MANATEE — Manatee County teens who don’t smoke cigarettes or E-cigs, chew tobacco, drink alcohol or take other drugs may soon be rewarded for their life choices.
On Sept. 21, Manatee will start the eighth area chapter of D-Fy, which stands for Drug Free Youth.
D-Fy is an initiative for students in ninth through 12th grades, started six years ago in North Port, that rewards this group of teens for making the choice to be drug free with exclusive discounts at businesses and other benefits, said Merab-Michal Favorite, a spokeswoman with Drug Free Manatee, the driving force behind bringing D-Fy to Manatee County.
A membership drive for D-Fy’s first chapter is 3-5 p.m. Sept. 21 at Bradenton Women’s Club, 1705 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, Favorite said.
Manatee students who wish to join will be drug tested at the Bradenton Women’s Club on that day, Favorite added.
“D-Fy is not really a club,” Favorite said. “It’s really an initiative. You could call it a loose organization of peers who share the commitment to make positive choices and live a healthy, drug-free life.”
“D-Fy is an organization that connects with students who want to be drug-free,” said Superintendent Diana Green of the School District of Manatee. “They agree to be drug tested and they make the vow they are going to live a drug-free life and they are going to move in a positive direction.”
Besides the discounts at Manatee businesses, Manatee D-Fy is offering D-Fy members special events and, it is hoped, hiring preferences, internships, apprenticeships and scholarships, Favorite said.
“Open events will held throughout the year for Manatee D-Fy members including Saturday Night Rocks, which is held the last Saturday of every month at the Bradenton Woman’s Club and features artists from the Del Couch Music Education Foundation,” Favorite said.
Any high-school-age child can attend these events, but only D-Fy members receive free admission, Favorite added.
Joining D-Fy is free, Favorite said.
Applicants must be in grades nine through 12 and must complete a membership application at sign-up events, Favorite said.
The application includes the student’s commitment to be alcohol, tobacco, E-cigarette and drug free.
“Once the application is validated, members receive a photo ID card,” Favorite said. “This card allows them to gain entrance at member-only events and receive discounts at local businesses and retailers.”
“Now we can reward our kids for making good choices,” Favorite said last week.
Although Manatee’s D-Fy doesn’t start until Sept. 21, there are roughly eight businesses already signed up to offer discounts.
“IT WASN’T A HASSLE, THE TESTS WERE FAST AND EASY. THE ONLY REASON ANYONE WOULD COMPLAIN ABOUT TAKING A DRUG TEST WOULD BE BECAUSE THEY ARE AFRAID THEY MIGHT FAIL IT.” — Dione Ramos, former D-Fy member from North Port
Found on drugfreemanatee.org along with the discounts they are offering, they include Crunch Gym, Eaton Elite Fitness and Performance, GUTI Beauty and Wellness Academy, Jurassic Martial Arts and Fitness, Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt, Popi’s Place restaurants and Tree Umph! Adventure Course, Favorite said.
Drug Free Youth rocketed in North Port
Six years ago, North Port resident Monica Becket and a few other community members heard that some North Port teens were frustrated because they were not being recognized for making positive choices and doing positive things.
“Everyone was talking about the kids getting into trouble and they were getting the publicity before kids doing the right thing,” said Laurie File. “The kids were telling Monica, ‘No one seems to care that we don’t do drugs.’ Monica thought those kids who were leading healthy lifestyles should be recognized. That’s how D-Fy came about.”
As of last week, North Port’s D-Fy organization had 3,290 teen members, said File, who is the executive director of North Port’s D-Fy and on the staff of First Step in Sarasota, a substance abuse prevention and counseling agency.
“We were hoping to get maybe 50 kids,” File said. “We never expected it to grow into the phenomenon that it has.”
Becket and others sat down with the kids and asked them what they would like to see as a reward for their good choices. They ended up creating things like a Guitar Hero Party or a Mystery Theater event that only D-Fy kids could get in to.
She got North Port businesses to offer discounts to North Port teens who were living free of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, including E-cigarettes. The way they set the program up, the teens agreed to be drug tested periodically and if they passed, they got to carry a D-Fy card on a lanyard that got them discounts at fitness gyms, restaurants and other locales.
Although North Port is the biggest chapter in the region, the one-year-old Sarasota chapter has roughly 400 members and Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Englewood also have one-year-old chapters which are growing, File said. There are also chapters in Englewood and DeSoto County.
The birth of Manatee’s D-Fy chapter can be credited to a push from Drug Free Manatee director Sharon Kramer, associate director Rita Chamberlain and staffers Ally Bergmann and Favorite.
But it was Green, Superintendent of the School District of Manatee, who pushed the project over the top, Favorite said.
“We met with her and she had a dream for a health symposium where D-Fy would be launched,” Favorite said.
Green’s dream was to have an inaugural event called Manatee Freshman Focus where Drug Free Manatee will introduce D-Fy, Favorite said.
Freshman Focus is 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
At Freshman Focus, 3,200 Manatee freshman will be bused in from their high schools, Green said.
“We are really trying to build their confidence to be strong individuals who feel strong in their character and comfortable in their own skin,” Green said.
There will be no drug-testing at the symposium, Favorite said.
“Students can pre-register at the symposium for the first Manatee D-Fy membership drive which will be on Sept. 21,” Favorite said
At the symposium, the freshman will learn about Manatee’s D-Fy from nationally known motivational speaker Jessie Funk, whom Drug Free Manatee hired to introduce the program, Favorite said.
“Jessie is a rock star herself as well as a speaker,” Favorite said. “We did a lot of research online and found her and hired her.”
North Port teen talks about D-Fy
Dione Ramos is now a State College of Florida student but he was in North Port’s D-Fy when he attended Imagine School of North Port.
“I decided to join D-Fy because I understood the importance of fighting drug abuse in the school setting,” Ramos said. “I have seen what drug abuse can do to my friends and I knew that the only way to inform people about the effects of drugs was to join D-Fy.”
Ramos said he met new friends through D-Fy and learned more about the dangers of drug abuse.
Friends not in the chapter were curious, he said.
The discounts he liked the most were for food, he said.
“The movie discount was great, too,” he said. “Those discounts really help motivate students to join D-Fy.”
During his two years in D-Fy, Ramos said he was notified to go for a drug test five times to make sure he was still drug-free.
“It wasn’t a hassle, the tests were fast and easy,” Ramos said. “The only reason anyone would complain about taking a drug test would be because they are afraid they might fail it.”
Asked what he would tell kids in Manatee, Ramos said: “This is a necessary club that all communities should have. The events are always fun. The positive impact D-Fy makes on the community is immeasurable.”
Manatee youth who would would like more information are asked to call Favorite at 941-748-4501, ext. 3010 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Aimee Alexander
Recent USFSP graduate Merab-Michal Favorite found a way to blend her love of local history with her journalistic flair in her debut book “Palmetto: Images of America” series.
The 29-year-old Bradenton Times weekly columnist hadn’t planned on writing a book, but things changed when friend Jeff Burton of the Palmetto City Commission called.
Favorite first met Burton while working at Popi’s, a local Palmetto diner, then later while covering the Palmetto City Council meetings.
He was familiar with some of the historical articles she had written for her column, and knew of her interest in local history. Favorite seemed to be an obvious choice, so he asked her if she would like to do a book. He passed her name along to a publisher who was looking for a local author and Favorite jumped at the chance.
“I immediately said I would do it. I had to put together a pitch for the publisher and they hired me,” Favorite said. “ I started the day I signed the contract.”
She worked with a strict deadline—about six months. Three months were devoted to poring through photos, documents and boxes in the library. She also put ads in papers asking locals to contribute.
“The hard part was putting names with faces and figuring out exactly what I was looking at,” she said. Both the Palmetto Historical Society and the Manatee County Historical Society were helpful.
The remaining three months were used to piece the research materials together.
Favorite has deep ties to Palmetto. The fifth-generation Palmetto native has ancestors from Terra Ceia Island—she calls herself a “fourth-generation island girl.” She currently lives in her grandmother Alice Sutton’s house—the very house where her mother Bonne’ Sutton grew up, in downtown Palmetto.
Favorite has fond memories of “swimming off the docks and swinging on ropes from the Indian mounds,” she said.
Her working-class roots gave her the savvy to put herself through college with government grants and student loans. Younger brother Elan followed suit, choosing the Coast Guard after college.
Her family naturally gravitated toward all things water-related—fishing, boating, swimming. She described them as “aquatically oriented.”
In her weekly Bradenton Times column, Sunday Favorites, she shares with readers family tales of fishing trips with mother Bonne’, sailing escapades with father Guy, and camping excursions with Elan. Her timeless adventures are reminiscent of simpler times.
As a journalist, she divides her time between covering the Manatee School Board, Bradenton City Commission and local fishing and community interests. She also works part-time for the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency, handling PR and video editing.
Favorite also received college credit for the project. She contacted Associate Professor Robert Dardenne, chair of the journalism department, about doing an independent study. Dardenne said if she could find a teacher to take on the project, he would give her the credit.
“He thought it might be a challenge, since the teacher would not receive compensation for the project,” she said. “That teacher was Dr. Michael Killenberg—he edited the entire thing and helped me the whole way through, even though he was supposed to be retired. That is why the book is dedicated to him. It is also dedicated to Jeff Burton.”
Killenberg said he learned a great deal from his student.
“Merab helped me gain a deeper understanding of Florida’s history. As I went over her chapters, I learned about the state’s pioneers and the struggles they routinely experienced,” he said. “Merab’s accounts reminded me at times of ‘The Yearling’ and its descriptions of what it was like to settle in the wilderness.”
Killenberg said books like Favorite’s “help flesh out and preserve the stories of smaller communities that otherwise would be overlooked in books of a larger scale.”
“A teacher’s greatest satisfaction comes when a student successfully tackles an assignment well beyond the norm,” Killenberg said. “Merab isn’t the type of person who just gets by. She’s determined and ambitious as a writer and a researcher.”
Favorite’s success boils down to two things: hard work and opportunity.
“I worked hard to get where I am. I took every opportunity anyone was willing to give me,” she said. “This book has opened so many doors it’s unbelievable. Officials are now coming to me for historical advice. The city wants to use the cover image as a gateway sign for the entrance to [Palmetto]. They also purchased books to give to new businesses as a part of a care package.”
Although she never dreamed she would profit from the book, Favorite says she will now be able to pay off some of her debts and start a retirement fund. “That is something to be proud of,” she said.
More books are on horizon for Favorite. “The same publisher is going to let me do another one of the same series for the neighboring city, Bradenton,” she said. She also has a book about her Caribbean travels in the works, too.
The book launch is Feb. 3 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Palmetto Art Center at 907 Fifth St. W. in Palmetto, Fla. An exhibit including the historical photos used in the book is planned. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
The book will also be available at USFSP Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.
The construction of the DeSoto Bridge in 1957. A group photograph of the Palmetto men enlisted in World War I. An aerial view of the Manatee County Fair in 1958.
These are some of the images in Favorite’s first published book, “Images of America: Palmetto,” released Jan. 16.
Today, a launch party for the book will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Palmetto Art Center, 907 Fifth St. W. Guests will be able to browse a gallery of historical photographs featured in the book.
Favorite, 29, is a fifth-generation Palmetto native. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in December.
“Images of America: Palmetto” is part of a series of pictorial books published by Arcadia Publishing, each one containing photographs that tell the history of a city or town.
Last February, Favorite began her research, mainly at the Carnegie Library in Palmetto, sifting through dusty boxes containing old photographs for three months. She then spent another three months compiling the photographs and captions.
“I found out all kinds of cool stuff,” Favorite said.
One of her favorite Palmetto residents from the past is Madame Joe, a woman from Bavaria, Germany, who settled in Palmetto.
There, she owned a general store and stood guard, armed with her musket, during the Seminole War in 1855. Madame Joe, or Julia Atzeroth, later moved across the Manatee River to Fogartyville, where she became the first person to grow coffee in the United States, according to the book.
But although searching through boxes was cumbersome, Favorite said there was one huge perk. Someone created an index with the names of people in photographs and books containing information about them.
“Whoever did that, jeez, thanks,” Favorite said, laughing.
Through her research, Favorite also discovered she was a fifth-generation Palmetto native. Before working on the book, she thought she was fourth-generation.
She discovered that her great-grandmother, Wealthy Tillett, and her mother, were born in the same Terra Ceia house.
Traces of Favorite’s long-standing family heritage are scattered through the area. Sutton Park, on Sixth Street West, is named after her uncle.
Her grandmother, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s, told Favorite her grandfather fought in World War II. Favorite looked into it, and, sure enough, “it all checked out.”
He was in several bloody battles, including the Battle of the Bulge.
Photographs of her ancestors are also in the book, from the Tilletts in front of the Terra Ceia home to a wedding photograph of her grandparents in 1943.
Some findings amused her. She discovered a photograph of her former roommate’s great-great-grandfather. “He looked exactly like him,” she said. “Except for the mustache.”
Other things disturbed her. She discovered that 51 of the 143 Palmetto residents in World War I were African-American. They were forced to wear French uniforms.
“There’s not one war memorial around here or anything,” she said.
Favorite said that before writing the book, she was a moderate history buff. But now, she says, “I love it.”
“The more you get into history, the more you find out and the more pieces come together,” she said. “It’s like this big puzzle … All these things you didn’t know before are all of a sudden so apparent.”
Love of sailing
But it took Favorite years to discover her passion for history and journalism.
She graduated from Palmetto High School, the same school her mother and grandmother graduated from.
She went to Manatee Community College and later transferred to Santa Fe College, graduating in 2005.
But after obtaining her associate degree, she took a break from school and found a job at Boater’s World, doing marine electronic sales.
Boats and sailing interested Favorite. Growing up, her parents owned a sailboat and she has raced in nearby regattas in the past.
“I have sailed my whole life,” Favorite said, who also has a captain’s license.
For three seasons, Favorite traveled to the Caribbean on a yacht and was part of a crew. During her time there, she read a lot because there was no TV and Internet access was rare.
She started reading sailing magazines, which, she said, were “just boring.” So she submitted articles and was published several times.
When she returned to Palmetto, she compiled a portfolio and interned at the Bradenton Times, an online newspaper, two years ago.
Favorite is now a reporter covering the Bradenton City Council and Manatee School Board for the Bradenton Times. On Sundays, she has a column, “Sunday Favorites,” where she writes about the history and culture of the area.
Last year, Favorite also began working in media relations and video production for the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency.
Jeff Burton, director for Palmetto CRA, said he read one of Merab’s articles and realized she “was a very well-worded writer.” So when Arcadia Publishing called him to ask if he knew anyone who was a writer in town, he suggested Favorite. Favorite dedicated her book to him and one of her professors.
“Not only did she finish the project, but she worked very hard on it,” Burton said. “She has really dug in deep and found really good stories about Palmetto and its history and its heritage.”
For Christmas, Favorite gave her grandmother, Dottie Favorite, a box of chocolate-covered cherries and an unexpected present: her book.
“I was just beside myself with excitement,” Dottie said. “I’m so proud of her.”