roper.

Couvillion, a graduate assistant in the University of South Florida’s Exercise Science Program, has been jumping rope for over 15 years. Having competed all over the U.S. and abroad, Couvillion’s jump roping career was halted when she was injured during a complex trick in November.

“I was on the very bottom level of this big multilayered trick that was happening,” she said. “The ropes missed, and then the next thing I know, the back foot got landed on by the guy on the top of the trick.”

Couvillion tore her plantar fascia and injured her big toe, leaving her unable to jump rope for two months. In addition to not being able to jump, she feared what her injury would mean for her as a graduate assistant teaching Boot Camp Fitness.

One of Couvillion’s students, Norma Cacho, was nervous when she saw her instructor in a boot on the first day of class.

“I was a bit skeptical of her at first,” Cacho said. “I mean, how much could she really teach us with a boot on her foot? Kaylee definitely proved me wrong. She would do pushups, lunges, and a bunch of workouts better than any of us — and we weren’t injured.”

Almost three months after her injury, Couvillion is slowly jumping back into the game. She even has her eyes on a jump rope competition in Orlando this July.

“I want to compete at least one more time,” Couvillion said. “Maybe more after that. It just depends on how my body holds up.”

Florida Focus 03-18-2015

In this Florida Focus Education Brief: Tampa Bay classrooms are switching to a “flipped” structure; A local after-school program is giving students a push in the right direction; Hillsborough County high school students are taking accountability for low graduation rates.

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Florida Focus 03-17-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: A shooting at a Tampa Red Roof Hotel is still being investigated; Credit card skimming devices have been spotted at Bay Area gas stations; Robbers tried to pull off a smash and grab at a Tampa Heights storefront; Bogus bingo halls are busted in Manatee County; The USF Women’s Basketball Team made the NCAA cut.

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Clearwater swimmer Sidney Pickrem commits to making Canadian Olympic team

Sidney Pickrem has taken her sport of swimming to an elite level most people could only dream about.

She is an eight-time Florida state champion and is training to make the Canadian National Team. In about 10 months, she hopes to fulfill her ultimate dream, making the Canadian Olympic team. If she makes the team, she will compete with the best in the world in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Swimming has been the biggest part of my life,” Pickrem said. “I started when I was 6 years old. I always enjoyed pushing myself. I like the fact that it is a sport in which you don’t have to depend on anyone but yourself.”

There is no off-season in swimming. It is a year-round, intense training schedule with nine practices a week, two of them beginning at 4:45 a.m. Sticking to this schedule is physically and mentally challenging. However, the payoff is part of making your dreams come true. In Pickrem’s case, this includes getting a full scholarship at Texas A&M.

“Coaching an athlete like Sidney makes coaching fun. You can give her any workout, and you know she will give it her all. A lot of kids in the sport these days are not willing to do that. “

Pickrem is expected to qualify as the No. 1 seed in both the 200IM and the 400IM. She is also hoping to make the team in one of her off events, which is the 200 Freestyle.

Bloomingdale High softball athlete finds her true swing in golf

Elizabeth Jackson is a two-sport athlete whose future career could have swung one of two ways.

A senior shortstop in her fourth season at Bloomingdale High School, Jackson helped guide her team to the Class 8A State Softball Championship last year, leading the team with 38 hits and 24 home runs scored to a 27-2 record. Jackson  was named to the First Team of All-Hillsborough County Softball Team.

“It’s pretty amazing to have an opportunity to coach a player of her caliber,” said Mark Braddy, head coach of the Bloomingdale Bulls softball team.  “There are very few that come along, so I’m happy to have her.”

Jackson’s talent doesn’t stop at the softball field.  She is also an avid golfer.  She turned down an opportunity to play softball at the University of Arkansas to accept a golf scholarship to Daytona State.

“It was a really tough choice. Softball is different.  There’s only so far you can go with college,” Jackson said. “There’s really no pro league after that.  But for golf, you can make it so much farther, play in the LPGA, and ultimately, I’ve always wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world.”

Jackson wants to finish her softball career competing for the state championship once more. In six games this season, the Bulls are 5-1.  Jackson is hitting an astounding .615 with 8 hits and 9 runs scored.

“I really hope that we can repeat the state title again.  It’s probably a long shot, but we have a really strong team with a bunch of new incoming freshmen that replaced the seniors last year, and I think our shots are pretty good to go to states again,” Jackson said.

Tampa Bay area doctor’s service to kids helps create future healthcare professionals

It started 10 years ago when a Tampa Bay area doctor began giving back to underserved children.

For Dr. Dexter Frederick, a primary care physician at Bayside Clinic, passion to create the next generation of excellent healthcare professionals motivated him to found the B.E.S.T program.

“The B.E.S.T program is actually my story where I had the dream of becoming a doctor one day,” said Frederick. “B.E.S.T is an opportunity for me to give of service of what I have gotten through.”

B.E.S.T stands for Brain Expansion Scholastic Training. Frederick developed the program to put middle- and high-school students on track for academic success in service and health care.

The Tampa Bay Lightning crowned him as a community hero and donated $50,000 to the B.E.S.T. program.

“It’s people in the community that made me a community hero,” said Frederick. “Without sponsors, parents, volunteers and dedicated students, I would not be a community hero.”

Partnerships with local hospitals, resource centers, medical schools and community members help the program run smoothly.

Frederick’s knowledge, determination and professionalism attract many volunteers to help middle- and high-school students accomplish their dreams.

“Dr. Frederick is the man; he is the go to person for everything — for medical knowledge, for community knowledge,” said Tiffany Smith-Sutton. “He has a true passion to help the students, and that is what brings me to B.E.S.T to volunteer.”

Frederick is a native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has two daughters, but his wife insists that he has also fathered the B.E.S.T program.

Despite being busy as a primary care physician, he will always find time to serve and to give back to the community.

“It’s a need, it’s necessary and it should be done,” said Frederick.

Since the inception of the program, more than 100 students have graduated.

The program is in session year-round, and parents who seek to enroll their children must apply through the organization’s website.

Frederick holds parents and volunteers meetings every two weeks at Florida Hospital Tampa on Fletcher Avenue.

Jamaal Hardee, a USF medical student, has been working with Frederick and the B.E.S.T program since 2013. He praises Frederick for his mentorship and dedication to service and for ensuring children’s futures are bright.

“As a student physician, Dr. Frederick is a role model and mentor that teaches me the importance of giving back to the community,” said Hardee.

 

Passion for music drives USF Drumline member

Freshman business major Tom Kelly attends the University of South Florida, but outside of the classroom, it’s all about the music.

“My favorite part about music is that there is a certain part of it that can express feelings better than any kind of words can, and something about that interests me,” Kelly said.

Kelly plays tenor drums for the USF Herd of Thunder Marching Band. Over the past year, Kelly has learned to multitask and adapt to the challenge of learning a new show each week of the season.

“Tom picks up music really well,” Kelly’s section leader, Marlon Rosenow, said. “We tell him to get something, and he gets it in the next rep or the next day. That’s pretty incredible, I think.”

Outside of school and the marching band, Kelly writes music and has a part-time job at a local hospital. His involvement in the marching band has made dealing with all of these things much easier.

“I’ve seen my grades do well,” Kelly said. “I can multitask well, and it’s given me a creative outlet.”

After he graduates, Kelly will continue to be involved in music.

“Music until I die,” he said.

Keiser student and nurse balances school with passion for weaponry

One wonders just how much Louis Garcia knows about firearms. His vast knowledge does not cover just guns — it covers all weapons, right down to the primitive bow and arrow.

“The first time I was introduced to a gun, actually, was around 10 years old,” Garcia said. “It was when I went with my father hunting, which has also been a favorite pastime and hobby of mine.”

Garcia, an outdoorsy guy, has honed his skills and developed an impressive vocabulary when speaking about weapons big and small.

“I look at weapons the same way I look at tools,” Garcia said. “They’re lethal, but they’re still tools, mechanisms. And since my father introduced me to them, I’ve been very careful with them.”

Garcia is also a full-time college student and a nurse. He loves what he does and invites the challenges that arise with the rigorous curriculum.

“As a full-time student, I do have to focus more on, of course, studies and put all of my hobbies on the back burner,” he said.

But what attracts him to nursing, a profession that requires patience, love for people and compassion?

“It’s strange to me that he can hunt and fish, but at the same time love people and really care about them and (help) them out,” said his mother, Kathy Zackal.

Garcia said: “It is a job that is not only rewarding, but I also get to be a scientist. We are scientists as much as we are caregivers.”

He plans to graduate this spring from Keiser University.

USF Student Shares love for Juggling in Objects in Motion Club

Joseph Lawlor, the president of the Objects in Motion student organization, brought his hobby of juggling to the University of South Florida three years ago, and he plans to keep it alive on campus for years to come.

Lawlor, a USF senior and electrical engineering major, began juggling during his sophomore year of high school. He was assigned a project in his English class that required him to learn a new hobby and write in a journal about his experiences. He considered picking up break dancing at first, but when he saw one of his friends juggling at a party, he decided to give it a shot.

“I picked it up weirdly fast and thought the whole idea of object manipulation was so cool and different,” said Lawlor. “I just started to really love everything about it.”

When Lawlor came to USF in 2011, he and Jesse Lutz, a fellow student and juggler, sought to form a student organization where other jugglers and students interested in learning could meet, practice and grow as a group. This resulted in the formation of the Juggling Awareness Society at USF.

With the growth of student interest in other types of object manipulation, Lawlor renamed the Juggling Awareness Society to the Objects in Motions club to cater to a wider range of interests. Today, Objects in Motion is a community of jugglers, hula hoopers, poi spinners, unicyclists and slack liners who collaborate to teach and learn from each other on campus during weekly meetings.

“Joseph and the other members have taught me that hooping is a way to harmonize your mind, body and spirit,” said Brianna Privateer, USF psychology major and member of Objects in Motion. “It’s like a peaceful meditation, and the possibilities are endless.”

Lawlor welcomes students of any age, experience and interest to join the club. Objects in Motion hosts weekly meetings every Thursday from 8-10 p.m., Monday from 2-4 p.m. and Tuesday from 5-7 p.m. outside of the USF library.

Lawlor says that the most interesting place that juggling has ever taken him was to a juggling camp in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania last summer. He worked as a driver at the camp and taught a juggling class for one period a day, but spent all his free time with the camp’s trapeze group. Here he met and shared stories with a group of international jugglers from France, Spain, England and Australia.

Lawlor wants to continue juggling as a sport and a passion. But above all, he wants to keep the sport of juggling alive in the USF community by continuing the Objects in Motion club for years to come.

“I really love Objects in Motion just as much as I love juggling, and I want to keep that going forever,” said Lawlor. “Giving the art of juggling its own organization has been the best decision I’ve made since I’ve been at USF and has proven to be the easiest way to meet the most interesting people out there.”

USF student hopes to start henna tattoo business at Bull Market

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A University of South Florida psychology major is hoping to launch a professional henna tattooing business that will allow her to provide her fellow students a way to express themselves through body art every Wednesday at Bull Market.

Taylor Hlavacek, 20, became interested in henna tattoos through her friend in high school. She thought they looked cool and figured her cake-decorating skills would come in handy, since the techniques and tools are similar to those that are typically used in henna.

“I like henna tattoos because I can do my own designs,” Hlavacek said. “It’s painless, it’s quick, but it lasts for a while so I can easily get a good variety.”

Henna refers to the powdered leaves of a tropical shrub that are used as a dye to color the hair and decorate the body. It is also known as a form of temporary tattooing.

Hlavacek’s peers quickly began to notice her ever-changing body art and wondered if she was in business to do some for them. Samantha Kelleher, USF student and a friend of Hlavacek’s, has been continuously trying to persuade her to do one for her.

“I thought they looked awesome and wanted her to do one for me,” Kelleher said. “I would gladly pay her if they looked just as good as the ones she has.”

At the time, Hlavacek wasn’t interested in starting her own business, but with the amount of attention she was getting, the idea began to grow on her. She soon found herself researching how to make it happen.

“I plan on opening a side business pretty soon,” Hlavacek said. “Though I wasn’t going to at first, a lot of USF students were coming up to me and asking me if I could do henna tattoos for them and how much I charged. So I decided it would be a good idea to open up a little side business, and if it were to ever grow into something legitimate then that would be amazing.”

Creating a successful business while studying for classes is easier said than done. No matter how difficult it may seem, Hlavacek has figured out a way to create the exposure needed in order to bring her henna business to the next level.

“First, I want to make a Facebook page and an Instagram account specifically for my henna tattoos,” Hlavacek said. “I have already received a lot of positive feedback on social media. I also want to become affiliated with USF and (hopefully) work at the Bull Market doing henna tattoos for people. With any luck, this will help me with marketing and my clientele base as well.”

Bull Market provides a great deal of exposure with its location at the Marshall Student Center Plaza.

“Exposure would be my top goal,” Hlavacek said. “I think being able to do these tattoos, especially without using any stencils or designs that are pre-made, is a pretty unique skill to have. I think I can get this exposure through Bull Market because there are always students by MSC. I think I could have a lot of success here.”

Though Bull Market would help raise the level of exposure, it may not help raise the level of success. Henna may be a growing form of temporary tattooing but, according to Hlavacek, some people may think that henna tattoos aren’t for them, which may cause a lack of customers.

“Some people don’t like henna tattoos because they believe they’re not real tattoos, that you don’t have to go through the pain and time in order to earn the right to wear the art on your body,” Hlavacek said. “But the nice thing about henna is that it’s not permanent, so if you mess up it’s not a big deal. There’s going to be people that think its dumb, but for some people it’s a better option and it’s a nice way to make a short commitment to a piece of art you have on your body.”

Hlavacek hopes to have her own henna tattoo booth in Bull Market within the upcoming weeks. Her prices will range from $5 to $20 depending on the complexity and size of the design. She will also offer a special $25 deal that promises customers a new, one-of-a-kind design, which she assures will be their own unique work of art.

Goodwill Manasota Vice President Makes Impact in Manatee/Sarasota Area

 

Veronica Miller is many things. She is a vice president, philanthropist and graphic designer.  She is now the vice president of the foundation for Goodwill Manasota in the Manatee/Sarasota area. She has been working in the nonprofit sector for 25 years , four of which she has spent with Goodwill.

“I have the best job. I get to help promote the mission. That could be through talking to donors, talking to companies and getting them to want to become our partners and sponsor us,” Miller said.

For her, something crazy is always happening. Most recently, it was the Mardi Gras event held annually by the foundation.

“It was actually the 10th anniversary for Goodwill’s Mardi Gras. The former CEO’s sister runs the Goodwill in Louisiana, and after Hurricane Katrina, they lost a lot,” Miller said.

Since then, the foundation holds this event every year to raise money to help Goodwill in Louisiana, raising nearly $150,000 just this year.

When Miller is not working, she enjoys traveling and bike riding.  She and her husband have traveled around the world to places such as the city of Budapest.

Miller’s employees have nothing but good things to say about her.

“I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the short time that I’ve been here. And that’s because of Veronica,”said Kelly Strausbaugh, the marketing and PR coordinator.” Everbody loves her in the community. She’s very philanthropic. She’s good at cultivating people and getting them involved in something and making them feel a part of what we’re involved in.”

 

Lithia Native’s Cracker Town Gives Visitors Taste of Florida’s History

Architect, antiques collector, educator, and Lithia native Billy Wayne Allen is no ordinary 70-year-old. He has spent the past four years building a piece of Florida history with his own hands, all to preserve a dying lifestyle. His historic Cracker Town sits on the border of his yard, complete with a church, house, meal house, general store, dining pavilion, blacksmith shop, and even an outhouse.

“It’s more or less a love offering so people who are coming up nowadays can see how their grandparents and great-grandparents lived.” Allen said.

Allen’s family says this handmade Cracker Town is a reflection of Allen.

“There’s nothing plastic about him,” his sister Gerry said. “What you see is what you get. If the president were to drive up here right now, he’d be the same.”

“He’s got a real big heart for people,” his sister Betty said. “When he started building this place he didn’t know when to stop.”

Linda Allen, Billy’s wife, recalls that the project immediately took hold of her husband when it first began.

“Some people that own a saw mill across the woods from us gave him some free lumber. And he didn’t know what he was going to do with it. He said, ‘I’m just gonna build a little house out there,’ but it kept getting bigger and bigger.”

She, too, believes that the Cracker Town encompasses Billy Allen’s character.

“As they say, when he was born I truly believe they threw away the mold. Because every day of my life he says something different that surprises me that I have never heard before,” Linda said.

Those interested in visiting Billy and Linda to witness Florida’s history can call 813-758-4570 to schedule.

Muslim Students at USF Face Additional Scrutiny and Hardship

For third-year student Majid Almasri, being international has never been easy. Being Muslim has made his journey even harder, especially considering the recent rise in terrorist events.

“I came here three years ago to study, and being an Arab made it hard,” said Majid Almasri. “How you’re treated here depends on the community and your level of education.”

Being raised in the small country of Oman, not far from Dubai, Almasri was often warned about what to expect from Americans and their limited knowledge about his country. Although he took heed, he remained optimistic and hopeful about his journey.

“My family and friends warned me every day before I left that things were going to change, but of course you can’t be sure until you experience it for yourself,” said Almasri.

If being stereotyped for being Muslim wasn’t hard enough, Almasri and others like him now have to deal with possibly being looked at as a target and not just as a threat. Even though the Muslim community as a whole is not responsible for terrorist acts, some feel the results of unjust scrutiny and judgment.

“I think if it was role reversed, no one would be saying it was over a parking spot; it would be a hate crime,” said Jessica Brightman, adviser for international students.

The lack of coverage may raise some concerns, leaving some wondering whether college campuses are safe for Muslim students anymore.

“Campus was the one place I was comfortable. Now I see hate can happen anywhere,” said Almasri. “I’m not afraid, but I am aware.”

With so much going on and so little knowledge as to how or why, all there is left to do is seek justice and from there hope to gain equality.

 

Future of Tampa Bay’s estuaries will be decided in the USF area

Just a few miles from the USF campus, a careful balancing act between the upper and lower portions of the dam in the Hillsborough Reservoir could decide the future of Tampa Bay’s ecosystem.

Nearly 80 percent of Hillsborough county water bodies are polluted beyond a threshold of acceptable contamination and have been classified as “impaired,” meaning local agencies have a legal obligation to keep an eye on pollution and the environment pursuant to the standards in the Clean Water Act.

But with water management agencies stretched thin, crucial reports on projects, like the efficacy of a hotly debated minimum flow requirement for the lower Hillsborough River, are behind schedule trying to keep up with enforcement and also reporting on urbanity’s impacts on the ecosystem.

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