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ALACHUA ‒ At Santa Fe High School, being at the top of their graduating classes is a family affair—or rather, a ‘families’ affair—for two current and two past students.

Rylie Tam has been named the school’s 2022 valedictorian, while Megan Walls is this year’s salutatorian. Earning those tops spots is certainly a significant achievement. But what makes them even more noteworthy is that just two years ago, Rylie’s older brother Ethan was the school’s valedictorian, while Megan’s sister Lacey was the salutatorian.

Principal Dr. Tim Wright says he’s not surprised by the students’ success. He says their families were certainly focused on education and encouraged their children to make the most of their opportunities. But he says the students were also very self-motivated—for example, taking many challenging Advanced Placement courses while at SFHS.

“They all took command of their learning and were always seeking out opportunities to challenge themselves,” said Wright.

Rylie admits she’s always been very competitive, which made the news about being at the top of her class even more gratifying.

“It was always a joke that I would never let Ethan beat me at anything, and so when I found out I was super happy that I accomplished that,” she said. She added that he was also happy to hear the news.

Lacey learned about her younger sister earning salutatorian honors as she was wrapping up the semester at Tuft’s University in Boston, where she’s majoring in economics and sociology.

“I thought it was really hilarious that it worked out that way,” she said. “We all knew each other growing up, we were at High Springs (Community School) together, so it’s cool to see it pan out like this.”

Did her older sister’s salutatorian status in 2020 have an impact on Megan?

“It was motivating, but there was also pressure on top of that,” said Megan, who will be going to Boston University this fall to study environmental science and sociology. “I feel like everyone thought Lacey was the more ‘book smart’ sister, so it was reassuring for me to make it as salutatorian too.”

Rylie said her brother’s achievements motivated her as well.

“Growing up with an older brother, I always wanted to be like him and accomplish what he did, so being able to follow in his footsteps was really cool,” she said.

Rylie has earned a full scholarship to Butler University in Indianapolis to play Division 1 Volleyball and study biology. Her brother Ethan is currently studying anthropology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

“I think all four of them will attack college just like they did high school,” said Principal Wright. “There are no limits to what they can achieve because they’ve always set such high standards for themselves.”

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Former High Springs resident and business owner Suzie Ann Clark passed away on April 1, 2022, at the age of 82.

After earning a degree in massage therapy, Clark moved to High Springs in 1995 where she opened the Wellness Spa of High Springs.

She was a member of the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, volunteered for the High Springs Historic Society and created items for the Historic Museum to sell to earn money. Clark served on the High Springs Parks and Recreation Board from 2002 – 2021.

She was also a member of the League of Women Voters. Her philosophy was, “If you want to make a change, then you needed to be involved, be educated and vote.”

She joined the GFWC High Springs New Century Woman's Club in October 2001 and served in many positions and as president from 2004 – 2007.

Clark also held sewing sessions with a group of avid seamstresses in her spa facility to create burial outfits from bridal gowns for babies who were born but didn’t survive childbirth or who died very young.

“She was a staunch supporter of first responders, always smiling and embracing High Springs police officers with a hug and ensuring that we were wearing our protective ballistic vests,” said High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard.

Clark was active with senior programs in High Springs and throughout the area. Clark participated in Senior Recreation Center events in Gainesville, where she showed off her humbug bags, quilts and other stitched items. She spearheaded Zumba classes at the High Springs Civic Center that continued for almost two decades (pre-COVID) and continued the program at her spa in later years.

She was also one of the founding members of the High Springs Garden Club and Community Garden.

An early morning telephone call would find Clark on a walk for exercise with friends and to enjoy the morning air and get caught up on what her walking friends were doing. If she wasn’t out taking a walk in town, she would be walking along the beach collecting driftwood. She was also a member of the High Springs Yellow Belly Sliders Bicycle Club.

She was passionate about quilting and adored collecting unusual and interesting materials for her creations. A display of her quilt work is currently at the Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center located behind City Hall.

Clark was an active member of the Tri-City Quilters Guild and also loved to make clothes. Each year for Christmas she would make her granddaughters all sorts of clothes including vests, shirts, and sweaters. She also loved to make humbug bags, mug rugs and cross-stitched bookmarks. Clark always said quilting was a stress reliever and described it as “therapeutic.”

She ushered in the Quilt Trail program into High Springs and made sure other quilters knew about the program so they would come and view the quilts on buildings around High Springs.

Clark was a soft touch for any cat or kitten who was hungry or didn’t have a home. For years she would gather up feral cats and have them spayed/neutered. Many of the cats stayed to become her own. She fed many of them outside and accepted some who were tame enough to be house cats into the house.

She was especially fond of and bragged constantly about her grandkids and their accomplishments. She created gifts for them throughout the year and enjoyed sharing stories about how well they were doing in their chosen areas.

In her formative years Clark graduated high school in 1957 from Kenmoore West in Buffalo, New York. From there she went on to graduate in 1961 From Buffalo State Teachers College with a bachelors’ degree in home economics. She eventually returned to school for a degree in recreation and gerontology from Brockport College.

During her college years, Clark married and became a mother to her only child, Monica.

She worked in a variety of jobs including Western New York Child Care and Catholic Family Center at Holy Cross and St. Michaels. Clark was not only a Girl Scout leader, but also, she was a paid Girl Scout who taught women how to be Girl Scout leaders. She was also an inspector of day camps and camps.

A woman of many talents, Clark worked at the Strong Museum constructing exhibits as well as teaching recreation at St John Fisher College for over 20 years.

As if her career and being a mother wasn’t busy enough, in 1969 her farm was the first licensed organic farm in Orleans County. She was also a very talented folk musician, who played a variety of instruments including the Hammer dulcimer, auto harp, mountain dulcimer, and the spoons.

In 1971 Clark started the Turtle Hill Folk Festival in Rush, New York, which just celebrated its 50th year in 2021 and Clark was proud to be in attendance for the 50th year anniversary of this festival. Turtle Hill got its name because it was first held on her farm behind the garage where there was a hill that resembled a turtle.

For over 20 years Clark was a member of the Golden Eagle String Band and during that time the band worked on five records, two videos, one tap, two song books and a CD. The band had a national recording contract with Folkways Records and two of their records are now part of the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution.

Clark also loved to garden and composted before composting was popular. Her family acknowledged that she could grow some amazing strawberries. She had a large coy fish pond that made her garden extra special. She was multi-talented and crafty. One of her projects was to make Faberge-style eggs and she also built furniture.

Clark always had a smile on her face and loved to laugh and joke. She used to say, “My 4 F’s keep me going: Family, friends, fabric and felines.”

She will be deeply missed by family and friends.

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WALDO – Three men who authorities say are Mexican nationals have been arrested on drug and weapons charges. Helio Rolando Lopez-Elizalde, 23; Edwin Giovanny Mendoza-Verdugo, 20; and Jorge Mario Velasquezgii, 40, were arrested Wednesday, May 11, in Waldo and charged with possession of trafficking amounts of heroin, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and committing a first-degree felony with a weapon. All three said they were born in Mexico and listed an extended-stay hotel in Gainesville as their address; no driver’s licenses or other U.S. identification cards were listed for any of them.

An Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy conducted a traffic stop at 3:52 p.m. at 16400 N.E. County Road 1475 in Waldo on a black Chevrolet Malibu for multiple tint violations. The deputy reported that the front windshield was tinted all the way down, and the driver’s side window was darker than permitted by law. The deputy reported that Lopez-Elizalde, the driver, said he did not speak any English. Translation services were used to obtain his name.

Velasquezgii, the front seat passenger, spoke a small amount of English and reportedly told the deputy they were from Mexico and working in construction, but they were off work that day. He reportedly said they were heading toward Interstate-75 to go to the hospital, but the deputy noted that they were heading north, in the wrong direction to get to I-75.

After Mendoza-Verdugo got out of the back seat, the deputy noted “multiple nervous indicators” from the passengers, and a K9 team walked around the vehicle, resulting in a positive alert for contraband. All three occupants were pat-searched for weapons and placed in the back seat of a patrol car.

The deputy reported that he conducted a probable-cause search of the vehicle and found a plastic bag with a brown rock-like substance that later tested positive for heroin, which weighed over 250 grams, including packaging. The deputy also found a loaded handgun that was in reach of all the occupants of the vehicle.

When the deputies returned to the patrol vehicle to place the subjects in handcuffs, they found blue pills that were identified as Oxycodone. A further search of the vehicle found another loaded handgun under the driver’s seat.

Post Miranda, all the occupants of the vehicle reportedly denied knowledge of any illegal contraband inside the car.

All three were charged with possession of a trafficking amount of heroin, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and committing a first-degree felony with a weapon. Lopez-Elizalde has an added charge of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and is being held on $275,000 bond. Mendoza-Verdugo is being held on $250,000 bond. Velasquezgii is being held without bail; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) has requested a detainer for him.

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ARCHER – Alachua County Fire Rescue responded to a vehicle crash with fire on State Road 45 in Archer on Thursday, May 12. Engine 82 and Tanker 82 arrived on the scene to find a dump truck that had struck a tree. Engine 82 extinguished a small fire in the engine compartment and also mitigated a diesel fuel leak from the fuel tank.

Additional units that also responded were Engine 81, Rescue 81 and Alachua County Fire Rescue District Chief 8 and Gainesville Fire Rescue’s Hazardous Material Team, who were cancelled enroute after the fuel leak was stopped. The Alachua County Office of Environmental Protection also responded to assess the environmental impact of the fuel spill.

The driver was transported to a local hospital for treatment of his injuries.

The crash is under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol.

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TALLAHASSEE – Today, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) named Trinity Brooke Whittington, a fourth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Bell Elementary School in Gilchrist County, as a finalist for the 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year award. The announcement came during a surprise visit to Bell Elementary School, with Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality Dr. Paul Burns imparting the honor. The Florida Teacher of the Year program recognizes excellence in teaching and celebrates outstanding professional educators in schools across the state. The 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year winner will be announced on July 14 in Orlando.  

“Great teachers not only impact their students, but also their schools and their communities,” said Incoming Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. “My congratulations to Trinity Brooke Whittington for your selection as one of five finalists for the 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year award.” 

“We are very proud of Trinity Brooke Whittington. She’s an outstanding teacher and excellent role model for our entire community,” said Dr. Jim Surrency Gilchrist County Superintendent. 

“Mrs. Whittington’s classroom is a place of magic, where children are hooked from the moment they enter until the moment they leave. The relationships she develops with students, parents and colleagues are true and binding,” said Suzanne Mathe, principal of Bell Elementary School.  

Trinity Brooke Whittington has lived in the Gilchrist community her entire life. She has served as a fourth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher for the past five years and focuses on creating engaging lessons that affect her students in positive ways. Mrs. Whittington also teaches about service by leading school-wide efforts to provide blankets to the local nursing home, and by starting a library swap program to promote literacy. Her personal academic journey includes earning a bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University, where she graduated summa cum laude.  

Five finalists were chosen for 2023 Teacher of the Year from nearly 185,000 public school teachers throughout the state. After each school district selects its teacher of the year, a selection committee representing teachers, principals, parents and the business community reviews each district application on the basis of outstanding ability to teach and communicate knowledge of the subject taught, professional development, philosophy of teaching, and outstanding school and community service. The winner will serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education.

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NEWBERRY ‒ On a hot May 6 morning, law enforcement officers from the Santa Fe College Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua Police Department, High Springs Police Department and the UF Police Department, gathered at the Jonesville Publix Supermarket parking lot.

They were there not because of a crime, but for their annual charity run called the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) that helps fund the Special Olympics.

They were joined by members of the Alachua County Fire Rescue, Santa Fe High School students, Special Olympics athletes and community volunteers to participate in a 1.2-mile run/walk. All together there were over 40 runners. Each volunteer or law enforcement officers was wearing a purple Special Olympics shirt they had purchased. The shirt sale is one of the main ways the Special Olympics receives their donations. Another group called the Gull Street Rods brought several custom cars to exhibit along the designated route.

There was also a number of special needs residents attending from Tacachale in Gainesville, which is the oldest and largest community for Floridians with developmental disabilities. These residents were there to watch the race and cheer on the runners. Before the run, an Olympian style torch was lit to be carried by runners and special needs athletes.

Accompanied by a police vehicle escort, the Torch Run started at the Steeple Chase Shopping Plaza in Jonesville before heading south on Northwest 140th Terrace. Runners made their way toward West Newberry Road before ending with a brisk walk retracing the route back to the plaza.

The Special Olympics was the vision of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family that included Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities who wish to participate, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness and gain confidence in themselves.

Neither athletes nor parents are charged a fee to participate in the program, and activities exist for those of all ability levels, from the highly functioning to the severely challenged.

Over the years the program has evolved into Special Olympics International — a global movement that today serves over 6 million athletes and Unified partners in 174 countries.

The Torch Run has been held annually since1981 when Wichita, Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon created the Torch Run. With the support of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the event has spread across the country with over 97,000 law enforcement members participating in different Torch Runs.

There were over 188 torch runs held in 2019 in various communities and there are now 92 programs worldwide. Known as Guardians of the Flame, law enforcement members and Special Olympics athletes carry the “Flame of Hope” into Opening Ceremonies of local competitions. They also carry it into Special Olympics State, Provincial, National, Regional and World Games.

The flame symbolizes courage and celebration of diversity uniting communities around the globe. The Torch Run has continued to grow over and now includes other fundraising platforms. These platforms include: Plane Pulls, Polar Plunges, Tip-A-Cops, and more. Since the beginning, LETR has raised over $600 million for Special Olympics programs.

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Tallahassee, Fla. – On May 19, 2022, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE) arrested Terrance Jamahl Allen of Wyoming, Michigan after approximately 1,900 pounds of cannabis was found in his vehicle following his failure to enter and submit for inspection at an Agricultural Interdiction Station off Interstate 10 in Suwannee County.

OALE officers stopped Terrance Jamahl Allen of Wyoming, Michigan, for failing to enter Agricultural Interdiction Station 6A and submit for inspection. Allen, driving a rented six-wheel U-Haul truck, was found to be transporting a large amount of cannabis (64 boxes for a total weight of 1907.8 lbs). Allen was booked into the Suwannee County Jail on the following charges with bond set at $1,037,000:  

  1. One count FS 893.135.1a Trafficking cannabis over 25 lbs.; Felony 
  2. One count FS 322.212 Possession of Fictitious Identification; Felony 
  3. One count FS 322.212.1a Possess or Display Fictitious Identification; Felony 
  4. One count FS 570.15 Failure to Stop for Agricultural Inspection; Misdemeanor  
  5. One count FS 843.02 Resisting Arrest Without Violence; Misdemeanor

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TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today announced a settlement agreement with a commercial fishing captain. Darrell York of the commercial fishing vessel, Watch Out, agreed to pay $22,300 restitution for resource-related crimes dating back to 2015. 

“This case is a great example of our commitment to working with our state and federal partners in bringing those who show complete disregard for Florida’s natural resources and are actively evading officers to justice,” said Col. Roger Young, FWC Division of Law Enforcement.  

Officers with the FWC’s offshore patrol vessel program first encountered York in 2015 when he and his crew discarded their catch of illegal red snapper and grouper during a pursuit. Through multiple encounters and tips from the public, officers determined the captain had constructed a hidden compartment on the vessel. During a stop in January 2021, officers discovered 13 red snapper and one gag grouper in the hidden compartment. Case information was presented to special agents with NOAA and, in April 2022, York and prosecutors with NOAA reached a settlement agreement for a restitution payment of $22,300.

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GAINESVILLE - The University of Florida ranks first among public universities and second nationwide in a new report that evaluates which U.S. universities are best at moving new discoveries from the lab and into the real world through research commercialization and STEM graduates.
The report, “Research to Renewal: Advancing University Tech Transfer,” was produced by Heartland Forward, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “think and do tank focused on improving economic performance in the center of the United States.” It evaluated American universities based on their success at infusing discoveries into private industry to yield an economic return.
The metrics included invention disclosures; number of licenses and options; licensing income and startups formed; citations of university articles contained in patents granted to firms; and relative number of STEM graduates.
The report noted that in their evaluation UF “is the top public university. It has a huge student body … and research enterprise. Its technology transfer prowess was seeded in the 1960s with its creation of Gatorade.”
The report is the latest accolade for UF tech transfer. In 2020, for the third time, the International Business Innovation Association awarded its highest honor – the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year award – to UF Innovate | Sid Martin Biotech, naming it the best incubator in the world. And in 2017, UF ranked third among all research universities in the country, according to the Milken Institute’s ranking of Best Universities for Technology Transfer.

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“One of the most important parts of our mission as a public university is to translate our research into impact beyond the academic setting in a way that directly affects people’s daily lives,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “This recognition of UF as the best public university in the US at translating research discoveries into technologies that create companies and economic opportunities speaks volumes to the excellence of our faculty and students, and the value of our institution to our state and nation. We are honored to receive this external recognition.”
Heartland Forward’s “Research to Renewal: Advancing University Tech Transfer” full report is available at https://heartlandforward.org/case-study/research-to-renewal-advancing-university-tech-transfer/.

GAINESVILLE – The Friends of the Library Spring Book Sale will be held Saturday, April 23 through Wednesday, April 27 at the Bookhouse, 430-B N. Main Sreet, Gainesville. Profits from the popular sale support the Alachua County Library District and community literacy projects.

Shoppers are advised to bring their own bags or boxes. Cash, checks, and cards are accepted for payment. Masks are encouraged for all shoppers while inside the building and capacity will be limited.

Spring Book Sale hours are:

  • Saturday, April 23, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 24, 12-6 p.m.
  • Monday, April 25, 12-6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 26, 12- 6 p.m. – All items in the general collection are half price.
  • Wednesday, April 27, 12-6 p.m. – All items are 10 cents.

The Collector’s Corner, which includes first editions, signed works, and unique finds, is open Saturday through Tuesday.

Friends of the Library’s book sale proceeds support the Alachua County Library District in many ways, including purchasing materials, paying for special programs for all ages, funding scholarships for staff, and supporting remodel projects.

To learn more or volunteer, contact Friends of the Library at 352-375-1676 or www.folacld.org. The Fall Book Sale is scheduled for Oct. 22-26, 2022.

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GAINESVILLE – Santa Fe College is investing an additional $500,000 in scholarships for non-traditional students to remove barriers to college enrollment and achievement. These new scholarships are in addition to the $1.5 million awarded annually by the SF Foundation. Anticipated scholarship outcomes include expanding the region's college-going culture, improving student success, and increasing economic and social mobility.  

Based on student and community feedback, the new scholarships were created to address the needs of these underserved students. In mid-April, the electronic application will open for the following new Board of Trustees scholarships:  

  1. Adult Education Scholarship: Helps community members prepare for the GED exam through the College’s Educational Opportunity Center.  
  2. Baccalaureate Scholarship: Supports community members who have already earned an associate’s degree go on to pursue a baccalaureate degree at SF.  
  3. Family Support Scholarship: Assists community members who serve as caretakers for elderly or disabled adult relatives.  
  4. Finish at the Top/Last Mile Scholarship: Supports SF students who previously stopped out but only need 12 credit hours or less to graduate.  
  5. Gap Scholarship: Assists currently enrolled SF students who need funding to complete prerequisites to transfer into the university of their choice. 
  6. Part-Time Scholarship: Provides support to community members who are unable to take a full load of classes, but are committing to earning a degree on a part-time basis.  
  7. Workforce Continuing Education Scholarship: Provides job skills and certification in preparation for employment in specific high-demand areas. Supports non-degree seeking students in the college’s Continuing Education program.   
  8. Study Abroad Scholarship: Help students participate in SF’s study abroad experiences.  
  9. International “SOS” - Student Opportunity Scholarship: Assists international students at SF on an F-1 or F-2 student visa who are experiencing a crisis beyond their control.  
  10. SF International Resident Scholarship: Assists international students with financial need who are not studying with an F-1 or F-2 student visa.  

To apply, please go to https://www.sfcollege.edu/fa/scholarships/college-scholarships/. Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) is an eligibility component for most of the scholarships.  

In addition to these new scholarships for non-traditional students, Santa Fe College developed the SF Achieve program to foster a college-going culture in the local community. Students attending public high schools in Alachua and Bradford counties may participate in the program.  

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ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - If you missed Earth Day, it’s not too late to celebrate with Keep Alachua County Beautiful at Cuscowilla on Saturday. KACB turned 30 this year and, to celebrate, is partnering with the Friends of Cuscowilla, UPS and Alachua County Parks and Open Space to plant 30 Live Oak trees on Saturday, April 23.

Cuscowilla is the new youth camp property located at 210 S.E. 134th Ave Micanopy, FL 32667. The anniversary and Earth Day celebration will run from 9 a.m. until noon and include activities for all ages. Support from a Keep America Beautiful/UPS grant will allow for $500 worth of free trees to be given away to attendees at the event.

A children’s butterfly garden will also be installed and tours of Cuscowilla will be offered. Alachua County is coordinating the installation of the Live Oak trees by KACB volunteers, members and directors, and the Friends of Cuscowilla. Several of the Live Oaks will be planted in memory of KACB directors Florence Cline, Bob Gasche, Fritzi Olson, and Jeanne Rochford who served for more than a decade each.

“The success of KACB is in large part due to the commitment each of these individuals had for preserving the environmental legacy of Alachua County,” according to Gina Hawkins, executive director of KACB. KACB, the local Keep America Beautiful affiliate, has worked to protect the environmental legacy of Alachua County through litter cleanup events, graffiti removal, tree plantings, community gardens, recycling, environmental education and other projects for over thirty years.

KACB has already removed 400 bags of garbage from a single right of way easement this month. The easement was one of 11 illegal dump sites targeted during the year-long Great American Cleanup, the signature event of KACB. KACB volunteers removed over 1,000 bags of trash from roadways since the first of the year and the GAC continues until June 30.

KACB is engaged in planting efforts at six community gardens. Great American Cleanup events were scheduled for each weekend in April and May in nearly all of the municipalities in Alachua County and, through the generous support from sponsors, volunteers were treated to food, prizes, and volunteer recognition awards.

The City of Gainesville and Alachua County are the primary sponsors of the Great American Cleanup and GFLenvironmental and Waste Pro donate thousands of dollars in hauling equipment, staff, services and other support for these events.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.

I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.

By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.

We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.

Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting moreformentalhealth.org.

Together, we can help #StopSuicide.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.

On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.

The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.

Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair

Florida Commission on Human Relations

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This week, I announced the new Mental Health Care Service webpage on the Department of Financial Services (DFS) website, which aims to provide resources and assistance to mental health services for consumers. This past legislative session, HB 701 was signed by Governor DeSantis and establishes new communication duties for health insurers and HMOs and creates reporting requirements for DFS.

I’m proud to provide Floridians with resources they need to seek vital treatment so they can live a healthier life. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, mental health challenges are on the rise nationwide, especially within our first responder and front-line healthcare communities. Thank you to Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for stressing the importance of mental health resources in our communities.

On Tuesday, I recognized, October 12th, as National Savings Day and urged Floridians to make saving a priority to secure their financial well-being. Saving is the cornerstone of a strong financial foundation. Setting money aside each month allows families to handle unexpected costs or prepare for future expenses, like college tuition. As your CFO, I remain focused on ensuring all Floridians have the tools they need to make their hard-earned money work for them. For information about financial literacy programs available through the Department, please visit Your Money Matters, which is a one-stop shop for tips and resources to help Floridians manage their finances wisely.

Lastly, in recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I encouraged Floridians to 'Be Cyber Smart' and raised awareness in an effort to stay safe and secure online. Recently, officials are warning consumers of a new scam where fraudsters are creating fake Google Voice accounts to scam people without being detected. Scammers are always searching for new ways to trick their next victim and using fake Google Voice accounts is their latest ploy. I encourage all individuals and businesses to take action today to 'Be Cyber Smart' and learn how to protect your identity online to ensure you don’t fall victim. Learn about the latest scams and report signs of fraud immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com

Jimmy Patrons

State of Florida CFO

With Memorial Day behind us and Independence Day on the horizon, I’m happy to report that our state parks have never been more popular.

Our beaches – two of which were recently named among the 10 best in America by beach guru Dr. Beach – and our springs have attracted a record number of visitors, and we expect that trend to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Not only that, but our campsites are filling up too as more people discover the joys of camping and RVing.

As it turns out, now is a great time to plan an overnight stay. June is National Camping Month, and the Florida Park Service has just launched a new reservation system that provides our visitors with quicker, easier access to their favorite parks.

The new system shows clearly which parks and sites are available for camping and provides online users with a streamlined process for making reservations. Additionally, campers can now reserve same-day accommodations, which is something that we’ve been wanting to implement for a long time.

The changes will also be apparent at each park’s ranger station, as we’ve updated our point-of-sale system to be more modernized and, most importantly, faster. That means less time at the park gates and more time inside the park.

You might also notice welcome additions such as the ability to be notified when a site becomes available. And, in the future, we’ll be looking to add expanded reservation capabilities for Florida residents.

When thinking about your favorite parks, you might remember an unforgettable paddling adventure or boat tour. But take a moment to consider the park operations needed to offer our visitors the best experiences possible.

Food sales, camp stores, kayak rentals, ferries and trams are services that we could not provide if not for a specially selected group of businesses – many of them owned locally. These companies and their employees are a part of our park community, and they’re just as committed as regular park staff to making your visit safe and enjoyable.

The business that helps us with reservations is just one of our partners that help make 800,000 acres, 30 springs and 100 miles of beaches special places to visit.     

Eric Draper

Director, Florida State Parks


World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on June 15. On this day, and throughout the month, communities, seniors, caregivers, governments, organizations, and the private sector unite to prevent the mistreatment of and violence against older people.

Social Security imposter scams are widespread across the United States. Scammers use sophisticated tactics to deceive you into providing sensitive information or money. They target everyone – even the elderly – and their tactics continue to evolve.

Most recently, Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has received reports of phone scammers creating fake versions of the identification badges most Federal employees use to gain access to Federal buildings. The scammers may text or email photos of the fake badges to convince potential victims of their legitimacy. These badges use government symbols, words, and even names and photos of real people, which are available on government websites or through internet searches.

If you receive a suspicious letter, text, email, or call, hang up or do not respond. You should know how to identify when it’s really Social Security. We will NEVER:

  • Text or email images of an employee’s official government identification.
  • Suspend your Social Security number.
  • Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee.
  • Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or cash by mail.
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment.
  • Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.

We only send text messages if you have opted in to receive texts from us and only in limited situations, including the following:

  • When you have subscribed to receive updates and notifications by text.
  • As part of our enhanced security when accessing your personal my Social Security account.

If you owe money to us, we will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights.

We encourage you to report suspected Social Security imposter scams — and other Social Security fraud — to the OIG website at oig.ssa.gov. You may read our previous Social Security fraud advisories at oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/news-release. Please share this information with your friends and family to help spread awareness about Social Security imposter scams.

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The first drug developed to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD), the modern term for alcoholism, was disulfiram (Antabuse). Today disulfiram is still used, but as a second line William Garst HSdrug behind acamprosate (Campral) and naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol). Disulfiram works by blocking the enzymatic breakdown of alcohol and allowing a metabolite to build up in the blood, producing very unpleasant effects. People taking disulfiram will be deterred from ingesting alcohol because they know they will become very ill. The drug is used as an aid to help alcoholics overcome their cravings and addiction.

Disulfiram (a compound that contains sulfur) was first synthesized in 1881 as an industrial chemical, and in the early 1900s was introduced in the manufacturing of rubber. Adding sulfur in rubber manufacturing produces varying degrees of hardness in the final rubber compound.

During the late 1930s sulfur compounds, including disulfiram, were being investigated because of the antimicrobial effects of drugs containing sulfur, and the search was intense. Two scientists at the Danish firm of Medicinalco, Erik Jacobson and Jens Hald, began investigating disulfiram for treatment of intestinal parasites. This company had a group of employees called the “Death Battalion” who would experiment on themselves.

During this phase of testing the drug on themselves, they discovered they became ill after ingesting alcohol. This discovery was made in 1945, but a few years later disulfiram was considered to be used in the treatment of alcoholism as an aversive-reaction drug therapy. Jacobson and Hald’s work was finally published in 1948 and disulfiram was approved by the FDA in 1951.

The discovery of disulfiram led to a renewed interest in the metabolism of alcohol in the body. It was known alcohol was metabolized in the liver and broken down to acetaldehyde then to acetic acid and carbon dioxide by unknown enzymes. In 1950 it was discovered that disulfiram blocked the action of the enzyme that converts acetaldehyde, thus causing an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the bloodstream, which is the cause of the unpleasant effects.

Effects that occur when disulfiram is taken with alcohol include flushing, sweating, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. One should not take disulfiram within 12 hours of alcohol ingestion or 14 days from the last dose of the drug. In addition, products that contain alcohol such as aftershave, cologne, perfume, antiperspirant, and mouthwash can produce unpleasant reactions for people taking Antabuse. Other products to avoid are paint thinners, solvents, and stains, along with dyes, resins and waxes, because even small amounts of alcohol absorbed through the skin can produce the effects.

Other drugs can produce adverse reactions, commonly called the “antabuse-like reaction.” The most notable of these drugs are metronidazole (Flagyl, an antibiotic), griseofulvin (an antifungal), and some cephalosporin antibiotics. If a drug is known to have this side effect, it should be pointed out to the patient by the prescriber and the pharmacist. Always read the drug information given to you when starting a new medication that tells you about side effects that may occur and how to avoid them.

Substance abuse of any kind is not good, but alcohol abuse has been especially devastating to society, families, and individuals because of the convenient availability, relative inexpensiveness, and its association with festivities. In addition, the abuse of alcohol leads to lack of inhibitions and unpredictable behaviors, which are many times violent and destructive. When people take disulfiram, they are acknowledging their problem, and they know that very unpleasant reactions will occur if alcohol is consumed, thus it helps to deter the first drink.

The history of disulfiram is still being written. Currently, it is being studied to treat certain cancers, parasitic infections, HIV, and Covid-19.

Stay informed and stay healthy.

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William Garst is a consultant pharmacist who resides in Alachua, Florida. He received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Auburn University in 1975. He earned a master’s degree in Public Health in 1988 from the University of South Florida and a Master’s in Pharmacy from UF in 2001. In 2007, he received his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Colorado. Dr. Garst is a member of many national, state, and local professional associations. He serves on the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board and stays active as a relief pharmacist. In 2016, he retired from the VA. Dr. Garst enjoys golf, reading (especially history), and family. He writes a blog called The Pharmacy Newsletter (https://thepharmacynewsletter.com/). William Garst can be contacted at communitypharmac
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BIG BEND, FL - On Tuesday, April 5, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers aboard the FWC’s offshore patrol vessel Fin Cat along with FWC aviation unit officers were jointly conducting an operation to monitor for stone crab vessels fishing in the closed areas of the Big Bend stone crab – shrimping zones. 

The FWC aviation crew advised they had viewed a stone crab vessel in closed zone 2. That vessel began making circles in the area to retrieve their traps from the bottom, actively fishing their traps in a closed area. 

“When the vessel crew of the Nauti Crab noticed our patrol vessel headed toward them, the crew dropped all of the stone crab gear to the bottom,” said Lt. Scott Smith. The captain stated they had broken down and just fixed their vessel. They insisted they had not been crabbing in that area.”

“All crew members were wearing ‘slickers,’ a common practice when working stone crab traps. There were also boxes of bait all over the deck of the vessel,” said Lt. Smith. “They were using a long line gear setup, with 60 to 80 traps all connected on one line under water and invisible to the eye. Each line should be marked by a buoy; however, not a single line we located was marked.”

FWC officers documented the evidence and followed the stone crab vessel back into its home port of Hernando Beach. The vessel’s GPS units along with drugs and paraphernalia were seized and placed into evidence. FWC officers later returned to the location of the GPS coordinates where the crew stopped working and, dragging a grapple behind the patrol vessel, located 57 stone crab traps. Officers continued to discover traps in the closed zone. More than 525 traps have been documented, all belonging to the vessel captain. 

This investigation is ongoing.

Andrew Bertine, 54, of Lecanto, Scott Lefke, 53, of Homosassa, Matthew Bransfield, 40, of Citrus Springs and George Boynton, 48, of Homosassa were arrested and transported to Citrus County Jail. They were charged with 10 misdemeanors and two felonies for the following: 

  • Possession of undersized stone crab claws.
  • Possession of methamphetamine.
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia.
  • No aerial display of stone crab numbers or buoy.

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