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Beauty is as these adults do for the kids

Published May 16, 2004

I learned Saturday that attempts at being cute can often get me more than I expected. The goal was to get a quick interview with Mayor Pam Iorio at the Ophelia Project's Turn Beauty Inside and Out, a morning celebration and walk for young girls at the St. Pete Times Forum.

As Iorio prepared to lead nearly 400 girls and parents on the 11/2-mile jaunt through Harbour Island and back to the Forum, I teased: "Do I have to walk to get an interview?" She snapped back, "Yes."

Okay, 11/2-mile walks aren't really too taxing, even for me. But I still made it a point to get out front and set the pace instead of letting the pace set me.

As I looked back, I saw an inspiring sight. Girls of all colors and ages were walking and talking with dignitaries like Iorio, Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, state Reps. Faye Culp and Sandra Murman and a host of local judges.

"It was motivating to walk with them," said Iorio, who counted a future pediatrician, astronaut and public health issue coordinator among the girls she met. "I mostly listened to them and told them to think long term."

The message Iorio and organizers wanted to get across to girls was that they should define themselves from the inside out instead of succumbing to the pressures that focus on the superficial: looks, fashion, parties and how to get boys.

Turn Beauty Inside and Out came from New Moon magazine, which is aimed at girls going through those critical 'tween years. Yet the event attracted even teens like King High's Veronique Etienne, who wanted to embrace the message of inner beauty.

Ophelia Project leader Liz Kennedy told the crowd: "What makes girls beautiful inside - the beauty of good works, caring hearts and activism."

Activism? Not only did the event celebrate with music and activities, but each girl who registered got the chance to actually vote on a series of issues using touch screen machines provided by the Supervisor of Elections office.

The highlight, however, was the chance for simple conversations between wide-eyed teens and female leaders.

"My mother always talked about what a role model the mayor is, but it was nice to see she's just a regular person," said Erika Friedlander, a 17-year-old in King High's International Baccalaureate program.

It's really difficult to overestimate the impact of this first-time event. After all, who among us adults can say they had meaningful conversations with a politician or judge when they were teens?

Growing up, the closest I came to talking with the mayor of Tallahassee was having a crush on his daughter. But that's a story for another time.

* * *

FREE PHYSICALS Streams of kids made their way through the halls of the University of South Florida's College of Nursing Saturday morning. They went through all the routines of a physical that some of us take for granted, but it's not necessarily routine for many of the youths, who otherwise couldn't afford a checkup.

USF's National Youth Sports Program, a summer day camp held on campus, has annually offered physicals but the efforts in the last five years have earned the college recognition as a model for the nearly 200 NYSP programs across the nation.

The exams also have become a collaborative effort for the Health Sciences Colleges, involving medical students and undergraduate and graduate nurses. In fact, College of Nursing Dean Pat Burns has made the exams a part of the curriculum.

The college of medicine's Dr. Deanna Wathington and the college of nursing's Janet DuBois helped coordinate the participation of USF students this year, and said that on top of all the practical experience, their people are having fun.

The camp is open to nearly 500 kids, and each must get an exam. The exams continue on May 22 and June 5 at the College of Nursing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Most important, these kids are getting a chance to spend time on a campus and see people who look like them prepare for great careers.

Whether it's teen girls or at-risk youths, connecting role models with the community is an event we always should champion.

That's all I'm saying.

- Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or

[Last modified May 16, 2004, 01:00:38]

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