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Local civic group beckons

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The RCDF is looking for a few good men and women.

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN — A prominent civic organization here with an illustrious history of benefitting the South County is looking for “a few good men and women.”

The Ruskin Community Development Foundation (RCDF) currently is recruiting individuals interested in leadership or membership as the organization strides toward the 20th anniversary of its founding.

No dues are required, meetings are held on a quarterly basis unless and until projects underway demand closer coordination, and residency in Ruskin is not necessary, according to Sandy Council, current president.

However, two criteria for membership are imposed, she added – an affection for and dedication to the community plus a keen interest in its potential future prospects.

Perhaps the South County citizens most likely to meet that standard are business operators in the area who recognize that civic development in a community is good for commerce and retirees with active professional or business careers behind them yet equipped with a wealth of experience they want to share, suggested Arthur “Mac” Miller, a long-time RCDF board member.

RCDF was founded in 1994 and established as a 501(c)3, giving it tax exempt status under the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code and recognizing it as a non-profit organization engaged in community service, noted Miller, a member of a pioneer Ruskin family. Under its by-laws, the organization and its various community projects are overseen by a nine-member board, he added, and three board slots are expected to be open.

The civic group’s interests and undertakings have been varied and numerous throughout its history. RCDF suggested and supported formation of the SouthShore Roundtable (SSRT) on which a number of community leaders have served over the years, acting as conduit between the unincorporated South County and the county administration seated in Tampa. SSRT thrives today, functioning in the same capacity, regularly bringing together representatives of the various communities and developments from across the region with their elected officials as well as with other individuals recommending South County projects or proposals.

RCDF members took an active role in hammering out the Ruskin Community Plan, which outlines the community’s vision of its future and sets forth guidelines for its development as builders eye the area with its expanses of open acreage coming available as agriculture recedes. Approved by county and state agencies, the Ruskin Community Plan now is nearing the 10-year mark and soon could come up for review.

It was RCDF which also secured funds for restoration of Marsh Creek, considered an ecologically significant waterway flowing through and under the downtown district to become the Ruskin Inlet. It was along the shores of the creek that the communal settlement of Ruskin and its Commongood Society put down roots more than a century ago, constructing the first Ruskin College in the forested area on its banks.

Two more environmentally-related projects highlight RCDF history, Miller pointed out. The organization built a scenic boardwalk and fishing pier in Commongood Park on the Ruskin Inlet and developed a plan for landscaping the medians in U.S. 41 as it bisects Ruskin. The latter project has not yet reached fruition, Miller added.

One other undertaking in which RCDF played a role did not become reality: incorporation of Ruskin as Hillsborough’s fourth municipality, giving its residents more local control of such factors as planning and zoning, drafting of ordinances, marketing itself as an eco-tourism destination. The civic group established an entity that investigated the incorporation issues, underwrote two feasibility studies to determine if a City of Ruskin could be financially self-supporting and conducted a community survey to solicit outlooks on a local referendum. County officials just as vigorously opposed the concept and, ultimately, so did many Ruskin residents.

Most of RCDF’s projects, however, have blossomed. One is the Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center, an environmental, history and paleontology education facility on the north shore of the Little Manatee River, operated on a part time basis in partnership with Hillsborough County. A more recent endeavor is the Firehouse Cultural Center being developed in the former county fire station, in downtown Ruskin. The RCDF board currently is awaiting a draft of the proposed agreement covering lease of the fire station site to RCDF, Miller said.

It is the complexity of such projects that makes addition of newcomers to the RCDF group and to its board increasingly important at this time, Miller indicated. Miller, a retired college professor, asserted “I’d like to see a knowledgeable attorney, for example, join the group and consider board service. We need that kind of expertise now, as well as others with focused experience in specific aspects of business like accounting/budgeting and strategic planning.”

An orientation session to welcome prospective RCDF members and discuss with them how their areas of knowledge could be applied to current and future projects was scheduled for Saturday morning in the firehouse now under renovation, Council said. However, because it is the traditional vacation season before schools open next month, the meeting has been postponed until later in the summer, she added.

Meanwhile, Miller said anyone from anywhere in the area interested in learning more about RCDF and with an eye on possible involvement as the civic organization looks toward its third decade can contact him via email at macmiller@ncf.edu. “All it takes is a few good men and women,” he said, “to help RCDF build on the planks in place and work toward a better Ruskin.”

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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