Posts tagged ‘pinellas county’
Link to the full article is here: “A conversation with Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch” : http://saintpetersblog.com/2012/01/weekend-read-a-conversation-with-pinellas-county-commissioner-ken-welch/
Ever wonder what’s on the mind of a county commissioner? I had an in-depth conversation with Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch on some hot topics important to Pinellas County. He talked about the County’s activities, his involvement and perspective on these issues and a little bit about what the community can expect in the near future.
These hot topics include homelessness, The St. Petersburg Pier, transportation–bussing and light rail and his campaign for re-election, representing District 7 in Pinellas County.
Here you can learn a little about Commissioner Welch, too:
Commissioner Kenneth Welch recently launched his campaign for re-election on the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, representing District 7. He has been elected to the County Commission from District 7 in 2000, 2004 and 2008 consecutively.
In addition to serving on the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, Commissioner Welch also serves on the Board of Directors of the Florida Association of Counties, Pinellas County Business Technology Services Board, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization, Pinellas Health & Human Services Coordinating Council, Pinellas Homeless Leadership Network (Chair), Florida DCF Substance Abuse & Mental Health Advisory Council, and other local, state and national organizations.
Yet, with all of his accomplishments, Commissioner Welch is not without opposition. At least two individuals are slated to run against him in the District 7 election, and so Welch’s campaign is moving forward in full-force.
Welch also believes strongly in access–that his community can reach him and that they have easy access to meet with him. To this end, Welch organizes monthly “Community Office Hours” that are in his district so that the people don’t have to travel all the way to the county building to speak with him.
Through these meetings with the public, Welch has learned much and acted on many issues to strengthen the community, including increasing basic services such as access to fire hydrants, park and recreation enhancements, transportation concerns, housing and homeless issues and economic and community development.
Pinellas County presents the “Learn and Succeed Network”–New focus on education from cradle to career
I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council for Pinellas to conduct a one-on-one interview with David Lawrence. Who is David Lawrence? He is the former publisher of the Miami Herald and head of The Children’s Movement of Florida. When I sat down with Lawrence, he began to interview me at once. He wasn’t subtle about it, and I didn’t resist. I was intregued–having been with myself my whole life, I’ve never found myself to be very interesting. I’m curious when others do.
Anyway, the few questions I did present to Lawrence ended with me being extended an invitation to attend a small, invitation only meeting–a gathering of some very influential leaders in Pinellas County spanning nonprofit, government and business sectors. It was here that I learned a little about the formation of the Health and Human Services Coordination Council’s establishment of Learn and Succeed Network, but more why the formation of this Network is of critical importance to our community.
From the article:
Lawrence has researched and stays up-to-date on many compelling facts to make his case for children in Florida. He reported alarming facts about the state of education right now. These facts illustrated enormous need in that 28 percent of third graders cannot read proficiently, and 3/5 of eighth graders are not reading at grade level. About 80 percent of childcare is nothing more than storage and warehousing with little to no education and learning taking place. When 90 percent of a child’s brain growth ends at the age of five, it is clear that early learning is critical to the future success of our county and its children.
Lawrence also is a man of intriguing etiquette, fully knowledgeable on Pinellas County statistics as well. He knew his audience. He went on to discuss some of the strengths that Pinellas County has, which can be leveraged to make an impactful change for this initiative, including diminishing unemployment, a manageable population growth rate, higher than most Florida counties’ per capita income, strong foundation and infrastructure.
Lawrence also mentioned that Pinellas County has in its midst a pioneer for children’s services—the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas—which was the first children’s services council in Florida. JWB has served as a model for the other 10 children’s services councils in the State.
Yet, while Pinellas County has many strengths, one overarching concern that commonly plagues discussions about education is finances. The cost of reform and new initiatives is a marked concern across the nation, state and even locally.
Recently, Governor Rick Scott allocated an additional $1 billion to education for the State. At first glance, that may seem like a helpful move, but it isn’t. In February of last year, Governor Scott cut Florida’s education budget by $1.3 billion. Now that $1 billion has been added back, the State is still $300 million behind while the State has approximately 30,000 additional students to serve. Additionally, as property taxes support schools, and as property is valued far less than it was two years ago, this is even more revenue subtracted from education.
While this does sound dismal, hope rests in the fact that Pinellas County considers education and children a priority. Lawrence said, “It is not that [we] lack resources. The resources need to be reallocated to reflect the priorities of the people.” Lawrence stresses that for education reform to really be effective there cannot be a focus on “those kids—the disadvantaged ones, the minorities, the ones living in poverty. The focus must be on equality—equal access to high quality education, resources and opportunities of all children.”
One sixth of our schoolchildren are living in poverty and about 50 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many of these same children come to school with more base problems that trump the need for reading, writing and math today such as food insecurity, homelessness, neglect, etc. Schools must then divert its role away from education to managing social problems and triaging issues.
In the end, all of this knowledge needs to translate to change. And this is what the Learn and Succeed Network is hoping to accomplish. The biggest return on investment is in early childhood development. This knowledge is echoed even through St. Petersburg College President William Law. Dr. Law states that even St. Petersburg College is examining pre-kindergarten and elementary school as an initiative, because it is the foundation of all education. Beyond this, career training, apprenticeships and diploma programs are being examined to provide greater employment opportunities to provide a smoother transition from education into careers.
As for the Learn and Succeed Network, it is currently under rapid development. I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council to interview David Lawrence and to learn about the emerging Learn and Succeed Network. I ended up attending a meeting with a select group of rather powerful individuals comprised of local leaders and business persons in Pinellas County. These individuals have been asked to consider participating with this new Network due to the wide breadth of pertinent knowledge and resources that could help ensure the Network’s success.
As a native to Pinellas County and a graduate of Pinellas County Schools, I for one am grateful for these efforts, and I hope for much success as the Learn and Succeed Network forms and begins its important work. On February 8, 2012, the first official activity of the Learn and Succeed Network will take place at the St. Petersburg College, Seminole Campus. This event will focus on creating a common agenda through identifying key goals and measures. Additionally, workgroups will begin developing strategies to achieve these goals. This is an open event and registration is required through the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LearnandSucceedPlanning2012.
Link to full article here: http://saintpetersblog.com/2012/01/bill-fosters-mayors-night-out-offer-access-but-not-much-transparency/
The most recent Mayor’s Night Out, hosted January 12, 2012 at the J.W. Cate Center provided unparalleled access to many departments represented by City Hall. Mayor Bill Fosterpromotes these events as an effort to improve access and transparency regarding city government. Indeed, bringing leadership representing many city departments out to the community provides extraordinary access, but I’m not so sure transparency is increased much. Not yet.
There are certain political buzz words that provide a sense of comfort among citizens. One of these is “transparency.” It’s a great word. It gives a sense of accountability—of a government laying all of its cards on the table for all to see everything exactly as they are. There would be no airbrushing and nothing hidden in a corner. Everything would be wide open for all to see. And with the Mayor’s Night Out events, that isn’t something I experienced there.
What these events do provide is fabulous access to Mayor Foster, to City Council, and many city departments were represented including Billing and Collections; Engineering, Water Resources and Capital Improvements; Housing and Community Development; School Programs; Police; Fire Rescue; Sanitation, Storm Water, Pavement and Traffic Operations; Zoning and Permitting; Transportation and Parking; Codes Compliance; Neighborhood Partnership, Libraries, Parks and Recreation; and Codes Compliance.
My View: If the citizens of St. Petersburg truly want transparency, they must participate in it. The access is most certainly there in a fashion that cannot be criticized. What is needed for true transparency to be realized is for citizens to go to these events and demand answers to tough questions. Require follow-up and reporting on issues that are of the greatest concern to citizens from the city. The citizens of St. Petersburg must take an active leadership role as both a partner and critic of their local government for transparency to be a reality. Mayor Foster, the City Council and city departments have certainly put themselves out there—It’s up to us to make transparency happen.
At the St. Petersburg City Council meeting held January 12, 2012, the council voted unanimously to approve the Community Contribution Tax Credit, allowing an additional 50 percent state tax credit for those who make contributions to the Rebuilding Together Tampa Bayorganization.
Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay (RTTB) reports that its purpose is to repair homes of those in need. And that it intends to preserve and revitalize houses and communities, in the Tampa Bay Area, assuring that low-income homeowners live in warmth, safety and independence.
It’s great to see the City of St. Petersburg support great organization such as RTTB. According to RTTB spokesman Mario Farias regarding the city approved Community Contribution Tax Credit, “We are using this to entice more corporations to donate to RTTB in their mission to rehab the homes of low income home owners. Our focus is always to help the elderly, disabled and veterans in making their homes safe, healthier and more energy efficient. RTTB is a great organization. We have some big plans for the Campbell Park area in 2012.”
Thanks Mario, and thanks to RTTB and The St. Petersburg City Council for prioritizing the rebuilding, revitalization and development of our community!
My latest Patch.com article: http://palmharbor.patch.com/articles/caregivers-help-communities-understand-the-hardships-of-poverty-723a8df3
More than one in six Floridians are living in poverty — the highest the state poverty rate has been in more than a decade, according to census figures recently released.
Sixteen percent of Floridians were below the poverty level in 2010, up from 14.6 percent in 2009, reflecting a continuation of a steady climb in recent years. Florida’s 2010 rate is the highest it has been since 1995, when it was 16.2 percent. The census data reflect the first full calendar year after the recession of December 2007 to June 2009. (Poverty rates published for local counties in 2009 included: Pinellas County, 13.3 percent; Hillsborough County, 15.2 percent; Pasco County, 13.2 percent; Manatee County, 14.4. percent; Sarasota County, 12.7 percent.)
As for today, October 2011, anecdotal evidence from local social service providers and unemployment statistics paints a picture that is increasingly bleak. This portrait has poverty levels rising even more day by day in response to our country’s current economic recession.
Understanding Leads to Solutions
JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County (JWB) recently partnered with Angelica Norton, founder and CEO of Seed Sowing Sister to create an innovative curriculum, The Poverty Experience. I had the opportunity to participate in The Poverty Experience a few months ago at The Hispanic Leadership Council’s annual conference, and the experience was profound.
The Poverty Experience is a simulation that lasts one hour — 15 minutes equals a day, and families are formed among groups of one to five strangers randomly assigned individual scenarios including age, income and needs of specific family members, rent payments and medical expenses.
Initially, participants are calm, exploring the long lines, politely smiling at one another, moving from station to station to buy food, pay rent, get food stamps, pawn belongings, get to doctor’s offices and buy bus passes.
That’s only for the first 15 minutes. After that, the simulation begins to hit home. People begin to realize they can’t make it. They have not had time and/or money to buy food. They keep getting sent to the back of long lines. They run out of money for transportation. Children wander off in the crowd, and the police remove the children from the families, charging them with abandonment and neglect. People get evicted from their homes because their rent is past due.
The behavior of the crowd changes. They rush from line to line and get annoyed when another person gets a job and they get turned down. Jealousy sinks in. Actual frustration and a sense of urgency take over, and the lightbulb goes off — this is how many of our neighbors live every day.
Core Hardships of Poverty
Five core problems arise when individuals are struggling in poverty. These include:
- Affordable housing
- Adequate food
- Affordable child care
- Access to communication: phones, addresses, email, Internet, etc.
Without these needs being met consistently, poverty can turn quickly into a downward spiral of progressive illnesses, homelessness and legal issues, including the potential of losing custody of children due to inadequate child care. I have included a video with this article (see above). Benjamin Kirby, communications director of JWB, interviews Jane Walker, executive director of Daystar Life Center, and they discuss many of these issues along with some real solutions.
Bring the Experience to Your Group
The Poverty Experience simulation is available to groups in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the nation. The simulation is designed to help deepen understanding and compassion, which often sparks solution-building.
To bring the simulation to your group, contact Angelica Norton, executive director of Seed Sowing Sister, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Shelba Waldron, training manager of JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County, at email@example.com.
In my latest Patch.com article, I began recalling my time working at the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center–my first job ever with Operation PAR, Inc. in 1999. I spent a lot of time hearing stories from youth–some funny, many tragic and others wildly disturbing. Over the years, some of these stories never leave you. One of these I highlighted in this article. Children need voices, they need someone to look out after their rights. When parents and caregivers fail them, who is there to look out for these kids?
The answer: often it is a volunteer, a dedicated member of the community assigned by the court–a guardian ad litem.
I recently interviewed Maria Costa, community outreach coordinator for the Guardian ad Litem Program in the 6th Judicial Circuit.
“A guardian ad litem is an independent voice, advocating for the best interest of the children,” Costa said. “The guardian ad litem has no other agenda than to see the child in a safe, stable and permanent home.”
Check out the full article here, and please leave a comment or just say hello on the website. Until next week…