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Students are invited to join the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners and the county administrator in a Community Conversation to discuss county services and important topics such as housing, social services and transportation.

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The public meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 3, from 6 – 7 p.m. at the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus in the Digitorium, 9200 113th St. N., Seminole, preceded by an open house from 5:30 – 6 p.m.

Held in partnership with SPC and Bay News 9, the Community Conversation offers an interactive venue for citizens to talk about issues, with the convenience of social media, online video streaming and blogging. Residents can also participate in the event via phone and by watching live on PCC-TV or SPC-TV.

Citizen comments are encouraged as part of the conversation with Pinellas County Commissioners Chairman Charlie Justice, Vice Chairman Janet C. Long, Dave Eggers, Pat Gerard, John Morroni, Karen Williams Seel, Kenneth T. Welch and County Administrator Mark S. Woodard. The conversation will be moderated by Al Ruechel of Bay News 9.

There are five ways to participate in the conversation:

  • Be part of the live audience. The live event will be held at St. Petersburg College, Seminole campus, in the University Partnership Center Digitorium, 9200 113th St. N., Seminole.
  • Watch it live and blog on pinellascounty.org/CommunityConversation. The blog opens Tuesday, May 3, at 9 a.m.
  • Watch it and ask questions on Pinellas County’s Facebook or post on Twitter and Instagram accounts using #PinellasCC.
  • Call (888) 409-5380 to listen and ask questions.
  • Watch on PCC-TV (Bright House Channel 637, WOW! Channel 18 or Verizon Channel 44) and SPC-TV (Bright House Channel 636, WOW! Channel 19 or Verizon Channel 47).

For more information about the Community Conversation, including links to resources about the county’s strategic plan and the citizen survey, visit www.pinellascounty.org/CommunityConversation or call (727) 464-3000.

This blog post was provided by Irena Karolak, public information specialist with Pinellas County Communications. 

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Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) launched the 2016 New Ideas Conference with a reminder of what the event is – and isn’t – about.

“This is to give voice to the community, and this is a forum to talk policy, not politics,” said Jolly as he spoke words that resonated the ideas of free speech.

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The April 8 forum – now in its second year – featured local leaders and the community talking about critical issues. Jolly served as the event’s moderator.

Last year New Ideas jumped into discussions about budget, transportation, energy and education. This year featured three panels – Veterans’ Welfare, Government Reform and Emerging Threats of Terrorism.

Read tweets from and about the forum.

Veterans’ Welfare

“Our nations heroes deserve the very best we have to offer,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) during the discussion about veterans. “Too often the VA has fallen short.”

The Veterans’ Welfare panel brought with it highly emotional responses. Johnny Jones, a retired Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician who lost both of his legs in 2010 after he was deployed to Afghanistan, touched the audience with his inspiring words. He told the crowd that losing his best friend, another U.S. Marine, to suicide forced him to think about what causes someone to go that far. He spoke passionately about the misuse of medication to those with PTSD. His non-profit organization, the Boot Campaign, works to raise awareness for Veterans’ issues. It also provides assistance to military families.

“All Americans want this to change,” said Blaze Radio Network anchor Doc Thompson. “We have the right ideas, but it is not getting done.”

Government Reform

Continuing with the idea of not getting things done, the Government Reform panel talks addressed issues with government gridlock and corruption.

“Congress has gotten so dysfunctional that good candidates don’t want to do it anymore,” said Editor of Editorials for the Tampa Bay Times Tim Nickens. “They can never get anything done, and the problem is not the middle. It is the extremes on either side.”

The discussion addressed district gerrymandering, Congressional term limits, the use of filibustering and budget concerns. The workings of primary elections also came up.

“A lot of people feel disenfranchised due to closed primaries,” said former Congressman Jim Davis. “Open primaries give more control and more choice. Neither side will like it, but we need to do it.”

Emerging Threats of Terrorism

Discussion of the threat of cyberterrorism entered the picture last. The panel featured Katherine Bauer, senior fellow at the Washington Institute; Congresswoman Gwen Graham (FL-2) and Chief Operating Officer for the Florida Center for Cybersecurity Sri Sridharan.

“Our military is protecting and defending us. We are working hard every day providing security here in the U.S,” said Graham.

Attendees were looking for answers on conflicts involving Syria, ISIS and Iran. Intellectual property, proper “cyber hygiene” and blocking ISIS online were also discussed.

“Syria, it is a humanitarian crisis,” said Graham. “You can’t make sense of whose fighting who for what reason.”

People from around Pinellas County joined students and faculty within the crowd at the SPC Seminole Campus Digitorium.

“I really enjoyed the Veterans panel,” said SPC Biology student Torin Clark. “It was awesome to hear that they were truly trying to figure out ways to help veterans.”

Clark also got a lot out of the Government Reform panel talks. Not someone who has kept up-to-date with politics, he said he learned a lot from the panel.

Local business owner Bruce Elliot said “This event is awesome, but once it is over, we have to think, ‘Well, what’s next?’”

At the end of each panel, people were told how they could get in touch with the panelists as well as others who can push for change. Many in the audience left with new answers and new questions.

Missed the forum? See video from the event online.

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Ride 2 Recovery members and officials open their newest training facility on SPC's Clearwater Campus Friday, Feb. 12.

Ride 2 Recovery members and officials open their newest bicycling training facility on SPC’s Clearwater Campus Friday, Feb. 12.

On Friday, Feb. 12, officials from Ride 2 Recovery, a national physical and psychological rehabilitation and recovery program for veterans, opened an indoor bicycling training facility at the St. Petersburg College Clearwater Campus.

The center, called Project HERO (Healing, Exercise, Rehabilitation, Opportunity) Central Florida, strives to enhance the lives of area service members and veterans through adaptive cycling. According to Ride 2 Recovery, the mental and physical challenges of cycling have proven an aid in the recovery process of veterans, who train in an environment of support and camaraderie among like-minded riders.

At the center, veterans receive tailored fitness regimens and dietary and lifestyle counseling as they progress through individual cycling programs.

“We want to thank St. Petersburg College and the Student Veterans Association for hosting our program,” said John Wordin, President and CEO of Ride 2 Recovery. “It’s an extremely important project, and I think that over the weeks, months and year ahead, it will become a source of pride for the campus. There is no other program like this that combines the hard work and the reward of completing a goal you set for yourself that you were not sure you could accomplish.”

Clearwater Campus Provost Stan Vittetoe noted that nearly 7 percent, or 500 of the 7,300 students that call the Clearwater Campus home are veterans.

“The classroom experience is enriched and enhanced by the presence of our veterans,” Vittetoe said. “They provide a model of leadership, organization and self-discipline that you just don’t often see. The entire campus is better with them here … and they support each other. We are looking forward to having the students and community members participate in Ride 2 Recovery.”

The new facility opened the day before Ride 2 Recovery’s Honor Ride Florida at Tropicana Stadium in St Petersburg, where more than 500 cyclists supported injured veterans from across the state. Project HERO Central Florida is the fifth such center in the nation opened by Ride 2 Recovery.

See more photos on the college’s Facebook page.

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eco-seminole
Since the Seminole Community Educational Ecosystem began three years ago, nearly 2,000 elementary, middle and high school students have visited St. Petersburg College to help hone their focus on their academic end goal – a college credential that will change their lives.

The educational ecosystem in Seminole stemmed from a grassroots effort in 2013 among five school principals and their School Advisory Committee members who wanted to reach beyond the traditional role of SACs. The educational ecosystem is based on research and best practices that champion the idea that it takes a community to educate a child.

“It’s about engaging the community in the educational process,” said Jesse Coraggio, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Academic Services at SPC. “It’s the idea that educating the youth in the community shouldn’t be the response of just the school district or just the college; it really should be the response of the community and only together are we going to be successful.”

Coraggio helped spark the ecosystem idea when he was a SAC volunteer SAC at Bauder Elementary School, where his daughter attended. He and other parents wanted to explore how groups could work together across grade levels to prepare students and facilitate key transitions, such as those between elementary and middle school, middle school and high school, and high school and college.

As part of the program, fifth-graders visit SPC for “Picture Yourself Here” events, designed to inspire them to think about college at an early age. High school juniors and seniors attend SPC “Majors Fairs” and other programs with their parents to help explore, investigate and decide on college choices, and navigate the steps to successfully enroll and register.

The ecosystem idea has gained momentum and is now sparking conversations among SPC, communities and schools in Clearwater, south St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.

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This week, St. Petersburg College honored Dr. Vilma Zalupski for her dedication to the college, even into her retirement, and her continued support of Women on the Way, the college’s resource and support center for female students.

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Dr. Vilma Zalupski takes part in the dedication of the Clearwater Campus Women on the Way center, which was renamed in her honor.

About 50 college administrators, faculty and students gathered Tuesday, Jan. 26, at the Clearwater Campus to take part in a reception for Zalupski. The event also served as a dedication where the campus’ WOW center was renamed in her honor.

Zalupski holds strong ties to the college. Her rise to the top began with a degree in counseling that led her on a path to become the college’s Dean of Women. Later named Clearwater Campus Provost, she is the first woman in Florida to have served as a community college provost.

Working closely with Women on the Way in its infancy, Zalupski has seen it grow into a program able to change the course of women’s lives. Even though she is now retired, she remains a WOW benefactor.

“I live in Tampa. If I lived closer… I would volunteer. But I do what I can. You know what they say, ‘Old soldiers never die’,” Zalupski said.

One thing WOW promotes is interconnectedness. That is, the ability to come together and achieve success through the help and determination of others.

“Working within WOW, and my career in general, I always made it a point to know everyone: how many kids they have, what they are going to school for, their hardships,” she said. “That general interest kept me connected to what was important.”

Words that have inspired Zalupski in her mission to help others: “It is in identifying yourself with the hopes, dreams, fears and longings of others that you may understand them and help them.” – Wilfred A. Peterson (Art of Awareness), March 2005

To Zalupski, WOW offers women a way to succeed beyond their expectations. Through scholarship initiatives, clothing programs and general support, the program offers students a shoulder to lean on.

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Rebecca New, an SPC WOW member and education major, and WOW Coordinator Shirley Crumbley

“I know plenty of women who would not be able to go to school full time without the help from scholarships that WOW has given us,” said Rebecca New, an SPC WOW member and education major.

Some of the other unique opportunities WOW has given students involve textbook lending, workshops, class planning and access to resources for tutoring, housing and shelters.

And it does not stop there.

“They do this thing called Adopt-a-Family for Christmas,” New said. “The ladies in WOW literally bought my son a bike!”

SPC President Bill Law said WOW is a shining example of the college’s message to and goal for its students.

“The school promotes out-of-class support, interaction and help, as well as a genuine college experience to give students a push towards success,” Law said. “WOW is the best example of that model.”

Law reiterated that a plan is in place to put a WOW center on every campus.

WOW already has expanded to SPC Midtown, said WOW Coordinator Shirley Crumbley. The organization is scheduled to get centers at the Seminole, St. Petersburg/Gibbs and Tarpon Springs campuses by 2017.

As a leading lady behind WOW’s success, Zalupski feels it is a dream come true to see the program expand.

“Without her, WOW wouldn’t be as strong as it is today, and without her I probably would not have stayed at SPC for my bachelor’s,” New said.

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Duke

L to R: Bill Law, President, St. Petersburg College; Gregory Wright, Community Affairs Manager, Duke Energy Foundation, Florida; Melissa Seixas, Government andCommunity Relations Manager, Duke Energy Florida; Dale Oliver, Chairman, SPC Board of Trustees.

St. Petersburg College and Duke Energy are joining forces to stimulate the workforce and community.

Duke Energy is helping to develop the area’s workforce by providing $30,000 in scholarship support to SPC students.

The gift to the SPC Foundation will benefit students who are the first in their family to pursue a college credential and will be specifically earmarked for students attending SPC’s Midtown or Downtown campuses.

“Duke highly values this partnership with St. Petersburg College and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students in St. Petersburg,” said Melissa Seixas, Government and Community Relations Manager for Duke Energy Florida, at a recent recognition by the College Board of Trustees.

Seixas described the partnership as “a multi-layered relationship.”

In August, Duke provided $10,000 and a team of volunteers to help support the grand opening of the college’s Douglas L. Jamerson Midtown Campus.

A long list of local dignitaries and more than 1,500 area residents joined the event to celebrate the opening of the 49,000-square-foot, state-of-the art center.

Located at 1300 22nd Street, South in St. Petersburg, the Jamerson Center was named in honor of the longtime legislator, Florida Education Commissioner and St. Petersburg Junior College alum.

“We appreciate all Duke does for St. Petersburg College and for the entire community,” said College Trustee Deveron Gibbons.

Learn more about Duke Energy Foundation.

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It might have been any other Saturday at the college’s St. Petersburg College/Gibbs Campus. But not for Wallace Thomas Johnson.

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Area resident Wallace Thomas Johnson receives a plaque honoring him as SPC Athletics’ number one fan from Dr. Tonjua Williams, senior vice president of Student Services, and campus provosts Jamelle Conner and Mark Strickland.

On Jan. 23, students and staff at St. Petersburg College awarded him a plaque, acknowledging him as SPC Athletics’ number one fan.

Prior to the men’s basketball game between SPC and State College of Florida, Johnson, 69, stood under an SPC Titans’ canopy, an area he has called home for most of his tenure as a SPC volunteer. He smiled as he handed a student a hot dog – a kind smile that said, “I’m here and being here is happiness.”

A computer science instructor, Johnson taught as an adjunct faculty member at SPC for 13 years. During that time he was offered a job with Florida Power in South Carolina, where he worked for three years. He eventually returned to Florida and found his passion for SPC sports.

“I live close to the college,” he said. “You know, one day I heard some noise in the gym, I walked in, and boy was I hooked.”

He has shown his love of SPC sports in many ways. He’s donated thousands of dollars for signs, chairs, tables and other odds and ends for the teams. And he’s a regular at any SPC game – whatever the sport – that he can possibly attend where students and staff greet him as Mr. Johnson or Tom.

“Volleyball is my favorite, but the basketball team is awesome as well,” he said. “They always put on a good show.”

Trouble struck, however, when he learned he had stage four lung cancer. He has since been going through chemo treatments to fight the disease.

“I just keep going,” he said.

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SPC sports fan Wallace Thomas Johnson and SPC Head Baseball Coach Ryan Beckman

Dedication and kindness are words that define Johnson, his fans at SPC said. Seeing him push through his illness every day to support something he loves has had a positive effect on the entire SPC community.

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson,” said Davie Gill, Student Life and Leadership Coordinator and Athletic Director at SPC. “I don’t think he realizes how much he impacts the students and players, but we are grateful.”

The college also named the corner where he has pitched the SPC Titans’ canopy for so many games “Tom’s Corner” in honor of the wonderful things he has accomplished.

“It’s nice to see a dedicated fan,” Gill said. It’s even more special, he added, considering the challenges Johnson faces to attend the games.

Johnson shows no sign of slowing down. The chemo treatments keep him somewhat shaky at times, but he shrugs it off, ready for the day.

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