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Local Celebs Pitch In To 'Back' UNF Student Trip To One Spark Berlin

Rhema Thompson

It was a rare sight for those lucky enough to pass through the Hemming Plaza Wednesday just past noon: a well-known news editor posing in a polka dot dress, an opinion writer shaving his trademark beard and a popular radio talk show host putting her own spin on a Sir Mix-A-Lot classic.

 “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” recited Melissa Ross, host of WJCT’s First Coast Connect, before a crowd of the curious.

The spectacle was part of a fundraising effort to send a group of student journalists from the University of North Florida to cover One Spark's first European festival. The crowdfunding event got its start in Jacksonville two years ago, and will expand to Berlin, Germany in September.

UNF professor Paula Horvath will lead the group of five students, who are calling themselves #ZüdenMedia. They’ll need to raise about $9,000 for the travel alone, she said. As of Wednesday morning, they had raised about $7,000.

“Today is the last that they have to do it, and so several celebrities, celebrity media folks, have agreed to do wild things for our campaign,” Horvath said.    

In addition to Ross, Financial News & Daily Record editor Marilyn Young agreed to wear a dress to raise funds. Apparently, the last time Young wore one was in 1984. That's years before baby had any back. The polka dot number she donned Wednesday afternoon brought in about $1,100, Horvath said.

Florida Times-Union columnist Ron Littlepage allowed one of the German-bound students to clip off his beard.  That raked in a reported $1,500 for the group, according to Horvath.

Ross’s stirring rendition of “Baby Got Back” earned the students another $500.

That wasn’t all. Just a few moments later Laura Colomb, of UNF’s Transformational Learning Opportunities, took center stage with another announcement.

“We’re able to provide about an additional $2,500 worth to cover the hotel costs for the students in Germany,” she said.

While Wednesday’s showcase put the group over their fundraising goals, there are still a few local celebrities offering to add more to the pot through wacky feats.

For instance, $500 will get you a photo of Jacksonville Business Journal editor John Burr “flexing his tatted guns" (the tattoos will be fake, though). For another $500, WJXT anchor Bruce Hamilton will tattoo the name of a lucky donor on his knuckles (again, fake).

“Certainly, anything over [the goal] we can raise would be wonderful,” Horvath said.

The five students will head to Berlin next month. You can find out more about the UNF group and their project here.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.