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GAINESVILLE – St. Patrick Catholic Church (500 NE 16th Ave., Gainesville) is encouraging Catholics and non-Catholics alike to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by hosting a vaccination event on Saturday, June 26, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in partnership with the University of Florida Health and Catholic Charities Gainesville.

The event will offer the Pfizer vaccine to anyone ages 12 years old and up. Participants are encouraged to sign up by calling the St. Patrick Catholic Church office at (352) 372-4641. The first 50 people to sign up to receive the vaccine will receive a $25 Wal-Mart gift card from Catholic Charities.

Although registration is encouraged, walk-ins are welcomed. The second dose will be given on Saturday, July 17. For details, call (352) 372-4641.

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ALACHUA ‒ As the country begins to open up as COVID-19 cases drop and summer is around the corner, traditional summer activities are returning. The City of Alachua is offering two summer camps that serve both younger and older children.

The City of Alachua's Recreation and Culture Department is bringing back its summer camp program for children ages 5-13, and in partnership with Santa Fe College and the Children’s Trust of Alachua County, ages up to 18 can participate in a separate academically oriented program.

Starting Monday, June 22 and running through Friday, July 31, the City will host the program for younger children at Legacy Park five days a week, Monday-Friday from 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

The summer camp is designed to help children learn new skills, build self-confidence, make new friends, and feel a sense of achievement. There are a variety of camp activities including art, music, swimming, character development, games, sports, and outdoor activities to do over the summer while school is out. It also provides a safe, informative and organized day care for parents during the work week. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks will also be provided each day.

The daily camp schedule starts at 7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m. for breakfast and drop-off; 9 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. for character session; 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. for various activities and classes; lunch from 11:45 a.m. - 12:45 p.m., followed by more activities and classes from 1 p.m. -3 p.m. From 3 p.m. - 4:30 p.m., kids can enjoy free play time until they are picked up by a parent or guardian. There will be no camp on Friday July 3 due to the holiday weekend.

Despite the improving conditions of the pandemic, summer camp will look different this year. All programming will be in small groups. Campers will be with the same group of 10 or less all week, with no mixing with other groups. Activities that increase the likelihood of community transmission have been eliminated. These include, but are not limited to: Splash Park, large groups, high contact physical activity and off-site travel (although possible if they can guarantee social distancing guidelines). All meals will be served in to-go boxes to limit contact with surfaces. Campers will be separated from one another to avoid large groups. This includes, but is not limited to: meal times, music time, arts and crafts, and all-camp games.

The City will administer daily health screenings to monitor for any evidence of symptomatic cases. Signup for the camp includes a signed assurance from families that they can promptly pick up if a camper exhibits symptoms or if staff suspects a camper may have been exposed. Other safety measures include new check-in and check-out procedures, cleaning protocols, and staff training in accordance with recommendations from the CDC and the Alachua County Health Department.

The cost for the camp, including all meals is $400. However, the city is offering 100 percent covered scholarships through applications available at the City website, so that no one who wants to enroll is denied due to funding.

The summer camp at Legacy Park may be limited to children 13 and under, but the City has not forgotten older students either. Working with Santa Fe College and the Children's Trust of Alachua County, they have created a more academically orientated program for students up to 18 years of age.

Running during the same timeframe as the Legacy Park camp, this camp will offer a variety of programs in art, technology and science. Classes include visual arts, performing arts, digital design, engineering, biotechnology and crime scene investigation. The cost for the program is $240, but there are also scholarships available.

Applications for both camps, as well as scholarship requests, can be found at the City of Alachua Recreation and Culture website at https://www.cityofalachua.com/government/recreation-culture/sports-activities. Additional information is available by calling the department at 386-462-1610.

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ALACHUA ‒ On Wednesday, June 2, Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies discovered 13-year-old Delia Young’s body during a large-scale search operation centered around County Roads 236 and 239 in Northwest Alachua County. Her body was found off of Country 239 nearly three weeks after she disappeared. Her identity was confirmed by an autopsy on Friday June 4.

Delia's short life had already been hard, she had health issues, lost her mother and was in foster care, living with her aunt and step mom Marian Williams, 57, along with Williams’ sister, Valerie Young, 52.

Delia was reported missing May 16 by Young, who told deputies that Delia disappeared from her home at 3223 N.W. 142nd Avenue during the night and that she had a history of running away.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASCO) began an investigation but found no leads, so ACSO tweeted about Delia’s absence May 19, urging community members to call the ACSO communications center with any information about her whereabouts. As time passed and the search grew more desperate, ASCO interviewed the two women and noticed inconsistencies in their stories.

Then on May 26 the case broke wide open after Williams willingly traveled to the sheriff’s office and confessed her involvement in Delia Young’s disappearance and implicated Valerie Young in her death and the concealment of her body.

Based on her confession, ASCO immediately arrested Williams. According to the arrest report, Williams told detectives she was home on May 16, and saw Valerie Young, her sister, beating Delia with an electrical cord. Williams said Valerie Young stopped after Williams asked her to, but later that evening, Delia was limping and had large welts on her legs.

Williams said she asked Delia if she wanted to go to the hospital, but she refused. Williams said she last saw Delia alive on the floor of her bedroom using a computer. On May 17 around 7 a.m., Williams said she discovered Delia dead on the floor of her bedroom. She said she called Valerie Young, who was not at the home, in a panic and the two discussed where they would hide Delia’s body.

Detectives say Williams and her sister put the 13-year-old's body in a tote bag, and drove her to a home in Lacrosse that Young owned. According to the arrest report, Williams and her sister left the bag in a bedroom in the house. That was on May 17, according to the arrest report.

Detectives say Williams told them she returned to the home on May 18 and found the bag outside the home and Delia's body gone. According to the arrest report, Williams said she burned the tote bag because it linked her and her sister to Delia's death. At the time of her arrest, Williams claimed to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of Delia Young’s remains.

Based on their confessions and other information, the ASCO narrowed the search to County Road 236 area using ATVs and K-9 units. The location is around 15 miles from Valerie Young’s home where the child was last seen. Finally, on June 2, Deli's remains were found.

Williams has been charged with negligent manslaughter of a child, neglect of a child with great bodily harm, obstruction, and destruction of evidence.

Authorities have charged Valerie Young with manslaughter, aggravated child abuse, evidence tampering and depriving Delia Young of medical care. Young is being held on a $2,650,000 bond and Williams's bond is $1 million.

ASCO Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., announced the conclusion of the long search effort on the ASCO Facebook page, confirming the remains were Delia's. “It is with deep sorrow, we announce the remains have been identified as Delia Young.”

Watson also thanked all those who have worked on the case: “Sheriff Watson would also like to express his appreciation for the hard work, commitment, diligence and tenacity of the deputies and investigators that worked so hard on this case and also for the outpouring of support from the community.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ The deadline for prospective candidates for partisan offices to change party affiliation for the 2022 election cycle is June 12, 2021.

Prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 90, only candidates who wished to qualify with a political party needed to affirm that they had not been registered with another party in the 365 days before candidate qualifying begins. Now, all candidates for partisan office — even those without a party affiliation — must have maintained their party affiliation, or non-affiliation, for the 365-day period.

The new law prohibits a person from seeking to qualify for office as a candidate with no party affiliation if he or she has been a registered member of any political party within the 365 days preceding the beginning of the qualifying period, and requires a person seeking nomination as a candidate of a political party to have been a member of the party for the 365 days preceding the beginning of the qualifying period.

Upon qualifying, all candidates for partisan office must sign an oath attesting they have maintained their registration status with respect to party affiliation.

Candidate qualifying for federal, state and local offices begins June 13, 2022.

Voters may change their party affiliation by turning in a Florida Voter Registration Application or using the online voter registrations system at RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov.

For more information, contact the Supervisor of Elections at 352-374-5252.

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L-R: State Representative Chuck Clemons, Alachua Assistant City Manager Kamal Lathem and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle discuss future opportunities for the Alachua biotech community.

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ALACHUA – Alachua’s thriving biotech community is on a mission to increase its presence on the national and global stage. Biotech leaders and community partners welcomed Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Secretary Dane Eagle on Wednesday, June 2 at the Santa Fe College Perry Center for Emerging Technology. Eagle was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis to lead the State’s economic development agency in 2020.

Joining in a roundtable discussion of strategies to nurture the local biotech environment was Santa Fe College President Paul Broadie, State Representative and Santa Fe College VP for Office of Advancement Chuck Clemons, Alachua Chamber of Commerce President Mitch Glaeser and Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Eric Godet.

Over 30 individuals representing the local biotech community participated in the strategy session including a number of CEOs, UF Innovate/Sid Martin Bio’s Karl Lapan, Elliottt Welker, and Merrie Shaw as well as Alachua City Manager Adam Boukari and Alachua Assistant City Manager Kamal Latham. The meeting was also available virtually and several biotech leaders including President and CEO of BioFlorida Nancy Bryan and AGTC CEO Sue Washer joined online.

Discussion centered on the factors that make a biotech community grow and thrive. Participants pointed out that important attributes include an available workforce, proximity to higher learning, startup friendly environments, access to venture capital and a quality lifestyle.

There was general agreement by participants that the State of Florida could encourage growth in the biotech industry by supporting measures that boost angel, venture capital, and other funding for biotech and biomed companies as well as offering incentives tailored to the biotech industry in order to be competitive with other states such as Massachusetts, California and North Carolina. Another area identified that the State could assist with is funding for building and site development to support construction of new facilities, or reuse or expand existing facilities.

Locally, the City of Alachua is launching the Alachua Biotech Partnership, a public-private partnership to help grow existing companies and expand the area’s biotech ecosystem. It was suggested that DEO become a member of the partnership. Clemons suggested starting a biotech caucus to further discussion and strengthen the biotech sector.

Eagle offered several suggestions regarding possible funding opportunities through the Department of Economic Opportunity and advised that some measures mentioned would require legislative action. It is expected that Eagle will return to the area in the near future to tour local facilities.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission recognized two individuals at the May 27 City Commission meeting. Mayor Gloria James congratulated Commissioner Ross Ambrose, who was honored with a 2021 Home Rule Hero Award by the Florida League of Cities. James said Ambrose worked tirelessly to promote local voices making local choices to protect the Home Rule powers of Florida's municipalities.

James also recognized High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard who recently received a Masters of Criminal Justice Degree from St. Leo University. The City held a reception in his honor on Monday to celebrate the achievement, which Sheppard said took a lot of late nights of studying to complete.

High Springs is about half way through their strategic planning effort according to Tom Kohler of GAI Consultants, the firm working with the City on a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Plan update. Kohler anticipates presenting the plan to the Commission by the end of July or the beginning of August and then to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners in September.

In other business, a City ordinance is under consideration that has some residents concerned. Although the ordinance was continued to the July 22 meeting, a resident of Bailey Estates subdivision said she had “77 petitions” from residents asking that the City deny the measure. The ordinance seeks to amend the City’s zoning map by changing the zoning district from Residential-1A (R-1A) to Residential-3 (R-3) on 89.69 +/- acres east of Bailey Estates. The applicant is J.H. Londono, agent for SAFECA, Ltd.

The Bailey Estate resident claimed there were problems with the development but she was not specific about the types of problems experienced in the subdivision. City Manager Ashley Stathatos responded later to a question by Commissioner Linda Jones referencing Homeowner’s Association funds and residents of the subdivision. Stathatos said she would attempt to get the parties together with the developer to see if they could work out an amicable solution.

A preliminary plat was unanimously approved for Crockett Springs following a comment by Stathatos that the plat met all City requirements and was approved by the Planning and Zoning Committee.

A fee waiver request was made by Nancy Levin for a lot split at 18743 N.W. 243rd Street. Levin said her $500 fee waiver request was based on the property owner’s financial hardship. Currently, there is no language in City codes for a fee waiver in this situation and Commissioners expressed concern that waiving it for one person would mean others would expect the same.

Commissioner Scott Jamison suggested an alternative solution to the issue. Since the lot split was required so that the property owner could sell part of the property, he suggested that the owner defer fee payment until such time as the property she is splitting is sold. This action was approved by the Commission.

Recreation Director Damon Messina announced that a job fair has been scheduled for June 22 at the High Springs Civic Center. The hours are 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Messina also reported that the recreation department is teaming up with Good News Arts for an art focused summer recreation program. “This is a summer arts camp for youth (K to 12),” he said. Children will work directly with artists as they create different types of art projects each week.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ The University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital is the No. 1 children’s hospital in Florida and stands among the nation’s elite pediatric hospitals in eight medical specialties including a first-ever top 10 ranking in cardiology and a historically high ranking for pulmonology, according to the 2021-22 Best Children’s Hospital Rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

Every ranked medical specialty program improved its standing from last year and the eight ranked programs are the most for UF Health since 2016. The No. 7 ranking for pediatric cardiology punctuates 11 years among the nation’s top programs, including six consecutive years in the top 25.

Seven other specialties made significant gains in the rankings, including pulmonology (No. 21), diabetes and endocrinology (No. 12), neurology and neurosurgery (No. 45), cancer (No. 45), urology (No. 46), neonatology (No. 47) and nephrology (No. 48). Overall, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital is ranked No. 5 among pediatric hospitals in the nine-state southeast region.

“These are exceptional achievements across a wide range of pediatric medical specialties. The rankings validate the skilled, attentive care that our physicians, nurses and staff members provide every day and night. Parents trust us to provide the very best care for their children and it is especially gratifying to deliver on that promise in so many specialties,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.

The pediatric cardiology and heart surgery program is the highest-rated in Florida for the sixth consecutive year. Pulmonology and endocrinology are now in their fourth year as the state’s top programs.      

“It is an incredible accomplishment to move up the rankings in so many specialties, especially during an uncertain and turbulent pandemic year. This recognition reflects our deep, ongoing devotion to patient care, research and medical education,” said Desmond A. Schatz, M.D., the hospital’s physician-in-chief and interim chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics.

Schatz said he is particulary proud of the resilience and focus shown by pediatric faculty members and hospital staff. In the past year, those efforts included securing a $1 million grant to expand telemedicine services and medical monitoring equipment among underserved and vulnerable populations. Research funding has grown during the past year and UF continues to be a national leader in areas that include pediatric heart care and diabetes research and treatment, Schatz said. Two women faculty members are beginning a prestigious, nationally selective executive leadership program while others have emerged as expert voices on pandemic issues related to children, he noted.

“In every facet that can be measured there is a profound commitment to improving the lives of children. When parents bring their children to be seen by our physicians and providers, they can be assured they’re in the right place for state-of-the-art care,” he said.

Mark S. Bleiweis, M.D., director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, credits the cardiology and heart surgery ranking to several factors. One of those is achieving high-quality patient outcomes while also taking on highly complex cases and a large volume of procedures. Teamwork is another factor.

“This is a recognition of the extreme dedication, hard work and creativity among many people. They are all dedicated to the same vision of providing the highest levels of innovation and patient care,” he said.

In addition to patient outcomes and volumes, Bleiweis said he is proud of efforts to develop advanced therapies for heart failure patients and research that has focused on single ventricle defects. 

Sreekala Prabhakaran, M.D., interim chief of the pediatric pulmonary division, said the department’s historically high ranking is a result of a long-standing commitment to patient care through multidisciplinary programs for neuromuscular diseases and severe asthma. Several subspecialties, including the severe asthma program, neuromuscular disease and cystic fibrosis programs use a family centered, culturally appropriate approach to develop individualized treatment plans for children. A medical-legal team, which helps to address barriers to care, is also embedded in the severe asthma program. This is the fourth consecutive year pulmonology is ranked among the nation’s top 30 programs.

“Staying among the nation’s very best pulmonary programs requires an intense amount of dedication across our entire team,” Prabhakaran said. “That is evident every day as we approach patient care, physician training and medical research with determination and vigor.”  

 In diabetes and endocrinology, the division continues to build on its well-established national and international reputation for exceptional care, research, education and advocacy in Type 1 diabetes, said Michael J. Haller, M.D., a professor and chief of pediatric endocrinology.

The division also has a thriving metabolic program that uses individualized assessments of the underlying conditions that lead to obesity and pairs it with tailored therapy focused on healthier lifestyles.

One new initiative involves working on bringing telemedicine kiosks to UF/IFAS agricultural extension offices in rural, underserved counties. That, Haller said, will open up health care access to children without internet access at home. UF Health continues to be a world leader in comprehensive care for children with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes low muscle tone and early-onset weight gain and can lead to extreme appetites later in childhood. Haller said that expertise has broader implications because pharmaceutical companies are often interested in working with Prader-Willi patients to study potential obesity treatments.

“People are making UF Health a destination for specialized pediatric services because they know we have the expertise and experience to provide premier care,” Haller said. 

UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez said ranking among the nation’s elite pediatric hospitals in so many medical specialties is a natural outcome of putting children first.

“While we strive to be the best children’s hospital in Florida, being among the nation’s elite is great company. In a year of unprecedented challenges, these rankings affirm the best efforts of our pediatric researchers, physicians, nurses and staff. It vividly illustrates what everyone at UF Health strives for every day and what families expect: compassionate, world-class care supported by innovative medical research and expertise,” Jimenez said.

The U.S. News Best Children’s Hospital rankings are compiled from clinical data and a reputational survey of pediatric specialists across the country

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TALLAHASSEE Today, Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom are releasing a joint statement in recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for our communities to raise awareness about abuse, neglect, and elder exploitation.

Statement from the Department of Children and Families
“Each day, the Department serves older adults who are victims of abuse, exploitation, and neglect through our Adult Protective Services’ program,” said Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris. “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day serves as a reminder of the importance of supporting and protecting our seniors. Older adults are the mothers, fathers and citizens who have built our society and spent a lifetime sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Our agency stands committed to safeguarding their right to a safe and dignified life.”

Statement from the Department of Elder Affairs
“Florida’s 5.5 million older adults are a vital and important part of every community,” said Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom. “Older adults are leaders, mentors, and volunteers and they deserve to remain active members of the state without the threat of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) in June, Florida’s Aging Network has scheduled live and virtual events throughout the month to empower Florida’s older population.”

For a list of regional WEADD events click here. To learn more about World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, please visit: NCEA - World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (acl.gov)

Learn the signs of adult abuse. If you know or have reasonable cause to suspect that an older adult is being abused, neglected, exploited, please report your concerns to the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

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Highlights

  • Low levels of antidepressants are found in many water bodies, so animals like crayfish are often exposed to trace amounts of these drugs
  • The researchers found that crayfish exposed to low levels of antidepressant medication behaved in ways that could make them more vulnerable to predators
  • Consumers can reduce pharmaceuticals in water bodies by disposing of medications properly

GAINESVILLE ‒ Antidepressants can help humans emerge from the darkness of depression. Expose crayfish to antidepressants, and they too become more outgoing — but that might not be such a positive thing for these freshwater crustaceans, according to a new study led by scientists with the University of Florida.

“Low levels of antidepressants are found in many water bodies,” said A.J. Reisinger, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS soil and water sciences department. “Because they live in the water, animals like crayfish are regularly exposed to trace amounts of these drugs. We wanted to know how that might be affecting them,” he said.

Antidepressants can get into the environment through improper disposal of medications, Reisinger said. In addition, people taking antidepressants excrete trace amounts when they use the bathroom, and those traces can get into the environment through reclaimed water or leaky septic systems.

The researchers found that crayfish exposed to low levels of antidepressant medication behaved more “boldly,” emerging from hiding more quickly and spending more time searching for food.

“Crayfish exposed to the antidepressant came out into the open, emerging from their shelter, more quickly than crayfish not exposed to the antidepressant. This change in behavior could put them at greater risk of being eaten by a predator,” said Lindsey Reisinger, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS fisheries and aquatic sciences program.

“Crayfish eat algae, dead plants and really anything else at the bottom of streams and ponds. They play an important role in these aquatic environments. If they are getting eaten more often, that can have a ripple effect in those ecosystems,” Lindsey Reisinger added.

In their study, conducted while A.J. Reisinger was a postdoctoral researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the scientists wanted to understand how crayfish respond to low levels of antidepressants in aquatic environments.

“Our study is the first to look at how crayfish respond when exposed to antidepressants at levels typically found in the streams and ponds where they live,” A.J. Reisinger said.

The researchers achieved this by recreating crayfish’s natural environment in the lab, where they could control the amount of antidepressant in the water and easily observe crayfish behavior.

Crayfish were placed in artificial streams that simulated their natural environment. Some crayfish were exposed to environmentally realistic levels of antidepressant in the water for a few weeks, while a control group was not exposed. The researchers used a common type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI.

To test how antidepressant exposure changed crayfish behavior, researchers used something called a Y-maze. This maze has a short entrance that branches into two lanes, like the letter Y.

At the start of the experiment, the researchers placed each crayfish in a container that acted as a shelter, and that shelter was placed at the entrance to the maze.

When researchers opened the shelter, they timed how long it took for the crayfish to emerge. If the crayfish emerged, they had the choice of the two lanes in the Y-maze. One lane emitted chemical cues for food, while the other emitted cues that signaled the presence of another crayfish. The researchers recorded which direction the crayfish chose and how long they spent out of the shelter.

Compared to the control group, crayfish exposed to antidepressants emerged from their shelters earlier and spent more time in pursuit of food. They tended to avoid the crayfish side of the maze, a sign that the levels of antidepressants used in study didn’t increase their aggression.

“The study also found that crayfish altered levels of algae and organic matter within the artificial streams, with potential effects on energy and nutrient cycling in those ecosystems,” A.J. Reisinger said. “It is likely that the altered crayfish behavior would lead to further impacts on stream ecosystem functions over a longer time period as crayfish continue to behave differently due to the SSRIs. This is something we’d like to explore in future studies.”

The study, co-authored with Erinn Richmond of Monash University and Emma Rosi of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, is published in the journal “Ecosphere.”

Wondering how you can reduce the levels of antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals in water bodies? There are steps people can take, A.J. Reisinger said.

“The answer is not for people to stop using medications prescribed by their doctor. One big way consumers can prevent pharmaceuticals from entering our water bodies is to dispose of medications properly,” he said.

A.J. Reisinger has authored an Extension publication and infographic on how to dispose of unwanted medications properly and keep them out of water bodies.

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TALLAHASSEE ‒ Scientists in Florida have developed and tested a new kind of fishhook designed to improve fish survival and support sustainable recreational fishing.

Researchers with the University of Florida, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have published their findings in the journal “Fisheries,” where they show that a modified version of a standard fishing hook allows anglers to catch and release fish successfully and without any direct contact with the angler.

Handling fish and exposing them to air can cause “discard mortality,” which is when fish die after they are caught and released, said Holden Harris, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station.

“Catch and release can help conserve fish populations, but it doesn’t ensure fish will survive after you let them go,” Harris said. “Handling a fish and exposing it to air can injure an already exhausted animal. That makes them more vulnerable to predators after they are released. Handling the fish with nets and hands also disrupts the mucus membrane covering their bodies, which exposes fish to infection.”

In their study, the researchers tested a “bite-shortened” hook, a standard barbless fishing hook modified to have a shorter point or “bite.” The bite-shortened hooks can be made easily with simple tools.

Earlier field trials with bonefish on Palmyra Atoll conducted by one of the study’s co-authors, Andrew Gude, manager of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, found fish would “spit out” bite-shortened hooks once they were reeled in toward the angler and the angler gave slack in the fishing line.

The idea appeared promising and prompted the researchers at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station to begin more rigorous testing.

“In this study, we wanted to test the hooks systematically to see how they performed compared to other hook types for their ability to successfully stay hooked in the fish during the reel-in and then self-release from the fish once it was landed boatside,” Harris said.

Working off the coast of Cedar Key, Florida, the researchers tested three kinds of hooks: barbless, barbed, and bite-shortened. For the purposes of the study, they targeted spotted seatrout, a popular coastal sport fish.

They found that compared to the other hooks, bite-shortened hooks were just as successful at landing fish. However, bite-shortened hooks made it significantly easier for anglers to release fish without directly handling them. This video shows how an angler releases a fish in this way.

“We look at this as a new kind of fishing that might hold appeal for conservation-minded anglers who are concerned about discard mortality,” said Mike Allen, senior author of the study and the director of the UF/IFAS NCBS. A hook like this could ultimately allow fishing in areas where minimizing impacts to fish stocks is a high priority, he said.

While it is still too early to say what the environmental impact of these new hooks might be, Harris said he hopes this first study will inspire other researchers to keep testing the hook design and gather more data.  

“It would be great to know how these hooks perform with different fish species, different fishing techniques and in the hands of different anglers,” Harris said.

In the meantime, curious anglers can make their own bite-shortened hooks and try them out on th

water. Harris and his co-authors have produced a video demonstrating how to turn a standard barbless hook into a bite-shorted hook using tools found at the hardware store.

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TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing) announced the winners of their statewide art contest, inviting kids and teens age 5-18 to submit their visions on the theme: What does home mean to you? The contest aimed to increase awareness on the importance of having a safe and affordable place to call home, particularly leading up to National Homeownership Month in June. Florida Housing received more than 200 submissions from kids across the state who used their imaginations to illustrate beautiful designs showcasing what they notice most about their home life. An internal review committee has now selected the top 40 to be printed and prominently displayed in the Florida Housing Finance Corporation building in Tallahassee.

 
“As the state’s housing finance agency, we recognize the significance of having a place to call home and our goal has always been to provide every Floridian with that opportunity,” said Trey Price, Executive Director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “We hope this fun initiative emphasizes the continued need for quality, affordable housing in Florida and the significant role that this can play in a child’s life. On behalf of our entire team at Florida Housing, I want to thank all of the kids who participated in this contest for helping us share that important message.”
 
The winning artwork showcased a variety of heartwarming scenes: children spending quality time with their family, engaging in fun activities, or simply a picture of what their actual home looks like. A full slideshow
featuring all of the winners has been published on Florida Housing’s website. Each design will also be hung throughout the Florida Housing Finance Corporation building in honor of National Homeownership Month in June.
 
For more information about Florida Housing and to view the winners of this statewide art contest, please visit www.floridahousing.org/artcontest
 
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TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding Tag Your Reptile Day events throughout the state to offer pet owners an opportunity to have their pet green iguanas or tegus microchipped for free to help people come into compliance with new rules.

The FWC is partnering with zoos and veterinarians across the state to host Tag Your Reptile Day events at multiple locations. The regional event will be held June 5 at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne. All tagging event locations will have PIT tagging services available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No appointments are required. PIT tags are available on a first-come, first-serve basis while supplies last. FWC staff will provide information to complete the permit application process. View additional event dates and locations at MyFWC.com/ReptileRule.

Tagging or microchipping your pet is one if the simplest and most effective ways to keep them safe and protect Florida’s native wildlife. Owners may bring up to five pet tegus or green iguanas to any of the single day events. Pets must be in a secured carrier, wearing a leash or harness to prevent escape. Veterinary staff will microchip these animals while you wait. Thanks to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and other partners hosting events, this service is free to any pet owners who have these species as pets.

The rule changes to Chapter 68-5, F.A.C., took effect April 29 and specifically address 16 high-risk invasive reptiles including pythons, tegus and green iguanas that pose a threat to Florida’s ecology, economy, and human health and safety.

The new rules also include reporting requirements for permittees, biosecurity requirements to limit escape of these high-risk species, and additional language to clarify limited exceptions for possession of green iguanas and tegus for commercial sales or as pets.

People in possession of these animals have 90 days to come into compliance. The 90-day grace period ends July 28, 2021 and by that time all pet green iguanas and tegus must be permanently microchipped and owners must have applied for a permit. All other entities must come into compliance with the new rules by July 28 as well, including entities possessing the regulated species for research, educational exhibition, eradication and control, or limited commercial sale. Additionally, entities with these species will have 180 days to come into compliance with the new outdoor caging requirements. The 180-day grace period for upgrading outdoor caging ends Oct. 26, 2021.

More than 500 nonnative species have been reported in Florida. Approximately 80% of these species have been introduced via the live animal trade with more than 130 established in Florida, meaning they are reproducing in the wild. Since most nonnative fish and wildlife find their way into Florida's habitats through escape or release from the live animal trade, it is important to create regulations to prevent high-risk nonnative wildlife from becoming introduced or further established in Florida’s environment.

For detailed information on how these new rules will impact pet owners, commercial sellers, exhibitors, trappers and other groups, or to learn more about upcoming Tag Your Reptile Day events, visit MyFWC.com/ReptileRule.

Additional information about nonnative species in Florida can be found at MyFWC.com/Nonnatives.

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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
ynewsletter@gmail.com.

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Have you ever thought you might need to visit a Social Security office? Chances are you do not. You can probably conduct your business with us without even leaving your home. Our online services page at www.ssa.gov/onlineservices provides you a wide variety of self-service options you can use on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can even apply for retirement, disability, or Medicare online.

With a personal my Social Security account, you can:

  • Get your Social Security Statement.
  • Request a replacement Social Security card, in most states and the District of Columbia.
  • Appeal a decision.
  • Find out if you qualify for benefits.

Do you receive Social Security benefits or Medicare? If so, you can create or log in to your personal my Social Security account to:

  • Get your benefit verification letter for Social Security, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Check your information and benefit amount.
  • Change your address and telephone number.
  • Start or change your direct deposit.
  • Request a replacement Medicare card.
  • Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season.
  • Report your wages if you work and receive disability benefits or SSI.

Create a personal my Social Security account today at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to take advantage of these easy-to-use features. Also, share our online services page with family and friends who need this important information.

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When learning the ropes — and rods — of saltwater fishing, thorough preparation involves more than just a rich arsenal of gear and the appropriate attire. Open-water fishing is challenging and requires technique and prior research.  

If you’re embarking on an open-water adventure for the first time, keep the following saltwater fishing tips in mind.  

Research Your Destination

The key to discovering a spot rich in saltwater fish is ample research. At least a week before your trip, you’ll want to read up on fishing reports, tide charts and weather forecasts.  

For instance, while a rainy morning might deter most anglers, it can also surprise you with better catches — if you know where to look. 

Some areas are more crowded with fishing enthusiasts during different times of the year. Consider whether you are traveling in the spring, summer, fall or winter and do the appropriate research. You can get some ideas of  where to go at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “Where to Saltwater Fish.”

Think About Your Target Species

The type of catch you’re after will dictate where you anchor your boat. Targets, such as yellowfin or other tunas, for instance, are surface feeders. Thus, you’ll want to be on the lookout for weed lines and baitfish breaking the surface.  

On the other hand, some species including groupers and snappers are bottom feeders and prefer structures including reefs and wrecks. Angling for these species can require special equipment, such as a fishfinder, circle hooks, dehooking tools, descending devices and more. MyFWC.com/FishHandling explains much of this fishing gear.    

Stay up to date on the latest regulations for saltwater fishing at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “Recreational Regulations” or by downloading the Fish Rules app on your smart device. Learn about fish identification at MyFWC.com/FishingLines or by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “Fish Identification.”

Use a Bathymetric Map

When it comes to open-water angling, you can never underestimate the usefulness of a map. Bathymetric maps are a type of underwater topographic map that indicates specific depths. Space between lines on the map illustrates whether an area is close to a steep slope, drop off, flat or shoal. Lines that are close together indicate a rapidly changing depth in the area. 

Keep in mind that bathymetric maps can be challenging to find at your local angling shop. If you have trouble coming across a bathymetric map, you can rely on other tools, such as nautical charts or satellite images.    

Speak to the Locals

While ample internet research might suffice, nothing quite compares to gathering input from local anglers. When you have a specific target species in mind, drop by the local bait shop for advice. Or join an online group focused on fishing in your area of interest. 

Some angling hot spots have knowledgeable fishing guides who can direct you to the ideal area for your specific catch. Hop on a trip for a chance to see the area up close with an expert who can teach you how to catch your target species. 

Alternatively, you can venture out into the ocean yourself and observe where other anglers are setting up shop. Just be sure to mind your distance and not crowd other anglers. Learn more about angler etiquette at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “On-the-Water Etiquette.”

Make the Most of Angling Technology

Nowadays, you won’t find any shortage of state-of-the-art angling technology available online and at your local bait shop. Make sure that a reliable fish finder is part of your staple arsenal.  

Fish finders use sonar to locate fish within your chosen area. When an echo transmits back to your device, it indicates the presence of fish immediately under or around your vessel. Some wireless fish finders are Bluetooth compatible and will quickly pair with your Android or iOS device.  

You'll want to consider other staple needs for open-water fishing: GPS, VHF 2-way radio, flares, noise-making device, first aid kit and life jacket for each person on board. Wearing a life jacket while on the water is a simple way to prevent you from drowning if you fall overboard due to a boating accident. Learn more about boating requirements and safety at MyFWC.com/Boating. Find more tips and tricks at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking “How to Saltwater Fish.”

The Bottom Line

If you have recently taken an interest in saltwater fishing, knowing how to target your intended catch will go a long way in the open water. Make the most of your day out by researching your destination beforehand, coming well-equipped, and learning how to identify different kinds of saltwater fish. Consider sharing your catches with scientists through the iAngler app and submitting catches for recognition at FWC’s CatchaFloridaMemory.com

About the Author

Kenneth is an expert at saltwater fishing and the founder of Perfect Captain. He has been angling for over two decades and hopes to provide accessible resources for fishing rookies and veterans.

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Remember the old adage “April showers bring May flowers?” In Florida, April is typically a dry month when water demands are higher due to springtime planting and low rainfall amounts. For 22 years, April has been recognized as Water Conservation Month in Florida, a designation to heighten public awareness about the many ways we can reduce our water use until summer thunderstorms arrive.

Each spring, a renewed focus on our lawns and landscapes make it an ideal time to inspect our automatic sprinkler systems and timers. The St. Johns River Water Management District’s seasonal “Did You Set It and Forget It” message is a timely springtime reminder to give your automatic sprinkler system a checkup for leaks, timer adjustments, replacing the rain sensor battery and other maintenance.

The District’s annual Water Less outdoor water conservation campaign promotes easy ways to make water conservation part of your regular routine at home.

Consider this: More than half of all residential water is used outdoors for lawn and landscape irrigation. Studies show that up to half of that water can be saved and isn’t necessary for native and Florida-friendly plants to thrive.

Individually and collectively, you make a big difference when you take control of your water use. In fact, between 2010 and 2019, gross per capita water use in the St. Johns District decreased 12 percent, from 132 gallons per person per day to 116 gallons per person per day.

Changing old habits doesn’t have to be hard. Just follow our five easy ways to save water outdoors: Adhere to the District’s watering restrictions. Give your sprinkler system regular checkups and turn it off if there is rain in the forecast. Use water-efficient smart irrigation technology and replace thirsty landscape materials with drought-tolerant “waterwise” plants. Our waterwise plant database at www.sjrwmd.com/water-conservation/waterwise-landscaping is simple to access and use, too.

Year-round water conservation is an important way to help meet the state’s water supply needs, and you can still maintain a healthy and beautiful Florida landscape.

We’re grateful to all those helping us raise awareness of the small behavior changes that can lead to big water savings. I ask you to spend a few minutes visiting the District’s water conservation campaign website, WaterLessFlorida.com, to learn how you too can make a difference.

Ann Shortelle, Ph.D.

Executive Director

St. Johns River Water Management District

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Each year, thousands of Florida children enter foster care due to domestic violence.

And each October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, children's advocates like me remind the public that this scourge devastates children, families and communities – and we must respond.

For children, witnessing intimate partner violence can cause lifetime harm. It makes them more prone to addiction and at greater risk for dating violence, academic problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression, and chronic physical health and developmental problems. They find it harder to interact well with peers, partners and, ultimately, with their own children.

They worry about the safety of their parents – which no child should have to do. Yet millions of children witness the abuse of a parent or caregiver each year. And males who batter their wives batter their children 30 to 60 percent of the time.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement data for 2019 show 105,298 domestic violence incidences and 66,069 domestic violence arrests. That year, according to the Department of Children and Families, there were 87,546 allegations of household violence or intimate partner violence received by the Florida Abuse Hotline.

In the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties, there were 169 dependent children from violent homes in the system as of August.

We also know violent households often involve substance abuse or mental illness as well, and that the combination heightens the harm done by each. What's more, child witnesses of intimate partner violence are at increased risk to become abusers or victims themselves.

So the cycle must be broken, and that is what we are trying to do at the Guardian ad Litem Program. We know the single most critical factor in how children weather their exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one loving, supportive adult in their lives.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers represent abused and neglected children in dependency court. We know their challenges. We also know children can recover from trauma given the right services and supports, and we advocate for trauma-informed, evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment.

We also work to support the child's relationship with his or her non-offending parent. For most children, a strong relationship with that parent is a key factor in helping them heal.

And as their advocates, we work to tell children the violence is not their fault and to show them they are lovable, competent and important.

Help us break the cycle.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or become a volunteer, please contact Riley Ashmore-Volunteer Recruiter at (352) 384-3167 or visit www.GAL8Circuit.org.

To get help, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119, or find your local domestic violence program at www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence/map.shtml. Florida's 41 certified domestic violence centers served more than 10,000 victims between March and June 2020, and they remain open and available to serve.

Angela Armstrong, Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director

for Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union Counties

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During this very stressful time—not only in Alachua, but all over the world—we have been forced into situations that we have never faced before, and I would like to say, “thank you” City of Alachua and “The Goodlife Community” for your patience, understanding, and most of all, your great common sense.  

I’m so proud to be your mayor and want to say, “Please keep up the wonderful work you have accomplished so far.”

Gib Coerper

Mayor, Alachua, Florida

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January 31, 2020  

 

TALLAHASSEE - This week, Florida's Capitol was jam-packed with the sticky hands of children to force policymakers to take note of their needs.


The annual "Children's Week" kicked off last Sunday, with an event known as the "hanging of the hands" in the Capitol Rotunda. Tens of thousands of pieces of colorful "hand art" decorated by children and their teachers became the center of attention.

Speaking on The Rotunda Podcast, Alan Abramowitz - executive director of Florida's Guardian ad Litem program - says the artwork and having kids barnstorm the Capitol is an effective strategy.

"Every legislator, every policymaker will see those and know that our priority are children," says Abramowitz. "And it just so happens that this week is budget week, the budgets are coming out."

The Florida Senate released its initial budget of almost $93 billion yesterday. It includes across-the-board pay raises for state employees and more money for teacher salaries. The House is expected to release its full budget, as Abramowitz advocates for full funding for the state's children's programs.

To cap off Children's Week, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the formation of a "Children's Corner" in the library of the governor's mansion on Thursday. Abramowitz says he sees a coordinated effort by the governor and the Florida Department of Children and Families' secretary to keep kids out of the foster-care system.

"The governor and Secretary Poppell have put together a package that doesn't just focus on foster care," says Abramowitz. "Because if a child enters foster care, they've already been abused, abandoned and neglected. They're looking at prevention. How do we keep families together?"

The governor's proposed budget provides more than $1.2 billion dollars in funding, an increase of just over $132 million over Fiscal Year 2018-19 for early childhood education. The budget plan released Thursday is a first step. Senate and House negotiators will hammer out a final budget before the session ends March 13

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 TALLAHASSEE – At the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis, the Department of Education released the proposed Florida B.E.S.T. (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking) Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and announced that Common Core has been officially eradicated from Florida classrooms. The Commissioner is recommending that the State Board of Education formally adopt these standards February 12.

“Florida has officially eliminated Common Core. I truly think this is a great next step for students, teachers, and parents,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We’ve developed clear and concise expectations for students at every grade level and allow teachers the opportunity to do what they love most – inspire young Floridians to achieve their greatest potential. These standards create pathways for students that lead to great college and professional outcomes and parents will now be able to reinforce what their children are learn in the classroom every day. Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards were made by Florida teachers for Florida students, and I know they will be a model for the rest of the nation.”

“Governor DeSantis made it very clear that we had to reimagine the pathway to young Floridians becoming great citizens, and we’ve done exactly that with the B.E.S.T. Standards,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “Florida will be the first state in the nation with an ELA booklist that spans grades K-12, the first state in the nation with a civics booklist embedded in its ELA standards, and a state that has dropped the crazy math. Florida has completely removed ourselves from the confines of Common Core.”

The Florida B.E.S.T. Standards are posted at http://www.fldoe.org/standardsreview.

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HOMOSASSA, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is celebrating the historic 60th birthday of Lucifer (Lu), the resident hippopotamus.

Lu is a longtime resident of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, with fans around the world. For his special day, a celebration was held this morning where visitors, staff and volunteers joined together to sing Lu Happy Birthday as he enjoys his specially-made birthday cake. 

“We’re proud that Lu calls Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park home,” said Florida Park Service Director Eric Draper. “He is an impressive sight and a valuable partner who helps engage visitors in learning about wildlife.”

"Lu is an iconic part of our park and all of Citrus County. He is loved by all and has been an inspiration to generation after generation," said Park Manager Tricia Fowler. "We could not be prouder to celebrate 60 years with Lu and the happiness that he has brought to the community and countless visitors."

In the afternoon, another celebration took place during the park’s alligator and hippopotamus program, providing park visitors another opportunity to join the birthday celebration of Florida’s only resident hippopotamus. A giant birthday card was available for visitors to sign to wish Lu a happy birthday, and the card was presented to Lu during the second ceremony. Lu's fans can also send him a birthday greeting on his Facebook page.

Lu, an African hippopotamus, was born at the San Diego Zoo on Jan. 26, 1960. Like all hippos, Lu is a vegetarian and his diet consists of alfalfa hay and assorted vegetables and fruit. Hippos typically live from 40 to 50 years old. At 59, Lu is the oldest hippo in North America.

A fixture at Homosassa Springs since 1964, Lu was a movie and television star with the Ivan Tors Animal Actors troupe, which wintered at the park while it was in private ownership. His credits include the 1960s movies "Daktari" and "Cowboy in Africa," and television specials such as the "Art Linkletter Show" and "Herb Alpert Special." 

For more than five decades, Lu has been a mainstay among the animals at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. When the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service purchased the attraction in 1989, the state planned to shift the emphasis of the park to native Florida wildlife and find homes for all of the exotic species, including Lu. Public support, however, led the state to grant Lu special Florida citizenship in 1991. Since then, he has become an icon at the park, attracting visitors from around the globe.

For more information about Homosassa Springs State Park, visit the park's webpage

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Sgt. 1st Class Corey Walker (left) and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Hosford fold a Florida flag that was presented to the 1153rd Finance Management Company to fly in Iraq. The unit will be headed to Fort McCoy, Wis., this week for additional training prior to deploying to Iraq.

Approximately 25 Soldiers from the Florida National Guard's 1153rd Finance Management Detachment were honored during a ceremony in St. Augustine, Nov. 10, 2010, prior to departing for their deployment to Iraq. The unit will provide financial assistance for Soldiers at forward operating bases near Baghdad, Iraq. For most of the Soldiers, this will be their first deployment overseas "We have a real young unit," said Sgt. 1st Class Corey Walker, the senior enlisted member of the detachment. "For a lot of people, this will be their first time going, but we're leaning on our veterans to push us through."  To prepare for the deployment, the Soldiers spent months conducting additional pre-mobilization training. The Soldiers will leave at the end of the week for additional training at Fort McCoy, Wis., prior to arriving in Iraq.

"We've gone through months of rigorous basic Soldiering training," said Walker. "We also went through extensive finance training to hone our finance skills at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin."  Family support was emphasized throughout the ceremony, with leaders at each level reassuring the families present that the Florida National Guard is committed to helping them while their Soldier is away.

"What I want you to remember is, the Florida National Guard is a family," said Lt. Col. Paul Chauncey, the commander of the 927th Combat Service Support Battalion. "We understand that it takes the strength of each and every one of you sitting out in this audience for these Soldiers to do their job."

"We recognize your sacrifice," Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, The Adjutant General of Florida said to the families. "You are so much a part of what we do. We are there for you while your Soldier is gone. Please remember, we are only a phone call away."

At the unit level, a family support group is in place to provide support to families throughout the deployment. The group has held numerous events prior to the deployment to ensure that the families know each other and they know how to get in contact with each other if they have any issues.  The unit leadership expressed confidence in their Soldiers' training and their ability to accomplish the mission safely and effectively.

"We're real confident," said Walker. "We're sure we're going to go over there and do a good job and come back safe."

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