Buying the news for friends in need

The winners of "Buy the news" decided there were other stories to tell besides their own.

When Brian Bailey and Dexter Fabian decided to bid on Item #03 in the CL Online Holiday Auction — "Buy the news: You decide the story, you pick the CL staffer to write it" — they figured the story they'd commission would be about, well, themselves. Or rather, about their popular website ILoveTheBurg.com and its companion Facebook page, Downtown St. Pete. A daily compendium of what's happening around town, the page is so lively and well-maintained that it has attracted more than 14,000 fans. It's partly a labor of love — these guys do in fact love the Burg — but it's also meant to showcase the social networking expertise they offer clients of their PR/marketing/graphic design firm, Rearden Killion Communications.

"It's no small feat that we created this following," says Bailey, who was a senior vice president at the Manhattan advertising firm Rubenstein Associates before moving to the Burg in 2003. "Everybody does it wrong on Facebook. People go out there with a strictly promotional attitude — they don't elicit the response. We just look for what people will be interested in hearing."

[Full disclosure: Bailey and Fabian are neighbors of mine and have worked on projects with my partner, Larry Biddle. But I had no idea they were taking part in CL's auction till I heard from our online producer that they'd placed a winning bid.]

A few hours before the team won the auction, one of their Facebook fans, Michelle Greene Hurd, dropped them an e-mail: She'd just been laid off, she told them, and did they know of any jobs?

That's when they decided they could use their CL page for a greater good.

"We just felt, how can we do something better with it?" says Bailey. "The fact that it happened a few days before Christmas also hit us hard."

So they ran a "Christmas in January" feature on the Facebook page a few weeks ago, asking members (Bailey prefers that term to "fans") to "send your ideas for St. Pete people, families, causes or charities you feel could be helped from a little publicity."

The message drew a range of respondents, from job-seekers (including a laid-off CL staffer) to non-profits to small businesses looking for a leg up. Some of these were not St. Pete-based, so they didn't meet the criteria, but all of the messages were direct pleas for help.

The following profiles represent a small sampling of the people who replied, and include the e-mail and Facebook messages that placed them in nomination. To see the entire list, read the online version of this story on ILoveTheBurg.com's Downtown St. Pete Facebook page.

Happy Workers Children's Center

Nominated by Anne Elizabeth Smith: "Happy Workers Children's Center in St Pete is a non profit day care srving St Pete for 80 years any help is always welcome!"

Located in the Midtown section of St. Petersburg, the Happy Workers Children's Center provides early education to children from low-income families, with tuition charged on a sliding scale. The curriculum (for ages 2 months to 5 years) is adapted from the Reggio Emilia Approach, a philosophy developed in Italy after WWII that encourages children to act as "co-conductors" of their own learning process, according to administrative director Jennie Henry.

Children learned about winter recently by building a snow-covered tree out of paper towel rolls and cotton balls. Then, as part of the center's family involvement program, parents were invited to come to the Center's art room, drink hot chocolate with their kids and read with them from a book called The Snow Day.

There are currently 115 children enrolled in the Center. Graduates do noticeably better when they get to elementary school than students who haven't had the same preparation, says Henry. Staffers are credentialed child-care professionals.

What's needed:

1) Funding for teachers' resource books.

2) Volunteers to help in classrooms and office — and the playground, where mulch and sand will soon need to be relaid. The Center is located at 920 19th St. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33712. Call 727-894-5337 or visit happyworkers.org.

CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse)

Nominated by Tif Blue: "CASA wants you to give of your time...and it's not easy right now to find a job...trust me i know!!!"

Founded in 1977 as the Free Clinic Spouse Abuse Center, CASA has grown, says Executive Director Linda Osmundson, "from a small shelter to what I like to call a full-service domestic violence center." With the shelter filled almost beyond its capacity (400-500), and with services such as transitional housing and legal advocacy reaching 10,000-15,000 individuals annually, CASA is a vital resource for battered women and children in Pinellas County.

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