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Close the gap: Local donors rally to replace state funds for the arts

What to do when the state of Florida drastically cuts funding for the arts? Rally locals to fill the gap while providing an easy online tool to enable donations of any amount to eligible arts organizations.

That’s the solution being proposed by the Tampa-based Gobioff Foundation and its founders Gianna and Neil Gobioff, who give generously to local placemaking efforts through their private foundation.

Donations to the newly created Tampa Bay Arts Bridge Fund can be made through the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay by following this link.

The Gobioffs see the Bridge Fund as a short-term fix for an immediate problem that is causing some arts organizations to reduce productions, exhibits and performances while others are struggling to continue to provide basic arts services to people of all ages in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

What prompted creation of the fund? General Program Support Grants funding from the state Division of Cultural Affairs for Florida arts organizations dropped from $24 million in 2014-15 to $2.6 million in 2018-19.

Compare that to requests for grants from arts organizations, which went from $24 million in 2014-15 to almost $42 million in 2018-19. The difference? Funding went in 4 years from 100 percent of the total requested to just 6 percent of that requested.

The gap in Support Grants funding for nonprofit organizations in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties alone is $3.8 million for 2018-19. The Bridge Fund, based on its own eligibility criteria, seeks to raise about $2.5 million to be distributed in equal proportions to 33 eligible arts organizations -- 18 in Hillsborough and 16 in Pinellas -- based on their funding requests.

The goal is to raise the money by September when state grants traditionally would be distributed.

The Gobioff Foundation has already kicked in $100,000. The Vinik Family Foundation agreed to match the same amount. Now it's up to other foundations and individuals to donate to close the gap.

At the same time, community conversations are beginning around getting out the vote to support candidates who support the arts. And lobbying efforts are underway to influence local, state and federal lawmakers to recognize the long-term value and economic impact of the arts on communities and people.

And local arts advocates are planning a regional Arts Advocacy Summit on Friday, Aug. 17, to strategize about more solutions. Follow the Arts Council of Hillsborough CountyCreative Pinellas or Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts to learn more about the summit.

USF ranks in top 10 public universities for Pell Grant experience

Minh Duong Dinh, known as Duong around the University of South Florida’s main campus, received one of 7,000+ degrees bestowed by the Tampa university this May. At a time when many take on huge loans for the opportunity, he made it through with very little debt. It is also notable that he is the first in his family to attend college.

Thanks in part to the federal Pell Grant program, the Honors College student graduated with a Bachelor’s in Science degree in Chemical Engineering, with a minor in Biomedical Engineering.

USF has a lot of resources for students, to help students succeed on the first try,” says Dinh, who moved from Cape Coral to Tampa to attend USF in fall 2014.

Bright Futures scholarships are a big boon to those who qualify, like Dinh, yet making it to graduation day is not always easy. Statistically, only 67 percent of non-Pell students make it, according to the Washington, D.C., think tank, Third Way.  And for Pell Grant recipients nationwide, it’s even harder.

Most four-year colleges don’t do a very good job of helping Pell students, Third Way says. But USF is attracting national attention as a place where minorities and students from low- to middle-income families have a greater chance of success.

USF’s main campus ranked ninth in the top 10 “high quality” Pell-serving public universities nationwide, in Third Way’s newly-issued report. That is after seven University of California campuses, for graduating larger percentages of Pell Grant recipients.

USF graduated 68 percent, or 1,242 of its 1,824 recipients, while UCLA graduated 88 percent. That is one percent higher than the national average for non-Pell students and 19 points higher than the Pell national average of 49 percent.

The numbers include first-time, full-time Pell students who graduate with bachelor’s degrees (at the institutions they enrolled in) within six years. Calculations were based on students who entered college in 2010.

High-quality institutions serve a large number of Pell students, in USF’s case 41 percent, and help them graduate at least half of the time. The federal government pumps some $30 billion into the program annually to increase access to higher education -- and the money does not need to be repaid.

In December, Education Trust recognized USF as the top public university in the nation for Latino success -- and the fourth top university overall. The graduation rate for whites was 65.5 percent in 2013, 2014 and 2015, 0.6 percent less than the Latino rate of 66.2 percent. In March 2017, the Education Trust rated USF tops in Florida and sixth in the nation for its graduation completion rate among blacks, with a rate of 63.7 percent for 2012, 2013 and 2014. The national average was 40.9 percent.

Helping students succeed at USF is part of Dr. Paul Dosal’s job description. As Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Success, he oversees the university’s mission to help students when the inevitable obstacles to graduation occur -- whether it’s a personal problem, an academic challenge, or a financial hardship.

“My assignment is to promote the success of all of our undergraduate students,” he says.

At the core of his efforts is the belief that every student admitted to USF can graduate. “We treat them all the same,” he says. “We think they all have what it takes to earn the degree of their choice in a timely way. We approach our effort in a way that’s positive.”

Help comes in different forms. It can be through the Bull 2 Bull Financial Education Program, which helps them regulate finances, or through tutoring, or through coaches that help them with homesickness, stress or a romantic loss. From the freshman year, when they complete an online survey that helps put them on a career path, to the Don’t Stop, Don’t Drop! program that pays an outstanding library fine keeping a student from graduating, the Student Success program steps in to resolve what otherwise might be an unresolvable problem.

“It’s a small investment from our perspective and it has a powerful impact,” Dosal says of the emergency funding program.

While it doesn’t cover more extensive financial problems like a shortage of money to pay the last semester’s tuition, other help is available. “If a student appears to be in financial distress,” he says, “we’re also willing to step in and help out.”

Some of the ways USF assists student achievement are unusual and innovative. It is particularly committed to students that have “high ability” and “high need,” he explains.

Even with a Bright Futures scholarship, there still are other fees and book costs. “We can cover those students so they can get through here tuition-free,” he says.

In general, USF is committed to diversity, as the numbers attest. “We believe that our students will benefit from a diverse campus climate,” he says. “We recognize the educational benefits of diversity first and foremost. In order to prepare our students to compete and succeed ... our campus should look like the world.”

In fall 2017, 48.4 percent of undergraduate students on the main campus were white, compared with 20.8 percent Hispanic and 10.4 percent black. Some 6.3 percent of the 30,883 students were non-residents.

Dinh calls USF’s ranking a “remarkable achievement.”  “I found USF to be really accommodating,” says the European-born Dinh, who is of Vietnamese descent. “I really felt, still feel at home at USF.”

After USF offered him the best financial aid package, academic advisors helped keep him on track. He also received support from professional organizations on campus, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers.

So what’s next for the graduate? Job hunting. He’s in Tampa, but he’s willing to relocate for an opportunity in the field of chemical engineering. At some point, he plans to return to school to earn a master’s degree.

As a college graduate, the 22-year-old has taken a big step away from the family’s traditional careers in manual labor. And he offers encouragement to his 14-year-old brother John, who’s already asking what courses can prepare him for college.

“He seems to be inclined to do engineering,” Dinh says. “What I did definitely made an impact.”


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.


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.

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.


For Good: Summer program grants available for east, south Hillsborough

The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County has $66,000 to beef up summer programs for children 6 to 14 in eastern and southern Hillsborough County. And it’s looking for community partners.

“We need to make sure children are engaged and exposed to high quality, interesting and educational services that not only build their literacy skills, but build the psychosocial component ... imperative to their quality of life,” says Executive Director Kelley Parris.

The programs are intended to help children, who ordinarily may not enroll in a summer program, avoid a summer learning slump. The grants will fund services that otherwise may not be provided, such as field trips.

The board earmarked $275,000 for the children’s programs – and funding for six programs elsewhere in the county already have been approved. But during the initial grant offering, there were no applicants to provide services in eastern and southern Hillsborough.

It is looking to award between $5,000 and $35,000 each to one provider in the east -- in Bealsville, Dover, Durant, Plant City or Turkey Creek; and one provider in the south -- in Balm, Ruskin or Wimauma. The contract period runs between May 1 and August 4.

In areas like Wimauma, where some may be facing language, transportation and cultural barriers, the summer programs can be especially useful. “In South County, I believe it is valuable particularly to those children to maintain a level of engagement in their educational activities that will prepare them to enter school the upcoming year,” Parris says.

A funding workshop is slated at 11 a.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Children’s Board, 1002 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. Potential providers have until 4 p.m. Friday, March 24, to ask written questions about the opportunity. Questions should be submitted to Buddy Davis. The deadline to apply for funding is 4 p.m. April 4.

Funds will be awarded on a one-time basis to enhance summer programs or provide additional access to summer opportunities. The programs must focus on six key areas: safety, literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), character development, sports and arts.

The summer program may charges fees, but when they do scholarships are available. All children living in Hillsborough can participate.

Applications are rated by a volunteer community review team. The rates are reviewed by board senior staff members, then recommendations are brought before the Children’s Board for approval.

More information is available at the board’s website.

The Children’s Board was created in 1989 as a special taxing district, with the goal of enhancing services to children and families. Some $250,000 of the grant money is being supplied by the Children’s Board, with the remaining $25,000 coming from the county.

Private providers and Hillsborough County School Board-supported programs are not eligible to apply for the grants.


For Good: Public-private partnership provides housing for former foster care youth

Teens who reach 18 and “age out” of the foster care system often have to confront reality quickly when they find themselves homeless.

Now thanks to a new partnership with Pinellas County, the Pinellas County Housing Authority and Ready for Life, the young men can find a safe, stable and affordable place to call home while they find employment and gain greater independence.

A three-bedroom, two-bath home in unincorporated Pinellas County, dubbed RFL (Ready for Life) Hope Home, can house five former foster youth at a time, along with one adult team leader.

“The home was donated to us by Pinellas County,” says Debbie Johnson, executive director of the Pinellas County Housing Authority. “It had been used as an office at one time, but had been vacant for a while. We had been in the process of determining the best use for it and decided to partner with Ready for Life.”

Although this home has been set aside for young men, the hope is that additional homes for young women and young single mothers will be found in the future.

Ready for Life, a nonprofit organization providing support to former foster youth, will be renting the home from the housing authority. Grants and independent donations, along with a portion contributed by the youth once they find employment, will go toward the rent, says Kathy Mize Plummer, CEO of Ready for Life.

The Pinellas County Housing Authority rehabbed the house, installing new flooring, duct work and air conditioning, a sprinkler system and lawn. Team Hope, a group of volunteers who support Ready for Life programs, provided all the home’s furnishings, including rugs, curtains, comforters for the bed, kitchen utensils and artwork on the walls. Other volunteers who serve as mentors to the youth stocked the refrigerator and pantry.  

“So many of these young men have lived in 25 to 30 foster homes,” says Johnson.  “They have no sense of belonging. Now at least Hope Home gives them a place to come home to and one less thing to worry about while they work on becoming self-sufficient.”

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: 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.
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