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Pro Athlete Chris Duffy Brings 2nd Annual Celebrity Softball Game for a Great Cause



by Mellissa Thomas

Professional baseball player and UCF Knight Chris Duffy works tirelessly to empower the generation behind him. For years he’s been coordinating “dream rallies,” a public speaking series reaching middle and high school students across Florida, with Orlando nonprofit Above .500 Inc., and loves giving back. In 2014, he used an opportunity he “wasn’t paying attention to before” and came up with a way to give back on a massive scale.

Above .500 Inc. hosted Duffy’s inaugural “Hit & Run” charity celebrity softball game last January, which ignited the University of Central Florida’s Jay Bergman Field. It garnered over 700 attendees and thousands of dollars in donations benefiting Above .500 Inc. and the Jackie Robinson Program. Special guests included ten-year NBA player Marquis Daniels; former Orlando Magic players Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw; and World Series MVP and two-time All-Star David Eckstein.

The game’s great success inspired Duffy to form his nonprofit event coordination company, We Throw It! LLC, and is using it to continue his mission, help other celebrities, as well as produce his 2015 celebrity softball game.


This Year’s Game

Chris Duffy's 2nd Annual Celebrity Softball Game flyer


Duffy’s 2nd Annual Celebrity Softball Game, happening at UCF’s Jay Bergman Field again on Saturday, January 17th from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida. Event partners include UCF, Power 95.3, Graffiti Junktion American Burger Bar, and Above .500 Inc. Others include Elite Catering & Events, LLC. and Fierce Entertainment Management.

Duffy held his model casting call at Shakai Sushi Bar and Lounge in Downtown Orlando January 7, 2015 at 9 p.m. The extensive panel boasted nine judges, including Above .500 Inc. CEO Brawley Sanchez, celebrity chef and Elite Catering & Events CEO Alfred Mann, Fierce Entertainment Management CEO Robert Henlon, The Network in Orlando President Marissa Lipton, and Duffy himself. The panelists studied the models’ strides and briefly interviewed them. The after party kicked off at 11 p.m. and the models and attendees got to mingle with pro athletes, the panelists, and even a few surprise celebrities, like Bigg Persona.


Some of Duffy's model casting call panelists (l-r): Isaiah Pace, The Network in Orlando President Marissa Lipton, Chris Duffy, Above .500 Inc. CEO Brawley Sanchez, and Latecia Rolle. Photo by J. Willie David III.

Some of Duffy’s model casting call panelists (l-r): IP3 Lounge CEO Isaiah Pace, The Network in Orlando President Marissa Lipton, Chris Duffy, Above .500 Inc. CEO Brawley Sanchez, and Latecia Rolle. Photo by J. Willie David III.


Duffy’s celebrity lineup for the game is already impressive, featuring 2014 MLB All-Star Dee Gordon; NFL wide receivers Mike Sims-Walker, Doug Gabriel, and Jamar Newsome; Power 95.3’s Ricky Padilla; three-time Cupcake Wars winner, author, and speaker Hollis Wilder; promoter and event host H-Dot; and returning guests NBA players Marquis Daniels and Nick Anderson. The confirmed guest list includes more and is still growing.

The gates open at 5 p.m. and will kick off with an hour-long segment Duffy dubs “Meet the Foundations,” in which attendees will visit the game’s nonprofit vendors and learn more about their companies and community initiatives.


His Passion’s Origins

The New York City native’s parents, James and Sarah Duffy, raised him to always push forward to excellence. “My dad was an NYPD officer from Bed-Stuy and my mom was a foster child from Queens,” he explained. “My parents were dedicated to putting us in a better position than themselves.”

And with good reason. His parents told the Orlando Sentinel in 2010 that their son used to swing his baby bottle like a bat during infancy. They made sure to buy him a toy bat and ball after that, and recalled that his first hit was so hard, his father had to duck to avoid being hit. “At that moment, I think we realized baseball was going to be a special part of his life for a long time,” Mrs. Duffy said.

Duffy showed such promise, the Chicago White Sox drafted him out of high school. However, his parents encouraged him to attend college first to grow more mature, so he enrolled in UCF, majoring in Communications and completing his Bachelors in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication.

The First Team All-American baseball player has played across America, in Canada, and even Cuba, including for the Phillies.


Chris Duffy swings for the Phillies in 2012.

Chris Duffy swings for the Phillies in 2012. Photo by Brian Bissell/Future Star Photos.


He teaches youth to look beyond their past to achieve their goals. “The outcome of your life isn’t where you’re from,” he said fervently. “You can learn from your failures, don’t let them dictate your future. Keep moving.”

So, Why The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida?

Duffy holds the BGCCF close to his heart. When he wasn’t playing baseball for UCF, he attended BGCCF’s summer program. Additionally, his coach, Coach Mitchell, was a BGCCF coach, and it was there that Duffy first met him. He plans to make BGCCF his annual softball game charity.


The Future

When Duffy’s not playing baseball, he’s minding his business. Literally.

Through his organization We Throw It! LLC, he plans to expand into other charity events, including a celebrity bowling tournament, and wants to produce his next celebrity softball game in another location. “Then I want to build We Throw It’s network of event planning subcontractors.”

While Duffy never envisioned himself doing all of this while in school, he has embraced all his experiences, including recently being dropped by the Phillies. “You gotta take some hits, but sometimes you have to go through, then when you look back, it makes sense.” Concerning entrepreneurship, he noted, “Not everybody can fail until they get it. Most fail and move on to something else.”

Duffy loves Orlando, celebrities, and kids, and his organization neatly marries all three of his passions together. He won’t stop until the students he touches understand that they can indeed be successful. “The only difference between the successful and the average is how they viewed it [failure]. The successful moved forward instead of giving up.”

For more information about We Throw It! LLC or to buy tickets for the softball game, visit



Mellissa Thomas headshotAbout the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor and Publisher Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.

She’s currently available for hire, writing content for websites, blogs, and marketing material, and as a book coach. She also writes poetry, screenplays, and ghostwrites books.

She has published four books, all available on Her most recent release, Faded Diamonds, is now available in paperback on all major online book retailers and digitally available on the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.



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Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness Coming March 2023



WINTER PARK, Fla. (Florida National News) – Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness, inspired by the children’s TV host and icon, comes to Orlando in March 2023. This week-long series of events was announced today at the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation in Winter Park.

“Fred McFeely Rogers devoted his entire life to reminding us of some of the most important ideas of what it means to be human among humans: love, respect and kindness,” explained Buena Vista Events & Management President & CEO Rich Bradley. “Many of us find that nearly 20 years after Fred’s passing, it is important to focus on his teachings once again, perhaps now more than ever. This is a week to re-engage with his massive body of work with some folks, and to introduce his teachings to others.”

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness begins March 20, 2023, the date which would have been Fred’s 95th birthday, and concludes on Saturday, March 26 with the Red Sweater Soiree, a community dinner to recognize ten ordinary members of the community who inspire and exemplify the affinity that Fred Rogers had for showing kindness to our “Neighbors”.

Mister Rogers Week of Kindness coming March 20-26, 2023. Photo Credit: Mike Brodsky (Florida National News)

Activities planned for the week will include early childhood education activities and faculty training, as well as events open to the public.

“The events will be offered free or at low cost,” continued Bradley. “This week-long celebration is not a series of fundraisers, but rather about once again remembering and sharing some of the great work that Fred Rogers created, not only in early childhood education, but in reminding us that we are all part of one big ‘neighborhood’. Fred taught us the importance of accepting our Neighbors just the way they are and engaging in kindness with our interactions. I can’t think of another period in my lifetime where we needed to reflect on those messages again more than today.”

“There are three ways to ultimate success,” Fred Rogers was once quoted as saying. “The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

Many of the activities of Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness will be attended by members of the cast and crew of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 – 1975, and again from 1979 – 2001. David Newell, known as “Mr. McFeely,” the “Speedy Delivery” man, appeared at today’s media conference via video, and looks forward to visiting Central Florida next March.

David Newell, “Mr. McFeely.” Photo Credit: Mike Brodsky (Florida National News)

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness is supported by the McFeely-Rogers Foundation, the Fred Rogers Institute, and Fred Rogers Productions. Details regarding the specific activities and venues will be released over the next few weeks.

For more information on the events, visit or

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A Quick Primer on the Team Solving Orange County’s Affordable Housing Crisis



Orange County’s Housing for All Task Force held its introductory meeting on April 12, 2019 at the Board of County Commissioner Chambers. Photo: Orange County Government.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Orange County faces a growing affordable housing crisis, and Mayor Jerry Demings has taken notice–and action. Shortly after his inauguration, he formed Housing For All, an affordable housing task force to face the challenge head-on.

The Housing For All task force doesn’t meet monthly like the County Commission–in fact, their next meeting won’t be until October 4, 2019–but they do work when they’re not meeting. The task force is made up of three subcommittees, Design and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Accessibility and Opportunity Subcommittee and Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee. These three subcommittees meet twice a month to come up with ideas and plans to fix the affordable housing problem.

Each subcommittee has a specific focus on ways to help solve the problem of affordable housing. The Design and Infrastructure Subcommittee is focused on the design of new affordable housing projects, the renovation of current affordable housing that might need fixing and land development for affordable housing units. The Accessibility and Opportunity Subcommittee is focused on making sure affordable housing is accessible to the major economic zones of the city, develop partnerships with groups and focus on outreach in the county. The Innovation and Sustainability Subcommittee is focused on finding ways to increase the supply of affordable housing and how to preserve affordable housing.

At their next meeting in October these subcommittees will update the county on what they have accomplished and what they plan to do in the future. For information from previous Housing for All Task Force meetings or the meeting schedule, visit the Orange County Government website.


Leyton Blackwell is a photojournalist and Florida National News contributor. |

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Opening Biopic ‘Te Ata’ Sets High Bar for 2016 Orlando Film Festival



ORLANDO: Chickasaw Nation Biopic 'Te Ata' Sets Stage for Orlando Film Festival.

ORLANDO (FNN NEWS) – Orlando Film Festival kicked off at Cobb Theaters in Downtown Orlando Wednesday night. The red carpet came alive with excited filmmakers and actors ready to showcase their projects to the Orlando community and, in some cases, to the world at large, including Nathan Frankowski, director of this year’s opening feature Te Ata.

About Te Ata

Frankowski’s biopic feature chronicles the true story of Chickasaw actress and storyteller Mary Frances Thompson, whose love of stories and the Chickasaw Nation fueled her to share the Chickasaw culture with new audiences in the early 1900s, a time when the United States was still growing as a nation and clashed with Native American peoples in the process.

Viewers are immediately swept into the saga from the film’s opening scene with a voice-over folk tale told by Mary Thompson’s father, T.B. Thompson (played by Gil Birmingham). Ironically, though his storytelling places the seed of inspiration in her, it slowly becomes a source of friction between them as she ages.

What makes the film engrossing is the sprawling backdrop upon which Thompson’s journey takes place. While young Te Ata (which means “The Morning”) flourishes with each solo performance and eventually sets her sights on Broadway, the Chickasaw Nation is fighting to secure the funding due them from the U.S. government in the face of ethnocentrism and religious bigotry–to the point that the government passed a law forbidding the sale of traditional Native American textiles and creations, which caused further financial struggle for the Chickasaw Nation. Viewers even experience the Thompsons’ fish-out-of-water feeling as the Chickasaw people’s territory, Tishomingo, shrinks significantly to become part of the newborn state of Oklahoma.

The political tensions are counterbalanced with Te Ata’s experience. Te Ata does her first performances among family, but chooses to leave home for the first time in her life to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (known today as University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma), despite her father’s wishes for her to find a job at home. Viewers immediately empathize with Te Ata’s awkward experience upon her arrival at the predominantly Caucasian-attended College, but cheer her on when that one connection is made, because all it ever takes is one.

Te Ata’s jumping off point occurs when she meets drama teacher Frances Dinsmore Davis, who encourages her to join her class and to share the Chickasaw stories for her senior presentation instead of the usual Shakespeare recitation. From there, Te Ata’s career blossoms from one serendipitous connection to another, taking her performances across the country. She eventually makes it to New York City, hustling to find her place on Broadway, and finds love in the process while performing privately for Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband was then Governor of New York. The heroine’s journey continues with well-placed highs and lows, keeping the viewer visually and emotionally engaged.

Te Ata is touchingly channeled through lead actress Q’orianka Kilcher who, like Te Ata, has stage experience, and brought it to bear in the role. Kilcher’s magnetic singing, with the help of the film’s sweeping score and indigenous songs, imprints the true Te Ata’s passion for her people onto the viewer’s heart.

Frankowski, who worked closely with the Chickasaw Nation in creating the film, honors Te Ata’s memory and legacy in a cohesive, sweeping tale that will edify audiences everywhere.



Florida National News Editor Mellissa Thomas is an author and journalist, as well as a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with degrees in Entertainment Business and Film. She also helps business owners, CEOs, executives, and speakers double their income and clinch the credibility they deserve by walking them step by step through the process of developing, completing, marketing, and publishing their first book.

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