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A Humble "Thank You" To All Veterans
Today is Veterans Day so I thought it would be a great chance to not only stop to appreciate the men and women of our military but to share with you several local programs assisting veterans.
The Abilities Foundation provides exceptional employment and housing services to persons with disabilities and has several programs specifically designed for veterans. With the help of ServiceSource, they offer the Veterans Employment Program providing job placement services to disabled military veterans who’ve returned from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and are being treated at The Bay Pines VA Healthcare Center and James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.
The Abilities Guild Veterans Mall is a storeroom of household essentials given for free to wounded veterans transitioning from homelessness to apartment life. Here veterans can find linens, clothes for job interviews, toasters, pots and pans, dishes, coffeemakers and so much more. Their newest addition is The Boutique offering items for female veterans. The Abilities Guild Veterans Mall was founded by Virginia Meyer in 2011 and has been improving the lives of hundreds of Veterans ever since. You’ll find this special place located at 2735 Whitney Road in Clearwater.
Abilities also supports The Warrior Bridge for Wounded Warriors. This rapidly emerging national initiative helps disabled service members returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan successfully reintegrate into civilian life.
Another awesome veterans assistance program supported by Abilities is the new ABILHouse. This special clubhouse offers meaningful and productive activities to veterans and others living with traumatic brain injuries. Located at 3228 49th Street in St. Petersburg, ABILHouse is located on a bus route within a 10 minute drive of Bay Pines, so veterans can easily access their unique program.
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay recently launched the Florida Veterans Support Line. It’s a new 24 hour, toll-free hotline in conjunction with the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs (FDVA) to assist Tampa Bay area veterans. This great program provides emotional support and resource referrals to veterans in five counties. By calling 1-844-MYFLVET (693-5838), veterans within Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Manatee counties can speak with a fellow veteran who has experienced the difficulty of transitioning from military to civilian life. The Veterans Support Line is staffed by veterans Monday through Friday from 7am to 7pm and by crisis specialists after hours and on weekends.
The American Red Cross offers several ways to support our troops. From military comfort kits to reconnection workshops, these are small ways to honor the men and women who sacrifice so much for our great country.
And if you really want to make a vet smile, take time to sit down and have dinner with a vet. Every month, Operation Helping Hand has a special thank you dinner at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. Recently, Great 38 had a chance to enjoy an evening with some of the active duty patients and their families. What a special night!
Today we honor all the brave men and women who protect our American freedoms. I’m humbled by your strength and courage and appreciate all you do. Thank you.
Perhaps you’ve heard October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Or maybe you haven’t heard. Well, it is and that’s what’s on my mind today.
October is a month when we stand together in solidarity with survivors and inspire action to stop the cycle. Which leads me to ask you a question: Have you shown your support this month?
If not, may I give you a simple suggestion?
Do exactly what I’m about to do. Simply share a video I saw earlier this week at the Gift of Peace fundraising luncheon for The Spring of Tampa Bay. Myself and about 500 others gathered inside the Tampa Convention Center where part of the program included the inspiring video I'm about to share with you.
This video doesn't show any physical violence or dramatic footage. It's a sincere, direct message from the leader, the man-in-charge, the head honcho of one of Australia’s largest employers.
When the video was over, I thought about what a different world this would be if every single employer in this country felt the same way as the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO.
So, I decided right then and there sitting at that table I’d get the video and send it to at least one person.
But then I thought… one? Why not with everyone I possibly can? And if each of those people (that means you because here you are in my little corner of the world) share the video with at least one other person and together we’d all show our support.
Could we really make a difference in how people think about domestic violence?
Yes. Yes we can. You bet we can!!
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a strong, powerful leader with the right attitude towards demeaning women…… drum roll please……Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO.
Just one person. That’s all I ask you to do is to share the video with one person. One.
I’ll close with the words of my longtime friend, colleague and amazing columnist who was also there showing his support, Ernest Hooper.
“That’s all I’m saying.”
The Spring of Tampa Bay provides a safe haven for domestic violence victims both adults and children.
Their crisis hotline is open 24 hours a day seven days a week offering support, safety planning and shelter.
If you or someone you know need their help, please call 813-247-SAFE. That’s 813-247-7233
Don’t be a victim. Be a victor.
Bullied by Mother Nature?
Well, it kinda felt that way this past Friday at the 2014 Cyberbullying Prevention Rally and Concert.
Shortly after Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin addressed the crowd and signed the pledge banner, Mother Nature decided St. Petersburg needed a downpour. I’m not talking about a quick moving rain shower. Nope. Mother Nature sent a substantial storm strong enough to knock out the electricity for almost an hour just as all 200 kids were having a great time inside The Coliseum.
Major Kriseman signing the anti-bullying pledge banner. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Giving.
The inflatable slide slowly deflated.
The big bounce house withered to a puddle of plastic on the floor.
The obstacle course became obsolete.
And sadly, there were no more selfies to be had with Amos the Wonder Horse.
Amos the Wonder Horse along with Jessica Moody. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Giving.
While Duke Energy hustled to restore the power outside The Coliseum, we were inside scrambling to entertain all the kids who’d come out for a free night of fun, awareness and education.
Enjoying the anti-bullying festivities! Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Giving.
Never one to let a problem stand in her way, our fearless leader, Jessica Moody stepped into action. Despite the darkness, she calmed the kids and organized them into a giant circle on the wooden floor where we were entertained acoustically by the talented Morgan Bernard and Michael Holton. Our amazing volunteers from TASCO secured the area and came to the rescue with their large, portable lamp.
Entertaining the kids while the power was out. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Giving.
So, while it felt like Mother Nature was being a bit of a bully, we worked together as a team. Not for one second did we let the turn of events put a damper on our rally.
And you know what?
That’s precisely what we must do as a community to curb the serious issue of cyberbullying. Stand together. Work together. There is power in numbers.
Working together to STOP cyberbullying. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Giving.
Learning About Autism
This week, my friend and co-worker, Dani, and I attended the awards dinner for this year’s Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. Driving to the dinner I realized it was about this time last year when I first began to understand what autism is and how many families around me it affects. Honestly I was blown away by the statistics of how many kids are being diagnosed as being “on the spectrum.”
One in 68 children. That’s how many are being identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
That’s a whole lot of kids.
Even more disturbing is those statistics have gradually increased over the last few years.
Why? No one knows. So, it's why we have events like Walk Now for Autism Speaks. There’s a continuous effort underway to fund more research to find out why so many kids are being diagnosed with autism.
This new estimate is roughly 30% higher than the estimate for 2008 (1 in 88), roughly 60% higher than the estimate for 2006 (1 in 110), and roughly 120% higher than the estimates for 2002 and 2000 (1 in 150).
We don't know what is causing this increase. Some of it may be due to the way children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their local communities, but exactly how much is unknown.
So, if you’re like me and had no idea about what being diagnosed with autism means, take a moment and learn a little more about it. Or, perhaps support one of the many fundraisers here in the Bay Area. It’s an increasing health concern we should all be more aware of.
Taking a stand against bullying
As my team and I focus on the next topic of Our Issues Tampa Bay, I can’t help but be a bit sad. Our show will be focusing on a topic I’d be willing to bet you’re very aware of.
It’s something going on every day in every single community across Tampa Bay. Something that’s stoppable. Something that’s extremely concerning. Perhaps you may have experienced it yourself.
The topic we're focusing on? Bullying.
Let me ask you this. When you see or hear the word bully, what do you immediately think of?
Somebody who called you names in gym class?
Someone who made fun of your hand-me-down clothes in middle school?
Someone who teased you for being overweight?
Or maybe you think of a co-worker who started a mean rumor about you?
Bullying happens every day in some of the most unimaginable, mean scenerios you could ever think of.
As adults we try to have the inner strength to look the other way and not let a bully get to us. But for children…it’s often not that easy. Bullying shouldn't be a part of the growing-up process. But it is and it’s a serious problem leading to many negative effects for victims.
A recent Yale University study indicates bullying victims are between two and nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. Plus, 10 to 14 year old girls may be at an even higher risk for suicide.
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year.
Think about that last number for a second - 4,400. That’s a heck of a lot of children. But it’s also a whole lot of preventable deaths, many of which are the result of bullies.
So, I’m inviting you to join Great 38 TV in taking a stand against bullying.
Two things you can do to help: learn more about the problem and show your support by joining us at the St. Petersburg Coliseum September 26th.
- Learn. Learn more about the effects of bullying by watching our Easing the Teasing show airing September 7th and 21st at 10pm on Great 38 TV. I’ll introduce you to a beautiful young lady whose bullies endlessly teased her because of her near-fatal injuries when she was hit by a car. They’re picking on her because she wears a brace and struggles to walk. Seriously??? They also tease her because she can’t wear jeans due to her skin grafts. Really??? Well, if her story doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what would. So, on the show this brave young lady will share her story and how she deals with cyber-bullies.
- Join us. Come join us at the 2nd Annual Cyberbullying Awareness Week event in St. Petersburg September 26th, 2014. The FREE event includes games, contests, vendors, food, live music and more thanks to the efforts of Gulf Coast Giving. GCG is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to providing schools and other nonprofits with needed technology, equipment and training while increasing cyberbullying awareness to build integrity when using interactive technologies. Thanks to CGC, Sept. 22nd - 26th is officially Cyberbullying Awareness Week in Pinellas County.
Who else is taking this stand against bullies?
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman believes in easing the teasing in his community. As a state legislator he co-sponsored legislation in 2008 to ban bullying in schools. And now as Mayor he’s joining hundreds of mayors from all 50 states to combat bullying in the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying. Kriseman is dedicated to starting a community dialog during National Bullying Prevention Month in October and the event Sept. 26th is a great place to get that conversation started. Mr. Mayor, we are so proud to have you as part of our event.
Someone else supporting this movement is Tom James, one of the kindest most generous men in Tampa Bay. Raymond James Financial is on board this year as a sponsor and we couldn’t be happier to have the company’s endorsement. Thank you, Tom, from the bottom of my heart. I’m extremely proud to call you my friend.
If every community leader took the same public stance as Mayor Kriseman and Tom James, think about what a difference it’d make in the number of kids getting bullied every day. Perhaps this is the beginning of a major effort in easing the teasing across Tampa Bay. It’s an ugly reality in our society we can overcome but only if we work together and take a stand against bullying.
Turning an "ah-ha!" moment into reality
As the producer of Our Issues Tampa Bay, I am blessed with the challenge of choosing topics for the show. Trust me when I tell you it’s a wonderful feeling after spending 20+ years in the television news business where everything (and I do mean everything) has to be approved by someone else.
One recent topic I chose was Tampa Bay’s dynamic art scene. Take a moment and think about all the diverse museums we have around here. From the world famous Dali Museum to the Polk Museum of Art with its upcoming one-of-kind “Remembering Florsheim” exhibit. We are indeed very fortunate to live in a mecca of art.
Our seaside cultural capital is just about to get even bigger and in a very, very special way thanks to an “ah-ha!” moment for Major Scott Macksam.
If you don’t know “Major Mack” (as he’s commonly known) you’re either not a member of the military or you’ve not yet been to see The American Soldier exhibit at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Mack often greets visitors there as he is the one responsible for bringing this touching series of 116 photographs to our area. Since I couldn’t take photos while touring the display myself, here’s the exhibition’s official website displaying one photo per conflict period to give you an idea of how compelling and powerful the images in the exhibition really are.
Since bringing The American Soldier exhibit to our area, Major Mack had another fabulous idea. It came to him while conducting PT for USF St. Pete’s Officers Training Program. While running his Cadets through the streets of Downtown St. Pete, he wondered to himself, “with all the arts places downtown, why not a place for Veteran artists and current members of the military?“
Not one to let a good idea fall to the wayside, Major Mack got busy and turned his “ah-ha!” moment into a reality. After a year of phone calls, networking and brainstorming, he was finally able to make a big announcement on July 31st, 2014, during a reception inside the museum’s Aviation History room. The Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay is now a reality! It’s being planned as a national, regional and local center to provide supportive services to Veterans and their families, to support development of artistic talent and creativity, as well as showcase Veterans' accomplishments to the Nation.
Major Scott Macksam announces The Veterans Art Center project alongside St. Petersburg Chamber President & CEO, Chris Steinocher.
(Photo courtesy of Matt Bilancia and Moving Warriors Media)
What that means is the center will organize national traveling exhibits centered on themes related to military history and Veterans' art projects. VACTB will also have a commercial gallery, Operation Art, to support sales of Veterans' art which will serve to provide economic support for the artists as well as revenue for the Center. Another exciting aspect is the opportunity for Veterans to teach art and provide a means of therapy for other Veterans. Where it will be located is yet to be announced.
One of Major Mack’s biggest supporters of this project is artist Stuart Dwork. After getting drafted during Vietnam at the age of 23, Dwork worked as an illustrator at Ft. Lee, VA and later began producing entertaining shows for the troops. But his most iconic work didn’t happen on a stage, but rather a canvas. "Never Forget Them" is a stirring portrait of one soldier cradling another on the battlefield. Since its creation in 1964, this special piece (seen in the photo below) has been on display in The Pentagon, considered as a commemorative stamp and is seen daily at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Artist Stuart Dwork proudly supports The Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay.
(Photo courtesy of Matt Bilancia and Moving Warriors Media)
Thanks to Major Mack, Stuart Dwork and many others, we will soon have one more wonderful art center in Tampa Bay. But most importantly, this special place will focus on the men and women who so bravely put their country first and are a proud part of the United States Armed Forces. And to think it all started as an “ah-ha!” moment while training Cadets on the streets of downtown St. Pete.
Major Mack, Great 38 salutes you, Sir, along with each and every member of the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for your service to this great country of ours.
Art Awareness is Alive and Well in Polk County
I don’t normally make predictions but I’m willing to bet we’re going to see a lot of great artists emerge from the Polk County school system in the coming years.
Now what in the world would make me say that?
I can’t predict the future and by no means am I an artist. Heck, I don’t even think I’ve put a paint brush to paper since Vacation Bible School many years ago.
However, when I read that this year’s Florida Teacher of the Year winner stood out from the other nominees because of her unique style of teaching the subject of art, I realized a lot of her kids could possibly be future artists.
Think about it. If the top teacher out of 189,000 other applicants has a super special knack of teaching art, move over Dali. There could soon be some competition on the canvas thanks to the Chair of Art Education at Highlands Grove Elementary.
So what is Christine Bassett doing in her creative curriculum for 700 students that’s so wonderful?
According to the Tampa Tribune, Ms. Bassett’s program is unique because her art lesson plans include math, writing, reading and science. She reads books of poetry to her students connecting literature to their art projects. The students write critiques of their artwork, lead discussions of professional works, use geometry in their drawings and create summaries of art lessons. They also write and answer questions concerning artists' biographies they’ve read.
Wow!! You go, Ms. Bassett. Sounds like you've created an outstanding program. Best of all, you’re making art a top priority. It’s often one of the first cirriculums to go when an education budget gets cut. But you obviously get the fact that art education vastly improves a child's development.
According to “The Arts. Ask for More.” campaign, young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week for at least one full year are:
- 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
- 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem
- 4 times more likely to participate in a math or science fair
- 3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools
I found those stats while researching for a recent episode of my show, Our Issues Tampa Bay, featuring the winning artwork of Maria Vazquez from Polk County's Lake Region High School. She took top prize in a county-wide, high school art contest sponsored by Platform Art. Maria’s massive metal sculpture honoring Veterans, Police, Firefighters and Emergency Responders is absolutely amazing and you can see it on permanent display at Veterans Memorial Park in Lakeland.
So, now do you think I just might be on the right track with my prediction? Polk County is on to something when it comes to keeping art education a priority in our school system and Highland Grove Elementary is leading the way.
Ms. Bassett, a big congratulations from all of us here at Great 38. We’re incredibly proud of you and we thank you along with every other school teacher in this great state of Florida for the difference you are all making in the lives of our children.
Farewell to PACE's Sally Zeh!
Gosh, I hope this doesn’t become a trend with my blogs. The last time I sat down to write what was on my mind, I told you about the retirement of an amazing lady, Susan Rolston, who spent more than a decade improving the lives of local children through The Boys and Girls Club.
Well, guess what? ANOTHER amazing lady who has spent more than a decade improving the lives of local children is also retiring.
The beautiful and vibrant, Sally Zeh, is stepping down as the Executive Director of The PACE Center for Girls in Pinellas. “Ms. Sally” (as the girls know her) has spent the last 14 years working with young women from diverse backgrounds and situations. Many have experienced some form of abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional. Some have entered the juvenile justice system and most have either dropped out of school or have failing grades. But thanks to Ms. Sally hundreds of girls over the years have turned around their lives and are now very successful.
As a matter of fact, at this year’s PACE graduation I was so happy to see Tabitha, a beautiful PACE girl I’d become very fond of during my volunteer work with PACE. After Tabitha gave me a big hug I was just thrilled to learn she was in college and making great grades. Then just a couple weeks later while shopping in Wal-Mart, I heard a voice say, “Miss Jenn?” It was another sweet girl I’d met at PACE and she, too, was in school and excited about her career as a nurse.
So, what exactly is this place called PACE? And what is its secret to changing the lives of girls 12 to 18 who come in identified as dependent, truant, runaway, ungovernable, delinquent or in need of academic skills?
PACE provides a safe environment where the girls feel special, important and genuinely cared for. At PACE, they have a voice. They have guidance. They have counseling. They reward good grades with new shoes and clothing from Beth's Closet.
As a matter of fact, PACE has been nationally recognized as one of the most effective models in the entire country for reducing rates of detention and incarceration, teen pregnancy, unemployment and long-term dependency among girls.
In the words of Ms. Sally, “We turn stinker bells into tinker bells.”
Former Executive Director of PACE Pinellas, Sally Zeh, talking to a group of local ladies about PACE.
Well, Ms. Sally, we are truly going to miss you at PACE. Your leadership, guidance and genuine love for hundreds of girls have made a drastic difference in our community. Your efforts have changed lives. You’ve given a brighter future to many of tomorrow's leaders. And for that, I say “thank you.”
To find out more about the 21 PACE Center locations statewide go to www.pacecenter.org
We salute you, Susan Rolston!
You know a person has a genuine passion for working with children when after serving in the Pinellas County School System for 16 years, they spend the next 13 years leading Tampa Bay's oldest and largest youth mentoring organization.
And I don't mean just "lead" them. I mean "LEAD" them. As CEO she led the agency through a five year period of program growth serving 200% more children. She increased the budget by more than 200% over five years through diversified revenue. She expanded the individual donor base by 500%. She upgraded technology to include full integration of three offices. Oh, and did I mention she established collaborations with R'Club, YMCA, local school boards, The Children's Home, and Catholic Charities?
Yes, Susan Rolston is one amazing woman. Someone we can all look up to with admiration and respect.
But after a 30 year career of helping local children, Susan is ready for retirement. June 27th, 2014 was her last day as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County. The occassion was marked by "The Big Celebration" at The Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg. A night where I couldn't have been more honored to serve as the evening's emcee for such a special event. Not only did we say goodbye to Susan, we also celebrated the year's Best Big Brother of the Year, Best Big Sister of the Year, and Best Big Couple of the Year.
Standing next to the woman of the hour, Susan Rolston!
If you don't know anything about what this life-changing organization does here in our community, you should know researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters, compared to children not in the program, were:
- 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
- 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
- 52% less likely to skip school
- 37% less likely to skip a class
- 33% less likely to hit someone
These are dramatic improvements in a child's life and all because someone, perhaps like yourself, spent a few hours a month mentoring a child. You can take them to a baseball game, take a tour of a local museum, go to the beach, eat pizza together, help them with their homework, bake cookies or simply give them advice or inspiration. Whatever it is you enjoy, odds are you'll enjoy them even more with your Little - plus you'll be making a life-changing impact on a child who truly needs it.
And thanks to the amazing Susan Rolston, hundreds of Pinellas County children have had their lives changed because of her hard work and dedication. Susan, thank you for what you've done as our CEO these last 13 years. We will miss you and we wish you all the best in your retirement. You truly deserve it.
For more information on becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister click here. We need you. But more importantly, hundreds of deserving kids need you even more.
Rally with the Rowdies
If you’ve never been to a Tampa Bay Rowdies game, you’re missing one heck of a good time. Sure, it’s a given the action on the field is non-stop. Players like Georgi Hristov and Lucky Mkosana will amaze you with their soccer skills and Coach Hill is one of the most energetic coaches I’ve ever been around.
However, I’ve gotta’ give huge props to the fans… specifically Ralph’s Mob. These folks are what being a “true fan” is all about. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got a lot of dedicated Lightning, Rays and Bucs fans in Tampa Bay. But when you get The Mob together, it’s pure passion to say the least. This independent group of supporters start their pep rally prior to each game over at MacDinton’s then march down to Al Lang stadium chanting and singing the whole way. Oh, there’s no mistaking The Mob’s entry into the stadium where they head to their designated zone at the north end of Al Lang. This group of fans goes all out as they rally for The Rowdies with chants, songs, green smoke bombs, banners and of course, their famous bass drum. Did I mention they NEVER SIT DOWN THE ENTIRE GAME? That’s passion, my friend. Just take a look at the official Code of Conduct for Ralphs Mob:
1. Be awesome.
2. Don't be not awesome.
3. Stand the entire game. No one wants to walk around you, and we move around too much to watch for your feet. You can sit down at halftime.
4. No hate speech. Racial, ethnic, or sexual slurs are prohibited (except for gingers).
5. Wear Rowdies colors. No one cares that you have the brand new Inter Milan kit. Wear green and yellow (Brazil jerseys don't count).
6. Don't bring a vuvuzela. It doesn't make you hip and trendy. It makes you annoying.
7. No fighting. Save your energy for the chants. If someone has upset you, go get a hot dog before you lose your temper.
8. Be aware of your surroundings. Some of our songs and chants result in rapid movements, and you don't want to end up falling over.
9. If you're going to try a new chant or song, keep it simple. Don't be upset we don't know all five choruses to an obscure 80s song.
10. Have fun. We come here to forget about life for 90 minutes. Join us and let loose, you'll be a better person for it.
Photos courtesy of Ralph's Mob.
So, come join us for the next Rowdies home game. Heck, if you’ve got the energy come join The Mob! You’ll be glad you did. And if you can’t make it out to Al Lang be sure to watch every Rowdies home game live on Great 38 TV!
Jenn is the Community Affairs Director of Great 38 TV where she is also the producer and host of "Our Issues Tampa Bay" and the host of "News Now" and "Health Matters."
Jenn also sits on the Board of Directors for St. Petersburg General Hospital, The Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast and Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County. She's also on the Tampa Bay Watch Advisory Council and The Big Brothers Big Sisters Marketing Committee.
Jenn is currently an active volunteer and fund-raiser for The PACE Center for Girls, All Children`s Hospital, The Children`s Home, Easter Seals of Tampa Bay, PARC, Gulf Coast Giving and Autism Speaks.