The Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors at The Regent for the January 23 dinner.

Celebrating its 11th year after its debut with less than 10 members, the Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce (VFCC) presented business awards at a tailgate-themed annual dinner at The Regent in Riverview.

Chamber membership was well-represented, having reportedly grown last year by 96 and fast-approaching 300 total. Recognized were outgoing and current board members, led by its chair, and the chamber’s first-ever paid member, Jerry Rothstein of Keep I.T. Simple Computer Services. Also on stage for presentations was 2024 President Patti Sutherland of QuiAri. Abi Merkle was named VFCC’s 2023 Ambassador of the Year.

Pat Simmons (center) and Richard Clark (left) receive the Nonprofit of the Year Award on behalf of Bikes For Christ with Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce Chair Jerry Rothstein.

Business awards were given in four categories, while Bikes For Christ was named Nonprofit of the Year. The Charity of Choice for the upcoming year is Raining Cats and Dogs Shelter and Sanctuary, which follows in the footsteps of Faces of Courage, which at the dinner received a chamber check for $17,259. As a cancer patient support organization, Faces of Courage runs annual camps for women and children at Rotary’s Camp Florida in Brandon.

The Charity of Choice, for which the Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce raises money annually, last year was Faces of Courage. The check is for $17,259.

As for business recognition, Mindy McCabe, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, took home the small business award (up to four employees). Also recognized were iSmash of Tampa (medium-size business, four to 10 employees) and Canine Cabana (large business, more than 10 employees). The award for emerging business (in business for less than 18 months) went to Acti-Kare, which specializes in responsive in-home care for the elderly through the home placement of CNAs (certified nursing assistants).

Cherice Lewis of Acti-Kare, emerging business award recipient, with Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce Chair Jerry Rothstein.

“It’s great to honor people’s wishes in retirement, and it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Acti-Kare owner Cherice Lewis. “Over the past three years, I went from being a widowed mother of three to being a business owner. God is bigger than circumstance.”

McCabe said it was an honor to receive the chamber award, and especially so since the chamber’s mission aligns with her own.

Realtor and small business award winner Mindy McCabe (left) with her Keller Williams Realty assistant, Jeannie Stratis, and Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce Chair Jerry Rothstein.

“We love our community, we support our community and one of our foundations is giving back to the community,” McCabe said. “We’ve been a part of the chamber for around four years.”

The chamber relationship has been a bit longer for partners Kendall Duncan and Angie Pickren, who met as zookeepers in 1997 and opened Canine Cabana, for dog training and boarding, in 2008 in the midst of the Great Recession.

“We had nowhere to go but up,” Duncan said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, and it’s been a privilege to be in the community.”

Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce Chair Jerry Rothstein (right) with, from left to right, Vicky and Kara Kontonichatos and Kendall Duncan, receiving the large-size business award for Canine Cabana.

At the other end of the spectrum, David Segui, with his partner, Bobby Knapp, opened iSmash Tampa in August 2023, just five months before receiving the business award. Their business is billed as a place to “relieve stress or have a blast through smashing.”

“We wouldn’t be as successful as we are without the chamber,” Segui said. “We expected good things, but what we got were great things.”

VFCC chair Jerry Rothstein (center) with iSmash Tampa partners David Segui (left) and Bobby Knapp, winners of the medium-size business award.

At the dinner, a posthumous shout-out was given to Mike Morrow, who was active with Seniors Helping Seniors, and photographer Mo Ogilvie, who Rothstein said has “touched so many people with her smile and never-ending joy that surrounded her.” As for Morrow, “He was happy to see you and willing to help whenever we called,” Rothstein said.

Among the many dinner shout-outs were those to Mechelle Thursby, with LOVE Decor, for her work with VFCC University classes; Carolyn Clark, for helping with running last year’s 38 ribbon-cutting events; and Kelly Anderson, chair of Business After Hours. Also included were the VFCC Shop Local Holiday Expo and the Midday Power Hour, held at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays at JF Kicks in Valrico. The networking group reportedly has grown from around 35 attendees to more than 60.

For more on chamber events and offerings, visit You can also call 813-324-7902 or email The chamber offices are at 3115 Lithia Pinecrest Road. The chamber’s general assembly meets on the second Tuesday of the month at the River Hills Country Club in Valrico.

The ‘Osprey Observer’ crew in style for the tailgate theme at the January 23 Valrico/Fishhawk Chamber of Commerce dinner at The Regent in Riverview.
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