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August 14, 2018

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St. Petersburg: Inviting, Inspiring and Growing Brighter Every Day

Lynn Waddell | 1/26/2018

Welcoming to All

Though St. Petersburg’s population nears 260,000, the city is still characterized by residents as a big small town. The neighborly vibe is evident in the city’s vibrant neighborhood associations, community events and simply, individual friendliness. This all in spite of having a diverse population that spans age, race, religion and sexual orientation.

“One of the things I like about St. Pete is you go out and you see millennials and boomers and everyone is OK with that,” says Jeff Johnson, state director of AARP. “That’s something you don’t see everywhere.”

A progressive city, St. Petersburg welcomes all. One of its most popular annual events celebrates its diversity.

What started in 2003 with a small LGBT Pride parade along Central Avenue just beyond the city’s downtown core has grown to be the largest Pride celebration in Florida and one of the largest in the nation.

In recent years, more than 200,000 people have attended the St Pete Pride Weekend. It’s a community family-friendly affair. Area corporations and non-profits enter parade floats. Many city and state leaders join in, riding in convertibles in the colorful parade that now rolls down Beach Drive.

The inclusiveness goes beyond festivities. The city employs a full-time liaison in the mayor’s office and police department to assist the growing demographic and has adopted LGBT-friendly policies. In 2016, the Human Rights Campaign gave the city a perfect score in the Municipal Quality Index, which is based on non-discrimination laws, employment practices, city services and city leaders’ positions on equality issues.

Neighbors Who Care

St. Petersburg is the kind of place where neighbors look after one another and those who are fortunate help those less so.

Inspired to improve the lives of underserved and at-risk teens, R&B recording artist and St. Petersburg resident Alex Harris together with Herbert Murphy created the non-profit Arts Conservatory for Teens (ACT). It’s an afterschool arts program where teens learn from professional artists and get the opportunity to perform on stages throughout the area. ACT student Jennifer White says, “It’s really done so much for me as a person, not just an artist. It’s had me step out of my shell on stage, and I’ve stepped out of my shell in real life, too.” Of the more than 1,000 teens who have passed through the ACT program since 2009, 90% have gone on to pursue higher education.

The Tampa Bay Rays, the city’s Major League Baseball team, gives back off field. In 2017, former third baseman Evan Longoria contibuted $500,000 to help fund an expansion of the Great Explorations Children’s Museum based at Sunken Gardens, a historic city attraction.

Most local heroes aren’t celebrities. At the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, a local charity that has been caring for underserved residents facing temporary emergency needs since 1970, more than 80% of its funding comes from local residents and businesses; more than 450 volunteers each month pack food, mentor or provide other services. In 2017, with a significant gift from retired business executive David Baldwin, the Free Clinic purchased a 7,000-sq.-ft. building to expand the health and wellness services it provides for thousands of low-income, uninsured adults each year.

Tags: St. Petersburg

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