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La Gaceta Endorses Michael Scionti for Circuit Judge

From As We Heard It, by: Patrick Manteiga June 26, 2020

Circuit Judge Michael Scionti is being challenged by Ashley Ivanov for his Group 19 seat, but we have no idea why.
Ivanov has been a Florida lawyer for only five years and has 10 years total as an attorney. She is a solo practitioner who reported $70,000 in income from her practice. If she won, she’d get a raise. We didn’t interview Ivanov. We didn’t have to. Everyone we’ve spoken with knows Judge Michael Scionti deserves to be reelected.
Before COVID-19, Judge Scionti’s vehicle was one of the first in the courthouse parking garage in the morning and one of the last to leave in the evening. He is hard working, dedicated and serious about his job. He is also uniquely qualified to be the only judge serving over the Veterans Treatment Court and has made it a national model.
He has 25 years of legal experience, served as a judge for five and a half years and served in the military for 20 years.
On the civilian side, he has been an assistant state attorney, assistant attorney general and a criminal defense attorney. He was elected state representative from West Tampa and later appointed by President Barack Obama as deputy assistant secretary of defense.
On the military side, he served in several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star. He served as a military magistrate and military judge advocate. He currently holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and commands the 139th Legal Operations Detachment.
Scionti has earned respect and admiration from his peers at the courthouse. He has always had ours.
La Gaceta wholeheartedly endorses Judge Michael Scionti for Circuit Court Judge Group 19.

La Gaceta Endorses Helene Daniel for Circuit Judge

From As We Heard It, by: Patrick Manteiga June 26, 2020

There are two candidates in the run for Circuit Judge Group 30 in Hillsborough County – Helene Daniel and Daniel Alvarez.
Alvarez was admitted to the Bar in 2008 and worked as general counsel for a business, then at a small law firm and later opened his own law firm. He now works at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where he holds the title of special projects manager. Alvarez also served in the U.S. Army. He has plenty of life experience and has a personality that would put people at ease in court. His current level of experience and personality might be better suited for county court.
Helene Daniel’s legal résumé trumps Alvarez’. She has 33 years as an attorney. She is rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell. Her experience includes criminal, adoption litigation, corporate counsel, real estate and healthcare law. She is currently in private practice. She has also been a Supreme Court Certified Circuit Court Civil Mediator since 2001.
She is smart, hardworking, experienced and deserves to sit on the bench.
La Gaceta endorses Helene Daniel for Circuit Court Judge Group 30.

Silhouettes profiles Kelly Stephens

Kelly Stephens

Originally published in the June 12, 2020 edition of La Gaceta
By Tiffany Razzano

As the city grows and changes, Kelly Stephens remains proud of his Tampa roots. With more people moving to the area from other parts of the country, fewer residents are “born and raised in Tampa,” he said. “I’m one of the very few, anymore.” It’s important for natives of the city to “reminisce about the old days…talk about the good times, talk about what’s going on now, talk about how that relates to how things were.”
Growing up, he split his time between Riverside Heights and Ybor City. In the 1980s and 1990s, both neighborhoods were quite different from what they look like today, he said.
His father, owner of Tampa Oxygen and Welding Supply and founder of the James E. Rooster Funeral and Procession in the late 1990s, has lived in Ybor City for decades, Stephens said. “I remember Ybor City back in the day when it wasn’t much of a district. There were some offices and businesses, but it was a quiet time. It evolved and changed into more of an entertainment district over the years.”
He added, “Now, there’s all these shops and retail and restaurants during the day and at night more of the restaurants and night clubs. It’s a very busy district now.”
Riverside Heights, where he lived with his mother, also experienced a dramatic transformation over the years. “My street that I grew up on, all the families were related or had relationships over the years and had all grown up together,” he said, adding that several members of his family and close friends lived nearby. “It was one of those neighborhoods where everybody knew one another, and everybody grew up around one another. It was not as popular as it is today.”
Now, families clamor to live in the neighborhood, he said. “As soon as houses go up for rent or sale, they’re usually taken off the market very, very quickly.”
As a child, he was drawn to law enforcement and police work. “It’s funny, I remember that I loved seeing cop shows, and I remember watching ‘T.J. Hooker’ and ‘CHiPs’ as a kid,” he said.
By the time he got to Hillsborough High School, like many teens, he got distracted. “You know how it is. As you get older and get into high school and figure out who you are as a teenager, you don’t think too hard career wise,” he said. “You’re more in the moment, making friends and having fun.”
Stephens still found his way to the Tampa Police Department Explorers Post, which was a life-changing experience for him, though. “I met some friends who were in the Explorers program and they thought I should check it out, so I did,” he said. And he loved the program.
He took criminal justice courses when he moved on to Hillsborough Community College after graduating from high school. He thought that one day he might become a police officer.
While studying at HCC, he also began working for private corporations in the security field. As he worked his way through the ranks and his career became more demanding, he abandoned his studies before earning his degree.
Years later, at the urging of a mentor, he went back to college in 2015 and earned his bachelor’s degree in public safety administration with a minor in emergency management from St. Petersburg College two years later.
He doesn’t regret focusing on his career first, though. “It took me a different route,” Stephens said. “It brought me up a different career path and I couldn’t ask for more.”
He launched his career in the security field working in the security department at Tiffany & Co. in International Plaza. After the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel was built, he began working for Marriott Hotels in the loss prevention department.
After four years, he became a traveling director for the company. In this role, he was deployed to New Orleans for six months after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “I assisted our hotels, trying to secure the hotels, secure the employees and get things back up to an operational standpoint, get them up to an operational mode,” he said.
“It was a very, very eye-opening experience and led me to the emergency management side of things,” he said.
In 2006, he left Marriott to become Countrywide Financial’s regional director of security for the Eastern United States. He oversaw 6,100 branches in 31 states. “That was probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” he said.
Unfortunately, it was short-lived as “the housing market tanked and (he) was laid off.” Stephens returned to Marriott, but that also took a financial hit. Around this time, he connected with 717 Parking Enterprises, which oversaw valet parking at the hotel. They had a position for him, and he joined their team. He started out as a valet manager and worked his way through the ranks to senior district operations manager by the time he left three years later.
In 2010, he was hired by the city of Tampa as an assistant garage and lot operations supervisor. There, he also worked his way through the ranks, first to interim garage operations supervisor then to parking operations superintendent. Last February, he was named parking division manager.
It’s not an easy job, but he enjoys it, he said. He often hears from people, “It’s just parking. How hard could it be?”
He added, “I tell them, come work my job just one day, please.”
There are numerous duties that fall under his role. His department works closely with private parking operators throughout the city “to ensure we’re operating effectively…and we’re doing stuff efficiently.”
He also oversees parking enforcement, both paid and free spots, as well as in garages. He knows this is a job that doesn’t always make his department popular, but it’s important. The dramatic altercations between parking enforcement and characters “that you see on TV? It happens all the time,” he said.
Stephens stresses that it’s “not just writing tickets. We also try to educate and correct the action beforehand. Ticketing should be one of our last resorts.” He sends his staff to go out into the community to speak with residents and businesses about parking rules in the city. “That positive relationship makes for a better process than just going out there and writing tickets.”
Security is also a big part of his job. After the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the city increased security at various venues, including parking garages, he said, particularly in areas that draw large crowds, such as around Amalie Arena, the Straz Center and Curtis Hixon Park. “We’ve increased our security presence because of that,” he said.
His department is currently working on implementing new technology systems for garage and on-street parking. It’s a multi-platform system that will allow drivers to use multiple parking providers, he said. “If you go to Atlanta, you go to (Washington) D.C., you go to Atlanta. You can use that same provider here. You don’t have to download another app just because you’re in Tampa. We’re looking to make it so much easier for everybody to use the provider you want to use.”
His staff are currently working on the implementation of frictionless parking at the Tampa Convention Center Garage and the William F. Poe Garage. “What that means is when you enter the garage, you don’t have to touch anything,” he said. “You don’t have to pull a ticket. The gate will lift, it will pull your tag and you’ll use your cell phone to pay or go to one of the machines, kiosks in there…When you leave, go to the gate. The camera captures your tag again and there’s no contact with anybody.”
In recent months, Stephens was also named to the city’s Emergency Management team, taking on the role of emergency response center commander overseeing Ybor City, downtown and the port. He was excited by the appointment as it aligns with his longtime goals and interests. “It’s what I got my degree in and what I wanted to do,” he said. “I was really, really excited when they asked me.”
Typically, those on the Emergency Management team are called to duty during disasters, such as hurricanes. “But the emergency centers don’t activate for hurricanes. Really, it’s anything that goes on, natural disasters, any crisis,” he said. “Let’s say we had a 9/11 experience in downtown Tampa, a bombing. We’d be called.”
He was activated much sooner than he thought he would be when he was called up May 31, the day after the civil unrest led to looting and rioting in the University Mall area. During the protests, he was ready to assist Tampa police with anything they needed. He received one downtown call to secure tables and chairs at Curtis Hixon.
“I didn’t expect to be activated so soon. My acceptance (of the role) was recent then all of a sudden there’s COVID-19, then protests and I’m activated for that, and now it’s June 1, hurricane season,” he said.
As a Tampa native who is proud of his roots, he’s excited to be working for the city in a position where he can give back. “It’s very inspiring,” he said. “I was raised here, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. I turned 40 in October. That’s 40 great years. I’ve worked outside the city of Tampa. I’ve traveled, but I’ve always loved and wanted to come back home. Tampa is home and I can’t see myself anywhere else. This is a great city and I’m glad to be able to work for (it).”

In Context by Doris Weatherford 9/13/19


Except for jokes about presidential Sharpies, things are relatively quiet in the political world, so I’m continuing the mental break from contemporary news that I began last week. I quoted then from “Olivia’s African Diary,” the day-to-day journal of a six-month trip through southern and eastern Africa in 1932. The writer was Oliva Stokes (later Hatch), and the photographs that accompany the published diary were by Mary Marvin Breckinridge (later Patterson).
And yes, women’s history is much harder to do than standard history because it was (and is) routine for women to change their surnames at least once in their lifetimes — with remarriages, even several times. Can you imagine tracing Thomas Jefferson if his surname were “Franklin” or “Washington” or “Hamilton” at different points in his life? And no one called him “Tom” or “Tommy,” unlike Mary Marvin Breckinridge, a woman called “Marvin.”
Olivia and Marvin were young college graduates who traveled with Olivia’s parents; they were checking on progressive projects in Africa, some of which were funded by the Phelps-Stokes family. They began their trek after landing at South Africa’s Cape Town in August, the weather equivalent of February in the Southern Hemisphere; when we left them last week, it was October, the equivalent of April. They were in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and we will pick them up again at the southern edge of what then was the Belgian Congo and now is Zaire.
Belgians (at least most of them) speak French, and the broad area was called “French Equatorial Africa.” Globalism is further reflected in that their destination here was the new village of Elisabethville. As its English name denotes, it was a company town built by Britons who mined its copper, which “is supposed to be the richest ore in the world. It was started only five years ago and seems amazingly well run,” Olivia wrote:
“We visited the attractive village where the Natives are given little houses with one room and a kitchen, their food, and the men their working clothes, besides from ten to twenty-five francs a day. It is all very clean and trees have been planted, which adds a lot. The Natives are a cheery group… The women are stunning. Many tribes have very becoming tattoo marks, made by rubbing juice from the rubber tree into scratches made on their faces… Their dress is…gaily printed cotton worn off the shoulders… They twist a bandana of the same color about their foreheads and it hangs down the back of their heads.
“We visited the baby welfare center where every day the babies are brought in and bathed…. On Sundays, they all bring their tables and chairs outside, spread their best tablecloth, and sit about in their best… Many of the men, it seems, wear dinner jackets. We asked one woman to open up her trunk. She said she was very poor, but it contained a fine hat, several silk dresses, and in a notebook, four or five hundred franc notes… We went down into the mine and noticed several Natives in positions of responsibility.”


This community was strongly influenced by a Belgian Catholic physician who had been there for twenty-five years. He also had overseen the creation of other such communities, and at Pandar, “they have a Camp d’Acclimatation just outside the town where all recruited labor, wives, and children, have to stay for one month, undergoing physical examination [and] vaccination…before they can go to one of the mines.”
When they took the railroad further north, she commented, “the Belgian Congo trains are quite grand and even have showers.” The railroad tracks ended at Bukama, however, where she said “the shopkeepers were mostly Greek.” From there, they took a tri-level boat that featured “good food” supervised by the captain’s wife. This family had their home on the upper deck, and because the captain needed his sleep, the boat docked at sunset. Then, she said, the 162 “Native passengers who crowded the lower deck got off and lit their little fires all along the bank.”
The Lualaba River, however, promoted mosquitoes, and brief trips ashore led them to conclude that “half of the Natives have sleeping sickness.” The river connects to Lake Tanganyika, a huge north-south waterway that looks on the map more like a river than a lake. The town where they stayed waiting for the next boat was Albertville, even though “of the 250 Europeans here now, only two are English.” Again it was a global mix, with many from Cypress, “a few Mohammedans, and the rest Belgians… The place seems very active and bustling with even white-robed priests dashing about on motorcycles… They say that about five Natives a month are eaten by crocs, so we resisted the temptation to swim in the lake.”
Kigoma, one of the next towns, is in modern Tanzania, and at its hospital, she reported “distressing cases of leprosy, sleeping sickness, and awful yaws” — a serious tropical skin infection that can penetrate to the bones. Yet she described the town as “quaint, with its thatched roofs and trees planted by the Germans.” They also witnessed a trial in Kigoma, in which a Muslim woman accused two Christian Natives of having stolen her cassava. “A group of older ones seemed to serve as a sort of jury. Witnesses were called in. The men were proved guilty and marched off to the lock-up.”
As they approached Dar-es-Salaam, on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya, she said “we saw several giraffes from the train window.” While the parents took a plane to Mombasa, the young women stayed at the palatial “Government House.” Diplomats there were glad to squire them around “through groves of cocoa palms, bananas, breadfruit trees, and endless clove trees with their perfume pervading everything.” The minister of agriculture told them that they had experimented with raising silk worms, but it was not a success because “a fat and healthy silk worm was too much of a temptation for the Natives, who ate them.”
To the north of Dar-es-Salaam, in Zanzibar, they began to encounter more Muslim culture, and she wrote: “Mrs. Johnston took Mother, Marvin, and me to an Arab wedding, or one part of the three-day ceremonies, the one for women only. Mrs. Johnston runs a school for Arab women. Most of the teachers are twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years old – the ages at which they usually marry… We were shown into a room downstairs where were the young unmarried girls who were not permitted to see the performance, or those who, though married, were still in their “period of modesty,’ which lasts for a year or more after marriage… An Arab will always take a pure-blooded Arab for his first wife, while others were Natives or mixed who tried to plaster their kinky hair down to conform to Arab fashion.”
Nairobi is a big modern city today, but then, she said that its Kikuyu natives “wear skins.” They had seen skin-wearing elsewhere, though, and what they found “most amazing” here were the huge earrings. Women wore “loops of them, stuck all up and down the ear,” while “men have distended ears with different sorts of rings.” She added, without explanation of what we understand today is the tradition of genital mutilation: “The women seldom get very far in their studies because apparently the Kikuyu ceremonies for women are so horrible and the operation so cruel that they are dulled thereafter.”
North of there, they stayed at a hotel in the coffee-growing area of Kenya, and she reported: “although only twenty miles from the equator, it is about 7,000 feet up and quite cold at night… Some Native men came around selling monkey skins.” In Uganda, they found the best roads in all of Africa. “Under Native law,” she explained, “each petty chief has to maintain a road… They are fine and wide…and really park-like. Beyond them are forests of mahogany trees…, with their owners’ huts hidden among the banana trees.”
At Kampala, they toured “a very good maternity hospital where they train midwives. They have reduced the death rate…so that of every pregnancy, now only 7.6% of the babies die within the year…, while before it was 74%.” An earlier hospital in Zimbabwe had given them a glimpse of brutal traditions associated with childbirth: This “small hospital” featured “a special place for twins where the mother can bring them as soon as they are born to prevent them from being killed according to tribal custom.”
Also at Kampala, they observed “a parliament… efficiently run entirely by Natives. The only European we saw there was an electrician mending one of their telephones.” On the other hand, when they peered into a tomb for the latest king: “We could see a couple of his widows sitting on the floor and moaning. Some widow has to keep up this lament and vigil all the time… Now the leading widow is a young woman of eighteen who, according to their custom, was married to the corpse!”


Because of Marvin’s interest in photography, Olivia spent ink on movies that were being made in Africa. I won’t try to summarize this topic, but she remarked that one – a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film – “was banned in Uganda because of the fact that a Native carries a white girl.” It was a land of contrasts, as on the same day that she recorded this Hollywood presence, she also wrote: “We passed a herd of about forty elephants going in single file up a hill.” Later, in Sudan, she said that natives told them elephants sometimes “committed suicide by curling their trunks into their mouths and blowing their brains out.”
Uganda is home to pygmies, and she wrote of “the really saintly Apolo, a Native minster who works among them.” Although an African, Apolo was not a pygmy, and she said that because adults were not allowed to learn the language, he had some small boys go and live with them and learn it… Most of the Pygmies live in grass and leaf shelters on the ground, while some tribes still live in little leaf shelters in the trees. If a Pygmy is hungry, he will cut a chunk off the leg of a passing elephant, while if he really wishes to kill an elephant, he sneaks between his legs and spears him in the stomach…. They steal grain and fruit from the Forest people, but always leave a piece of meat hanging outside the village in payment.”
In contrast to pygmies, the people in Sudan were “very tall,” with some estimated at seven feet. They were “practically naked, and “all carry at least one spear and many also a bow and arrows.” Modern technology was being introduced, however, as they saw “a large Raleigh bicycle advertisement of a Native thumbing his nose at a pursuing lion.” The most surprising thing about Sudan, though, was that “there is no color bar.” Natives who could afford it sat with them (and Australians) on the train to the White Nile branch of the huge Nile River.


On the boat north, they met a Miss Wolf “who has charge of all the midwifery work in the Southern Sudan.” Again, they learned interesting things: “This lady said that the Shilluks have an old custom which makes it necessary for their king to be speared – he cannot die in his bed. The present one has managed to live fifteen years, but they tried to kill him a couple of months ago.” Stokes described the Shilluks as “very tall,” but statistics were hard to come by because they refused to be measured – for valid reasons, from their point of view, as the only time they were measured was when their graves were dug. “They have to give a cow to the gravedigger and he cannot return to his home until he has passed through a purification ceremony… The Presbyterians have not tried to clothe the Shilluks, so Dr. McLenahan said it was a wonderful sight to see the stark naked choirboys march up to their place in the church on Sundays!”
Khartoum, a city on the Nile about midway between modern Eritrea and Chad, was the only place where they spoke directly about slavery. They asked the Headman if “there were any slaves in the town,” and he replied, “No, but there were several Negro women, unveiled, walking about [who] were practically, though not technically, slaves. He knew one man who had gained his freedom who was still paying ten piasters a month to his former owner. Theoretically, everyone can get his freedom through applying to an official, but inherited slaves are married off to other slaves and thus a sort of domestic slave class has arisen. In Abyssinia there is supposed to be still actual slave raiding going on.”
Abyssinia was another terms for Ethiopia — and very soon, the practice of raiding enemy villages for war captives to sell as slaves would be abandoned, as in 1935, all natives faced bombs from Italian airplanes during the first incidents of World War II. Just as an aside from the diary and for your information, historically most slaves were captured by enemy tribes and brought to the western coast of Africa. The biggest slave markets were in ports controlled by Portugal, especially Ghana and Senegal, which were closest to the Western Hemisphere. The east coast had less slave trading, but the unfortunate point is that virtually all Africans initially were sold by other Africans. The question of how much slavery still goes on, both there and on other continents, is worthy of more attention.
The last places that the diary details were in Sudan and some of the lower regions of Egypt. Stokes had seen Cairo and other aspects of the Nile Valley, including Luxor and Karnak, earlier in her life and understandably found it less noteworthy. Her December summary of two schools at Khartoum was the last to focus on women and girls. With a big Muslim population, she said, “the teaching has to be largely in English as there are few books in modern Arabic… Miss Grove gets all shades and colors, and mixtures of French, Egyptian, Greek, English, Arab, and Negro, among others. The girls receive a certificate…, but there seems to be little for them to do with their education, and they aren’t often wanted as wives.”


Silhouettes Profiles Bradley Romp

Bradley Romp

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

Bradley Romp had been healthy his entire life – not just healthy, but athletic, even working as a fitness model at one point – when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago.
He and his wife, Michelle, were celebrating her 40th birthday in Hawaii with friends. As he prepared for a day on the golf course, he lost his balance and busted his toe. So he spent a spa day with his wife and her friend, instead.
“Having MS, that’s the worst thing you could do for it,” he said. “But I didn’t know I had it at the time. Ice baths, mud baths, salt baths – I was just putting my body in shock.”
When he returned home, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, it crept upward, into his lower back, and he experienced pins and needles in his fingers. At first, his chiropractor thought he had a herniated disc. But when it seemed like something more was going on, Romp was sent for an open MRI.
Because it was open, rather than closed, though, the MRI results were “very sketchy, they couldn’t really tell anything,” he said.
A week after that, his symptoms not getting any better, he made an appointment with Florida Orthopaedic, and he was sent for a closed MRI. His MRI was scheduled for a Friday, and he was sent home with the film to bring to his appointment the following Monday. “But there was no way I was going to wait an entire weekend,” he said.
So Romp called over his neighbor, a doctor, to take a look at the film. They hung the film on his kitchen window so his friend could review them.
His friend knew what he was looking at right away – not only because of his professional experience, but because his sister also has MS ¬– but at first hesitated to make a diagnosis in such an informal setting. Eventually, the words came out – Romp had MS.
Romp’s first reaction was, “MS? What’s MS?”
His friend explained is was a disabling disease to the central nervous system caused by damage to the myelin coating around nerve fibers, disrupting the transmission of signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be effin’ kidding me,’” Romp said. “He left, and I cried like a baby.”
Since then – despite the fatigue, vertigo, pins and needles, and pain – he’s turned his attitude around. “I’m a very positive person,” he said.
He serves as a mentor to others with MS and rides in the two-day 150-mile Bike MS: The Citrus Tour each year, raising thousands of dollars and awareness for the disease. “There is no cure for MS at this point,” he said. “But if I can help one person with the disease, one person less fortunate than me, motivate one person, then I’ve done my job.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Romp moved to Tampa in 1980 after high school to attend the University of South Florida.
His entire life, his family had traveled to Florida on vacations to visit friends. It was on one of these trips that he visited USF while in town to see a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and fell in love with the university. “I decided I loved the Florida weather, the beaches and the water, and it spoke to me,” he said. “So I decided to come down here, not knowing anyone. I drove my dad’s van down here, filled with my things, and I’ve been here ever since.”
He studied business management, following in his family’s footsteps. Back home, his family owned a variety of businesses – Danny Boy Farm Markets, Dairy Queen franchises, A&P franchises and tractor companies, to name a few.
After graduating from USF in 1984, he took a job as a trainer for Frank Calta’s health clubs. He was also hired as a fitness model for the Nautilus home workout machine, which was based in DeLand.
Romp decided he wanted to take his life more seriously, though. “I thought, ‘This is fun, but I need to get in the real world,’” he said.
He took a job with Cellular One in 1987, which eventually became AT&T. He worked for the company for more than 18 years. In his most recent role, he worked as the company’s government account manager, handling accounts for various municipalities, including the City of Tampa, as well as the Secret Service, MacDill Air Force Base, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and USF’s athletic department.
He left AT&T in 2005, when it was bought out by Cingular. Romp decided it was time to do something different. So he took a job selling franchises of Mark Lucas’ Club Z Education, an in-home tutoring company, and Acti-Kare, an in-home medical care company. Romp went on to become the owner of the Acti-Kare franchises in the Tampa Bay area.
This career change came 13 years ago, just before he was diagnosed with MS. Both the job and the diagnosis were pivotal for Romp.
“Before that, I had a shield up in me that I was this person who could do no wrong,” he said. “But when I got the news that I was stricken with MS, I had to bring that shield down. Now I look at people and view people in a completely different way.”
He added, “What I do now for a living, I’m very grateful. It’s very gratifying and very rewarding to help people out. I feel like I’m giving back with the business I’m in right now.”
He’s as passionate about working with the MS community as he is about Acti-Kare. He knows firsthand how devastating the initial diagnosis of MS can be. He coached his two sons on a variety of sports teams – football, baseball, soccer – in the New Tampa area before he was diagnosed. He loved this role but was forced to step down when he continued to lose his balance on the field.
Initially weakened by the MS, at first he could barely hold a 1.5-lb. weight above his head, and the equilibrium issues affected his balance when he tried to ride a bike. “And I’d always been an avid bike rider,” he said. “I couldn’t zip up my pants. I couldn’t button my own shirt. I couldn’t function.”
The turning point came when he was unable to play in a charity golf tournament in which regularly participated because he couldn’t hold the club in his left hand. He vowed he would return the following year.
So he got to work, training to strengthen his body and mind. This is his 10th year riding in the Bike MS: The Citrus Tour, a benefit for the National MS Society. Many people are surprised he’s able to make the two-day 150-mile ride with his MS symptoms, but he’s worked hard to get to that point. “I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’ve kind of taken a negative and turned it into a positive.”
Romp has become known as a top fundraiser for the ride. Last year, he raised more than $17,000 he said.
He hopes his story inspires others living with the disease. “Life doesn’t have to stop with a diagnosis,” he said.
He added, “It’s not about Brad Romp. It’s about making a difference for people living with MS. When I’m training, I’m training for all those who suffer worse than me.”

Silhouettes Profiles Amy Haile

Amy Haile

This article originally appeared in the July 13, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

In hindsight, Amy Haile realizes how much of an influence her mother had on her as a child.
Born in Orlando, Haile spent her early years there. That’s where her father landed while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
But when her parents divorced in the 1970s, her mother, Jan Roberts, moved her daughters closer to Tampa, where she completed a masters’ degree in counseling at the University of South Florida. Roberts went on to become the executive director of The Centre for Women, an organization dedicated to helping women in the Tampa Bay area success personally and professionally. Now retired, her mother, 80, recently performed a sold-out one-woman show at Stageworks Theatre, where she highlighted a cross-country trip she took in her Prius visiting friends and mentors, and reflecting on her life.
After her mother earned her degree, Haile, the youngest of several girls, “was in the house the longest as she was going into that point of her career.” Looking back, Haile, the new director for Champions for Children, formerly the Child Abuse Council in Hillsborough 2001, as an adult realizes how much of an influence her mother was on her. “She’s still kicking it,” Haile said. She added, “I didn’t realize then how much her career would have an impact on me. As a child, I didn’t know it at the time.”
Haile went on to study anthropology at USF and was interested in engaging other cultures and backgrounds without inserting judgment based on her own experiences. After earning her degree, she took a job with Operation PAR. Her role focused on juveniles with mental health and substance abuse issues. This is when she realized she enjoyed working with teens. “I really liked the energy of them,” she said. “They’re invincible and energetic and passionate about life.” She worked with youth and their families, collecting data that would ultimately help them make more informed decisions.
She worked for Operation PAR on and off for years. During some of those off years, she worked for DUI Counterattack in Hillsborough County, also a non-profit organization.
In 1995, she headed back to USF to enter a masters’ program in anthropology. At the same time, she returned to Operation PAR, where she worked until 2001, ending her time with the organization as the outcomes director.
She joined the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, an entity operated by the county, in 2001. In this role, Haile shifted her focus from teenagers to younger children.
There were several projects she worked on during her time there that stand out for her. Working with area non-profit organizations and other Children’s Board staff, she helped to create a childcare system for families with special needs children.
She recalls reaching out to various organizations and asking them “to design a perfect program of support.” Initially, they all argued that there was no funding for such a “perfect” program. But she insisted that they contribute their designs, anyway, which she used as the foundation for the Network of Inclusive Childcare that was funded by the Children’s Board. Though the NIC only existed for four years, there are “remnants of it still in place,” she said.
Haile also helped implement a childcare support program for homeless families. Initially, the Children’s Board supported this local program. But eventually, the state took over.
While working for the Children’s Board, she got to know the team at Champions for Children. She became especially good friends with Brian McEwen when they both entered a graduate certificate program in nonprofit management at the University of Tampa in 2009.
When Paul D’Agostino, the founding executive director of the organization retired, McEwen stepped up to fill his shoes. McEwen then tapped Haile to replace him as the associate director. She joined Champions for Children – then the Child Abuse Council – in 2013.
In recent years, Champions for Children adopted its new name as the organization began to shift its focus on priorities. When it was founded, it focused on the support and reunification of children and families affected by child abuse. The organization expanded its operations though, eventually focusing more on family wellness and child abuse prevention.
Science shows the impact of the first six months on a child’s brain, Haile said. This shows the importance of supporting children and families early as a means of preventing child abuse and other issues. As a result, Champions for Children “provides high caliber, evidence-based, top-of-science programming.”
The name change came about because with the focus on family wellness and prevention, many families were turned away by the term “child abuse.” Haile said, “A lot of parents would say, ‘I’m not abusing my child.’”
Also, they made their programming available to parents from all walks of life – all races, ethnicities, ages and income brackets – not just high-risk families. “It’s not income-based. It’s not risk-based,” she said. “Because all parents need a little help sometimes.”
Champions for Children touches around 38,000 lives in Hillsborough County each year. The majority of this, around 24,000, are through its in-school programming and presentations, Haile said. The rest, both children and their caregivers, are affected by specific programming.
One such program is the Baby Bungalow, an early childhood resource center for new parents. “It’s a lovely oasis” for parents, Haile said, offering a variety of classes and workshops, as well as child development programs.
There’s also Layla’s House, in Sulphur Springs, similar to the Baby Bungalow program, it’s a community-based learning center for caregivers and children. “It really helps caregivers navigate through whatever they might need,” Haile said.
Additionally, there’s the ABC Program – A Breastfeeding and Childbirth Program that provides education and support to expecting and new parents, with topics ranging from pre-natal concerns to breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding is the second opportunity as a parent to feel successful. It builds attachment between the mother and child,” Haile said. “This is an opportunity for us to support that positive attachment.”
The organization’s annual fundraiser is just months away and it’s a great way to support Champions for Children, Haile added. The event, the Dream Keepers Ball, will take place Saturday, Sept. 29 at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
There are other initiatives as well, she added. The first week in August focuses on breastfeeding awareness, and September the group will host a diaper drive for Diaper Awareness Month. “There’s a real need in this community for diapers,” she said. “Diapers are incredibly expensive. We can’t support families for a year, but we can help them through an emergency.”
She also wants to stress that the programming offered by Champions for Children is truly geared towards parents and families from all backgrounds. “No matter who you are, everyone asks themselves at some point, ‘Are you a bad parent? What are you doing wrong?’ We’re here to support them.”