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Friday, November 01 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief.

Davenport - After his brother got a call to go to Afghanistan, Joel Rodriguez, one of the owners of Ovation Bistro & Bar Restaurant was already out of the military. After giving it some thought, he decided that he wasn't going to let his younger brother go to war alone, so he signed back on with the National Guard that way they could deploy together. Talk about brotherly love and dedication to your country, right?

   Last month, we had the honor of interviewing Joel and the story that he shared with us was, undeniably, amazing.

   Coming from an immigrant family, the Rodriguez' brothers didn't have much. Due to their parents' jobs in the fields, the season would determine where they would be. In one of those moves, they ended up in Haines City where the Rodriguez' brothers were finally born.

   "In the Florida orange groves during the rest of the year, we never complained and, in fact, are still very proud of the work that our parents did to provide for us. We have black and white pictures of them working in the fields in every one of our restaurants to remind us what hard work looks like and to remind us that, in the United States, anything is possible," shared the Rodriguez' brothers on the about page of their restaurant's website.

   A couple of years after returning from their deployment to Afghanistan, the Rogriguez' brothers decided that the skills they had learned while working for a big restaurant could be used to their advantage. That's when they decided to open their own restaurant, which they called Ovation Bistro & Bar. They opened their first restaurant in Davenport and after the immense support they received from the community, they decided to open two more restaurants... one in Lakeland and one in Winter Haven.

   "After returning back home in 2006, we both went back to work as cooks and then managers at a big Australian themed steakhouse. This is where we learned our way and the ins and outs of the restaurant business, eventually running our own locations. Managing a restaurant is hard work and long hours, but also fun," said Joel.

   "Having a passion for BBQ and steaks and enjoying nice wines and whiskeys... we asked ourselves, 'why can’t we go somewhere to get real good BBQ and have a nice glass of wine or a stiff drink?' So we decided one day, while we were smoking some brisket at home, that we were going to open our own restaurant, one that was BBQ based but felt like a steakhouse and not like a quick-service restaurant. Our new restaurant would not only have great BBQ, but a comfortable atmosphere, a sizeable wine list, full bar, specialty coffees, and desserts, we told ourselves. This was in late 2014, and that's how the Ovation Bistro & Bar was born," shared the Rodriguez' brothers on the about page of their restaurant's website.

   The Rodriguez' brothers' story is a great one, but what makes their story an even better one is what they are doing to help the community that opened their arms to them when they needed it the most. As part of the commitment to their community, they started The Ovation Bistro Foundation, a non-profit organization, whose sole mission is to help Polk County residents by donating meals to the Feeding America Tampa Bay Organization and also by supporting hundreds of charities. They have even given out scholarships to local deserving students. So far, the foundation has donated over 30,000 meals.

   Today, as we gather to bring awareness to the hunger and homelessness cause, we want to congratulate Joel and Fernando Rodriguez for the job they are doing to improve the quality of life for those around them. This, in our opinion, is what makes America great.

   We invite you to stop by their restaurant and say hi to them. According to them, they are in the restaurants on the days that end in “y,” so chances are, if you go and say hi, they will be there.

   One last thing... when we asked Joel what his favorite dish at the restaurant was, he said without hesitating, that his favorite dish was the smoked prime ribs. And, let me tell you... if they taste as good as they look in the photo that Joel showed me from their menu, I might have to go and try them myself.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 11:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

Winter Haven - Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird is seeking residents of Winter Haven, who are over the age of 18, to participate in the Winter Haven Police Leadership Council. The dates for the council will be held every other Tuesday beginning in January until the end of April 2020.

   The Council will consist of approximately 20 members who will serve voluntarily and meet every other Tuesday from 6 – 9 p.m. with Chief Bird and agency members from both Police and Fire for a total of eight meetings. The Council will begin on January 21, 2020. Participants will be asked to complete assignments and provide feedback on Department operations.

   Those interested in serving on the Police Leadership Council can request an application by calling 863-291-5858, ext. 2351. Applications can also be obtained by going to the Department website at and clicking the Community Services link on the homepage, or by sending an email to

   Applications must be submitted no later than December 1, 2019 to be considered for the upcoming council that will begin on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

   Citizens awarded the opportunity to serve will be notified no later than December 15 in order to make plans for the meeting dates. A listing of meeting dates will be sent along with the application.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 11:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

Lakeland - On Monday, October 7, 2019, the Lakeland Fire Department recognized two teens at the City of Lakeland, FL - Government Commission Meeting for taking life-saving actions to help a near-drowning patient.

   This is what happened:

   "On Sunday, September 8, 2019, at 5:46 p.m. the Lakeland Fire Department (LFD) was dispatched to a near-drowning incident at Carlton Arms Apartments of North Lakeland, located at 4500 Williamstown Blvd. The initial call stated that there was an unresponsive person located at the pool of the apartment complex. There was also information that a citizen was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

   There were several people in and around the pool area when the 15-year-old patient entered the water and began to swim. After approximately five minutes, a bystander noticed that the patient was at the bottom of the pool and called for others around the pool to help.

   At the pool that day was 16-year-old Jacob Serrano-Solis. Jacob jumped into the pool and retrieved the patient from the bottom of the deep end of the pool. Wasting no time, another teenager, 15-year-old Justin Taylor-Perez, who was swimming in the pool, swam over and assisted Jacob with pulling the patient out of the water.

   Once the patient was pulled out of the water, it was observed that the patient was unresponsive. Justin, who had taken CPR classes when he attended Kathleen Middle School, knew that the patient needed chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth. Thanks to his training in middle school, he corrected a bystander who tried to push on the patient’s stomach, took command and began chest compressions while having a family member of the patient perform the mouth-to-mouth breathing needed in CPR.

   After a few minutes of CPR, the patient became conscious, took a breath and began labored breathing. Soon after, personnel from #LFD and Polk County Fire Rescue arrived at the scene and took over the medical care of the patient who was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

   What Jacob and Justin did was highly commendable and greatly appreciated. So much so that their efforts are being recognized today with the Lakeland Fire Department’s Citizen Hero Award. Attending medics shared that they attribute the two teens' actions a contributing factor to the patient’s survival and eventual recovery.

   It is also important to recognize the impacts of in-school programs, like Kathleen Middle School’s Polk County Public Schools first-aid course; which taught Justin how to properly perform CPR and resulted in a life saved.

   The Firefighters / Medics at the Lakeland Fire Department are often lauded as being heroes in the community. However, today the department wants to recognize the unsung heroes in Lakeland; citizens like Jacob and Justin who did what they could to help. They each took actions that some would hesitate to, and did it all because they knew it was the right thing to do in someone’s time of absolute need.

   We would also like to thank the management at Carlton Arms Apartments of North Lakeland for making LFD aware of Jacob and Justin’s actions and providing helpful information that contributed to this award."

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 11:21 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

Lakeland - In preparation for Veterans day, our good friends at the Harry R. Alexander Memorial M.O.P.H Chapter 535 would like to invite those interested in purchasing an engraved brick around their purple heart monument to do so by either contacting them at (863) 647-2112 or by sending an email to

   The engraved bricks will be placed around the monument, or on an adjacent brick wall. All the bricks will be placed randomly by the Purple Heart Chapter Officers. Interested in getting more information about this amazing opportunity?, Or are you ready to order your brick? Contact Mr. John Hillery at the number and/or email mentioned earlier and John will help you place the order.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 11:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

By: Staff Writer.

Davenport - On October 11-12, the City of Davenport, in partnership with Florida BBQ Association offered one of the most awaited events of the year... the Big Belly BBQ Battle.

   On Friday and Saturday, Market Street was filled with the delicious aroma of the many BBQ pits that visited us from around the area to showcase their exquisite dishes. From delicious pulled pork to homemade buffalo mac and cheese, the BBQ competitors had all kinds of dishes to meet everyone's expectations... including mine.

   During our visit, we had the pleasure of meeting three teenagers from St. Cloud, Lane Sandlin, Annie Setvin, and Devi Brown, who were working one of the BBQ shops, Smoking N' Pokin', to help their parents win the big price. Annie told us that they are not newbies to the BBQ competitions... they, in fact, have won many awards in the different events they have attended and are planning on continuing participating to add more prices to their already award-winning BBQ career.

   While interviewing Annie, she made a point of telling me that I needed to try their pulled pork, which I did. As a person who loves BBQs and pulled pork, I had big expectations, but let me tell you... when I tried their pulled pork accompanied by baked beans and homemade mac and cheese, I immediately realized that there was a reason why these teens were running their BBQ shop like experts in their field... and it was because their food was, in fact, award-winning material.

   During our visit to the event, we also had the pleasure of meeting the kids from the Country Ridge 4-H Club. These amazing kids were running the shaved ice shop and they were doing a great job not only with the enthusiastic advertising abilities but also with their customer service skills.

   We interviewed their vice-president, Kyndall Akens and we were amazed at the way she was running the shop with her friends. She shared with us that the purpose of the fundraising was to raise funds for their youth fair and also to be able to buy their club jackets. "We do great things and we help our community with our events. I am the vice-president, but I am running for president next year," said Kyndall before leaving the interview to go and take care of a customer who stopped by the shop to get a shaved ice cone.

   We also had the opportunity to interview another member of the club, Emry Dykes, who was in charge of holding the advertising poster to attract customers to the shop. Emry was a talkative little young girl who shared with us amazing information about what the club does. She also shared with us that she is not only a member of the 4-H Club but that she is also a participant of the Special Olympics. "I participate in paddle-boarding, swimming, and bowling," said Emry when we asked what sports she plays.

   For those of you who didn't know what the 4-H club is all about, let me explain... the 4-H Club is a program delivered by Cooperative Extension—a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people learn by doing. For more than 100 years, 4‑ H has welcomed young people of all beliefs and backgrounds, giving kids a voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better. Through life-changing 4‑ H programs, nearly six million kids have taken on critical societal issues, such as addressing community health inequities, engaging in civil discourse and advocating for equity and inclusion for all.

   As you can see, the Big Belly BBQ Competition event wasn't only about BBQ... it was also about bringing our community together. This and other events similar to this one is what we need to be able to unite us as a community, and also for all of us to get to know the great organizations, like the Country Ridge 4-H Club, that are working to make the Northeast Polk County area a better place to live.

   We want to thank the City of Davenport and the Florida BBQ Association for coordinating this event. We can't wait for next year's competition.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 11:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief.

Davenport - For much of his childhood, Brandon's mother was a single working mom. Despite wonderful support from his grandparents, she still worked her fingers to the bone to provide for her family and, somehow, managed to achieve work-life balance. As he grew up, Brandon realized that their story wasn't uncommon and that many people were not nearly as blessed as they were. He then realized that we all can be advocates for families like that and make a real difference in their lives that can have a compounding effect on their futures. And it was due to that experience that he made it his goal to utilize his privilege to support the most vulnerable members of his community and to create an environment where they can thrive and pursue their dreams. We had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon, and this is what he shared with us:


NEPG: What's your position, and how long have you been in that position?

Brandon: I am a City Commissioner for the City of Davenport, Seat 2, and have held the office since I was elected to it in April 2018.


NEPG: What are your main responsibilities?

Brandon: As a whole, the City Commission is responsible for the long-range planning and vision of the city, being the voice of the city's residents. We pass all of the ordinances of the city, annually approve the city's budget, and are responsible for the city's three charter employees, the City Manager, City Clerk, and City Attorney, whom the remaining 50+ employees of the city report up to. Individually, I represent the city on other local boards like the Polk Transportation Planning Organization and the Central Florida MPO Alliance, as well as at other functions. It is also my responsibility to remain in touch with residents and their concerns and needs.


NEPG: How do you manage the different personalities among your staff to make an impact not only in their professional lives but also in their personal lives?

Brandon: We are very fortunate to have a dedicated city staff that works very well together, as well as a Commission that is cordial and complementary in the way it works. Even when we disagree on policy or direction, we don't take it personally and always put our residents first. When we are working together for that common goal, it's easy to be gracious while still advocating for what is right. For our city employees, I recognize that they are our city's most valuable resource and believe that, if we take care of them, then they will take care of our residents. We have recently started an employee pension program that will make sure they are provided for and have done a compensation study to begin bringing pay scales in line with the market. I also worked with staff to make sure non-discrimination for all people was included in the city's employment practices. I have been fortunate to work for a company that puts its employees first in giving us the ability to focus on our personal lives and I have been an advocate for our employees asking staff to look into opportunities to provide similar benefits for things like paid sick, bereavement, and child bonding leave, family health-care coverage, and educational opportunities.


NEPG: Tell us a little bit about your family and how you manage your professional and personal life without allowing one to affect the other.

Brandon: Because my role on the City Commission is not a full-time job, I have to balance it with both my home life and my regular job as a system engineer at Disney. I could not do this without the support of my husband, especially, since the birth of our son in January. We were lucky that our adoption journey happened much faster than for most, but with that came the added responsibilities of a new parent. For me, family always comes first, and part of that is making sure I am able to support them with my day job as well as creating a better community for them through my work on the Commission. I use the little bit of compensation I receive for my work on the Commission to go toward hired help to assist with work around the house I might otherwise do myself so that I can focus on the city and my family, and it doesn't all fall back on my husband. In turn, my husband has readily stood beside me picking up the slack and making sure I had the time and space I need to prepare for, focus on, and attend important meetings, and he and my son both have always been there to prop me up when outcomes didn't go quite as I hoped. I am also blessed to have a job that has offered me great flexibility in doing my work and values the importance of serving the community.


NEPG: What message would you like to pass to your community, especially in moments when some of them may be losing trust and faith in their leaders and may see some of their leaders as their "enemies" instead of allies?

Brandon: I would like our residents to know that the two meetings a month they see us at for the Commission is just a small fraction of the work we individually put in behind the scenes working with staff and going through potential scenarios. Some individuals have this idea that we were put in place to do the will of the people, but we were elected to do what is best for the community and we take that responsibility very seriously. We do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions to understand how all of the back-end pieces work to deliver the services that residents expect. Many times we have to make tough choices that may not seem like they make much sense now, but are done to make things better in the future. Most importantly, I'm always happy to talk with residents about these decisions and their concerns because their feedback is important to me and a factor in that decision-making process. This is why I do monthly Chats with a Commissioner, as well as make myself available via email, phone, Facebook, and Twitter.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 11:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief.

Auburndale - This month, on The Student Leader of the Month, we want to feature a student from Auburndale High School who has used her leadership role to make a difference in her school. We had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Powell, and this is what she shared with us:

NEPG: Which grade are you attending right now?

Deborah:  I am a sophomore at Auburndale High School.


NEPG: What leadership position are you responsible for?

Deborah:  I am the captain of the JV volleyball team at my school.


NEPG: Tell us about how your leadership approach has influenced others

around you.

Deborah: I try to encourage my teammates to stay positive on the court and to stay

calm and "out of their heads." I always want my teammates to be having fun and

succeeding in their sport.


NEPG: What are your plans for this school year?

Deborah: I plan to stay focused in school and on the court. Other than playing on the

Auburndale High School volleyball team, I also plan to continue playing on a club

team for Top Select Volleyball. I plan on doing volunteer work for The National

Honor Society and making the best of my sophomore year.


NEPG: What would be your message for younger kids who are planning on

taking a leadership role within their school and/or their community?

Deborah: To always stay positive and open-minded. When having a leadership role,

it's good to take it seriously but to have fun with it as well and to enjoy the experience.

Having a leadership role is such a great way to create amazing relationships with

others. From my experience, I have such a strong bond with my teammates now.


Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 10:58 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief.

Polk County - On Friday, October 4th, I personally went to deliver some copies of the newspaper's October edition to our good friends at Government Buildings around the county. It was my first time visiting some of these buildings, so I was really excited to get to know the buildings and the people who worked there, and I have to say that, I was less than impressed by the treatment I received from the receptionist who was behind the counter in one of the buildings on that day.

   I usually don't like to complain about unnecessary things, but this time, I feel that it is my responsibility, as a person who represents the community, to bring this to the Government officials' attention. If this happened to me while wearing a shirt that fully identified me as a PRESS member, I don't even want to think how other members of the community are being treated when visiting this building.

   The main reason we started this section was to bring awareness to the great job that members of our community are doing. Therefore, writing this piece is not a pleasant feeling. However, I believe that it is my responsibility to also bring awareness to this terrible situation. The treatment, like the one I received, should not be tolerated in any business, let alone in the government that represents us, the community members.

   To the officials at the Government Buildings around Polk County, I want to say... do something about this situation. This is completely unacceptable.

   To the government employee who was rude to me while I was trying to do my job, I want to say... if customer service is not your forte, please find another job that doesn't require you to be nice to the public. There are plenty of people in ou community who need a job and have every intention to do what's required, including providing outstanding customer service to the people they serve.

   To the members of our community, today, I want to invite you to stand up against this kind of treatment. This is unacceptable, and if we continue to accept it and not hold people accountable for the way they treat us, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 10:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

By: Content Provided By The City of Lake Wales.

Lake Wales - Join us helping the City of Lake Wales in congratulating Ronald and Margrit McCown of Highland Crest Cir for being awarded “Yard of the Month” for October 2019.

   The City of Lake Wales Yard of the Month Award recognizes the hard work and pride exhibited by Lake Wales residents who beautify their yards.

   “Yard of the Month” sign provided by the City was placed in their yard and will remain for the duration of the month.

“Yard of the Month” is evaluated and awarded by the Department of Planning and Development Services and is intended to inspire others to improve and maintain their yards and increase the overall quality of life in Lake Wales.

   Have a yard you’d like to nominate? Visit the City of Lake Wales' Facebook page and send them a private message with the information on the yard that you would like to nominate.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

Content Provided By the City of Lake Alfred.

Lake Alfred - On September 26, Parks & Recreation Director Richard Weed presented the 10 Years of Service Recognition award to Kimberly Walker, Library Assistant in the Lake Alfred Public Library.

   Director Weed stated that Kimberly Walker has been working at the library for ten years, and has worked for him five of those ten years and does so much for the library. Kim performs all the everyday normal library duties like checking books in and out, weeding books, helping customers, processing and some cataloging. Kim is also pretty handy and fixes some of the minor things around the library to help the Parks and Recreation department team out. She is a team player and can always make you laugh. Her customer service is excellent; Director Weed stated, “I have personally witnessed this on many occasions where she went out of her way to help a patron.”

   Director Weed is proud to have Kim working with him in the Parks and Recreation department and couldn’t imagine the library without her. He hopes to work with Kim for another 10 years. Congratulations on your 10 years of service, Kimberly.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 10:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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