Local boutique dresses women for success, teaches them to succeed

On North Howard Avenue hides a closet haven for Tampa women. Dress for Success of Tampa Bay is a non-profit organization that provides women with the attire for a professional career and the confidence as well.

The women of Dress for Success give women confidence, support and the little push needed to get women into the workforce.

“Most people know us for giving out suits, but we do more than that. We give out the suits, but we also give women hope,” said Katie McGill, executive director.

Dress for Success offers a 9-week career program called the “Going Places Network” which is for unemployed women seeking employment. During those nine weeks the participants have three mock interviews, a job coach and resume building classes. Along with building career skills, the program also increases the women’s confidence.

“It’s amazing! We are at over 83% placement. And what I see, they come in and it’s the confidence. They had no confidence and the self-esteem is low. And by the end of that nine weeks, when they have the graduation, they are totally different women,” said McGill.

After receiving her diploma Liliana–a recent graduate from the Going Places Network, expressed her appreciation and gratitude for Dress for Success during a speech she gave.

“The Going Places program has been exceptional. I did not know that programs like this existed before. I liked it so much I would like to repeat,” Liliana said.

Now  in its 17th year, Dress for Success Tampa Bay is looking forward to many more years of helping, empowering and giving back to the women of Tampa Bay.

“I love Dress for Success because I see how it really makes women feel and change. The whole thing is to empower them so they can empower someone else,” said McGill.






Hillsborough County residents are keeping our waterways clean one garbage bag at a time. Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful hosted their 28th annual cleanup of the Hillsborough River and coastal lines.

Thousands of volunteers came out to more than 80 Hillsborough County cleanup locations.

“We always have tremendous support,” said Tom Damico, environmental program coordinator at Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful. “We have so many school groups, church groups, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, and Eagle scouts interested in community service projects.”

When volunteers arrived at the Ben T. Davis Beach location they were given a free garbage bag, a pair of gloves, and a checklist. The volunteers were asked to check off any item they found and write in others that weren’t on the list. The top littered items were cigarette butts, bottle caps, plastic bags and beverage containers.

“At first I didn’t realize that all of these things would be on the list but as I looked around I was like ok, this is pretty common,” said Phillip Scott, a local volunteer. “I guess it was like an eye opener for me.”

Last year approximately 4000 volunteers helped collect more than 60,000 pounds of litter from more than 75 cleaning locations and waterways in Hillsborough County.

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful hosts two annual clean ups to benefit Hillsborough County. The Great American Clean Up in the spring and the River and Coastal cleanup in the fall. Even with those measures, there is still a tremendous amount of litter left.

“We have studies from the EPA that show that 80 percent of the litter that ends up in our neighborhoods, streets and roadways end up being washed into our waterways,” Damico said. “We’ve got to stop that cycle.”

For more information on upcoming clean ups and how to help keep Hillsborough County clean visit Keeptampabaybeautiful.org.


Company bridges gap between disabled people and employers

Randolph Link is no longer dealing with depression alone, he found The Diversity Initiative (TDI) and together they work on his confidence.

With several locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, TDI helps hundreds of people every year.

“Here it was very directed, they helped me with my resume, beef up my resume,” TDI client Randolph Link said. “And, they pointed me in the direction of companies that were really tailored made and suited for me. That’s why it was really good.”

Link recently closed his case successfully and now works from home in customer service.

“The ambition that a person has really dictates how well they are going to do, and I came in with a lot of ambition,” Link said. “And, they really helped me just by being there for me and helping me with my disabilities.”

TDI employment consultants work directly with their clients, helping them find a job.

“At least once a week, we have to coach them at work, we have to teach them how to be working, teach them how to wake up in the morning and take a shower and get up and go to work,” TDI Employment Consultant Margarita Rosario said.

According to Wallethub’s study, Tampa is ranked in the Top 10 for best cities for people with disabilities.

The process with a client at TDI consists of multiple professional workshops and educational programs.

“We can be working with them forever, or we can be working with them for two years,” Rosario said. “And, sometimes when they feel really comfortable they can be by themselves.”

This local organization financially secures its clients.

“So, it’s a good feeling to work and become tired from work, rather than just being tired because I’m depressed all the time,” Link said.

For more information, visit tdiworks.org

USF mascot a product of student petitioning

TAMPA, Fl.– Rocky D. Bull is an icon most known for his appearances at USF sporting events. The USF mascot’s history goes back some 50 years and is an essential piece of USF’s heritage, student life and athletic competitions.

“Higher-ups in the administration of USF wanted to have a mascot designated, so they left it up to the students,” USF Associate Librarian Andrew Huse said.

Students came forward with different suggestions including the Buccaneer, the Desert Rats and the Golden Brahman.

“A lot of people don’t know that Florida has a cattle history going back many centuries… and I think it was clear early on that the administration liked this one,” Huse said.

Conflict arose when the Buccaneer was the declared winner of the first student vote by a margin of three votes. Upon the naming committee’s discovery of a junior college in Pensacola already using the pirate as a mascot, a student petitioned for a referendum where the Golden Brahman Bull won.

When it comes to modern day Rocky, he is no longer a Brahman Bull. As just USF’s bull, he is now a nationally recognized mascot.

“Back in 2013 when Rocky won the Capital One Mascot challenge… It was a long season and every week we’d have to keep on voting and I remember by the end for our school to win, it was a big deal,” said USF cheerleader Heath Rinkus. “We were all really excited in the spirit department.”


USF dominates Florida A&M

The University of South Florida football team kicked off a brand new season against Florida A&M on Saturday. With a 51-3 win over the Rattlers, the Bulls’ new results have heightened fan expectations.

“Willie’s been working really hard with the team. It’s going to be really positive.” USF alumna Cara Zeph said. “I’m ready to see the student section this year. Hoping more fans come out!”

“It’s a great atmosphere. You guys put on a great show,” Bulls fan Matt Foy said. “We just need to start winning games. Like anything, when you start winning games, people come back and support your team.”

Support isn’t something the Bulls lacked at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night, with a full student section and a total of 30,434 people in attendance. Head coach Willie Taggart contributes some of the team’s victory to the support of the fans.

“That was big time. Best student section in the country. I’ll tell you what, that’s a big reason the guys played like they did,” Taggart said. “We intend on playing that way and keeping it that way. That’s how Ray Jay should be.”

USF won by its largest margin since a 54-24 win over the University of Texas at El Paso in 2011. Quarterback Quinton Flowers threw two touchdowns and ran for another, while Marlon Mack rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown.

“From what I saw today from our guys we’re ready to win. We’re tired of losing. That’s not South Florida,” Flowers said. “Coaches stress that every day. Let’s get us back to where we were. When tickets used to be sold out. We were going to bowl games. So that’s where we’re trying to get South Florida back at.”

Florida Focus: Busch Boulevard fatal accident, more

In this Florida Focus News Brief: a seventeen year old student dies after being hit by a car; the search is on for a driver accused of hitting and killing a man; Tampa has had six fire-related deaths in three months; a road rage confrontation lands one man behind bars and another in the hospital; Hurricane Joaquin has brought adoption-ready puppies to Florida; and a 40-year tradition is ending today under the Golden Arches.


University of South Florida game still remembered today

TAMPA- University of South Florida played in its biggest game over eight years ago when they played against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Sept. 28, 2007.

The Mountaineers were ranked No.5 in the country and the Bulls were coming off big wins against North Carolina and an over-time thriller at Auburn. Tickets for the game sold out fast. Tampa Bay officially had Bulls Fever.

“There are sell outs and there are legitimate sell outs,” Jim Louk said. “And this was a legitimate sell out. You could not find a seat.”

When game time came around, the stadium was filled to the brim, and the crowd made their presence known. Over 67,000 fans were at the game. It is still the largest crowd that has filled Raymond James Stadium that wasn’t a Super Bowl game.

As the game kicked off the crowd was loud. It was the loudest stadium USF ‘s Matt Grothe had ever been in.

The Mountaineers led in every offensive stat. They outgained the Bulls 437 to 274, led in time of possession and had more first downs, but the Mountaineers lost 21-13.

The game was strange, there was a combined 10 turnovers between the two teams. None bigger than USF Ben Moffit’s interception return for a touchdown.

Late in the last quarter, West Virginia’s Pat White dropped back to pass and was picked off by Moffit who took it for six points. The crowd exploded. Grothe said the crowd reached near seismic levels.

Both Louk and Grothe said the crowd was loudest when the game ended. Fans stormed the field.

USF had officially arrived. Grothe believed it was a turning point for the program.

“It was just the beginning of the next few years that made everybody think differently about USF,” Grothe said.

The bulls are far from the glory days and hope to get back to their short-lived success. The game still resonates for players and fans alike.





St. Pete Artists Paint the Town

Over the past two years, muralists Sebastian Coolidge and Chris Parks, also known as Pale Horse, have began to transform the city walls from a blank slate to vibrant, colorful pieces of art.

Coolidge has been a St. Petersburg resident since 2008, which is the same year he created his first mural. Since then, countless creations of his have made their way all over the city, and people constantly stop to admire his work.

“Sometimes I have no idea what I am going to paint until I get to the wall and have a brush in my hand,” Coolidge said.

The young artist, 26, did not go to school specifically for art, but he did always have a strong passion for it.

Another successful artist taking part in the creative community is Chris Parks. Parks attended the Ringling School of Art and Design, and he is now a graphic designer who works with major companies on a variety of works. He has several murals around the area as well which also get admired by the public.

“I love to explore. I travel to new countries all the time to learn and submerse myself in their culture so I can broaden my style.” Parks said.

While both artists have different varied backgrounds, they are both part of the same community and their artwork continues to leave a colorful and creative legacy on the walls of St. Petersburg.


Assault Survivor Empowers Women With Self-Defense


Hot Ninja Defenders creator, Caroline Portugal is changing the game for women empowerment throughout the area.

She has developed her own personal defense training specifically designed for women since she first started her business in 2013.

Portugal hosts everything from six week training courses, to personal training, to private women’s classes to teach women to protect themselves.

“Hot Ninja Defenders is a self defense course that I created specifically for women so that they can defend themselves if they were ever to be attacked,” Portugal said .

Her business was a success and made her Hot Ninja Defenders feel empowered, confident and most importantly, safe.

“Before taking these classes I had no idea how important it was to understand the technique behind it and it’s very important that women know these strategies,” gym goer, Bobbie Freitage said.

Portugal also hosts art classes and charity events to help raise money and awareness to women who have been personally affected by street assault.

“If one person comes out of this seminar utilizing one of the techniques that I taught them and it helped saved their life, then I know that what I do for a living is everything that I’ve always wanted to do,” Portugal said .

Find classes near you at ninjadefenders.com.

Chiari supporters walk for cure



Bay area residents flocked to Al Lopez Park Saturday to raise awareness for Chiari, a disease largely unrecognized by the medical community.

Conquer Chiari Walk Across America took place at over 85 locations across the country and raised a combined total of $750,000. 80 percent of the funds raised at the walk will be used to fund research.

“Every year I get the calls from people who have never had the chance to meet someone else with Chiari,” said Serenity Harper, the organizer of this year’s walk. “It’s a parent struggling with making a decision to have surgery for their child and this is a great outlet and time for them to talk to other parents or talk to another person with Chiari and feel like they are not alone.”

Harper said Chiari malformation has become a much bigger part of her life than she ever anticipated.

“I was diagnosed in 2002 and unfortunately both of my biological children also have Chiari,” said Harper.

Local walker, Kimmy Smith, was diagnosed last year. Smith said while Chiari may not be well known, it is estimated the disease affects 300,000 people in the U.S.

“It is a disorder, a defect neurologically where your brain is,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, (your brain) a little too big for your skull and it herniates out and presses on the spinal cord. It can block your CSF fluid and just causes pain, headaches, imbalance and it can have a big negative effect on your life.”

Smith and her family members participated in their first walk to raise money for Chiari research, but for the individuals affected by the disease, the sense of community is the biggest reward.

“Unless you’ve gone through something like this, it’s kind of hard to comprehend something like chronic pain,” said Smith. “So to just be surrounded by everybody just makes me really happy to know that there is just so much love and support for the community.”

Though perhaps no one knows the depths of the Chiari community like veteran walker Brittney Clark, whose team of 60 people raised over $3,000 this year. Clark has undergone four surgeries for Chiari, suffering a stroke in the last one. She is the epitome of the nickname “Chiari Warriors” given to survivors of the disease.

“I am out here at the walk every year trying to raise awareness,” said Clark. “To be able to come out and meet others with the disease, it was just amazing to not feel alone after all the years and to see others who have experienced the same things as me…it’s just priceless.”





USF student creates meaningful art

Inspiration takes people in many directions. When you mix it with raw talent, great things usually happen.

21-year-old Jeanine Patrick, a business marketing major at the University of South Florida, hails from Orlando, Florida. She has always been interested in art and creating.

“I’ve been doing art since I was a little kid, probably like five or six, but I began taking it serious four years ago when I entered college,” Patrick said.

Recently, her casual hobby has turned into something much bigger—6 feet, to be exact. Her paintings are large, detailed and filled with rich colors. Some pieces even have three-dimensional aspects.

Patrick uses oil paint to create her art on large canvases that she buys in stores or makes herself. The pieces range from tasteful nude portraits to conscious pieces about the criminal justice system.

“I gain inspiration from things I see in my daily life. My pieces are abstract with realist themes,” Patrick said.

Patrick’s work has been showcased locally in the Tampa Bay area through art galleries and live painting events. After graduation, she plans on creating art full time.



Florida Focus 09-29-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: a possible sinkhole opens up in Citrus County; 65 new jobs available in Riverview; Hillsborough County’s Transit Authority approves an $84 million budget; Sarasota police are investigating the death of a man who attempted to drive after being shot; a boat fire causes a fuel spill in Pinellas; National Coffee Day brings deals to Bay area coffee lovers.


Chasco Fiesta brings New Port Richey citizens together

Born in 1922, Chasco Fiesta has been a staple of Pasco County over the past hundred years. Citizens looked for a way to bring more families into the community while also raising money for the local library. New Port Richey’s first postmaster, Gerben DeVries, inspired by his love for the Indian tribes, created a fictional dance pageant. The event takes place right on the Pithlachascotee River in downtown New Port Rickey.

Chasco Fiesta features memorabilia from past events. They feature information on how it started, who started it, and what types of events were held in each fiesta.

The Chasco Fiesta today has a host of events during its 9-day annual calendar. Starting off with a street parade and ethnic dance with native counterparts and leads off with a carnival in downtown New Port Richey, giving families the opportunity to bring their kids down for some enjoyment.

Chasco Fiesta has many rides for families to come and enjoy. One of those rides includes the Sea Ray Orbiter ride.

Many large country talents have made their way through Chasco along their path to stardom. One in particular being country superstar Blake Shelton, who once performed at Chasco over a decade ago. Cami Austin, chairman of the steering committee, says, “We  pride ourselves on finding talent out there no one has heard of yet; it is what makes Chasco unique.”

Chasco Fiesta features live performances from country singers who are not yet well known. These performances are considered to be the thing to make Chasco unique.

Resident Tyler Letts describes Chasco as an event where all aspects of Pasco are brought into one place. “Holiday, New Port Richey and Trinity are all kind of broken up, so an event like this is really good to bring everyone in the community together”. When we talk about the community, Chasco does a great benefit for many local charitable organizations.

Chasco Fiesta celebrates all of the well known people in New Port Richey’s history; one of those well known people includes Dr. Edwin C. Brookman, one of New Port Richey’s first physicians in 1950. 

Austin describes Chasco as a “guardian angel” for some organizations because they rely on the funds they receive from Chasco to last them for their year-round operating expenses. She added, “We plan on making Chasco bigger and better every year, it’s our responsibility as long as I am head of the committee to make sure that happens.”

Chasco Fiesta features pictures and memorabilia of well known people from the past.