Fannie Mae Arnold, at East Franklin Elementary School in Franklin, N.C., didn't know back in May 1956 that she was making an early impact on Hometown Pasco, the community news pages that run each Thursday and Sunday in the Pasco Times (and now online — more on that in a minute).
Mrs. Arnold was my first-grade teacher back then, and Hometown Pasco, computers and the Web were far in the future.
But Mrs. Arnold recognized a little redheaded girl's love for writing and prophetically wrote, on the back page of my story-filled tablet, words that have spanned the years and remain a guiding force:
"Who knows, you may be a real story writer someday?"
At 7 years old, I knew what I really wanted to do in life was write stories about everyday people and events, positive and heartwarming. I didn't know it would take almost half a century, but over the years Mrs. Arnold's words stayed strong.
Fast forward 48 years — through three decades of teaching and raising a family — to February 2004, when Bill Stevens, then the Times' North Suncoast editor, offered me the opportunity to create the Hometown Pasco section.
I promised Bill — and myself — that I'd "work my heart out" to make Hometown a success.
In 1956, from my tiny mountain community, I wrote about small things that make life sweet: a new calf born in our big log barn, an Easter egg hunt at church with Grandma coming for dinner afterward, and a dentist visiting my first-grade class.
It was similar to Hometown pages now — a lady out for a walk helping rescue an armadillo, kids raising money for breast cancer awareness or, upcoming in Hometown, a group of individuals who take their pet dogs weekly to a nursing home, gathering smiles of joy from residents.
In both cases, the news is about good deeds done by good people who often speak in quiet, disbelieving voices the words I love to hear: "I've NEVER been in the paper before."
That thought is usually followed with, "I'll need to get extra copies for my family."
Now there's a "new and improved" way to share Hometown pictures and they can be zoomed across the country — or around the world — in a matter of seconds, thanks to the newly designed Tampa Bay Times website. Pictures, bright and bold, can be sent via email, posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking spots and even printed straight from the site.
It's a huge leap for Hometown and it comes at a fitting time. In a few weeks, we'll begin our 10th year of this much loved community page. I've lost track of how many faces have appeared on Hometown, but they number in the thousands, with this week well over 100 faces filling the Thursday and Sunday editions.
We've made great progress, and yet the ways of submitting pictures and news are pretty much unchanged:
• Pictures submitted via email should be large size and, preferably in jpeg form.
• Individuals must be identified with first and last name and in order of how they appear in the photo, such as "from left," unless it's a large crowd when a group name works better.
• Information should tell what the event is and with details — more is always better than less.
• Pictures must be sent as individual files, not on a photo account site such as Picasa or Flickr.
• The name of the person who took the picture must be provided, as well as a contact name and number of the person submitting the news.
• If hard copy pictures are mailed via postal service, they should be printed on photo paper, because pictures on typing/copy paper reproduce very poorly, if at all, in the newspaper and the pictures must be flat without creases.
• The news needs to reach us promptly after the event. It's a goal to publish everything, but Santa in March is stretching things a bit.
It's no secret I love coordinating the Hometown news just as I loved creating stories when I was 7 years old. I dreamed back then there would be many years of writing ahead and I hope now that Hometown will go strong for years to come. I also hope with the new website, pictures will be sent far and wide. It all depends on you, the readers, so I'll be expecting more news and pictures! As always, I am eager to help and I want to hear from you.
To send news and pictures for Hometown or to seek my assistance, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (813) 909-4600, ext. 4660.
To access Hometown online, visit the Pasco Times page at www.pasco.tampabay.com and scroll about halfway down the page. The latest gallery of Hometown pictures should appear under "Features." You can also enter "Hometown" and the publication date (such as "Feb. 24") in the search box in the upper-right corner of the page. Photos are grouped by publication date, starting Feb. 10, 2013, when Hometown pictures started appearing on the site.