Feature Stories

All About the Bernina Sewing Center: repairs, classes and quilting

TAMPA – Technological advances are seen throughout several occupations and hobbies,
but the craft of sewing is often overlooked. The couple that owns the largest sewing
center in Tampa has managed to remain updated.

Growing up in Switzerland, Gregor Sidler has spent his life around fabrics, spools of thread and sewing machinery. After working for Bernina International and completing an apprenticeship, Sidler moved to the United States where he met his wife, Debra Sidler.

The couple have owned the Bernina Sewing Center since 1997. Sidler is specialized in sewing machine development.

“As a matter of fact, the first electronic sewing machine was born on my table,” Sidler said. “I’m really good at it. I help a lot of other dealers in America doing that.”

The creative center hosts about seven classes each month and has an embroidery club. Updates for classes are on the store’s calendar.

Quilters often meet to digitally stitch and assemble embroidered quilts. Lori Loerch is a frequent class attendee.

“We’re actually doing individual blocks that have different designs on them,” Loerch said. “Then after each individual block, you’ll put them together and stitch them together.”

Examples of quilts and other sewing projects are posted on the store’s Facebook.

Arts4All Florida: the history, rebrand and future

TAMPA – Arts4AllFlorida, formerly known as VSA Florida underwent a rebrand in 2018. The organization felt a new name would better reflect their purpose.

Wendy Finklea, the program director, said Arts4All Florida, “provides, supports, and champions arts education and really rich cultural experiences for and by people with disabilities.”

Arts4All Florida has been headquartered at the University of South Florida since 1996. It was founded by Jean Kennedy Smith in 1974.

William Black serves as the principal investigator of special education programs at USF. Black oversees programs that Arts4All Florida hosts like the community arts program at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex.

“That program is taught by Nanci Dorau, our teaching artist,” Finklea said. “It’s a theater, music and dance program.”

Arts4All Florida also brings dance groups like ILL-Abilities to perform at USF and hosts art calendar contests.

“It’s a wonderful way to showcase our professional artists and to generate more awareness about artists with disabilities throughout the state,” Sandra Sroka, the adult program coordinator said.

Arts4All Florida announces all events and programs on Facebook.

Hillsborough County Library Renovations and Budgets

Public libraries have long been near and dear to many people’s hearts. Several libraries under the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative have undergone recent renovations. Let’s take a look at the New Tampa Regional Library, and see how it’s changed in recent years.

Earlier this year, only 42 percent of households had library cards. Now, that number is up to 70 percent, which is six percent higher than last year.

The New Tampa Regional Library has reconstructed the children’s area, and added more meeting spaces and computers.

“The seating spaces around the library are used for my study groups- studying with friends, hanging out with friends,” said Yewon Kee, a high school student. “During testing, I usually study here and do my homework here, and it’s really natural  to be around computers because it feels like I’m at home too.”

“Libraries aren’t just a place to come and consume information,” said Christopher Brackett, a librarian at the New Tampa Regional Library. “People are now gathering information, creating new information, and sharing that with other people.”

“I enjoy the meeting spaces. They workout  perfectly,” said Victor Mendez, a tutor. “It’s very quiet and it’s a good environment to teach my students.”

Another big thing that they do is they put signs up now. They used to not have signs that say this is a quiet space and vice versa, said Mendez. “So that prevents a lot of the high school kids from coming and making a mess and you know being very loud.

HCPLC has a little over 1,600 computers, which means that 1.18 public computers are shared by every 1,000 people. For the past couple of years, people have made over seven million virtual visits each year.


“88 percent of the people in Hillsborough County have some type of computer- whether it’s a desktop, laptop or smartphone, but 20 percent of the population doesn’t have internet access,”  said Brackett.

“Occasionally I’ll use a computer if I’m having Wi-Fi issues at the house or something,” said Eugene Bolchoz, a library patron.

While State Aid to Libraries grants have been decreasing for Hillsborough county and are estimated to continue decreasing, the overall State Aid to Libraries has been the same and recently increased, in the past three years. In other words, as a county we’re getting less grant money, but as a state we haven’t changed much.

state aid

“Our budget is 40 million per year and we have 27 locations and two buses,” said Brackett.

“The Homestead Exemption that they’re going to be voting on next year, if that passes that will probably affect us negatively also. Because if there’s less money being generated by taxes, there’s less money that we have to spend on our services. But, the director and the other county administrator’s have been working on a plan for that if that does go through,” said Brackett.

From the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services Annual Statistic Report for 2017, this is how much money is spent on the HCPLC library collection.


At the same time, the number and attendance of adult, youth, and children’s programs has increased. So, how do libraries do it?

“Really the only constant in libraries is change,” said Brackett. “We’re just keeping up with what the community needs, so we’re taking what resources we have and finding out new ways that that can work best for the community.”

“There’s been a lot of progress I think with certain additions- videos, the construction that’s going on- it has not really been that inconvenient,” said Bolchoz. “In front there’s a lot of community meetings here.”

The next time you’re out, stop by your local public library, and observe how old and new coexist.

Music Information:

Divider by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)


USF Students Host Picnic for Syrian Refugees

TAMPA, Fla. – Students Organize for Syria (SOS) hosted a picnic for refugee children and families to kick off the sunny April weather. The University of South Florida organization used to focus on advocating awareness and activism about Syria, but when many Syrian refugees came to Florida, the group shifted to catering to their needs.

“This year, we focus most on integrating the refugee families that are in Tampa into our communities,” said Nour Shahout, president of the USF organization.

SOS often collaborates with Radiant Hands, a local help agency that focuses on women and children empowerment. The organization is centered on immediate help as well as providing long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency programs for those who reach out to them.

The volunteers tutor students in a center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Earlier in 2018, they added an additional location to accommodate elementary students too. Now, there are students from first through 10th grade.

The picnic was a way for the tutors to interact with the children without being in a classroom setting and to introduce them to new field games. “At the picnic, we played games. Growing up in the United States, we’re very familiar to them,” said Shahout. “But for refugees that are coming from Syria, they’re not familiar with the three-legged race, hula hoop chain or sponge relay.”

Most of the families do not have transportation, so many of the volunteers drove them to Riverfront Park. Because transportation is difficult, it’s hard to have all the children socialize together at the same time. Events like this take SOS weeks plan and coordinate.

“It’s very rewarding, and you can just tell the kids are very grateful and very happy to see that there’s people, there’s a group of young people that really care and are willing to help them,” Shahout said. “When we go out, either if we’re going to drop something off at their house, or we’re you know tutoring them we have more of a personal relationship with them.”

The children got to let out a lot of their energy with students they see as mentors and role models.

“Most of us are college students, so we can relate to them, we are like their friends,” Shahout said. “We treat them like our younger siblings. They feel loved, they feel cared, and they feel like they want to excel and do their best.”

Another board member, Nour Bitar, was pleased with the turnout.

“It was a ton of fun for everybody,” said Bitar. “It’s just so satisfying when in the end of the day, you go and ask these kids ‘was there anything we lacked or need to improve on?’ And they give you a big smile and they say no it was so fun it was perfect thank you guys so much for doing this. That smile just keeps you going, recharges your battery, and makes you want to put in more work and never stop helping these people.”


ReDefiners is an organization that is dedicated to helping students learn a second language with affordable after school programs.

They host various fundraisers and events to raise money to make sure that children can attend the classes they have to offer with ease.

Maple Street Connects the Community with Comfort Food

TAMPA – Maple Street Biscuit Company’s branch in Carrollwood wanted to develop strong ties to the community. The store does this by championing care for quality food and by providing gracious service.

The company started in Jacksonville in 2012. Carrollwood’s “community store” is now one of many in the Tampa Bay area.

Troy Gibson, the store’s community leader, said he loves being able to give back directly to customers.

“Really the key difference between what we do and other restaurants do is our involvement in the community,” Troy Gibson said.

The restaurants are also popular for their modern twist on comfort food. One menu item, “The Squawking Goat Biscuit,” was featured Food Network’s Guilty Pleasures.

“But most popular is our Five and Dime,” Troy Gibson said. “It’s going to be a flaky biscuit, which we make fresh in-house all day, an all-natural fried chicken breast, pecan wood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, our housemade sausage gravy and then we top it off with a fried egg.”

Frequent customers said they enjoy the store for its simplistic, country vibe.

“It’s always perfect,” Frederick Bedford, a customer, said. “And you know, the pricing’s right and it’s a good place to come eat.”