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CRED: Tampa program teaches community redevelopment skills

Looking to make a difference? If you have an interest in real estate or community redevelopment, an upcoming training program can help.

The class attracts people from varying backgrounds, from affordable housing developers to policy makers, community development staff and board members and students in business, urban studies, and architecture.

“We’d love to have non-traditional individuals that may have a passion for community development, but don’t really know how to get started,” says Angela Crist, director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Members of the class, expected to include up to 25, put together recommended projects based on real-world problems, with the goal of actually implementing them. That might be a plan to utilize open space left by a former neighborhood grocery. Or an artist-themed community or even a townhouse project as in-fill in a developed area.

“It is a grassroots program. They have to work on a viable project,” Crist says.

The Community Real Estate Development program, known as CRED, is a certification program held annually to help people gain a better understanding about community real estate development, the financial aspects of property development and real estate development management.

“Our ultimate goal is that we are changing people’s behavior,” explains Crist. “At the end, they are looking at it [community real estate development] through a different lens, so they can go out and improve their community.

The class, which costs $150, meets on Friday afternoons and Saturdays from March 2 through April 14. It is being held from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at Tampa Housing Authority, 5301 Cypress St., Tampa.

The deadline to register is February 16. Apply online here.

The program presents diverse segments of the commercial redevelopment field, utilizing USF professors and community talent to teach and mentor. “Every class they have is like a lunch and learn or various speakers," Crist says.

CRED is sponsored by the Housing Finance Authority of Hillsborough County, the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, Tampa Housing Authority, and Sun Trust Foundation.

Participants can earn a certificate from USF.  The class can be used for continuing education units for professionals or academic credit for college students though an independent study course at USF.  

Certification maintenance credits are required for a number of professionals including planners, and development and planning education staff.

College students find the program to be very hands-on, Crist adds, helping them to understand the process from “soup to nuts.”

Class members also benefit from the course’s networking potential because it draws together developers, lenders, and government officials/staffers in a non-threatening environment.

Although the class has been held in North and South Florida, it is only available in Tampa Bay this year because of scheduling and capacity issues, Crist says.


Nonprofit buys former restaurant for new Wimauma Opportunity Center

A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.

The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.

The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.

ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.

The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.

“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”

ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.

“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”

Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.

“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”

As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.

The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.

ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.

ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at info@connectformore.com.

Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.

Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.


Florida CDC gives local nonprofits a chance to make funding pitches

The CDC of Tampa will make a pitch for funding for an economic opportunity center to provide services to at-risk individuals. The University Area CDC will attempt to garner support for a fee-based visual and performing arts/interactive learning/social engagement project for underserved youth and families. And the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas will seek money for an innovative transportation system to serve the Wimauma community in Hillsborough County’s SouthShore.

These are among the 11 creative nonprofit organizations that will seek help from potential investors Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 in an event patterned after the popular TV show Shark Tank.

“The whole concept behind this Expo was to put nonprofit projects in front of people that might be interested in funding them,” says Terry Chelikowsky, Executive Director of the Florida Alliance of Community Development Corporations, a Jacksonville group working to help communities in Florida prosper.

“We’ve tried to invite people that might really be interested in learning about these projects,” she adds, “but there are no guarantees.”

The Expo is expected to attract a diverse group from around the state that includes representatives from financial institutions, local businesses, community development finance institutions, and community and family foundations -- as well as social venture capitalists, local government officials, and the general public.

In addition to pitches by creators, the Expo will include a training track to educate people about communities and economic development by nonprofits. Training will include information on why communities are inequitable and how to make them more equitable, the economic benefits of the nonprofit sector, and community development and the arts.

The event has been in the works for three years after the idea was sparked by a similar event held in Jacksonville. “We are hoping to be able to repeat this every couple of years,” she says.

Creator presentations kick off at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31. While 10-minute pitches will be made to a room full of people, they’ll be graded on a 50-point system by two or three volunteers. A question-and-answer session will include comments from professionals on the viability of the projects.

First place winners will be recognized in each of three categories: economic development, housing development, and programs that empower people. The real prize is receiving a followup call from one or more investors – and ultimately, funding for their projects.

The Expo will be held at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay at 2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa. It costs $199 for the first alliance member and $149 for additional members. Non-members pay $269, with additional individuals from an organization paying $219.

Online registration is available through the organization’s website by clicking on 2017 Expo Hub. Walk-ins are welcome. The event starts at noon on October 30 and includes lunch, a general session on equitable communities, a creators’ exhibit display and reception. The event concludes with Best Project Awards at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 1.


Saving lives on Hillsborough streets: How you can get involved with Vision Zero

Following a year-long public engagement process centered on data mapping, crash analysis and public workshops to conceptualize solutions to the Tampa Bay region's alarming pedestrian and cyclist fatality stats, the Vision Zero Hillsborough coalition is busy pursuing an Action Plan designed to encourage you to get engaged to make a difference.

Striking throughout the Action Plan are the victims of traffic violence. Several shared their stories at an August 22 workshop at Tampa Theatre.
 
But most striking is the diversity of the faces who prompted by tragedy have become advocates for Vision Zero. Faces like that of Valerie Jones, whose 17-year-old daughter, Alexis, was killed crossing Busch Boulevard on her way to Chamberlain High School in 2015. Faces like Michael Schwaid, who nearly lost his life to a drunk driver while biking to work last year, and his wife, Barbara, who cannot erase the memory of her husband's screams echoing outside the hospital room where she found him a few hours after he failed to check in from his morning commute.

As Vision Zero moves forward, it does so with a stark reminder: The victims of traffic violence are children and their parents who survive them; they are our neighbors, friends and grandparents. When the lives of loved ones are on the line, every citizen is a stakeholder in the mission to achieve zero traffic deaths in Hillsborough County.

Here are ways you can get involved today with Vision Zero, broken into each of the coalition's four Action Tracks.

Paint Saves Lives

Implementing low-cost treatments to improve the safety of the roadway, particularly for vulnerable users.
  • Organize a neighborhood event: Know of a spot in your neighborhood where a splash of color and creativity would encourage drivers to slow down and look twice for kids and pedestrians? South Seminole Heights became the first neighborhood in Tampa to participate in the city's Paint the Intersection pilot program this summer. Team up with your neighbors, and contact the Transportation and Stormwater Services Department at 813-274-8333 to paint an intersection in your neighborhood.
  • Look for opportunities for low-cost, high impact improvements: Ken Sides, senior engineer with Sam Schwartz Tampa and leader in the PSL committee, notes that PSL solutions often rely on creativity and community brainstorming -- no traffic engineering expertise required. Have an idea? Join the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and share your ideas with the Hillsborough MPO.
One Message, Many Voices

Increase awareness of Vision Zero to influence safer behaviors on roadways.
 
  • Talk to your family: In-person outreach is central to the Vision Zero mission. Talk to your family about traffic violence and how they can change their behavior -- both behind the wheel and on foot and bike -- to reach every destination safely. Visit Families for Safe Streets to learn how families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence channel their grief into advocacy as part of the Vision Zero NYC movement. 
  • Get engaged on social media: Like and follow Vision Zero Hillsborough on Facebook and use the #VisionZero813 hashtag to track the coalition and spread the word.
  • Take the Vision Zero Pledge online and share your own story.
  • Join the Speakers Bureau: Central to the One Message, Many Voices Action Plan is a newly developed Speakers Bureau, a platform for victims of traffic violence and roadway safety advocates. Email MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres for more info.
  • Attend the Walk of Silence: Join Vision Zero's Oct. 6 Walk of Silence on Busch Blvd in remembrance of lives lost.
Consistent and Fair

Leverage capabilities and existing resources for equitable, "consistent and fair" enforcement for all road users.
 
  • Provide comments about safety issues along high-crash corridors: Scroll to find a map on the Vision Zero webpage where you can pinpoint safety concerns and provide your comments.
  • Spread the word about why traffic enforcement is critical to Vision Zero: Be vocal about the dangers of texting and driving (responsible for at least 19 percent of fatal crashes nationwide), speeding (reported in Vision Zero data as the fundamental factor in severe crashes), and impaired driving (responsible for 23 percent of traffic fatalities in Hillsborough County).
  • Start a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood: Influencing good driving behavior begins long before teens take the wheel. Get a head start by organizing a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood to keep kids safe on their way to school and encourage mindful traffic behavior.
The Future Will Not Be Like the Past

Integrate context-sensitive design practices for safe communities and roadways.
 
  • Check out the new FDOT Design Manual: In 2014 the FDOT adopted a Complete Streets Policy for improved multimodal design strategies on state roadways. The draft for the FDOT Design Manual (2018) will influence practice in designing more context-sensitive state highways, and is a valuable resource to comprehending Complete Streets design principles as they apply to all roadways.
  • Join the Hillsborough MPO Livable Roadways Committee: Want to stay informed and have a voice in Hillsborough County road design, transportation policy, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and land use? Join the Livable Roadways Committee to be involved in influencing context-sensitive design practices in your community. 
View the full Vision Zero Action Plan here.

Enterprising Latinas to graduate first class of childcare workers

Little Angels Wimauma, an early learning family childcare home that will accommodate 10 children in a South Shore community with few childcare options, is expected to open its doors August 30.

The home is the first of at least seven new childcare facilities in the area “that will create a critical mass of opportunity for children in the community to access quality early childhood education in the community where they live,” says Liz Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, a nonprofit organization working to empower low-income Hispanic woman in the Tampa Bay Area.

“We’re going to change the landscape of the community. We’re going to create opportunities for women,” she asserts. “We’re going to address a major challenge in the community, which is the lack of school readiness among children.”

Little Angels Wimauma’s owner, Jackie Brown, was part of a childcare class offered by Enterprising Latinas, which through its Opportunity Center is working to help the community by activating women. Brown’s staff will include a couple of part-time substitutes from her training class.

“I am doing my part as best I can to help families to realize dreams and goals,” says Brown, a Wimauma CDC member who grew up in the community. “It means everything to me because I live here. I work here. I’m advocating on the part of Wimauma every day.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is slated for 4 p.m. on August 29th, at 5803 North St., Wimauma. It is followed by a 5 p.m. graduation and reception for the class of 30 that completed the Wimauma Cares training program. The graduation and reception will be at the Opportunity Center at 18240 U.S. Highway 301 S., Wimauma. Space is limited, so interested parties are asked to RSVP by emailing Sara Arias or calling 813-699-5811.

The celebration culminates a year-long endeavor enabled by financial support from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County.

“They took a chance,” she says. “We are very grateful. Without this, we couldn’t have done this.”

While the class may appear to be a simple task to English-speaking individuals, it seemed to be an insurmountable challenge to some of the women who endured. “If English is not your first language, passing this course is no easy feat,” Gutierrez explains.

“They’ve been able to prove to themselves that they could do this,” she says.

Plans already are underway to open more childcare facilities, one of them at Peniel Baptist Church near Wimauma Elementary School. “We are working with them right now, so they can get the work done on the property,” Gutierrez says.

Development in the South Shore area of Hillsborough County is expected to increase the need for community-based childcare.

A waiting list of 70 for the next childcare class in South Shore is a testimony of the popularity of the class. Another 12 are waiting for a Tampa class. “They [the people from Tampa] heard about this and they’re working in lousy jobs and they want the training. They want us to do a Saturday course,” Gutierrez explains. “There’s a lot of interest. We’re going to do it.”


Wimauma church gets major loan, donations to buy domed sanctuary

After what he describes as a "$1 million dollar miracle,'' a Wimauma pastor has purchased the church he was renting month-to-month, sparing it from being torn down to build custom homes.

“We didn’t know where to go, and God continued showing his mercy and his grace every step of the way,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wholesome Church. “We saw God move.”

Wholesome is in the path of development along U.S. Highway 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674 in South Hillsborough County, where fields are giving way to subdivisions. The church had been renting for about five years from River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, which was looking to sell it.

Although Pastor Carlos wanted to buy it, he lacked funds, even with a substantial discount. Things came to a head after River of Life received a developer’s offer to buy the property valued at $1.5 million.

In response, Pastor Carlos appealed to the public in March for $235,000, launching a fundraising drive on Go Fund Me. Twice they were told to vacate. Even after a May 17 loan agreement, the church needed a 15-day extension to fulfill the lender’s requirements for a land survey and environmental inspection.

When news about the church hit television, a neighbor at Valencia Lakes called wanting to know more about what the church was doing. His son donated the remaining $11,000 required. And now the neighbor is planning to work with volunteers to assist in the church as the ministry continues.

The church secured a loan, raised some $21,000 in cash, and received another $20,000+ in donated work. Interest in the church’s work continues.

With the July 14 closing behind them, the church is now focusing on plans to improve the property and open its preschool early next year. “Because we took the building as is, we do have some repairs to do,” he says.

Remodeling will add more rooms for the preschool, which is expected to have a capacity of some 50 to 75 students aged 2 to 4. Pricing will be affordable, on a sliding scale based on income.

“Definitely our mission is to help families in Wimauma, but we know there is such a big demand. Families will want to apply to be there,” he says. “I can’t tell you all families will be from Wimauma.”

Early childhood education is a long-recognized need in the Wimauma community, where some are hindered by their lack of English language skills. A coalition of people concerned about the future of the community, which includes Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC, and others are working together to expand educational opportunities.

In addition to the preschool, Wholesome plans health and youth centers, a kitchen hall, a multipurpose building and thrift shop on the 10-acre property featuring a domed sanctuary.


Venture House moves forward on affordable housing

In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

Tampa Bay History Center grows up and out, stays on track with $11M expansion

The Tampa Bay History Center is experiencing smooth sailing so far on an expansion project that will bring the area’s pirate lore to life.

“Knocking on wood, everything is going well,” says C.J. Roberts, History Center President and CEO.

Roberts says construction crews are slightly ahead of schedule on the building expansion that will house the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery -- an addition that includes a 60-foot replica of a sailing vessel as its centerpiece and will focus on the stories of Florida’s early explorers.

As construction continues, the Pinellas Park-based Creative Arts is working to design the exhibits and a theatre company out of Boston is writing an “immersive pirate theatre experience” to complement the new gallery, which should be complete before the end of the year.

The expansion is just one part of an $11 million capital campaign, which Roberts says he is hopeful will be completed successfully in another year or so.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise $5 million for the new gallery and maintenance on the existing structure, $5 million for the center’s endowment -- which funds about 25 percent of operating costs annually -- and $1 million for the new Florida Center for Cartography, a joint effort with the University of South Florida.

“We’ve raised $7.5 million dollars to date,” says Roberts.“We’ve got good wind in our sails, and I am optimistic that we’re going to be successful in completing this campaign.”

The full-size ship included in the gallery aims to provide an immersive experience that will help dispel some myths or misconceptions about pirates while providing a unique chance to learn about navigation, engineering and mathematics.

“These stories of early navigation and maritime exploration really lend themselves very well to pulling out those kinds of educational opportunities,” Roberts says.

Roberts hopes this expansion will broaden the center’s reach by telling stories that go beyond our backyard in the Bay Area.

“This is not a Tampa or Hillsborough story, as many of our other exhibits are,” he says. “This really is a Florida story.”

The Tampa Bay History Center’s expansion project is just one part of a period of exciting growth for the downtown area and Roberts is eager for the next chapter in Tampa’s story.

“We’re excited about the contribution this will make to an already growing downtown,” he says. “I think that we’re in a good place, and the future for both downtown Tampa and the history center looks pretty bright.”

For Good: Duke Energy grant to boost services for South St. Pete families, students

A $1 million grant from the Duke Energy Foundation will allow the United Way Suncoast to expand an innovative program for families in the Campbell Park community and nearby neighborhoods in South St. Petersburg.

“We hope that our financial investment will continue to help address this community’s vital needs,” says Harry Sideris, president, Duke Energy Florida. 

The grant aligns with Duke Energy Foundation’s ongoing giving priorities, which include kindergarten to career educational and workforce development, environmental issues and social programs that positively impact communities.

Since 2011, United Way Suncoast has operated a neighborhood program at Campbell Park Elementary School that offers a variety of social services and support for parents and students. The program is focused primarily on education, including attendance and tardiness, as well as financial stability programs for the adults in the community. 

Last year, the agency took that program to the next level with the launch of a dedicated community resource center at Cross and Anvil Human Services Center, a nonprofit organization run by Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in partnership with the Pinellas County Urban League and other organizations.

The Cross and Anvil Human Services Center currently provides academic support services, such as GED assistance, FCAT and college preparation, mental health counseling, parental engagement programs and veterans services.

Duke Energy funding will allow the United Way Suncoast to add new services at the center that target workforce development, including job coaching, resume’ writing and similar skills training, as well as financial coaching, legal advice and other social support services. The goal is to help address variety of community needs, including empowering individuals and families to work toward long-term stability.

In addition to investing in the community through the grant, Duke Energy employees are contributing to the new social services program through the Duke Energy in Action corporate volunteer program. Employees recently participating in painting and landscaping the Cross and Anvil Human Services Center. 

“We live here, work here and are committed to our communities year-round,” says Sideris.

The United Way Suncoast serves Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Desoto counties and works with partner agencies to provide programs promoting literacy, workforce development and financial counseling, temporary emergency services during natural disasters and neighborhood community services.

“Duke Energy’s generosity and commitment to the Campbell Park neighborhood is as incredible as the tremendous potential that exists in the residents of this community,” says Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of United Way Suncoast, in a statement announcing the new partnership. “We are excited for the opportunities this gift brings and proud to be working with so many wonderful business and nonprofit partners.” 

New Sulphur Springs Museum honors local history

Tampa history buffs will have a new place to explore when the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center opens on February 4. The new landmark, located at Mann-Wagnon Park in Sulphur Springs, will serve as a community hub for the re-emerging Central Tampa neighborhood. 

According to Norma Robinson, a co-founder of the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, the grand opening of the new facility is slated for noon on the first Saturday of February. “We hope to have the ribbon cutting at 12,” she says. “We’ll have different activities throughout the day, including guided tours.” 

When the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center opens its doors, guests will find an array of things to see and do there. One of the headlining attractions is “Sulphur Springs: An Enduring Legacy.” The permanent exhibit profiles the history of the Sulphur Springs neighborhood, which traces its roots back to the 1880s. The area flourished as a tourist destination in the early 20th century when developer Josiah Richardson oversaw the creation of a resort around the area’s springs, which were believed by many to have healing properties. The Sulphur Springs Arcade, the neighborhood’s iconic 214-foot-tall water tower, and Sulphur Springs Pool are just some of the historic landmarks honored at the museum. 

“Many students from the University of South Florida [http://www.usf.edu/ ](USF) did research,” Robinson says of the museum’s historical elements. Several images and other artifacts derive from the USF Tampa Library Special and Digital Collections and the Florida State Archive collection. 

The Sulphur Springs Museum also opens with “Water | Ways,” a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that will be open from February 4 through March 18, 2017. “We’re one of six cities in Florida chosen for the exhibit, which shows the different ways water affects our lives,” explains Robinson. “Water | Ways” explores the impact of water environmentally, culturally, and historically. 

The museum will also host Our Florida, Our History lecture series, which includes an array of slated speakers for February such as USF history professor Gary Mormino, Hillsborough Community College Dean of Associate of Arts Jim Wysong, and African American diaspora expert Anthony E. Dixon. The series continues into March with appearances by climate science author Dr. Mark R. Hafen and Florida culture author Craig Pittman. 

The Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center is the culmination of many years of tireless effort by Norma Robinson and her husband, Joseph. When the couple moved from New York to Tampa in 1997, they chose Sulphur Springs as their new home. They have worked tirelessly for two decades to improve the community, which for years was known as one of Tampa’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. The Robinsons were honored by the Tampa Bay Lightning as Community Heroes in 2015, when they received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation. Much of those funds were invested into building the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, which was a dream first envisioned more than a decade ago. 

Admission to the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center is free, Robinson says, “but donations are strongly encouraged and welcomed!”

When and where 

What: Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center Grand Opening
When: February 4, 2017, noon to 4 p.m.
Things To Do: Sulphur Springs: An Enduring Legacy history exhibit, Water | Ways Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, guided tours, food, drinks
Address: 1101 E. River Cove Street, Tampa, Florida 33604

Junior Achievement expands financial literacy training for teens

Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay has been teaching fifth graders about potential careers since 2005 through its JA BizTown program. Now, it’s making plans to expand its curriculum and teach eighth graders finances at a new facility slated to break ground in late February.
 
“JA Finance Park gives 8th grade students the rare opportunity to experience their personal financial futures firsthand,” says Richard George, President of JA Tampa Bay. “We’re going through permitting now. We’re hoping to be open probably in November [2017].”
 
While JA Biztown gives fifth graders a chance to work in a mock economy, JA Finance Park lets them explore personal finances. They’ll have to make spending choices based on their income and family needs. A Career Depot will help them understand the connection between careers, salaries, and the money they make.
 
“We’re exploring Tampa Bay opportunities, from trades to professional jobs, what it takes to get those positions and what it pays,” George says. “It’s going to be pretty innovative.”
 
The facility is officially named JA Finance Park presented by SunTrust Foundation, in recognition of SunTrust’s $1.7 million grant, which kicked off fundraising. The $4.6 miillion,18,000-square-foot building will be on Hillsborough County Public School property on North 22nd Street. JA still is attempting to raise $5 million to operate the facility for 10 years.
 
Construction is by EWI Construction, with architecture by FleischmanGarcia Architects, both of Tampa.
 
The ultimate goal of the park is to help students become leaders in their household and community, George says.
 
“JA Finance Park creates a real-life model which encourages students to focus on their life goals and complete their education,” he adds.
 
The new facility is expected to serve 180 students a day. Throughout the Tampa Bay region, Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay reached 98,662 students last year.
 
“JA Biztown has done pretty well,” he adds. “It’s been operating in the black since Day One.”
 
JA is supported by businesses represented in its facilities, including Publix, MacDonald’s and Kane’s Furniture, as well as donors like Pam and Les Muma and the Bill Poe family.

University area of Tampa will get new park in 2018, kids' basketball league starts in October

Cooking lessons, a playground and a hiking trail are just some of the features of Harvest Hope Park, a new space planned for 20th Street, north of Fletcher Avenue, in the University area of Tampa.
 
The University Area Community Development Corporation announced last week that it received a $423,000 community development block grant from Hillsborough County, and raised $90,000 during its fifth annual gala to build the 7-acre park. The corporation's mission is to redevelop and sustain the at-risk areas surrounding the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.
 
Ground is expected to be broken on the park in November when lighting, irrigation, fencing and parking will be installed. A learning kitchen and community garden are already in place.
 
"Building a park in the heart of the community is about more than just a construction project," says Sarah Combs, the corporation's CEO, "it is about sending a message to the residents of the University Community, letting them know that we care about them and positive change is coming. This community has been promised many things over the past couple decades, and there will never be a more opportunistic time than now to unite and leverage our partnerships, to truly create a healthy and vibrant community."

The park will be completed in phases, with total completion expected in 2018. Once complete, it will feature a tilapia fish farm, hiking trail, playground and sports field.

"The Harvest Hope Park will be the beacon of hope this community needs, uniting residents, encouraging family unity, and most importantly, offering positive activities for youth and adults so they will begin to feel like this is their home, this is their community," Combs says.

In the meantime, the corporation is inviting children ages 9-14 to participate in an eight-week basketball league.

Registration will take place Oct. 3-14. Practices will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, starting Oct. 17, 6-9 p.m., depending on the age group. Games will be played on Saturdays, starting Oct. 22, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $45.

To register, call 813-558-5212 or stop by the corporation's center at 14013 N. 22nd St. in Tampa. 

Officials break ground for new stage at Land O' Lakes Community Park

Plans for a new stage in Land O' Lakes took a step forward this month.
 
The Pasco Board of County Commissioners, the District School Board of Pasco County and community supporters broke ground for the performing arts venue on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Land O' Lakes Community Park, north of Tampa.
 
Not only will the 1,020-square-foot stage serve the community, it will also be available to nearby Sanders Memorial Elementary School.
 
"This stage is going to actually be a cornerstone of future cultural events here in Land O' Lakes, something that we currently don't have -- and we have a lack of countywide, actually," said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore during the groundbreaking ceremony. "So you can think about things that are going to be happening on that stage could be school band concerts, plays, pageants, and various other presentations. It's just going to be a wonderful amenity."
 
The $250,000 stage is the second part of $2.3 million worth of improvements to the park where the Land O' Lakes Community Center is located. The first phase was celebrated about a year ago with a ribbon-cutting for a new practice field, football field, softball field, walking trail, concession building with restrooms and meeting rooms, maintenance building, event field, two shelters, parking lots, playground and remodeled patio area.
 
Money for the stage comes from donations from architects, contractors and a grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
 
The park was built in the 1960s, and an organization called the Heritage Park Foundation was created in 1997 to help protect it.
 
"Our desire was to keep our little historical park alive, to keep it as a community gathering spot it was created to be, and the co-facilitated shared use of space with Sanders Elementary," Sandy Graves, honorary mayor of Land O' Lakes and Heritage Park Foundation president, said during the Aug. 16 event. "That was the plan from the inception."

The group has long advocated for a stage at the park.
 
"Heritage Park Foundation has a motto," Graves said, "building a better community by building a better community center."
 
Construction on the stage is expected to begin in the fall and wrap up in January 2017.

De Soto National Memorial undergoes renovations, tech upgrade

The Visitor Center at the De Soto National Memorial near Bradenton, built as part of the National Park Service Mission 66 initiative, recently underwent its first major renovations since its construction in 1969. 

The renovation project took six months to complete and includes fresh paint and updated fixtures, the installation of a new welcoming station and front desk in the Visitor Center, and upgrades to the audio-visual system that plays the National Memorial’s park movie — a feature that Lead Park Ranger Daniel Stephens says is central to the park’s mission.  

Stephens describes the renovation as a “top-to-bottom thorough cleaning and across the board audio-visual upgrade.” The newly enhanced lighting, sound system, and 75-inch LCD television, Stephens says, is a “huge technological improvement” from the outdated projection system that was replaced in the renovation. 

De Soto National Memorial, 5 miles west of Bradenton, Florida, commemorates the 1539 landing of Hernando de Soto and the first extensive organized exploration by Europeans of what is now the southern United States.

During peak season, in the months of November through April, the park receives up to 50,000 visitors, many of whom Stephens says are seasonal residents who return to the park annually. 

“Several visitors said to us, ‘this place needs to clear out the cobwebs,’ and that was a wakeup call to us. While we’ve done so much to change the outward appearance of the park grounds, we’d never looked at the Visitor Center,” Stephens says.

“A national park is not a static entity. These renovations give the sense that this is not an old space: we do listen to visitor feedback, and we do change.”

Visitor Center renovations were completed with $5,000 in fundraising from the nonprofit group, Friends of De Soto National Memorial; $5,000 in matched proceeds from Eastern National, a cooperating partner supplying the park’s bookstore, and with funding from “America the Beautiful,” part of the Federal Lands Pass recreation program, which provided over $6,000 for the project.

For Good: Home ownership program helps low-income families

The American dream of home ownership is becoming a reality for low-income families because a local nonprofit helps people help themselves become homeowners.
 
Florida Home Partnership, a program that has served Hillsborough and Pasco counties for the past 21 years, has assisted over 700 families, veterans and seniors in achieving their goal to become homeowners.
 
“There are a lot of people that are shut out of the chance at home ownership,” says Earl Pfeiffer, Executive Director for Florida Home Partnership. “Our program is not a handout, it is a hand up.”
 
Pfeiffer explains that the program, which has built communities in rural areas throughout Hillsborough and Pasco counties, helps those who otherwise would not have the chance to own a home.
 
“The first criteria an individual or family must meet, is that they be under 80-percent of the area median income,” he says. “In Hillsborough and Pasco counties, for a single person that income cannot exceed $33,050, and for a family of four it cannot exceed $47,200.
 
In addition to the income level, individuals and families must have good or repairable credit, a reliable source of income and be willing to work on their own home.
 
“This is a self-help program,” Pfeiffer says. “Families in the community work on the homes they will be living in, and are required to work a minimum of 600 hours on skilled tasks.”
 
The innovative program is funded by a variety of sources. Program funding comes from the Department of Agriculture, as well as both Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Funding for the homes, comes from Congress in the form of the Section 502 loan, as well as down payment assistance from the State of Florida.
 
“As a real estate agent myself, I see how the rates are going up, it can be very difficult to buy a house,” Pfeiffer says. “We all want to be a part of the American dream, and this program helps people achieve that dream.”
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