Science rocks local park

BY HOLLY KESTENIS Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Frank Pierce Recreation Center, located at 2000 7th St. S., got local children psyched about science. Mad Science teamed up with Just Say Y.E.S.S., a local non-profit organization that encourages youths to strive for success, and gave some hands-on experience to kids who may normally not be exposed to it.

“I saw this at the Y,” announced a young man from the audience. But although afterschool programs, such as the YMCA and various schools throughout the county offer Mad Science programs for free, some students may not have access to them due to lack of transportation or other familial restrictions.

To the dismay of those planning the event, Saturday’s highly advertised and free program saw less than 25 kids, but the small numbers didn’t discourage Rita Fortson, founder of Just Say Y.E.S.S., from finding a positive note.

“I want to bring them out into the community,” she said. Fortson believes she is providing these opportunities not only to give kids access to different experiences, but to make sense of a world where she grew up feeling powerless and alone. “This is my dream; this is what makes me happy and not look at my past and say: ‘Woe is me,’” she said hoping that her efforts will empower others to go out and make a difference in the world.

Free lunch was offered at the Mad Science event, along with prizes. Children were entertained with two shows: Fire and Ice and Up and Away.

Ashley Adams, the mad scientist in charge, recited the rules so that all the children had an opportunity to learn, participate and to stay safe during the experiments. She even advised those who may have already been exposed to the show previously to hold their tongues and not give away the exciting conclusions to the experiments.

The hot topics: Solids, liquids and gases, along with chemical changes and energy and mass.

“I want to prove to you guys how much energy can be in a very small amount of mass,” said Adams before donning goggles and making things explode.

And with the small number of attendees, all of the children were able to experience the show firsthand, like when Adams put on a pair of thick gloves and brought out some dry ice in an effort to display sublimation to the gawking crowd.

“There aren’t many things that go directly from a solid to a gas,” she said. “Ice water has to go to a liquid first, right?”

And as the children became more engaged in the show, it couldn’t help but warm Fortson’s heart. A transplant from California, she has always been on the forefront of helping others.

Disabled from her stint in the military, and retired from her 17 years working in the California Department of Corrections, Fortson has always been involved in helping those less fortunate. But it is the teachings of the church she grew up with that have instilled a lifelong desire to make a difference in the lives of youths.

“I had strong black women that were over us and taught us,” explained Fortson who remembers being part of the largest African-American congregation in California. She strives to create that strength in local youths who may need a strong influence in their own lives. “The things I teach these kids, I say the same thing they used to say.”

So for over 20 years Fortson has been using her organization to make a difference, the last year and a half concentrating on the youth of St. Pete.

She gets some donations, but mostly uses her personal money to take girls on trips to visit colleges, stay in nice hotels and even invites them in her home to expose them to everyday math and science that they may not necessarily get at home.

“One of the biggest joys that I get from doing this is it’s not a classroom setting,” said Fortson.

An example of a day with Fortson would be looking up an apple pie recipe on the computer, and heading out to the supermarket to shop, comparing prices, weighing produce and calculating how much all the ingredients will cost.

“They’re on the floor trying to figure it out,” said Fortson who then guides the girls into making the dish, and of course eating it and sometimes donating the leftovers to others. “If you plant that seed in them they’re going to respond in some type of way, I just believe that.”

For more information on how you or a loved one can get involved in the Just Say Y.E.S.S. organization, go to www.justsayyess.org. Events are scheduled throughout the year and youth programs are offered.

For more information on the Mad Science program, go to madscience.org/wstampa or contact your child’s school to see if the program is being offered.

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