Helping the village raise readers

Peter Nowak’s investment in the restaurant business has paid off. He now owns and operates six McDonald’s in Pensacola. Nowak is hoping that his investment in early learning pays off as well. Nowak’s Learn & Earn project at Woodlands Heights Community Resource Center is designed to help preschool children learn while earning coupons for free meals at McDonald’s. “If we don’t start here, we don’t have a chance in high school,” said Nowak, CEO of Nowak Enterprises. “I want people to come to the center to get an early start and talk about early learning.” The Earn & Learn program will offer more than 100 video messages in areas such as phonics, geography, math and language arts. Designed in 2012 with the help of the Early Learning Coalition, the program follows the lessons of the state’s voluntary prekindergarten curriculum. Woodland Heights director Thomas Brame said training for programs starts this week. He hopes by the next week for children to begin their lessons. Woodland Heights already has seven computers used mostly by adults, teenagers and older children. There were no computers or programs available for preschool children. The Learn & Earn project will bring in additional tablets and computers for the children to use alongside their parents. “We’re really excited about it,” Brame said. “To have prek programs is really nice.” When the learning stations open, children will use nametags to log into the computers. They will receive credentials after their parents sign them up. From there, the system will remember and record the work they have completed in what’s called L3 (Look, Listen, Learn) Once a child has watched a certain number of messages, his/her parents will receive a text coupon for meals at Nowak’s McDonald’s on Bayou Boulevard to thank them for participating. Nowak’s idea to create the early learning program came to him at a conference in Cincinnati on generational poverty. He said he didn’t fully understand the issues relating to poverty, but had seen its effects on some employees at his restaurants. “For most people there is no way out other than education,” Nowak said. “And it has to start at an early age.” Nowak knows that his project is a small step toward a bigger goal of providing quality preschool for every child in Escambia. He hopes to get community and business leaders interested in and excited about early childhood education. “This is not just the responsibility of families,” he said. “We are connected together in the community we live in and we need to embrace it.” Nowak has gained support from Mayor Ashton Hayward, who he described as “a great advocate for early learning.” It was Hayward who suggested to Nowak to use Woodland Heights as the incubator for the early learning program. The center is near Pensacola Village, a low-income housing project. Many of its residents use the center for various activities, including computer access and summer programs. “It is critical to expose children to education and reading, which builds a foundation to learning,” Hayward said.  “We want to expose as many children as we can to early learning at Woodland Heights.” Research indicates that providing quality education for children before they turn 5-years-old yields significant long-term benefits. One study showed that young people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, to become better citizens and even have longer marriages. Other studies show children engaged in preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education or get into future trouble with the law. Nowak and Hayward hope business owners, public officials and community leaders come aboard to enhance and expand early learning throughout Escambia County. “It’s critical to tie early education to the workforce,” Hayward said. “Early learning is paramount to the success of our children.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


New eats coming to Pensacola airport

The signs are up, so that’s a start. In March, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward signed a 10-year contract with OHM Concessions Group to provide eats and drinks to those coming and going from Pensacola International Airport. The contract include $1.8 million in capital improvements paid entirely by the company to be completed by October. The matter of concessions at the airport was a politically fraught process as the longtime concessionaire, Robert De Varona and a group of local business owners that included local restaurateur Collier Merrill were not awarded the contract. Airport director Greg Donovan, who drew some of the political fire in that dispute, is now leaving Pensacola for Melbourne to manage their airport. He has family and professional ties in the Melbourne area. On Donovan’s watch the ST Aerospace deal was finalized to bring the Singapore-based maintenance, repair and operations facility to the airport; the Hyatt Place Hotel opened and more than $21 million in aviation-related grants were secured for the airport from federal and state sources. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Trying to put IHMC expansion back on track

Conversations are ongoing to try to put the expansion of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition back on track. The institute’s president, Ken Ford, last week said he tabled plans for the $8 million expansion of the facility “until we are confident the flooding problem is addressed,” he told the Pensacola News Journal. The epic rains of April 29-30 damaged vehicles in the Institute’s parking lot on Alcaniz Street and water came into three of the institute’s five buildings. Ford and other downtown business owners have said the flooding from 26 inches of rain in 24-hours laid bare the weaknesses of the city’s stormwater system. The IHMC’s expansion is an important boost to Pensacola’s economy, bringing high-wage jobs built on intellectual capital to the city’s historic district. The project is funded by a loan that Escambia County took out from SunTrust Bank for $12 million. County attorney Alison Rogers said the county holds the money for the project. Of the $12 million, IHMC has used approximately $4 million to pay off pre-existing debt and they have taken one or possibly two draws related to design of the expansion. The balance remaining is $8,072,000, Rogers said. Architectural firm Quina Grundhoefer is designing the three-story expansion on Romana Street. “How the county will proceed depends on what IHMC decides to do,” Rogers said this morning. “For now, we will continue as anticipated under the agreements in place.” Ford said via email this weekend: “We are still actively discussing options with our architects, engineers, and the political leadership. I will be happy to chat when we have moved further along on those conversations.” When the expansion was announced in December, officials said, “the new building will be elevated to avoid the flooding problems that affected IHMC during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.” The first floor of the new building would consist of research labs, including an expanded Robotics Lab and a multi-sensory interfaces lab focused on sensory displays and human-machine interfaces. The second floor would feature a glass-walled observation area for public tour groups and others to observe the Robotics Lab safely and without interfering with the work. The third floor will hold additional offices, conference rooms and research space. The expansion will consolidate IHMC staff from four rental properties scattered throughout the city and allow room for expansion. The Institute’s popular evening lecture series is routinely drawing 280 people and sometimes people have had to be turned away from the events, said Julie Sheppard, general counsel for the institute, at the time of the announcement. In addition to allowing room for more public space, the expansion would create much needed research space. The Institute’s cutting edge research in robotics is drawing ever-more attention. Atlas, the IHMC’s entry in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics challenge, finished second among 16 development teams in trials in Homestead in December. Atlas is a humanoid robot that could be used in disaster response and recovery situation that are difficult for human, such as the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan. The final phase of that competition is scheduled for spring 2015. Researchers at IHMC also are working on “Big Hex,” the HexRunner robot that can run at speeds of 32.2 mph. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Pensacola: Florida third most livable city

Top three; not bad. Pensacola is ranked the third most livable Florida city by CreditDonkey, a consumer credit card comparison website that “publish(es) data-driven analysis to help you save money and make savvy financial decisions,” according to the site. According to the article published June 12, the site ranked cities in five categories: odds of being a victim of a violent crime; commute time; income; residents who attended some college; and restaurants per capita. Here’s what they had to say about the city of Five Flags: “At less than 19 minutes, Pensacola offers residents the shortest average commute time of any city on our list, and it’s also the smallest in terms of population. Located on the northern Gulf Coast, Pensacola is a short distance from Tallahassee to the east and Mobile to the west. “The city is geared towards families but there are still a fair number of retirees in the area. The Pensacola Bay area is a major hotspot for gulf cuisine, with Beulah sausage and crawfish considered top local specialties.” Coral Springs was ranked second and Boca Raton was ranked No. 1. Read the article here. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Pirate Trolley takes to the streets

NEWS RELEASE — Climb aboard a trolley in June for a tongue-in-cheek tour that will bring you face-to-face with pirates, mermaids, monsters and other characters full of family-friendly fun. The Blood Red Trolley will run at 6:30 p.m. June 13 and June 27. It departs from the Visitor Information Center at the foot of the Pensacola Bay Bridge and returns there 90 minutes later. It showcases local actors performing “The Curse of Don Tristan de Tuna,” a lighthearted spoof that celebrates a cockeyed view of Pensacola history and treachery on the high seas. Wear your pirate togs if you want to blend in with the cast of swashbucklers, buccaneers and mateys. You can board the trolley at the Pensacola Visitor Information Center, 1401 E. Gregory St., at the foot of the three-mile bridge. Tickets cost $5 for children, $20 for adults. The pirate trolley also will operate July 11, July 25, Aug. 8, Aug. 22, and Sept. 5. The pirate trolley is part of Winterfest of Pensacola, which holds a children’s parade and other family-oriented events at Christmas. For information or tickets, visit This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Data snapshot: Pensacola crime data

The Pensacola Police Department released crime data for the month of May. The data shows that the most reported crime in the city limits for the year through May is simple assault — fighting with your hands, fist or feet. There have been 328 reported simple assaults as of May. The next most reported crime is larceny of something valued at more than $200. There have been 320 of those reported. Other highlights of May’s data: — When it comes to violent felonies, there were no homicides, two rapes, five robberies and 21 aggravated assaults in the city. Of those 28 violent crimes, there were 20 arrests and five were classified as “exceptional” (a designation that means a case is considered cleared because authorities know exactly who did it and they could make an arrest, but for example, the victim will not cooperate with the prosecution). — There 54 domestic violence offenses, bringing the yearly total to 220 reported offenese. — Two autos were reported stolen. — There were 34 residential burglaries and 10 burglaries of a non-residence. — There were 214 arrests in May in the city, with 53 of them for drug offenses and 49 for larceny/theft (most of those are shoplifting). When the Pensacola Police Department turned in 2013 crime data to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the numbers showed a 14 percent drop in crime overall from 2012; and 18 percent drop in violent crime. The drop was the largest single yearly reduction in the city in more than 14 years. See the monthly reports for May, April, March, February and January here. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Hearing set on Pensacola Bay bridge replacement

NEWS RELEASE — The Florida Department of Transportation will host a public hearing concerning the replacement of the Pensacola Bay Bridge from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. June 10 in the grand ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, 200 E. Gregory St. The hearing will begin as an open house at 5:30 p.m. followed by a formal presentation at 6 p.m. The hearing is being conducted to give interested persons an opportunity to express their views concerning the location, conceptual design and social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed improvements. The study involves the replacement of the Pensacola Bay Bridge located at State Road U.S. 98 from 17th Avenue in Pensacola to Baybridge Drive in Gulf Breeze. Project documents are available for review until June 23 at the following locations: Read full story


"Big Hex" shows off in Pensacola

When the Cylons come, here’s hoping they have a soft spot for Pensacola. If the robot overlords of “Battlestar Galactica” fame become reality in our lifetime, it may be due in no small part to the work going on at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition here in Pensacola. Researchers at IHMC are now working on HexRunner, who is eclipsing robotics records as you read this. “Big Hex” was built late last year. he is the latest product of an award-winning, nationally renown robotics research family that putting Pensacola on the map as a place where all the robot action is. Check out the IHMC’s latest YouTube video to see what Big Hex can do: Read full story


Building on the family bond

by Sgt. Jon Holmes, Defense Video Imagery & Distribution System It started with bedtime stories – stories of exotic lands with strange foods, cultures and peoples, stories of brave men and women who fought for freedom and protected the innocent, stories that extolled the virtues of honor, sacrifice and bravery. These were the stories often heard in the Goodwyn home. There were no wizards, elves or knights. Only brave men and women who had taken up service for their country. It was these stories, told by Hosea Goodwyn, which first kindled the flame of service in his son, Hosea Goodwyn Jr., and daughter, Alexis Goodwyn. “Each time he told his stories, they would continuously interest me,” said Alexis Goodwyn, from Pensacola. Their father shared with them his experiences in places like Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Spain and Dubai. Places that are as mystical and mysterious to a young mind as a fantasy world. “His journeys inspired me to go on my own,” said Hosea Goodwyn Jr., from Pensacola. The question for the young Goodwyns was not if to serve, but in which branch. The bond they saw among the U.S. Marine Corps solidified their decision to enlist.  “They would help each other out through the worst of situations,” said Hosea Goodwyn Jr., a senior from J. M. Tate High School. “Everyone in the Marine Corps is like a brother or sister.” “The Marines had a tight bond with one another,” added his sister, also a Tate senior, explaining why they chose the Marines. As the two prepare to start their new journey, their father had one final story to share. “You have people who stand back and watch, and then you have those who step up to the plate and make a difference in this world,” Hosea Goodwyn said.  “Honor, courage and commitment, and the words we repeat while taking the oath are not just words to take lightly. “My father was a police officer, and each of my brothers served in the Army and the Air Forces. We don’t have followers in this family. We have leaders, and they are demonstrating this trait now. I am proud and honored to be their father.” With their decision made, the only story left to tell is their own, which they will forge with honor, courage and commitment. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Repairing Pensacola's social safety net

Human services organizations in Pensacola that were hit hard by the late April floods are inching their way back toward helping those in need. For some it is a long road. Three offices of the Escambia Community Clinic, the Waterfront Rescue Mission facilities on Herman Street and Manna Food Pantries all saw standing water during the flood and temporarily shut their doors. All three agencies are in varying stages of recovery. The Escambia Community Clinic, which provides medical care for thousands adults and children in need, saw water in its main medical appointment clinic at 2200 N. Palafox St., the ECC Dental Clinic, located in the Florida Department of Health at 1295 W. Fairfield Drive, and the ECC Waterfront Rescue Mission Primary Care Clinic at 350 W. Herman St. The main clinic saw 2½ feet of contaminated “brown water” during the flood, said Ann Papadelias, director of dental services for the ECC. The location has seen flooding as far back as 1998, and Papadelias said, after the April 29-30 flood, the recommendation is not to rebuild the main site at that location. The clinic has relocated to a temporary site in the Midtown Professional Building at 14 W. Jordan St., just across the street. “The building is a 1960s vintage medical office building that will accommodate all of ECC’s clinical and administrative operations,” Papadelias said. “It will require some renovation and will meet the immediate needs of the health center, but is not a permanent solution.” While patients at the main clinic are being redirected to the Midtown Professional Building, the dental clinic is closed indefinitely for repairs, Papaelias said. The clinic is working to replace those services on a limited basis with mobile units. The clinic also has a primary care clinic inside the Waterfront Rescue Mission’s day resource center, which saw 1½ foot of water. That clinic is expected to reopen by mid-June. The mission facilities on Herman Street flooded for the second time in less than two years. The administration building and day center had about 20 inches of water, while the mission and its donation warehouse and recycling center had 8 inches. The flood temporarily sent the 30 or so transients who normally sleep at the mission to Salvation Army facilities. “The mission is now open for all of our clients and overnight guests,” said Jessica Howell, the mission’s development associate. “We are still in the rebuilding stage, waiting on carpet and baseboards to be put back down, but we are fully operational there.” The mission’s administrative offices relocated to an Olive Road facility that normally houses about 60 participants in the mission’s addiction recovery program. Those clients were sent to temporary lodging at Hillcrest Baptist Church. “The administration office is still located at the Olive Road facility. We will be there for the next six to eight weeks,” Howell said. “However, the 60 men are back at the mission.” The recycle and donation center was shut down for several days with much product lost, she said. Manna Food Pantries, which provides groceries to the hungry in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, saw as much as three feet of water in its Gonzalez Street facilities, destroying thousands of pounds of stored food. Manna – which also saw significant flooding in 2012 – ceased all operations immediately, but has since begun accepting food donation. Leaders there hope to begin distributing food again in the coming weeks, but are actively looking for a new location to house their main pantry. Clinic photos are courtesy of Ann Papdelias. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Honoring a Pensacola legend

The Eastside Neighborhood Association wants to keep the life and legacy of one of its greatest sons alive. The association members, along with a newly created museum board, envision transforming Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.’s boyhood home into a museum. The house on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is now a memorial plaza. If the eastside residents have their way, the home of the nation’s first black general will become a monument in memory of James’ contribution to his community and country.  “His legacy is so important to this city,” said Jeannie Rhoden, association president. “We needs things and people like this to inspire our children to do great things.” Pensacola City Council recently approved an architectural design and cost feasibility study up to $25,000 to look at developing the museum and linking it with the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. Summer Flight Academy. The flight academy is a program designed to expose young people to science and aviation in a summer program that includes academics and flight training. While the Chappie James Museum Board is in its infancy stages, it plans to establish a foundation with six of the eight members having museum board background. As the two groups iron out specifics, they both agree on restoring the white five-room, “shotgun” style wooden house on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into a repository of James’ memorabilia and historical artifacts of his life in Pensacola and the military. The groups also envision including an office, classrooms and gift shop. James was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force who in 1975 became the first African American to reach the rank of four-star general. Born in Pensacola, James attended Tuskegee Institute and was one of the famed “Tuskegee Airmen.” Read full story


Adding to the MESS

NEWS RELEASE —  The Pensacola MESS Hall (Math, Engineering, Science, & Stuff) has added seven new permanent exhibits that will be ready for the public to see May 17. The new exhibits cover electricity and magnetism, sound and waves, and forces and motion. — Jacob’s Ladder demonstrates the power of high voltage, creating a climbing plasma arc. — The relationship between electricity and magnetism is evident with the Flying Ring exhibit, where an induced magnetic field sends a ring flying up a rod. — The Oscylinder Scope and Wave Tube both show the shape of waves, one using vibrating string and the other Styrofoam beads. — The Highest Note auditory illusion exhibit will keep even those with perfect pitch puzzling. — The Chaoscope double pendulum never moves the same way twice. — Visitors will discover what stays aloft with the Bernoulli Blower. Read full story