DADE CITY — Eight years ago, Debbie Pettis read a newspaper article about an alpaca farm.
"I had never heard of the animal," Pettis said.
Alpacas, she learned, are of the camelid family — cousins to llamas. And they're strange looking, thought Pettis, who works part time for a global consulting firm. But she took an interest. So she called the farm she read about and scheduled a tour....
WESLEY CHAPEL — Monica Obando is an apitherapist and a beekeeper. So she respects what other people fear: bees.
She and her husband, Juan Obando; her sister, Jenny Castro, and her mother, Maria Leguizamon own enough bees to have started a business: Santa Monica Florida, which harvests and sells raw honey.
The venture began in 2011, when Monica Obando, 42, suffered from arthritis. Her husband had heard about apitherapy, the use of what bees produce, such as venom, to help alleviate pain caused by various illnesses. So they took a class in it....
NEW PORT RICHEY — When others see an old piece of furniture, Jenny Barker, who owns a downtown shop called Vintage Chickabees, sees an opportunity.
"I upcycle it," she said — she uses chalk-based paint and wax to refurbish wooden tables and chairs and dressers that otherwise might be discarded.
The art projects started when Barker, 38, a widow and mother of four, was a gymnastics instructor. She wanted to earn additional income. So she attended workshops where she learned techniques for restoring old furniture — she had a lot of it, she said....
03/24/16 Human Interest
In her apartment at Atria Park of Baypoint Village, Clarice Emley stretched her legs so her feet would reach her organ's pedalboard.
She is a musician who has played the organ since 1985. She is also a widow, an aunt, and a retired high school teacher.
And "I have done something finally that not many people can do," she said — hit 105 years of age.
Emley, whose 105th birthday is Sunday, was born in 1911 to an English dad and an Irish mom in Glade Valley, N.C., at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains....
LAND O'LAKES — When Sue Hardy and some of her friends decided to make their own wine, she learned something new about the craft.
"It's a science," Hardy said. "It's an art."
And, she added, "it's fun."
That's what led Hardy, 57, and her business partner, Corey Kempton, 37, to open Land O'Lakes Winery, which now has been in business for a year.
The operation has three parts, Hardy said. There's the wine bar for patrons who wish to sip wine or craft beer, sans the work it takes to make it....
In a dimly lit, quiet room at Medical Center of Trinity, Ashleigh Johnson held her day-old daughter, Emma.
The baby's birth, in a birthing suite in the hospital's obstetrics unit, had been normal. The baby, healthy.
"Then there was a change," said Johnson, 28.
Emma, who already had begun to bond with her parents, started to have a hard time breathing.
But the hospital's staff was prepared to handle it because of a recent addition: a $7 million Level II neonatal intensive care unit....
Tyler White smiled as he dunked a carwash mitt into a bucket of soap and water.
Beside the bucket, White had arranged his arsenal: shampoo, conditioner and wax for cars, chrome polish and tire shine, cleaners for glass, plastic, carpet, leather and vinyl.
White, who owns a mobile carwash business service called Two Hunks and a Hose, is meticulous. He is determined. He is also a sophomore at Land O'Lakes High School....
NEW PORT RICHEY — Carl Serpe Sr. had been a cop for the New York Police Department for a decade when he had to do something he didn't want to do — retire.
A back injury was to blame. But Serpe still needed an income. So, he opened a restaurant, which has turned out to be a much more successful endeavor.
This year, Leaning Tower of Pizza is celebrating its 40th year.
It's a family-owned and operated Italian restaurant — and also "a legacy," its owner says....
DADE CITY — The Ray family knows well how smartphones fare when wet.
"The five kids and my wife have all at one point dropped their phones in water," said Shannon Ray, who owns a company called Advanced Telecom Systems with his wife, Teasi Ray.
"Typically, once water or whatever liquid hits it, (a smartphone is) completely ruined," Shannon Ray said.
Each time it has happened, the Rays have tried tricks intended to save a wet cellphone, such as putting it in rice....
HUDSON — Last year, Mike and Brenda Martyniak noticed a problem in their neighborhood.
"Squatters lived across the street from our house," said Brenda Martyniak, 56.
At first, nobody knew that the squatters had moved in to what had been a vacant house, she said. Then nobody could prove that the people in it shouldn't be there.
So she wondered if businesses exist that help protect remote owners of vacant homes from problems not limited to squatters. She and her husband ended up starting one: POV Home Watch....
ODESSA — While Dale Smrekar collected art and antiques, he observed a startling trend: Buyers took advantage of sellers.
"Somebody would pay $75 for a $10,000 painting," said Smrekar, 66.
Smrekar thinks people who sell an item "deserve to get as much as possible, whether they've inherited it or bought it themselves."
So 13 years ago, he started a business designed to make that happen: Downsizing Advisory Service....
NEW PORT RICHEY — The White Heron Tea Room and Gifts seats only 12.
It is tiny, admits owner Kelly Hackman. But that doesn't affect the goal Hackman has had for the "quaint, Florida-style gift shop and tea room" since she opened it last month.
"I want you to feel good when you leave," she said.
Hackman, 37, worked for the last two years as the executive director of Chasco Fiesta. She also has worked for the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, as a marketing director for Greater New Port Richey Main Street and as a youth pastor at her church....
Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and several events in Pasco County will commemorate the slain civil rights leader.
A Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club of Lacoochee, 38724 Mudcat Grant Blvd. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Proceeds will fund scholarships.
A parade will start at 9 a.m. Monday and travel through Lachoochee from Cummers Road and U.S. 301 to the Boys and Girls Club, where a commemorative program will start at 11 a.m. Those attending are asked to bring lawn chairs. Refreshments will be served....
Mark Barry crossed the hall between classrooms during a tour of a building that once was a farmhouse.
But since 1992, it has been the enrichment center at the Arc Nature Coast's Neff Lake campus, which was a chicken farm in the 1950s. The house is also a money pit, says Barry, who has been the Arc's director for 23 years.
The nonprofit organization is a chapter of the Arc of the United States, which provides services for adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities....
12/23/15 Human Interest
HUDSON — Twenty-eight years ago, Bill Aycrigg got a job at CARES, a nonprofit organization that provides services and promotes independence for aging adults in Pasco County.
He started the gig with a goal to make an impact in Pasco.
"I wanted to lead and design services and programs that helped the local community," he said.
And, for nearly three decades, he did. It ended last week when Aycrigg retired as the organization's president and CEO....