The Board of Directors of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce announces the departure of their President and CEO, Katie Worthington Decker, effective January 14, 2022. Katie will begin as the Senior Vice President of the Lakeland Economic Development Council in January. Katie began with the Chamber first as a volunteer in 2007 and during that time she served as the founding chairwoman of the Winter Haven Young Professionals Group, now Endeavor Winter Haven, Chair of the Winter Haven Chamber Foundation Inc. and an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors. After a national search, Katie was selected as the President and CEO of the Winter Haven Chamber in January 2014. Good luck to Katie!



The report, produced by Polk County Public Schools’ Athletics department, is based on the average cumulative GPAs of high school students on fall varsity teams (cross country, football, golf, swimming and volleyball). This year, all 15 of the county’s traditional public high schools had unweighted average GPAs above 3.0 for students involved in athletics. Mulberry High led the district with a 3.629 GPA. An impressive 84% of the individual fall sports teams had GPAs above 3.0. Fort Meade High’s boys cross country team had the highest overall GPA, at 3.933, followed by the Auburndale High girls cross country team, with 3.900.



Polk State College announced that it is eliminating $1.2 million in student debt to alleviate financial burdens for students brought on by the COVID-19 public health emergency. Nearly 1,300 students who were enrolled between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, and had student debt, have had their obligations canceled. Additionally, any student debts incurred during this period that had been sent to collections have been eliminated. PSC used Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) to cover the debt. To date, the College has invested nearly $7.3 million of the nearly $18 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated to Polk State. More than 4,000 students have received assistance.



Peppa Pig Theme Park is partnering with The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to earn its accreditation as a Certified Autism Center (CAC) when it opens on February 24, 2022. IBCCES will work with the Peppa Pig Theme Park to conduct a staff-wide autism sensitivity and awareness training in addition to making more tangible updates to the in-park communications. The training reviews the areas of sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor, and social skills, program development, and emotional awareness and includes a comprehensive autism competency exam. The extended commitment will require the Park to continue ongoing staff training past its grand opening to ensure that team members have the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament, and expertise to interact with all families and children with special needs, specifically on the autism spectrum.



Polk County Public Schools is mourning the loss of Carol Jenkins Barnett, a devoted education advocate and staunch supporter of their students. As president of Publix Super Markets Charities, her generosity has touched the lives of countless children over the years. She was also a founding board member of the Polk Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization managing private and corporate donations benefiting PCPS students. She spent more than 20 years serving on this board, providing her guidance and loyal backing. She recognized the importance of literacy and early learning, establishing the United Way’s ReadingPals program. Carol Jenkins Barnett, the daughter of Publix Super Markets founder George W. Jenkins, died at the age of 65 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.



Polk Arts Alliance, the designated Arts Agency for Polk County since 2004, announces the Jan. 31 retirement of long-time Executive Director, Meri Mass. In her role as Executive Director, Meri provided 12 years of outstanding service to both PAA and Polk’s cultural arts community. Meri served as the cultural diplomat for both PAA and countywide arts and culture organizations, working tirelessly through advocacy, collaboration, economic development, education, and marketing to cultivate an environment in Polk County for the arts to flourish. PAA began the search for a new Executive Director in early December. For additional information about the Polk Arts Alliance, visit



The Magnolia Water Tower in Downtown Winter Haven will soon have water skiers painted on it. Polk County Sports Marketing staff proposed to the City of Winter Haven a painting of a special logo to help promote the World Water Ski Show Tournament on Lake Silver in 2022. This painting will also celebrate the 100 year anniversary of water skiing. The new logo planned for the water tower will be reminiscent of the 1950s era woman water skier. In addition to the skier, there are plans to have “Winter Haven Water Ski Capital of the World” painted on the tower.  In October of this year, athletes from all over the world will demonstrate their skills and agility on our lakes.



Donna Sheehan has spent 34 and a half years serving the residents of Winter Haven, most recently as the Assistant to the City Manager. For more than 15 of those years, she was tasked in part with providing communications and information through various media and social outlets. Donna has volunteered with many organizations over the years, helping to bring continuous improvements to Winter Haven. Donna retired in December and was celebrated by many of the residents and colleagues she’s worked with over the years. Congratulations on a job well done and have fun in your retirement!

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