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Room in athletes' shoes, wardrobe for success

By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2002

The future of Tampa Bay -- both the football team and the community -- became decidedly more uncertain this week.

The future of Tampa Bay -- both the football team and the community -- became decidedly more uncertain this week.

For Bucs fans there are questions about who is going to play tight end, cornerback and running back with the departures of Dave Moore, Donnie Abraham and Warrick Dunn. For another segment, the questions go far beyond free agency.

With Moore signing with Buffalo, who will sign on as one of All Childrens Hospital's top volunteers? With Abraham looking for a job after being released, is Tampa Childrens Hospital looking for a new spokesperson for its Kids Are Heroes program? And with Dunn moving on to Atlanta, is his famous Home For The Holidays program moving with him?

Big business has clashed with big hearts. The Bucs are trying to extend their success while meeting the demands of NFL salary requirements. The players are hoping to extend their careers and ensure their financial future. Caught in the middle are the people they befriended and the charities they served.

Having dealt with Moore, Abraham and Dunn during my sports writing days, I know they won't depart without considering those who have grown to know their kindness. Dunn is reportedly undecided about whether to keep giving away homes in Tampa or transferring it to his new town.

Surely Moore and Abraham feel the same. Moore not only gave his time visiting patients, but he served on the All Childrens board. Abraham not only stood up for the Kids Are Heroes program, but years ago he quietly purchased PlayStation video consoles and games for each of the rooms at Tampa Childrens Hospital.

If the players can't continue their acts here, we have to hope someone else on the team steps up. Coaches will parade through the office of general manager Rich McKay asking for guys with fast legs and huge vertical leaps. Let's hope they get some guys who give as much off the field as they give on it.

* * *

Her motivation was an article in People magazine. Her giving spirit came from a U.S. Army colonel dad and an American Red Cross mom.

But the inspiration for Pat Ellington to start a Tampa Bay chapter of Dress For Success more than three years ago came from her own life.

Today, Ellington is happily married with six grown children, seven grandkids and another on the way. Yet, when her first marriage ended years ago, she was a young mother on her own with two daughters.

That perspective provides empathy for the women who Dress For Success serves by giving them two business suits for a job interview and two additional suits when they get a job. A number of nonprofit organizations, including homeless and domestic violence shelters, refer the women. Ellington said each has something in common: a tremendous amount of respect for the help they receive.

"As long as I'm breathing, I'll be helping them," Ellington said.

Dress For Success kicked off its Clean Your Closet Week on Friday, receiving more than 50 suits at a ceremony at International Plaza. Unisa donated 50 pairs of shoes and International Plaza donated 50 business handbags.

Through Friday, qualified women's suit donations will be accepted at the concierge desk at International Plaza. In 36 months, 1,500 Tampa Bay women have been employed with the help of the program.

* * *

Plant High School's Christina Hernandez, who wrote in the school's newspaper that condoms should be made available at the prom and throughout the year "to protect the interest, lives and well-being of students," is getting a lot of attention for her stand.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida will reward Hernandez with the Responsibility Choices Courage Award at its annual dinner Monday in Sarasota.

Maybe you don't agree with Hernandez' opinion, but she's keeping the dialogue about teen sex on the front burner where it belongs.

* * *

Chocoholics, listen up. To celebrate the first day of spring, Viva La Frida in trendy Seminole Heights is offering an all-chocolate, four-course dinner Thursday, including Mexican chocolate drinks. Dinner will be from 6 to 9 p.m. at 5901 N. Florida Ave. Desserts, drinks and a live art performance will run from 9 p.m. to midnight.

* * *

Did you know that each person donating a suit for Dress For Success this week receives a free entree from California Pizza Kitchen? I'm glad my wife doesn't have a lock on her closet door.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com.

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