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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.


For Good: Growing Jesuit High School in Tampa gets $35M in donations to renovate, expand

Generous graduates and community donors open their wallets for Jesuit High School, giving more than $35 million dollars, which will go toward the school’s fundraising campaign and campus remodel.
 
The historic school on Himes Avenue has been a fixture in the community since it was built in 1956. Since then, while there have been improvements and upgrades over the years, the school set out on a fundraising campaign to update the 40-acre campus, adding four new buildings and renovating others.
 
“The refurbishment of the campus will begin with a full renovation of the chapel, which is the heart of the school,” says Pete Young of Jesuit High School. “The students gather every morning for Convocation, and we are maxed out on the number of students we can fit in the sanctuary, there is just no room for growth, so we need a larger chapel so we can accommodate more students.”
 
Young goes on to say that St. Anthony’s Chapel, where Convocation and Mass is held, does not have any kneelers so students have to kneel on the floor. In the renovation, kneelers will be put into the chapel.
 
The fundraising campaign and campus remodel plans were made public at an event held at the Renaissance Hotel in Tampa, where Jesuit High School president and Father Richard C. Hermes announced that $27.5 million had been raised. At the same event, it was also announced that a $2.5 million gift was given by Marty and Ted Couch. Ted Couch, an alumni and commercial real estate developer, was president of the former Northside Bank of Tampa. He was also one of the founders and a former board chairman of Moffitt Cancer Center and former chair of Florida Hospital in Tampa. Couch’s gift is the largest single gift ever received by the school.
 
While there are many plans for physical transformation of the campus, funds from the campaign will go to other worthy causes within the school.
 
“It’s not all about the physical campus,” Young says. “We have a longstanding commitment to provide financial aid to students in need of assistance, so a good portion of the money will go toward our financial aid endowment program. We never want to hold a student back from getting an education with us due to financial reasons.”
 
Young goes on to say that funds will also go toward staff retention and extracurricular activities.
 
“We are committed to educating as many boys as possible, and forming young men in the Tampa Bay area,” Young says. “In our tagline is the Latin word 'magis,' which roughly translated means more, or striving for more. It is something we instill in our students to always be striving for more, to be better. So for the leaders of the school to be doing what they can and strive to make the school the best it can be in every way really shows students we practice what we preach.”

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: 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: 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.
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