Pizza and Parrot Lovers Come Together

By on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Silvia Rueda / WUFT News

Casey Jr., or CJ as he is known to the locals, sipped casually from a glass of sweet tea at Napolatano’s Restaurant in Gainesville on a Wednesday night.

CJ, a blue and yellow macaw native to South America, visited the restaurant for Parrots and Pizza Night, a monthly event that connects parrot lovers and parrots.

The organization, Parrots and Pizza, works with the Open Wings Rescue and Sanctuary to bring parrots in need of new homes to the event in hopes of uniting them with those looking for a feathered friend.

The group currently meets on the first Wednesday of the month at Napolatano’s Restaurant at 6:30 p.m.

Casey Newick and Lindsay Rozboril founded Parrots and Pizza about three years ago. Newick said although it is a social event, bringing parrots in need of adoption has always been an important part of getting together.

“We wondered, how can we get some of the birds out in the public eye and seen and socialized?” Newick asked.

While some Parrots and Pizza attendees come to adopt, others bring their birds for interaction.


Silvia Rueda / WUFT News

Lisa Moore interacts with Casey Jr.,  Stephen Casey’s blue-and-yellow macaw at Parrots and Pizza Night Oct. 1. The event gives parrot lovers and owners a chance to interact with the exotic birds and meet parrots in need of new homes.

Although the parrots are often nervous upon arrival, they quickly settle down and enjoy the company.

Newick, who is also an officer at the Open Wings Rescue and Sanctuary,  said socialization is an important part of parrot care, and this organization provides a great opportunity for it.

Ginger Nappy, co-owner of Napolatano’s Restaurant, said customers are always drawn to the group’s colorful presence. She said kids get excited to pet the birds, and group members encourage them to get up close and personal.

CJ’s owner, Bell resident Stephen Casey, has worked with other parrot rescue groups in Florida and is now volunteering with Open Wings Rescue and Sanctuary. He currently has 10 birds in his home that he either owns or fosters.

Most of the birds up for adoption have lost their homes because owners were no longer able to care for them. Sometimes, the parrots outlive their owners and find themselves without a home.

Some parrots come from abuse situations. One of the parrots Casey keeps at home was recovered from a crack house. The bird has no feathers.

“They would blow the dope right in her face,” Casey said.

Newick said this is not uncommon.

“I could tell you 100 stories like that,” she said.

Usually birds are relinquished by owners, but there are times the sanctuary will hear of situations from social workers. The adoption cost for a parrot is between $400 and $450, depending on whether the parrot comes with its cage.

After daylight savings time ends, the group will meet on the first Sunday afternoon of every month because parrots expect bedtime when the sun goes down. The location will be The Red Onion Neighborhood Grill.

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Santa Fe Apes Get a New Home

By on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm
All three white-handed gibbons at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo brachiate down a rope in the enclosure. Brachiation is the swinging method of movement typical to white-handed gibbons.

Michaela Bisienere / WUFT News

All three white-handed gibbons at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo brachiate down a rope in the enclosure. Brachiation is the swinging method of movement typical to white-handed gibbons.

Rainer received her first extreme home makeover at the age of 2, with renovations costing $350,000. Her new space is 70 feet in length, complete with rope courses, trees and tunnels.

Rainer is a white-handed gibbon, also known as a lar gibbon, living at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.

On Wednesday the zoo opened a new habitat, about ten times the size of its previous one, to the public for these endangered apes, which are best known for their distinct whooping call, said Jonathan Miot, zoo director.

The gibbons now have the space to swing through the air more easily using a hand-over-hand motion called “brachiating” — an instinctive way of moving for the gibbons.

With more exposure to sun and rain, and more trees and vertical space available for climbing, the habitat aims to imitate the rainforest environment where gibbons are found in the wild.

“I think it’s really improved their quality of life,” Miot said.

The zoo is home to three gibbons: adult male Eddie; his partner, Cajun; and their daughter, Rainer.

Eddie and Cajun have been united for over 10 years in the original habitat, which was one of the first exhibits built at the zoo over 30 years ago.

The exhibit was funded by a combination of funds, including a private donation, in-house funding and a grant from the Visit Gainesville chapter of the Tourism Bureau, Miot said.

Construction for the new habitat began in December 2013. The gibbons moved into the enclosure in July to acclimate to the space before the visitors were allowed near the exhibit.

“A bigger space is definitely better for these animals, and it’s better for the public to see them in a larger space,” said Gabrielle Sachs, a graduate from the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo.

Sachs, who is now outreach coordinator at The Art Farm in the City in New York, said that the previous exhibit had been due for an update for many years.

Sachs said that the larger space allows the zookeepers to keep the gibbons mentally stimulated, by allowing them to explore and hunt for their own food for example.

“There’s a multitude of enrichment options that the zookeepers can do now. They can hide food in different places,” Sachs said. “Gibbons need a really large space, so I think this will be great.”

Miot said white-handed gibbons are on the endangered species list because their native territories in the rainforests of Asia are being torn down for the planting of palm trees to be used for palm oil production.

“They’re endangered animals, so their numbers are really dwindling,” Miot said.

At the zoo opening, President of Santa Fe College Jackson Sasser said the new enclosure will ensure that, as an endangered species, gibbons will continue to thrive.

Miot said because of the larger space, the gibbons are able to spread out to different areas of their territory and travel the enclosure, which is important for endangered species.

The ability to better reproduce, raise offspring and allow this offspring to exhibit normal behaviors shows how comfortable this expanded environment is, Miot said.

“These are all of the things we look at as animal behaviorists,” Miot said,  “to say ‘Hey, the things that we’re doing are good, and now, they’re even better. Now, we’ve even improved their quality of life.’”

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Gainesville Hires Third Party for GRU Audit, Examines GREC Contract

By on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Gainesville city officials will hire a third party to audit Gainesville Regional Utilities in order to examine the biomass contract between GRU and Gainesville Renewable Energy Center. The audit will cost over $180,000, according to city officials. The contract, signed in 2009, allows GRU to buy power from the GREC biomass plant, and ultimately raised prices for GRU customers.

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In The News: Body of Missing Man Found in Putnam, Giants Advance to World Series, FLOTUS to Visit Orlando, Health Care Worker Isolated on Cruise

By on October 17th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 10:47 am
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Marion County Teenager Arrested After Shooting Two Men

By and on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm

A Marion County teenager was arrested Thursday in connection with last week’s shooting of two 18-year-old men.

On Friday, Oct. 10, Ocala police responded to a shooting. Officers found Colby Martinez with a gunshot wound to the stomach and Robert O’Connall with a wound to his inner thigh, according to an affidavit released by the Ocala Police Department.

Both men were transported to Ocala Regional Medical Center where Martinez underwent emergency surgery and O’Connall was treated and released.

Sergeant Angie Scroble, Ocala Police Department Public Information Officer, said police waited to hear Martinez’s status before deciding how severe the charges would be for the 16-year-old teen.

“He was in surgery at the time we were investigating this, so we didn’t know what his condition was going to be,” Scroble said. “He’s stable now, so the charges that were made are misdemeanor charges.”

The 16-year-old was charged with two misdemeanors, culpable negligence and possession of a firearm by a juvenile, according to a report from the Ocala Police Department.

The teen was sitting on a bed playing with a gun, with Martinez and O’Connall also present in the room, according to the affidavit. He was dry firing the weapon without the gun’s magazine attached. The teen then inserted the magazine but “advised” to officers that he believed there wasn’t a round chambered.

According to O’Connall, he was getting up to walk out of the room when the teen accidentally discharged the weapon, hitting both men.

The teen told officers he stole the gun from a youth four days prior to the shooting,  but Scroble said it was first stolen during a 2013 burglary.


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Oct. 16, 2014: Afternoon News in 90

By and on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

Jacob Schrull produced this update. 

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In The News: Florida Middle Schoolers Write Bomb Threat, Debate Organizers Clarify Crist Fan, GPD Cracking Down On Cyclists, Second Jacksonville Hospital Handles Ebola Scare

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm
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Two Organizations Team Up For Second Time On Smokey Bear Park Developement

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

The Gainesville Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs will work with the Rotary Clubs of Gainesville Foundation to reignite a history of park development.

The groups plan to restore a rotary wheel located in Smokey Bear Park, which, nearly 50 years ago, both organizations helped create at 2500 NE 15th St. near the University of Florida’s eastside campus.

Linda Demetropoulos, nature and cultural manager for GPRCA, said the project is part of an ongoing renovation at the park, which started in the summer.

A project coordinator from GPRCA approached Susan Spain, president of RCGF, after discovering the club participated in the original development of the park in 1963.

Spain said RCGF is the oldest club in Florida and is excited to be a part of the latest renovation that will help mark its history of involvement in Gainesville.

“When you look at it and start analyzing, it really tells you about the history of Gainesville,” she said.

John Weber, operations supervisor with GPRCA, said an artist specialized in tile work will design the wheel with mosaic tile painted in the rotary colors: blue and gold.

The colors have to be specific to the rotary shades because the organization is strict about representing their logo, Spain said.

“They don’t want you to change it in any way,” she said.

Weber helps oversee the current renovation of Smokey Bear Park, originally a 4.5 acre piece of land given to the county by the Florida Forest Service. After the FFS asked the county 50 years ago if they wanted to use the land, the city and rotary got together to start building the park.

The club dedicated $3,000, and the city helped design the park, Demetropoulos said. Over the course of two years, both departments went back and forth in the process of development, leaving behind a small swing set, some trees, and the rotary wheel.

The RCGF will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in six years by trying to put its history together, and Spain said the information about its involvement with the park came at the right time.

As part of the renovation over the summer, the city purchased the land from FFS in July, expanding the facility to include a dog park, Weber said. It also cut down some trees to open space for a parking lot.

The renovation of the park, Weber said, will be completed by November. It will include a new pavilion, playground and swing sets, as well as the new wheel located at the entrance with newly planted shrubbery.

The wheel remains the only amenity from the original 1963 design.

“This is a very hidden gem,” Weber said.

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Grace Marketplace Worried About Spread Of Illness On Site

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 10:09 am

A man diagnosed with scabies and living in a tent on the campus of Grace Marketplace is causing concern.

Residents are worried about transmission, and administrators are wondering about the facility’s preparedness for disease control.

Grace Marketplace, an emergency homeless shelter off Waldo Road near the Gainesville airport, officially opened its dorms on Oct. 1. There is no medical clinic on the campus. To receive a diagnosis and medical care, residents must visit one of Gainesville’s clinics or the Alachua County Health Department.

The man infected with the highly contagious skin disease came to the site already infected, said Theresa Lowe, executive director for the North Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.

Lowe said many of the people who use the services provided by Grace Marketplace do not qualify for Medicaid, have no private insurance or are not old enough for Medicare.

The shelter plans on converting an old building into a health care center, but costly repairs to bring it up to code for a medical facility could take up to one year.

With winter approaching, the possibility of an airborne disease outbreak, such as the flu, is a concern for staff at the facility.

Racheal Morrison, 29, spends time on Grace Marketplace campus Wednesday. The campus is preparing for flu season by disinfecting and attempting to vaccinate everyone with flu mist.

Cassidy Whitson / WUFT News

Racheal Morrison, 29, spends time on Grace Marketplace campus Wednesday. The campus is preparing for flu season by disinfecting and attempting to vaccinate everyone with flu mist.

Scabies is only spread through skin-to-skin contact, making containment of the disease fairly simple.

“It’s not some deadly, highly-contagious disease,” Lowe said.

The flu virus, however, can spread rapidly through close quarters, such as meals and communal living in the shelter.

“That would be a lot more devastating,” Lowe said.

She beleives if five people contracted the flu in one week, it could progress to over 50 by the next.

Grace Marketplace is looking to provide FluMist as part of its homeless services. Lowe stressed the shelter is not a medical facility and is met with the challenges of convincing people to get vaccinated.

Brandi West, a client advocate at the shelter, said misinformation and rumors cause anxiety among residents. She personally brought in information about scabies, common colds and the flu to educate those who had doubts about transmission and treatment of the diseases.

“We disinfect anything and everything,” she said.

West said the shelter is trying to build up more advanced infrastructure to handle the potential of more disease outbreaks. They are trying to get medical gloves and masks, among other necessities. However, she said they are trying to meet the imperative needs of clothing and personal hygiene products first.

Brice Kinney, 48, stays in a tent in Dignity Village. He said he is concerned for his health in the shelter.

“Any medical help I can get, I will take,” he said.


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Local Student Develops Epilepsy App, Wins $75,000

By on October 16th, 2014 | Last updated: October 16, 2014 at 12:49 pm
Amir Helmy, 13, and his father Ahmed Helmy present their smartphone app Heatera at the 20th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in early September. Helmy has also won multiple awards for a second app called Seizario.

Michaela Bisienere / WUFT News

Amir Helmy, 13, and his father Ahmed Helmy present their smartphone app Heatera at the 20th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in early September. Helmy has also won multiple awards for a second app called Seizario.

Eastside High School freshman Amir Helmy was just looking for a 7th grade science fair project idea in the fall of 2012.

A family friend and neurologist was talking about the expensive and complicated equipment epilepsy patients had to rely on to monitor their seizures when Helmy came up with the idea for his first award-winning smartphone app. 

“I didn’t have a science fair idea yet, and I know that our phones have the same capabilities as the sensors that he was talking about,” said Helmy, 13. “I thought, ‘Why not just use an everyday device to solve a big problem?’”

Helmy was familiar with the basics of programming from building Lego robots growing up and attending NASA camp. With the help of his father, an associate professor in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department at UF, Helmy began to create the software Seizario, which uses the accelerometer inside of a smartphone to monitor human movement.

Seizario can differentiate between normal movements and those related to seizures and send alert to emergency contacts or caregivers. Seizario can also detect falls, allowing it to be useful for the elderly or other patients who are prone to falling and injuring themselves.

“He told me that he wanted to do something that no one else has done before,” said Helmy’s father, Ahmed. “We didn’t know if it was going to succeed or not.”

The two began to use the app to look for patterns in everyday movement that could be analyzed. After consulting with neurologists to test the validity of the app and fine-tuning the programming, Seizario became a success. The app took Amir to the regional and state science fair competitions, in which he won first place.

The duo then created a second app, HeartEra, for the 8th grade science fair the following year. HeartEra also used smartphone sensors to monitor the body, this time giving a reading of heartbeat patterns when the user lies down and places the phone over his or her heart.

It was while Helmy was in Turkey with his family for his father’s sabbatical that he made the decision to continue working with the apps beyond the science fair. Father and son found the International Epilepsy Pipeline Conference, to take place in San Francisco in early June 2014. The conference included a “Shark Tank” competition, which would honor innovators in epilepsy product concepts with up to $200,000 in grant money.

“It was a surprise to us just to be chosen as a finalist,” Ahmed said. “They thought the idea was simple enough to understand and simple enough to implement. It was readily available on smartphones, you didn’t need any extra hardware.”

Helmy and his father then presented Seizario in front of a panel of judges, or “sharks”.

Although Helmy remembers the judges “didn’t even mention us when they were giving away their money that they had,” Seizario won the People’s Choice award – one of the largest monetary awards at the competition with a $75,000 prize.

“When my dad and I got the People’s Choice award [from the Epilepsy Foundation], it really showed that people wanted and needed the product we had to offer,” Helmy said. “I guess that was the biggest moment and realization point for me, that I could really take this to the next level and that this is getting serious.”

A couple of months later in September, the duo submitted HeartEra and Seizario to the Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, known as ACM MobiCom and held in Maui, Hawaii. According to Ahmed, MobiCom is the premier conference in the field of mobile computing.

“I told him the competition is going to be very tough. You’re competing with Ph.D students and renowned professors from MIT and Berkeley, Chicago, all over the world,” Ahmed said. “And he said ‘You know what, let’s try. What do we have to lose?’”

Heartera went on to win first place in the mobile app competition and second place in the start-up pitch conference.

“We went there and people were just excited to see him,” Ahmed said. “I think it’s the first time that a student that was not a college student was participating.”

A few weeks later, and Helmy is back in the daily routine of class and after-school activities typical of a high school freshman. He said he has plans to keep his apps moving forward until they are on the market and available to be used by the public. He and his father plan to launch a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo in the next month to create a community of users for the apps and make improvements.

“I realize after winning all these awards that I still have a lot of work to do in order to make it into a product that will actually help people,” Helmy said.

One of the people who has assisted Helmy in testing his app as a product is Dr. Jean Cibula, neurologist and chief of the Epilepsy Division at the UF Department of Neurology. Helmy approached Cibula for assistance in getting the app tested on a real patient after the app won his school science fair.

Cibula said the app is a significant step in ensuring the safety of epilepsy patients and will help doctors to monitor the health of their patients.

“Currently, one of the biggest issues in treating folks is knowing how often people have seizures,” she said. “People can’t always remember when they’re having a seizure. This will not only log the seizure but send a notice to a family member or designated caregiver.”

Helmy hopes his apps will be available for download within the next six months. He and his father are working with cardiologists and neurologists like Cibula to continue refining the existing apps, and he wants to create new health apps when the time comes.

Biomedical engineer, computer scientist and doctor are all potential future career paths for Helmy. He credits his father for continuing to help him achieve his goal to develop technology that will improve patient’s lives.

 “My dad has pretty much taught me everything I know and he helped me throughout the whole journey,” he said.

Cibula said she thinks the academic community in Gainesville encourages innovation among students like Helmy.

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I think that’s indicative of what kids are doing all over Gainesville. Kids are smart and creative and have this huge reservoir of resources that can be accessed.”

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