Tampa Bay Group Inspires and Celebrates Women

Congregants of the International Women’s Group of Pinellas (IWGP) gather around two tables pushed together in a Thai restaurant off Largo’s East Bay Blvd in February. It is their second monthly meeting in 2016. Sara Im, the group’s co-founder, leads the conversation from the middle.

Every month there are new members and so introductions are always the first cycle of the monthly roundtable discussion. IWGP co-founder Sara Im leads. “The first thing we’re going to do today is go around the table, and everybody will say,” she pauses to think, “who they are, what country they’re from, and how long they’ve lived in the area.” The topic of the second rotation is more flexible. One by one the women dish on family, work, origin stories, love and so on. Conversation never runs dry.

Sara started IWGP in 2013 to offer support to immigrant women in the Tampa Bay area. She got the idea after making friends with Lucy, the only other international woman in their women’s bible study group. Shared experience fostered an immediate bond. “We kind of gravitated to each other,” Im said.

Like Sara, Lucy’s first language is not English, so Sara invited her to a local English conversation class. The social protocol in a language conversation class facilitates structured interaction but does little to foster meaningful relationships. Lucy, an immigrant housewife, felt a sense of loneliness and confinement in her daily life. She craved the intimate socialization and English discussion that a formal conversation class could not provide. In a show of support and appreciation, Sara utilized her leadership skills and Meetup.com to start a social group for international women living locally.

English practice is a pillar of IWGP. Members are immigrants and non-native English speakers. Regular conversation groups facilitate the growth of complex language skills that extend beyond simple, daily use. With these language skills, the women are better equipped to acclimate to life in the U.S.

Above all, friendship is the foundation of this group. Conversations at IWGP meetings are far richer than the medium through which they are conducted. The underlying communication is genuine care and fellowship. “Everybody wants to be loved, wants to be supported,” said Im.

At their next gathering on Saturday March 12, members of the IWGP will gather at the Baha’I Center at Clearwater to celebrate International Women’s Day, a commemorative day taking place worldwide annually on March 8. A workshop at the event will address human trafficking and Syrian refugees in the Tampa Bay metro area. Women of all backgrounds and faiths are invited to join.

International Women’s Day marks the triumphs and accomplishments of women across the globe throughout time. The event will “acknowledge and remember all women from around the world,” said Sara.

Celebrations of International Women’s Day take place all over the world, yet celebrations in the United States are few and far between. Jaleh Fathi Siyan, a longtime member of IWGP who started hosting the International Women’s Day event in Clearwater three years ago, says that when she moved to the U.S. from Brazil she was surprised to learn that many people do not know about International Women’s Day. In response to this she began hosting a gathering to mark the day.

The network of support engendered from women’s mobilization fosters an environment in which women can share, grow and succeed. IWGP member Liz Madray says, “Women coming together, they don’t have that “Good Old Boys Club” where they are afraid. They feel free, there’s no ceiling. They have that sisterhood bond. They say, ‘yeah, you go girl!'”

“When women get together they find out about their potential,” said Siyan. In addition to attending IWGP meetings, Siyan hosts a monthly women’s group designed to promote fellowship, awareness and self-improvement. “When the conversation comes up they (women) find out, ‘oh I can do this or that.'” From inspiration comes motivation and, as Siyan points out, “we don’t want things to stay in the same place, we want things to move.”

Shared experience brings the women together, yet no one woman is like the other. They discuss their diverse viewpoints and experiences are discussed with respect. At last month’s IWGP roundtable, new member Graciela shared, “I believe that when we meet new people and expose ourselves to the unfamiliar we learn best.”


Coming up next:

Howdy folks, and happy Leap Day! I’m loving the #DayItForward tag surfing the Web today, and it’s great tag for my upcoming blogs, both of which are about women developing their community. In honor of International Women’s Day I’ll be posting about a local women’s group. Following that is a piece about a young artist who, in her words, “recycles t-shirts and recovers lives.”

So stick around for that new new. Keep it real, kids.


Faith via Fido 

Dogs and humans have gotten on famously for eras. Companionship takes many forms yet none is quite as enriching as that with a dog.

Together you form a bond with minimal linguistic commonality. Verbal communication happens with just a name and a few words, and maybe the occasional one-sided conversation. But non-verbal communication is one of the many splendors of the dog-human relationship. Our dogs read our facial expressions and respond to our eye contact. They see us for what we are at the moment that we are; they see right through us.

Every day when you come home, your dog rolls out the red carpet runs to you and hails the heavens. You are home! You are together! Reunited! Everything is awesome! Whether the separation has been for hours or months, the dog-sponsored welcoming home party is unparalleled in its enthusiasm.

When dogs enjoy us so completely, they validate our existence. When we treat our dogs humanely and with love, we validate theirs. On the darkest of human days a dog is a friend to remind you that you have at least two reasons to live: your dog, because who wouldn’t want to stick around for a fur-clad hero, and you, because obviously you can’t be but so bad if someone as great as your dog loves you so much.

Not everyone shares my love of dogs. Some hate dogs, some are afraid of them, and for some, dogs just aren’t their preferred form of companionship. That’s ok. Those feelings do not detract from the spiritual bond that exists between a dog and her human.

On March 20, 2015, on a snowy first day of spring in New York, I lost the dog I grew up with. My mom and I brought her home weeks before my 11th birthday. She moved with me when I went to college. She was the ring bearer in my wedding. She came with me and my husband when we sold what little we had and came to New York City. My new home in Florida is the first home I have ever lived in without her.

Cody and me at Flushing Meadows park in Queens, 2014

That little dog was and is my blessing. With her presence I was forced to hold myself accountable. Just one glance at my eyes and my face and she read me and then responded accordingly. She always knew how to exist alongside me. It has been a struggle to live with myself without her to keep me real.

I miss her. But I know it is time for a new friend. It is time to accept her departure. So I have. Though I make this announcement for fear that something will go wrong, tomorrow my husband and I will bring home a new pup, a new world of possibility, a new future, wrapped in the consistent bundle of furry faith that stands the test of time.

A glance at the future, February 2016


Journalism About a Journalist, Part 2

Lo and behold it was not taken. Of course not! It’s lousy. And such a shame to be so because I wrote it about a person I admire. One of my top role models. But I think (spoiler alert) Steve Inskeep would understand. It is the first thing I’ve ever written  in call-it-straightism.

How wonderfully absurd that days, countable hours, after I decide to give my dream of journalism another stab (after giving up on it years ago) – wholehearted and head-on this time – I hear on the radio, driving across a Tampa bridge, minutes away from my new home after hours on the road, that my most favorite newsperson will be miles away in just a few days. What?! Call it a coincidence, call it a sign. Whatever it is, it only fueled my reignited fire.

Man, oh man did it live up to the hype. Part of the reason my article is kind of lousy is because I didn’t originally intend to write about his talk. I just came to listen. Then somehow I worked up the nerve to question him about something that’s itched at me for years. Basically, how does he do his job so well[!]? His response was every bit as diligent as the questions he poses in interviews. (See below for a paired down version of the answer.)

I’ve interviewed people since I’ve been here. I’m pecking away at those profiles pieces. I must write faster otherwise I won’t make it. Aware it would take me awhile to get those pieces done, I seized the opportunity after the fact to write a concise bit about Inskeep’s talk with Carson Cooper at USF Sarasota.

By the way, he signed [Great] Aunt Jim’s WHRO (the 757 NPR station) mug. How pleased she would be. Stay tuned for more info on the history of the matriarchal NPR mugs.

Inskeep mug

Following is the article in question.

“Calling It Straight: NPR’s Steve Inskeep Comes to USF Sarasota”

Steve Inskeep comes to Flahrida

Steve Inskeep at the USF Sarasota Selby Auditorium

On January 21, Steve Inskeep, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, sat down with WUSF host Carson Cooper at the University of South Florida in Sarasota. They discussed Inskeep’s newest book “Jacksonland.” 

“Jacksonland,” narrates the face-off between Andrew Jackson and Cherokee chief John Ross over land rights in the American South. Inskeep described it as a narrative of “two men battling over real estate in a democracy.”
Inskeep described the tools of democracy Ross and the Cherokees used to engage in acts of civil disobedience which reframed the definition of minority rights to one inclusive of racial minority rights. Members of the the nearly all-white audience murmered when Inskeep described the Founding Fathers’ Constitutional interpretation of minority as one pertaining to the minority of people with money.
Asked about his swift interview tactics, Inskeep shared that he often practices interviews beforehand with colleagues. In scenarios when there is no time to “game it out,” he asks himself, “what does this person actually know that they can tell me?”
As a journalist, Inskeep noted, “your job is to call it straight.”




PS: I’m the one who asked about the swift interview techniques. Shocked? I knew it.

wordless to say

A silver bullet shoots the eye of the horizon. Periwinkle gray forms float above an endless morning bay. Southeast, the tip of a fat hot pink toenail punctures eternal sky. Subtly it glides into growth, transforming from bold line into bold arc into bold shape. Brilliance rising up reflects down below, illuminating a path headed right for the silver bullet.
Keep it going. Keep it moving. Move it, lady. Just another day on the bay. Nature’s skyscraper is as everyday as the Empire State. Steadfast, unrelenting. Ignored and awed. A symbol of what was, what is, what will be.
Bella sol, embrace us. Make love to the mar. Give birth to the terra. Feed the flora, foster the fauna.
Command the moon to move to the water to move the fish to the rods to the mouths. Command the human to wake up to open eyes to live to work to live. Your hot pink colors human souls. Your light breeds life from dreams.
Move along, silver bullet, my chariot, but don’t move past. Eyes do not avert your gaze. Behold with caution, with care. Let the light in your windows paint a hopeful face, as we move along to find our place.
Courtney Campbell Causeway
February 4, 2016
Causeway Sunrise

This was actually taken the morning before, Feb 3 (Davy’s birthday)

Journalism About a Journalist

I attempted a fact-based article about a journalist’s visit to Florida. My favorite journalist. It is the first article I’ve written in this epoch. It’s bland, but it’s a start. And what better a topic than a professional in the craft? Learning to fold the flavor of my commentary into the call-it-as-it-is (not as you want it to be) prose of journalism is an adjustment.

This first piece is dry, which is sad because it’s about a person whose work I find rich and fascinating. But I resisted the temptation to write about the experience as a personal narrative because that is not what I want to learn to do. In order to learn something I just have to do it. Time and practice improve all things. The potential is there, but a crafter’s potential is worthless if she does not practice.

I want to share with you fine folks but I’ve submitted it to a local nonprofit newspaper for funzies and I don’t know if they can print something that’s already on the Web. In the likely event they reject it, I will post it here. If they do accept it, I’ll link (and do a happy dance).

Regardless, I will continue practicing. I’m off to do that now…

On Community

January 17, 2016
Life in a waterfront community is something special. Today we experienced a sunset at Howard Beach Park.
Howard Sunset

Around 5:40pm

Birdy Sunset


Yesterday we watched the sunrise, sittin’ on the dock of the Bay.

Marina Sunrise

Safety Harbor Marina, sun breaks at 7:23am

We sunned ourselves on the white sand of Clearwater Beach in the afternoon. It was sunny and in the 70s. I got a tan. It’s January. The locals are urging one another to “stay warm” during tomorrow’s 50 degree cold front. It’s snowing in Virginia and rigid in New York. *cue Handel’s Messiah*
Last Sunday I had a most epic thrift store adventure. Gone are the days of $30 thrift shop tees. Hello, $5 Banana Republic! Living room set for $75? Yes please.
On Tuesday I enjoyed clam chowder for under $3. Two lovely men in tropical shirts gave Brenden and me all kinds of information on the area. (See my review of Mid Peninsula Seafood here.)
We’ve taken an apartment in Safety Harbor, an intimate water town atop the St. Pete peninsula. Every Friday they have an ordeal called Third Friday, wherein all 200 people who live here gather on Main Street. The street is blocked off so vendors can peddle their wares. I’ve been to many a generic street fair where fried corn, street meat, cell phones, karate lessons, knicknacks, handmade jewelry and just plain junk are peddled. This is not that.
Third Friday Sign


Every vendor is local and unique. Two guys behind a hot fryer deliver Disco Donuts topped with cinnamon, powdered or rainbow sugar. A lady who hates the heat and goes north every summer sells jewelry made from spoons. Two young people give information to prospective Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers.
As you’ve noticed, the tone and purpose of this blog has taken a different direction. Dear nieces and nephews, you are the primary reason I write this blog. I want it to be interesting to you. Listening to me list off stuff I’ve done probably gets old, which is part of the reason I stopped writing. The other reason was of course Cody’s death. It is time to move forward.
I’m making some changes. Instead of just telling you what I’ve done and where I’ve been, I want to show you by sharing stories of the communities I explore. Soon I will be adding profiles of people who, in my opinion, make their community special. Make what you will of that word, community. Whether I’m writing you from VA or NY or FL or ZZ, I am always in a community.
What a packed word, community…
Everyone has a different definition of community. I’ve enjoyed living in a community, but to be a part of community is to belong. To me community means interconnectivity. Cohabitation. Contribution. To belong to a community is to add to its richness. To support it’s success. Here on a Friday night, between the coffee makers and dog treat bakers on a ten-block Main Street that terminates at a Marina on a Third Friday evening, I feel confident that I am closer to the dream of belonging to a community than ever before.
But don’t you even think my adventures are over. Honey, I’ve only just begun…

Making friends with the Noosa lady. Noosa is the best yogurt, by the way.