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Small group strives to do big things for community

Pastel shades of pink, lime green and yellow set a romantic mood at the Carrabbas Restaurant on Thursday as the Carrollwood Service League hosted its 10th annual fashion show and fund-raising luncheon.

More than 80 attendees dined on penne picchi pacchiu and chicken marsala, while members of the organization and other women modeled casual and semi-formal wear in linens, crinkle fabrics and chiffons.

Aria's Boutique and Infini Salon contributed their services. Members expect the final profit to exceed $2,000, earmarked for charity. The models included Felicia Suarez, 18, of Town 'N Country, a professional who has graced the cover of Seventeen magazine and who appeared Thursday in a black pique strapless dress.

But for all the glitz and glamour, the host of the event was low profile.

The Carrollwood Service League has been around for 25 years and has that many members. Although membership has swelled and dwindled, the mission of the all-woman's group has been constant.

"We're a local non-profit group of women who provide our members with fun opportunities to become involved with each other and the community through planned programs and other events," said league president Patty Harvey of original Carrollwood.

Three years ago, Harvey, now on leave from her job as a Hillsborough special education teacher, was looking for a way to meet people. She also wanted to join a group like Carrollwood Service League that provided community service.

"It was perfect for me," she said.

Every year the organization chooses one local charity that, either due to infancy or special projects, is in dire need of money.

"We are a small group," Harvey said. "So when we make a contribution, we want it to really make a difference to the organization we are donating to."

Deaf Services Center

to benefit this year

This year, the league designated the Deaf Services Center of Hillsborough County. The center, which moved last year to 4023 N Armenia Ave., provides interpreters and supports the installation of customized phone systems using the Florida Relay System for the deaf and hearing-impaired, among other services.

Other recipients have included the Northwest Regional Library and the Dorothy Thomas School at the Hillsborough Children's Services campus at Lake Magdalene.

"We became very attached to the school," said Linda Summers, who joined the league in 1981. "Our funds helped to build and support a really large nature trail they have, where there's all kinds of wooden equipment integrated into the trail. And some of the money went to rehabilitate a small lake that the trail goes around."

Summers said the league also helped to refurbish the center's dormitories and ran birthday parties.

"It's very rewarding to children who have had no individual attention to get some special attention on their birthday," she said. "They'd come and give us such a special hug afterwards, which was as rewarding to us as the party had been for them."

In addition to their fund-raising activities, the group meets monthly from September through June, each time at another member's home or at a specially planned outing. Programs have included lessons on silk flower arrangement and a behind-the-scenes tour of a Barnes & Nobles bookstore.

"Everyone has something in common with someone else in the group, but none of us are exactly alike," said Brenda Rouse, a Carrollwood Village stay-at-home mother who joined in 1991 so she could "have a conversation with another adult, and speak in full sentences."

The diverse group, Rouse said, includes "a master gardener, someone who's into crafts and a psychologist, just to name a few, and we all trade our talents with each other."

Summers, who moved recently from original Carrollwood to Valrico, said she will retain her membership despite the distance.

"I've known most of these women for at least five years, and some for 8 or 10 years," she said. "These are lifetime friendships, and I don't want to give them up."

While the meetings themselves are for members, some activities are opened up to the rest of the family.

"Many of our husbands have become good friends, and some of our children have even become friends," Summers added.

A new members' tea is held each August. At that time a spokesperson from the following year's recipient organization is on hand to explain the group with the charity's purpose and projects.

While most members come from Carrollwood, Northdale and Lutz, anyone in Hillsborough County may join. For more information, call Harvey at 932-8457.

If you have a story about Carrollwood, call 226-3471 or 226-3463.