CLEARWATER - This time, the tears that fell from their cheeks were tears of joy. After months and in some cases, years, children and parents were reunited May 17 after being separated by the foster care system. The difference between the parents holding their children that day and the parents they were when their children were taken away was immense to those who knew them back then.
The families gathered for a reunification ceremony at the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater.
The darkness before the light
Gina Ullio, 30, of St. Petersburg endured a childhood of abuse, and by the time she hit her 20s, she was exhausted. She didn’t want to feel anymore. Ullio had never done “real” drugs, but when someone introduced her to prescription pain pills such as Roxycodone, they made her feel numb and finally let her not feel any pain.
“I was overwhelmed by things, and then someone introduced me to pills and I thought, ‘OK, I’m numb - I don’t want to laugh, I don’t want to cry,’” Ullio said. “I was just chilling. But little did I know, it was making everything all worse. It’s all just a Band-Aid. Band-Aids peel off, and then you need another and another and another, and before you know it, that’s your life. Your addiction is your life.”
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - People who do business at Belleair Opticians generally come away with the impression that owner Jim Dundee is a great guy, a nice guy, a happy guy. In fact some customers say that is the reason they keep coming back. What they may not know is Dundee’s demeanor comes directly from his father, and he’s the first one to admit it.
His father was the world famous boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, whose students comprise a who’s who in the boxing world, but none more famous than Muhammad Ali.
Son Jim, 58, said growing up in the 1960s, surrounded by famous boxers, was just something he took for granted.
“My Dad owned the Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach,” he said. “I grew up in South Florida and that gym became iconic. It really is an historical place, which is wonderful. It was kind of funny. We lived in a middle class neighborhood and we knew that Dad did some special stuff, but Dad was Dad; we never knew that he was going to become iconic. We lived in Miami in an unpretentious neighborhood. We had little money growing up, that is until Dad made it big with Muhammad.”
The ACs are humming all over the neighborhood, and local beaches are crowded, as residents and visitors alike bask in the sun waiting for the afternoon sea breeze to cool things off just a bit.
It’s summertime in Pinellas.
Pinellas County is located in a subtropical area. South Florida and Hawaii are the only two regions in the United States able to claim a tropical climate. Still, with the heat, humidity and afternoon storms along with plenty of palm trees, white sand beaches and ocean views; it’s difficult not to describe Pinellas as a tropical paradise.
On average, the local area gets 244 days of sunshine each year, which means sunscreen is a must-have for anyone who spends time outdoors. The Food and Drug Administration recommends using sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum with a SPF of 15 or higher, which will not only protect against sunburn, but if used according to directions, could help reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. Sunscreens not labeled as broad spectrum and those with SPF values less than 15 can only help prevent sunburn.
Hats are more than a fashion statement. They also offer protection against the sun’s harmful rays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates hats with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
The first day of summer, June 21, is still weeks away. But, for many, the Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of the season.
One of the preferred holiday activities around Pinellas is boating. Local waterways likely will be crowded, as people take advantage of three days off and what looks like good weather ahead.
National Safe Boating Week is May 18-25, and the Florida Wildlife Commission and U.S. Coast Guard are out on area waterways making sure everyone remembers safety rules.
“Florida is a great place to enjoy boating year-round,” said Col. Calvin Adams, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “And even more people will be out on the water for the holiday weekend. Both the holiday and National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24) present an opportunity to emphasize the importance of remaining safe while boating.”
Sixty-seven people lost their lives in Florida last year in boating accidents, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2011 Boating Accident Statistical Report.
Pinellas County ranked No. 6 among the top 10 counties reporting accidents in 2011. Pinellas ranked No. 4 in 2010. In 2011, three fatality accidents were reported, 13 accidents with injury and 20 without injury.
TARPON SPRINGS - Coast Guard crews continue to monitor the pollution cleanup Thursday from a boat that caught fire near the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs.
Roughly 4,500 gallons of water, diesel mix from the vessel Skye Marie, which caught fire at approximately 11 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, has been collected by SWS Environmental Services. Approximately 500 feet of boom has been deployed to contain spread of pollution.
The Coast Guard continues to send out a Safety Marine Information Broadcast informing mariners to take caution when transiting the area. At this time, there is minimal environmental damage and no affected wildlife has been reported.
The Coast Guard continues to work with state and local agencies to cleanup any pollution.
CLEARWATER - When Jennifer Tollefson began meeting with her special needs students at Woodlawn Community Academy in Clearwater, many struggled with basic mathematical concepts, such as counting money, even though most were juniors and seniors in high school. But now, through her teaching and launching a student store that her kids run, her students are not only much better at their math skills, they also are learning many life skills that will help them in the “real world” after they graduate.
Tollefson of Largo is the director of transition services at Woodlawn Community Academy, and this fall she founded the Swanky Swine school store where about 10 special needs students work during lunchtime on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We thought it would be good for them to get some practical experience, so we started a school store,” Tollefson said. “It’s our first step in a transition program, which is where we take our high schoolers and start switching from basic math and reading to more practical skills. We’re still doing math and reading, but we’re reading menus and doing money math and paying bills and writing checks and things like that.”
LARGO - A group of concerned parents and teenagers held brightly colored signs along Seminole Boulevard in Largo May 9 to warn of the dangerous products still sold in convenience stores all over Pinellas County.
Riley’s Food Mart, where the group gathered, is just one of the places still selling synthetic drugs, said Missy Peterson, who organized the protest in front of the store with her husband, Jeff. The protesters say they have seen the sales continue despite the fact that the state of Florida has banned substances sometimes called bath salts or incense and packaged as Spice, K2 and dozens of other colorful product names designed to target teenagers and children.
“We wanted our community to know, here in Largo and in Pinellas County, that we don’t want these convenient stores to sell synthetic drugs anymore to our teenage kids,” Missy said.
The Petersons, who were interviewed by Tampa Bay Newspapers for a series about synthetic drugs last year, have struggled to deal with the effects of synthetic drugs in their family. Over the last two years, their now 16-year-old daughter, Jessie, has been in and out of four different long-term rehabilitation programs for her addiction to synthetic drugs.
BELLEAIR - The town of Belleair will soon have a new public works facility. The groundbreaking for the building, which will be on Ponce De Leon Boulevard just east of Town Hall, took place May 13, and it couldn’t have come soon enough for Public Works Director Perry Lopez.
“The existing building has structural and termite damage and is antiquated,” he said. “The structural damage is so bad some of the garage bays are actually closed and are being held up by scaffolding. Nobody is allowed in the area.”
Among those taking part at the groundbreaking was Mayor Gary Katica. He said the event shows that the town is moving forward.
“It is something that has been needed for a long time,” he said. “It is nice to be part of an administration that is doing things. I’ve seen us build the Dimmitt Center, undertake the infrastructure improvements and buy the golf course. Now the new public works building - for me that’s progress.”
Lopez said termites are so prevalent in the main building no one has been able to say exactly how much damage has actually been done.
“The termites are in the rafters and we just don’t know the full extent of the damage,” he said.
CLEARWATER - The decision was unanimous, and Pinellas County Commissioners made it clear that preservation of industrial land was of paramount importance.
The commission, acting as the Countywide Planning Authority, was asked to make an amendment to the Future Land Use Plan May 7, for 34.6 acres located in Safety Harbor. The amendment would have changed the zoning designation from Industrial Limited, Residential/Office Limited, Residential Low, Residential Urban, Preservation and Water/Drainage Feature Overlay to Residential Medium, Residential/Office Limited and Water/Drainage Feature Overlay.
The southern 10-acres currently zoned Industrial Limited, fronts State Road 590. It is occupied by the Firmenich citrus processing plant, which is relocating to Polk County. The rest of the property is unimproved and contains woods and some wetlands.
Approval of the rezoning, which was backed by the city of Safety Harbor, would have allowed redevelopment of the property and construction of a 246-unit apartment complex that would have fronted S.R. 590 and an office building that would have fronted McMullen Booth Road.
However, approval would have resulted in the loss of 15.8 acres of land that could be used by an industry to provide much-needed jobs in Pinellas.
PINELLAS PARK - Last year, the annual Fire Truck Pull in Pinellas Park gave Christa Lynn the thrill of her life, and not because she helped pull a fire truck over the finish line; it was because she was chosen as a perfect match for a woman who needed a bone marrow transplant to save her life.
The purpose of the event, held this year on Saturday, May 18, at England Brothers Park, 5010 81st Ave. N., is to help the Be the Match Foundation find matches for people who need bone marrow transplants but don’t have an exact match in their family.
Lynn is a Hallmark stocker at several area Walgreens, which is the main sponsor of the Fire Truck Pull. Like other Walgreens employees, Lynn dropped by last year’s event to see if she could help.
“I went to the booth and did the paperwork which was quick and easy,” she said. “Then they take four swabs from your mouth and send them off for analysis. Ten months later, in August, I got an email at 11 o’clock at night telling me I was a match and they would be in touch with me.”
A short time later, the Be the Match organization contacted her and began the process of further testing to make sure she definitely was a perfect match.
The time to prepare is now. The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season could be extremely active.
That was the message from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center May 23, as experts delivered the outlook for the season that begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
The outlook forecasts an active or extremely active six-month season with a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms, with seven to 11 strengthening into a hurricane and three to six becoming major hurricanes, category 3, 4 or 5.
TREASURE ISLAND - It isn’t easy having fun. Just ask any of the participants at the sixth annual Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Hospitality Beach Games that took place May 19.
It isn’t easy to run around a sand dune with a huge dolphin blow-up between your legs, yet that is what the participants had to do. It was the dolphin relay race won by the team from the Bilmar Beach Resort.
LARGO - Up until recently, students entered into the International Baccalaureate program at Largo High School on faith alone.
Until the school met the qualifications and became an International Baccalaureate World School in April, its current freshman and sophomore classes had to trust that school officials would follow through on their promise to earn certification.
To add to the challenge, the high school didn’t have a great reputation two years ago. Getting students enrolled and excited about the potential IB program at Largo was a hard sell, said Adam Lane, assistant principal and IB coordinator.
There are hundreds of people who volunteer at the various parks within Pinellas County. Some may work a few hours a week or a month. Then there are others like Peggy Johannesen, who, as lead volunteer, can often be found at Philippe Park in Safety Harbor.
A 2011 Partner in Public Service award winner, she, along with several other volunteers, help maintain the park so the hundreds of people who visit each week have a pleasant and enjoyable experience.