Archive for the ‘Profile Story’ Category

Creating a dynasty

October 22, 2007

By: Eric Moeller

The view from USF athletic director Doug Woolard’s office isn’t very exciting, but it has potential.

From the second floor of South Florida’s 3-year-old, $15 million athletic facility, Woolard can look out his window and see the large, grassy turf of the intramural sports fields. The fields are usually empty but, under proper guidance, can become a hotbed of athletic competition.

In many ways, the view reflects the University of South Florida athletics program when Woolard arrived in 2004: a blank canvas with a mountain of potential just waiting for someone to help paint a portrait of success.

As the leader of an athletics department that boasts a Top 10 football team and an accomplished new basketball coach hoping to make an impact in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation, Woolard hasn’t taken long to transform a once little-known University into one of the fastest growing athletic programs in the country.

“Everything has sped up and it wasn’t something that happened gradually,” Woolard said. “This program has been building up but its almost like a light switch was turned on in the Tampa Bay area.”

While the USF athletic program has been around since the 1960s the dramatic ascent South Florida has experienced in recent years has occurred primarily under the guidance of Woolard.

After the departure of former USF athletic director and NFL Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon in 2003, the administration began searching for a replacement who would help the University reach the next level.

According to associate athletic director Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy, one of the primary goals the administration had when searching for a new athletic director was finding a candidate familiar with USF.

As the athletic director for Saint Louis University — a Conference-USA school like USF at the time — from 1994-2003, Woolard had interacted with members of the USF administration several times.

“We were fortunate because I had known Doug for 10 years at that point,” Sparks-McGlinchy said. “He had a lot of familiarity with our program and we had a lot of familiarity with him so there was a lot of excitement. It wasn’t just a new person coming in that had no idea about USF athletics, it was someone who was very familiar with the program.”

At the time, the USF athletic department was also going through its biggest transition ever. After only two years as a member of Conference-USA, South Florida had accepted a bid to join the Big East, a high profile conference with a coveted BCS tie in. This meant that the new athletic director would have to be proficient in dealing with change.

Woolard, who was the head of the Saint Louis athletic department when it became a founding member of Conference-USA, had the necessary experience and looked forward to the challenge.

“One of the reasons I decided to accept the opportunity was the fact that USF had a platform in the Big East Conference that it had never had before,” Woolard said. “We are a young university and certainly a young athletic program with an even a younger football program, but knowing that we did have the Big East platform I felt like we really had a chance to make a difference.”

It didn’t take long for USF to make that difference.

In 2005, the Bulls’ football team won its first-ever Big East Conference game — a surprising 45-14 upset over No. 9 Louisville that was the first of several program-defining wins over the next few years.

This season, the Bulls became arguably the biggest story in college football when wins against ranked Auburn and West Virginia teams and a school-best 6-0 start pushed them to No. 2 in the nation before dropping to No. 10 after a tough conference loss to Rutgers on Oct. 18.

Woolard hopes the success of the football team can act as a blueprint for the rest of the University’s athletic programs.

Last season, after the departure of former USF men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum, Woolard had the opportunity to make a coaching hire for a school in one of the country’s most competitive basketball conferences. The athletic director, who oversaw a St. Louis University basketball program that reached the Top 10 three times during his tenure, had established connections across the nation that made the coaching search an exciting process, ending with the hire of successful former Arkansas coach Stan Heath.

“I had an opportunity to be networked well across the country and I felt like we were able to plug into some of the best candidates possible that could be the right fit for USF,” Woolard said. “I’m certainly convinced that we found that in Stan Heath.”

Heath — who came to USF after guiding the Razorbacks to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances — quickly realized the effect Doug Woolard has had on South Florida athletics.

“He is a guy that’s making a lot of things happen around here,” Heath said. “He’s a coach’s athletic director — a guy that you feel is going to fight for you and be in your corner. He just wants the program to be successful.”

As Woolard continues to watch his program grow at an exponential rate, his vision for the future is clear.

USF is no longer an upstart program looking to make a name for itself. Since Woolard’s arrival, South Florida has become a blueprint of success for young schools around the country and Woolard is intent on continuing that tradition.

“We want to continue this rise,” Woolard said. “We want to graduate our student athletes and we want them to be as competitive as possible at a national level. If we’ve done that then I think they’re going to have a great experience here.”


It’s a dog(groomer)’s life

October 12, 2007

Annette Cooper first wanted to be a dog groomer when she was 8 years old. She had a neighbor with an Akita that she occasionally played with. It was this neighbor that got her interested in grooming.

Cooper has been working for seven years now at Almost Home Pet Resort in Valrico. The owner, Betsy hicks, even paid for her schooling at the Academy of Animal Arts in Largo. During the 16-week program Cooper said, “you have to learn how different shampoos affect the skin, how to clip nails properly, the basic anatomy of a dog, and the patterns of each breed.”

Cooper herself has six dogs at home along with three cats, bald rats, and a snake.

“Love of dogs is extremely important,” she said.

Cooper said they aren’t your typical get-in-and-out-in-an-hour kind of groomer. “We rotate the dogs,” she said. “We do the medically needy first, puppies next because they get restless or need to out to the bathroom more often.”

She has two bathers there to help her. They do the nails, ears, bathing and brushing.

“To be a dog groomer, you must have a lot of patience; if you don’t have patience, you don’t belong in the business,” she said.

Although Cooper said she has been bitten a couple of times, she really has no horror stories.” I’ve been pretty lucky,” she said.

But she has had a run-in with a cat. “I literally had a cat hanging from my arm, all of it’s body weight hanging from it’s claws.”

Cooper said there are some things dog and cat owners need to be aware of: “The state of Florida has no regulation requirements; no licenses are required to groom dogs.”

She also said it’s important for people to realize their dogs should be groomed on a regular basis (which differs from breed to breed).

Adventures of a Super Mom

October 10, 2007

By Natalie Shultz



Her children are her job. Her family is her life.


Twenty-four hours a day. Yes, even on weekends and holidays, too. Dana Ruiz is a full-time mom.

But she hasn’t always been one. Dana, 38, was a supervisor in a neonatal intensive care unit at hospital in Plant City until their oldest daughter was born.


“She’s a great multitasker. I always said she would have moved up very fast in her job,” Dana’s husband, 34-year-old Alan Ruiz, says. “There was no question whether she would stay home with the kids. They are better off, bottom line. If they are not in school, they are in her [Dana’s] care and nobody loves a kid like their own mother.”


Dana’s daily routine might even give Superman a run for his money. She’s responsible for five schedules: there is Alexa, 10, the volleyball player; Isabella, 7, the performer; A.J., 6, the future football star; her husband, Alan, the owner of his company, Vertex Development, LLC; and let’s not forget Callie, the family’s Maltese.


“From day to day and week to week, our schedule changes. No day is the same. Going from here to there. Appointments, meetings, practices, homework, cooking dinner. It never stops. Life is always crazy in this house,” she says.


6 a.m. Rise and shine down to a science


The parents are awake now, but the kids have another 45 minutes of shut-eye before their day starts. The kids know the drill: get up, get dressed, brush teeth and go downstairs to breakfast at 7:00.


“Mornings are pretty smooth these days,” she says. “I’ve noticed that they are much more self sufficient.


Everyone is finished with breakfast and she ties up any loose ends while Alan is at the gym.


“Usually I do everything the night before, but sometimes I need to do last-minute quizzing for a spelling test, or make sure Alexa has her water bottle for volleyball practice after school,” Dana says.


Everyone piles into their Honda Odyssey minivan, and they are off to St. John Greek Orthodox Day School, which is less than five minutes from their home in South Tampa.


8:30 a.m. Saved by the bell

She’s proud of her family’s punctuality.


“My kids have never been late,” she says smiling. “But that’s mostly because of their father.”


Although she’s kid-free for a few hours, life doesn’t slow down. First on the list: a 9 a.m. Parent Teacher Support Organization, or PTSO, meeting, then Blockbuster to return some DVDs she rented for the kids last week, her weekly grocery store trip, then the bank, the dry cleaners and finally home for lunch.


“My mom was a single mom with three kids and she didn’t get to do this kind of stuff. I want to be able to do everything I can for my family,” Dana says.


12 p.m. Break? What break?


She eats with Alan, who came home for lunch today, but typically her lunch is just a quick bite at her desk while she sorts through e-mails.


“I have maybe two fun lunches a month with my husband or one of my girl friends. And an occasional manicure and pedicure, or a tanning moment, but I rarely have time to do things for myself beyond working out three times a week,” she says.


Now she starts on paperwork. Sometimes it is a list she types for the kids, like the “Summer Fun List,” which is a list of activities the kids brainstorm for summertime, and is later posted on the cork board in the kitchen, or the “Bed Time Routine List” hanging outside the bathroom upstairs.


“Mom always takes us on fun trips, and she always makes sure I am prepared. She thinks a lot about what she’s going to do next,” Dana’s oldest daughter, Alexa, says.


Or if it’s the end of the month, she is making a schedule for Alan for the next month, which has all important dates like the kids’ practices and games or his meetings and when he needs to stay with the kids while Dana goes to meetings.


“When I sent him the schedule for October, I noticed at least one or both of us were gone in the evenings for 15 out of the 31 days, and we need to pay more attention because that is just too much,” she says.


Today she is working on packets to hand out to parents after school. Dana is the leader of the second grade Brownie Troop, and her daughter Isabella is one of the seven girls in the group. The troop meets twice every month, and Dana goes to a leader’s meeting one time every month.


“I try to make it fun, educational and service oriented for them. I like that there are only seven girls, because I don’t want it to be a classroom setting.” she says.


And if that isn’t enough, she is also the fifth grade homeroom mom in Alexa’s class, which entails organizing parties, field trips and lunch duty for parents one month out of the year.


“She [Dana] is incredibly involved in school and with the kids. There isn’t a faculty member at that school who doesn’t know Dana really well. There is a constant line of communication open,” Alan, says.


2:45 School’s out

She parks the minivan and then jumps out to chase an SUV she recognizes down the parent pick-up line before it leaves the parking lot.


“I’ve got to try and catch some parents to give them this information for Brownies,” she says, jogging a little now.




She waves her arms. The car stops and the window rolls down revealing another mother. Dana hands her a packet of paperwork for the child in the back seat.


After meeting A.J. and Isabella at the school’s pick-up point and scouring the building and playground for any remaining members of her Brownie Troop, Dana wants a quick peek at Alexa in volleyball practice.


The two youngest Ruiz kids pile into the minivan to go home with mom.

3:30 p.m. Work now, play later


A.J. and Isabella know they better get to their homework right if they want to get a head start on play time.


“What’s eight minus two?” she asks A.J. as they go over a worksheet his teacher handed back to him today.




“Are you sure?”


“I mean six.”


She winks at him.


“Good, that’s what I thought.”


The kids finish up their written work while mom starts dinner.


“We’re done!” they shout in unison.


Dana sets the oven timer for ten minutes of reading before the kids can set out for play time.


6:30 p.m. “Dinner, Bath and Bed”


When Alan brings Alexa home, he follows Dana’s request to bathe the two youngest ones because Isabella has a First Holy Communion class at Christ the King Church right after dinner.


“My wife makes me the husband and the father I am, and I do everything she asks me to without a question. She won’t tolerate it otherwise, and that is a good thing. It keeps me in line,” Alan says.


The family sits down together, Dana says a prayer, they eat and then Dana and Isabella hurry out the door, while Alan cleans up the kitchen.


“I work. She does everything else. I give her the assist, but it’s her ball. It’s totally underneath her,” Alan says, drying off a dinner plate. “If one day she picked up and bolted, I’d be so lost.”

After the kids are ready for bed, Dana and Alan read them each a story and the kids are tucked in by 8:00.


“Most nights when they [the kids] go to bed, I’m still not done,” Dana says. “I have to make a game plan for the next day so I can wake up and hit the ground running again.

9:00 p.m. Ready, set, relax


By now, her work for the day is over, and she can spend time with her husband before bed.


Even after an exhausting day, Dana Ruiz wouldn’t give up her job for anything in the world.


“They [the kids] grow up too fast. I have the best job in the world that I get to see them so much,” she says. “This is the time that counts and I don’t know how I could do another job and this. I never sit down as it is.”

A tragedy turned into a soul’s remedy

October 8, 2007


By Shantrell Scott


      NEW TAMPA—Four years ago, Leonard Holcomb, 24 was known as very outgoing, and at times, very reserved. His agenda mostly consisted of parties, ladies, and friends; a normal schedule for a teenager.

       But on June 7, 2003, the navy veteran and his family’s lives were shaken that even at this very moment has the family on edge. It was on that date at a gas station in Statesville, N.C. when Holcomb’s whole world was distorted by two men who scarred him for life.

     While doing a favor for a friend by picking up a car in North Carolina to take back to Miami, Holcomb and another friend that was with him decided to take a quick stop for some gas without being aware of what was about to soon take place. The friend then goes into the store, while Holcomb pumps the gas.

      All of a sudden two black men came up to Holcomb and in attempt to rob him of his jewelry and of his friend’s car, one of the young men pulls out a gun and firers. Holcomb is then shot in the shoulder and in the backside. While he is still conscious, Holcomb begins to call on someone that he may have never called on before. As he lies on the pavement, something happens to him that makes a lasting impact on Holcomb.

     “I remember lying on the ground, bleeding, and I noticed my breathing was getting heavy and my body was hurting very bad,” said Holcomb. “Then there was this man, he was older, who came over and took my hand to pray for me and at that moment, as soon as he touched me, all the pain went away and I could breathe normally. Although I never saw his face clearly and never got his name, I will never forget what he did for me; what God did for me.”

      Holcomb said that he believes that the old man was an angel sent by God to help him. In result of what happened, he is now more devoted to God and the practices of Christianity. His mother, Cynthia Holcomb, recalls that before the incident he really didn’t attend church, but after the tragic incident he became interested in being more spiritual due to him being given a chance to live to tell the story.



Incident brings on new found faith, new love and forgiveness 

       Now that it is the year 2007, the bullets are still found lodged inside of Holcomb’s neck and backside from the incident back in 2003. Doctors’ reasons for not removing the bullets were for the fear of worsening his condition. After spending five to six months in the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Miami, the doctors proclaimed that he would never walk again because of the bullet being so close to his spine. But Holcomb views their analysis as incorrect because he believes that he will one day walk again. He believes that God has the final say on whether he walks or not. 

        It is impossible to believe that Holcomb doesn’t hold a grudge against the men that caused his life to be flipped upside down. Many people who have had been shot or have known someone to be shot, tend to be angry and plan revenge on the person(s) who did it.  Not Holcomb.

     He explains that he can’t spend his whole life being mad because it all happened for a reason and he doesn’t even regret it. Just being alive and seeing his 4-year-old son, Darius Holcomb, makes him happy and also motivates him to be patient when looking for a sign of recovery.

       Since the incident, Holcomb says that he has truly changed and has calmed down from being on the go all the time, to doing more relaxing things such as listening to the bible on CD, going to mall and the movies with his mother and watching his favorite football team, the University of Miami Hurricanes. He is such a big fan of UM that he personalizes his wheelchair with a huge UM sticker that is found on the back of the chair.

      Holcomb’s doesn’t let his condition take away his love for sports, especially football. He knows the plays and can watch the game without the volume turned on. Now that he is kept inside to do nothing, football has been all the excitement that he gets in one day.

      “I love it! I don’t know what I would do without it,” said Holcomb.

        In the midst of situation, Holcomb found what he calls “a special person” named Natasha, 26 who saw Holcomb for who he was and looked past the fact that he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

       “That’s my wife right there,” said Holcomb while looking at a photo of her on his $600 iPhone.

       The two met while going to therapy at the VA in Miami. Natasha was said to work there and he thought that she looked familiar. From then on, the two have been inseparable until about a year ago when he and the family had to move to Tampa in order to find a house to accommodate the special needs of Holcomb. The two still talk and he sometimes goes back home to see her while visiting his son in Miami.

      While his son and his 2 year relationship have been a great concern in his life at the present moment, Holcomb says that he still finds it hard to make friends because he doesn’t get out much. One reason for it is because of the attention that he brings once he’s outside of the house.

       “I hate the starring,” said Holcomb. “I think that is why I never went anywhere in the first years of the incident. But now I’m used to it, I guess?”


Winning the Limitations

October 8, 2007

By Priscilla Mader

The scars and the deformity on his right leg is the shocking picture of a young man that did not give up. Larry Rodriguez, 35 is now part of the maintenance team of Hawker Beechcraft.

Full of hope and dreams, Larry continues his life overcoming his disability and limitations. His scars are from asphalt, surgeries and infections; result of a running over a stop sign.


Saturday, Dec. 12, 1992 in the afternoon, Larry was driving his motorcycle on Armenia Avenue, Tampa, when a careless driver run over the stop sign, hitting and throwing Larry about 375 feet. away. Before his body touched the ground, he was hit again by another car that pushed him 150 feet more, causing a compound fracture on his right tibia.

“I just remember when the helicopter arrived to take me to the hospital,” said Larry.

He was brought to the Tampa General Hospital and stayed there for 6 months, celebrating Christmas and New Year with the nurses and other patients.

Larry got Osteomylites on his injury due to the germs and bacteria of the asphalt. The infection caused a shortening of his leg and a significant range of motion.

After so many months of treatment for his leg, the doctors decided to amputate it. Larry refused the doctor’s decision and decided to fight for his leg.

He found another doctor, and it was Dr. Herscovicci who finally discovers a way to stop the infection. Larry then had his 16th surgery done to remove all the stainless steal screws, which was placed into his leg.


“I decided that I wouldn’t be anymore in bed, and that I would start to work again and be like anybody else,” said Larry.

With this positive attitude, Larry gave up the $ 420.00 monthly from SSI and decided to run behind the time and money he lost, going back to work.

When his accident happened he was fresh married and his wife pregnant. They went through a lot of financial problems, and all what he received was $13,000.00 from his law suit.

Larry opened his own delivery company and started to work and make money again.


Larry was born in Cuba and immigrated in the United States in 1976 when his family was deported from Cuba due to political reasons.

“We didn’t have anything when we arrived here. My grandfather was against Fidel Castro and we had to leave Cuba. I didn’t speak any English, but since I started to watch the Road Runner and the Coyote my English just started to develop,” said Larry.


“Sometimes I feel disappointed. I used to race bikes, run, and play sports, but since I lost my balance, I lost the chance to do what I love to do. I lost it and I’ll never get it back. The accident didn’t kill me, but it took away my dream to be a bike racer. If I cannot be a racer I got to be a maintenance man. I took control of the problem, won with my limitations, and learned to be happy and in love again with life,” Larry said.

Courtney allen

October 8, 2007

There’s no fancy sudio door or state of the art waiting are. There are no fancy records on the wall or plush leather couches. Because when it comes to a real recording studio, it’s not all about the bells and whistles for J-Style. It’s about producing quality music.
Roger “J-style” Grace has been singing, writing and producing songs in his Temple Terrace recording studio ever since he bought it a year ago. There are no rules, no one standing over his shoulder orchestrating his every move because he’s the conductor.
Equipped with five keyboards, a Macintosh G5 computer, a couple mixing faders and a microphone, the studio has just enough J-Style needs to produce tracks for his own R&B group plus 14 other artists under his label, Street Team Entertainment.
He was born and raised in Tampa with his sister and three brothers.
“I’ve been playing music basically all my life. I started off on the drums. I took piano, guitar, and some violin,” J-Style said. “I didn’t need any help either, I did it all on my own.
In the past 5 years, J-Style attended Full Sail University, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in studio engineering, received a $20,000 grant for sponsoring a youth program and managed to flip his earnings into the very studio he works in today. He has become a partner in Street Team Entertainment and has already released an R&B album with his group, AOK.
Today, the 25-year-old singer, songwriter and producer is working on his second album which is set to release the beginning of 2008.

* * * * *

J-Style learned how to be smooth from Marvin Gaye.
“It’s old school music but it has meaning. I started off just listening to all types of different styles. I don’t like stuff I’ve already heard before like samples that people take from other artists. I like someone who has a creative mind, that does their own thing,” he says rubbing his hands together, “I just listen, then I can put my mind into my music and do what I do best.”
His loose, white t-shirt and crisp Marithe Francois Girbaud jeans reflects his modest attitude. His necklace, bracelet and ring glazed in diamonds, are the only signs he shows of his success.
“I’m the basic type. I don’t like flashy stuff too much,” he says while checking the text messages on his Nokia. “And I don’t go out. I’m too busy.”
He’s been working all morning. It’s only a few hours before J-Style must leave for Miami to perform with his gospel group, Tampa Boyz. Most likely, he won’t get back until 3 o’clock in the morning, he says. And since it’s Saturday, he’ll have to wake up early to be at the Potter’s House Deliverance Tabernacle, where he plays the organ for the church’s Sunday service.
With a jam-packed schedule and a bustling personal life, J-Style is missing one important element in his life.
“Sleep, I don’t get any rest,” he says.

* * * * *

It’s 8’oclock in the morning and J-Style has already set up his equipment on the stage and is waiting patiently, even though members won’t be arriving for next 30 minutes. He sits, facing the pews, thumbing through his bible carefully.
“I’ve been in this church for 10 years. Our gospel groups performs all over Florida and we get to travel every weekend,” he says.
An hour later, the last person arrives while the choir is singing, clapping, and waving their hands. As for J-Style, he’s busy playing the organ just as cool as ever, bopping his head with every few hits of the bass drum. He plays a crucial roll to the congregation. While the rest of the gospel group singers take their seats for the sermon, he remains onstage.
As the pastor begins her narration, he quietly plays the organ in the background. When she gets louder, so does he, drawing chords with his long fingers and holding them. The members stand and rejoice. They laugh, cry, stomp their feet- but J-Style never loses his cool. He just bops his head quietly.

* * * * *

Hours after the service ceases, J-Style is wrapping up last-minute announcements with the gospel choir. He’ll touch up some songs at the studio for a few hours, and then head home. Tomorrow, he’ll wake up, eat breakfast, and workout on his punching bag like he does every morning. Then it’s off to the studio for most of the day again.
This is the daily cycle he plans on sticking with.
“This is it. This is what I’ve been doing all my life and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s my only job.”
He is considering adding a distributing company to his tremendous resume in the next few years.
His popular reputation in his community has gained him respect amongst other local artists and fans. But soon, he won’t only be recognized locally- he plans on promoting his empire in every major city in the U.S.
J-Style leaves a final comment before loosening his tie and heading for the door.
“There’s a lot of cats who didn’t bother with me before, and now they mess with me. All I got to say is that they better mess with me now before it’s too late.”

Organic Farmer: Rick Martinez

October 8, 2007

By Courtney Herrrig

The small pond in the back of Rick Martinez’s, the founder of Sweetwater Organic Farms, house signifies the man’s character. Fish, tadpoles and green vegetation prosper in their little ecosystem; Martinez lives his life and designs his values around the same system, a symbiotic lifestyle.  In many ways, he gives more than he takes.
He built his home on this idea. Old Florida oaks drape his home in shade; the front door opens to a large room with a steep ceiling encircled by an upstairs loft.  Souvenirs from 40 different countries decorate his cabin. On his tiptoes, in his bathroom shower, Martinez points out the window, “ You see that pond out there? The shower water is led out of these pipes into that filtration system.” One can barely notice the equipment covered in vines, “ Once it goes through the filter, it’s deposited into the pond.”
Martinez founded Sweetwater Farms in 1987 and managed it privately until 1994 when he decided to make it a community farm.  The farm has a variety of staff: paid employees, interns, and volunteers.  Michelle Haung and Daniel Bouvier, husband and wife, live together in a small bungalow adjacent to Martinez’s place. The property has three farm cats, two house cats; Donnie, a West Highland Terrier.  Sweetwater Farms is six acres of organic property along Sweetwater Creek.

Sweetwater Creek is more of a memory than a creek, in the early seventies Tampa’s Corp of Engineers diverted most of the creek water into Channel G, thus depleting most of it’s water supply.  Susan Fox, president of WMNF, will be performing her song “I remember Sweetwater Creek” at Sweetwater Organics Planters Ball on Oct. 20.
Martinez started off as an organic sprout and herbs distributor in the ‘70s.  In 1979, he got involved with organic certification and in 1990 became an organic inspector.  Companies from around the world hire Martinez to audit their facilities. Martinez has traveled the glove, mainly in South and Central America due to the coffee and cacao organic farming.

Martinez explains, “Because I had the engineering background  . . . I was the ideal person to do inspections.  Because I was bilingual, and had been farming, but I also understood complex processes.” The farmer/inspector was eventually elected president of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association.
However, Martinez’s focus was side tracked when the state of Florida began spraying malathion in the late nineties to combat the medfly infestation.  “It was interesting how this all came together in my life,” Martinez explains his involvement with CRAM, Citizens for Responsible Alternatives to Malathion.

His tears appear heavy as he recalls,  “My girlfriend had just died in May and I was probably looking for a battle.” They had been together for 18 years until 1997.  That summer Martinez publicly debated the state’s agriculture department at town hall meetings and Stetson Law School.
Martinez recalls the packed meeting in June that he and CRAM organized 1997 at the Seminole Heights United Methodist Church, “the department of agriculture decided to show up and I don’t know if that was a good idea because there was some very angry people there . . . people whose children had leukemia and had gone through all this trouble to remove every toxin from their house.”
According to the press, Martinez rallied the crowd with his shout “I could care less if it was $10-billion, I say keep your stuff out of our homes.” The impassioned cries of Martinez and other involved in CRAM lead to a lawsuit against the state for spraying malathion against EPA regulations.  And they won.
The young interns and Martinez meets at 8:15 every morning and discuss the day ahead.  Martinez announces that the sinks and stainless steel counters will need to be sanitized for the harvest.  Daniel suggests they borrow a trench digger for an upcoming project. Michelle asks the staff to please keep any empty food packaging for the educational program. She wants to quiz the children on organic products and non-organic products.  The crews tease Burke, the Turkish intern, joking that he can provide the junk food packaging.
The white dogs chase each other around the muddy yard; Donnie doesn’t seem to notice that Beau, a white standard poodle, is ten times his size.
Oscar Barquero, a recent intern from St. Louis, explains why the Sweetwater Organic education program is good for the community, “A five year old child went through the whole orientation here on the farm.”  Burke is hinting at his own experience when he explains the child’s, “from compost to seeding to planting to harvesting to plucking a piece of fruit off a tree. And you should have seen her face . . . she lit up with excitement.  If you show a child, let them see, they are going to discover a whole new world  . . . something new.”  Barquero is learning himself about a whole different world that exists at Sweetwater Farm.
The education program has existed since the very inception of Sweetwater.  Martinez is a teacher in many ways.  He is a teacher and mentor to the many interns that arrive every year from around the world. He is an educator to the local community with his lecture serious where he teaches “Introduction to Organic Farming.” According to Martinez the whole inception of the community farms was meant to educate the community of organic farming.
The Sweetwater has a strict ethic about the symbiotic relationship with the land.  Nearly all the waste is recycled; biodegradable waste is returned to the earth through compost, other waste is sent to the recycling plant.  In addition to Martinez’s grey water system, he drives a hybrid vehicle, rarely runs his air conditioning, and uses long lasting light bulbs.
The synergism culminates October 20th at the Planter’s Ball where members and guests enjoy music on a stage built by their hands and donated by their friends.   All participants will bring a covered dish, as well as taste the new harvest season of Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.

Fact Box:
October 20th Planter’s Ball
$10 Donation
$5 under 12
Free: Under 6
5:30 pm
BYOB & covered dish
Music begins at 6:30pm

Weekly Organic Market
Season begins Nov. 4
12-4 pm every Sunday
Buy organic products from Sweetwater & local vendors

Music; A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

October 8, 2007


By Tiffany B. Talley 

Dirty blonde dreadlocks rest on the head of the homeless musician as she leans against a building in Ybor City. Sarah performs songs from her first album, “What You Make of It”, having crossed the U.S from California to Florida armed with only a guitar, tent and backpack. 

May 27, 1985, marked the beginning of the life and times of hitchhiking musician Sarah McCoy. A daily routine for Sarah, she belts her raspy tone as she has plays the music of her soul in the streets of cities all over the US. She stands, dusts off her tattered blue jeans and begins to tell her story. 

Sarah views her life as a big punch line.  “My mother was a nun and father was a New York City cop. They met in AA.” 

A classically trained pianist since early years, Sarah lived on the side of a mountain in New York until the age 6 years and moved to South Carolina.  

“Regardless, I’m not accepted from the north, and not from the south. I gave everything away and left South Carolina, which was the best thing I ever did for myself. I really do believe.”  

For 2 ½ years, Sarah has moved on an aimless journey up and down the east and west coast that brought her to Monterey, Calif.

In Monterey, Sarah performed her folk/classical renditions in a local nightclub only to be discovered and signed by Big Wave Records. Under the management of Big Wave, Sarah has recorded songs for “The Voice-television series soundtrack.” 

“Sarah’s music was always in her. She just needed to find a venue to let it out,” said mother, Colleen McCoy in a telephone conversation. 

 Sarah contacts her friends and family via Internet access available at public libraries, e-mailing as frequently as possible.   

Tragically, Sarah’s father passed away when she was 15 years old, only five days after the passing of her grandmother. A life changing experience, Sarah found herself inspired to write music. 

 “What You Make of It”, Sarah’s first album, is dedicated to her father, who passed away from cancer in 2001, and an old friend, Eric Hardy, who took himself from the world.  

“Though I miss ’em both, the inspiration from my loss brought substantial change into my music.” “Life’s experiences give us the choice to stand or fall. And here I stand. Being classically trained, and inspired, I wrote some mile stone instrumental pieces that I bust out every hither and thither.” 

A crowd walks by and Sarah beings to play.

 “Will You Roll?” 


O, sing, feel I toured on this road so long and I feel I’m hanging on,

One last penny, o, that just might save me now, give me a ticket home. 

Will you roll? Tell me, will you roll?

Over and under now honey, this countryside we’ll go. 

They say my eyes so tired and the sun so bright,

And I’ve been eating dust for days

Here this dusty road it falls on, I’m just in the way. 

I learned from this as the winds’ my compass, now,

Know there’s anywhere, where the wind blows bittersweet now

You’ll find me there. 

And when the road gets long, your feet are so tired,

I’ll be weeping willows by the riverside. 

I’ll be the streams fallin’ beneath your eyes. 


Sarah speaks of her experiences hitchhiking across the U.S. in a positive light. She went across the U.S. seeing and learning. Talk of times in country diners and nights in the desert sun flood the air.  

“Not regretfully, but shamefully. I had to learn that there are even cool people in crappy places. BUT THEY EXIST.” 

Sarah credits her relationship with God as a key to her success. She carries small wooden rosary in her baggage, a habit of her Catholic upbringing.  

“I find that God sometimes gives me precise and definitive indications of when things are about to happen.” Inspired by the music of the Grateful Dead, Sarah heard “Stella Blue” and saw (heard) something else in music. Sarah’s friends and family continued to feed her head right through the album of “Carnie” by Leon Russell.  She is also inspired by the music of Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, who was a Russian and American composer, pianist, and conductor, and one of the last great champions of the Romantic style of European classical music, and by many considered to be the greatest American Classical composer ever.

She wears a seashell necklace that reminds her of her days on the beaches in South Carolina. At the end of the evening, she gathers her things and a couple of tips made throughout the night. She has shared herself with the world once again.   

Where to now? 

 “Where ever the music takes me,” she said.   

A Lady in the Cockpit

October 8, 2007

By Natalie Gagliordi

        Breakfast in Atlanta, lunch in Miami and dinner in the Bahamas, all in a day’s work for local pilot Kristin Gonzalez. For the last two and half years, the 26-year-old Tampa native has loved her job making holes in the sky.

        A career as a pilot is a dream for scores of sparkly-eyed, ambitious children. Gonzalez saw herself on a different path. Rather than studying engineering and physics at her University of South Florida alma mater, Gonzalez majored in exercise physiology.

        “I thought I would be happy in a career as a personal trainer,” Gonzalez said, “and it wasn’t until I was training at Lifestyles and I met my first client when I realized I wanted to do something more.”

        That client was Swedish born Tuula Mastomaki, a UPS captain who had been flying Boeing 747’s for more than twenty years.

        “Tuula was totally my inspiration,” Gonzalez said. “After that first day talking to her I decided that I wanted to go into aviation.”

        Gonzalez wasted no time. That same week she enrolled in the Delta Connection Academy Career Path Flight School. In the accelerated program, which trains pilots to fly for regional airlines, Kristin flew solo after just eight instructional flights.

        “I first flew a Cessna 152, a two-seater with 140-horse power of pure love,” Gonzalez joked. “It was a bit embarrassing though, I bounced the plane the whole way down the runway.”

        Since earning her pilot’s license, Gonzalez has worked at Peter O. Knight airport on Davis Island in South Tampa. There she flies both private and instructional flights throughout the state and surrounding areas. She instructs both military trainees and private citizens seeking their pilot’s license.

        Gonzalez’s close friend, Matt Heyer, applauds her for her ability to handle the heavy responsibility.

        “She just seems like one of the busiest pilots,” Heyer said. “Mornings she will be instructing two or three students, and then in the afternoon she will fly sometimes two clients to different cities.”

        Such a loaded schedule raises the risk of encountering trouble, Heyer said.

        “Kristin is always prepared for her flights, but she has told me of some pretty scary instances,” Heyer said.

        Over the last two years, Gonzalez has had her share of close calls. In a three-part flight, Gonzalez was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Jacksonville, and then onto Naples, all as a solo pilot.

        “On the way to Jacksonville I lost one radio, and managed to use the backup to land,” Gonzalez said. “After that was fixed I departed in the middle of a rainstorm, and 45-minutes into the flight my instruments started blinking and smoke filled the cockpit.”

Gonzalez was forced to make an emergency landing on a grass strip, approximately 40 miles north of Tampa.

“It was pouring rain. I was in the middle of nowhere,” Gonzalez said. “I walked a mile and a half until I saw a woman on a riding lawnmower, who must have thought I was some kind of alien coming through an open field. I walked up to her and told her I would pay her five-dollars for a beer and the use of a telephone. She thought I was pretty funny.”

        It is that very sense of humor that has enabled Gonzalez to survive in the male-dominated industry of aviation. Her skill as a pilot only gains so much respect. Her way of handling the sarcasm and criticism is usually what stops the nay-sayers in their tracks.

        “From the beginning, I told Kristin that it takes a strong-willed female to survive in aviation,” Mastomaki said. “But I could see right away that her personality was perfect for the job.”

        Gonzalez figured that out herself very quickly.

        “You are constantly being reminded that it is a man’s world,” Gonzalez said. “It’s usually men, either other pilots or students, that try to come at me with some remark of how women aren’t smart enough or strong enough to fly a plane. I’ve grown a tough skin, but sometimes you just gotta let ‘em have it.”

            Women in aviation are, indeed, a minority, but in Gonzalez’s opinion it is not a matter of intelligence, but rather responsibility.

“A successful career in aviation is a long road,” Gonzalez said. “Most women eventually want to have a family, and they just can’t be gone 20 out of 30 days a month.”

However long that road may be, Gonzalez is ready to travel it. She has garnered enough hours to test into the airlines, her ultimate goal.

“One day it will be my voice coming from the cockpit telling you to fasten your seatbelt.”

Local high school student and his sister display at elite art festival

October 8, 2007

By: Aaron Oberlin 

TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. – King High School student Cameron Sokolik, 17, and his sister Cori, 19, do more than just share a last name.  They both have a creative flair for sculpting – so it was no surprise that this past weekend they showed up to display their talent at the 18th annual Olde Hyde Park Village Art Festival.

            The festival featured about 150 of America’s top artists.  Each had a tent set up in the street.  Both Cameron and Cori had ceramic sculptures for sale at their display. 

            Cameron says his favorite piece at the show, which he called his “squirrel,” is one of a kind.  It is a ceramic squirrel with steel nails protruding out as the fur on its tail.

            “Definitely not functional.”  Cameron says while describing his art.  His style is different.  “I tend to mix nails, metal and clay.”

            He says his sculptures are “cool” because no one else does it his way.

            Cori does ceramics, too.

            Her favorite piece is “J.T.”  It is a sculpture of a headless man sitting on the ground.  He is resting his arms on his knees.

            Cori only does ceramics.  Each day she “floats.”  That is her way of describing how she decides what she will sculpt that day.  She doesn’t plan out her sculptures in advance.

            Their father Joel Sokolik says, “It makes a parent feel proud to have two children in the festival.” 

            He says he is glad to see their hard work is paying off.  Both have sold pieces of their artwork.

            Cori says she has sold a piece for as much as $200 – but her path to artistic success had to survive a detour.

            As an 18-months-old child, Cori fell down in front of her mother, suffering a seizure. 

Cori has frontal lobe epilepsy.  It is rare. 

She says she was misdiagnosed as a child with night terrors, which is a sleep disorder made up of nightmares.

When she was in third grade, she suffered a seizure that erased her memory.

“I was like a 2-year-old again.”  Cori says.  She also lost basic daily functions such as tying shoes and brushing teeth.  “It was frustrating.”

Cori says it was the only time she ever had a seizure during the day.  According to Joel, doctors were skeptical about Cori’s recovery.

“Cori amazes me everyday.”  Joel says.  “She has had a hard life.”

She graduated from high school.  She is currently in college.

Cameron says his sister’s condition “makes our family closer.”

According to Cameron, when he was in fourth grade and his sister in sixth, Cori had brain surgery that was an attempt to rid the epilepsy.

Cori still has epilepsy.

Cameron volunteers as a tutor at Tampa Palms Elementary School.  His mother Vicki does too.  They help children progress in their reading skills.

Both Cameron and Cori volunteer at Joshua House.  Cori says it is an organization dedicated to helping neglected and abused children find healthy homes.

During Halloween, Joel says Cameron and his friends help dress up some Joshua House kids before they go trick or treating.

Occasionally, the family helps out.  They do Easter egg hunts and other types of crafts.

            In his last year of high school, Cameron is not sure about what the future holds for him.  Art is not a career choice for him.  He says it is more of a hobby.

            Joel says his son has applied at some colleges.

            His older sister Cori knows what she wants to do for a career.  She says she wants to incorporate art and therapy.

            She says she wants to work with kids someday.  She wants to help the less fortunate. 

            She is currently studying at the University of Tampa.