The Freewheel Project Advocates for Community Cyclists

By on August 6th, 2015 | Last updated: August 7, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Frankie Withey is still trying to break-in his Mongoose.

An avid cyclist, Withey uses every chance he can to ride.

The 44-year-old lives in Dignity Village, Gainesville’s tent city. He rides his Mongoose mountain bike to pick up trash around the community, run errands and deliver messages to other residents around the camp.

“It’s therapeutic because I have to get my cardiovascular up. It also gives me something to do. It allows me to clear my mind,” he said. “I just jump on my bike and ride.”

But when Withey’s bike breaks down, he has a limited supply of tools to use. 

That’s where The Freelwheel Project comes in.

Artists Steven Speir and Cesar Antonio Evans paint the mural that is located in the back of The Freewheel Project on Sunday afternoon. They have dedicated about 50 hours to the mural by providing free labor to the organization.

Artists Steven Speir and Cesar Antonio Evans paint the mural that is located in the back of The Freewheel Project on a weekend afternoon. They have dedicated about 50 hours to the mural by providing free labor to the organization. Maria Valencia / WUFT News

The Freewheel Project, located at 618 S. Main St. in Gainesville, will be a low-cost education-based bike shop staffed with a mechanic and an intern. Members will have access to a tool library, a bike library and a crit-cross style track (a lap course with a rough surface) that snakes through the 2.7-acre lot behind the building.

Withey said he would like to be a part of The Freewheel Project’s cycling group, but can’t afford to pay for it. The project would be a great resource for him and the other residents of Dignity Village who rely on bikes as their main mode of transportation.

The project’s vice president, Patrick Dodds, said his previous experience with the homeless community allowed him to see how important a bicycle can be for a homeless person in their day-to-day life.

With The Freewheel Project, Dodds said he envisions a space where the underprivileged community can come in and feel comfortable.

He wants them to feel like they have a space of their own and have their bike worked on while engaging with other people in the community.

This approach is what attracted Ethan Hudgins, a 20-year-old UF student, to volunteer with the project.

“The fact that they’ll be a community center will add another outlet for people to get help that they need,” Hudgins said. “You don’t think about it much because it’s not generally a huge issue for students.”

Hudgins said he thinks the project will add the missing piece to help get a variety of different modes of transportation on the ground. This would make the community more inclusive for people who can’t drive while increasing cycling advocacy and education.

The project is not solely directed at the underprivileged community, but anyone interested in cycling.

“If you ride a bike, we want to be supportive of that,” said Ryan Aulton, executive director of the project.

The project also has a focus on empowering women in competitive cycling due to the vast difference between women’s and men’s presence in the sport at the local and professional level, according to Jamie Aulton, the project’s president.

Ryan Aulton said the project has been well-received in the community even though the bike shop is not set to open until August.

In addition to volunteers, the organization has received donated bicycle equipment, discounted tractor rentals and other building materials from community members, organizations and businesses.

Sarah Goff, co-founder of The Repurpose Project, a nonprofit organization that salvages discarded items intended for reuse, said it donated about 4,000 bricks to The Freewheel Project. The bricks will be used to pave the bike track.

“A thing I really like about them is the impact of the environment from biking, like the reduction of carbon dioxide,” she said. “That’s our whole thing, helping the planet, and what they’re doing is also helping the planet in the respect of having more bikes and fewer cars.”

Although Withey can’t afford to pay for membership, there are other ways that the project can give access to those who don’t have the means to join.

Dodds said the project will have free service days on the weekends, either Saturday or Sunday, where members of the underprivileged community can come in to learn how to change a flat tire or make some minor corrections that would help them on a day-to-day basis.

In addition to the free service days, he said the organization plans on visiting GRACE Marketplace to engage and educate individuals on the available services to make them aware and involved as much as possible.

As a advocate of Dignity Village, Withey thinks the project would really benefit other riders in the community, especially those who are heavily reliant on their bicycles to go to work.

“I feel like it would be a great source for the cyclists here (at Dignity Village),” he said.

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University of Florida Among First To Use Online Safety Program

By on August 6th, 2015 | Last updated: August 6, 2015 at 11:50 am

The University of Florida is one of the first institutions that will begin using the VTV Family Outreach Foundation’s 32 National Campus Safety Initiative.

The 32 NCSI is a series of free online confidential self-assessment tools for colleges and universities to see where their policies and procedures are in nine key campus safety areas including campus public safety, mental health and emergency management.

Families of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting victims created the foundation. The number 32 was selected to serve as a living legacy for the 32 students and faculty killed in the tragedy, and the survivors as well.

The online tool will help institutions gauge their methods and practices for ensuring safety and security.

“It will allow institutions based on best and promising practices to identify where they are doing well and where there may be gaps that they need to bridge with how they provide safety and security services,” said S. Carter, director of VTV Family Outreach Foundation and 32 NCSI.

A student walks by an emergency phone station at the Hub. UF was chosen by the VTV Family Outreach Foundation as a model for campus safety in the nation.

A student walks by an emergency phone station at the Hub. UF was chosen by the VTV Family Outreach Foundation as a model for campus safety in the nation. Allison Stendardo / WUFT

The initiative will launch at George Mason University on August 13.

Part of Carter’s initial task when creating the initiative was to identify thirteen of the nation’s leading experts in campus safety, one being UF’s Jen Day Shaw.

Day Shaw, associate vice president and dean of students at UF, said she and other expert panelists spoke with families, who thought the best way to start this initiative would be to work with colleges and universities.

“The foundation is interested in families of perspective students being able to get information about campus safety,” Day Shaw said.

Families of the VT shooting victims want to make sure campuses are as safe as they can possibly make them after the tragedy they had to face, she said.

UF and six other schools were chosen to participate in the pilot survey for 32 NCSI, which lasted a year in order to choose the best national standards for every type of institution to follow.

“We’re a national model,” Day Shaw said when asked about why UF was chosen. “We’re nationally known for our campus safety, we have schools come and see us all the time.”

She pointed out the police department is accredited by three different accrediting agencies, which is rare.

“We were thrilled to have such a large, robust institution participate and help us validate our instrument,” Carter said.

While Day Shaw said UF is at platinum level when it comes to safety standards, she personally would want to see more being done with the concerns of alcohol.

“Alcohol drives a lot of other safety issues so even though we do a lot with it, it is something we continually have to work on” said Day Shaw, “I would like to see us emphasize helping students really make smart choices and making sure they are not put in vulnerable situations.”

Day Shaw said the university is also looking into things like off-campus transportation. UF currently has SNAP that runs on campus but she would like to see more of a door-to-door service for students.

“Institutions are sometimes criticized for campus safety efforts, said Peter Lake, 32 NCSI advisory council chairman in a press release. “For the first time, there is now a tool to help campuses implement effective programs across a wide variety of safety metrics,” Lake said.

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In The News: State Has Record Low Pass Rate Of Written Drivers Test, Four Florida Planned Parenthood Facilities Cited For Violations, Body Found Monday Identified As Trenton Woman, 70th Anniversary Of Hiroshima Atomic Bombing

By on August 6th, 2015 | Last updated: August 6, 2015 at 11:47 am
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State Park Commercialization Plan Contributor Appointed DEP Secretary

By on August 5th, 2015 | Last updated: August 5, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Florida state parks were identified by Jon Steverson, then-interim secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Park Service in a draft strategic plan, as test cases for allowing commercial businesses to graze cattle, timber and hunt in the parks.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed, and the Florida Cabinet approved, Steverson Secretary of DEP during a cabinet meeting today.

The proposal is not intended to commercialize and privatize parks, Steverson told Cabinet members. But, the state might not be able to maintain all of the publicly owned land without the capacity to generate more revenue.

Grassroots groups are forming across the state to oppose this possible plan to commercialize the state parks. Protect Paynes Prairie was founded just weeks after Florida Parks in Peril was established to protect Myakka River State Park.

The DEP looks for opportunities to make the state’s parks and lands self-sustaining to achieve the ultimate goals of ecosystem restoration, resource-based recreation and land management and conservation said Jason Mahon, DEP spokesman, in an email.

But Mark Smith, Protect Paynes Prairie steering committee head, said the grassroots groups’ concern is that the plan goes beyond resource management, allowing for commercialization and even privatization of state parks.

Jim Stevenson, a retired DEP senior biologist, procured the plan on June 18th. He said the parks’ land and wild life would be in jeopardy if Steverson were to execute it.

“If they can make a dollar off of it, they’re going to do it,” he said. “The parks have not been treated like this for their entire existence. For 80 years we have not had this kind of what’s called multiple use, and it’s just since Gov. Scott has come on board that they started moving in that direction.”

Randy Lance, owner of Little River Organics in Wellborn, Fla., grazes cattle on his farm. He said he approves of the plan because it is beneficial for the environment.

“If you put cattle on (land), the trees grow better, the grass grows better, the soil captures carbon,” he said. “That’s the ideal.”

But Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam expressed concern against the plan during today’s meeting. Smith said this was a success for the grassroots groups.

“I would say our message has been heard, not only for me but for all the people who are represented by their involvement in signing petitions, in making calls to the cabinet members and to state law makers,” he said. “For everyone who has participated in this.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to the reporting.

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Aug. 5, 2015: News in 90

By on August 5th, 2015 | Last updated: August 5, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Aaron Abell produced this update.

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Sexual Battery Case Turned Over To Alachua Co. Sheriff’s Office

By on August 4th, 2015 | Last updated: August 4, 2015 at 6:53 pm

The sexual battery incident that occurred Sunday has been turned over to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office after the University of Florida Criminal Investigations Division (UFCID) determined it did not happen on the UF campus.

Police say the suspect, a UF student, met the 19-year-old victim at Grog House, located at 1718 W. University Ave., before bringing her to his off-campus home, which is where the sexual battery reportedly took place.

The victim told police she remembers leaving with the suspect and then waking up in a bed, according to the release. The suspect then reportedly drove the victim back to her residence hall.

UFCID initially worked with ASO to interview the suspect. Because it is out of UFCID’s jurisdiction, it was then turned over to ASO.

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Levy County Flooding Leaves Some Areas Damaged

By on August 4th, 2015 | Last updated: August 4, 2015 at 6:25 pm
Flooding2: Ron Legler, 61-year-old Yankeetown Fla., resident, peers over his soaked yard. His house avoided significant water damage as it sat six to eight inches above the waterline. Susan Huang / WUFT News

Ron Legler, 61, of Yankeetown Fla., resident, peers over his soaked yard after flooding. John MacDonald, interim director for Levy County Emergency Management, said regular summer weather patterns should return in a few days. Susan Huang / WUFT News

Ron Legler, 61-year-old Yankeetown, Fla., resident, tugged his trash bags further up his legs and sloshed onto his watery lawn.

His neighbor, Debbie Bohon, watched as her dogs raced across the soggy turf.

“Oh yeah, I’ve never seen it like this,” Bohon said.

John MacDonald, interim director for Levy County Emergency Management, said a low front pushed more water inland in the past week than usual, but regular summer weather patterns are expected to return within a few days.

Coastal areas in Levy have experienced damage, but most of the damage MacDonald has seen has been further inland to areas such as Inglis.

Due to the flooding, Levy County released a boil water notice on Aug. 4. Residents are advised take steps to decontaminate their overflowing wells.

Rhiannon Castle, Yankeetown town clerk, said parents should avoid letting their children play in the water because standing water could also be contaminated.

According to MacDonald, there’s not much to be done about standing water except to wait for it to drain away.

“It was just too much water coming it out way too fast, faster than the drainage areas we do have can handle,” MacDonald said.

To speed up the process, residents are welcome to pump water out of their yards into approved drainage areas, but not onto the street or other yards, MacDonald said.

Levy county residents like Legler and Bohon are dealing the best they can. Bohon’s entire routine has changed because of the weather.

“When I leave, I have to wear my boots to get to my car because I can’t wear my tennis shoes till I get into the job. I can’t mow the yard now, the yard’s all flooded. My pets don’t go out cause they don’t want to be in the water,” Bohon said.

In order to walk her dogs, she carries them in her arms across the water to a drier patch of land.

Fortunately, her house stood far above ground level, lifting it away from the rain water still pooled underneath.

“As long as my house is dry, and I’m doing okay, I’m all right,” Bohon said. “It’s mother nature. What are they gonna do?”

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Local Transgender People Struggle for Acceptance

By on August 4th, 2015 | Last updated: August 4, 2015 at 9:31 pm

When Tara Lee, 67, transitioned 14 years ago, she never anticipated the backlash. “I hurt people when I came out,” she said. “But I dealt with it because I had no choice.” Heather Reinblatt / WUFT

When Tara Lee, a 67-year-old Gainesville transgender woman, transitioned 14 years ago, she never expected to go through it alone. Yet, she said she lost her immediate family and felt ostracized by coworkers at the post office in the process.

Lee said the relationship with her ex-wife and their daughter was strained throughout her transition. In a somber moment, Lee said she felt like her then coworkers were frequently talking about her in hurtful ways. Lee said some people in her life even believed she had AIDS.

At one point, five teenagers surrounded Lee while she was working.

“They were saying, ‘Here it is. It’s delivering mail again. Let’s see what it has between its legs,’” Lee said.

Alone and alienated from the people she loved, Lee said her transition was painful.

These experiences are not unusual, though, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

In 2011, the NCTE and the National LGBTQ Task Force published the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. The survey found that 63 percent of participants experienced serious acts of discrimination including lost jobs, physical assault, sexual assault, homelessness, lost relationships and denial of medical service.

Discrimination possibly stems from religious and cultural bias and lack of understanding, said Jennifer Evans, a licensed psychologist at Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida. It can negatively affect people, especially those historically perceived to be marginalized.

“It takes a toll on their mental health, which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, and contributes to higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidality,” Evans said.

Kane Barr, a 27-year-old Gainesville transgender man, was suicidal and depressed after coming out to his family two years ago. Although his mother was accepting on the first day, he said, his twin sister and younger brother took it exceptionally hard.

“I definitely felt like I was alone,” Barr said. “Eventually, I did attempt to kill myself. I got 10 stitches on my left arm.”

But he didn’t just struggle with his family. He said he also struggled advocating for himself at the historically black college he attended in Tallahassee, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

He said the college did not have a LGBT organization, pride center or people he could talk to.

Even though he wrote letters to his professors asking them to call him by his preferred name and pronoun, he said some had a difficult time accepting his transition because of their religious beliefs.

“It was a really big struggle,” Barr said. “Not only did I have to deal with my family, but I also had to deal with the people around me on campus. I even had anxiety about simple things like using the bathroom.”

Michelle Phillips, a 32-year-old transgender woman and director of education at the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, said healthcare is also a huge obstacle for transgender people.

“Many of us are straight up turned down for healthcare, or we are given substandard healthcare,” she said. “And doctors don’t take it upon themselves to educate themselves on the issue.”

Phillips said she experienced this firsthand during a trip to the hospital for a urinary tract infection.

When she explained her medical history and confirmed she was male-to-female, Phillips said she was given antibiotics and ushered into the hallway to fill out forms.

Peter Rudnytsky, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and an English professor at the University of Florida, said acceptance of transgender people is difficult because not a lot of people know someone who is openly transgender.

“We’re dealing with fantasies, stereotypes and prejudices,” he said. “It’s a far more radical transformation of who somebody is. For most people, it’s strange and unimaginable.”

Lynn Langley, a 54-year-old middle school teacher in Ocala, Florida, said she does not know anyone who is transgender, which makes it difficult to understand how the whole process works.

On top of that, Langley said she feels conflicted about the issue because of her Christian beliefs.

“I’ve been told what I know,” Langley said. “God made us in his image, and you were made a certain way with certain parts.”

Although Langley struggles with it, she does believe that eventually people will be OK with transgender individuals and move on. They just need to be able to come to terms with it on their own, Langley said.

Rudnytsky agrees some people may take more time than others to understand the issues transgender people face. And he said the members of the transgender community need to find the strength to be who they are.

They also need to know that it’s going to cause tremendous fear and anxiety in a lot of people like Langley, who admit to having limited knowledge and experience with transgender people.

“Even as they assert their right to be who they are, they should try to understand how painful and difficult it is to change,” he said. “Until more and more people have some direct experience with it, I think it’s going to be hard to change attitudes.”

Kane Barr concurs.

He said he understands that it’s going to be hard for people to change. But it does make a difference knowing someone who is transgender because he or she can relate to that person on a more intimate level.

However, Barr said he wants people take initiative and try to educate themselves on the issue.

Most importantly, he wants people to understand that being transgender is just another part of who they are as individuals.

“The only thing that’s different is that we’re changing our physical body and appearance is some way, shape or form,” Barr said. “We’re people, too.”

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August 4, 2015: News in 90

By on August 4th, 2015 | Last updated: August 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Laura Barrero produced this update.

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Dunnellon Resident Hosts Fishing Television Show

By on August 4th, 2015 | Last updated: August 4, 2015 at 4:06 pm
Jimmy Nelson, owner and host of television show Extreme Fishing Adventures, shows off a red grouper caught during the filming of an episode out of Key West, Fla., in January 2011. “I wanted to be able to fish for free because it was too expensive, and I wanted to see the world,” said Nelson, 36-year-old Dunnellon resident.

Jimmy Nelson, owner and host of television show Extreme Fishing Adventures, shows off a red grouper caught during the filming of an episode out of Key West, Fla., in January 2011. “I wanted to be able to fish for free because it was too expensive, and I wanted to see the world,” said Nelson, 36-year-old Dunnellon resident. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Nelson.

Born and raised in Dunnellon, Florida, Jimmy Nelson grew up on the water. He spent afternoons and evenings with rod and reel in hand. He always dreamed of turning a weekend hobby into a lifelong investment.

Nelson worked as a real estate agent for about 10 years, but when Florida’s housing market began declining around 2006, he began to change his focus.

“I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do,” Nelson said. “All I knew is that I wanted to be able to fish for free because it was too expensive, and I wanted to see the world.”

At age 36, Nelson spent his free time taking clients out fishing on his boat through his Extreme Fishing Adventures Charter Company.

“I didn’t have time to do many charters. I couldn’t give it 100 percent while working,” he said. “But I remember some of the people I would take out fishing telling me that I would make a good host for a show.”

In 2008, he officially traded in an air-conditioned office for the captain’s seat. He began to focus on filming his first pilot episode as owner and host of Extreme Fishing Adventures.

Now, Nelson said the pages of his passport are filled, and the show has been featured on networks such as FOX Sports, Discovery Channel, Bright House Sports Network and NBC Sports.

But, he said, it hasn’t been a total success story. The first few years brought financial struggles for Nelson and his family of five as he paid for travel, equipment, bait and gasoline all out of pocket.

Creating The Show

 In 2008, Jimmy Nelson lived in Dunnellon with his ex-wife Jessica Nelson and their three sons; Matthew, 10, Nate, 8, and Shawn, 7.

Jessica Nelson, a stay-at-home mother and author, said her initial reaction was pure excitement. She said her former husband was already self-employed as a realtor, which made it easier to shift his focus to launching the show.

But Jessica Nelson admitted the biggest obstacle was the lull in paychecks.

The hardest part came in the beginning,” she said. “We had to adjust to a lowered income as we tried getting a show started from the ground up.”

With only a boat and fishing rods, Jimmy Nelson used money saved from his real estate business to purchase all the equipment needed to film his first episode.

With the help of a friend and Dunnellon resident, Samuel Spornhauer, Jimmy Nelson bought a camera and went to the Gulf of Mexico near Crystal River to start filming.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” Jimmy Nelson said. 

The two of them went to high school together at Dunnellon High School, where Spornhauer was first introduced to television production during his junior year— his only experience before diving into Extreme Fishing Adventures.

“The cameras do all the work,” Spornhauer said. “It’s a matter of getting the right angles, so I practiced doing that. Plus, being on the water was fun for us both.”

Filming was one thing, but turning the videos into a single, edited segment required skills they didn’t have.

“That first year was stressful,” Jimmy Nelson said. “I had all this raw footage, but I had never edited a video in my life.”

After finishing the first episode in 2009, Jimmy Nelson began the process to get it televised.

“It was hard to find people who were willing to give me a chance,” Jimmy Nelson said. “My editing was amateur quality, but I called anyone I thought would listen.”

After a few months of trying, he said he was able to buy airtime with Bright House Sports Network.

With rising expenses and no profits, he then reached out to any diving, fishing and boating companies that would consider paying Extreme Fishing Adventures in exchange for advertising on the show.

Episode One aired that same year.

Finding success

Six years later, Jimmy Nelson said he is making a living.

“Networks seemed to really like the footage I had,” he said. “I started getting sponsors like Salt Life and Cressi. And once the show started actually making money, everything kicked into high gear.”

The show receives money and equipment annually from about 30 sponsors in exchange for advertisement on the show and social media. A makeshift team of two turned into a team of 10 working professional cameramen and editors.

Jimmy Nelson said he has traveled throughout the U.S., Bahamas, Cayman Islands and South America filming for the show.

Corey Penny, Ocala resident and master electrician at Penny’s Electrical Services, said he is a big fan of the show and likes to see Jimmy Nelson’s latest catch.

“I like the fact that he loves to target monster fish, the ones that get the blood flowing, and that he’s not scared to show you how he catches them and what he uses to catch them,” Penny said. “Anyone would love to be in his shoes.”

Jimmy Nelson said the show isn’t just fun in the sun; it’s hard work that requires him to be away from home at least two weeks out of every month.

“Constantly being on the road seemed fun at first, but it was not exactly what I anticipated,” he said.

Even as the housing market began recuperating, Jimmy Nelson said he plans on hosting Extreme Fishing Adventures for as long as possible.

“I will host until I’m way too old, probably,” he said. “I love to fish, and I’m happy to do that for as long as they’ll let me.”

Jessica Nelson said her sons think their dad is a superstar.

“My sons think he is the best fisherman in the world,” she said. “And they brag about him to all their friends.”

Jessica Nelson said the show has expanded her family’s exposure to different places, people and experiences. She said it is important to follow your dreams.

“Do your research and go for it,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, and if someone laughs at you, ignore them. You have one life. Make it the best life you can.”

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