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Transportation : 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.”


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: Pedal through downtown Tampa, along Bayshore Boulevard in Winter Wonder Ride

Downtown Tampa may be one of the warmest places to be during the wintertime, but Bay area bicyclists are prepared to "get frosty" when they hit the streets for a cool cause at the sixth annual Winter Wonder Ride taking place this weekend (Dec. 10).  

The Winter Wonder Ride is the largest event hosted by onbikes, a nonprofit organization that partners with corporate sponsors and local governments to throw bicycling events that support the organization's mission of providing bikes for at-risk youth and foster kids.

Onbikes Executive Director and co-Founder Julius Tobin says that what started as an idea among his friends to simply take a bike ride on a sunny Saturday in 2011 quickly grew in ways the group never expected.

"It occurred to us that none of us had been on bikes in a really long time, so we took a sort of random adventure -- and we realized how cool it was. It unleashed the kid in us, and from there we thought, 'let's try to do something good with this.' We realized there was probably a big audience who would love to participate in it. We just didn't realize how big it would become."

On Saturday, (December 10), onbikes invites riders to join them at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park as they embark on the Winter Wonder Ride along The Tampa Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard before returning to the park for a post-ride celebration. (Motorized traffic will be temporarily rerouted along South Tampa streets from approximately 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) Last year's Winter Wonder Ride had approximately 2,500 participants. Tobin says onbikes expects at least 3,000 people for this year's ride. 

There may not be snow on the ground, but this year's Winter Wonder Ride theme is "Get Frosty" -- giving Floridians an excuse to don their best snowman gear, including but not limited to: scarves, top hats and snowflake-themed attire. onbikes highly encourages participants in the Winter Wonder Ride to dress in costume to spread holiday cheer as they pedal the streets of downtown Tampa -- or risk being "the only one dressed like a normal person" among a pack of bicycling snowmen.

"It's a pretty unique opportunity to be on the road with such a big group of people in general -- but 3,000 people dressed up like snowmen, gingerbread people, Santa Claus and elves is incredible. It really lets you lose your facade and just enjoy being in the moment. Everyone gets to be a kid again," says Tobin.

Rapper Big Boi (best known for his role as half of the Grammy-winning hip hop duo Outkast) headlines this year's Winter Wonder Ride celebration, promising a jubilant post-ride dance party at the park, with food and beverages available for purchase from local vendors. This year's Winter Wonder Ride will include an overnight bike valet, ensuring that bicyclists can enjoy the post-ride celebration and libations without having to worry about their bikes -- as long as they are retrieved by 11 a.m. the following day (Sunday). 

Tickets to the Winter Wonder Ride start at $50, with all proceeds geared toward the purchase of new bikes for at-risk youth and foster kids in the Tampa Bay area this holiday season. 

The organization's other big holiday extravaganza, the 'Santa's Bike Shop' Bike Build took place on Dec. 4th at Amalie Arena, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Flying Fish Bikes. At Santa's Bike Shop, professional bike technicians from Flying Fish and approximately 600 volunteer helpers -- the bike workshop 'elves' -- teamed up to assemble 800 bikes in nine hours. 

Tobin says that 400 of the bikes will go to Eckerd College to distribute to foster kids in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Tampa Police Department's bike division will also receive 300 bikes to distribute to local kids. Metropolitan Ministries will receive the remaining 100 bikes to distribute for Heroes Day and to establish a fleet for a free bike share program on campus. 

To date, Tobin estimates that onbikes has provided bikes for approximately 3,000 kids in the Tampa Bay area with the help of the organization's sponsors, partners and volunteers from the local community who join the annual rides and bike builds. 

"We know that giving a bike to a kid isn't a unique or new idea. We just put a fun spin on it," says Tobin. 

Take a spin through downtown Tampa with onbikes for the most festive bicycle parade of the season. Visit the Onbikes website to purchase tickets to the Winter Wonder Ride.

For Good: Electrical contractor takes on distracted driving with national campaign

Each time you text while driving, your eyes stray from the road for around five seconds – enough time for an accident to occur. According to the National Safety Council, one in four car crashes involves cell phone use. 

At any given moment, more than 660,000 people across the United States are using cell phones or other electronic devices. Texting and driving can be especially dangerous for teens on the road.

One local company is taking a proactive approach to reducing distracted driving through a new safe driving campaign. St. Petersburg-based electrical contractor Power Design, Inc, launched “Decide to Drive” to encourage employees and fellow community members to practice safe driving.

“Join me in making the one decision not to text while driving, the one decision not to email while driving, and the one decision not to drink and drive,” Power Design CEO Mitch Permuy explains in a news release.

The “Decide to Drive” campaign is centered on the Power of One pledge, or the notion that one safe driver can save lives.

“Power of One is about how the decisions we make every day impact us as individuals, impact our families, our friends and the communities we belong to,” Permuy says.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman praises the local business for “doing their part to create a safer St. Petersburg.”

"As mayor, my first and most important job is public safety,” Kriseman says. “Too many people across our nation have lost their lives in the brief moment they or another driver used a cell phone or electronic device.

Kriseman called for drivers in St. Pete and across the country to “work together and help save lives.”

Power Design has partnered with EndDD, a website dedicated to safer driving, to promote the “Decide to Drive” campaign.

“We are always grateful to spread the message at workplaces, and we anticipate that employees will bring the safe driving message to their families and to those they care about,” website creator Joel Feldman explains in a news release. 

Other efforts to promote the “Decide to Drive” campaign will include establishing a Power Design corporate transportation program, supporting People Against Distracted Driving, providing information on safe driving apps to employees, and informing the community about the campaign through social media.

To view the Power of One pledge and learn more, visit the “Decide to Drive” campaign website
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