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Craig Warzecha Joins Realize Bradenton Board of Directors

Realize Bradenton is excited to share that Craig Warzecha has joined the Board of Directors.

As the General Manager of the Bradenton Marauders, Craig oversees sales & marketing efforts for Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training and the Marauders while also playing an integral role in the daily operations of LECOM Park.

Karen Corbin Executive Director of Realize Bradenton says, “Craig’s experience bringing the Bradenton community together and his active involvement in the area makes him a perfect fit for our mission.” 

A native of South Amboy, NJ, Warzecha moved to Florida to attend the University of Tampa and joined the Pirates and Marauders in 2015. Craig graduated from Leadership Manatee in 2017 and is the past chairman of the Manatee Young Professionals. In addition to serving on the Realize Bradenton Board, Craig is currently on the Manatee Chamber of Commerce Downtown Redevelopment Committee and Career Source Suncoast Board.

Craig Warzecha states, “Realize Bradenton is a great organization and I look forward to serving on the board. I love working and living in Bradenton and appreciate all that Realize Bradenton does to enhance our community’s quality of life.”

Realize Bradenton is a Manatee County based nonprofit with a mission to realize the potential of a connected and thriving Bradenton. 

Thriving Community Garden at Neal Park

This post and photos were contributed by guest author, Cathy Cuthbertson. Cathy joined Neal Community Garden in 2018.

Fresh organic food, blooms, bounty and friendship. Good things come from the garden.

The Neal Community Garden, on Wares Creek just across from Ballard Elementary School on 9th Avenue West, is thriving. It is a resplendent example of how space once blighted, can be transformed into beautiful green space for raising food and growing a community.

Opening in May 2018 with 50 vacant plots, the organic garden is maintained solely by volunteer gardeners who rent plots from the city for a one-time fee of $20. It’s fun, lots of work, and rewards are many. The city owns the garden, but volunteers handle upkeep and weeding, provide their own soil amendments, seeds and plants. The little red shed on the north side of the garden provides storage for tools of the trade: rakes, hoes, spades, organic fertilizers and a community bulletin board.  

Stroll among the plots to find an array of vegetables and flowers, including tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, celery, mustard and collard greens, okra, Swiss chard, peanuts, onions, turnips, zinnias, nasturtiums, herbs and more. The largest plot is set aside for multifunctional and education purposes, hosting Florida native species such as elephant’s foot, Florida greeneyes, the coastal verbena, and a variety of native clumping grasses. These plants attract essential pollinators and provide visual diversity.

Draping the garden’s wrought iron fence with brilliant color and showing off a cascade of blooms, coral honeysuckle, sky blue cluster vine, ocean blue morning glories and passion vine were planted all along the garden’s border in 2021.

The garden is hosting social gatherings, too. Last year we came together for a birthday party, a potluck dinner, and drum circle. We finished the year on a festive note with Carols & Cookies, our first Christmas caroling sing-along inside the garden.

We are extremely grateful to the City of Bradenton for its support and providing this beautiful space for gardening.

Vacant plots are available and may be rented for a one-time fee of $20. Gardening experience not necessary. To rent a plot contact Mr. William Ackles, City of Bradenton – Local Business Tax Clerk / Records Management Liaison Officer, Ph: (941) 932-9425 or email:

Karen Corbin Named Realize Bradenton Executive Director

Realize Bradenton is excited to welcome Karen Corbin to the role of executive director of Realize Bradenton. After serving three years as the organization’s director for community partnerships, Karen looks forward to continuing the momentum and taking Realize Bradenton to new levels of collaboration, innovation, and possibilities!

Karen comes to her new role with extensive experience in health care and education. Before coming to The Friendly City, Karen served as the executive director of the National Kidney Foundation in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Karen is exceptionally proud of her work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), raising funds to support families and supporting research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

When asked what she looks forward to as executive director, Karen answered, “I am excited to provide meaningful initiatives and programs that energize and inspire the people of Bradenton.” 

Inspiring Urban Development in the Bradenton – Sarasota area with the help of Urban Lab

Written by Adilene Sandoval, New College of Florida Student

As a new arrival to the Sarasota – Bradenton area, I jump at any opportunity to learn more about the place and try new things. That is why when I learned Realize Bradenton and the New College of Florida Urban Lab were collaborating in a two-part series, I had to see what it was all about. The Urban Lab is a class started by Dr. Brain, a professor at New College along with a couple of students who decided to continue their work originally started as a research project back in January. Now with the help of Realize Bradenton, they are organizing events such as the Sunset Soirée, in an effort of receiving community feedback and guidelines on local urban development.

“The Sunset Soirée and the Friendly City Café are the first events we’ve organized, and while I’m excited to see the kinds of data and results we get from everyone’s participation, I’d say that these events are even more exciting in that we get to test the waters of what the Urban Lab can realistically plan in the future and make affiliations with wonderful groups like Realize Bradenton”, said Kelly Swain, a first – year New College student and one of the students working alongside Dr. Brain.

It was an evening of creativity with the event consisting of multiple fun exercises. Starting off simple, guests were asked to build their favorite childhood memory using the craft materials in front of them. It was then built into an ideal future city and finally a reflection of the three most important elements we want to see in the future. Using a foam box as a public transportation bus or a piece of fabric as a pier by the beach, we made our imagination come to life. Together we voiced our visions without realizing how impactful they can be.

The Urban Lab will now collect the results from the first event and present them in the second event of the collaborative series with Realize Bradenton, The Friendly City Café, on the evening of April 28 at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. They plan to share the results people who attended the first event shared – and they’re inviting everyone who participated as well as the public especially those interested in community development to attend.

What better way to have your voice heard and participate in your city’s urban development plans? You have the chance to be part of something transformational. As a new member of the area, I am excited to see how the city will grow and transform.

Johnette Isham to Retire

Johnette Isham has announced her retirement from her role as executive director of Realize Bradenton, effective at the end of October 2022. Ms. Isham developed this award-winning nonprofit organization in 2009, and has served as the organization’s executive director since that time.

Karen Corbin, Incoming Executive Director

Upon Johnette Isham’s departure, Karen Corbin, current Realize Bradenton director of community partnerships, will assume the role of executive director. The entire Realize Bradenton team is dedicated to ensuring a smooth transition and will carry on the legacy established by Johnette.

The concept of Realize Bradenton, initiated by the Bradenton Cultural and Business Alliance, resulted in a cultural master plan in 2007 to pursue arts as an economic catalyst. In 2009, Johnette Isham was selected from a national search to form a nonprofit organization focused on achieving the goals set forth in that plan. Working closely with the City of Bradenton, Downtown Development Authority, Bradenton Community Redevelopment Agency, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, local cultural organizations, donors, business sponsors, and the community, Isham assembled strategic alliances to celebrate, promote, and expand the arts, culture, and heritage of Downtown Bradenton.

Johnette has an extensive list of accomplishments during her tenure at Realize Bradenton. Some of the most notable include; collecting community input for the development of the Riverwalk Park and the recent Riverwalk East expansion, growing the Bradenton Farmers’ Market (now known as the Bradenton Public Market), creating the Bradenton Blues Festival, increasing public art, and the recent addition of the Start-Up Circle entrepreneurship program.

Mayor Gene Brown of Bradenton says, “It’s easy to think that Johnette has single-handedly made downtown Bradenton what it has become. But she would be the first to say that many others were involved and she’d want to give credit to them as well. She really does embody the motto of Realize Bradenton: “We Bring People Together.” We would not have the Public Market or the Blues Festival, Long Table, or ArtSlam if it weren’t for her. She will be sorely missed, but I wish her all the best, everything she deserves, in her retirement.”

Isham utilized placemaking, place branding, and civic engagement best practices to connect people, promote Bradenton, and develop public places in order to stimulate economic growth and civic pride in Downtown Bradenton. While she was at the helm, the Realize Bradenton team was awarded with many accolades including; American Planning Association Outstanding Public Interest Group, Manatee Chamber Nonprofit Organization of the Year, and the Knight Cities Challenge Award. In addition, Isham and her team secured over $3.4 million in grants to assist in the renaissance of Downtown Bradenton. “Bringing people together” has been Ms. Isham’s mantra as she understands the power of people to make a difference.

Carrie Price, chair of the Realize Bradenton Board of Directors states, “Johnette is a community hero. Through her work at Realize Bradenton she has helped Bradenton’s citizens and leaders work together to create a vibrant downtown with an authentic local quality. Her legacy goes beyond her role spearheading projects like Riverwalk, Blues Fest and the beautiful Public Market.  Her most important contribution is in the way she has always encouraged and inspired others to help make Bradenton an enterprising and friendly city. She has helped infuse our downtown with a sense of unity, vision, and accomplishment and her impact will be felt well beyond her 13 years of service with Realize Bradenton.”

Prior to her time with Realize Bradenton, Johnette worked at the Ringling College of Art + Design, Rhode Island School of Design, and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Her expertise derived from degrees and certification in graphic design, education, organizational development, and Appreciate Inquiry are infused in Realize Bradenton Strategies.

Segunda Vida to Open in Old Manatee

This Good News post was written by Adilene Sandoval, New College of Florida student.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You’ve heard that phrase plenty of times in your life, but have you actually stopped and thought about its meaning and value. Well, Ashley Ciferno and Oscar Almazan have and they’re here to revolutionize the idea of retail with their business Segunda Vida! Based on upcycling and creativity they have completely transformed various pieces previously thought to be at the end of their life span into something new and exciting. Previously located at the Red Barn Flea Market, Ashley and Oscar create wonderful artistic pieces from recycled material giving them a second life, hint the name of their business. Now, they have plans of opening their own store this summer located at 708 Manatee Ave. E, Bradenton Fl, bringing to the Historical Village of Manatee an eco-friendly and sustainable shopping alternative.

Artistic rendering of the new Segunda Vida store front.

“Segunda Vida means ‘Second Life’ in Spanish, and we live to inspire a second life for everything and everyone. Through recycling, upcycling, conscious choices, artful expressions, and meaningful connections, we can continue to keep the planet Earth our beautiful home!” writes Ashely Ciferno and Oscar Almazan, owners of Segunda Vida, on their website. There you can learn more about their business and find the links to all their social media accounts, including Facebook marketplace, where they are currently selling their items as they continue the process of renovation.

It takes a creative mind to see rubbish on the side of the curb and turn it into something worth another life. That is why a business like Segunda Vida is so special, they mix the arts with recycling and create something new and upcycled. Creating a timeless piece for any home, Ashley and Oscar sure know how to make a unique piece as unique as their customers. “We only have to open our eyes and hearts and see what is already here”, says Ashley Ciferno when asked about the inspirations for her work. Segunda Vida also brings to light another important concept, sustainability. “Segunda Vida came to life as we decided to keep living the way we want to really live”. They proceed to talk about what they hope to accomplish in the near future, “To live in balance is the goal… we take and we must give back”. It can be hard to shop sustainably with consumer culture rising and more and more products being seen as single-used. By taking something that is already here and upcycling it into something else, they are saving many resources from going to waste. And by doing so they are helping save the environment, one less trash at a time.  With goals that would move the city of Bradenton forward, towards a cleaner and brighter future they are truly making an impact in their city.

Upcycled bench by Segunda Vida.

Thrifting, artistic, and sustainable shopper enthusiasts will soon have a new store to shop at. But it doesn’t stop there, as the new opening will also offer opportunities for community engagement and involvement. Segunda Vida will now be offering upcycle workshops and swap events!  Whether looking to buy or make quality second-hand items or colorful artwork pieces, Segunda Vida is the store for you! Segunda Vida’s new location will soon be open to the public and we hope you feel inspired to shop sustainably this summer!

Courtney Smith: Bradenton’s Emerging Cities Champion

In the summer of 2020, Courtney Smith saw a call for proposals put out by 8 80 Cities and funded by the Knight Foundation, and she knew she had an idea cooking that would be perfect for her home town of Bradenton. “What I really wanted to do was something out of the ordinary, something that would surprise people.” She wanted “to create an experience that will contribute to entrepreneurial attraction and investment in downtown Bradenton.”

Courtney Smith envisioned a way to cast a spotlight on the talent and resources we have locally in order to raise awareness about the creative people who are ready and willing to do the work to take Bradenton to the next level. When her proposal was accepted and she was honored as an Emerging Cities Champion, Courtney sprang into action.


Courtney’s visionary proposal involved selecting local businesses to be featured in artwork on empty commercial storefronts downtown to ignite the imaginations of people who live, work and play in Bradenton, and spark ideas about how our downtown might be activated.  


For those of you who don’t know Courtney, who grew up in Bradenton and has lived here most of her life, she is a quiet and powerful force. Smith shared with Realize Bradenton that she is actually an introvert. She admitted, “when I found out I got the Emerging Cities Champion award, I thought to myself ‘Oh no! Why did you do this? Now you have to talk to people!”

And talk she did!  She rolled out an open call for business proposals, and soon learned that there is “an incredibly supportive network in Bradenton for shepherding new ideas. Each connection I made yielded a new connection and everyone wanted to help in some way.”

Courtney worked with Friendly City Forward, requested advice from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and Realize Bradenton, and consulted with Bradenton’s Architectural Review Committee to get approval for her plan.  She is very grateful to the folks at the Keeton’s Center who have committed their commercial windows for their visible available space downtown. They have been excellent business partners for the project, and appreciate Smith’s energetic force and ideas. Jean Burke from the Keeton’s Center told Realize Bradenton that “Courtney’s project is a dream come true for us as we finish the Keeton’s Center and await our Certificate of Occupancy. The project helps us to highlight the existing structure and gives people an overview of how it would/ could look like when 100% occupied.”

It is important to Courtney that home grown artwork is spread across the windows at the Keeton Center, which sits in the center of town, across from the downtown post office. “We see corporate commercial renderings all the time, but it’s a completely different experience to be able to point to the building and say “hey that’s my neighbor’s dream.”

Courtney says she has learned so much through this project. In her words, she realized “if I can get out of my own head and do the assignment I am meant to do, it sets everybody else up to flex their skills and talents. “In that sense,” she says, “we all need each other.”  Courtney Smith is truly an Emerging Cities Champion and we are lucky to have her in our corner.


Courtney Smith asks that you please cast your vote for the entrepreneur you would most like to support! The winning entrepreneur will win funds to contribute to bringing their dreams to life.

The participating Bradenton entrepreneurs are:
Ashley Burns: Happy Juice
Ashley Ciferno and Oscar Almazon: Segunda Vida
Kristie Kindstrom: Your Honeycomb
Stephen Boyes and Holly Dunn: Every Body Yoga

Learn more about these visionaries and cast your vote for your favorite. Voting ends June 10, 2022. 

A Day in the Life of Marty the Marauder

Bradenton celebrity, Marty the Marauder, seems to show up everywhere! You’ve probably seen him at community events, strolling the Public Market, and of course at LECOM Park. But Marty maintains a cool distance from the press, and humbly declines to share his life story. This season, Realize Bradenton dug into find out more. Through interviews with Marty’s close friends, we have put together this exclusive about Marty’s background and daily life.

How Marty arrived in Bradenton:

At the tender age of 14, Marty became a deckhand aboard “The Filthy Squid” a famous Marauder ship known for treasure seeking. He travelled aboard the ship for 18 years, but he realized as years went by, that he just wasn’t cut out for the looting lifestyle. So, in 2010, when the ship pulled into the shallow waters just off of Bradenton Beach, he took the opportunity to change his life and abandoned “The Filthy Squid.” Once on land, Marty began hearing about a team of Pirates playing baseball. Eager to find out more, he found his way to the ballpark. As he approached, he smelled the hotdogs, popcorn and cotton candy, and heard the cheering fans. It felt like home! The management of the Pirates team took a liking to Marty, who started hanging out at the games. They swept him up, and invited him to join the ranks, as a perfect addition to their new team: The Bradenton Marauders. Twelve years, later, Marty still spends most of his days at LECOM Park.

A Day in the Ballpark with Marty Marauder:

Marty’s schedule is jam packed. On game days, he arrives at the park early. He suits up and jumps into his pre-game routine which varies from participating in ceremonies, to photo ops with groups being recognized at the game that day, to catching the first pitch! When a child yells out “Play ball” to get each game started, Marty is right there with them. During the games, he loves connecting with the team’s fans, taking photos, and making memories.

None of the ballpark games, especially the ketchup-mustard-hot dog races, would be the same without Marty’s antics. But what Marty loves most is dancing! Over the past twelve years, Marty has become a professional 7th inning stretch dancer. Watch for him next time you go to the ballpark, doing a jig on the Marauders dug out!

What fans don’t have the chance to see are the “behind the scenes” connections Marty makes. He is a mascot who delights not only the fans, but the players and the staff as well. The Marauders are a single-A team, which means that for many of the players, LECOM Park is their first experience in a big stadium with lights, music and yes, a mascot! Marty loves introducing young players and new staff members to the world of professional baseball.

Some of Marty’s favorite times at the ballpark are the Marauder’s theme nights when he gets to wear costumes and celebrate! He loves first responder’s nights, military appreciation nights, pride nights and all kinds of events celebrating our community’s diversity. This summer, he especially looks forward to the team’s Nine Devil celebration on July 29th, when the players, staff, and fans will celebrate the history of baseball’s Negro Leagues, and Bradenton’s famous and winning Nine Devils team.

Marty shines as the most loyal of mascots. He loves to see the Marauders win. When his team loses, friends say it can affect his mood. But win or lose, he remains a great sport, and devoted to the team. And when the ninth inning ends, and he has said his goodbyes to the fans, players and staff, he relishes moments to cool down with a cold Gatorade and put his feet up. When the team is on the road, Marty follows the games to see how his team is doing, and root them on from home.

A Day Outside of the Ballpark with Marty the Marauder:

Even when he’s not at the ballpark, getting his steps in by running the bases, Marty is a community celebrity. He loves supporting the team’s non-profit community partners, and keeps in shape by joining 5K races, ceremonies, ribbon cuttings, and of course he loves to wander through the Downtown Bradenton Public Market.

Many of you have been inquiring about Marty’s recreational life, and what he does to recharge his batteries. Of course, Marty has spent his life on the sea, and he loves the Gulf of Mexico. He travels by boat, takes Caribbean vacations and spends time at the beach, remembering his roots, and considering how lucky he was to wash up on the shores of Bradenton Beach all those years ago. So next time you’re at the beach, keep your eyes open, and watch for Marty the Marauder enjoying a well-deserved, relaxing day off!

Travis Ray Joins Board of Directors

Realize Bradenton welcomes Travis Ray, founder of Dapper Bowtique and associate managing director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, to its Board of Directors.

Bradenton resident, Travis Ray, became involved with Realize Bradenton through its free entrepreneur program, The Start-Up Circle. The Start-Up Circle helped him develop a business plan for his handcrafted bow tie and accessory brand, Dapper Bowtique®. This opportunity helped his brand earn a Small Business grant from the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s new “Opportunities for All” program.

Travis Ray stated, “Realize Bradenton is an amazing nonprofit organization that serves the City of Bradenton with class. I have benefitted from their unwavering support as a local artist and entrepreneur. I want to make a difference in my community and I think by serving on their board, this is one of the best ways I can accomplish this feat.”

Since 2014,Travis has worked for nationally renowned, local nonprofit, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. In addition to his talents and skills of managing theatrical productions, Travis brings his extensive nonprofit experience to the Realize Bradenton board.

Realize Bradenton Board Chair, Carrie Price says, “Travis consistently brings energy, leadership, and creativity to projects he is involved with including his collaborations with Realize Bradenton. He has a professional background in theater production and management. He is an entrepreneur and has a welcoming heart. We are thrilled to have him join the Realize Bradenton Board of Directors.”

Realize Bradenton Receives Six American Advertising Awards

Realize Bradenton is honored to receive six American Advertising Awards (ADDY) from the American Advertising Federation (AAF), Suncoast. The ADDY’s are the advertising industry’s most widely recognized accolade for creative spirit and advertising excellence at the local, regional, and national level. Conducted annually by the AAF, the local phase is the first of a three-tier, national competition. 

Realize Bradenton’s ADDYs include:
– Best in Category, Gold, and Silver Awards in Corporate Social Responsibility Campaign for the Love This City Bradenton campaign,
– Silver Award in Illustration for 2021 Bradenton Blues Festival Poster,
– Silver Award in Logo Design for the Love This City Bradenton logo,
– Silver Award in Film/Video/Sound Branded Content, More than :60 Seconds for “Our Fair City” music video.

The Love This City campaign, logo, and “Our Fair City” music video were funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation. 

Realize Bradenton is a local nonprofit that brings people together to create a vibrant, healthy, prosperous, and fun community! 

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