Our quest for Gainesville’s heroic citizens continues.
On the following pages, we present nine people who each have followed their hearts to do the right thing in spite of the odds. It takes uncommon strength to stand for a cause. It takes super willpower and talents to go beyond the norm and successfully accomplish what most don’t even think of. These are the heroes who walk among us every day in our hometown. Rest assured, Gainesville, we will keep vigilant watch day and night to find and shed light on more of these extraordinary citizens. We know you’re out there heroes — and we thank you.
Presenting Gainesville Today’s 2nd Annual Celebration of Hometown Heroes
Photography by Philip Marcel
Dr. Hugh McClelland
By: Shaneece Dixon
By the time Dr. Hugh McClelland was 6 years old, he knew nearly every type of mammal, bird, and amphibians that he found in the woods behind his grandmother’s house and every fish caught from her boat.
But these days, he can be found at the Affiliated Pet Emergency Services clinic, taking care of his own patients.
Most of the time, they are cats and dogs, suffering from maladies such as ear infections, snake bites, seizures and allergies. But sometimes he will treat animals that run into the road, such as squirrels, possums or strays. Sometimes, he brings them in himself.
“When there’s a stray animal — no owner, no dog tag, no microchip — we have to take over and make a decision on our own. We don’t know what the owner would want,” said Dr. McClelland. “It’s hard to see innocent puppies and kittens in needless suffering. We’re on the frontlines of that.”
Affiliated Pet provides critical and emergency medical care for animals when normal veterinary animal services are not available. It also serves as a regional critical care facility for other veterinary practices and hospitals in North Central Florida.
Dr. McClelland works 14-hour overnight shifts, four days a week (including weekends and holidays). Because of their hours, most daytime vets send in animals that need to stay overnight to the Affiliated Pet facility so they can receive around-the-clock care.
“It’s stressful for us, for the technicians and for the owners,” he said. “If a client is calling you at 3 a.m., it’s not because they want to.”
Superhero Name: The Dark Knight of Gainesville
By: Carla Vianna
Jennifer Moore had never been exposed to hunger before. In her mind, childhood hunger was a distant idea. When she thought of hunger, she could only picture the heart-wrenching commercials of children in foreign countries that she would see on TV.
But on Jan. 11, 2010, Moore realized that there were children not getting enough to eat in her very own community.
Moore had taken pizzas and cupcakes to her daughter’s classroom to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. She noticed that a couple of the kids were eating a lot more than others.
She later found out that since it was a Monday, some of the children had not had a full meal since Friday at school. Over the weekend, low resources at home often left them hungry.
“It just caught my attention: We have a problem,” she said. “Every time I watched that child eat that pizza, and they were going on their third and fourth piece in 10 minutes, my heart was heavier and heavier. I left there that day feeling this heavy urge that I had to do something. I had to act.”
Moore, a nurse at Shands Hospital in the mother/baby unit, founded the Food4Kids Backpack Program. The program supplies children in need with a backpack full of food before they leave school every Friday. Children take home a weekend’s supply of food to cover the gap between Friday and Monday. The backpack is then returned on Monday and refilled for the following weekend.
So far, there are 18 schools in Alachua County registered with Food4Kids. All the food is received through donations and food drives, and there are various food drop-off locations around Gainesville. About 450 children receive the backpacks every weekend, she said.
“This is something that has burned in my heart since I witnessed it,” she said. “It was just something else that was going to be a part of who I was and who I was going to turn into.”
Superhero Name: Tenderheart
By: Meghan Pryce
Richard Rheingans has spent the past 10 years advocating for children oceans away in developing countries through his research on the rotavirus. The amount of children dying from diarrheal diseases can often look like just a number on paper. But as a parent, he understands the reality of these tragic, yet avoidable, deaths.
The associate professor at the University of Florida said the goal of his research is to shed a light on areas where life-saving vaccines are not reaching the children who need them the most. The research also creates policy pressure to help improve access to these vaccines.
“The science sometimes confirms things that should be intuitively clear to us,” he said. “It gives [decision makers] the evidence and ammunition to say, ‘This is the smart thing to do.’”
Rheingans researches the rotavirus, a diarrheal pathogen that is the most common cause of diarrheal mortality globally. It kills about half a million kids every year, he said.
There are new vaccines that have been developed to address the rotavirus. He said it can prevent more than half of the severe cases as long as kids get vaccinated on time.
In 2012, Rheingans was the recipient of the UF International Educator Award in the junior faculty section. It is awarded to staff members who internationalize the priorities of the university.
“It’s a wonderful recognition, and I really appreciate it,” he said. “But I think it’s more of a call to arms.”
Superhero Name: Science Man
By: Anagabriela Medina
For Jackeline Zelaya, shaving off 24 inches of hair was only a small price to pay for raising money and awareness for childhood cancer.
Zelaya, 20, was one of only three women who shaved their heads at the University of Florida Freshman Leadership Council’s second annual St. Baldrick’s Festival in March.
“It was beyond surreal up until I heard the buzzer going,” she said.
All the money raised at the event went toward the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which is a childhood cancer charity that funds research to help find cures for different cancers.
The business administration major was first introduced to the foundation during her first year at UF as a member of the Freshman Leadership Council and eventually became a director of the event.
Her dedication toward the event stems from her own tragic encounter with the disease, when her aunt passed away from breast cancer when she was just 25 years old.
She did have her reservations before she shaved her head, and it wasn’t until she went to visit her aunt’s tombstone one day before the event that she decided she was going to go through with it.
With the help of social media and a supportive group of friends, she was able to raise about $4,000 of the event’s $11,000 total.
As her head was being shaven, Zelaya said she felt as if she could sense her aunt’s presence with her during the entire process and knew that her aunt would be proud of her.
Superhero Name: Bald Eagle
Officer Jason Rarey
By Carla Vianna
As Officer Jason Rarey sat in Starbucks, the steady patter of typing could be heard over the quiet mumble of conversations. The relaxed setting, however, did not affect Officer Rarey.
He sat with his back facing the serving counter, giving him a full view of the front door and the rest of Starbucks’ patrons.
His eyes danced from one end of the room to the other, scanning, observing, waiting for the next problem. An officer is wired this way — a constant observer.
Officer Rarey was involved in the search efforts for Christian Aguilar, an 18-year-old University of Florida student who went missing and was found dead in September last year.
“I have children myself,” he said. “I think I could relate more with the parents. I wanted to find closure for them, whether that be him alive or what happened.”
Officer Rarey is assigned to the special operations unit. He focuses on burglaries, “street-level” narcotics, graffiti issues and property issues with Gainesville Housing Authority. He is also currently training with the SWAT team of GPD. When citizens need help, they call 911. But when officers need help, they call the SWAT team, said Officer Ben Tobias, GPD’s Public Information Officer.
Officer Rarey will officially operate under the SWAT team in about a year.
Beyond the uniform and badge, Officer Rarey feels like everyone else. He’s just a regular guy, he said, who chose to take an oath to protect others.
“I’ve had conversations with my wife,” he said. “She knows the risks involved. I know if we come to work, we may not make it home that day, and that’s a choice I make every day. But I’m willing to do that because I took that oath. It’s just what I believe in.”
Superhero Name: Justice
Pastor Kenneth Claytor
By: Meghan Pryce
Pastor Kenneth Claytor helps people find the dream that God places inside of them and breathes life into that dream.
To Claytor, this is one of the many jobs of being a pastor.
“Without question I think that’s what God has called me and my wife to be,” he said. “We are dream releasers.”
Claytor is the founder of the Spirt of Faith Christian Center in Gainesville, a nondenominational bible-teaching church. He started the church in 2007 when he and his wife, Tabatha, moved from Washington, D.C., to Gainesville.
The church started off with only four members and several children in the Claytor’s home. In the six years since its establishment, the church has grown to more than a couple thousand people, he said.
Claytor and his fellow church members are dedicated to community service and outreach programs. Spirit of Faith partners with the Salvation Army, serves food to families at the Ronald McDonald House and cleans the grounds at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.
His story of transformation began when he and his wife were in college and became serious about God. That is when everything changed, he said. They were no longer in debt and had a stronger marriage.
He said their own story and testimony has helped transform other people’s lives in the same way.
Over the years, Claytor has seen thousands of lives altered through the church.
“There’s a fulfillment that can really only come from having a relationship with God,” he said. “I think I’ve found that, and that’s the best thing.”
Superhero Name: Super Faith
By Shaneece Dixon
Dan Sibol learned early on how important it was to help others. His mother taught him that his needs were not as vital as the needs of others.
Sibol is a tutor for middle-school students and is a mentor at Motiv8, a program in the Univeristy of Florida’s Center for Leadership and Service that aids at-risk middle school students.
“I just kind of always loved working with kids,” said Sibol. “I was always kind of focused on youth development, and I think the middle school years are the most formative years and really help determine what kind of people they’re going to be later on in life.”
As a Motiv8 mentor, he spends about an hour a week with his mentee. Part of the time is used to help them with homework, while the other half is spent doing something fun, such as playing football or reading a magazine together.
Sibol said the students are selected because they have academic or behavioral issues. These can be students who may be performing well in the classroom but may be dealing with a death in the family or are new to the area. But there also students who are at-risk of dropping out of middle school entirely.
“It is extremely disheartening and definitely something that should not happen ever,” he said. “I mean, it’s middle school. These kids are not even teenagers.”
He admits that it is difficult to know if he is truly making an impact on the students he helps. Sometimes he has a student that stops coming to the after-school program. Other times, he’s working on helping students understand basic mathematic concepts. But he does recall one student that he impacted.
“He started asking me questions like ‘Are you going to be here next week?’ Because he knew that the school year [at UF] was ending. He wanted to make sure that I was still going to be coming,” he said. “I know that I’ve been able to spend time with him and that’s maybe more than he’s getting at home or somewhere else.”
Superhero Name: Dynamite Dan
Angela Terrell began her lifelong dedication to the arts as a young child, although she didn’t know it at the time.
Terrell’s father decided that she would be the one to play piano for the programs that he was in charge of at Johnson Chapel Baptist Church.
When she was 16, she had had enough of the piano, and attended Hampton University in Hampton, Va. to become a nurse. But the dissection of a frog sent her running over to the music department where she rediscovered her true passion.
Terrell, a Gainesville native, founded the Duval Community Arts Council, which has raised more than $75,000 for arts education for underserved students and their families in Alachua County. She was also named one of Girl Scouts of Gateway Council’s 2013 Women Who Make a Difference.
“The arts are so important to make people well-rounded,” she said.
She returned to Duval Elementary School after attending college before moving on to teach at Sidney Lanier Elementary and then at Littlewood Elementary for the next 26 years before retiring.
Terrell’s retirement would be short-lived, though, as she was quickly taken out of retirement to help with the implementation of the fine arts education program at Duval Elementary in 2003 that eventually became the magnet program it is today.
Currently, she teaches piano skills and coordinates a mentorship program at Duval Elementary Fine Arts Academy. She believes that as a fine arts educator, it is important to understand the individual needs of all students.
“I think that they can reach for the stars,” she said. “So because I think that, they move in that direction.”
Superhero Name: Arts Champion
By: Carla Vianna
Dave McDaid pulled up with a kayak attached to the roof of his SUV. His shirt read “IrishWaterDogs” across the front.
McDaid is the founder of the IrishWaterDogs Warriors program here in Gainesville and across the U.S. The nonprofit program provides outdoor events on the first Sunday of each month for veterans and their families.
“I’m from Ireland,” he said. “The Irish people — we have a great respect for freedom, the people that fight for it and the people that defend it. … Everything that we have here in this fantastic country, we have because it’s these guys that are out there, making sure that we’re safe and that we can do what we do here.”
The Warriors program stems from the IrishWaterDogs (IWD) outdoor apparel company, founded in 2006. McDaid has always been an outdoor enthusiast, and when he moved to Jacksonville, he decided to start a blog for kayakers, campers and hikers alike.
From that blog, IWD was born.
In Jacksonville, McDaid said he would see soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and he knew there was something he could do for them and their family.
He wanted the Warriors program to include the entire family, because a lot of the times they are left out. In reality, he said, they are on the frontlines, too.
On that last Sunday of the month, families across Florida are brought together for a day of kayaking, fishing and live music. Here in Florida, the fun is on the water. While everyone is enjoying what nature has to offer, a team of grillers stays behind to cook up a barbecue.
All the veterans and their families have to do is show up for a great day, and forget about everything else, McDaid said.
“After a stressful week of work,” he said, “the peace and the relaxation that being outdoors and being on the water brings you — if that has such a common and healing effect on regular nine to five-ers, multiply that by a thousand, and that’s the benefit that these guys get.”
Superhero Name: Aquamac