Not Your Average Speakers: What smart people can learn from Wimauma

To read this story in Spanish, please follow this link.
Public policy makers, elected officials, educators, business and other community leaders probably don’t think first of Wimauma when looking for new ideas, innovation and inspiration.

But if they did, what would they see?

Stories of overcoming adversity, navigating government bureaucracy, persevering to achieve higher education and launch careers, balancing work and home on limited resources, raising hard-working, responsible children who grow up bilingual and often multicultural. Stories of farmworkers, business owners, nonprofits, churches, social service agencies and entrepreneurial dreams, Stories of faith and love and hope. Stories of positive attitudes, gratefulness, vision and optimism. Stories of family values and people of strong character, and fellowship and compassion for others less fortunate. 

Stories that describe the kind of people we all want to surround ourselves by at work, at home and at play.

Those success stories and examples of what’s working in Wimauma, a rural community of about 6,500 people living in South Hillsborough County, will be the subject of 83 Degrees Media’s next Not Your Average Speakers panel discussion on December 6th in Wimauma.

The public is invited to join in the conversation as it takes place at Wholesome Community Ministries (Wholesome Church), 16110 Highway 301 South in Wimauma FL 33598. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the more formal discussion starting at 6:30 pm.

The event is designed to share some of these stories and also to help nurture opportunities for attendees to make connections, form collaborations and build community.

Look who’s talking

The panel of “Not Your Average Speakers’’ includes:

Julia Sarmiento, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Coordinator for Middle Schools in the Office of Teaching and Learning for Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS). In 2014, Sarmiento received the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year Award from Hillsborough County Public Schools, the OLE´ (Outstanding Latina/o in Education) Award from the University of South Florida and the Dorothy Duke Outstanding Community Service Award from Florida Home Partnership.
The Not Your Average Speakers event is free and open to the public. Food and refreshments will be served. A drawing for gift certificates will take place at the end of the evening. To RSVP, please click on this link.
She earned her Bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature in 2005, and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in 2015 from the University of South Florida in Tampa. She began her teaching career in 2006 as a high school English and TV Productions teacher, then transitioned into the role of Student Success Coach in 2012, and into her current role as the Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator in 2015. Sarmiento has worked with several community partners to implement SEL initiatives district-wide. She believes that “educating the whole child and implementing social and emotional learning in schools is the foundation to student success.” Sarmiento was raised in Wimauma and continues to be an advocate for her community.

Ansberto Vallejo, Supervisor for Career and Postsecondary Planning, Hillsborough County Public Schools, was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and grew up as a migrant farmworker following the crop seasons throughout the North and Southeast U.S with his parents and two sisters. After graduating from East Bay High School in Gibsonton in south Hillsborough, he earned a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from the University of South Florida in Tampa and a Master's degree and Specialist in Education from the University of Florida in Gainesville. He has held positions as a teacher assistant, migrant advocate, school counselor/guidance department head and GEAR UP project director. Vallejo is currently responsible for overseeing the high school College and Career Counselors in School District of Hillsborough County. 

Lourdes Villanueva, Director of Farmworker Advocacy for Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), holds a degree in Social Work from the University of South Florida in Tampa. She is a graduate of the Head Start Johnson and Johnson Management Fellows Program at The John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management UCLA in Los Angeles. A passionate advocate for farmworkers and their families, Villanueva has testified before congressional and legislative committees. As a former migrant farmworker, she knows first hand the issues they face. Her work as an advocate for the people she once worked with has earned her several awards, like the “Champion of Change” from The White House and the Leadership, Unity, Professional and Excellence “LUPE” Award, which honors outstanding individual achievements in carrying out the MAFO concept of dedication and hard work on behalf of farmworkers and rural organizations. Villanueva was born in Mexico along the Rio Grande River bordering Tamaulipas  and Texas.  She is the oldest of seven girls.  Raised in the Border Land, provided the opportunity to be fully bilingual and bicultural. She has three successful adult children, seven grandchildren and are all very proud of their roots.  

Allen Witt, President of the Hillsborough Community College SouthShore campus, is a third generation educator who has served in the Florida Community College System as a teacher, administrator and researcher, for a quarter century. Witt began his career at Lake City Community College as Theater Director and Speech Instructor. After completing his doctorate at the University of Florida, he became VP of the Metro Group, heading research teams in Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico and throughout the United States. He returned to education as an instructor and Department Head at Broward Community College and was promoted to Associate Dean at Palm Beach Community College. Six years later, he moved to the SouthShore Campus of Hillsborough Community College, where he currently serves as Campus President. Witt is nationally known as an historian of the community college movement. He was lead author for “America’s Community Colleges: The First Century,’’ published by the American Association of Community Colleges. He participates in the accreditation of colleges throughout the Southern United States, through the Southern Association of College and Schools-Commission on Colleges. He resides in Ruskin with his wife, Mercedes Diaz Witt, a registered nurse.

A moderating voice

Jennifer Whelihan, a communications specialist and former business consultant who now serves as manager of Economic Development for Hiilsborough County government, will serve as moderator of the discussion. Her career positions include working as a TV and print journalist, media director for the Florida House of Representatives, press secretary on political campaign work, communication director for a leading research facility and other non-profit organizations, certified business consultant for USF Small Business Development Center and currently an adjunct instructor at the University of Tampa. Whelihan received her Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Media Communication and Master of Arts in Interactive and New Communication Technology degrees from Florida State University. While at FSU she received the prestigious Florida State University Seminole Leadership Award. She is bilingual in Spanish and English, and is an Honorary Chair for the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association in Tampa Bay and received the Leadership Excellence Award for outstanding service to her community during her years as President of the organization. She is Vice Chair of the Hillsborough County Commission on the Status of Women (COSW), member of USF Research Foundation Council of Professionals, Empath Choices for Care, Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council (SHAC), Leadership Hillsborough, Tampa Bay Seminole Club, The Iron Yard Technology Education, Friends of the Tampa Museum of Art, American Advertising Federation (AAF), and faculty adviser for the Advertising Student Association at the University of Tampa.

Whelihan will get the panelists and the audience engaged in conversation about some of the challenges and opportunities facing the Wimauma community, including programs and people succeeding against the odds, local entrepreneurs, education and health issues, and nonprofits valiantly working to make a difference. 

All plan to share how they and others are helping shape what's next for Wimauma and how common good is driving change. Each will share what smart people can learn from Wimauma.

On The Ground

The Not Your Average Speakers event is part of 83 Degrees Media's ongoing On The Ground storytelling project in Wimauma. To learn more about what’s going on there, follow links pasted below to our stories.

On the Ground stories in English.

On the Ground stories in Spanish.

The Not Your Average Speakers event is free and open to the public. Food and refreshments will be served. A drawing for several shopping gift certificates will take place at the end of the evening.

On The Ground Project Editor Imelda Dutton will be there to help make connections and listen for story ideas. 83 Degrees Managing Photographer Julie Branaman will be there to take pictures.

To RSVP for the event, please click on this link.

Support for the On The Ground storytelling project comes from Allegany Franciscan Ministries. Comments? Questions? Contact 83 Degrees Media.

To read more stories from the 83 Degrees Media On The Ground storytelling project, follow these links for English and for Spanish.

To subscribe to our free weekly e-magazine, follow this link.
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Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is a community leader and award-winning journalist with more than four decades of experience reporting and writing about the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. She serves on the boards of the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications Advisory Council, The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council, Sing Out and Read, and StageWorks Theatre Advisory Council. She also is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Media. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Tampa Tiger Bay Club, USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy (WLP), Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Awesome Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Diane and her husband, Sandy Rief, live in Tampa.