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For Good

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For Good: St. Pete Clinic nears construction of new home for homeless

Homeless women will have a new place to stay next year in downtown St. Petersburg thanks to the generosity of Tampa Bay residents.
The new building will be a two-story 20,000-square-feet haven for women who are either homeless or deemed “working poor,’’ meaning they make too much money to qualify for government assistance but not enough money to afford housing, food and the average cost of living.

“The style of the building called new-urban, is similar to the neighborhood of St. Pete,’’ says Beth Houghton, executive director of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.  “The core of the building will house 50 women, 20 of those women will be in semi-private rooms and the other 30 women will be in smaller, but private rooms. We had been a 20-bed facility in the old building. So it's a very big increase.’’

There will be a training room and facility for training including computer skills, resume writing and budgeting. The kitchen is set up so that the women can cook together, and other people can come in and teach about better nutrition.

Houghton says the total project cost is about $4 million, and to date they have either gifts in hand or pledges for $3.6 million.

“We are thrilled and excited, but we need a little more,’’ she says. “The project will be named for David and Virginia Baldwin, and it will be called the Baldwin Women’s Residence. David gave a substantial lead gift in honor of his late wife and “helped us move forward in making this happen.’’

The clinic also has a loan with Cornerstone Bank should they need any additional funding. The contractor on the project is Hennessy Construction out of St. Pete. 

The Baldwin Women’s Residence is set to be completed in January 2016.

For Good: Pie a Tampa Bay tech leader's face for a good cause

How much would you pay to throw a pie at a Tampa Bay tech leader?

If your answer is around $10 a pie, you’re in luck! On an upcoming Friday the 13th, you’ll get the chance.

Nitro Mobile Solutions is hosting the “Pi a Tech Leader in the Face Fundraiser” from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, March 13, at Love’s Artifacts Bar and Grill, located at 4918 S MacDill Ave. in Tampa. 

Local Tampa Bay tech leaders who are putting their faces on the line include:

Ryan Dorrell, CIO of AgileThought; Ken Evans from Startup Monkey; Kyle Matthews, with Laicos; Doug Pace, COO and Executive VP of Bayshore Solutions; Daniel James Scott, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum; and Nitro Mobile Solutions CEO Pete Slade.

Lauren Webber, a social marketing specialist at Nitro Mobile Solutions, anticipates more than 150 fundraiser attendees.
Pies will be sold for $10 each or 3 pies for $25 -- cash only. The event is free to attend, but registration is required. The event will also feature a silent auction.

Details and registration can be found here.

The “Pi a Tech Leader in the Face Fundraiser” will benefit Computer Mentors Group, a local nonprofit that provides at-risk youth with certifications in various tech-based programs. The group teaches skills like mobile app development, website design, Microsoft Office certification and videography.

Nitro Mobile Solutions chose the Computer Mentors Group as the beneficiary of the community fundraising event after working with the nonprofit previously, Webber says.

The nonprofit’s mission is to provide opportunities for educational and employment success by bridging the technology divide for populations without sufficient economic resources. In 2014, Computer Mentors Group founder Ralph Smith contacted Nitro Mobile Solutions to arrange a mentorship relationship between the company and CMG participants.

“When we learned the cause and mission behind CMG, we immediately knew this was a nonprofit that we should support,” Webber says.

In November 2014, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected CMG’s David Harris as the ninth Lightning Community Hero of the Year. CMG, which has been in the Tampa Bay area since 1997, is expanding programs thanks to the $50,000 Harris was awarded, which he donated to CMG.

Nitro Mobile Solutions is a growing mobile software development company in Tampa, Florida. The company’s culture is a critical part of its success, Webber says.

Current open positions with Nitro Mobile Solutions include an iOS Developer, Android Developer, C# .NET Developer, and Support Specialist.

For Good: Social Venture Partners foster creative philanthropy in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay chapter of Social Venture Partners is on a mission to create connections to the nonprofit community and take a new approach to philanthropy. 

The 23-member group is the first Bay area affiliate of the national, Seattle-based organization, which has a global network of more than 3,500 partners in 39 cities. SVP brings together individuals and organizations that want to find innovative solutions to often chronic social and environmental problems in society.

Money matters but SVP's national Executive Connector Paul Shoemaker says, "They'll do this not just with money but with professional expertise. We go beyond your checkbook. The end game is we connect so we can create positive change in the community and create a deeper sense of purpose in your life."

Shoemaker was guest speaker at the launch of the local SVP at a breakfast at Le Meridien Hotel.

Debra Koehler, President of Sage Partners LLC, and Rebekah Heppner are founders of  SVP Tampa Bay. Koehler is chairwoman of the group's advisory committee; Heppner is its executive director.

Partners include bankers, real estate agents, public relations directors, technology professionals, and one local organization, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Each partner donates a minimum of $5,000 but also commits to giving in-kind resources of time and expertise to aid an adopted nonprofit.

"You get a lot of personal satisfaction from this," Heppner says.

The focus is on finding small and mid-level nonprofits that need help moving to the next level and would benefit from "human capital not just financial capital," says Shoemaker.

Community Tampa Bay is the first nonprofit identified as a recipient of a $25,000 grant. The next step is a needs assessment to identify areas where partners can provide support over the next three years. This may be advice on marketing, accounting, fund raising, social media or computer technology.

"It's time for us to grow again," says Jennifer Russell, executive director of Community Tampa Bay. "Doing the assessment will show what we are doing well and where there are gaps."

Community Tampa Bay traces its history to the late 1920s and the formation of the National Conference of Christians and Jews which advocated for religious tolerance. The agency later broadened its mission to fight all forms of discrimination and became the National Conference for Community and Justice. However,  the national agency closed in 2005. The Tampa agency then re-branded and became Community Tampa Bay.

Based in St. Petersburg, Community Tampa Bay continues to promote social justice through education and activities that promote inclusive relationships. 

Koehler says the group hopes to add more partners in future and hopefully establish a relationship next year with a second nonprofit.

"It's all a matter of growth and how many partners we have," she says. "We don't want to commit to a nonprofit unless we can help."

For information, visit the website for Social Venture Partners.

For Good: Palm Harbor practice provides free dental work for veterans

Brian Carlsen is proud of the work done by Dentistry from the Heart, a nonprofit where he served as director for several years.

The Tampa Bay area charity provides free dental care by donor dental professionals to the needy and working poor. Since its inception in 2001, it has helped more than 300,000 people in 350 events worldwide.

Now Carlsen has branched off on his own with the Omni Foundation, a nonprofit he recently set up to facilitate charitable events. The first event he’s helping organize? A day of free dental care on Friday, Jan. 9, for military veterans at the Hollywood Smile Center in Palm Harbor. 

“It’s definitely an area I’m familiar with,” he says. “But as the foundation grows, I won’t be limited to just free dentistry.”

There’s another reason why he’s involved with the event. For his day job – the one that actually pays him a salary – Carlsen is the director of marketing for the Hollywood Smile Center owned by Dr. William Jarmolych.

The dentist is known for his community outreach programs. His practice sponsored Free Care Sundays this past October and November. A staff member suggested this time they focus on veterans.

“They tend to be an underserved sector of our population,” Carlsen says. “Even if they do get benefits, they may have to wait a long time to get an appointment.”

Doors to the dental practice will open at 7:30 a.m. Care will be provided to a guaranteed 75 veterans on a first-come, first-served basis. They may select one of the three treatment options – a free filling, a free extraction or a free cleaning.

Refreshments will be served to keep everyone comfortable during the wait, Carlsen says.

Because the Omni is a registered charity, any events it operates can be considered tax-deductible for the donors. Carlsen will help companies who want to “build their business by giving back” with promotional services and legal protection.

“A paycheck pays the bills. But the foundation is the most meaningful work in my life,” he says. “Because when the day ends, I can say I did something right that will make a difference.”

The Hollywood Smile Center is at 2702 Tampa Road, just east of U.S. 19. For more information about the free dental day for veterans, call (727) 781-2424.

For Good: Habitat's Hammers & Heels builds home in St. Pete for woman in need

One Pinellas County woman desperately needed her own home. So nearly 150 women made it possible.

Altamease Mack, a local Hospice care team assistant, is cherishing the keys to a brand-new Habitat for Humanity house at 7265 34th Ave. N., St. Petersburg.
It even comes with its own name: Girl PowerHouse. That’s because it was built in eight weeks by a team of all female volunteers, and funded by Habitat Pinellas’ women’s philanthropy group, Hammers & Heels, led by honorary chair Judy Mitchell, former president and owner of Peter R. Brown Construction. This is the group’s first dedicated project.

Even Mack got involved, putting in Habitat’s required 20 courses and 250 “sweat equity” hours.

“We were overwhelmed by the response,” says Linzy Wilson, volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County. “There was such energy and excitement to be part of this.” She says Hammer & Heels members, now at 56, hope to make this an annual project.

The project drew a diverse group, from women in their 20s up to 70s. Some even decorated their hardhats in the spirit of Girl PowerHouse. One group decided the on-site Porta-Potty needed a little sprucing up, adding pink towels, a mirror and hand soap to the unit.

Mack had to be approved for a special interest-free loan provided for qualifying Habitat recipients, making home ownership possible for those living on a modest income. Construction on Habitat homes doesn’t begin until the chosen homeowner is approved and has begun required volunteer hours.

Previously, Mack and her 2-year-old daughter lived in a cramped single room in her mother’s three-bedroom house, along with six other people. It was so crowded, their clothing and other belongings were kept in an exterior storage closet on the back patio.

Wilson says the mortgage rates for these affordable homes will run about $650 to $700 a month – lower than most rental properties. 

The property for Mack’s home was donated to Habitat Pinellas by Bank of America as part of a national partnership with Habitat for Humanity International through which the bank donates vacant properties for renovation or reconstruction.

“It’s safe to say Altamease is going to have a very happy Christmas,” Wilson says.

For Good: Grant helps OperationPar use cutting-edge technology in meeting mission

Keeping families together has been a 45-year mission of OperationPar, a local nonprofit that provides addiction and mental health treatment in seven Tampa Bay area counties.

And now technology is playing a major role in helping that mission succeed.

Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration  – to be distributed over the next three years – the nonprofit will have the funds to invest in more electronic tablets, eServices training and online support programs to help women in recovery.
“What we’re doing here is cutting edge,” says OperationPar COO Dianne Clarke. “The rest of the country is paying attention.”

The money will be earmarked for FAIR (Family Achievement in Recovery), which provides care for women who have experienced trauma, substance abuse and mental health issues, and aids them and their children in recovery and returning to productive lives. Participants live in PAR Village, a community setting of 15 homes and a development center in Largo, and are aided by “wellness navigators” who provide one-on-one assistance.

Clarke says part of the funding will go to renovate some of the older houses in the village. The rest will allow staff to “experiment, learn and share results of enhanced treatment” using electronic services, such as the tablets and Web applications.

“We’re stepping outside the box in providing treatment this way,” she says. “There are possibilities we know about, and so many more we want to explore.”

Among the uses with a tablet: Clients can set up a treatment plan and communicate quickly with their counselors, Skype with children who are staying with relatives or in foster care, have access to 12-step meetings online and stay on top of an evolving schedule.

OperationPar, with administrative offices in Pinellas Park, provides women in recovery an opportunity to keep their families intact while going through a substance-abuse program. Clarke says there are just four programs in Florida that offer the family option; OperationPar is the only one in the Tampa Bay area. 

“We look to solve two issues at the same time – substance abuse and child welfare,” Clarke says. “Ultimately, we want families to be healthy and to stay together. That is a substantial grant that will make a big difference in achieving those goals.”

OperationPar was founded in 1970 by Shirley Coletti, a Pinellas County mother who discovered her daughter was experimenting with drugs. Funded through grants and donations, it now serves more than 15,000 men, women and children a year – with about 4,000 in treatment every day in its seven-county region.

For Good: Local chef challenges Tampa Bay area residents to help the hungry

Hunger is a subject that Cliff Barsi knows well.

He’s the director of food services at Metropolitan Ministries, and affectionately called “Chef Cliff.” Under his direction, the nonprofit has opened two “Inside the Box” cafes in downtown Tampa and the Westshore area that benefit the ministry, and graduated 32 students from its culinary program.

Another 10 students are now earning their chops under his tutelage in Metropolitan Ministries’ state-of-the-art kitchen, made possible by Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain co-founder Bob Basham and a grant from the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.

He typically prefers to be behind the scenes, helping people break the cycle of poverty by learning how to cook, serve or run a food business. But now he’s stepping up publicly and asking the community to join him in the Empty Plate Challenge.

“Sometimes you have to put yourself is someone else’s shoes to truly understand what they’re going through,” Barsi says.

Here’s how it works: Give up one meal and donate the money you would have spent on that breakfast, dinner or lunch to Metropolitan Ministries. And to take it one step further, make a video of your participation to encourage your friends to do the same, and post it on a social media site. 

He compares the effort to the successful “Ice Bucket Challenge” led by the ALS Association last summer, which raised over $100 million for research toward finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal disorder.

His goal is a more modest $25,000. 

“In the five years I’ve been with this organization, I’ve been amazed just how supportive this community is of all our efforts,” Barsi says. “This challenge doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it really drives the point home.”

Metropolitan Ministries compiled a list of average costs for multiple meals. Six meals, for example, would come to $10.56, 12 meals would cost $21.12 and 20 meals would run  $35.20.

He and his wife chose to fast for an entire day, going to bed hungry that night. Even though he deals with hunger issues on a daily basis, he says that experience made it all the more real to them.

Currently, Metropolitan Ministries feeds 2,300 hungry people every day in the Tampa Bay area. In Barsi’s video, he piled up 2,300 empty plates to illustrate how many meals are made possible due to the generosity of local donors.

With the holidays around the corner, Metropolitan Ministries will be asking for more public support to fill the toy shelves and maintain an amply food supply for the increased demand for assistance. Barsi thinks there’s no better time for the Empty Plate Challenge. 

“A campaign like this has two goals – to raise awareness and to raise funds,” he says. “It’s hard to understand just what hunger feels like until you’ve experienced it yourself. Unfortunately, we have a lot of neighbors in need in our community, and this is one way to have compassion and make a difference in changing that.”

For Good: Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to build new ball park in Sulphur Springs

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is making a big play in Sulphur Springs. With City of Tampa support, the nonprofit will build a world-class ball park at Springhill Park Community Center.

The existing field will be transformed into a Youth Development Center with synthetic turf, new dugouts, a scoreboard backstop, a portable pitching mound and bleachers. The new facility will be open to children citywide who play baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer.

"We are out to build the nicest park these kids will ever see," says Steve Salem, president of the foundation named for the father of Hall of Fame baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. "Hopefully by summer this park will be filled with kids."

In addition to sports, health and physical education will be featured along with programs on culture, history and character development. Badges for Baseball will pair children with local law enforcement officers as coaches and mentors to at-risk youth.

The city of Tampa will fund $500,000 of the $1 million cost. Foundation representatives will launch a local fund-raising campaign to make up the difference. Fields Inc., which has built facilities for professional sports teams such as the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Twins, is expected to break ground on the park in March 2015.

The foundation plans to build 50 parks around the country within five years. To date 34 parks have been completed including the first in Baltimore at Memorial Field. At the time Greg Bayor, Tampa's parks and recreation director, was working in the same capacity for the city of Baltimore.

Since moving to Tampa three years ago, Bayor has been "haranguing" him for the city to partner with the foundation, but until now the city didn't have the funds, says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 

Last year Cal Ripken Jr. got a look at the Springhill Park ball field when he hosted a baseball clinic for the Boys & Girls Club. Bayor says the foundation thought the site was a good candidate for a new park.

Sulphur Springs has been a neighborhood struggling with blight, drugs and criminal behavior and "was teetering on the precipice," says Buckhorn. "But for an intervention this is a neighborhood that would have died. It would have been overrun with bad influences, with drugs, with gangs and guns and violence. A lot of people stepped up to the plate to try and do something about it."

The Neighborhood of Promise initiative is a coalition of nonprofits, agencies and area residents brought together by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. Collectively, they provide social services, educational programs and mentoring for the children in Sulphur Springs.

The new park and the ongoing association with Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will be one more positive influence for the neighborhood, Buckhorn says.

"They can come here and be little kids and learn the value of athletics," he says.

For Good: MOSI helps at-risk youth with STEAM partnership

A new program at MOSI will help at-risk youth develop skills needed for STEAM careers.

The program, which will begin this fall, is referred to as STEAM E4, with the STEAM referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. The four E’s are: exposure, exploration, education and employment. Middle and high school students, as well as some adults, will come to MOSI for a variety of hands-on educational experiences designed to help them develop and hone skills and become workforce-ready.

Workshops on astronomy and space exploration will be provided in MOSI’s existing Mission Moonbase, a simulated lunar base where participants learn through immersion. The Ideazone will serve as an area for hands-on education in digital and video game design and robotics.

The pilot program is a major component of MOSI Technical Institute (MTI), which aims to identify and fulfill gaps within the local workforce to ultimately connect people with jobs.

"We’re focusing on project-based activities that increase their skills set and focus on the jobs of the future," says Molly Demeulenaere, interim-president and CEO of MOSI. "People think museums are these quiet spaces where you don’t touch anything, but science centers and MOSI in particular are a hub of education and activity."

The program also includes a research component, where MOSI will continually monitor progress to determine how to eventually replicate it across the nation.

The project is a collaboration between MOSI and Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC), a nonprofit that focuses on alleviating poverty in east Tampa through programs such as job training, housing and rehabilitation. Rather than starting from scratch to identify the students who are most in need, MOSI decided to partner with the CDC who already had the students and help them fill a gap. "It’s about going to where the people are," says Demeulenaere.

The program is funded by a $149,600 grant recently received from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS). The prestigious and highly competitive grant program helps museums and libraries further innovation and lifelong learning.

For Good: Starting Right Now expands programs for homeless youth

Thanks to a nonprofit organization and shelter, homeless youth in Tampa Bay have a place to call home and motivation to succeed.

Starting Right, Now (SRN) takes in youth who are unaccompanied (living without a parent or guardian) who may be couch hopping or staying with friends, but have no permanent place to call home. The youth are in this position through no fault of their own and are forced to leave their family due to violence, drugs, death or other circumstances.

The program basically does everything a parent would do for the child -- studies with them, pays for things like yearbooks or sports, and even makes them clean their room and learn other responsibilities. Only those who truly want to get back on their feet can participate. Kids are often referred by a school social worker, and then must complete an interview. SRN looks for resiliency, determination and a true desire to succeed, making sure participants will truly take advantage of the support.

"It’s completely life changing," says Vicki Sokolik, founder and executive director for SRN. "But, it’s not easy. You have to be a kid who wants to completely change your life. We’re asking you to step up in every manner."

For the past four years, 100 percent of participants have succeeded in the program and moved on to their next goal, which can be a military career, vocational training or higher education, which accounts for 95 percent of participants. One student graduated from the University of Central Florida and is now enrolled at American University in the second year of law school. Another is attending the University of Florida and plans to go to medical school.

SNR recently received a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit charitable grant. The funds will allow them to double their current occupancy, allowing them to serve up to 300 children. The upper level of their building will be renovated to accommodate more bedrooms and bathrooms. They also plan to open a new facility in Pinellas County. Humana also provides mentors, which are a large component of the program’s success.

The program is 100% privately funded, and is fortunate to have tremendous support from the community, including in-kind services from dentists and doctors. The current building being was donated by Hillsborough County.

Eventually, SRN plans to expand to the entire State of Florida.

For Good: Tampa company steps up with hefty donation for private education for low-income families

Just two weeks after the school year wrapped up, Sommer Henderson had a dilemma she had not expected.

Her kids were already begging "When can we go back to school?''

"That's not something I would have heard when they were in public school,'' Henderson says. "Now we've got them in a place where they're happy, they get attention from their teachers and they feel secure.''

Four of her five children are at Incarnation Catholic School in Town 'N Country, thanks to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program for low-income families. They are among the 69,000 students receiving funding for private education of their parents' choice for the 2014-15 school year.

The program is made possible by corporate partners that get a tax credit for their contributions. Some 150 donor companies are currently providing support to Step Up For Students.

The program recently got a big boost from Johnson Brothers of Florida, a Tampa-based beverage distributing company, which gave a $5 million contribution. More than 900 students will benefit from that donation alone.

"Thanks to our donors like Johnson Brothers, Florida students now have the opportunity to attend a school that fits the way they learn, regardless of their parents' income or where they live,'' says Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. "The donations can change the course of a student's life. The positive impact that this program has on our state's kids is truly remarkable.''

Henderson will vouch for that. Three years ago, three of her children were attending a public elementary school. Two of them complained about being bullied, and none was excelling in classes. When she learned that their family's size and their household income qualified them to receive funding, she decided to take a chance and fill out the paperwork.

"It was the best thing we did for our children,'' she says. "Everything has changed in a positive direction since we put them in Incarnation. Their grades, their attitude, the family atmosphere, the attention they get from their teachers. I'm not knocking the public schools, but they tend to teach at one level. It's more personalized in a smaller, private school.''

Henderson works full time as a data analyst for Citigroup; her husband is currently a student in culinary arts at the Arts Institute of Tampa. Next year, they will have all five of their children at Incarnation, when their youngest child goes into pre-K. Step Up For Students is currently paying $5,200 per child toward tuition, with the Hendersons picking up the remaining $23 a month.

Without this financial assistance, they wouldn't be able to even consider a private school.

"I am so grateful for this program,'' she says. "For our kids, it's like night and day. They're getting a good education and a moral foundation, and that means everything to us.''

For Good: Run with the herd at Tampa event for Children's Cancer Center

If you swing by Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Sept. 27, you might end up doing a double take.

Yes, those are cows -- standing up or jogging -- all over the park.

To be fair, they are the iconic Chick-fil-A spotted "cows'' taking part in the annual Fall Stampede for the Children's Cancer Center in Tampa.

For the third year, Chick-fil-A is a partner with the nonprofit in one of the group's major yearly fundraisers. Also stepping up is MicroLumen, the Oldsmar-based manufacturer of high-performance medical tubing, with a $10,000 donation toward the event.

"We depend on support from our corporate partners so we can accomplish our mission – to provide emotional, financial and educational support to families of children with cancer,'' says Steve Manuel, director of development of the Children's Cancer Center. "The doctors and nurses have their job on the medical side of it, and other organizations are chasing the cure. We're here to give that daily support to kids and families when they need it the most.''

Now in its 40th year, CCC provides 24 support programs to 900 families. Its $1.1 million budget comes from individual and corporation donations and grants. 

Chick-fil-A is one of the nonprofit's most steady supporters, with both the Fall Stampede and monthly dinners it provides for families at the Thursday "Oncology Night'' at the center's headquarters on Cypress Street. Another big contributor is Panera Bread, which has funded renovations to the nonprofit's building, along with annual donations for other programming.

The stampede at Tampa's waterfront park includes a 5K chip-timed run and a 1-mile Family Fun Walk, kids' events, activities sponsored by the area's professional sports teams and snacks provided by the chicken fast-food company. And of course, there will be plenty of cows for photo opportunities. 

"It's really like a free carnival the whole family can enjoy in a beautiful location,'' Manuel says. "And for those going through the illness, it's a happy break where kids can just be kids, having fun.''

This year's Stampede Child Ambassador is Ava, a 5-year-old diagnosed with kidney cancer who underwent surgery and months of chemotherapy. She, her parents and 8-year-old brother utilized several of the programs offered at the center. Ava is now cancer free.

The event has an important mission: To help fund the multitude of programs provided to families going through the cancer journey with their children.

In its inaugural year, the stampede netted $42,000; last year, it brought in $60,000. Early registrations indicate this year will draw about 1,500 runners -- the largest number to date.

The cost is $25 for pre-race registrations, and $30 on the day of the race. 
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