(ran EAST edition)
Barbara Doyle's first hint came from glancing over the fence to her neighbors back yards last summer. To the right she saw a wooden fort; to the left, a swing set.
She found demographic statistics to confirm her suspicion: St. Petersburg is getting younger. But until last September, there was no family-oriented publication to serve or celebrate that niche.
Doyle, along with Betty Weldon and Clare Guluzian, started Families on-the-go, a free monthly publication distributed through south Pinellas County schools, public libraries, doctors' offices and other locations. The magazine, geared to parents, focuses on health, safety and education, all with the mission of nurturing positive relationships.
"Parents read it cover to cover," said Doyle, 42. "It gives them good things to think about and good information that isn't too overwhelming."
The magazine showcases the expertise of local professionals, including children's book recommendations by Elizabeth Haslam of Haslam's Book Store, 2025 Central Ave., and auto care tips from Todd Murian of Bob Lee's Tire Co., 1631 Fourth St. N.
Pati Gross contributes columns about public safety. She is a retired crime scene technician, burglary investigator and intelligence analyst with the St. Petersburg Police Department. Gross also writes children's books, employing illustrated kangaroos Romper and Risky to promote safety.
Gross has seen child abductions, house fires and drownings that could have been prevented by parents' talking to their children about safety issues.
"Children are empowered through knowledge," she said. "When they have more confidence, they become more involved in their safety."
Gross writes about games and role-playing activities parents can do with their children to contribute to their safety.
"You can't just be preachy-teachy. You have to get on the ground and roll with them to practice a fire drill at home," she said. Gross has received grateful e-mails from parents who have tried her tactics.
Doyle draws from her experience as a mother of a high school student and a 1-year-old to produce the magazine. She and her partners design it on computers in Doyle's home and have it printed at Web Offset in Clearwater. Then they load 50,000 copies into their vehicles each month for delivery.
Before the first magazine rolled off the press, Doyle pitched space to advertisers.
She showed them a family publication from Fort Myers that she used as a model. She told them that the average age in St. Petersburg had dropped 10 years in the past two decades.
One advertiser led to another, and by the third issue the magazine was making a profit.
"It's been a learning process," Doyle said. "For the first issue, we didn't even know how many words fit on a page."
The magazine gained readers, and by May the monthly writing contest attracted 800 entries. The theme was "Why my mom is the best mom in the world."
"I was only 8 when my mom died after a scuba diving accident," wrote Joshua Ford, a fourth-grade student at Shore Acres Elementary School, 1800 62nd Ave. NE. "Dad said that God needed her in heaven to take care of the other boys and girls that had to leave their families."
His entry won the grand prize for his age group, and he read it aloud at a Mother's Day celebration at ParkSide mall.
"There was hardly a dry eye among the moms in the audience," Doyle said.
Many in the audience during the Mother's Day celebration were readers of the magazine. Chances are some had tried the craft, magic trick or recipe of the month.
They probably also noticed the common themes that run through many of the letters from the editor written by Doyle, Weldon and Guluzian.
"What change in everyday choices would you make if you woke up thinking this was your last day on earth?" Weldon once wrote. "The clock is running. Make the most of today."