Melissa Ross

Host/Producer, "First Coast Connect"

"First Coast Connect" host/producer Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting. 

As executive producer of "The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State," Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the documentary category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. "The 904" examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital.

WJCT’s "First Coast Connect" has received multiple national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. for best call-in program.

Prior to joining WJCT, Melissa spent three years in the corporate communications field at Jacksonville’s Dalton Agency. During her stint at Dalton, she was cast in the HBO film "Recount" playing — what else? — a reporter!

Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and Communications. She also writes for the Florida Politics blog. 

Ways to Connect

City of Jacksonville

Sheriff John Rutherford says his police force is beefing up security for the city's inaugural One Spark Festival. It's a routine precaution in the wake of Monday's deadly bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The attack in Boston killed three and injured nearly 150 more.

Rutherford says to expect added police presence for One Spark, although he urges the public not to worry.

Food Network

She is Florida’s (the nation's?) cupcake queen. 

Hollis Wilder, the proprietor of the Sweet by Holly cupcake shops in Jacksonville and Orlando, became a three-time winner of the Food Network hit Cupcake Wars on Sunday, April 14th.

Wilder is the first cupcake baker in the nation to achieve triple-crown status on the popular program.

"It's incredibly thrilling!" she says.

Working parents know the drill. Every spring it's a scramble to find quality, affordable summer camps for their kids. The best camps fill up quickly, cost a lot, and it can be a logistical nightmare to try to schedule your kids in several different camps that fit their interests over the long summer break.

Will Dickey / The Florida Times-Union

Jacksonville's inaugural One Spark Festival is set spark up downtown next week, and no one's happier about it than financial backer Peter Rummell.

The former CEO of the city's St. Joe Company says he's hopeful One Spark will become synonymous with the First Coast.

"You think of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, or SXSW in Austin, Texas," says Rummell. "This event has that same potential."

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Decades before a certain span in Alaska won the dubious honor, a bridge project in Jacksonville was  tagged a "bridge to nowhere."

The Mathews Bridge, which opened to traffic in the spring of 1953, was initially derided by skeptics, who said no one would use it.

Before the bridge was built, the Arlington neighborhood was accessible to many only by ferry.

This year’s City of Jacksonville Veterans Summit will focus on the growing problem of veterans’ suicides.

According to a recent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study, an American veteran commits suicide once every 65 minutes in this country - about 22 per day.

Here on the First Coast, about 25% of the population is either active or retired military, so this is a serious public health and policy issue.

It could be the financial windfall that keeps the St. Johns River Ferry running.

State Senator Aaron Bean and State Representative Janet Adkins have requested up to $1.5 million be set aside in the state’s 2014 budget to keep the ferry afloat.

The funds would be used for repairs and maintenance while the boats are in dry dock.

Hens in Jax

Advocates of urban agriculture in Jacksonville are pressing the City Council not to chicken out (author's note: I had to do it) and to legalize domestic hens in residential areas.

A group called Hens in Jax is leading the charge.

April is the "awareness month" for a lot of things. Autism, jazz appreciation, even Confederate history (only in the Southern states, of course.)

But April also marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S., and since it's estimated 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, awareness is key.

We highlighted the topic on First Coast Connect by speaking with UNF criminology professor and author Dr. Jennifer Wesely. 

State lawmakers in Tallahassee are fast-tracking through the Legislature a proposal that would essentially eliminate permanent alimony in Florida, and also, presume most child custody arrangements begin with a 50-50 timesharing arrangement.

Senate Bill 718 does set guidelines for alimony based on the length of marriages. But permanent alimony would be virtually done away with, and instead would only last for a certain period of time, which would vary based on the circumstances of the divorce.

You opted for that little bag of Baked Lays at lunch instead of the full-fat version, and felt virtuous. It's the healthier choice, right?

Not necessarily.  Some foods may LOOK healthy, but understanding how food products are made and reading labels closely (one hint: the less ingredients, the better) is key to understanding what's truly good for you.

They were the notorious slave ships ferrying Africans from their homeland into bondage on U.S. shores.

The Middle Passage, or the route the slave ships took, brought more than 10 million people to America who would become slaves. Two million more died in the ocean crossing. 

The Middle Passage Project is now working to place historic markers around the Florida coast, at ports where the slave ships docked. Future sites of remembrance include Amelia Island and St. Augustine.

The Florida-Times Union

They're the pastors of a growing, biracial Jacksonville church. But Mike and Connie Smith are also garnering attention for a provocative study they recently published looking at the high rates of homicide in African-American communities.

It's a long, detailed piece - one the Florida Times-Union initially declined

Black smoke rose over the Vatican this morning.. a signal that the cardinals' conclave in Rome has not yet chosen a new pope.

The new pontiff will replace retiring Pope Benedict the 16th, and lead 1.2 billion Catholics around the  world.

He’ll also face deep divisions within the church and a scandal-plagued Vatican hierarchy.

Robin Wright

  The events of the Arab Spring were momentous and for many, exciting to watch as they unfolded in the Middle East. So what now?

That's the domain of acclaimed author and foreign correspondent Robin Wright. She's in town this week to discuss her book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Muslim World.

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