Hundreds gathered at The Shops at Wiregrass, 28211 Paseo Drive in Wesley Chapel, for the March of Dimes’ biggest annual fundraiser event on May 11. The Suncoast March for Babies, a 3-mile walk through The Shops at Wiregrass, raised more than $40,000 for the March of Dimes. This year’s ambassador was Chloe Rose Gray, a 4-year-old Tampa Bay girl who was born prematurely at 28 weeks, and spent 96 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Funds raised from the walk help the March of Dimes on their mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
March of Dimes
There’s been a lot of speculation about what is going on at Parks Ford in Wesley Chapel, with its main building behind a curtain of construction since last summer, and large modular buildings put in place next door.
“We’ve gutted our old building and are completely rebuilding all major customer touch points, so that we can better accommodate our customers and employees,” said Ron Parks at his dealership on State Road 54, located just east of I-75.
When Parks Ford unveils its new building later this spring, it will feature a larger showroom to display its broad line of vehicles, an expanded and fully covered customer delivery center, and much larger service write-up and customer waiting areas.
“The design of our new building is very progressive, and will enhance the comfort and convenience of our customers and staff,” said Parks.
To limit the inconvenience created by such a major project, Parks Ford put in place modular buildings before construction began last July.
“We had the modular buildings ready to go before we started to make sure our customers and staff would not be inconvenienced by the construction,” said Parks.
This major expansion is just one example of Parks’ commitment to the Wesley Chapel community, his customers and staff. His dealership employs over 100 people, most of whom are long-time employees that live locally and are involved in area schools, youth groups, churches and service groups.
“The culture here is very employee-focused. We know that happy employees provide the best customer service, and I’m very proud that many of our people have worked here for many years,” said Parks.
Heading up the operations team at Parks Ford is Vice President Terry Mullane, who has worked with the Parks family for 25 years and is a partner in the business.
“Terry is the driving force behind our culture at Parks Ford — the person who leads our ship and keeps us on track,” said Parks.
Mullane oversees employee development programs to educate and grow his people so they can flourish in their jobs. This includes employee outreach programs, and hosting team building events, such as bowling parties and family picnics.
“Our employees are the focal point of our operation and paramount to our success,” said Parks. “We empower our people to make decisions, so they can do what’s necessary to accommodate our customers.”
Parks takes ‘community’ very seriously, and has a full-time employee whose primary responsibility is community relations. Jennifer Cofini has served in this role for the past eight years, and heads up Parks Ford’s involvement in community organizations and events.
Cofini is the past chairperson of North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, and has been on the chamber’s board for the last six years. She also is involved in Rotary International.
“We are very proud of our partnership with Wesley Chapel High School’s Automotive Academy, which train students for well-paying technical jobs,” said Cofini. “Ellis Adams, our service manager, is on the school’s advisory council, and we’ve hired several academy graduates.”
Parks Ford hosts several Drive 4 UR Community events for area schools and service groups, including Sunlake, Wiregrass and Wesley Chapel high schools, and Double Branch Elementary.
Other organizations the dealership supports are March of Dimes, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, OneBlood, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
“We give back to the local community because our customers are primarily from Pasco and north Hillsborough counties,” said Parks. “We give back because the community supports us!”
Ron Parks’ father, Jack Parks, spent his entire career in the automotive industry. He opened his first dealership in 1975 in Tampa — a Lincoln Mercury dealership on Florida Avenue, which the family still owns today.
In 1978, Ron joined his father in the family business after careers in banking and real estate. In 1984, they opened their first dealership in Pasco County — Heritage Ford in Zephyrhills, which was seven miles east on State Road 54. In 1999, the Parks moved Heritage Ford to their 15-acre site in Wesley Chapel, and renamed the business Parks Ford.
The Parks wanted to be closer to I-75 so their location would be more convenient for customers. Plus, they believed that central Pasco area was about to explode with new homes and businesses.
“We were the first automobile dealership to recognize the potential in Wesley Chapel and central Pasco,” said Parks. “We are proud to have been the very first dealership in the community, and proud to still be here today under the same family ownership.”
In 2013, Parks expanded again in Wesley Chapel when he opened a Fiat and Alfa Romeo dealership next door to his Ford operation.
In addition to Parks Ford, the Parks family owns Parks Lincoln of Tampa at 10505 N. Florida Ave., and Stadium Toyota at 5088 N. Dale Mabry Hwy. in Tampa.
“We have a courteous and committed sales staff, as well as professional, expert service technicians, all with many years of experience satisfying our customers’ needs,” said Parks. “They are the reason we give the best service possible to every customer. Please stop by and find out how we can help you with your automotive needs!”
Published February 20, 2019
If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Easter season, you’ll find plenty of options across the region.
There are fun events, such as Easter crafts and egg hunts, solemn Good Friday events and Easter service celebrations.
Here are few highlights from around the area covered by The Laker/Lutz News.
They are presented here, in chronological order.
- The Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, at 15602 Pioneer Museum Road in Dade City, has created a new event called the Jelly Bean Fling that will debut on April 8, and will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is $5 for anyone over 5 years old, and parking is free.
The schedule begins with “Breakfast with Jasper, the Easter Bunny” at 9 a.m. A pancake breakfast, with bacon or sausage, will be served for $3 each. After breakfast, kids can make their own Easter bonnet, with hats provided to decorate, while supplies last. Then, they can march in the Easter Parade with Mr. Tommy.
There will be Easter egg hunts, with four different age groups, up to age 12, which will have staggered start times, beginning at noon.
Other highlights will include face painting, a petting zoo, touch a truck, a bounce house, a slide, train rides and many games to play. There also will be armbands for $5 each for unlimited selective activities. Individual pricing will be available as well.
Mr. Tommy will perform at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., at the Gazebo. The concession stand will be open with freshly made hamburgers and hot dogs. There also will be food trucks.
For information, call Brenda Minton at the Pioneer Florida Museum (352) 567-0262 or (352) 206-8889.
- First United Methodist Church, 38635 Fifth Ave., in Zephyrhills, invites children through fifth grade to a free Easter egg hunt on April 8, from 10 a.m. to noon. To maximize fun and fairness for all, four separate hunts will take place. The groups are: Infants to 2-year-olds; 3- and 4-year olds; kindergarten through second-graders; and, third- through fifth-graders.
Additional activities will include a petting zoo, pony ride, jumpy house, games with small prizes, snacks and crafts. All activities are free and there is no event admission.
- The San Antonio Farmers Market is offering a Spring Market on April 8, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at San Antonio City Park, 12202 Main St., in San Antonio.
The market will feature a basket chance drawing, with more than a dozen baskets containing everything from gift certificates to chocolates to Irish Coffee ingredients.
Vendors will sell fresh produce, free-range brown eggs, jams and jellies, wine, organic plants and seeds, old-fashioned roses, dried herbs and herbal oils, honey, jewelry, woodwork, dog treats, and several types of yard art. Jim’s Hot Dogs will offer hot dogs, coffee and sodas for sale, and there will be free Easter crafts and games for the kids. The event is sponsored by the Rotary Club of San Antonio. For information about the Farmers Market or the Rotary Club of San Antonio, contact President Winnie Burke at (352) 437-5161 or .
- Saint Leo University’s Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and the First Year Experience team are hosting Easter Eggstravaganza on April 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Children of all ages from the community, as well as faculty, staff, and students, are welcome to attend the free event, which will be in The Bowl, behind Saint Francis Hall and the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library. The university is at 33701 State Road 52. Take Exit 285 off Interstate 75 and go 4 miles east.
Activities will include an Easter egg hunt, egg toss, egg race, games, and more. Candy and snacks will be available. Tri Sigma also will have a tent where participants can make tie blankets for the March of Dimes. For information, contact .
- Grace Community Church, in Wesley Chapel, is inviting area residents to celebrate Palm Sunday on April 9 at 10:30 a.m. Plans include an outdoor worship service on the church property, 7107 Boyette Road, with a large shade tent and comfortable church chairs. There will also be a full-length Grace Harbor program for kids from newborns to fifth-graders. After the service, there will be a hot dog lunch, bounce house and an egg hunt. For information, visit ExploreGrace.com.
- The Tampa Bay Moms Group is hosting an Easter Egg Hunt and Craft event April 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Northdale Park, 15550 Spring Pine Drive in Tampa.
- Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 20735 Leonard Road in Lutz, has scheduled Holy Week services, including Maundy Thursday on April 13 at 7 p.m.; Good Friday on April 14, at noon and 7 p.m.; and Easter Sunday on April 16, with a sunrise service at 7 a.m., and a worship service at 10 a.m. For information, call (813) 9494-7173, or visit HolyTrinityLutz.com.
- Harvester United Methodist Church, at 2432 Collier Parkway in Land O’ Lakes, has scheduled its Holy Week services, including Maundy Thursday on April 13 at 7 p.m.; Good Friday on April 14 at 7 p.m.; a community Easter egg hunt on April 15 from 10 a.m. until noon; and Easter services on April 16, at 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. For information, call (813) 948-2311, or visit HarvesterUMC.com.
- Heritage Church, 1854 Oak Grove Blvd., in Lutz, has schedule Easter weekend services for April 15 at 6 p.m., and April 16, at 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11: 30 a.m. It will have a kids’ egg hunt after each service, so be sure to bring baskets for the kids. There also will be live music and a special message of “Hope and Purpose.” Also, there will be children’s classes for all ages. The atmosphere is casual, and there will be free refreshments. To find out more, call (813)909-4080, or visit YesHeritage.com.
Many area churches have special celebrations planned for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. Check their websites or church bulletins for more information.
Published April 5, 2017
It’s April, but the march goes on.
“March” as in March of Dimes, the nonprofit organization that provides funds for research and services to prevent premature birth, defects and infant mortality. And also March for Babies, an event on April 25 at The Shops at Wiregrass, 28211 Paseo Drive in Wesley Chapel. Teams and individuals will walk while raising money for research.
This is the first year the event will be at The Shops at Wiregrass after several years in West Pasco.
The shopping center is happy to be a part of it.
“It just was something that we felt passionate about,” said Debbie Detweiler, the regional shopping mall’s marketing director. “With all of the families in the Wesley Chapel area and families that shop at Wiregrass, it was something we could be a part of in creating that awareness for March of Dimes.”
The March of Dimes has set an ambitious goal of $240,000 after having to cancel last year’s event due to weather. More than 1,000 people are expected to take part.
Wesley Chapel resident Jen Cofini and her family have been selected to be the ambassador family for Pasco County March for Babies since they have firsthand experience in dealing with premature births.
Cofini’s son, Dylan, was born eight years ago after a 32-week pregnancy. He weighed just 4 pounds. He spent a month in the hospital, and there were many challenging moments.
“When you have a premature baby, you don’t know what to expect,” Cofini said. “The resources that the March of Dimes provide for the parents of premature babies are incredible.”
Cofini found comfort through the organization’s website, too. It put her in touch with other mothers who were going through the same issues. Families can share stories, ask questions and connect with others going through a similar situation.
Though Cofini had Dylan in New York, premature births are common in Florida. According to the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card for 2014, 13.6 percent of Florida births are premature. That’s good for just a “D” grade from the organization.
And while Dylan was born premature, he’s healthy today.
Many other children aren’t as lucky, and have significant defects and disabilities to deal with for years, or even a lifetime.
Those families especially benefit from the research and support from the March of Dimes, Cofini explained.
On April 25, Cofini will be there with her husband, Jeff, Dylan and his little sister, Madison.
And, as community relations manager of Parks Ford Wesley Chapel, she’s recruited support from work as well. They’re sponsoring the event and have a team raising money to walk.
While Cofini is accustomed to supporting the community at her job, the March for Babies is special to her and her family.
“When something touches you personally, it makes you more aware, and that’s why I’m such a huge supporter of the March of Dimes, because they do such great work,” Cofini said. “They support the parents, they’re doing the research and they’re raising the money to give every baby a fighting chance at being born healthy.”
Registration begins at 7:30 a.m., with the 3-mile walk beginning at 8:30 a.m. A Kids Zone will have face painting and other activities.
For more information, visit MarchForBabies.org/event/Suncoast, or contact Bethany Carlson at (813) 898-4954 or .
Published April 8, 2015