On Friday, the Tampa Port Authority's Cruise Terminal 3 will be engulfed with island breezes, flavorful music and folks dressed in tropical cocktail attire.
The reason: the SilverSpoons and Sandcastles gala benefiting the Mayor's Beautification Program.
The annual event, always light on formality and heavy on fun, will be no different this year. An actual sand sculpture will be part of the decorations. De Lei'ed Parrots will provide music, and Catering by Design will provide excellent food choices.
As a member of the planning committee, I got to sample the food. Trust me, it's good.
The "fun in the sun" theme seems particularly appropriate when you consider the sunny days and bright future of 21-year-old Alexandria Hopson.
She is one of the many folks who have benefited from Success Through Environmental Partnerships and Service (STEPS), a Mayor's Beautification Program that provides teenagers part-time jobs with Tampa Parks and Recreation Department. The kids also receive mentoring, tutoring, workplace skills training and scholarship opportunities.
In short, Hopson received a road map for life.
"I had never heard of the program, but I thought it would be the best thing for me to keep me out of the things that were going on in the street, to keep me focused," Hopson said. "I tried it. I loved it."
The program isn't easy. In her part-time job, Hopson mowed lawns, edged grass, pulled weeds and picked up trash. Given my own disdain for yard work, I'm amazed she speaks about her experiences with a smile.
Hopson's two-year stay in the program allowed her to meet friends, attend sporting events and learn more about the business world through field trips to companies like Coca-Cola.
Buoyed by what she learned about the value of work, Hopson got a job at Busch Gardens, then returned to work for Tampa's Clean City division, where she currently holds a job on one of the division's "super crews."
"It got me ready for the real world," Hopson said. "If kids out there today don't know the focus, STEPS is something that can push them toward better things in life instead of the wrong turns and the peer pressure. It keeps you on the track."
Hopson, who also is enrolled at Hillsborough Community College, is on track to be a teacher. She says part of her training comes from holding class for her six nieces and nephews.
I don't know if Hopson realizes what she teaches us about lending a hand to the Mayor's Beautification Program. Here is a program yielding real results, not only through the youth program but through efforts such as an adoption program that allows corporations, schools and civic groups to provide care and maintenance for medians, parks and shorelines. The program also organizes an annual cleanup of the Hillsborough River.
If you ask me, the opportunity to have a grand time and help the community should be as enchanting as steel drum music and island breezes.
That's all I'm saying.