St. Petersburg’s SHINE Mural Festival returns with artists from around the world

St. Petersburg’s SHINE Mural Festival returns with artists from around the world

By Edyn Gottlieb

Artist Emily Ding’s fawn mural on the Rob Graham Enterprise building at 100 7th St. S in St. Petersburg. Photo by Edyn Gottlieb

The annual SHINE Mural Festival returned to St. Petersburg for the seventh year, adorning the city’s arts district with 16 new murals.

SHINE is committed to uniting and transforming the community by converting public spaces into outdoor galleries with a diverse collection of artists.

The festival ran from October 15-24 and was produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, a nonprofit that started the event in 2015.

Over the past seven years, SHINE has brought over 100 murals to the city.

SHINE attracts the best mural artists both locally, and from across the globe. This year, artists traveled from as far as Germany and Columbia to participate in the nationally recognized festival.

Auraileus, a St. Petersburg native, was ecstatic when he was selected by SHINE to be an artist in this year’s festival.

“I’ve always wanted to participate, I am really trying to be a famous artist because I love art and I really like to eat, so I can’t be a starving artist,” Aurailieus said.

Auraileus has been a part of the local art scene since before SHINE began.

Prior to the festival, there was already a growing mural movement in the city, but Aurailieus feels that SHINE was able to take the movement to the next level.

While this is his first time participating in the festival, Aurailieus has adorned the city with several murals over the years, many of which have been painted over or lost to history.

Aurailieus’s work is colorful, creative, and imaginative and uses a combination of fine and urban art. For Auraileus, inspiration is not hard to come by.

“I am an inspiration sponge,” Aurailieus’s said. “Maybe it’s ADHD, maybe it’s how rampant capitalism and advertisements bombard your brain with thirty thousand images a day, but everything is everywhere all of the time. You can drag a spoon through the air and eat delicious inspirations soup.”

Aurailieus’s mural can be found on the Zen Art building at 600 27th St. S. Auraileus hopes that when people visit his mural they will stop and, in that moment, feel happy they are there with whoever they are with.

Artist Emily Ding traveled from Texas to participate in SHINE. She has been painting murals for almost five years.

Ding was thrilled when SHINE reached out to her with an invitation to participate in the festival. She has wanted to paint with SHINE since she first learned about the festival in 2018 when she drove through St. Petersburg on her way to Miami.

In her art, Ding strives to portray emotions and experiences for the viewer with bold colors and expressive creatures. Her mural depicts a fawn surrounded by foliage.

“The tree in front of the building gave me the most direction for a design,” Ding said. “The tree blends in very well. I’m aiming for a feeling of tenderness and growth.”

Ding’s mural can be found on the Rob Graham Enterprise building at 100 7th St S.

The festival also brought three community “Bright Spots” murals to the area, which are intended to engage and inspire the community. This included a week-long, mural-making tutorial led by Tampa-based artist, Jujmo.

Jujmo worked with the children in the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation art club, a program designed to close the achievement gap for students in South St. Petersburg, to give them hands-on experience making a mural. Six days into SHINE, Jujmo felt the festival was an experience like no other.

“My favorite part so far has been the full immersive experience of hanging with the artists and being a part of something really special for St. Pete,” Jujmo said. “The whole staff has worked tirelessly to create an amazing atmosphere for us, and it truly is an honor to be a part of SHINE.”

Jujmo’s mural can be found on the A-1 Recovery building at 2221 5th Ave. S.

While this was many artists’ first experience with SHINE, others have been a part of the festival since its inception.

Chad Mize is a multimedia artist, designer and muralist and was an artist at the first SHINE festival in 2015. For the past three years, Mize has worked on the curation side of the festival and is part of the team that selects which artists will participate in the annual festival.

In 2018, Mize opened the MIZE Gallery in the Historic Uptown neighborhood. On Oct. 22, the gallery hosted an exhibit that featured 77 artists and celebrated the conclusion of the seventh SHINE Mural Festival.

Artist Jujmo’s mural on the A-1 Recovery building at 2221 5th Ave. S in St. Peterburg. Photo by Edyn Gottlieb

Traveling front-line worker finds escape in Tampa and St. Petersburg amid pandemic

Traveling front-line worker finds escape in Tampa and St. Petersburg amid pandemic

By David Melhorn

USFSP Student Reporter

TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG – Traveling nurse Halle Pinizzotto knows that the pandemic is plaguing Florida, but this did not deter her from accepting an offer to fill a position at Tampa General Hospital.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to be a nurse,” Pinizzotto said. “I went to a specialized high school that offers a Health Sciences program. I just knew that I wanted to help people to the best of my ability. When the opportunity presented itself, I was more than ready to go to Florida. I’ve never been to the area, and to be able to do my job with the beach not far away was clearly enticing enough to solidify my decision.”

Pinizzotto works in the ICU at Tampa General Hospital primarily with coronavirus patients with high oxygen requirements and the critically ill. She has worked two out of her three-month contract with Tampa General Hospital.

According to reporting from the Tampa Bay Times, Florida has reported 3,409,165 coronavirus cases with 48,722 deaths due to the coronavirus as of Sept. 17, 2021.

“The truth is most of us are exhausted,” Pinizzotto said when asked how morale is in the hospitals. “But the reward of taking care of a patient and seeing them improve keeps us going.”

After changing into her isolation scrubs and donning her protective equipment, Pinizzotto typically reviews orders, labs and medications before proceeding to check the patients’ IV drips, ensuring that they are full and braces for the ensuing shift.

“We are spread very thin. So not only are we in unsafe circumstances because of the raging coronavirus all around us, we are unable to provide the care we would like to because we have more patients than safe and limited resources. Maintaining your morale is difficult with so much sadness around,” Pinizzotto said.

Tampa General Hospital is a 1,041-bed non-profit research and academic medical center located on Davis Island in Tampa. TGH was recognized as one of America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report 2021-22 according to the hospital’s website.

A Tampa Bay Times reporter recently spent 12 hours in a COVID-19 ICU ward in Clearwater, documenting what nurses and other hospital staff experience on a daily basis. The report also detailed how health leaders are seeing nurses feeling demoralized, exhausted, and frustrated over still having to deal with people who will not wear a mask or get vaccinated.

It has become increasingly frustrating for healthcare professionals such as Pinizzotto, who continues to work herself to exhaustion every day and witness the coronavirus firsthand, only to come home and see friends on social media debating the seriousness of the pandemic.

“I would urge them to talk to someone who is seeing it firsthand,” Pinizzotto said. “I don’t even have the energy for people like that anymore because it is truly exhausting to see people dying all around you and people tell you that it’s not real or that you’re lying about it. I’ll never be able to express the sadness and trauma that I will carry around the rest of my life because of working in the COVID-19 ICU for the last year and a half. It won’t get better if people don’t start doing their part. Until then, people will keep being hospitalized and dying and eventually the health care workers will be so burnt-out people will be lucky if hospitals ever have adequate staffing or safe conditions/patient ratios ever again.”

Pinizzotto is no stranger to going to states that are surging with coronavirus cases. Before Tampa, she was assigned to a hospital in Dallas, Texas, which is flooded with new daily coronavirus cases much like Tampa. Pinizzotto is from New Jersey and worked in Arizona before Texas. She graduated with a nursing degree from Widener University in Pennsylvania in 2016.

“One thing that has shocked me about working in Florida the most is the lack of vaccinated people including those in the healthcare profession. What has also shocked me is that this place is all about freedom, but marijuana isn’t legal,” Pinizzotto said. “The biggest difference working in Florida compared to other states is that Florida protects their healthcare providers well (as far as I have seen) from violence in the workplace more seriously. However, they don’t compensate the nurses as well for how hard they work you the way that northern and far western hospitals have done. This is also noted anytime you tell a recruiter you want to work in Florida- they warn you about this.”

With the constant stress and sadness, Pinizzotto urges people to find a way to cope and unwind. Pinizzotto knows that there is much to do in the area and tries to experience as much of it as she can after recovering from a grueling work shift.

“I have been so impressed with the area. I find myself trying to convince all my friends to visit here. From the beaches to the bars to the people, the vibe here just feels very genuine to me,” Pinizzotto said.

Some of her favorite experiences in the area include John’s Pass, Downtown St. Pete, Whiskey Joe’s, Teak at St. Pete Pier and Oystercatchers in Tampa.

“If I had to convince someone to move here, I would take them to St. Pete Beach and Downtown during the day with dinner on the St. Pete Pier. I would tell them about the beautiful beaches around the area and cool bars and restaurants to try. It’s also just full of beauty with the bay, water, trees, parks, and wildlife,” Pinizzotto said. “Florida is a lawless place. People are allowed to do almost anything they want, and I understand why that is desirable. I am in love with the beach towns all around. People seem happy here.”

When asked if there were still something she would like to do before she leaves Pinizzotto said, “Tiki hut boat bar ride at John’s Pass, Siesta Key Beach, and Bern’s Steakhouse.”

Pinizzotto could not find many things she dislikes about Florida. When I asked, she only said, “I don’t know… gators!? Significant less money but it’s a great destination. Lastly, no one is vaccinated.”

Halle Pinizzotto, center, is a traveling nurse who has spent the last two months in Tampa and St. Petersburg amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

STEM women are hidden no more

STEM Women
Dillon Mastromarino | USFSP
(From left to right) Valeria Edelsztein (Argentina), Mariella Galea (Malta), Aurora Villagra Acosta (Paraguay) and Penester Tjale (South Africa) bring STEM education to children in underserved areas.

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – Geologist Penester Tjale recalled a day when she visited one of her secondary schools in her home country of South Africa.

She looked around a classroom brimming with students from grades seven to nine and asked them a simple question: Do you know what a paleontologist is?

No one could give her an answer.

This brought back memories of her high school. Tjale said she never had a female math teacher or a physics teacher who was female and also black.

“I realized these kids need to see someone that looks like them for them to believe it is possible to also become a scientist,” said Tjale. “Hence I took it upon myself to go around and do what I do.”

As one of the 50 voices speaking across America in the “Hidden No More” initiative, Tjale was one of eight women leaders who spoke at USF St. Petersburg on Nov. 4 about the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Inspired by the award-winning film Hidden Figures, “Hidden No More” is a program championed by the U.S. State Department and Walt Disney Co. This initiative is designed to showcase the work and accomplishments of international women in STEM.

Though the women participating in the program are from various countries, they perform similar initiatives of developing and bringing STEM education to young girls and children in underserved areas.

In order to reach younger generations about the professions available to them, many of the women organize programs and activities for students so they’re exposed at a young age to the opportunities that STEM education has to offer.

Aurora Villagra Acosta, a high school science and biology teacher in Paraguay, said the first step in introducing STEM education for younger generations is to create spaces for outreach and education on STEM subjects.

According to Acosta, these spaces expose students to the practical application of science in the real world and exhibit the work and collaboration of professionals in various STEM fields.

Nsama Mataka
Dillon Mastromarino | USFSP
Some children in Zambia “have never even held a test tube,” says Nsama Mataka.

Mariella Galea, mathematics education officer of the Ministry for Education and Employment in Malta, organizes activities for girls and young students to immerse themselves in STEM subjects outside the classroom.

These activities give students the opportunity to interact with professionals who share their work in various STEM fields such as medicine, engineering and architecture.

“These girls need (to see) female professionals in various areas so they can see what STEM subjects can offer them for their future careers,” said Galea.

Agne Jogis, a secondary school chemistry and physics teacher in Estonia, said younger students are conditioned to believe science is too difficult.

“The children get that from home,” said Jogis. “They feel that they don’t know science or chemistry or physics, yet they haven’t learned it at all.”

In Estonia, when children start learning sciences like chemistry and physics in eighth grade, Jogis said she will begin the year’s first chemistry lesson with a question: What do you think about chemistry?

Many of the children believe that it’s hard or that they are incapable of excelling at it.

As the year goes on, Jogis implements experiments and activities for students to better understand the curriculum while also breaking down preconceptions about science.

“And as we go on, I’ll ask them again. And they’ll be like, ‘I didn’t think it’d be so easy!’” said Jogis. “I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it gets harder, but as we go on, they tend to lose their prejudices.”

As program officer for the National Science and Technology Council, Nsama Mataka specializes in STEM education for young students in Zambia. Through her STEM initiatives, Tjale focuses on schools in remote areas of Zambia with disadvantaged communities.

“When we first started with the pilot project in the south of our country,” said Mataka, “you find you’re implementing this STEM initiative in a school where children have never even held a test tube.”

According to Mataka, before they began their STEM initiative in the south of Zambia, there had never been any children from the areas who had progressed from primary school to junior high.

After their initiative, Mataka and her team had 13 students involved; six of them girls. One of the girls progressed to one of the best technical STEM schools in the country.

“It was a good feeling for me,” said Mataka. “Especially since it was my first… it was like a pilot. So now we’ve started drilling it out to other districts and provinces.”

The “Hidden No More” initiative was hosted by the Open Partnership Education Network, a USF St. Petersburg-based organization that tries to bring the world to the Tampa Bay area. OPEN’s mission is to create a smarter, better connected community that learns and grows together.

Partnering with OPEN is World Partnerships, a St. Petersburg-based organization founded in 2000.

World Partnerships hosts global leaders under the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The program has been responsible for bringing over 200,000 new generation leaders to America, including Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi.

World Partnership’s collaboration with OPEN has brought leaders and thinkers from around the world to Tampa Bay. Their joint goal is to foster a more connected world through professional and educational encounters.

These artists work where they live

Jonah Hinebaugh | USFSP
Ether Aall, who moved from Switzerland, brought the neighborhood artists enclave back to life.

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – Inside the home of Mary and Anthony Grieco, paintings abounded. They lined the walls, sat propped up on shelves and lay neatly organized in canvas print racks.

One house over, orange arrows directed visitors to the home studio of Nancy Jones, who creates stained glass artwork. Pieces sat unfinished with tools still resting on the work table, giving guests an intimate look into her work.

Those were two of the 13 home studios that were open to visitors on Oct. 19, when the Old Southeast Artist Enclave hosted a self-guided tour.

Two streets away are the homes of Ether Aall and Scott Durfee, who lives with his former partner, George Medeiros.

All three played intricate roles in not only organizing the event but also turning the neighborhood into a place where artists can work out of their homes.

The Old Southeast neighborhood, which lies just south of USF St. Petersburg between Fourth Street S and Tampa Bay, has a variety of house styles, from modest cottages to homes valued at more than $600,000. Many of the residents are renters.

Aall focuses on sculpting and metalwork. Her pieces feature renditions of insects and amphibians.

She moved to the neighborhood from Switzerland in 2016 and learned about the neighborhood’s designation as an artist enclave.

“I should probably check (the enclave) out and see what has been done or what I can do,” Aall recalled saying. “So I started to talk to people in the neighborhood and I said, ‘I would love to bring this alive.’”

The enclave mirrored the one in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood, which was already thriving when Durfee began seeking the same designation for the Old Southeast.

Durfee and Medeiros moved there in 2003. Their home, which they’ve dubbed “Spathose,” doubles as a studio where they created jewelry from recycled material, dresses and paintings.

In early 2010, Durfee said, there was a push for art initiatives in the city. That meant Spathose was allowed to become a studio as well as a home.

By 2014, both the Old Southeast and Historic Kenwood were designated “Artist Enclave Overlay Districts” by the city.

According to St. Petersburg’s municipal code, artist enclaves “encourage a mix of small-scale, home business uses oriented toward or supporting the visual, performing and cultural arts, while maintaining the residential character of the underlying residential neighborhood.”

The city code also says that these enclaves are normally established within “single-family residential neighborhoods where artists may live, create work and market their art.”

Jonah Hinebaugh | USFSP
Scott Durfee led the first push to organize the neighborhood enclave.

To become an artist enclave, at least two-thirds of residents in a proposed district must give their approval.

Durfee said he worked closely with members from the Historic Kenwood Artist Enclave when he established the enclave in the Old Southeast.

“This proposal was going to help all artists in St. Petersburg by bringing more attention to the already ever-growing artist movement,” Durfee said.

But then Medeiros and Durfee halted their partnership, leaving the enclave inactive and without leadership.

It stayed that way until Aall took over and began reorganizing.

“I had visited Historic Kenwood, and I knew what they were doing,” Aall said. “I thought, OK, we could do that, too. I actually started to recruit people and started to bring them over to do meetings here. I got people who are interested in the artist enclave and let them know that we are planning to start making these events happen.”

Her goal was to model tours after the tours in Historic Kenwood, but the push to organize events was tricky.

Some skeptical residents supported the first petition several years ago but feared it would get “too big, too soon” and fizzle out once again.

“They were very skeptical, especially people who were part of the petition many years before,” Aall said. “They said, ‘Oh, this is not gonna work out,’ and ‘Don’t make it too big too soon.’

“I have a vision. I wanted to bring it to this point. I said, ‘I’m just going to go for it and whoever comes on board comes on board and who doesn’t? I’ll do it.’”

First was finding funds for the supplies that were needed for the tour. Her idea was to hold a logo contest. After a winner was chosen in June, the logo designs that were submitted were auctioned off.

The group also set up at the Old Southeast Market at 1700 Third St. S at least once, allowing artists to put their work up for sale. This helped secure flyers, balloons, maps and signs for the group’s first event.

“I think something like an artist’s enclave in a neighborhood takes time,” Aall said. “I’m thinking back to Historic Kenwood because I think at the beginning they had a hard time bringing it up to speed, and now they have been around five years.”

What seems most important to her is showcasing the talent of all artists spanning the city’s five arts districts, museums, enclaves and outsiders.

“I think there’s space for everyone,” she said. “If they bring people from the outside in, it gives exposure to what lies beyond us.

“Creativity goes beyond borders, so there’s no border for only St. Petersburg. I think we should be open to everything.”

Rising sea level poses peril for city

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – The public official who oversees St. Petersburg’s infrastructure and a professor who specializes in climate change have a warning for the residents of St. Petersburg.

The years ahead will bring serious, expensive problems.

“The air is warming, the sea level is rising, and our climate is changing in many ways that stress the city’s infrastructure. We need to be discussing this,” said Gary Mitchum, an associate professor of physical oceanography at USF’s College of Marine Science.

Mitchum and Claude Tankersley, St. Petersburg’s public works director, shared a microphone on Nov. 20 when the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and the Kate Tiedemann College of Business hosted a breakfast-time speaker series called Sunny Side Up.

Tankersley, Bradenton’s public works director from 2008 to 2016, has worked for St. Petersvburg since January 2016.

Mitchum holds a doctorate in oceanography at Florida State University in 1984. He spent 11 years researching short-term climate changes, decadal processes, and long-term sea level rise problems with the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii.

Mitchum is now associate dean for research at the College of Marine Science.

The two tapped their work experience and knowledge to give a presentation dubbed “Reimagine Rising Oceans.”

“What I used to call nuisance flooding is now a serious problem and we need to prepare for future changes,” said Mitchum.

Nuisance flooding is minor flooding that occurs at high tide. It is often associated with minor impacts such as old sea walls overtopped due to an increase in rainfall intensity, climate conditions, and degrading water systems flooding low-lying areas.

Mitchum used a decadal graph chart to predict the elevation of the sea level over the next eight decades.

“Over the past few years the intensity of this city’s rainfall has increased, and the nature of Florida’s climate is impacting sea level rise,” said Mitchum.

Florida’s climate is classified as a monsoon. That means the state experiences heavy rainfall for several months followed by several dry months.

“The combination of our climate and the increasing intensity of rainfall is a burden to our city’s infrastructure, and it will cost us billions of dollars to invest in a solution,” said Mitchum.

How does the rising sea level affect the city’s water system infrastructure? What are other problems must we face because of it?

Mitchum passed the mic to Tankersley to answer those questions.

Tankersley connected how the sea level rise impacts the city’s wastewater management systems, infrastructure and people.

“We rely on wastewater systems to remove any contaminants from our water so it can be returned with little impact on the environment,” said Tankersley

“The effects of intense rainfall and our climate conditions have increased the sea level, endangering the wastewater system and our citizens,” said Tankersley.

Another issue that worsens is flooding.

In 2016, Tankersley said, he received phone calls from residents complaining about flooding they had never experienced.

“People think they are not affected by sea level rise because their home is not close to the sea wall,” he said.

They do not understand that the combination of climate change and the increase in rainfall intensity is breaking down the infrastructure.

Water moves through the infrastructure system to filter out sewage and other contaminants. However, excess water surrounds the exterior of the pipes, which causes them to rust.

Most of the city’s wastewater systems are only 10 feet above the current sea level.

“What if a hurricane cuts off power supply for months and we get stuck with poor wastewater systems? This is a problem I worry about and am working on solving,” said Tankersley.

The impact of rising sea level is expected to change the city drastically over the years, and the only thing the city can do is plan, Tankersley said.

“As of now we are focused on moving forward with the research and knowledge we have and forming an effective solution we can use immediately,” he said.

Her knees are nicked; her goal, teamwork

Ray Grace
Dylan Methot | USFSP
Ray Grace, shown with some of her students, is one of six AmeriCorps teachers who live on campus.

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – She is known as an art teacher by day and a skater by night.

Not rollerblades or skateboards – she rides quad skates. That means four wheels and toe brakes. Think disco.

Her name is Ray Grace. She teaches – and lives – at Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg. When she looks through the rectangular windows in her classroom, she can see the white window of her upstairs apartment, surrounded with pink painted panels.

Academy Prep Center is a special, tuition-free school for students who live in the low-income, predominantly African American neighborhoods near the school at 2301 22nd Ave. S of St. Petersburg.

The students, who are in grades five through eight, attend six days a week. They work in small classes, with a lot of one-on-one attention from teachers like Grace, and when they depart Academy Prep the staff helps place them in good high schools and monitors their progress there.

Since it opened in 2005, the school says, 99 percent of its graduates have gone on to graduate from high school on time and 70 percent are now college students or graduates.

Grace, who is from Tampa, is one of six specialty teachers who teach and live in furnished apartments on campus through the AmeriCorps program. She is also pursuing a doctorate is arts education from USF.

Her scarred knees are testimony to her skating ability, which she constantly works to improve. Throughout the week she can be seen cruising around the St. Petersburg Regional Skatepark at Campbell Park or by the water downtown.

“I use skating as a way to strengthen my ties with the community and to promote physical awareness,” said Grace. She frequently meets up with groups of skaters to hone her skills.

And when she falls, she gets back up.

“Ray has smiled after taking a fall when most people would have cried from the pain,” said Melissa Isaacs, a friend and fellow book lover.

Ray Grace Working
Dylan Methot | USFSP
Grace’s students work through limitless artistic options.

In her classroom one day this fall, she waited calmly whenever students started talking over her. Working with youngsters can be tough, but Grace approaches it with patience and understanding, said Samuel Luna, a music teacher at Academy Prep.

In a recent class with sixth grade girls, Grace created a lesson plan that taught skills that are applicable in all classes and life. Grace called these skills “transfers.”

Teamwork was the main goal of the lesson in which the girls created Marc Chagall- inspired stained glass.

They used tri-fold display board, construction paper, colored pencils, scissors, and a lot of glue.

First, the girls had to decide on the design for the shutters. With the tri-fold display board closed, they glued on their paper shutters till all the negative space was covered. Some chose a simple repeating pattern while others went for abstraction.

Once the shutters were completed they were allowed to go to a “mystery box” full of collage materials. What they gathered would be used to cover all the white space on the inside of the board.

Throughout the period the girls went through waves of focused silence to roaring laughter and conversation. They all wore black shoes and dark green polos with blue shorts, pants, or skirts.

The focus was on the task at hand, not what each person was wearing.

Four beige metal tables covered with dry paint were the main features of Grace’s classroom.

Music played as the girls worked in groups at each table full of colors and endless artistic options.

Bits of paper, markers, and glue sticks covered the floor by the end of the class. They all worked together to clean up the mess and stack their chairs.

Then it was time for lunch.

His job is a slam dunk

Davie Gill
Courtesy St. Petersburg College
At first, Davie Gill says, his post at St. Petersburg College felt like “an arranged marriage.”

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – Twenty-five years ago, Davie Gill was a three-sport athlete at Jeffersonville (Indiana) High School with aspirations of becoming a sports star.

His grades were not good enough for the scholarship offers that came from Division 1 schools. So Gill went instead to Garden City Community College in Kansas to play basketball, run track and earn an associate degree in education.

He then transferred to Eckerd College in St.Petersburg, where he was a three-year starter for the basketball team and got a bachelor’s degree in American Studies with a concentration in sports American culture.

When Gill’s sports career was eventually derailed by hernia surgery, he began a career in higher education administration at St. Petersburg College, where he is now athletic director with responsibilities over six teams.

In that role, he oversees budgets and fundraising, game day operations, broadcast media arrangements, and the eligibility and conduct of SPC’s student athletes.

“When I started this journey at my job it felt like it was an arranged marriage,” said Gill, 42. “But in this case I actually realized the (job) is amazing and fell in love with it all.”

Gill was hired by SPC in July 2000 to coordinate the Brother to Brother program, an endeavor designed to enhance the college experience of African Americans. The program encourages students to get involved through school activities or community service.

Gill helped develop the program and enjoyed the experience. “The cool part about it was how different the approach was. We took tremendous pride in creating interracial relationships and bonds for people who have never done so before,” said Gill.

Brother to Brother gained national recognition for its efforts and success, he said, and “graduation rates (around the country) quadrupled from 20 percent to 81 percent.”

Despite that success, SPC eventually decided to drop the program.

Gill, who was named athletic director in May 2015, describes his job as team oriented. “I would say some of the challenges we face is that we lack resources. Finding students or citizens who want to get involved and enjoy is always helpful.” said Gill.

Being an athletic director has its strange moments.

“Flies keep flying around my peer’s office, and now they have assigned me to find whatever dead animal is causing it,” said Gill.

Gill also served a term as state adviser for the Florida College System Student Government Association.

“I went to one of the parties and gave them a suggestion. The next meeting I come to realize I was nominated to be the state adviser unanimously.” said Gill. In September 2019 he was inducted into the Florida College System Student Government Hall of Fame to acknowledge his contributions.

Gill is now working to bring the Brother to Brother programs back to St. Petersburg College.

“We already have scheduled meetings happening soon,” he said. “The program may seriously return in spring of 2020. The mission the program represents holds value and the results have spoken for themselves.”

Gill, who is pursuing a master’s in sports administration at Troy University in Alabama, has been married to Kim Pogonowski-Gill, a chiropractor, since October 2005. They have a daughter, 9.

Psst! Food pantry is a well-kept secret

Support-a-Bull Market
Ashley Campbell | USFSP
The Support-a-Bull Market was supposed to help address student hunger.

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – When the campus established a food pantry last spring, both Student Government and administration stressed that it would help students who sometimes go hungry.

Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock said that addressing what he called “food insecurity” would help students concentrate on their academics, keep them in school and improve the campus’ student retention rate.

The retention rate is one of the yardsticks, or metrics, that the Legislature uses in determining whether a school becomes, or remains, a “preeminent research university” that is entitled to extra state funding.

But so far the new pantry – called the Support-a-Bull Market – has the appearance of a well-kept secret.

It’s in a room off a hallway on the first floor of the Student Life Center. There are no signs pointing the way to the pantry, and most of the time the door is padlocked.

A sign on the door says the pantry’s hours are “TBD.” If students need help, the sign says, they should call the office of the dean of students at (727) 873-4278.

So far, about 20 students have used the pantry, said Joseph Contes, the assistant director of the Office of Student Outreach and Support (SOS).

The pantry is the responsibility of SOS, which is charged with helping students manage stress and the barriers that affect their health and wellness.

The SOS website describes what items are available in the pantry, which relies primarily on monthly food donations from RSC Pinellas (Religious Community Services Inc.), a nonprofit charity that helps people facing hunger, homelessness and domestic violence.

As of October, more than 500 pounds of food had been donated, according to SOS.

The website also lists the hours the pantry is open: Mondays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 8 to 9:15 a.m., Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

So why is the pantry tucked away like an afterthought and open only 13 and a half hours a week?

And why aren’t the hours of operation posted on the padlocked door?

Contes, 33, said that SOS can’t afford to keep the pantry open for more hours.

Dark Pantry
Ashley Campbell | USFSP
Most of the time, the pantry is dark and its door padlocked.

“There is no recurring funding,” he said. University alumni donated about $5,000 for the pantry and that’s all SOS has to work with, since the university itself provides nothing, he said.

The location is out of the way because it was the only space available, he said. He hopes to move the SOS office to the SLC so it is closer and more convenient for the pantry, but all of the offices there are being used, he said.

If a student wants to request food, they must call within business hours and wait for someone to come help them. Then the student fills out an intake request form, provides their U-number and gets a receipt to take items from the pantry.

For some students, it might be embarrassing to admit they are financially strapped and hungry.

But the pantry does not provide discreet access. The students who use it must be monitored “to make sure the resources aren’t abused,” said graduate assistant Meghan Yacinthe, 22, one of the two students who staff the pantry.

SOS can only afford to pay for one work study student for the year. The other student monitor works for the university housing staff.

Despite the pantry’s bumpy start, Contes has ambitious goals for it.

He wants to increase student use, develop sources of recurrent funding, and get a refrigerator for fresh options like bread, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products.

Most importantly, he said, he wants to tear down the stigma that people only go to a food pantry when they are in dire need. He wants students to use the pantry even if it is just for a snack between classes, he said.

Without more funding, however, it is unclear how long the pantry will stay open. The donated funding was only enough to open the pantry and pay for one student employee for the year, said Contes.

This month the university began a “Herdfunder Drive,” asking faculty, staff and friends of the university to contribute so that the pantry’s hours can be extended and its offerings expanded to include hygiene products like toothbrushes.

As of Dec. 11, 34 donors had pledged $1,365 – 46 percent of the goal of $3,000. The drive is scheduled to end Dec. 16.

His credo: Treat everyone with respect

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – The waiting room at St. Anthony’s Hospital smelled of latex and disinfectant.

Sick people waiting to hear their names and weary family members watched as a towering police officer escorted in a disheveled man with hands cuffed behind his back.

As the officer checked in with reception, the shackled man shuffled over to the water fountain. Using his knee to turn on the water, he bent over. But his lips couldn’t reach the arching stream.

Over his father’s phone, a wide-eyed child neglected his video game to watch the man struggle for a drink. A bearded man with a prosthetic leg stamped with an NRA logo eyed the shackled man cautiously.

When he noticed the man in his custody had wandered away, the 6-foot-4-inch officer moved quickly. But when he recognized the problem, the officer held down the button until the man had drunk his fill.

Then officer Justin Woolverton turned the man over to hospital personnel for a mental health evaluation under the state’s Baker Act.

Woolverton, 28, has been an officer at the St. Petersburg Police Department for two and a half years. His rule of thumb: treat everyone he meets with the empathy and compassion he believes every person deserves.

“I mean, does it suck that we’re constantly stigmatized and hear phrases like ‘f— the police?’ Yeah. But you can’t take anything in this job personally,” said Woolverton. “It’s my job, not my life.”

Woolverton said he always wanted to be a police officer. He and his family moved from Philadelphia to Hillsborough County when he was 14.

Woolverton attended Durant High School in Plant City and received an associate degree from Hillsborough Community College. He’ll be married a year this February, and he plans on going back to school so he can advance in his career.

According to Woolverton, if officers aren’t pushing paperwork back at the station, they’re most likely out on the road.

While on the road, an officer’s duties consist mostly of self-initiated activities, like scanning for DUIs or probing for drug-related crimes. However, those tasks come second to assignments relayed by police dispatch.

Officers usually stay in their assigned district unless directed otherwise. Dispatch then assigns officers to zones, or sectors, to follow up on calls for law enforcement assistance.

After Woolverton stopped for gas and told dispatch he was “10-8” (available for service), he was immediately assigned a TWI (trouble with individual) at Suncoast Center.

The Suncoast Center is a mental health clinic at 4024 Central Ave in District 3, Sector 91.

While making his way through neighborhoods and back roads to avoid rush-hour traffic, Woolverton said a majority of the calls he receives are related to substance abuse and domestic issues.

Another officer met Woolverton at the back entrance of the Suncoast Center, where a social worker led them to an office in the west wing. It turned out that the man that Suncoast was having trouble with has had previous encounters with the two officers.

The social worker who called police said that the man’s girlfriend had recently come back to town, reigniting his former drug habit. Since the officers knew the man, they were able to persuade him to go with them to St. Anthony’s Hospital.

St. Petersburg’s major problems revolve around narcotics, the immeasurable homeless population and auto thefts, said Woolverton. “This city stays very busy.”

Shortly after leaving St. Anthony’s, dispatch assigned Woolverton a “Code 10” (stolen vehicle). He arrived to find several detectives from the Police Department’s property crimes unit. Some, he said, used to work alongside him as patrol officers.

While the detectives waited for forensics staff to arrive and collect evidence from the stolen car, Woolverton patted down the suspect and placed him in the back of his van. Detectives do not have suitable transportation for people under arrest.

After the suspect was put into the system by one of the detectives using Woolverton’s portable laptop, Woolverton took him to the Police Department.

Charged with grand theft auto, the suspect was then stripped of his shoes and personal belongings and given another pat-down before being placed in a police van for transport to the county jail.

When asked what he likes best about being a police officer, Woolverton said, “I like that this job has something different every day. It keeps things interesting.”

Then Woolverton climbed back into van and resumed his 10-hour shift of pencil pushing and patrolling the streets of St. Petersburg.

He chose police work over finance

Liz Stockbridge | USFSP
St. Petersburg’s biggest problem is drugs, says officer Cameron Wade.

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – A man with a gun was reported walking into a neighborhood grocery on 16th Street S, and police officers at the scene needed backup.

So officer Cameron Wade stepped on the gas.

With his siren blaring and lights flashing, he briskly maneuvered through congested streets, driving over medians and zipping through intersections.

“The fastest I’ve ever driven is 20 mph over the speed limit,” he said calmly.

When Wade arrived at the grocery store 10 minutes later, his colleagues had already resolved the situation.

So Wade, 24, turned around and resumed patrolling the nearby neighborhoods.

Wade graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in finance but soon realized he didn’t want to do anything with finance.

Wade met his wife, Abby, when he sold her a handgun and later saw her walking her dog in the apartment complex where they both happened to be living. That’s when their love story began.

He always wanted to join the military but chose law enforcement instead because he wanted to stay home with Abby. Police work gives him the chance to serve but still come home every night.

Wade, who joined the St. Petersburg Police Department a year ago, enjoys the freedom of not being stuck in an office all day.

“I feel like I am out actually living my life,” Wade said. “I can make a difference, I can help people, I can do my own thing, I can see the sun, and I’m also getting paid. It’s my job, but it’s also another way to experience life.”

The worst part of his job is getting intense calls and finding himself in harm’s way, he said.

There is no shying away from those situations, especially if he is the primary officer, he said. To remain calm, he focuses on his duties and imagines returning to his wife after his shift.

Wade says he has had an impact in handling domestic cases.

“There have been plenty of domestic situations I’ve been to where people want to turn their lives around, and I think I’ve given them the final push to actually get away from their partners,” Wade said.

But St. Petersburg’s biggest problem, he said, is drugs.

Narcan, a drug that can counter the effects of narcotic overdoses in emergency situations, saves a lot of people, he said, but once the users are saved, they usually end up doing it again.

Wade says the most common overdoses he witnesses usually involve heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids.

The Addiction Center, which describes itself as an informational web guide for people struggling with substance abuse, says that “nonmedical opioid use is an alarming issue in St. Pete; in 2015, Pinellas County reported 179 accidental drug-related deaths, with 55% of those deaths related to opioid prescription drugs.”

When he is not responding to overdose calls, Wade patrols the streets near Tyrone Square Mall and deals with many retail theft calls.

Wade says he doesn’t like the way police officers are portrayed in the media because it usually focuses on the negative, like police brutality.

He routinely listens to the podcasts of Joe Rogan, a stand-up comedian and mixed martial arts TV commentator, and appreciates Rogan’s recognition and respect for police officers.

“We need them (police) and we need them to be more respected and appreciated,” Rogan, 52, said on a podcast titled “Good Cops and Bad Cops.”

To unwind from his shift, which lasts from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Wade listens to rock and metal music, such as the band Periphery, while crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge.

On his days off, he likes to travel with his wife, utilize his annual pass at Walt Disney World, and relax with his dog, Lazarus, and cats, Nala and Sushi.

He wants to remain a patrol officer for a couple of years to become more comfortable in the role but hopes to work for the K-9 unit at some point in his career.