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Tampa Bay Lightning´s Steven Stamkos, second from left, celebrates his third period goal against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday, April 16, 2014 in Tampa. CHRIS URSO/STAFF

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Pasco, Spring Hill. 4-16-14---Regestered Nurses (l to r) Derek Friedhoff, 25, and Jennie Manera, 38, check out the awards presented to them by Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco on Wednesday during a sheriff's office Swearing In & Recognition Ceremony held at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School. The two nurses were recognized for their lifesaving efforts on Chad Oulson on January 13, 2014 at the Cobb Theater in Wesley Chapel where Oulson had been shot by Curtis Reeves. ANDY JONES/STAFF
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Westchase Resident Stays Active

Posted Mar 29, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 29, 2007 at 11:07 AM


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With excitement in his eyes and a smile on his face, Dan O’Brien explains everything that will take place at the fourth annual Westchase Cup Golf Outing on April 7 at 11:30 a.m.

It will be a golf tournament like no other, he said, adding that it will have a family festival twist. Activities included are a dinner banquet, lunch, live entertainment, lots of
family activities, and, of course, some golf.

In fact, this same golf tourney was one of the first fundraisers hosted by the Westchase Community Foundation in an effort to raise funds to help a young girl with cancer.

Years later, O’Brien, a founder and president of the foundation, says that he never thought the organization would reach the status it has.

He’s proud that the organization has donated about $20,000 and hosted Santa parades and casinos nights. Organizationally, it has established by-laws and plan on hosting its first elections. With the help of four others, O’Brien has been there from the beginning.

“He was the mastermind behind formalizing what we started,” said Jim Mills, spokesperson for the foundation.

A Boston native, O’Brien moved to Westchase about four years ago. Almost immediately, he began to get involved with the community.

“I like to keep active and socialize in civic stuff,” said O’Brien, 38.

While he wouldn’t describe himself as a workaholic, he said he has always had more then one job, owned small businesses on the side and stayed involved with the
community. He started his career as a funeral director, and graduated from the Funeral Institute of the Northeast in Massachusetts. He worked in that field for 12 years, while continuing his work as an employee benefits consultant, which he has done for 18 years.

“It has made me more passionate for the foundation and the cause,” O’Brien said of his work as an employee benefits consultant.

He explained how he has seen insurance companies continue to lessen the coverage they provide for families, while at the same time he has seen medical bills skyrocket.

“Dan is a terrific guy and has a huge heart,” said Mills. “He is always trying to help anyone and everybody no matter the circumstance.”

Although the foundation is his baby now, O’Brien also stays active on the board of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber Education Foundation.

Through that foundation, he is working with the rest of the board on getting more schools involved in the teacher appreciation breakfast, which takes place at the beginning of the school year.

His wife, who recently earned a master’s degree in elementary education at USF, is one of his motivations.

“Seeing all the work that goes into teaching and knowing it’s not just an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. job with lots of vacation, motivates me to help the education foundation,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien also stays active in the Dad’s Club at Westchase Elementary. He has two sons, Brandon, 11, and Connor, 9, who attend the school. 

And O’Brien realizes that there is a possibility that he won’t be the president of the foundation after elections, but he has a contingency plan – starting a pet therapy program.

Inspired by his past involvement in Project Pups, he said he saw the benefits of pet therapy.

For right now, he still has his hands full with the work he really enjoys – the foundation.

“The situations we deal with are sad, but we have lots of fun putting all the events together and seeing all the hard work payoff,” said O’Brien.

Once the golf tournament is complete, O’Brien said there is a surprise event in the works for the foundation.

The golf tournament is being held at the Eagles Golf Club, 16101 Nine Eagles Drive. For information on the golf tournament, call O’Brien at 920-0350 or visit

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Woman Provides Positive Outlook On Cancer

Posted Mar 29, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 29, 2007 at 11:04 AM


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When Sharon Heller was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to handle the situation the only way she knew how – to be positive and hopeful.

The Westchase resident was diagnosed 10 years ago with cancer. She discovered a lump in her breast after performing a self-examination.

“I was lucky it was really in the early stages,” said Heller, 70.

Heller attributes the monthly self-examinations she started doing at a young age for her finding the lump early on. And although she found it in the early stages, she still had to get the lump removed and then undergo radiation and chemotherapy.

She said all the treatments lasted a year.

“I didn’t let it break me down,” said Heller. “I knew God was there.”

Heller, mother of four grown daughters, lives with her husband of 47 years, Joe.

Now 10 years after winning her battle with cancer, Heller tries to stay active and spread the word of what she went through.

As of last year, Heller began participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life as the survivor chairwoman.

“I contact as many survivors as possible,” explained Heller. It means a lot for survivors to communicate with other survivors, she explained.

Heller said the term cancer intimidates many people but “we have more and more survivors everyday.”

Many people have the concept that it can’t happen to them, she added.

“It’s doable and you can get yourself through it,” said Heller.

When facing such a difficult situation like cancer, Heller recommends people find a support group. Whether it is friends, family or other survivors from network groups, she encourages others to find help and not go through it alone.

“I hope women listen and know there are options and ways to handle cancer,” said Heller.

To keep herself active, Heller participates with Wellspring United Methodist Church, supporting the youth group. She is also a member of the Westchase Senior Group.

Throughout her life, Heller was a teacher at the University of Iowa Hospital School for the Severely Handicapped. She also served two terms on a school board and she
helped open a school for mentally and physically handicapped students.

“She is an amazing and inspiring woman,” said Marie Monsky, Relay for Life team development chair. At every committee and team meeting, Sharon shows her enthusiasm for the cause.”

Presently, Heller is on her quest of finding as many survivors in the area as possible to attend the relay. During the event, survivors can enjoy a spaghetti dinner, a survivor’s lap which kicks off the relay, and the luminary to honor those who have died to cancer.

“Survivors should come because we can see how well the survivor network is,” said Heller. “There are so many strides being made. People can see there is hope.”

So far, she has about 35 survivors signed up to attend this year’s relay at Tampa Bay Downs, 11225 Race Track Road, on May 18-19. The relay begins at 6 p.m. and continues until 10 a.m.

“She loves to tell her story and I never get bored listening to it,” said Monsky. “It actually brings tears to my eyes knowing what a great lady she is and how brave she was to put up a big and successful fight against breast cancer. Anyone going through not just breast cancer treatment, but any cancer should have the attitude Sharon had and has.”

“I am no different,” said Heller. “Just an average person.”

If you would like to participate and need information about the event, call Heller at 814-9378 or on the Web

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Tampa Native Returns To Start Church

Posted Mar 29, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 29, 2007 at 10:58 AM


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With the establishing of his church, the coordinating of its first spring festival and a family of his own, Frank Taylor has a lot on his hands.

“I love it,” said Taylor. “I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.”

The Westchase area resident and Tampa native moved back to Tampa from Orlando to start his own church in August 2005.

He started it with a small Bible study group, which then progressed into a Sunday night service at the Northwest Hillsborough County Family YMCA. Now, the Westtown Church Presbyterian Church of America meets at Bryant Elementary, 13910 Nine Eagles Road, averaging about 100 in attendance at Sunday service.

According to Taylor, it is one of the main reasons why the spring festival is being hosted on March 31 at Bryant Elementary from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“To help with exposure and let people know we are here,” said Taylor, 32.

Beyond working to establish itself in the community, the church is also striving to have its own location. The congregation currently rents the cafeteria at Bryant and two classrooms for the nursery and children’s church for its weekly services.

Although always heavily involved with the church, Taylor did not know until his junior year at Florida State University that he wanted to be a pastor. His original career path was to be lawyer.

In 1996, he graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in history and went off to the Reformed Theological Seminary school in Orlando. There he received his master’s degree in divinity and counseling.

After graduating, he became an assistant pastor at Willow Church Presbyterian in Orlando and it was not until 2005 that he decided he wanted to start a church of his own.

“The family demographics and it being close to home made it a good fit,” said Taylor, about starting the church in the Westchase area.

He added there is a Presbyterian church in Lutz and in Central Tampa, but none in the Westchase area.

“I kid Rev. Frank that he is a true renaissance man,” said Dan Eassa, a parishioner of the church. “Not only is he an exemplary husband and father, he can sing, play the piano, he’s a solid shortstop on our softball team, and he’s an incredible preacher.”

Taylor says his current life state had a lot to do with him opening a church. He is married to Lou and has three children Ellie, 5, Eliza, 4, and Frankie, 2. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child.

With the church’s first spring festival nearing, Taylor is hoping to reach out and meet the needs of the community.

“We want it to be a community of relationships for people to grow together,” said Taylor.

The festival is entirely free. The event will feature activities like a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting and more. Also included is food, entertainment and a family photo.

Once the church is more established, Taylor plans to have his own counseling center. At the present, he does some counseling at the Lexington Suites, on Countryway Boulevard.

The church is also working on sending some missionaries to China in May to help Chinese orphans.

“Rev. Frank is also very real, said Eassa. “He doesn’t pretend to be holier then thou. He talks to you, not at you.  He shares his daily struggles to be a better person, leaving you to think wow, I’m not the only one feeling that.”
For information about the church, call 746-8683.

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HomeTask Makes Owning A Business Simple

Posted Mar 29, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 29, 2007 at 10:56 AM


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With just a truck and a set of tools, Westchase resident Tom Niedenfuer has his own business.

After being a general contractor for the last 15 years, he decided to look into having his own business. While searching online he found out about HomeTask Handyman
Services and began to gather information on the franchise company.

By August 2006, Niedenfuer began his work with HomeTask as a handy man, serving mostly Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Most of his work is primarily in the Westchase area.

“I like working with my hands,” said Niedenfuer. “Every job is different and I get to be my own boss.”

The Seattle-based company began about four years ago. Presently the company is mostly known on the West Coast. Niedenfuer is the first to start the business here in

Stacey Lenz, franchise licensing coordinator for HomeTask, said the company is actively seeking more people in Florida.

She is working with about a dozen people on getting them started with their businesses in other parts of the state.

Once someone shows interest in HomeTask, the company helps them get everything organized to get started, Lenz said.

“We take them by the hand and walk them through the process,” she said.

All the business owner pays for are the start up fees, training, truck and tools. They do not necessarily need to hire other employees or have a location.

Lenz steers the owner in the right direction for getting the necessary licensing, along with any financing and marketing information they may need.

Once the business owner is established, all they need is their truck and tools. Customers who need a handy man call a toll free number and the operator will find a business
owner in the location and schedule the visit. Owners have complete control over their schedules, Lenz said. They can go online and block out the times they are available to take calls. The company also provides resources for difficult jobs, such as project details that business owners can access online.

“Anyone going in cold turkey is assured some success,” said Lenz. “The aim is to make it user friendly and not only convenient for the customer, but the handy man also.”

In efforts to establish more handy people throughout the United States, Lenz said the company is offering to waive the franchise fee for the first 40 people who are retired military.

“We wanted to do something to help guys increase their quality of life,” said Lenz.

For information on franchises, call Lenz at 792-1633 or visit To contact a handyman, call 1-800-598-8275.

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Church Adds New Education Building

Posted Mar 21, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 21, 2007 at 03:58 PM


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The long awaited addition to Keystone United Methodist Church is no longer on hold.

The church, 16301 Race Track Road, released information early this month that they will break ground on their new education building on March 25 after fellowship on Sunday at about noon.

The 7,200 square-foot building will be located next to the existing fellowship building on church grounds.

Once completed the education building will serve as a Sunday school and will house any other church related activities like meetings. It will include six classrooms and a large storage facility, which the church was in need of.

“We have lots of growth,” said Cindy Donovan, member of the building and stewardship committee for the church. “The area is booming, membership has increased and we have lots more kids.”

Donovan said the conceptualization of the education building began in 2001 and the plan was approved by late 2002.

Since then a building committee of eight members was established to oversee the project and ensure all the details were ironed out. The committee consisted of
church members who participate in other relevant committees to the project and members who have interest or experience in building.

The stewardship committee also began working on fundraisers and other events to gain the necessary funds to pay for the project.

“I am pleased we have worked really hard for it,” said Mary Jean Culbertson, church and Crafty Ladies member. “All the proceeds from our crafts have been going towards the building.”

To date the church has raised $300,000 through events like golf tournaments and shooting competitions held at the Silver Dollar Shooters Club.

Although the church was approved a loan by the Florida United Methodist Foundation, they will continue to raise money to payoff the $1 million project.

In fact, the church is planning a fishing tournament and it will continue to sell cookbooks and afghans to raise more funds.

“It has been a while since we have built,” said Donovan. “It is nice.”

The church, which was founded in 1868, is positioned on 10 acres of land in the Keystone area and has some structures like a sanctuary and a fellowship hall.

“We’re very excited about it. The church is growing tremendously,” said Wes Charlow, a member of the church. “We need this desperately to keep up with the community.”

Pastor Bob Wooten will be performing the groundbreaking ceremony after the service at about noon and an early dinner will follow to celebrate.

For information about the groundbreaking ceremony, call the church at 920-5153.

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Walk To Help Raise Awareness

Posted Mar 21, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 21, 2007 at 03:56 PM


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Coordinating the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association (CVSA) Walk for the second year continues to be something quite personal for Nicole Quick.

The Westchase area resident and mother of two has been facing Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome with her daughter Kaylyn, 8, was about 18-months-old. As a toddler,
Kaylyn began having vomiting and nausea episodes regularly. Doctors did not have a diagnosis until she was about 6-years-old.

Described as a disorder, the syndrome affects children and adults, and causes recurrent long intervals of severe vomiting and nausea.

By 2005, Nicole joined a support group on the CVSA Web site and began to learn about Laura Koch, who hosts a walk in Connecticut. Nicole soon decided to do the same in Tampa and host a walk to raise awareness and funds for the fight against the syndrome.

Now in its second year, the CVSA Walk is slated to take place March 31 at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N. Himes Ave., shelter 311, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“She (Laura Koch) was my inspiration to start,” said Nicole. 

This year Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio proclaimed March 31, 2007 as CVS awareness day. And there is a possibility she will speak at the event.

Nicole said the theme for the walk continues to be “Safety for CVS.”

She figured teaching children about safety and creating awareness about syndrome at the same time would be the best approach to take.

Presently there are only three other walks – in Connecticut, Milwaukee and Chicago – in the country.

Nicole said the syndrome is still often times misdiagnosed and many are still unaware it even exists.

“The biggest thing to convey is you can go from five to 20 years without a diagnosis,” said Nicole.

In fact, her daughter went from about two years of age, until she was 6, before being hospitalized and undergoing various types of testing to finally determine what she had.

Soon after her daughter’s diagnosis, Nicole became a stay at home mom and now even home schools Kaylyn because of all the absences last year. But her husband, Joe, and son, Dylan, have worked as her support system.

“(I) definitely help mom when getting ready to leave for the hospital, and give my sister a sense of comfort by telling her she will be home soon,” said Dylan, via e-mail. “I pack a bag with toys from my room that I usually don’t let her play with and last but not least visit the hospital often bringing a new surpass every time.”

Nicole said although Kaylyn’s episodes last a few days, it usually takes her a few days to bounce back. In Kaylyn’s example, she is on a 50 to 60 day cycle before going through these repeated episodes.

The length of time between episodes and the duration varies from person to person. When not going through an episode Kaylyn is described as a healthy child. During the episodes, other than providing anti-nauseating medicine and keeping Kaylyn hydrated, there is nothing else that can be done. And depending on the severity it can result in hospitalization.

“Unfortunately doctors still don’t know what causes the syndrome,” she said.

Kaylyn describes living with the syndrome as going to the hospital a lot and she said the most important thing people should know is, “that you throw up a lot.”

Attendants who decide to make it to the one mile walk, will have the opportunity to see presentations and receive information from Tampa Police, Tampa Fire Rescue and Crime Prevention to name a few.

According to Nicole, there will be a 911 simulator, demonstration on safety techniques and the CrossThread band will provide the music.

Tickets cost $10 for adults and children 17 and younger are free. The cost of a ticket includes a T-shirt and a barbecue lunch. Last year, the event raised about $10,000 and about 250 attended.

“Anything we raise this year above and beyond last year will be a success,” said Nicole.

For information about the walk e-mail, Nicole Quick at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on the Web,

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Students Learn About Afghanistan

Posted Mar 21, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 21, 2007 at 03:54 PM


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Citrus Park Elementary students extended many warm welcoming hands to US Navy Lt. Commander Tracy Ray who recently returned from Afghanistan.

Students wore red, white and blue, lined up at the entrance holding small American flags and before his entrance a fellow naval comrade rang a bell and sounded a Navy Boatswain’s pipe.

The children decorated poster boards that said thank you for fighting for freedom and then sang “God Bless the USA”, all to show appreciation for the man they have been communicating with for some time now.

Ray has been considered quite the celebrity at the school since he was deployed in June of last year. All three of his sons, Jonathan, 8, Christian, 11, and Austin
Ray, 14, have attended Citrus Park and his wife, Darlene, is a fourth grade teacher at the school.

Since his departure his wife has collected letters and care packages from students at Citrus Park to send to him in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he is a transportation officer and senior mentor.

“It’s an honor,” said Diana Sardegna Koch, assistant principal at Citrus Park, 7700 Gunn Highway. “He took time when he only has a few days with his family to come and show us his appreciation. We send him packages and he gives us freedom.”

Once at the school, Ray spoke to all the students during special assemblies throughout the day held in his honor. He presented students with a video educating why armed forces are in Afghanistan to begin with. He followed by providing information about the country like population, climate and the people. 

“They (Afghanis) have been fighting for 30 years all they know is war,” said Ray to the students.

He followed by explaining all the meadure the US is taking to help the Afghani people rebuild their country and keep them away from terrorists and the war they have been fighting for so long.

During the presentation, students were allotted some time to ask him questions. They asked questions like, “How do the children dress,” “Is Osama bin Laden hiding there,” “Have you encountered terrorists,” or “What type of food they eat in Afghanistan.”

“I enjoyed watching the tape about Afghanistan,” said Kyle Sanchez, 10. “I learned they don’t all wear shoes and its not completely safe.”

Ray recently arrived and is expected to return to Afghanistan later at the end of this month. He has been in reserves for the last 23 years.

Darlene said he originally joined to pay for his education and he then ended up enjoying it. He was commissioned in 1995 as an officer and has worked his way up the ranks, she added.

“I think its great he wanted to spend a whole day (at school),” said Darlene. “He didn’t want to miss anyone.”

Ray, an Odessa resident, also spoke to children at Walker Middle School on March 15 where his two older sons attend. He also plans on speaking to his fellow employees from his civilian job at the department of justice, where he is a support service manager and contracting officer.

“I think the interesting part is you know how poor they are (Afghanis) and you end up feeling lucky for what we have,” said Katherine Whyte, 9.

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The Italian Way Pizzeria Comes To Westchase

Posted Mar 21, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 21, 2007 at 03:51 PM


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The Italian Way will make its way to the Westchase area April 1.

The franchise is owned by Alan Lopez and Paul Parson. The 5537 Sheldon Road location will be the duo’s third eatery in the Tampa Bay area.

The Tampa-based franchise is a pizzeria-style restaurant that features items such as Philly cheese steak sandwiches, pizza, chicken wings and calzones.
Lopez and Parson presently own two other stores, both in St. Petersburg. The partners met about four months ago through mutual business friends and decided to work together.

“Each of us has different strengths, which offset our weaknesses,” said Lopez, a South Tampa resident.

Lopez added that although both will work together on the company, he will handle the marketing aspect, while Parson manages the business operations.

Parson said that when he found the location it was perfect.

The 1,000-square-foot space was occupied in the past by a different pizzeria, thus it required little work for The Italian Way to open there, said Lopez.

“It’s a busy and growing area,” said Parson, a Riverview resident. “It is (an area) diverse economically and culturally. We are really excited about having the opportunity of working in the area.”

Parson and Lopez agree that so far they have enjoyed having the restaurants.

“The most fun is people telling me how good the food is,” said Lopez. “I want feedback no mater how positive or negative.”

“The concept is different then most out there,” said Parson. “Everything is fresh and nothing is preordered.”

The Italian Way presently has about 13 locations open throughout Florida. Once the location opens, it will mirror many of the other restaurants. It will have about 10 employees and enough space to seat about 20 customers.

Rick Onderko, president and chief executive officer of Franchise Concepts LLC, is also working on expanding the franchise throughout the United States.

“I want to grow faster and get the name out there,” said Onderko.

Onderko and his wife, Meredith, purchased a portion of the Westshore Pizza franchise in 2005, switching to the new name.

“I wanted something different,” said Onderko, who formerly owned a Beef O’ Brady’s restaurant in St. Petersburg.

Being of Italian decent, Onderko said he and his wife utilized their culture and changed many of the ingredients in the recipes to make it more authentic.

For more information about The Italian Way, visit

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Eagle Scout Goes Back To His Roots

Posted Mar 15, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 15, 2007 at 01:47 PM


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AJ Bose decided to go back to his schoolyard roots to complete his Troop 18 Eagle Scout project.

The 17-year-old returned to Northwest Elementary, 16438 Hutchison Road, to help repair the nature preserve and butterfly garden at the school.

Late last year, AJ proposed to clear the area, making it available so that students and teachers could utilize it for lessons.

According to AJ, he researched various possible projects before deciding on this one. He settled on the Northwest Elementary project after remember that he once had classes in that area.

However, that was years ago. Located on the southeast side of the school, the preserve area had been out of use for some time. Clearly overgrown, the area also lacked clear walkways said Ryan Bose, AJ’s father.

But that is all in the past, thanks to the help of some Cub Scouts, the Northwest Elementary Dads’ Club and members of Troop 18. Wood now outlines the perimeter, new mulch has been spread, tablesbuilt and new information sheets were placed along the preserve.

Completion of the project took numerous steps. First, with the help of volunteers, the tables were built at AJ’s home. Also, volunteers met and trimmed many of the trees.
Clippings were then turned into mulch, and much of the area was cleared.

On March 3, AJ gathered the volunteers one more time to lay out the mulch and place the tables. All together, approximately 20 to 25 volunteers helped AJ complete his project.

“This was a resource that was not really being used,” said AJ’s father, Ryan.

Bryan Quigley, assistant principle at Northwest Elementary, said the preserve is mainly used to host classes, gather water samples and learn about habitats and nature.

Quigley added that since the area was cleared last month, teachers have begun to make use of the area once again.

“I just hope they use it a lot more now that it is available,” said AJ.

Now that the area is restored, Quigley said, the school will find volunteers bi-annually in hopes of continuing the upkeep of the nature preserve area.

AJ lives with his father and mother, Mary Ellen Bose. Besides being a scout, he was also the quarterback for Sickles High School. Troop 18 is chartered by the Messiah
Lutheran Church.

AJ said what he enjoyed the most about being a scout is, “hanging out with friends and playing sports.”

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Coffee House With A Twist

Posted Mar 15, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 15, 2007 at 01:43 PM


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For brother and sister James and Thuy Le, opening just a coffee house was not enough.

The duo decided to create Sip & Ship Café, 11961 Sheldon Road, a coffee house with a shipping section.

“(We) thought it was perfect, there are no shipping stores around and the area is surrounded by businesses and homes,” said James. “For the business to survive and grow we decided to add something.”

The 1,500 square-foot location was previously known as From the Ground Up Coffee Café until the Westchase residents purchased it in September.

Once opened, they decided to keep the coffee portion of the business intact, with the exception that breakfast items, sandwiches and salads were added to the menu.

Kenny Toombs, barista and assistant manager of Sip & Ship Café, said 14 different types of coffee are available along with five different kinds of smoothies. 

And although they had initially decided to have the shipping section included with the business, it was not up and running until late January.
Diane McLeod, Cheval resident, often comes to Sip & Ship to do her work.

“Even though I have Internet access at home, it is nice to come out and have coffee,” said McLeod.

According to McLeod, the concept of the shipping station inside was different but it has resulted in bringing more activity into the area.

With the shipping section, customers will have the choice of selecting to mail their products through the United States Postal Service, FedEx, DHL and UPS, said James.

“They (customers) can drop off packages on the weekend to ship on Monday,” said James. “It’s that type of convenience that goes a long way.”

He added customers can also have their own post office box located within the store.

The wooden mailboxes in place were built by James and Thuy.

“We mainly do everything (for the business) together,” said Thuy.

James said they attempted to make the mailboxes look more antique to keep up with the design of the coffee house.

Presently the store has three employees running the show: Thuy, Toombs and Nhi Ma, James’ fiancee. And along with coffee and shipping, customers can also receive
services such as free Internet access while inside the store. They can also send faxes and make copies.

“It’s a destination away from home,” said James. “You can come here and unwind before going home.”

To add more convenience, James said the store is available for group meetings and private parties.

James, a pharmacist by training, said he enjoys the challenges of having a business.

“I like catering to the customers and finding out what they like,” said James.

For Thuy, who was an elementary school teacher for about four years, having a business with her brother has been satisfying and challenging.

“It’s hard to have to do everything on your own and learn by trial and error,” said Thuy. “But it’s great and I enjoy meeting new people.” 

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Achieve Tampa Bay Incorporates Strategies

Posted Mar 15, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 15, 2007 at 01:40 PM


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Children at Achieve Tampa Bay are going to learn some different approaches to respect, patience and communication.

Through the Students and Teachers Achieving Real Success (STARS) program, students, teachers and parents will learn strategies to help incorporate positive behaviors into everyday life. STARS is a spin-off of another program, known as Positive Behavior Support.

The preschool is for children from birth through age 5 and presently has about 100 students enrolled. Having been in service for 15 years, the school offers integrated classes for handicapped children. Achieve Tampa Bay, 2215 East Henry Ave., hosted a Family Fun Fest on March 2 to promote the integration of the program into the school.

Achieve Tampa Bay is one of three schools in Hillsborough County to work with the University of South Florida Mental Health Institute and the Department of Children and Family Studies to implement the program.

David Brooks, executive director of Achieve Tampa Bay, said the event was designed to introduce the concept to families whose children attend the school. The program is designed to help young children learn how to follow expectations and certain positive behaviors at an early age.

“By teaching them from an early age children will have more cohesiveness,” said Rochelle Lentini, director of program wide positive behavior support for the Department of

Child and Family Studies and USF Florida Mental Health Institute.

Basically, the program boils down to teaching children about emotions, how to express them, understand them and the proper emotional vocabulary, said Lentini. She said the three schools have taken the training and decided to include the behaviors they believe will be of importance at the school.

For Achieve Tampa Bay, parents, teachers and USF trainers will work closely to teach children about respect, communication and patience.

Initially the trainers will work as a support system, helping the teachers at Achieve Tampa Bay accomplish their goals in teaching students about these behaviors and providing strategies, said Lentini, a Carrollwood resident.

To help with the initial learning period, teachers underwent training in effective leadership, program expectations, strategies and how to handle children with intensive challenging behaviors.

During the fun fest, parents had the opportunity to gather information about STARS, visit with the teachers and see how their child interacts at school.

“We want to have parents involved so they can incorporate (the teachings) at home,” said Brooks.

Christine and Willie Johnson, Citrus Park residents, have been taking both of their grandchildren to Achieve Tampa Bay for the last three years.

The Johnsons’ say that Adrian, 4, and Ariel, 11 months, both love the school.

“It’s excellent and great reinforcement for what they (children) learn at home,” said Christine Johnson.

Lentini said the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County funded USF to work with early childhood programs. The other schools selected were Mango Head Start in Seffner and Ybor HCC Child Development Center.

Once the funding was received, Lentini said the program tried to find preschools that were already using some of the techniques, so they would only need some enhancements to improve the foundation.

“We are looking for activities that promote children’s social, emotional competence,” said Lentini.

Lentini added that this is the first time the program has been done in community early childhood care and enough research in not yet available on the results.

She said once the program is incorporated changes in the child can be visible fairly quickly.

“Children who have the foundation will eventually recognize even what other children need for help,” said Lentini.

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Students Coordinate Family Fun Fest

Posted Mar 15, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 15, 2007 at 01:37 PM


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Sickles High School is planning on showcasing their talents at this year’s two day Family Fun Fest on March 31 and April 1.

Hosted by the school’s Culinary Booster Club, the event will feature student-cooked barbeque food as well as activities provided by clubs and organizations at the school.

The event originated four years ago. In the past, it has been coordinated by the Student Advisory Council. It is now facilitated by the Culinary Booster Club.

This year, Rick Ceglio, culinary arts teacher at Sickles, will have the students highlight their cooking abilities. In the past, food was provided solely by vendors.

“(I’m) very excited about it and will be nervous until it is over,” said Ceglio. “I think this is a positive event for Citrus Park and Sickles.”

Since the culinary program is in charge of preparing all the food, Ceglio said he has created a lesson on event planning to help the students get ready for the fest.

Ceglio and the Culinary Booster Club began preparing for the event in September. The event planning lesson will began two weeks prior to the Fun Fest.

Students learned the recipe to cook the chicken, ribs and pulled pork. They also learned how to prepare for the event, handling quandaries such as how much food should be prepared for the expected number of attendants.

“Lots of heart and soul is being put in especially on behalf of the chef (Ceglio),” said Cindy Chelena, treasurer of the Culinary Booster Club at Sickles. “All the kids are really getting involved.”

Ceglio said that presently the anticipated cost of the event is about $5,000 and that they are hoping to raise about $25,000. The proceeds from the event will be split between the school and the culinary program.

Entrance to the fest is free, however parking is $3. Activities will be $1 and the food will range in price from $2 to $10.

“We are not trying to take advantage of families (with the cost),” said Ceglio. “We are just trying to give them a great day.”

Along with the food and activities, professional and high school bands will be performing to go along with the country theme of the event.

Some of the activities include children’s games, antique car and motorcycle shows and dance performances that will include salsa, belly dancing and line dancing.
Washington Mutual, Citi Bank, Publix and Sweetbay are sponsoring the fest.

Ceglio said that although the school is hosting most of the activities and food, they are still searching for vendors and sponsors. Vendors wishing to participate have to sign up by March 23.

“This is a good opportunity for the public to see the talents of the kids and see what the culinary program provides,” said Chelena.

Patrick Gossett, a senior at Sickles, said he also participated in the event last year. He plans on cooking the barbeque meats and the Italian sausages for the Italian Club.

“It’s a family event, which is rare,” said Gossett. “There will be good barbeque and this is a great time to help the community and the school.”

For information on being a vendor or sponsor call, Ceglio at 631-4742 x 242 or 244-7263.

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Washington Trip Designed To Teach Middle School Students History

Posted Mar 12, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 12, 2007 at 01:07 PM


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Once the final bell rings to end the 2006-07 school year, some students will learn lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom.

Kyle Shashack, a language arts teacher at Walker Middle School, has been planning a trip to Washington, D.C., for students who signed up at the beginning of the year.

The trip is designed to not only teach students more about American history, but also will serve as a follow-up to lessons taught about the Holocaust during the year, he said.
To this end, youngsters will visit such places as the Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The idea for the trip emerged last year, but with little time for planning, it fell through, he said. This year, about 34 students are signed up to attend and eight chaperoning parents and teachers have come onboard.

The event is not school sponsored and will take place once the school year is over, running May 26-29.
To help defray the costs of the trip, students have been working on fundraising. So far, they’ve done everything from washing cars to hosting yard sales.

“This forces kids to see that things in life aren’t free, you have to work for things,” said Shashack.

Kyle Shashack’s wife, Kerri, a sixth-grade teacher at Walker, told students early on in the year how much the trip would cost and how they could raise money to pay for it.

The estimated cost per student is $1,100.

Kyle said the price includes flight, lodging, meals and a nighttime watch to monitor student’s safety while in hotel rooms.

Kayla Giles hopes this trip will help her determine her future career.

“I believe it is a great opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., and learn more about our country and to be away from my family and hang with some friends,” said Giles, 14. “I
am very excited about going to the FBI building because I am considering a career in law enforcement or the military.”

“I hope that seeing the memorials to people who sacrificed so much for their country will cause her (Kayla) to more highly value her citizenship and deepen her sense of
patriotism,” said Christine Kokoska, Kayla’s mother. “I hope that she will be motivated to become an active participant in this democracy.”

Kyle Shashack, who describes himself as a history enthusiast, said although the agenda is tentative, he has many activities planned for the students.

He anticipates the students will have the opportunity to tour the White House, the Smithsonian, the Holocaust museum and other famous landmarks. They might also have the
opportunity to see the Senate in action.

“I really just feel that it’s important to create civic mindedness in students and patriotism and realize how fortunate they are,” Shashack said.

Shashack said he is hoping to continue the tradition of having students venture to Washington on alternate years. By doing so, he said, each student entering the school at
some point will have the chance of attending the trip.

While there are no more planned fundraisers, students are still accepting donations for the trip.

For information, e-mail Kyle Shashack at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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Keystone Seeks Active Members

Posted Mar 9, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 9, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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The Keystone Civic Association is hosting a gala event in hopes of enrolling new members and getting present ones to become more active.

The Active Recruitment Expo is slated for March 8 at 7 p.m. at the Keystone Recreation Center, 17928 Gunn Highway. The event will provide attendees with information about the organization, such as its history, goals and the activities members are involved with.

“The event is primarily to encourage existing and new members to become active in the various functions and programs of the KCA,” said Greg Riski, an association director.

Presently the association has about 350 members, but according to Riski, the organization needs more active members to continue to “maintain effectiveness.”

The Keystone Civic Association has been around since the 1930s. It has worked on various projects in the area, such as the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan. Members also take part in Adopt-A-Road clean-ups, host a jazz fest and more.

Riski said the benefits of being a member include, “the personal satisfaction and the good friends with common interests.”

The Keystone Civic Association serves the Keystone area as well as the Odessa area from South Mobley Road to the Pasco County Line and from the Suncoast Parkway to the Pinellas County Line. Families and business owners in the area can join the association.

According to Riski, if someone is unable to attend the expo, but is interested in joining the association, the membership form can be found online on the association’s Web site. Annual dues are $15 per family, $10 for seniors and $25 for businesses.

Board meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month and the general membership meetings on the fourth Thursday of each month. Both meetings are held at the Keystone Recreation Center, 17928 Gunn Highway.

For more information on the organization, visit

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3 New Stores Set To Open At Citrus Park Mall

Posted Mar 9, 2007 by Jessica Balanza

Updated Mar 9, 2007 at 12:06 PM


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Westfield Citrus Park mall is expected to have two new tenants by spring and another by summer, according to Mary Ellen Norton, the mall’s marketing director.

Officials at the mall, 8021 Citrus Park Town Center, have announced the arrival of Dick’s Sporting Goods, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and Cork & Olive.

Dick’s Sporting Goods is the first set to open on March 31.

The 50,000-square-foot store is described by Ashley Bauer, community marketing manager for Dick’s Sporting Goods, as a full-service sports store, catering to sports enthusiasts and athletes alike.

“This will be a store where all a customer’s needs are met as opposed to going to multiple locations,” she added.

Dick Stack originally founded the store in 1948 in New York. Now based in Pennsylvania, the company has about 294 locations throughout the United States, including two in Florida. The sporting goods store features sporting apparel, footwear and equipment.

“They are making a big splash in the market,” said Norton. “It’s a different take on a sporting goods store.”

The store will open with about 75 employees. Westfield Brandon mall is also opening a Dick’s Sporting Goods on the same day.

In hopes of filling a void of what the mall did not offer, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse will also join Westfield Citrus Park mall this summer, said Norton.

The restaurant is currently under construction and will be located at the main entrance of the mall.

Norton said the 7,481-square-foot restaurant is new to the Florida market.

Three other locations are scheduled to open by spring in Orlando and Pinellas Park.

“We believe BJ’s will provide a fun, energetic, casual-plus dining experience to Florida,” said Greg Levin, chief financial officer for BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. “We hope that we can become a dining occasion of choice for the people that live and eat in the Citrus Park Area.”

The restaurant features entrees such as baby back ribs, steak, lasagna and pizza.

“This fits a niche for what we have at the mall,” said Norton. “We are excited about them.”

Also under construction is the 3,937-square-foot wine shop, Cork & Olive, which is set to open by the spring. The retail wine shop will offer wines from smaller vineyards around the world, olive oil, spices and dips.

Tracey Locke, spokeswoman for Cork & Olive, said the shop will have a wine tasting table open all day.

“Customers can expect reasonably priced wines that are unique and a tasting table open all day in an unpretentious atmosphere,” she said. “It will be neat once opened to do your shopping and taste wine.”

The average price for wine is $12.99 and the tasting table will usually feature about 10 wines from which customers can taste, said Locke.

For customers like Indira Ramanathan, a Lutz resident who comes to the mall about twice a week, the changes are good news.

“It offers more variety,” said Ramanathan. “I love it here.”

“I think the changes are good,” said Carrollwood resident Jolyn Lively. “It’s about time they have another restaurant and I have heard good things about Dick’s (Sporting Goods).”

There are no official opening dates as of yet for BJ’s and Cork & Olive.

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