CLEARWATER — For some, the term "classic beauties of Florida" may conjure images of swaying palm trees or white sandy beaches.
Once the third edition of the Cougars of Florida charity calendars go on sale, that may change.
The calendars — this year with the theme "Classic Beauties of Florida" — feature women over age 40 who are "curvaceous and community minded," according to the Cougars of Florida organization. Month by month, these classic beauties are transforming the stereotype of what it means to be a cougar.
"To me, cougars are mature, financially independent women who are comfortable in their own skin," said Michele Yeager of Tampa, one of two women returning to model this year. "I'm happily married with children. I do this because I believe in doing work for charity. Cougars of Florida have always chosen charities that touch me and that I wish to support."
The group's first calendar, for 2010, featured a dozen Clearwater women and raised $11,000 for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The second calendar expanded to the rest of Tampa Bay and raised money for Big Cat Rescue.
Part of the proceeds from this year's calendar sales will benefit Quantum Leap Farm of Odessa, a nonprofit, nationally recognized equestrian program that serves injured and disabled adults and children, military service members and their families. The equestrian program began more than 12 years ago, and its participants range in age from 3 to 92.
The 2013 calendar has a new look, with horses and sports cars as backdrops, and a new team. Besides 10 women who are first-time calendar models, there's a new hairstylist and photographer. All of those involved donate their time and creativity.
"It's been a lot of work, but it's enormously rewarding," said publisher Kathleen Slaven, Cougars of Florida Inc. president. "And all the women are so willing to give of their time to in-person calendar signings."
Each page in the calendar highlights a cougar who radiates beauty and self-confidence.
"I think that the calendar, as well as the whole concept, celebrates women's beauty at any age," Yeager said.
The women not only modeled for the calendar, they will make numerous appearances to promote the calendar and raise donations. After Veterans Day last year, the organization shipped 400 calendars free of charge to soldiers overseas, receiving thanks from them by email.
The recipient of this year's proceeds was chosen after Slaven, who has owned horses for 25 years, came upon a Quantum Leap Farm brochure. She loves horses and their special connection to humans, so the idea of donating to Quantum Leap Farm immediately clicked.
"I spoke with Edie Dopking, Quantum Leap Farm founder, and she adored the idea," Slaven said.
Calendars can be ordered now online for $12.50, which includes shipping. The 2013 calendar will be formally launched Sept. 26 with an in-person signing at Zen Bistro Grill & Sushi at International Plaza in Tampa beginning at 6 p.m.
"We will have 2,000 calendars for sale, and I hope to have to reorder," said Slaven. "In this tough economy, it's especially important to help worthy charities."
Correspondent Theodora Aggeles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.