Thursday January 12, 2006

Section SOUTH TAMPA

Heating Up Interest

An outdoor gathering offers a twist on a typical association event.

By DULCINEA CUELLAR

dcuellar@tampatrib.com

SUN BAY SOUTH - One civic association is going to unusual lengths to recruit members and encourage current ones to attend its monthly meetings.

After a poorly attended Gandy Civic Association meeting in December, members came up with an idea: Discuss business while roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire.

This week, the crackle of the fire and the waft of roasted marshmallows made the neighborhood meeting seem more like camp for the residents gathered outside the group's clubhouse, 4207 W. Oklahoma Ave.

The outdoor event posed a few logistical problems, said John Starnes, association vice president.

"That's why I brought my Mag-lite," Starnes said over the hum of traffic on nearby West Shore Boulevard.

Flashlights were used when the campfire glow wasn't enough.

As they sat on lawn chairs under an oak tree canopy, some people covered their legs with blankets to ward off the evening chill.

"Nobody's bored tonight, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to do this," Starnes said.

About 25 people attended the meeting - about 10 more than usual.

"Some people are here who haven't been for a while," said Mildred McFadden, a Pearl Avenue resident who attends regularly. "We're liable to try anything to attract new members."

Wyoming Avenue resident Marilyn Adams said her neighbor Bob Hart, a longtime association member, persuaded her to attend Monday night's meeting.

"I'm usually lazy because I don't come out," Adams said.

She said it's hard to find time to attend: "It takes a little longer than I would like.

"But this is a nice idea," she said.

For association newcomer Jose Luis Torres, the outdoor meeting broke the monotony.

This is less formal, he said. "You know whenever you do something structured, people get bored. It's like church. This gives you more freedom to walk around, grab a hot dog, pay attention or not pay attention."

Reporter Dulcinea Cuellar can be reached at (813) 835-2102.

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