By Amanda Jackson on November 22nd, 2013 | Last updated: November 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm
Human trafficking exploits an estimated 100,000 children every year, including right here in the Sunshine State, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports that Florida is one of the states with the highest reported number of human trafficking cases. The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, of which WUFT News is a service, partnered with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Bob Graham Center for Public Service Thursday to discuss the severity of human trafficking in Florida.
“A Conversation on Modern-Day Slavery” brought together journalists, law enforcement officials, attorneys, advocates and even a survivor.
The event was broken down into three segments with four panelists. Each was introduced by a video clip from Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter and panelist David McSwane’s October story “The Stolen Ones,” focusing on child sex trafficking in Sarasota.
Steve Johnson / UF College of Journalism and Communications
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune teamed with UF for a discussion about human trafficking Thursday night.
Elizabeth Fisher, president of the Selah Freedom House in Sarasota, works with young women who have been victims of sex trafficking. Fisher said the first step is trauma counseling.
“Many of them don’t have an education, living on the streets since you were 11 or 12 years old,” Fisher said. “You’re still at that 12-year-old level in so many ways: emotionally, developmentally, psychologically, mentally. So we provide all those different life skills they need.”
Fisher added that it can be hard to combat an issue that doesn’t get much attention.
Panelist Connie Rose said she has been on the road to recovery for more than forty years after being a victim of child sex trafficking to her father. Rose said bringing the perpetrator to justice doesn’t mean it’s the end of the journey for many victims.
“There are so many victims that are addicted to drugs because that’s how the perpetrator holds them; that’s the tie on them,” she said. “Just because you went through court, just because you’re a witness, just because you appear to be okay and you’re starting to live life, you have to carry this addiction around with you.
“You didn’t ask to have to be addicted to drugs. You didn’t ask to be addicted to alcohol. You didn’t ask to have a record.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Florida Frank Williams said interacting with victims and survivors is just one challenge in these cases.
“I call human trafficking a multi-headed hydra … You can’t kill a hydra by chopping off just one head. There’s the law enforcement prosecution head, but we’re not going to kill it that way,” Williams said. “We’re going to have to chop off all the heads, all of us holding a sword at the same time.”
Zach Hughes from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said it’s not just a reality in the Tampa and Orlando areas.
“The heart of the problem is not investigation and prosecuting people, and it’s not trying to bring some normalcy to victims and survivors,” he said. “The heart of the problem is ending the market place, and that’s where we need to be.”
Hughes and Williams agreed the focus should be on elimination as well as prevention. Hughes said there should be anti-human trafficking efforts directed at kids because they are the ones the criminals are after.
By Erica A. Hernandez on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: November 22, 2013 at 10:22 am
Marion County Commissioners threw a curve ball at Project Home Run during Thursday’s workshop.
All five commissioners voiced concerns over the looming March special election, which would present voters with the option to build a $38 million stadium for the Yankee’s AAA minor league team to relocate to from its current home in Tampa.
The total project cost is estimated at $53 million. The five-year tax would raise nearly $83 million, up to $60 million of which would be dedicated to the stadium.
In the City of Ocala’s Project Home Run presentation shown at the workshop, the city requested the county “agree to place the stadium project on the ballot for sales tax referendum (1/2 cent for five years) no later than March 31, 2014.”
District 3 commissioner Stan McClain was the first to speak out during the final portion of the workshop: the board’s discussion time.
“I am not going to be able to support the March ballot,” McClain said to break the ice. Commissioner David Moore immediately agreed with him.
“We need as many voters participating as possible,” Moore said.
Commissioners Earl Arnett and Kathy Bryant also made statements in favor of holding the vote until a regular election in August or November.
“I don’t want to kill it yet, though,” Bryant said as she voiced her concern with the March special elections.
The commission spoke of the possibility of using mail-in ballots in March to meet Ocala’s and the Yankee’s March 31 deadline while also assuring that all registered voters have a fair chance of voting on the referendum.
Though the commissioners raised their concern with the March special election Thursday, they will not make an official decision until they vote on Jan. 7.
In the meantime commission chairman Carl Zalak said he plans to have Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox attend the commissioner’s Dec. 3 regularly scheduled commission meeting to present the details on a possible mail-in ballot. This is the only option that could save the city’s proposed timeline of opening the ballpark in April 2016.
Zalak posed the question to Bruno of waiting for August or November vote instead of a special election during the board’s questioning session earlier in the workshop.
“If we don’t pass in March, if this delays any longer, that becomes a risk for the project,” Bruno responded. He added that other municipalities are interested in housing the team.
The stadium and the land associated with it must be owned by Marion County to be immune or exempt from real property taxes. The stadium would only be exempt from property taxes if the state or county owns it, not if the city does.
Commissioners expressed concern in understanding how the county is liable by owning and leasing stadium back to the city and Yankees organization.
Another point the commissioners raised was the project’s funding and stadium’s ownership.
Most of the commissioners’ questions were addressed to assistant city attorney Jimmy Gooding, after his licenses and purchase presentation. He clarified that the county would not have to own the land but would have to agree to own the stadium premises by Dec. 31.
Thursday’s workshop included an overview of the Yankee’s plan for the stadium, presented by Anthony Bruno, senior vice president/chief financial officer of Yankee Global Enterprises. This was followed by a presentation of the stadium’s proposed location and design by the project’s senior architect Chip Hayward.
The next topic presented to commissioners was the project’s economic impact on the city and county led by Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala-Marion Chamber of Economic Partnership. Douglas Cone, CEP chairman, read aloud a letter in favor of Project Home Run on behalf of the CEP.
More than 25 members of the public shared their opinions and their requests for the commissioners during the public comments portion of Thursday’s workshop.
Speakers were each given two minutes to speak and they were directed to address county commissioners, not the members of the Yankees corporation present. A red, yellow and green stoplight kept order during the more than an hour of public commentary.
Millie Grissom, a 41-year Ocala resident, was part of the minority when she spoke out against the stadium.
“They’re selling this team. It isn’t a Major League Baseball team … it’s a baby farm team,” Grissom said. “For us to be stuck for 25 years on our taxes — it’s just unheard of.”
By Yelena Orrelly on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: November 22, 2013 at 11:22 pm
Michael's father, Brent Pirie, proudly displays his son's UF Marching Band drumline picture.
“We live in a heroic age.”
Those are the first words Andrew Carnegie wrote in the original deed that started the Carnegie Hero Fund. In its 109 years of existence the fund has awarded almost 10,000 medals to recipients in the U.S and Canada, recipients who have displayed acts of civilian heroism.
The Director of External Affairs for the Carnegie Hero Fund, Doug Chambers, explained to the crowd at the concert what an act of heroism is.
“Now when I talk about heroism I need to put this in perspective, we define heroism as someone who risks his or her life to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the life of another person. The rescue does not have to be successful as it was not in this case tonight.”
This Thursday night during the University of Florida Symphonic band concert, a former UF student’s parents were awarded a unique bronze medal in honor of their son Michael Pirie. Michael was a freshman at UF studying marketing and was also a member of the UF Marching Band drumline. Michael’s father, Brent Pirie, said the medal is another way his son’s memory lives on.
“Today’s concert is just another proud moment for me as a dad just to have Michael recognized, his legacy continued how he has touched so many lives. This would have been his senior year here at UF.”
Pirie was not present the day his son passed away, but he can recount the day in detail as if he had been.
“On that day, it was in February in North Georgia and many of the group from UF they go out on excursions just as team building. During this one excursion, Grant Lockenbach, who Michael attempted to save, they were exploring part of the cave while others were just walking the caves and during that season there was a large waterfall and waterfall and one of the bags fell over 125 ft.”
Pirie continues to say how Michael’s friend Grant attempted to scale down the waterfall and retrieve the fallen bag. Grant never came back up. It was at this point that Michael performed the greatest act of heroism and friendship a human being can make, he scaled down the waterfall to find his friend and ultimately lost his life trying to save him.
Michael’s grandfather, Bob Vanderlugt, said although he misses Michael very much he imagines him in a better place doing what he loved most.
“We miss him obviously, you would miss somebody in your family that died but we don’t fret about what’s happened to him because we know he’s in a place now where he’s probably playing music we’ve never even heard of.”
The Carnegie Hero Fund medal comes with a stipend, all of which has been added to the UF Marching Band drumline scholarship that was created in Michael’s honor.
After awarding the medal to family members, the UF Symphonic Band dedicated their last number “Angels in the Architecture” to Michael Pirie’s outstanding act of heroism.
At a time when they were in different parts of the country, six people who now live in Gainesville reflected this week on the memories of where they were Nov. 22, 1963, when former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Robert Porter (who begins speaking at 0:22) was at the University of Iowa attending school to become a surgeon. On the day of Kennedy’s assassination, Porter found himself at home due to an illness.
Dick Martin (0:56) was in the army and on his way back to Maryland after returning from a training exercise. He found out about Kennedy’s assassination when he was riding in a Jeep on Interstate 95 and another car on the interstate flagged him down and told him to listen to the radio.
Susan Williams (1:36) was a junior in high school. Williams said she was sitting in the football bleachers for a pep rally they were having for the football game that night.
She said his death was announced over the loud speaker (1:50), which killed the pep rally.
Nancy Torres (2:09) was teaching classes in Mount Pleasant, Mich., at Central Michigan University. She remembered waking up that morning to watch the news. Kennedy had come down to the lobby of his hotel and the reporters said to him, “Where’s Jackie?” and, “We want to see Jackie!”
“Well she’s worth waiting for isn’t she?” Kennedy said. That was something Torres said she will always remember.
Walter Kalaf (2:50) was a senior minister in Jacksonville, Fla., preparing his sermon. He heard the news when his wife came home.
Audrey Christiansen (3:27) was a second-grade teacher at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. Christiansen said she was able to relate to Kennedy because he had a son that was almost 3 years old as well. She said Kennedy’s son’s birthday may have been the day of the funeral.
By Trevor Sikkema on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: December 10, 2013 at 11:50 am
The book is still in its original material.
WWII Photo. National Archives Public Domain.
WWII Photo. National Archives Public Domain.
Veteran’s Day has come and gone, but the impact from some stories still grow beyond just a national holiday. Sometimes Veteran’s Day gifts can be found from objects people never knew existed.
It was deep connection that only managed to scratch the surface; a father-son relationship that was thought to have run its course. But for Bob McPeek, son of WWII veteran Robert Wayne McPeek, the journey to discovering who his father really was began nine year after his father passed away.
Writing letters, or in this case poetry, can sometimes be the only outlet for people to express who they really are. Bob McPeek believes that to be true for some, but never thought this was the case for his father.
One day, while showing his childhood house to his then wife, McPeek was given a hand-written book titled “Rain or Mud, Shine or Blow” by the woman who lives in the house now.
The book was written by McPeek’s father and told his war stories through poems.
“There are all these episodes to it and there’s a real natural arc to the story,” McPeek said. “It’s got serendipity in it, it’s got emotion, it’s got some level of–I hope–redemption in it because my father and I never had a very close relationship.
Bob McPeek said the relationship he had with his father is one that was not common for a father and son.
While there wasn’t anything troubling or strange with the relationship, McPeek said he never had the time to connect with his father.
After reading the book, McPeek said he finally understands why his dad was never there and the sacrifices he made for his family with limited reward.
“To be able to have this connection with him, and in a sense to say the kinds of things I wish I had the wisdom to say,” he said. “You know, I was 28 years old when my dad died, I didn’t have as much life experience as I have now or as much understanding of what kind of sacrifices my dad had to go through to make it possible for me to grow up in the degree of security and comfort that I did.”
McPeek said his father wasn’t was often gone because he was trying to provide for his family. After he served in the Korean War, Robert McPeek made a career out of the army in order to make sure his wife and son had the resources they needed.
“While my dad was still alive until I was 15 — with the exception of 18 months when we lived together as a family in Germany — for the most part other than that, in my life that I can remember, I don’t have too many memories of my dad; he was gone,” McPeek said. “He lived on an Army base.”
McPeek said the perspective he had at while reading the poems took him back to when his father was a 30-year-old man.
“It was really kind of interesting to see what he was thinking about and writing about when he was a 30-year-old stuck in North Africa fighting Rommel in some of the first action of the war, and then on into Italy and Sicily and so forth,” McPeek said. “Some of it is just filled with his wonder at what he’s experiencing, and some of it is kind of profound musings about life and death, which you know was a daily thing. Some of it is just pure flight of fancy escapism. That was the part of my dad that kind of really surprised me.”
McPeek said he saw a side of his father he never knew existed and seeing expressions and vivid imagination from a quiet man like his father changed the way he viewed their relationship.
“It was pretty interesting to see that side of my dad — the escapist side of my dad, the playful side of my dad — because he was not a very playful guy, or if he was he didn’t show it,” McPeek said. “So I really got an insight into him, several insights into him that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
Bob McPeek concluded that the quiet sacrifices his father made to make sure those he cared about had enough resources to live makes him appreciate what people go through every day for sacrifices that will never be noticed.
“It made me appreciate, more than I had before, the sacrifices he made,” McPeek said. “So I learned that about our relationship, and I learned that I should probably be more aware of the motivations people have, and why people they do the things they do.”
Arts and Entertainment
Tagged entertainment, father, letters, McPeek, poem, poems, secret poetry, son, veteran, war, war stories
By Kathryn Varn on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: November 21, 2013 at 1:54 pm
By JoAnne Ortiz on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: November 21, 2013 at 9:45 am
By Sean Bellafiore on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: November 22, 2013 at 11:26 pm
Home sales in Alachua County were up 27 percent from this time last year, according to a report released by the Gainesville Multiple Listing Service.
In the month of October, 166 homes in Alachua County were sold, compared to just 131 sales in October of 2012 — an increase of about 27 percent.
Realtors agree the increase in home sales is a good indication the real estate market is on an upswing.
Matt Thomas, a broker and owner of Thomas Group Realty said this might be an ideal time to sell your home. Thomas said the increase in sales isn’t a fluke.
“I think that the real estate market is without question improving,” he said. “I think there’s still a ways to go, but we’re definitely working in the right direction.”
He isn’t alone in that thinking.
Gene Anne McKay, senior vice president of Bosshardt Reality Group, agreed the housing market is improving.
“The brokers in our association are feeling very good overall because of the steady stream of transactions that are coming,” McKay said. “We have a ways to go, but it’s all positive indicators.”
Along with the increase in sales came the exponential increase in cash sales. Thomas said that cash transactions were up 100 percent from last year.
This sharp increase is surprising to Thomas.
“I find that interesting because of how cheap interest rates still are,” Thomas said. “Sixty-four out of 175 sales were cash. I think that shows that there are a lot of people out there with money to be spent and that feel strong enough and comfortable enough with the market that they’re willing to invest that kind of money.”
But if one was looking to buy a home, he or she might want to rethink that decision, Thomas said.
“We’re moving away from being a buyer’s market,” he said. “If a buyer is on the fence, I would encourage them to get off. We do know that with the amount of inventory on the market, it’s becoming more of seller’s leverage towards negotiation.”
Both Thomas and McKay think listening to the advice of a realtor could help those looking to purchase real estate.
“I would have a great agent who knows the market, who can help me prepare my house, and I would put it on the market,” McKay said.
By Natanya Spies on November 21st, 2013 | Last updated: November 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm
Courtesy of Kim Walsh-Childers permalink
Holly Cormack, a 16-year-old sophomore (left) and Courtney Evans, a 17-year-old senior, both Color Guard members for the NHS Band of Pride, perform one of their multiple flag routines during the show.
Courtesy of Kim Walsh-Childers permalink
Left to right: Courtney Evans, 17, Ian Childers, 16, Hayley Lovvorn, 15, and Kristen Hunt, 17, performing with cloud tarps and backdrops to complement the “As Light as a Feather” theme.
Courtesy of Kim Walsh-Childers permalink
Jessica Irvine, Color Guard captain and senior at NHS, performs with a smile while incorporating movement into the flag routine.
Newberry High School students have more to cheer for than their football team.
The NHS Band of Pride placed first in the 1A division at the Kingdom of the Sun Marching Band Festival at North Marion High School on Nov. 9 and will compete at the state competition Saturday.
The 38-member band received a score of 86.4 out of 100 in the preliminary competition, placing it first in the state for its division and seventh overall out of 25 marching bands in the North Central Florida region.
The band received the highest rating — superior with distinguished — for every category in which they were judged, including music, visual, general effect, percussion color guard and drum major.
Band director Jermaine Reynolds said the overall score was based on music, visual or marching and general effect, such as using props on the field.
“A lot of them said they never in their life have heard of this band getting a score that high or anywhere near that high before,” Reynolds said.
He said it’s more challenging to be a smaller band because it’s easier for judges to find mistakes in a small band’s performance.
But size has not stopped the band from standing out among the competition.
“The band program was getting very good over the years, but this year and last year, the band has completely kicked it into a different gear,” he said.
Reynolds and show designer Arjuna Myles came up with the idea for the band’s “As Light as a Feather” performance, which included tarps and backdrops of clouds to represent a sky.
Jake Fletcher, 17-year-old junior at NHS and head drum major, said the 10-minute show portrays the journey of a majestic and strong eagle as it soars through the sky to the sound of the music.
“I think before, we knew what we wanted to do, but Mr. Reynolds really lighted the fire and helped us get to where we actually wanted to be,” he said.
Reynolds started at NHS two years ago after graduating from the University of North Florida with a degree in music education, and he recruited his five-member staff when he started at NHS.
“We’re closer knit together and we can actually communicate what we want to do,” Fletcher said, “and it’s easier to push the passion through everybody. We’re all a family here.”
Buchholz High School also went to the finals and placed first in the 4A division. Santa Fe High School won the 2A division, followed by P.K. Yonge High School placing second in the 2A division.
“I wanted to be able to have Newberry begin to join that list of fine band programs in this county,” Reynolds said, “and slowly but surely we’re making our way up there.”
The NHS Band of Pride will compete again Saturday at the 2013 Florida Marching Band Coalition State Semi-Finals at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg. The top five bands will compete in the finals at Tropicana Field.
“All I can do is hope we’re going to do well and perform exactly like we know how to perform,” Fletcher said. “Through really hard work … (we) became as good as we could be. We unlocked all the talents that we have.”
Arts and Entertainment
Tagged 2013 Florida Marching Band Coalition State Semi-Finals, Alachua County, Arjuna Myles, Bucholz High School, Jake Fletcher, Jermaine Reynolds, Kingdom of the Sun Marching Band Festival, marching band, Newberry High School, NHS Band of Pride, P.K. Yonge High School, Santa Fe High School
By Jaime Sloane on November 20th, 2013 | Last updated: November 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm
Old Shoe Woman / Flickr
The Camp Blanding Museum and Memorial Park welcomes visitors to the historic military site in Starke. Camp Blanding Joint Training Center will benefit from an improved airspace control system and mass notification system thanks to a grant from the Florida Defense Support Task Force.
Florida National Guard military base Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is undergoing two safety system upgrades thanks to a grant from the Florida Defense Support Task Force.
The $729,000 grant will go toward installing an upgraded airspace control system and a mass notification system at the Starke-based military facility by the end of 2014.
Bill Garrison, executive director of the Clay County Economic Development Council, said both operating systems will improve safety on the 72,000-acre base in different, yet necessary ways.
He said a Federal Aviation Administration radar providing real-time airspace data will replace its current manual system, which requires an employee standing at the base and monitoring the sky.
“What you have over at Camp Blanding, because of the trajectory of the artillery shells, is a restricted airspace,” he said. “With our current manual system, small planes flying through there could conceivably be shot down.”
The mass notification installation is similar to a loudspeaker system, which can notify everyone on the base simultaneously in the event of a catastrophe, Garrison said.
“When you have this safety aspect of a potential of a shooter on the base and you don’t have the ability to contact everybody at one time, something needs to be done about that,” he said. “It’s hard to argue with the safety issue.”
Garrison called the grant a “big win” for Camp Blanding. The base received about 36 percent of the total $2 million in grants awarded by the task force. Of the seven state recipients selected for grants, Camp Blanding was the only one awarded funding for two projects.
Camp Blanding is the National Guard’s premiere location in Florida, training forces since World War II.
Garrison said this is the first funding the base has received from the Florida Defense Support Task Force’s grant program. Formed in 2011, the task force works for military missions and installations throughout the state.
Rocky McPherson, an employee at economic development agency Enterprise Florida, works to support the task force, and said he believes Camp Blanding won the grant because the base’s viable needs could be met with few resources.
Florida National Guard spokesman Ron Tittle said the grant improvements will be mutually beneficial for both Camp Blanding and its surrounding community. When various private companies, state agencies and civilian groups use the base for trainings, he said it generates a positive economic impact on Clay County.
“It’s a great partnership we have with our community and I think this grant is a great opportunity for us to continue building on that partnership,” he said.
Similarly, he said, the grant will improve the safety and livelihoods of Camp Blanding’s nearly 1,000 full-time employees.
“Our uniformed members as well as our civilian members out at Camp Blanding come from our communities,” Tittle said. “They’re our neighbors.”
Garrison sees the grant as an opportunity to attract more business to the area. He said testing and researching unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones — is a growing industry which requires the high degree of airspace management the new installations will bring Camp Blanding.
He hopes companies will relocate to Clay County instead of traveling as far as Orlando to use the improved airspace.
“It’s a growing industry, a new industry, there’s a lot of opportunity there, but also a lot of controversy with privacy issues,” Garrison said. “But as it continues to expand, Camp Blanding is in a unique position to take advantage of it with this restricted airspace.”