Jan. 28, 2015: Morning News In 90

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 28, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Raphael Pires produced this update.

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Bright Futures May Extend To Summer Courses

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 28, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Students in Florida may soon stop worrying about paying for summer college tuition without financial aid.

Governor Rick Scott proposed a $65 million plan that would reduce the costs of attending college.

On Thursday, his office announced his hopes to repeal sales taxes on textbooks and extend Florida Bright Futures scholarships to cover summer courses.

Fewer than 26,000 students at the University of Florida received Florida Bright Future benefits between 2013 and 2014. Students at UF, as well as other universities within the state, are required to complete at least 9 credits during a summer term in order to graduate.

Katie Giebler, a freshman at UF studying industrial engineering, said she would have originally been forced to pay out-of-pocket if she decided to complete this requirement at UF.

“I was planning on going back home and going to a community college, but since Bright Futures will likely be able to help me stay at UF to save money, I think a lot of other students would be encouraged to take summer sessions, pretty much every year,” she said.

Scott’s plan to get rid of sales taxes on textbooks could save students who take at least 15 credits a semester at least $60 per semester, but this plan doesn’t come without a cost.

The state would have to find other ways of coming up with just over $41 million if they decide to go through with the tax cuts. Scott has pledged more than $23 million for this change, but some are skeptical of how useful this would be.

A study by the Board of Governors says more money might be necessary to cover the full cost of these summer courses for Bright Future students at the state’s 12 universities, meaning some schools may be forced to choose who gets benefits, or choose what courses will be covered.

Scott’s office also said his final budget will be released this week with even more tax cuts. These proposals have still not been approved by Legislators, but could start seeing some results when the annual session begins in March.

“It’s good to see a move toward actually supporting education rather than cutting like Rick Scott has done in the the past,” said Giebler.

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Hawthorne Volunteer Trash Collector A Fixture In Community

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Winford Jenkins, 57, fills a trash bag near his Hawthorne home. Jenkins started picking up litter six months ago and was recognized by the city in December. Ayana Stewart / WUFT

When Winford Jenkins leaves his modest Hawthorne home each morning, he prays God will lead him as he walks around the city.

Jenkins, 57, then ties a garbage bag to his black rolling walker. His mission is simple: He wants to clean up the city, focusing on litter that others have ignored.

“I don’t know which way I’ll be headed,” Jenkins said.

Sometimes, he walks down side streets and through neighborhoods. Other days, he concentrates on wooded patches along U.S. Route 301 and State Road 20.

He walks with a slight limp because of a stroke he suffered two years ago. Jenkins has been unemployed since, and started walking after a doctor suggested adding exercise to his routine. As activity increased, he began to notice trash everywhere.

It pained him to see the city in which he grew up covered in waste.

So one day last summer, he started picking up the garbage. He hasn’t stopped since.

On a cloudy Friday morning, Jenkins got in his 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, using hand signals as he turned corners because his blinkers don’t work. When he reached his destination – a quiet field behind a Chevron gas station on U.S. Route 301 – he unloaded his walker from the car and got to work.

Using a trash picker and wearing work gloves, he moved slowly throughout the weeds, grabbing cigarette packs, old receipts and fast-food cups. He filled up a trash bag in minutes.

“People will throw anything out,” he said.

Jenkins thinks most of the trash comes from locals because it’s often in places out-of-towners wouldn’t visit. He said he’s seen “almost everything” in the six months he’s been picking up trash, from used diapers to discarded police tape.

“Never seen anything dead, though,” he said, laughing.

Because it’s expensive to buy garbage bags, he reuses each thin plastic bag four or five times.

Gina Hawkins, executive director of the nonprofit organization Keep Alachua County Beautiful, said residents like Jenkins encourage her.

“To me, the appearance of the community is a reflection on the state of affairs,” she said. “When someone takes it upon himself to make a difference, it gives you hope.”

The city of Hawthorne named him one of December’s citizens of the month. Vice Mayor Tommie Howard said Hawthorne will soon begin providing trash bags so Jenkins doesn’t have to worry about buying them himself.

“We don’t have a full-fledged work crew,” Howard said. “He’s just been a real contributor to the community as a whole.”

Howard said businesses in the area are appreciative because Jenkins has made their storefronts more presentable.

As Jenkins finished his cleanup for the morning, he gestured at the block he’d covered.

“It looks so much better,” he said.

He is staunch in his faith, repeating how grateful he is to God for the opportunity to pick up trash every day.

“I’d been trying to think of something that would be useful,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m making a difference.”

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Jan. 27 2015: Afternoon News in 90

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Nestor Montoya produced this update.

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New Online Marketplace Launches In Gainesville

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 28, 2015 at 2:42 pm
Taryn Tacher uses brtr as a platform to sell her custom dream catchers to raise money for Dance Marathon at the University of Florida. Brtr is an online board for users to trade services.

Taryn Tacher uses brtr as a platform to sell her custom dream catchers to raise money for Dance Marathon at the University of Florida. Brtr is an online board for users to trade services. Rebecca Rubin / WUFT

Finding your next yoga teacher, swimming instructor or hair stylist just became a whole lot easier.

Brtr, pronounced barter, is an online platform for vendors to trade services. The platform is a Gainesville startup that launched this January.

“There are quite a few websites where you can earn your money monetizing your time, such as Uber,” said Rachel Federman, founder and CEO of brtr. “The difference between us and all those companies is here you get to monetize your skill.”

Brtr is similar to websites like Etsy, where individuals market their crafts online. But, this platform is based on services rather than products. Freedman used photography as an example.

“For a lot of budding photographers, they are in a limbo phase,” Federman said. “I would love to hire a photographer that isn’t as expensive. It gives them a chance to start working immediately and fine tune their services.”

For those still honing their skills, brtr provides a low-risk environment for others to test their services. Customers can pay with a credit card using U.S. dollars or with “brtr dollars,” which can only be used to trade services on the site, and do not equal U.S. currency.

New users receive 40 brtr dollars to use toward other vendors. This way, people can try services without spending their money. Afterward, customers can leave reviews about the service(s). Supplying new users with brtr dollars is beneficial for vendors because it gives them the opportunity to build a reputation and gain credibility before customers spend U.S. dollars.

As a college student, Ely Benhamo, director of business development for brtr, uses the platform to make money teaching private- or group-swimming lessons for $45 U.S. dollars, or 45 brtr dollars.

“It’s very hard to get a job in college and make it work with your schedule,” Benhamo said. “I don’t really have a network of families in Gainesville that I can teach swimming to, since I am from Miami. This website is a platform for me to put my service out there.”

Since brtr is a peer-to-peer marketplace that connects through Facebook, Benhamo said it, “eliminates the sketchiness of other websites because you can actually see who these people are.”

“It is all local, so it’s not like you are ordering services from another state,” she said.

While most people market services on brtr, Taryn Tacher is using it to sell custom dream catchers for $15, with all of the proceeds going toward Dance Marathon at the University of Florida.

Tacher received seven orders within the first two days of joining.

“It’s more than I expected, and it’s going well,” she said. “People aren’t that specific. They trust my artistic style, so they just give me a color or two, and I’ll just make it based off of that.”

Although Tacher is only offering her product for U.S. dollars, she said college students could benefit from brtr dollars as well.

“A lot of college kids are trying to get money, or get things done that they don’t have the money to do. Here, they can trade something that they are good at for something they need,” she said.

Signing up for brtr is free, so the site’s personal revenue is currently based on booking fees, Federman said.

Federman plans to launch brtr in Miami this February.

The website is still in its beginning stage, and there are fewer than 25 services currently on the site. Services range from lacrosse lessons to event planning.

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UF Successfully Sends Plants To The International Space Station

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 4:24 pm

On Jan. 10, UF researchers successfully sent plants into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

One rocket capsule, Dragon, contained plant experiments from the UF Space Plants Lab. Dragon launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and docked to the International Space Station (ISS).

“Watching a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is awesome,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, one of two principal investigators leading the UF Space Plants lab. “Especially when it is taking your experiment to the ISS.”

Paul, a plant-molecular biologist at UF, has been conducting research in plant-space biology for 20 years alongside her colleague Robert Ferl, who also serves as the co-principal investigator for the UF Space Plants Lab.

Paul and Ferl have sent experiments on seven rockets to space so far, continually testing the responses of plant life to spaceflight in terms of plant-growth rates and patterns of gene expression.

Using a Light Microscopy Module microscope, or LMM, the UF Space Plants team will be able to visualize changes to their plant experiments as the plants orbit the earth on the ISS.

Paul stressed the importance of learning how plant life responds to factors outside of the traditional evolutionary experiences.

“The more we understand about the fundamental mechanisms of how plants sense and respond to their environment, the better prepared we are to deal with adverse situations on earth,” Paul said.

Natasha Sng, a UF Space Plants researcher, started assisting with the lab in 2012. In an email interview conducted from Singapore, where she is spending the spring semester, Sng wrote that the goal of her research was to identify the functions of genes in plants that have a role in spaceflight response.

“The hope is that if we identify the function of a gene that is advantageous for the plants to flourish in space, then perhaps we could use this knowledge to increase the success rate of growing extraterrestrial plants,” Sng wrote.

Eric Schultz, another UF Space Plants researcher, explained how the most  recent space-plants study focused on seeing how plants can adapt to outer space.

“We are seeing what tools they have in their tool belt to use to adapt to this environment they’ve never seen,” Schultz said.

Now that the Dragon capsule has made its successful voyage to the ISS, the experiments for the team at the UF Space Plants Lab can officially begin. Because of past successes working with NASA and SpaceX, Paul said she foresees additional space experiments in the future, including one already scheduled for launch in 2016.

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In The News: Sex Offender Monitoring, Medical Marijuana Bill, Tampa Housing Market Rebounds, Mormons Talk Gay Rights And Religion

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 2:55 pm
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Target Range Shooting Increasingly Popular Among Women

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 2:07 pm

The number of women who practice target shooting at gun ranges has jumped 60 percent over the past decade.

The Harry Beckwith Gun Dealer and Indoor Pistol Range carries guns that cater to a more feminine style of shooting.

One of the owners of Harry Beckwith started the War on Women club after seeing an increase in female clientele.

The club meets once a month and teaches women tips about shooting and self defense.

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Twenty-Sixth Annual Day of Champions Race Held In Ocala

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 2:06 pm


The Ocala Breeders Sales Co. hosted the 26th annual Day of Champions Tuesday, which includes two wager matches allowing fans to bet on horses at the track and then watch the races live.  These are the only races of this kind held throughout the year. The races attract local enthusiasts like Stan Officina – a 40-year veteran in the horse industry.


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Children’s Author Running En Route To Literacy Goal

By on January 27th, 2015 | Last updated: January 27, 2015 at 2:00 pm
Children’s author Dennis Yang, 40, signs books for the grandchildren of a couple staying at the Putnam Lodge in Cross City on January 17, 2015.

Children’s author Dennis Yang, 40, signs books for the grandchildren of a couple staying at the Putnam Lodge in Cross City on January 17, 2015. Yang is attempting to run the perimeter of the United States to promote children’s literacy. Kate Pivacek / WUFT News

One hundred and forty seven days, 11 pairs of shoes and more than 2,800 miles later, Dennis Yang is still running.

The 40-year-old runner, children’s author and founder of the nonprofit Papa Didos Ideals Foundation is attempting to run the perimeter of the United States to promote children’s literacy.

Yang said he finds his motivation in watching kids achieving their own goals and aspiring to live healthy lifestyles.

“As soon as I start sweating, I get ideas,” said Yang, who averages a marathon — about 26 miles — per day.

Yang visits elementary school students, at-risk or disadvantaged kids and patients in children’s hospitals. He tells his story and reads his books to varied audiences, from hundreds of people in an auditorium to a few in a hospital or classroom.

His journey, which began on a pier in Santa Monica, California, on Aug. 25, brought Yang through north Florida on Jan. 11 as he headed to an event at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa.

He also visited the kids of the Robert Halleen Boys & Girls Club of Homosassa on Jan. 20.

Yang gets by with help from his coordinator and girlfriend, 28-year-old Crystal Love. Love meets or follows him in their travel-trailer to and from each destination and schedules his appearances. The trailer acts as the couple’s sometimes home and constant storage space, housing thousands of copies of Yang’s books.

Yang wrote his first stories in the form of letters to his 13-year-old adopted son while he traveled overseas on business. The letters eventually became five published books.

“It was my way of communicating with him all the things I thought he should know,” Yang said.

The stories, which grew in maturity as his son aged, are donated to the children Yang visits on his journey.

His pen name, Papa Didos, is the name Yang’s son calls him.

Love and Yang rely on meal and room donations from helpful patrons along the way.

“We have not gone more than four days without a shower and bed to sleep in,” Love said.

Big Oaks RV and Mobile Home Community General Manager Timothy Glynn said he did not think twice when Love called to ask him to donate a space in the Spring Hill park.

“I thought it was a fantastic opportunity,” he said.

Glynn said the two were very well-respected by the park community and touched a lot of people.

“They came as guests and left as Big Oaks family,” Glynn said.

Yang gives his books out freely, but for people who want to pay toward his $1 million goal, they can still buy his books. He intends to spend that money by publishing more books to give away and creating toys inspired by the characters in his books.

He has earned $5,755.45 so far, but he will invest the money raised even if he does not meet the goal.

“When all is said and done,” he said, “all of the money will go right back to the kids.”

Now a quarter of the way through his journey, Yang has been stranded in the desert, crossed paths with rattlesnakes and was even desperate enough to try drinking water out of a cactus.

With more than 8,000 miles still to go before his goal is reached, Yang is not worried.

“Each day that I’m still standing and still able to do what I do is a day I consider successful,” he said.


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