Little Free Library brings books to Ridgecrest area

Jim Dyson, founder of Ridgecrest Elementary's Panther Pals reading program, was honored Aug. 22 with a namesake Mr. Jim's Little Neighborhood Library on the grounds of the Jim Dyson Young Life Center in Largo. Among those attending the unveiling were Ridgecrest youngsters, the Little Free Library builder Kathie Brown, on left, project leader Karen Sherrets, and artist Judy Sellers, on right.

LARGO — Thanks to Panther Pals reading volunteers of Largo's Ridgecrest Elementary School, youngsters of the Ridgecrest/Rainbow Village communities now have their own Little Free Library.

The Little Free Library celebrated its official opening Aug. 22 at the Jim Dyson Young Life Center, 12601 Wilcox Road, Largo.

There are quite a few of the small book exchanges throughout Pinellas County, among more than 100,000 in over 100 countries, but this may be the only one in this area that is exclusively for young readers. The project grew out of concern for the kindergartners and first graders in the 5-year-old Panther Pal reading assistance program created by Largo resident Jim Dyson.

"When coronavirus shut down the schools, we were worried that our young readers would lose all the progress they had been making," said project leader Karen Sherrets. "Ensuring that they have access to books is one way to help until we can get back to face-to-face learning. It is also a small way to honor Jim Dyson — Mr. Jim as he is known by the Panther Pal kids — for a career-long commitment to the families of the Ridgecrest/Rainbow Village communities."

Mr. Jim's Little Neighborhood Library was a surprise for Dyson, who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago and has been forced to take a more virtual role in his leadership. Despite his challenges, he is still working on keeping Panther Pals going through distance learning and making sure the volunteers are ready for a schoolroom comeback when it's safe.

"The more children read, the better their reading skills become. Reading is key to success in school and in life," Dyson said. "I'm honored to have my name on this Little Free Library."

The Little Neighborhood Library was designed and built by reading volunteer Kathie Brown. Retired art teacher Judy Sellers painted it with children's book characters. Young Life donated a corner of their property and Panther Pals Christine and Ian Collinson built the bench for relaxing while reading a book or picking one out to borrow. Other partners include Habitat for Humanity, the Rotary Club of Seminole Lake, Friends of Ridgecrest, Friends of the Largo Library and others.

"It is our hope that Mr. Jim's Little Neighborhood Library will bring more joy and a lot more books to this community," said Sherrets. "Babies being read to by their parents up to teenagers are invited to take a book, enjoy, share, return and repeat."

American Red Cross of Central Florida seeks volunteers

As the peak time of year for hurricane development has begun, the American Red Cross of Central Florida is seeking volunteers to assist during this year’s active season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early August, the Red Cross prepared for Tropical Storm Isaias — which became a hurricane — that moved up the east coast of Florida as the ninth named storm of the season — the earliest on record. The season continues to be active, with tropical disturbances moving westward across the Atlantic toward North America and the Gulf of Mexico.

“In light of the record pace of storms we are seeing in the Atlantic, the Red Cross is asking members of our community to consider joining us as a disaster volunteer,” said Katie Sherk, Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer. “Travel restrictions and health concerns due to the pandemic will make it challenging for hundreds of workers from other states to travel to Florida to help, as they have in the past. In the event we are directly impacted by a major storm this year, we will be relying on local volunteers to meet this need.”

Shelter workers are needed. The Red Cross will continue to open evacuation centers and traditional post-storm shelters at the request of emergency management and in coordination with local public health authorities. To help keep people safe in the COVID-19 environment, the Red Cross will have put in place additional precautions and developed special training for its workforce.

Health services support is also needed. Due to the pandemic, there is also a special need for registered nurses and other medical professionals with active, current and unencumbered licenses. Should congregate shelters open, disaster health volunteers would be needed to help screen and assess people’s health.

Prospective volunteers are encouraged to review the CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for severe illness, consult their health care provider and follow local guidance. At the Red Cross, the top priority is the health and safety of its employees, volunteers and the people it serves. Individuals interested in helping us provide service to our communities this hurricane season can get started at

The Central Florida Region of the American Red Cross serves 19 counties through five chapters: Florida’s Space Coast (Daytona Beach), Greater Orlando, Mid-Florida (Winter Haven), Southwest Florida (Sarasota) and Tampa Bay. For more information, visit

Phil Szemela celebrates 100th birthday at The Fountains

ST. PETERSBURG — Phil Szemela, who lives at The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, recently turned 100 years old.

To mark the occasion, Szemela had a special visit from his family and the local fire department. While it isn’t the birthday party he and his family had envisioned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s special because Phil is a retired firefighter. He is also a World War II veteran.

Born in 1920, Szemela is the youngest of six children and grew up in Massachusetts during the Great Depression. In 1940, he began working on airplane engines for World War II and in 1942 he joined the Navy, serving in the war for three years. Upon his return to the states in 1944, he married his wife Stella and they welcomed their daughter in 1949.

After the war, he returned to his job at Pratt & Whitney. However, growing up in during the Great Depression, he knew how quickly things could change in an industry that depended on demand. It was then that he began working as a firefighter — a career he had dreamed of pursuing since the age of 5.

In 2016, Phil and his wife Stella moved to Florida to be closer to their daughter. They now live happily in a waterfront apartment at The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, an independent, assisted living and memory care community in St. Petersburg.

“The Fountains has helped us sustain a sense of community in our retirement years,” said Phil. “We are grateful for the easygoing atmosphere and knowing that all of our needs are met.”

Clothes To Kids seeks volunteers for St. Pete store

ST. PETERSBURG — Clothes To Kids, a local nonprofit, is looking for volunteers to fill weekly shifts in the mornings from 9 a.m. to noon and in the afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. at the St. Petersburg location.

Volunteers should love working with clothing, sorting, tagging, and organizing in a casual, pleasant, small group setting. Clothes To Kids provides new and quality used clothing to low-income school-age children or those in crisis free of charge. If you can help, contact Mervi Zuercher at or call 727-441-5050, ext. 222.

For more information, visit

YMCA of the Suncoast hosts additional free Safety Around Water lessons

Thanks to the generosity of the Florida Blue Foundation, the YMCA of the Suncoast is hosting additional Safety Around Water classes for the remainder of the year. The program is free and open to all beginners and non-swimmers, from age 3 to 12 years old.

The Y and the Florida Blue Foundation believe teaching children how to be safe around water is not a luxury; It is a necessity. The Safety Around Water program can help children, families and adults make sure they learn essential water safety skills, which can open up a world of possibilities for them to satisfy their curiosity safely. During the 4-day course, certified instructors teach kids a sequenced set of skills that will reduce the risk of drowning and give them confidence in and around water.

As with all YMCA programs and services, the Y follows guidance from the CDC and government officials to create a safer environment and ensure the highest standards of cleanliness and appropriate accommodations for social distancing.

In 2019, the collaborative Safety Around Water effort taught nearly 8,000 kids water safety lessons. This year’s grant expands the Y’s Safety Around Water program to nearly 30 Y locations within the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, YMCA of the Suncoast, YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, Manatee Family YMCA and SKY Family YMCA.

Dates and times vary by location. Interested families can contact their local Y for more specific schedules. Participants must be present on the first day of class and bring their own swimsuit and towel. A YMCA membership is not required; however, due to limited space, pre-registration is required at these participating Pinellas Ys:

• Clearwater YMCA — 1005 S. Highland Ave., Clearwater

• Greater Palm Harbor YMCA — 1600 16th St., Palm Harbor

• Greater Ridgecrest YMCA — 1801 119th St., Largo

• North Pinellas YMCA — 4550 Village Center Drive, Palm Harbor

For more information, visit

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