From the fields to the classroom

From the fields to the classroom, Marcos Gonzalez is an inspiration to his family and fellow USF students.

Growing up, Gonzalez was raised by migrant farmers who moved from city to city looking for work.

With each change of season, the Gonzalez family would be on their way to a new environment. They had no choice but to follow the crops in order to keep their family fed.

Gonzalez had to play the role of both son and student, which proved to be difficult.

“I did dual enrollment to ensure that college was an option,” Gonzalez said. “I would drive an hour to school and then an hour back, play baseball so that I had extracurriculars under my belt, then go work in the fields with my father.”

With dreams of his future constantly on his mind, Gonzalez worked diligently to apply to schools and scholarships. Sometimes, his migrant lifestyle got in the way of his college plans.

“I was actually a finalist for the Gates Millennium Scholarship for a quarter of a million dollars. Due to my migrant lifestyle, my GPA suffered and I didn’t meet the requirements.”

Even with these setbacks, he persevered. A member of the business community at USF, Gonzalez is also an ambassador and a world traveler. But he still believes that his family is what is most important.

“I have studied abroad in China and Italy yet I still work in the fields with my dad every summer. I guess some things will never change.”

Feed-A-Bull food pantry makes a big hit among students

 

Tampa, Fla.—The Feed-A-Bull food pantry gives emergency aid to students who are struggling to afford food.

Feed-A-Bull is a food pantry started by the Office of Student Outreach and Support (SOS), Wellness Education, and Feeding America USF. It is open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We really want our students to use the pantry more than once if they need to,” the senior case manager for SOS, Callie Nettles, said.  “It is on an emergency need basis, and we hope that’s honored, but we don’t want any reason for the students not to come back if they need to.”

Students who need to use the food pantry must have their USF ID or a valid U-number.  They must also be enrolled in classes.

Students who use the food pantry receive prepared bags of food that are made by volunteers. Students with dietary restrictions or allergies may have food items substituted in their bags.

Feeding America USF Vice President Neesha Hira said that a lot of students have already used the food pantry.

“A lot of people come – boys and girls of different ethnicities,” Hira said.  “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Nettles said that Feed-A-Bull has received a positive response from students; some have even wanted to give back to the food pantry by volunteering.

“I’m really impacted by USF and how supportive it has been,” Nettles said. “It really seems to be a community that has got each other’s backs. Between the students that have been utilizing it and have wanted to give back, the students who want to donate or do food drives, and the faculty and staff who want to support the initiative, it has just been overwhelming.”

Increase in gun-related crime around Tampa makes USF sophomore wary

University of South Florida sophomore Emily Stencil never imagined she would feel unsafe around her own home.

Stencil, who has lived in apartments off campus during both of her years at USF, takes her dog Roxie for a walk every day she comes home from school. She then rides her bike if the sun is shining, and occasionally makes the 5-minute walk to campus.

Now, however, Stencil is beginning to rethink her routine, because of fear for her safety.

“I’ve never been afraid of leaving my doors unlocked or walking my neighborhood alone,” Stencil said. “Now, I’m afraid to leave my house past 8 o’clock.”

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According to Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, there have been 235 gun-related crimes this year, up from 164 during this time last year.

The increase in crimes also includes 15 homicides — more than double the amount of this time last year.

Gun theft also has drastically increased since last year. According to TPD, 117 guns were stolen this year. That’s 65 more than this time last year.

Most eye-opening of all is that in the 10 days prior to March 23, 10 teenagers died from shootings.

One case involved a 14-year-old male who was shot and killed at a birthday party on March 21. Police estimate that dozens witnessed the crime, but none have come forward with information.

In another case March 14, Tampa teen Ikeim Bowell was killed in what was ruled an accidental shooting by the department.

According to the Tampa Tribune, a group of Bowell’s friends found a gun in a relative’s house they assumed was unloaded. But shortly after they started playing with it, the gun went off and shot Bowell in the neck.

“In the majority of the cases, witnesses and even victims are reluctant to cooperate with detectives,” Castor said in a statement. “The Tampa Police Department is urging citizens to get involved to stop the violence.”

Castor used a March 16 news conference to encourage members of the public to speak up if they have any information.

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While gun-related crimes have risen in the city, major crimes on USF’s Tampa campus have dropped in the past four years.

According to the USF Police Department, in 2010 the crime rate dropped more than 19 percent from the previous year.

The USF Police Department reports that crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and burglary have dropped 45 percent, but arrests have increased 52 percent.

USF Police lieutenant Marty King credited the improved efforts of officers for the drop in on-campus crime.

According to a release, more DUI checkpoints were added to areas surrounding campus. Officers also underwent extensive training, and a stronger traffic enforcement has led to the decrease in crimes.

The clearance rate, which is the number of reported cases successfully solved, has increased every year.

“Most importantly is the partnership we have with our community,” King said. “This partnership allows our campus community many options to report suspicious activity or crimes in progress. These efforts, coupled with the crime prevention initiatives we provide, can all play a factor in reducing crime.”

Still, Stencil is worried.

If the crime rate continues to increase, Stencil said she will consider moving on-campus to a dormitory, where she hopes she will be safer.

“It’s not something I want to do,” Stencil said. “But if it can save my life, I’m going to do it.”

University of South Florida Student Recitals

The University of South Florida’s School of Music currently features its own junior and senior students during recital season.

Recitals are a part of both junior and senior music majors’ curriculum.

Junior and music education major Kelsey Donahoo had her clarinet recital March 31.

“I was just so excited to show everyone all these technical abilities that I’m able to do,” Donahoo said. “Once I took that final bow I was thinking ‘Wow, that’s another big step towards graduation. It’s almost here.’ ”

Students are responsible for not only picking and practicing their musical selections, but reserving the room and getting the word out too.

They create the flyers that are posted throughout the School of Music as well as the programs that are handed out to people as they walk into the Lewis and Enid Barness Recital Hall.

“I think it’s a great bonding thing for everybody,” said physics major and vocalist Regina Battista. “I think it’s such a great opportunity for everybody to learn and for everybody to learn about each other as well.”

Recitals take plenty of preparation with music students practicing many months prior to when recital season starts. They also have weekly lessons with their assigned music professor to practice their pieces.

“In college you’re mostly in your ensembles and then I’m focusing on teaching,” said Donahoo. “So to be able to build up my clarinet professional skills up to this level to be able to perform my own solo performance was an amazing experience.”

Recital season will continue until the end of the month.

Video: Office of Multicultural Affairs aimed to promote gender equality by celebrating Women’s History Month in March

The Office of Multicultural Affairs helped spread the word about Women’s History Month in March.

The office set up a booth in the atrium of the Marshall Student Center with stacks of blank cards for students to fill out with their reasons for why they support women. Free pins were also handed out to help spread awareness around campus.

According to Caitlin Jones, a coordinator for the LGBT programs and services for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the objective of the event was for students and other passersby to understand the importance of the movement.

“Why does this matter?” Jones said.  “Why do people support women? Have people even thought about why they support women? So, we’re using this to start that thought process.”

Throughout the event, many people stopped by to offer their thoughts. At the end,  all completed cards were hung up along the office’s window on the third floor of the Marshall Center.

“Supporting women is more than wage equality,” Jones said. “It’s more than saying, ‘Oh, yes, women are important to me,’ but actually looking at class and race and some other pieces to be able to say, women matter.

“They deserve the same rights. The same equality. The same equity. And I’m willing to stand up and do that.”

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.

Video: C.R. Willey brings championship pedigree to USF disc golf team

C.R. Willey is not your average USF coach. He is a four-time disc golf champion.

And with Willey’s help, the USF disc golf team has a chance at the top 10 this year and — possibly — a national title.

Willey, a veteran of the Professional Disc Golf Association, has trained some of the top professionals in the league, including 12-time champion, Ken Climo.

“It’s nice that you are actually learning from somebody that has actually won (championships),” said Chris Crist, USF’s team founder and captain.  “He’s been playing for so long. He’s taught a lot of people how to play and a lot of pros how to play.”

While Willey was on the PDGA tour, he was approached by some of USF’s players, who asked him if he would be interested in coaching the team.

Willey didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

“Heck, yeah,” Willey said. “I would like to see USF win a national championship in disc golf. I’d like to see them win it in football, too — baseball or anything for the university. Let’s take it to the next level.”

Willey also played baseball at USF for a time. But one day, when he saw students playing ultimate frisbee, Willey knew his love and passion was for disc golf.

With more than 40 PDGA victories, he is considered the best thing that has happened to USF by its young group of players.

“We’ve qualified for the National Collegiate Championship, and we almost beat the reigning champs in a qualifying tournament that the USF team ran in Largo,” Willey said.

The National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship starts on April 15 in North Augusta, South Carolina.

Video: Christopher Hethcox turns lifelong passion for cheerleading into remarkable career


TRINITY — As an aspiring male cheerleading coach, Christopher Hethcox seemingly had the odds stacked against him early in life.

“The stigma of being a male cheerleader was something that was rough in the rural parts of Alabama,” Hethcox said.

But Hethcox didn’t let it bring him down. At age 13, Hethcox knew he had a passion for tumbling and gymnastics.

Twenty-two years later, Hethcox has turned that passion into a career as an instructor with All-Star Cheerleading at the Suncoast Gymnastics Academy in Odessa.

Though the profession does not necessarily have a large salary, Hethcox said he isn’t in it for the money — he just wants to help his athletes grow.

“I think I love the process of the training, performing, watching the development over the year of an athlete that’s had this place where they started,” Hethcox said.  “And then, where they end up.”

Hethcox coaches multiple levels of cheerleading with All-Star Cheerleading and has won multiple championships.

Competing at that level, Hethcox said,  is something that can give competitors butterflies. But for him, it’s all about keeping his team calm.

Mark Sczcepanik, whose daughter is coached by Hethcox, described him as passionate and driven.

“Coach Chris has done an incredible job with our daughter,” Sczcepanik said. “She went from never cheering ever six months ago to just doing an incredible job, thanks to his fine coaching.”

Hethcox doesn’t need praise, though. He just wants it to be about the kids.

“I want them to become sisters that they would do anything for each other,” Hethcox said.

Florida Focus 02-10-2015

In today’s episode of Florida Focus: doctors say St. Pete man is too incompetent to stand trial; Jeb Bush releases thousands of e-mails to the public; Home Depot adds over a thousand jobs to the Tampa Bay market; Feeding America Tampa Bay teams with the State Fair; the USF women’s basketball team makes history.

 

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Clearwater Voters Receive Mail-In Ballots

This episode of Florida Focus, for Oct. 6, covers news from around the region and state.

Thousands of Hillsborough County voters received mail-in ballots this week. Voters will be able to request mail-in ballots until Oct. 29.

Clearwater Police are searching for two suspects using stolen credit cards from vehicle burglaries.

A 15-year-old Tarpon Springs girl was the victim of a hit and run accident. The girl was seriously injured and airlifted to a nearby hopsital. The driver later returned and was arrested for fleeing the scene of a crime. 

A seaplane crashed during a lesson near Davis Islands Park, police reported that two people were rescued and they are in good condition.  

East Lake Community Library offers a Halloween costume swap for parents. Costumes can be swapped or bought new for $5. All proceeds will go to the library. 

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Convenience store binds community

The building is small, the parking lot only dimly lit and no neon sign indicating whether it is open or closed. But Bull Market has become a fixture in this area, a rare common experience for all college students and the families who live along 42nd Street.

It’s a stop-and-go place and there is a constant stream of people walking in, grabbing what they need and walking out. There are regular customers and transient types coming in as a last resort, as well as people using the parking lot as a meet-up spot for carpools or cab rides. And while there isn’t much tying these people together aside from the street they live on, Bull Market gives the neighborhood on 42nd Street a shared space where they can finally feel like neighbors.

Inside there are only five aisles, but it has almost every amenity needed: snack foods, cleaning supplies, toiletries and limited grocery items. Nazia Hirani is a sophomore, a USF transfer student from Georgia, and she likes how close the store is.

Continue reading “Convenience store binds community”

A quiet encounter with Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall hugs a grade-school student before giving an impromptu speech to the children participating in Roots and Shoots, a community action and learning program, at the USF Botanical Gardens. “Young people can do an awful lot if you know what the problems are,” Goodall said. The primatologist asked the student audience to raise their hands if they wanted to help animals, other people and the environment. Almost all students raised their hands wildly. (Photo by Paige Butterfield)