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Clearwater kids with who have had difficulty with law enforcement and keeping up in the classroom have found a new resource to get back on track toward graduation.

Many of these students have lost academic credits — but through Operation Graduate, many are recovering academic credit and on the path to their cap and gown.

Credit recovery students completed Operation Graduate, each with his or her own unique success story. Twelve students received certificates of completion August 4th, 2011, during a ceremony at Clearwater Police Headquarters. The following two success stories highlight the positive impact this program has had on participating students. United Way of Tampa Bay has been a partner in this program and the results are optimistic.

A teenager with a 0.5 GPA missed 118 days of school and was arrested five times between 2010 and 2011. When this teen entered the program he was skeptical and not convinced he was able to graduate. He was encouraged to put the effort forth in credit recovery to get back on track in school. The teen was present every day for Operation Graduate’s credit recovery program and earned a half credit for English and is well on the way to completing the second half credit. A half credit is equivalent to half of a normal school year. Since joining the program, the teen has not had additional contact with law enforcement other than mentoring.

Another teenager never attended a full day of school last year.
This teen had a 1.1 GPA and was arrested six times in the past two years. She was also skeptical of the program and was also encouraged to put forth an effort in the program. She has earned one full credit in algebra, making up for two failing grades. Since joining the program, this teen also has not had additional contact with law enforcement other than mentoring.

The credit recovery portion of the program includes juveniles who are currently on probation. Officer Christian Zarra is the coordinator and works with the Department of Juvenile Justice. “This job is more than about making arrests. It’s about helping people,” said Ofc. Zarra. “We don’t want to simply continue arresting these kids. We want to do something to help change their lives.” During yesterday’s ceremony, several children spoke about how Operation Graduate changed their outlook on life and gave them a second chance and a new dream. Due to confidentiality and public record laws exemptions, no names or photos will be released.

Operation Graduate seeks to increase the number of youth with on-time graduation, introduce high school students to college and work experiences, help develop life skills and provide students and their families with service referrals and interventions. Partners include the Clearwater Police Department, United Way of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg College, Clearwater Campus, Pinellas County Schools, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Clearwater Parks and Recreation and the Upper Pinellas Ministerial Alliance.


Through many months of hard work and marriage of community and agency, the Sulphur Springs Resource Center became a reality on Saturday, March 28 when the grand opening was celebrated.

“The center will provide training and services that the community identified that it needed, said Emery Ivery, vice-president of United Way’s Community and Partnership Development. “Teamwork is what makes this so special.”

Services and programs that will be provided include: financial literacy, financial assistance, employment training, legal assistance, and GED training.

The center will be open Monday through Friday and occasional Saturdays starting April 13. It will be staffed by United Way partner agencies: Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, and Bay Area Legal Services. The Tampa Bay Workplace Alliance and Hillsborough Schools will also provide training.

“A lot of partners and committed individuals worked together – a neighborhood alliance, agency partners, schools – to support Sulphur Springs and the vision to make it a better place. It took awhile, but there’s been steady progress along the way,” said Paula Kay, United Way Community Partnership and Development Manager.   United Way partners include: Cy and Joanne Spurlino, J.P.Morgan Chase, Hillsborough County Schools, Time Customer Service and Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Inc. IBM provided in-kind donations of computers while Refurbished Office Furniture provided office furniture for the center.

As the efforts move forward, United Way will gather data from the center’s programs, continue to convene community partners, advance further training opportunities, and secure resources for the center to prosper.

“This is a cause for celebration. People came together with this shared vision to make it happen: to support families,” Ivery said.  More than 75 people attended the grand opening from throughout the region, but especially from throughout Sulphur Springs.

For more information about the Sulphur Springs Resource Center, contact Paula Kay, Community Partnership and Development Manager, at 813.274.0936.

by Debra Faulk

Amidst a fanfare of front page news and features on-line and on television and radio, Imagination Library of Hillsborough County made its debut on February 26, 2008.

Imagination Library is not an actual building, but a program founded more than 10 years ago by Country-singer Dolly Parton as a gift of encouragement to children in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee.

Today, there are almost 800 Imagination Library programs in three countries; with Hillsborough County’s program having the potential to be the largest in the world. 

Imagination Library gives eligible babies and toddlers a new, age-appropriate book each month, free. Eligible children are all children living in Hillsborough County born on or after September 1, 2006, regardless of income. Upon registration, hardback books are mailed to the child’s home. Research tells us that children get ready to read years before they start school. This “getting ready” — or “early literacy” — is what children know about reading before they can actually do it by themselves.

Why bother reading to your baby? Clearly, he or she can’t understand what you are doing or why. But do you wait until your child can understand what you’re saying before you start to speak? Do you bypass lullabies until your baby can carry a tune? Or wait until your child can shake a rattle before offering toys? No, no, and no. So why wait to read 

Reading aloud to your baby is an important form of stimulation. It teaches them about communication; introduces concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes; builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills; and gives babies information about the world around them.

Best of all, it is a wonderful shared activity that continues for years to come. Like all members of Hillsborough County’s Imagination Library partnership, the United Way of Tampa Bay is committed to help improve early learning opportunities for all children by providing easily accessible, age appropriate books in the home.

To learn more, register, or make a donation,   visit 

Amira Forto stood in the shade as she watched the improvements being done on her St. Petersburg home, watching volunteers work in the heat and humidity to get the job done.

The job was a home mini-makeover: complete with interior and exterior painting, plumbing and electrical repairs, and minor carpentry work. What at first glance appeared to be a weekend project from friends and neighbors of Amira was something much more. It was a product of United Way of Tampa Bay Day of Caring.


United Way Day of Caring, held on October 18th, mobilized 130 local companies and more than 2,000 volunteers to assist 58 local non-profit agencies with everything from landscaping to clean up to mini-makeovers like Amira’s.

This project was supported by more than 20 volunteers from Pinellas County Schools, and organized by the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, a United Way partner agency. Read the rest of this entry »


The United Way of Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers teamed up on October 10, 2007 to provide new sports equipment to Sulphur Springs Elementary School as part of the National Football League’s nationwide collaboration, Hometown Huddle. 

Through the efforts of the United Way’s community impact initiative, Buccaneers players Sammy Davis, Ike Hilliard, Matt Lehr, and Maurice Stovall joined team mascot, Captain Fear, in personally delivering the equipment for the school’s Physical Education Department. Jump ropes, baseballs, footballs, soccer balls and goals, basketballs and nets were donated for use in the school’s Physical Education curriculum.  

Led by Sulphur Springs principal Cora Wimberly, the school was in frenzied form for the arrival of their beloved Buccaneers. Handmade pennants, hats, banners adorned the school’s playground, while many children and teachers were dressed in Buccaneer jerseys and t-shirts honoring their hometown team. Chants of ‘Let’s Go Bucs’ were echoing throughout the school’s playground as the players arrived. 

The Buc players joined Emery Ivery, Vice President of Community and Partnership Development, in talking about the community impact efforts of the United Way and the importance of hard work and success. They then put the new equipment to good use, playing basketball, jumping rope, and participating in parachute games with the kids.  The NFL and United Way’s Hometown Huddle is a collection of hands-on volunteer projects implemented simultaneously on a single Tuesday in different NFL cities across the country. 

Thanks to Hometown Huddle 2007, the Buccaneers and United Way ensured that the children in Sulphur Springs will enjoy their physical education experience on a daily basis.



To kick off National Volunteer Week, more than 350 United Way volunteers spent this past Saturday (April 14th) at Bay Pines Veterans Administration Hospital, helping to make the grounds more beautiful for the patients there. Watch the video to hear what our President and CEO, Diana Baker, had to say about the day.

Note: Click the button in the center of the video image. On some browsers you may have to click it twice.

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