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Features and Series

Over Coffee Feb. 21
By Penny Fletcher penny@observernews.net
Feb 21, 2008 - 7:57:07 PM

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The Van Kleecks of Gibsonton made special arrangements to be home early to meet me. I soon found out that early for them is around 5 o’clock. Usually, they don’t get home until after 8.


But that doesn’t mean they cut family time short. Quite to the contrary, they share a common interest that keeps the family close. 

The three Van Kleecks spend a lot of time at the Earl Harris Karate Academy in Brandon where Mom (Lori) works, and – Mom, Dad, and 15-year-old Katherine – have all earned their Black Belts.

Although Katherine’s dad, Scott, is in the Air Force, Katherine’s parents say it was their daughter who got them interested in karate. The academy is just around the corner from Horace Mann Middle School where the seventh-grader works on the Student Council and helps out on the council’s Decorating Committee for dances and other special events. Just about every day, she walks to the academy after school and practices, does her homework, and works as a junior instructor for the Tiny Tigers; 4, 5 and 6-year-olds just learning their first karate moves and drills.

She also helps her mother with her work.


An exciting event is taking place this week though that is changing their usual routine. Feb. 23 and 24, Katherine is competing in the National 2008 Miss Jr. Teen Tampa Pageant which is taking place at the A la Carté Event Pavilion near the Rocky Point Golf Club, just off Memorial Highway in Tampa.

I was impressed with this for several reasons. Not only is Katherine a good example of hard work and humility but she’s already made a life plan with a main goal of helping others.

Katherine Van Kleeck
She says she wants to be a sign language teacher, possibly because she appreciated the people who helped her during periods when she had seizures. Although she’s much better now, she can’t be sure if another will occur, and this makes her an excellent example for others who might think they have physical or psychological reasons to fear stepping out to try new things.    

 “I think this is a great way to teach poise and confidence,” her mom said. “I’ve never been a beauty pageant kind of person. But my bosses’ daughter competed in this last year, so I knew this pageant was all right when the flyer came in the mail. Then, when we got there, the interviewer didn’t say she had to change anything about her appearance the way a lot of pageant people do. Instead, she talked about making yourself the best you can be, about not using drugs and alcohol and that kind of thing. Afterwards, Katherine said, ‘they sound just like you, Mom,’ so I’ve felt really good about this all along.”

Feb. 10, Katherine attended a class on how to walk and stand and interview, followed by a period where the contestants practiced on each other. Feb. 23 is the competitive interview, and then the on-stage judging of presence and personality takes place Feb. 24.

This is an opportunity to compete for a share in thousands of dollars in prizes and gifts along with the title Miss Jr. Teen Tampa, which will be awarded to one girl who will represent the area at the Cities of America National Competition in Orlando later this year.

But these things aren’t the most important for Katherine and her parents. Like with karate, they look at it as a learning experience. They say it’s a chance to learn and grow.

Meeting new people, hearing their ideas, and having the opportunity to watch as they meet challenges and raise the bar are some of the things I like most about this “Over Coffee” column. Almost always, I come away from talking with people that were strangers feeling like I’ve made new friends.

Sitting here at my computer on a quiet Saturday afternoon with a cup of the raspberry-chocolate coffee I received as a Christmas gift telling Katherine’s story, I wonder who will call or e-mail me this week. When someone contacts me, I never know where it will lead. Since this column has no set rules or boundaries, whatever you want to talk about is OK.  
  * Perhaps you have a story you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community something about your favorite charity or cause; or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter where- or if- we actually drink any coffee (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important.


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