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Bring on the young leaders; a life of zest

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published May 4, 2004

Mike Griffin and Jennifer Muroff had ample opportunity to leave this area after graduating from local high schools.

Griffin, 23, could have gone from being Sickles' first student body president to some far-flung university. The experience of being an Air Force brat could have prompted Muroff, 27, to go up, up and away.

But they stayed and went to the University of South Florida.

And after handling separate stints as USF student body presidents and earning degrees from the school, they again chose to stay.

Griffin is certain he will retire here, and not even a six-month, post-college stay in Spain could sway Muroff from disconnecting from Tampa Bay.

Now the co-chairs of upstart Emerge Tampa want to turn their civic passion into a leadership wave that will sweep up the area's young professionals.

"I've been to other places. They're fun to visit, but I see the potential in Tampa that a lot of other people don't see yet," Griffin said. "I really think Emerge can serve as a direct catalyst to take Tampa to another level and awaken the sleeping giant we always hear about and talk about."

Emerge Tampa is the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's newest leadership program, and it's squarely aimed at folks between 21 and 35. Months in the planning, the group has its first event at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Channelside Courtyard.

The group's online invitation has gotten 2,300 hits. That seems to indicate Emerge is ready to do just that.

"I know how spread out we can be in Hillsborough County, but I feel like I can make a difference here," Muroff said. "I know a lot of people, and I feel like I can be involved in their lives and make a difference."

The hope is that Emerge Tampa can help young professionals develop a connection to the community through four distinct segments: Voice (public affairs), Connect (community involvement); Grow (leadership and career development); and Interact (networking through sporting, arts and cultural events).

Participants will choose among an array of activities each month. Muroff and Griffin said more than 60 people have been meeting regularly to set the stage for the launch. Muroff said the group is as diverse as it is excited.

This is just one of several groups trying to harness the energy of young professionals in Tampa.

Last month, the Tampa Theatre's Balcony Club convened for the first time, in an effort to preserve the historic theater and promote the arts. Creative Tampa Bay has spawned Verve, a networking effort for young professionals. And the Tampa Museum of Art's Avant Garde continues to thrive in its sixth year.

Who says youth is wasted on the young?

* * *

AS THE FLORIDA AQUARIUM'S director of marketing, Sue Ellen Richardson delivered each of her greetings with zest. Each conversation was like the kind you share with old high school classmates.

Every time you saw her at an event, she was smiling and joking and teasing with a unique wit. When she walked away, you thought, "There's someone who really enjoys life." Her zeal was equaled only by her enthusiasm for the aquarium.

All that made the shock of Sue Ellen's death incredibly palpable. She passed Friday morning at the too-young age of 41 because of a post-surgery blood clot.

A memorial service will be held 3 p.m. Wednesday at Sunset Point Baptist Church in Clearwater, but I'm certain her friends also will celebrate her life at Sea Grapes, a special fundraiser set for the aquarium at 7 p.m. May 22.

I shudder at the thought of her passing, but I am steeled by a hope that her joie de vivre was real.

That's all I'm saying.

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

[Last modified May 4, 2004, 01:00:24]


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