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For Good

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ECHO of Brandon claims top prize in social entrepreneurship

ECHO of Brandon, a charity whose mission is to end hunger in southeastern Hillsborough County, took the $25,000 grand prize in Social Venture Partners’ first Shark Tank-styled competition for social entrepreneurship in the Tampa Bay Area.

Social entrepreneurship is the use by nonprofits of the techniques that enable startup companies and other entrepreneurs to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.

“The turnout was amazing. The energy was amazing. The teams were incredible,” says Jennifer Finney, a member of the SVP committee planning the Fast Pitch competition. “It surpassed everything that I could have imagined.”

ECHO, which provides emergency food, clothing, household items and career planning, was represented by Eleanor Saunders. Saunders explained how ECHO clients upcycle donations (clothes, curtains, leather items, etc.) into sellable products such as purses, jewelry and tablecloths. The work involved provides jobs for the clients, and sales proceeds go back into the organization's operating budget, making the nonprofit more independent financially and less dependent on government funding or charitable giving. The team was coached by Joan and George Lange.

The event attracted more than 400 to the University of Tampa on Friday, Dec. 1, to hear three-minute pitches from 13 nonprofits chosen to participate in SVP’s free, two-month accelerator and mentoring program. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and UT partnered in the event.

The $15,000 second place prize was awarded to Wheels of Success, represented by Susan Jacobs and coached by Anne Marie Campbell and Sam Giunta, and the $10,000 third place awarded was given to Girls Empowered Mentally for Success, represented by Crystal Bailes and coached by Sheryl Hunter.

Wheels of Success is dedicated to providing transportation solutions to the needy. GEMS helps at risk elementary, middle and high school girls discover their passion, and more easily transition into productive adults.

Attendees texted into a link to choose the Audience Choice Award, which went to Starting Right, Now, represented by Vicki Sokolik and coached by Lily Jin. It received $5,000. Starting Right, Now is working to end youth homelessness in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Another $5,000 prize was given to Accelerator Award winner Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative, represented by Marissa Davis and Carrie Hepburn and coached by Finney. The collaborative promotes health and wellness in vulnerable populations by addressing barriers to health and services.

“We decided to give an Accelerator Award for the team that showed up to the accelerator every time ready and eager to learn,” Finney explains.

The 13 local nonprofits were chosen from a pool of more than 50 applicants. Judging was done by Phillip E. Casey, Tom Wallace, Joe Hamilton, Rochelle Friedman-Walk and James Tully.

Other nonprofits who participated included:

  • University Area Community Development Corporation, which administers a Prodigy Cultural Arts Program to help at risk first through twelfth graders;
  • Directions for Living, which is dedicated to providing life-saving services to residents through its innovative Peanut Butter and Jelly run;
  • Bright Community Trust, whose mission is to create strong and vibrant neighborhoods;
  • Enactus at University of South Florida, an organization that helps students develop their talents and make a difference in the Tampa Bay community;
  • Just Learn, k-12 learning program that seeks to expose students to the planet’s biggest challenges like urbanization and food production;
  • Keep St. Pete Lit, an organization promoting the greater St. Petersburg literary community;
  • Inspiration Labs, the legal name for Tampa Hackerspace, where members have working space, training and tools to develop their creative projects; and
  • The Well, which runs the WellBuilt retail store that sells and repairs bicycles to fund community rides, safety workshops and sliding scale repairs.

SVP is based in Seattle; a Tampa chapter was formed in 2014.

SVP plans to make the competition an annual event, with initial work beginning in January as part of strategic planning.

“They all got incredible exposure,” Finney says. “It was really great to see everyone’s genuine interest and passion for each one of the teams.”


Artist-made skateboard proceeds go to nonprofit Boards for Bros.

There’s no denying that skateboarding culture has always been mixed up with some form of art, whether it’s deck design or graffiti.

Now comes California Artist Andrew Schoultz to kick off the annual Tampa Amateur Skateboarding Finals while celebrating the Skatepark of Tampa’s 25th Anniversary. Schoultz will be exhibiting 15 hand-painted skate decks alongside 10 other artist’s boards at The Bricks in Ybor on Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.
 
Instead of the profits going into the artists’ pockets, these 25 rideable art pieces will be going to the local nonprofit Boards for Bros.
 
“I’ve been paying attention to what Boards for Bros. has been doing for a while. They go into underprivileged areas where there are skate parks or they’ll set up a mini skate park for a weekend and they give away boards and helmets to those who don’t have them. Right now, skateboarding is the new ‘hoop dreams.’ Some of the most talented kids are coming from underprivileged areas. Skateboarding really can save you, and I think there’s a lot of power and purpose in what they’re doing,” Schoultz says.
 
Though he lives and works in California, Schoultz has ties to the skateboarding community in Tampa through Paul Zitzer, SPoT Events Operations and Public Relations (they grew up in the same city), and SPoT owner Brian Schaefer (they connected after he saw Schoultz’ installation at Art Basel Miami last year).
 
“I was coming to SPoT a lot in the '90s, and in 1999 I skated in one of their amateur contests. I pretty much grew up going there, and 20 years later I’m still participating, just in a different way,” the artist says. “I’ve worked in a nonprofit sector in the past, so I know how hard fundraising is. You can do a lot with very little and still have a big effect, so raising a couple thousand dollars could really help. This is what I love about skateboarding, it’s a really community-oriented sport.”
 
Schoultz, who earned his BFA at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, has international acclaim and mostly shows in galleries and museums with linear/drawing-based work that is loosely based on comic books, graffiti, old clip art and skateboard graphics.
 
“I’ve been a skateboarder all my life, but as an artist I’ve emerged into doing things all over the world. Skateboarding has informed everything I’ve done to this point as an artist and a person,” he says.
 
While Schoultz won’t be around for this opening, he will be back in Tampa in March where he will be there to paint the skatepark and participate in another fundraising event during the Annual Tampa Pro.
 
Any pieces that don’t sell during the show will be available online at SPoTTampa starting Nov. 20, with the proceeds still going toward Boards for Bros.

Caregiver-related businesses make pitch for help

Imagine a hotel along the Pinellas County beachfront equipped for and staffed by the disabled. The hotel would be self supporting and those with handicaps could live there independently, with a little help from Resident Assistants who act kind of like parents.

That’s the vision of Bill and Jane Williams.

Like many parents of special needs adult children, the couple wanted a plan that would secure their daughter’s future. So they formed The Banyan Odyssey, a Largo-based nonprofit organization in late 2015.

“We don’t want our kids to be sent away from home. We want them to be in our community, but to have a safe place to live and work and be as independent as possible,” explains Jane, The Banyan Odyssey’s Vice President.

Named for the banyan tree, a symbol of rest, The Banyan Odyssey already is working with 25 families with special needs individuals 16 through 29. They are providing training for those diagnosed with a variety of disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, Autism, the genetic disorder Prader–Willi syndrome, and Intellectual Disability, a condition that results in below average academic development through age 18.

While they raise funds and look for that ideal property, a mom-and-pop hotel that can be purchased and renovated, The Banyan Group is getting its potential employees ready through events like the Camp Banyan summer program.

Employment in that group has been a problem. “The disabled community [in Florida] is at 85 percent unemployed or underemployed,” she asserts.

“Our deal is if you are physically capable of working a 30- or 40-hour work week, you should have the opportunity to,” she says.

The Williamses goal is to create a social community loosely modeled after a college dormitory, where Resident Assistants can look in on residents to make sure their laundry is done, their apartment is clean, and they are ready for work. It would be a place where their 24-year-old daughter Mary Elizabeth, who goes by M.E., can live securely and independently.

Jane says the community will be for “handicapable” adults. “Instead of focusing on disability, we focus on what the young people can do,” she explains.

The Banyan Odyssey is one of six companies that will be vying for an assortment of prizes at the Caregiver Accelerator Pitch Competition between 2 and 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, at Bryan Glazer Family JCC, 522 N. Howard Ave., Tampa. Each will have six minutes to make a pitch before four judges: Chris Bennett, of Callyo; Jamie Huysman, of WellMed; Jeffrey Makowka, of the AARP; and Wilma Norton, of Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

A People’s Choice Award will be determined by online voting.

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a Florida Caregiver Conference follows from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the same location. The conference, which focuses on the caregivers of veterans and male caregivers, includes educational presentations, information about Caregiver Accelerator companies, and innovative solutions. Speakers include Retired Major General Tony Taguba, on “Caregiving is a Public Health Crisis” and Jean Accius, PhD., of the AARP Public Policy Institute, onBreaking the Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers.”

Walk-ins are welcome. The pitch competition is free; the conference, which costs $50, includes respite services for attendees.

Monica Stynchula, Program Director of St. Petersburg’s Caregiver Accelerator, says organizers are hoping to attract young entrepreneurs interested in tapping into $72 billion in caregiver’s market opportunities nationally.

In Florida alone, some 2.6 million provided $30 billion in unpaid care last year, she points out.

“What we’re trying to do is build resources into our communities that don’t exist today, [resources] that help caregivers when they need them,” Stynchula explains.

As the oldest baby boomers turn 70, the need will only increase in coming years, she points out. Ninety percent want to stay in their homes, so AARP wants to encourage businesses that can help them stay home safely for as long as possible.

“10,000 boomers are eligible to retire everyday,” she says. “It’s a real challenge to our economy and to our families. Right now we have over 60,000 on a waiting list for senior services in Florida.”

The Caregiver Accelerator acts as a pre-incubator for caregiver-related businesses, providing 18 hours worth of business training and the opportunity to attract the attention of the AARP, a national advocacy group for the elderly.

The other five finalists that will be presenting pitches include:

  • Guillermo Abadia, of Lumitec Consulting in St. Petersburg, a software development company;
  • Robin Albright, of Bradenton, author of 12 Tiny Well-being Tips for Caregivers, a workbook to help caregivers take care of themselves;
  • Bonnie Brown, of A Better Life, a St. Petersburg company offering life coaching and Medicaid planning;
  • Cynetta Hill, of Graceful in Home Aging of Tallahassee, and
  • John Webb, of Medication Call Reminder of Tampa, an automated service operating nationwide.

For Good: Great Explorations opens Longo's Cove

A three-dimensional jungle gym/work of art, Longo’s Cove invites children of all ages to scurry upward from pad to pad. It’s a great way to challenge kids’ coordination, says Great Explorations CEO Angeline Howell. 

During a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 7, St. Petersburg resident Asher Thompson, 6, eyed the 26-foot tall climber with anticipation. He could barely wait.

“I wanted to try it, but I didn’t want to step on the jellyfish,” he said.

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and his wife, Jaime, donated the funds for the climber; it was their idea, Howell notes, to include paintings of Florida sea life throughout the installation. The Longorias are parents of small children and were deeply involved in planning the Cove.

At the top, Cove Conquerors enjoy a birds-eye view of the entire museum, including an adjacent tree house being reimagined as a boat house to further the sea exploration theme. Small learners will soon have access to binoculars for bird watching and can identify different sea birds depicted throughout the museum. Activities such as a book nook, seabird seek-and-find and mangrove tables are in the works.

“We like to empower our visitors to explore our exhibits in a fun, hands-on way, and experiencing the museum from the top of the climber is certainly a way to do that,” Howell says.

A nationally accredited children’s museum, Great Explorations also offers a preschool for young children and partners with school systems to bridge the gap between classroom instruction and unstructured education. In 2017, the museum donated 750,000 of in-kind service back to the community through educational programming.

They recently introduced a $2 million capital campaign with a goal of funding a project labeled the ‘Great Expansion.’  Ultimately, the expansion will result in further educational programming and more space for children to grow and learn.

Asher managed to sidestep the paintings of jellyfish. He reached the climber’s summit and surveyed the view; he could see everything from this new vantage point. His overall rating of Longo’s Cove was definitive:

“It was awesome!”

Zombies For Good: Saint Pete Dance Center benefit

A horde of kind-hearted zombies overran Saint Pete Dance Center Sunday, Oct. 8. Their mission was threefold: to celebrate the dance studio’s recent opening, learn Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance and raise funds for the Mauro Youth Ballet School in Puerto Rico. 

“It was a ribbon cutting with an undead twist, and we’re thankful to be able to help a studio whose students desperately need assistance,” says Saint Pete Dance Center owner Katie Fader.

Donations were accepted for the Mauro Youth Ballet, whose Puerto Rico studio was badly damaged by Hurricane Maria. Added to structural concerns, Mauro dancers also face a lack of supplies such as leotards and pointe shoes. A GoFundMe campaign explains that these children face a long road as their community recovers.

“We try to teach our young dancers to express themselves, and that expression includes empathy,” Fader says. “This is our attempt to help, and learning an iconic dance is a bonus.”

The Saint Pete Dance Center opened its doors in September and offers classes for children and adults. Fader plans to head her studio zombie squad of adults and children October 29 as part of Thrill St. Pete, the local division of Thrill the World. www.thrilltheworld.com This organization of Thriller devotees performs the dance simultaneously with other groups across the globe. Their goal is to break the world record of the most people performing Thriller at one time.

To teach the dance made famous in Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video, Thrill St. Pete volunteer instructors Jennifer Crawford and Julia Burdick demonstrated the steps in easy-to-learn sequences. An hour later, the zombie squad had achieved tentative mastery. 

Thrill St. Pete offers many opportunities for instruction community-wide, Burdick says, and usually collects donations for the charity The Kind Mouse during their events. Here is a link to an 83 Degrees story about The Kind Mouse.

With the latest storms still fresh in mind, giving to the Mauro Youth Ballet made sense.

“We give back to the community at the same time we dress up and pretend to be characters in Thriller,” she says. “It’s just so much fun.”

Donate to the Mauro Youth Ballet recovery effort.

View available practice dates and discover how to join the world record Thriller attempt by visiting the web page for Thrill St. Pete.

To suggest additional story ideas, email 83 Degrees.

To subscribe to our free weekly e-magazine, follow this link.

Arts and culture equal big business in Hillsborough

Editor's note: Due to the uncertainty of the impact of Hurricane Irma, the Hillsborough Arts Council has canceled this Sept. 14 event at Tampa Theatre.

Many may think supporting the arts is an act of charity or something done just for fun, but a new study outlines the true value in terms of dollars and sense. In fiscal year 2015, the nonprofit arts and culture industry had an economic impact of $433.2 million in Hillsborough County alone.

That’s the message Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts, will share between 8-9 a.m. September 14 at Tampa Theatre, 711 North Franklin St., in downtown Tampa.

“So often people just see the arts as being a quality of life issue, and they don’t think about the economic impact,” explains Martine Meredith Collier, Executive Director of the Tampa-based Arts Council of Hillsborough County.

The Arts and Economic Prosperity study by Americans for the Arts, its fifth, documents the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture industry in 341 regions within the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The Arts Council paid $10,250 for the local impact study with funding from the Hillsborough County Economic Development office and the Gobioff Foundation. The council joined the study as a partner to receive a customized analysis.

The numbers show the arts have had a growing role. Since fiscal year 2008, the economic impact of arts in Hillsborough climbed from nearly $298 million.

Collier points out business and government support for the arts is good for business. “It really is not a frill. People want to live in communities that have a vibrant cultural scene,” she says.

Today’s young entrepreneurs can choose to live wherever they want. “They can live anywhere as long as there is an airport and a computer connection,” she explains. “They’re choosing where to live, where to raise a family, by what that communities offer. If you don’t have a vibrant cultural scene, you’re cutting yourself off.”

Of the $433.2 million, arts and culture within the City of Tampa accounted for $349.2 million, according to a separate report.

In the Tampa Bay region, nonprofit arts and culture had the most dramatic economic impact in Hillsborough County, followed by $295 million impact in Sarasota County and nearly a $241 million impact in Pinellas County, according to estimates. The economic impact of the industry in Manatee County was some $47.4 million, compared to nearly $46.6 million in Polk County.

The event, which begins with networking at 7:30 a.m., is free and open to the general public. Interested parties are asked to RSVP.

Cohen has published one of the largest national public opinion studies on the arts, Americans Speak Out About the Arts. He also publishes Arts and Economic Prosperity and Creative Industries, two premier economic studies of the art industries. His blog, 10 Reasons to Support the Arts, earned the Gold Award given by the Association of Media and Publishing.

The council, in its 50th year, will be using findings from the study through its three-year strategic plan. “We’re going to be continuing to promote the value of arts and culture through our strategic plan,” she says.

The study found nonprofit arts and cultural events drew visitors who spent an average of  $67.51 per person, in addition to admission.

It shows 78.7 percent of those who visit Hillsborough County for a cultural event come primarily for that event. “The [non-resident] survey also asked local resident attendees about what they would have done if the arts event that they were attending was not taking place: 51.3 percent of resident attendees said they would have ‘traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural event,' " the report notes.

Forty-two percent, or more than 2 million people, who attended local arts events included in the study were non-residents. They spent nearly $155 million in addition to admission fees.

The arts industry supports 14,962 full-time jobs with a household income of some $329.1 million in Hillsborough County.

Nearly 65 percent of the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations took part in the study countywide. “We were very successful in getting all of the larger budget organizations,” Collier adds.

Art lovers can learn more about the area art scene through the Art Council's new publication, A Guide to Arts and Culture, available in print and digital formats.


Do you love to work with kids? Encore Tampa Bay is recruiting volunteers

Tampa Bay is one of 16 communities nationwide that is piloting a grassroots program aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable children. Called Generation to Generation, the program mobilizes older adults, who share their talents and experience.

“The goal of the national campaign is to mobilize over 1 million adults in the next five years to serve in any kind of role helping kids,” says Bevan Rogel, Executive Director of Encore Tampa Bay, a nonprofit initiative working under the umbrella of Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

The adults may read to children, or be a mentor or friend. “We think it’s a match made in heaven,” she says. “We think it’s going to be a good thing for the community.”

Encore Tampa Bay is part of a larger movement of Baby Boomers, who are realizing in their 50s and 60s or beyond that they want to do something more with their life: they want an encore. They want to use their skills and talents. That may mean starting a new business, volunteering, using a skill in new ways, or starting another career.

“Older people realize they can live the life that they’ve always wanted to live, instead of doing what was expected of them,” she says.

When they retire or become empty nesters, seniors aren’t always sure what they want to do. “Older adults say they want to do something to help kids, but they don’t always know where to go,” she says.

Generation to Generation, an Encore initiative, gives adults a chance to discover what they’d like to do, while sharing the depths of their experiences with young people. “It’s a learning lab. We’re trying different things,” she says. “It’s not just a call for social action. It’s really looking at going deep within different communities.”

Generation to Generation will be working with community centers, neighborhood associations, libraries, retired teachers, alumni, corporate groups and clubs to identify ways to help children through partnerships.

Encore Tampa Bay is recruiting both partners who work with older adults -- and older adults to work with children starting in January. It is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, Metropolitan Ministries, R’Club Child Care, Inc., and United Way Suncoast in the two-year program.

“We can’t do this alone. We need organizations,” she says. “People who are in front of older adults all the time.”

Initially the program is targeting three areas: Wimauma, Tampa Heights and South St. Petersburg.

Volunteer leadership roles are available in multiple areas including marketing, storytelling, evaluation, community outreach and ambassadorship.

Ultimately, the goal of Generation to Generation is to expand beyond the older and younger sets. So, there won’t be any “carding” if younger adults want to lend a helping hand, Rogel says.

“Our bigger effort is to involve all generations in helping kids,” she says.


For Good: Fast Pitch seeks entries from Tampa Bay Area nonprofits

It’s like Shark Tank, nonprofit style. And it’s coming to Tampa November 9. Ten nonprofit organizations will be competing for some $40,000 in an event inspired by the popular TV show for businesses seeking funding.

Tampa will be the first Fast Pitch event with an accelerator program through the Seattle-based Social Venture Partners. It also is the first Fast Pitch event for the Tampa chapter started in 2014; nonprofits will be vying for funding from SVP partners.

We really want to give them an opportunity in Tampa to amplify their impact,” says Jennifer Finney, a partner for SVP and member of the team spearheading the effort. “It’s zero cost to the nonprofit and to the attendees.”

The program seeks to better equip nonprofits to “execute their mission and their vision, as well as have access to all the tools and the resources that we can provide,” Finney explains. “We want a build a space for them to really collaborate.”

Nonprofits must apply by August 14; finalists will be announced August 21. The pitch competition is slated for November 9, although the location has not been finalized.

Participating nonprofits will be able to prepare for the competition with five different workshop nights and an assigned mentor, she says. Those who complete the two-month program will have a business plan.

SVP, a group of philanthropists looking to give back to their community, has been partnering with Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the University of Tampa, where Finney is the first female to graduate from the Sykes College of Business with a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship.

“They [Community Foundation members] have a lot of experience in the nonprofit space. They have been very helpful to us,” Finney says. “They’ve been very generous with their time and their resources.”

Finney, 23, transferred to UT when her family relocated from Chicago to Tampa about three years ago. “I fell in love with it, especially their entrepreneurship program. I liked it so much I went for my master’s degree,” she says.

She competed on UT’s HULT Prize competition two years in a row.

Now Finney plans to take a job as an employee benefits advisor with Tampa’s Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners in the fall. “We all live in Tampa. We all want to see great success here in Tampa,” she says. “It’s not Chicago or New York by size, but there’s a lot of really passionate and talented people here making Tampa one of the greatest places to live. You really can’t beat the weather.”


City of Tampa digitizes old photo collections, now available to public

For years, the Burgert Brothers photography collection has provided Tampa historians and history buffs an incomparable look back at the community’s history. The 15,000 photographs taken by the local photography firm between the late 1800s and early 1960s, available for online viewing on the Hillsborough County Public Library website, is now being joined by two more extensive collections of photographs chronicling life in the Tampa Bay Area from the 1940s through the 1990s. 

The announcement comes in commemoration of Tampa’s 130th birthday and also coincides with the city’s Archives Awareness Week, an annual event that was founded by the City of Tampa Archives Advisory Committee in 1992. These photographs, ranging from 1950 until 1990, feature local landmarks, events, local elected officials and dignitaries, street scenes and other topics of interest to Tampa Bay Area historians and history buffs. 

The newly released archival images include 30,000 photographs from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Collection, which was donated by the Tampa Historical Society to the City of Tampa in 1994. The Tampa Photo Supply Collection was donated to the city in 2016 and includes 50,000 images taken by local photographers Rose Rutigliano Weekley and Joseph Scolaro between 1940 and 1990; they focus mainly on subjects from West Tampa, Ybor City, and South Tampa and include images of graduations, weddings and scenes from daily life. 

All told, these 80,000 newly available historic Tampa photographs represent quintuple the number of images in the existing archive of 15,000 Burgert Brothers images presently available to the public. 

“Digitization of the Tampa Photo Supply Collection should be done within a year,” says City of Tampa Archives and Records Manager Jennifer Dietz. Presently, about 50 percent of that collection has been digitized. “The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Collection may take a bit longer to complete.” 

Dietz says negatives of the images from the Greater Chamber of Commerce Collection have been available to the public for years. 

“This is how it was accessed for many years prior to our digitization efforts and collaboration with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library.” She explains that handling the negatives has become a challenging task due to natural deterioration. “Due to vinegar syndrome [a type of acetate film breakdown common with aging negatives], the negatives from the Tampa Photo Supply Collection are frail and in quarantine at our offsite archives vault.”

The 35-millimeter negatives from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Collection are being scanned in at 1,200 dots per inch (dpi). Meanwhile, negatives from the Tampa Photo Supply Collection measure four inches by five inches and are being scanned at 600 dpi. 

In other words, photographs from both collections will be available in a high-resolution format that is perfect for both viewing and publication. Dietz says these images will be available for use in nonprofit and commercial books, scholarly materials and other media works, provided that credit is given to the City of Tampa Archives and Records Division. 

“We are hoping to get everything from these two collections uploaded within the next five years,” she remarks. “We are very excited about releasing these two historic photo collections and feel they will be valuable resources for researchers and the citizens of Tampa.” 

To search Tampa’s photographic archives online and for more information, please visit the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative Digital Collections website.

For Good: RCMA Wimauma Academy rejoices in top math scores

Mandy Johnson, third-grade teacher at Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) Wimauma Academy, says she got goosebumps when she received the news of her students not just passing, but excelling on the Florida Standards Assessment. The entire grade level, 36 students, achieved a passing score. 

“This is a great achievement,” says Johnson, who teaches math using a marching cadence. “My kids live in poverty and we still beat the rest of the schools in the county. That speaks volumes.’’ 

The students take the exam in the spring. Results released in June show that no other school in Hillsborough County, and only 11 others statewide, achieved a 100 percent passing rate for an entire grade level. The school’s fourth- and fifth-graders surpassed the state average for math and the averages of other elementary schools in the Wimauma area. In addition, students at RCMA Leadership Academy recorded higher math passing rates than the area’s neighboring middle schools. 

“I am elated with not only the third grade math results, but with our results overall,” says Mark Haggett, principal of the RCMA Academies in Wimauma. “In a time where so many negative things in general are being said politically, we have stressed to our scholars that the best way to combat that thinking is to show everyone their ability, which is just what they have done.’’ 
 

One of Johnson’s students, Diego Sanches, received a perfect score on the math portion of the exam. All 64 questions right, Johnson says with an air of pride. For the past four years, Johnson’s classes have achieved a 97, 95s, and now 100 percent proficiency on the math portion of the standardized test. 

“Strong leadership, effective instruction and parent partnerships contributed to our students’ success,” says Juana Brown, RCMA’s director of charter schools. “There was such fierce determination and focus on the part of everyone in our school community.” 

So, how is Johnson managing to help children who are disadvantaged by a language barrier achieve such high scores?
 
“I teach it, review it and drill it until my students get it,’’ she says. “Language is a barrier, but these kids are always ready to learn. They come everyday eager to learn because they know I will teach them something new. They work hard.” 

Johnson implements STANDOUT Math methods and strategies in her lessons. STANDOUT Math is a program that combines oral, visual and kinesthetic aspects to achieve a whole brain math approach. Johnson says that what she learned from the creator of STANDOUT Math was based on the Colorado state standards, so she adjusted it for her own students’ needs, creating chants and songs for the math concepts she teaches. 

So far, Johnson has written 50 chants associated with the math concepts she teaches, which her students memorize.
 
Johnson, who has a military background, says she also uses Fact Fluency, a multiplication and division program, in her classroom. 

For homework, Johnson assigns two pages front and back with a variety of assignments such as five multiplication, five area and five measurement problems. The idea is that they develop different skills, she says. By the end of the academic year, she has brought the homework load to five pages front and back. By then, the students can solve addition, subtraction, fraction and division problems. 

“I’m not mean, but I’m strict,” Johnson says. “My kids know what they do first, second, third and fourth. We sing, and we play review games. I show them I care for them. They know they have a teacher that will be there for them, that will support them.’’
 
In her teaching career, Johnson has taught in both all white and mixed schools, but RCMA is Johnson’s first experience working with all Hispanic children. 

“I love them. I tell them often, your parents brought you to this country because they don’t want you to work on the fields, they want you to do better,” Johnson says. 

Johnson has taught seven years at RCMA. She taught second grade for three years and third grade for four years. Next year, besides teaching two groups of third grade, Johnson will work reviewing math chants with fourth and fifth graders.
 
“We’ve known that with the right environment and good, passionate teachers who constantly strive to improve learning, students can succeed,” Brown said. “And they’re doing just that.” 

Para bien: RCMA Wimauma Academy se regocija por lograr las mejores puntuaciones en matemáticas

Mandy Johnson, maestra de tercer grado en la Academia de Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) en Wimauma, se sorprendió cuando recibió la noticia de que sus clases no solo lograron un puntaje alto, sino que el 100 por ciento de sus alumnos aprobaron el examen estatal de estándares Florida Standard Assessment (FSA). Ambos grupos de tercer grado, los 36 estudiantes, lograron puntaje aprobatorio.

 “Este es un gran logro”, dijo Johnson, quien enseña matemáticas usando cantos al ritmo y cadencia de marchas. “Mis alumnos viven en la pobreza y aún así les ganamos al resto de las escuelas del condado. Eso dice mucho”, agregó.

Los estudiantes tomaron el examen en primavera. Los resultados dados a conocer la semana pasada muestran que no hubo otra escuela en el condado de Hillsborough, y solo 11 otras en todo el Estado, lograron el 100 por ciento de porcentaje aprobatorio en todo el tercer grado. Los alumnos de cuarto y quinto grado de la escuela también sobrepasaron los promedios estatales en matemáticas y los promedios de otras escuelas elementales del área de Wimauma. Además, estudiantes de la academia de liderazgo RCMA Leadership Academy lograron porcentajes aprobatorios más altos que las escuelas medias de áreas vecinas.

"Estoy muy contento no solo con los resultados de matemáticas del tercer grado, sino con nuestros resultados en general", dijo Mark Haggett, director de las Academias RCMA en Wimauma. "En un tiempo en el que se dicen tantas cosas negativas en términos políticos, hemos subrayado a nuestros estudiantes que la mejor manera de combatir ese pensamiento es mostrando todas su habilidad, que es exactamente lo que han hecho", agregó.

Uno de los estudiantes de Johnson, Diego Sanches, logró una puntuación perfecta en la porción de matemáticas del examen. Contestó las 64 preguntas correctamente, dijo Johnson con un aire de orgullo.

Durante los últimos 4 años, los grupos de Johnson han logrado 97, 95 y 100 por ciento de puntajes aprobatorios en la porción de matemáticas en el examen estatal.

"Un liderazgo fuerte, instrucción eficaz y el apoyo de los padres de familia contribuyeron al éxito de nuestros estudiantes", dijo Juana Brown, directora de escuelas chárter de RCMA. "Había una determinación y enfoque feroz por parte de todos los miembros de nuestra comunidad escolar".

Pero, ¿cómo le hace Johnson para ayudar a niños desfavorecidos por la barrera del lenguaje a alcanzar tales puntuaciones?

"Enseño, repaso y practico”, enfatizó Johnson. “Hasta que mis estudiantes lo comprendan y lo asimilen. Cuando el lenguaje es una barrera, estos niños están siempre dispuestos a aprender. Todos los días vienen con ganas de aprender porque saben que les enseñaré algo nuevo. Trabajan duro”, añadió.

Johnson implementa métodos y estrategias como STANDOUT Math en sus lecciones. STANDOUT Math es un programa que  combina aspectos orales, visuales y de movimientos para lograr un mejor aprovechamiento de matemáticas. Johnson dijo que aprendió el programa de la creadora de STANDOUT Math con base en los estándares del estado de Colorado, por lo que ella hizo sus propios ajustes de acuerdo a las necesidades de sus estudiantes en Wimauma, creando cantos y canciones para los conceptos de matemáticas que ella enseña.

Hasta el momento, Johnson ha escrito 50 cantos asociados con los conceptos de matemáticas que enseña y sus estudiantes los han aprendido, dijo.

Johnson, quien trabajó en la Fuerza Aérea de los Estados Unidos, dijo que también utiliza como estrategia de enseñanza Fact Fluency, un programa de multiplicaciones y divisiones.

De tarea, Johnson asigna dos páginas de frente y reverse con una variedad de problemas de matemáticas, por ejemplo, cinco multiplicaciones, cinco problemas de área y cinco de medidas. La idea es que desarrollen diferentes habilidades, dijo. Para el final del año, la maestro aumenta la carga de tarea a 5 páginas, frente y reverso. Para entonces, los estudiantes pueden resolver problemas varios, por ejemplo sumas, restas, divisiones y fracciones.

"Yo no soy mala pero soy estricta", dijo Johnson. "Mis niños saben lo que tienen que hacer primero, segundo, tercero y cuarto. Cantamos y participamos en juegos de revisión y repaso. Les muestro que me importan. Ellos saben que tienen un profesora que estará allí para ellos cuando lo necesiten, que les apoyará”, dijo.

En su carrera como educadora, Johnson ha enseñado en escuelas de blancos y mixtas, pero RCMA es la primera experiencia en la que Johnson trabaja con la gran mayoría de niños hispanos.

 “Me encantan. Les digo con frecuencia, sus padres los trajeron aquí porque no quieren que ustedes trabajen en los campos de cultivo, ellos quieren algo mejor para ustedes”, comentó Johnson.

Johnson ha enseñado siete años en RCMA. Enseñó Segundo grado por 3 años, y tercer años por cuatro años. El año entrante, además de sus dos grupos de tercer año, Johnson trabajará con alumnos de cuarto y quinto año para ayudarlos a repasar sus cantos de matemáticas con el fin de que mantengan frescos los conceptos aprendidos.

"Sabemos que con el entorno adecuado y profesores buenos, apasionados, que se esfuerzan constantemente por mejorar el aprendizaje, los estudiantes pueden tener éxito", precisó Brown. -- “Y eso es precisamente lo que están haciendo.”


Loan agreement reached to spare Wimauma’s Wholesome Church, expand role in community

A Wimauma church, whose domed sanctuary was in danger of being raised to build custom homes, received approval May 17 for a loan to purchase the property along U.S. Highway 301.

“It’s been a miracle. God has opened doors,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wimauma’s Wholesome Church.

Wholesome, which has been renting the property for five years, appealed to the public in March for $235,000 to buy the property and keep it from being torn down to build a subdivision. The owner, River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, had received an offer from a developer for the property valued at $1.5 million. River of Life gave Wholesome the first right of purchase, at a considerable discount, but it asked Wholesome to act or vacate.

After deadline extensions in March and April, Florida Community Loan Fund approved the church's application for the loan, with conditions. A closing is anticipated on or before June 30.

The Florida Community Loan Fund, according to its website, "was founded in 1994 to provide a statewide source of flexible financing for delivering capital to low-income communities to support community development projects by nonprofit organizations throughout the state. Today it has made over 200 loans for a total of over $195 million to over 100 organizations to improve social and economic conditions in communities all across Florida.''

The Dream goes on to help the Wimauma community,” Irizarry says. “We still need to raise $20,000 for closing cost and other expenses involved.”

The church is accepting donations on its website and at Go Fund Me, where it has raised $1,125 for its “Save the Dome” campaign.

Wholesome also is expected to have a lease agreement to rent a house on the property before the closing date, make the church available for those who want to rent it for meetings, and have the needed appraisal and inspections.

The owners are fully cooperating with us,” Irizarry says. “We agreed on the contract. That’s how we were able to proceed with the application.”

The pastor credits a “Dream Team” God put together for the miracle, which played out after he was referred to the Florida Community Loan Fund by an advisor, Manny Rivero. The team included Olga and Joe Gonzalez, grant writer Leigh Chambliss, his wife, Judy, and other volunteers, such as Bob Buesing of Trenam Law, who provided free legal representation to Wholesome Church.

“Our church members were faithful, praying outside the church,” he adds. “No inch was left not saturated with prayer.”

Irizarry also is grateful to donors.

Now that the loan has been approved, the church will be more available for community uses and is seeking nonprofit groups to partner with in ministry to the largely rural community in south Hillsborough County. Nearly 80 percent of Wimauma residents are Hispanic; most landowners are multi-generational African-Americans or whites.

“We want to expand as soon as possible. Now you’re going to see more involvement with the community,” he asserts. “We’re ready for action.”

Wholesome had developed extensive plans for the property on the east side of U.S. 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674, but it could not proceed until it secured ownership. Those plans include health and youth centers, a preschool/ administration building, kitchen hall, multipurpose building and thrift shop.

Once the sale is complete, Wholesome will focus its efforts on a pre-school, New Generation Academy, it plans to open in the fall. “We’re going to prepare room,” he says.

A coalition of people concerned about the community of Wimauma has targeted early learning as a priority for its young children, who may be hindered because their parents don't speak English. With help from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC and others, the group has been working to expand educational opportunities for children of all ages and their families.

Wholesome also is moving forward with plans for the health center to provide chronic care, behavioral and mental health services. A practicing nurse, Irizarry, plans to work at the center.

“We don’t have a timeline to open,” he says. “We just want to take one step at a time.”


Head Start moving into Lee Davis Center

Head Start will re-open in a refurbished Lee Davis Community Resource Center in Tampa on May 30, becoming the first one-stop shop center for Head Start and Hillsborough County social services for all ages.

The innovative center will house two state-of-the-art Head Start classrooms with smart boards, or large boards used with reading software, and will accommodate 40 children ages 3 to 5, says Mimi Jefferson, Manager of Education Administration.

Its administrative staff also will be on site at 3402 N. 22 St. Kiosks in front will let visitors access social service and Head Start applications.

“It will be open to the public also to come in and do after-hours activities,” says Dr. Jacquelyn Jenkins, Head Start Department Director.

Parents can enroll eligible children for Head Start online. The program runs from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday year round.

Head Start is relocating to Lee Davis from the West Tampa Head Start Center at 1129 W. Main St., where it was inside the Tampa Housing Authority. About six staff members will be moving as well.

Audrey Ziegler, Director of Hillsborough County’s Social Services Department, says Lee Davis hopefully will serve as a model for multi-purpose uses “under one roof.”

“At Lee Davis, we will have Head Start, Aging Services, Social Services and Healthy Living. We will also be having a Public Library Computer Lab,” she says.

Flexible meeting space also is planned.

The new Healthy Living space will serve center clients and Hillsborough County HealthCare plan enrollees with exercise programs, exercise equipment, health education classes, nutrition consultation, mobile health screenings and more, says Gene Early Jr. Department Director for the county’s Health Care Services Department.

“The program will emphasize preventive health, disease management, weight loss, mental health early intervention, health education, nutrition and physical exercise and movement, offering these residents information and options to help them live healthier lives,” he adds.

Healthy Living program facilities, also anticipated for the South Shore and Plant City communities, are scheduled to open later in the summer.

A grand opening of the newly renovated Lee Davis center is anticipated in August, when all tenants were expected to be on site, Ziegler adds.

Renovations at Lee Davis, built in 1986, have been under way since 2016. The facility has remained open during the refurbishing, which cost nearly $2.9 million.

While Lee Davis will be the first facility to house Head Start along with Social Services, Ziegler says, the Town and Country facility does offer multiple services including Head Start, plus aging and library services.  

County officials are trying to customize the one-stop shop concept in other areas of the county to minimize travel for its constituents.

“It wouldn’t be a one size fits all if we really speak to different pockets in our community,” Ziegler says.

At Lee Davis, the county offers homeless prevention services, including assistance with rent and utilities, to eligible individuals. It also connects residents to social services case managers for job placement and adult education.


Multicultural Family Day shares wealth of varied cultures

The world is a diverse place, but it also is vast. Hindered by limited experiences, people may be lulled into stereotypical beliefs that cause division. Richedean Hills-Ackbar is working to change that.

An African-American from a very culturally diverse family, which includes a variety of Hispanic cultures and Japanese, Hills-Ackbar has decided to share the richness of cultural diversity with the public June 25 at Tampa’s Water Works Park.

The occasion? Multicultural Family Day.

“It’s really to break down these barriers that people have gotten from just watching TV,” Hills-Ackbar explains.

Organized by the Taste of East Tampa, founded by Caregiver’s Helping Hand and Central Florida Community Planning and Development, Multicultural Family Day is a free event catering to the entire family. Activities are slated from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; visitors can come by car or ride a water taxi.

The event features a Kid Zone, sponsored by Sunshine Health, where there will be face painting, henna tattoos and a splash pad, plus an art contest with $200, $100 and $50 prizes sponsored by Molina Healthcare. The winners will be announced at 3 p.m. Mexican girls aged 5 to 12 will share their cultural dances as well.

A special section is being set up to accommodate wheelchairs.

Even pets are welcome. “Water Works Park has a dog park there,” says Hills-Ackbar, Founder of Caregiver’s Helping Hand.

Music includes reggae and a Spanish band that will play a variety of different styles. “If you like to dance, that’ll be great,” she says.

She also is planning a Chinese dragon dance and seeking people who want to learn it.

Vendors will sell different types of cuisine including Thai, Mediterranean, Japanese fusion and the typical American foods like hamburgers and hot dogs.

Although this is the first Multicultural Family Day, there was a multicultural evening event last August at Pepin’s Hospitality Centre. The initial idea came about two years ago.

“We share everything, the experiences the food and everything like that,” she says of her family. I thought other people could enjoy that same experience.”

In the end, she hopes others will learn to appreciate other cultures without trying to change them. “What I’m trying to build on is like a mini world,” she explains, “so that people can mix together and see.”


For Good: Ex-offenders to build tiny homes with Big Idea Grant funds

An established, ex-offender re-entry organization, looking to build tiny homes in South St. Petersburg, has won a $50,000 Big Idea Grant awarded by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

The Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition won the award for its Second Chance Tiny House Manufacturing Company, which will train people coming out of jails and prisons for construction jobs, says Wilma Norton, the Foundation’s VP of Marketing and Communications.

There were 31 applications for the award that promotes self sufficiency. It is the second time the Community Foundation has offered the grant.

They’ve got partnerships with a host of people and a revenue stream to pay for the continuing cost of operation, but they need startup costs,” Norton says of PERC, which plans to build and sell tiny houses to private citizens and local government.

Michael Jalazo, PERC’s CEO/Executive Director, says the organization was “grateful and humble” to receive the award. He expects to have the first tiny house up by June.

“We’d like to see the tiny house movement take off,” he adds.

With the grant, Jalazo is looking to build at least eight tiny homes on land cleared by abandoned and condemned homes, most of them in South St. Petersburg. It is prepared to “ramp up” efforts and build even more as funds are available, he says.

In the process, he hopes to keep the ex-offenders out of jail and prison, while providing homes for the homeless.

PERC already has been given housing plans. It also has scoped out a possible location for construction: the old Lealman Fire Station.

Big Idea Grant finalists were Arriba Transportation, proposed by Enterprising Latinas of Wimauma, and Evergreen Life Services, which proposed to teach basic skills to the disabled through virtual-reality technology.

The foundation will continue to work with the finalists and other applicants to gain funding, Norton says.

In 2015, two donors came up with an extra $50,000 apiece so three non-profits could proceed with their projects.

Arriba Transportation is seeking to provide six bus routes, seven days a week, to the Wimauma/Ruskin area using 15-seat vans. Its goal is to take riders to work and school, as well as connecting them to a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus route.

“We know instances where people have paid $200 to go to the Mexican Counselate in Orlando. ...” says Liz Gutierrez, the organization’s Founder and CEO. “People in this community pay $65 to get to Tampa General. We can change that.”

Evergreen Life Services offers a variety of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Its social enterprise, HEAVENDROPt, is located in St. Petersburg, where it creates new products with parachutes used by U.S. veterans.

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