The Growth of a Giving Community

In May of this year, Alex Perez was made vice president of Tampa Jeep Krewe. As a member since nearly the beginning, and as an admin for most of the group’s existence, Alex is “honored to be a representative of TJK.”

Jeepin’ Central Florida caught up with Alex for a look inside one of Central Florida’s largest Jeepin’ communities. We learned that the group’s reach extends beyond the state of Florida and that TJK has always been about family, philanthropy and four-wheelin’ fun.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how long you have been a Jeeper?

I am a service writer at Jerry Ulm Jeep in Tampa, Fla. I build custom Jeeps. I bought my first Jeep back in 2013. I told myself I was going to leave it stock. I started seeing Jeeps riding around town and was tempted to start modifying mine. Now, I understand the saying: “A Jeep is never done being built.”

Jeep owners start with wanting to do a lift and tires. Then you have Jeepers coming in every Friday to get something else done to their rig. It’s really rewarding to hear an owner’s idea for their completely stock Jeep and take it to the next level for them. It’s great to see the pride they take in it. I’m looking for that smile.

As a veteran Jeeper, what advice would you give to someone new to the activity?

When it comes to upgrading and wheelin’, I like to do it once, do it right, take it slow, and learn from my mistakes. Get everything you can out of that Jeep and you’ll have a great time. People spend ungodly amounts of money because they try to go the cheap way first.

Before you start shopping online or going to your local Jeep shop to start the upgrade process, find a Jeep group. Go see what everyone is running, then tag along on a local ride with what you have. Once you get out on the trail you will learn how capable your rig is in its current state. You will see what type of driver you want to be. This way, when you start the modification phase, you will have an idea of what you want. You might save some money by doing certain things only once.

What kind of Jeep do you have?

I have a 2006 Wrangler TJ. It is the last year they made the TJ body style. It’s my favorite body style, the true Jeep look. I always wanted one, so I’m glad I was able to make the purchase.

What was the most necessary upgrade for your Jeep?

The lift, tires and wheels. That gives the Jeep its personality. You can accentuate it all you want, but that is the base.

What is special or unique about your rig?

If I were set my rig aside from everybody else, I’m not sure. We all have lights and big tires. I built it for myself. It is simply to my liking and fits my needs.

Can you tell us a Jeepin’ lesson you had to learn the hard way?

I’ve had a couple off-road experiences, and I have taught a few classes. Momentum is key. If you do not have momentum, you are not going to make it over the hill and rocks, or through the mud.

The hardest lesson I have learned is from mudding. Mudding breaks a lot of stuff. The mud gets in your seals and always cakes somewhere. I would recommend staying away from mud unless you want to spend a lot of money on your vehicle.

Another thing, play around in two-wheel drive. Start in two-wheel drive and find out what your vehicle is capable of. If necessary, recover in four-wheel drive. If you go in with four-wheel drive, chances are you’re not going to make it out.

What do you have to fix the most?

The most I usually have to fix on my Jeep is the low gas light and the alignment. Nothing big.

Do members get together to work on their Jeeps?

I do a lot of work at my shop because I can, but there are a ton of people who hold wrenching parties. They do lifts, rotate tires, and install aftermarket accessories. It’s a great time for new Jeepers to learn how to do upgrades and repairs on their own.

Please tell me a little about your group, the purpose, and the benefits to your members.

The Tampa Jeep Krewe was founded by first responders and veterans. Our primary focus is to bring all types of Jeepers together, introducing them to enhance their overall Jeep experience. Our second mission is to give back to our awesome community. Last year TJK came together as a group and was able to donate over $23,000 to local charities.

The Tampa Jeep Krewe includes (from left to right) Vice President Alex Perez,
Events Director Gabby Vargas and President Tony Wright.

How long has your group been around, and who were the charter members?

The Tampa Jeep Krewe was officially started on April 28, 2013. After finishing the Jeep parade for Jeep Beach in Daytona, Fla., the original founders, Rob Traynham and his wife, went out for brunch with Terry and John Montaldo, David and Jessica Bass, Larry and Christy Bronson, Brint and Sarah George, Adam Washburn and Darrell Seelochan.

They were talking about how they all wanted to start doing great things in the Jeep community. Seeing they already had a great base group right there at the table, they decided to make it official. They came up with the name for the group that day. They used “K” for “Krewe” because they were all either driving a TJ or a JK, and found it to be neat to have those as initials, hence “TJK.”

Once, back in Tampa, Bob Briskie and Rob decided to come up with a design for a banner to be flown on the front windshield. They researched several fonts and wanted a pirate theme, simply because of Tampa’s history.

Without any of these folks, TJK would never be the group it is today.

How many members do you currently have, and what is the process to become a member?

We currently have around 6,600 followers from all over the U.S. The majority of members are located in Central Florida, about 95%. Since we are not a club, we don’t have any official requirements. The No. 1 unofficial requirement is you must be a good person. We also never wanted to require any dues. We don’t believe in that. You just come hang out. If you like it, join our Facebook group so you can be informed about events and gatherings. If you want to buy a banner or sticker to represent TJK, all the proceeds are for charity.

Is your group family-friendly or is it mainly for adults?

The goal was to have a group that we could bring families around. We wanted children to be able to grow up being involved with it. Our Facebook group page is probably the cleanest and most family-oriented page in the area. We have admins that monitor it daily. Tony Wright, our president, along with Mike Cote, Harvard Jones, Paul Huggins, Dave Meyer, Gabby Vargas, Tonya Braun, Frank Colucci and Ashley Greene, all do their absolute best to make sure our page is free of profanity and focused on family-oriented Jeep topics.

Nuts and Bolts

Alex Perez is vice president of Tampa Jeep Krewe and a service writer at Jerry Ulm Jeep in Tampa, Fla., where he specializes in building custom Jeeps. He is proud to be a part of TJK, which counts more than 6,600 members and raises tens of thousands of dollars for charity every year.

Does TJK host group trail rides, and if so, how many times per year?

We take smaller groups, usually limiting the sign-up spaces to 20. This way, if there is a recovery or something breaks, we aren’t holding up a large group. There’s usually a group every week going out. We are always getting together. We have weekly meetings and get-togethers for dinner at restaurants.

We had a group of people who were camping for a TJK appreciation weekend. There were day and night wheelin’ rides and movies in the evening for the kids. Some smaller groups of TJK members will go out of state. Some have gone as far as Utah. There’s always something going on.

Are these trail rides available to Jeepers of all levels of experience?

Members take it upon themselves to spread the word on what they have learned. We will do an event on Facebook that includes the experience level, how many Jeeps we can take, and who is leading the trail. I have lead groups of all levels — stock Jeeps through advanced rides.

Do you provide any safety and rescue training for your members?

If a member wants to, there’s usually a few Jeep groups that come together to do training. The group originally started as a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). There are certain sections of the group that have chosen to go further with their training and help local law enforcement with search and rescue missions.

I know the Jeep community is very active in supporting charities. Does your group support any charities, and if so, which ones?

We support several. This year, we have supported the Mary Martha House, a domestic violence shelter here in Hillsborough County. A couple times a year we collect gift cards and give them to the children at The Children’s Home in Tampa. During Memorial Day weekend, we place flags on the headstones of our veterans at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Fla. We also return to place wreaths in December.

Our biggest charity of the year is collecting toys to donate to Christmas in July. This is an awesome charity that sees to it that the children who are being treated at the local St. Joseph Children’s Hospital receive a comforting gift or toy during their treatment. This year, over two months, we were able to collect and donate $20,000.

We really enjoy supporting Krawl’n For the Fallen, which is an awesome off-road event held in November. This event is put on by Chrissy Johnson, and all proceeds go to Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS).

Most recently, we were able to put together and send 100 pallets of food and water aid to Puerto Rico. We were fine here in Florida after the hurricanes, but our friends in Puerto Rico were not. We were happy to be able to get that together for them.

Anything to leave our readers with?

I wish I had gotten into the Jeep community when I was younger. You’re not only buying a vehicle, you are buying into a lifestyle and a community of good people. It’s such an awesome vehicle to own.

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