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Wellington’s top student hopes to one day make technology easier

April 20, 2016 on 5:07 pm | In As Seen In..., General, Palm Beach Post | No Comments


It’s not every day that the principal shows up for English class.That’s when 17-year-old Wellington High School senior Davy Yue suspected something.

“Mr. Crocetti, the school principal, visited my second-period English class, made a small announcement congratulating me for becoming Wellington’s 2015 -16 valedictorian and gave me a formal handshake for achieving such an honorable position,” Yue said.

Davy Yue is the 2016 valedictorian for Wellington High School.

Davy Yue is the 2016 valedictorian for Wellington High School.

Yue has a 3.9 GPA and an HPA (honors point average) of 5.24; however by the end of the year both will get a boost because of the AICE courses that he’s enrolled in. Along with his rigorous academics schedule, Yue is dually enrolled in various classes at Palm Beach State College. He also made sure to include courses that sparked his interest, such as AP computer science, AP art studio: drawing portfolio, and AP psychology.

As president of the National English Honor Society for the past two years, Yue volunteered tutoring kids at New Horizons and Wellington Landings schools. He is president of the Math Honor Society, where he is involved in managing various math competitions.

Wellington’s top student hopes to one day make technology easier photo

In his downtime, Yue enjoys painting and admits to being a bit obsessed with origami. He became interested when he saw a friend take an ordinary sheet of paper and turn it into something magical.

He even started his own club.

“I founded and have been president of the Origami Club for three years,” said Yue. “In the Origami Club, I teach other students about how to fold mundane printer paper into fascinating three-dimensional objects.”

Not one to procrastinate, Yue has penned his graduation speech, and is a little relieved for a reprieve.

“It feel great having worked so hard for years and to be able to achieve a position that’s obviously the highest honor at my school,” said Yue. “It was sort of a relief knowing that it’s almost the end.”

For Yue, this is just the beginning. The Wellington resident has been accepted to Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Florida, however he will head to Nashville this fall to attend his dream school, Vanderbilt University.

“Vanderbilt provides the combination of both a challenging academic environment and a diverse, passionate community that would continue to impact me for my whole life,” said Yue.

It all seems to jive well with his favorite quote from Justin James “J. J.” Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans, who said, “Success isn’t owned. It’s leased and rent is due every day.”

At Vanderbilt, he’ll pursue a degree in computer science. Yue hopes to end up at a big firm like Google, creating technology that makes life easier for people.

“I’ve always liked programs that ease the user’s ability to utilize technology for their own benefit,” he said.


What are you reading now?

“The Complete Book of Origami: Step-by Step Instructions in Over 1,000 Diagrams” by Robert J. Lang

What’s your favorite junk food?

Key Lime Pie Oreos

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Morgan Freeman, whose voice alone would assure me that all is well in the universe. He doesn’t even have to speak English; Pig Latin would have the same calming affect.

Who do you admire most?

Bill Gates

What’s playing on your iPod?

“Not Afraid,” by Eminem

What three things you would bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

A pedal-powered boat, Usain Bolt, and a 4.2-pound bag of Ling Ling All Natural Potstickers — chicken and vegetable flavor.

North Palm ramps up for 60th with festival, parade

March 30, 2016 on 5:01 pm | In General | No Comments

Turning 60 isn’t usually all fun and games, but for the Village of North Palm Beach, let the party begin.

The village is celebrating on Saturday with its 17th Annual Heritage Day Festival and Parade, which is set to take off from Village Hall at 11 a.m. and end up in Anchorage Park with a daylong festival.

North Palm ramps up for 60th with festival, parade photo

“It’s a fun family event that brings the community together,” said Nancy Hensler, program superintendent for North Palm Beach. “Everybody gets to enjoy a day outside in the park with their family and friends having a good time.”

Marching and performing in the parade are the kindergarten through the fifth grade students from The Conservatory School @ North Palm Beach’s Children’s Orchestra & Performing Arts Project; the St. Clare Catholic School Marching Band, the Palm Beach Gardens High School Marching Band and the Boynton Beach Marching Band.

Also representing will be the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Corps, Ronald McDonald and the Palm Beach County Fire Department with its pink fire truck.

North Palm ramps up for 60th with festival, parade photo

“The parade will be bigger than it has been in the past few years,” said village manager Jim Kelly. “In celebration of our 60th, there will be more events. There’ll be a memory booth where people can talk about their experiences in North Palm Beach and leave their history. It’s just the very epitome of community.”

According to village historian Ruby Holden, North Palm Beach wasn’t a town that sprang up overnight.

“This is what made it unique,” Holden said. “It was meticulously planned from the very beginning. Everything was in place on paper before a single house was built …

North Palm ramps up for 60th with festival, parade photo

“They didn’t want it to be walkable,” he added. “In 1950, they were thinking about a thoroughly modern automobile-centered community. Every residence was contained in the area by Village Hall, and businesses were contained in the area of the Twin City Mall on Northlake Boulevard, and U.S. 1 — so, you had to drive there.

“Everyone would be moderately wealthy. They were attracting engineers from Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut.”

And at the festival this weekend, the village is hoping to continue to spur weath and businss with a business expo. Twenty area businesses, clubs and organizations are participating including: Velocity Community Credit Union, Live Like Jake a group dedicated to drowning prevention, Char-Mar School of Dance, Legacy Martial Arts and more.

Of course, the event will have carnival rides, entertainment, demonstrations, live music and food.

Local musical favorites including Taylor Norris will take the stage from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Memory Lane, another popular group that plays Motown every Friday night at the Colony Palm Beach Hotel will perform from 4:30-7:30 p.m.

The midway will have rides from a carousel, kiddie coaster to giant swings, slides and the Cliff Hanger, which simulates a hang gliding experience.

New to the festival this year is a cornhole contest.

“It’s like bean bag toss,” said Hensler. “It’s a big thing here in South Florida. You can be a professional cornholer or a newbie; they have two divisions.”

As North Palm Beach celebrates its anniversary, it’s time for change with U.S. 1 shrinking from six lanes to four to accommodate a bike lane, according to Kelly. The area also will become more mixed-use with town homes with stores underneath all part of a new master plan the residents put together with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

“It’s a combination, millennials want the walkability, ride-ability and older baby boomers don’t want to take care of larger homes. These town homes allow them to be close to things.”


17th Annual Heritage Day Festival and Parade

When: Saturday, 11 a.m. parade begins; festival is noon-8 p.m.

Where: Anchorage Park, 603 Anchorage Drive; parade starts at Village Hall; ends at the park

Admission: Free, however, tickets are needed for rides and food.

More information: www.village-npb.org, or call, 561-841-3386.

District’s math resource teacher wins prestigious presidential award

September 3, 2015 on 10:27 am | In General | No Comments


Robin O’Brien had waded through the paperwork, dotted the i’s crossed the t’s and submitted her video to be a candidate for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and then just got on with the business of teaching math at Seminole Ridge High School.

Robin O’Brien at the White House

Robin O’Brien at the White House

Later she took a new job as a resource teacher in secondary mathematics with the district and had nearly forgotten about the application, until that email came – two years later.

“At some point I (thought) maybe it’s not going to happen,” said O’Brien. “I knew within three months that I was a state finalist, then I waited almost two years from there. They sent me an email that said congratulations, you have been chosen. Please just tell your immediate friends and family, the White House will put out a press release later on that evening and then it’s open for the world to know.”

The PAEMST is the highest honor given to math and science teachers in grades K-12 who demonstrate how they’ve developed and implemented teaching programs that enhance their students’ learning. One math and one science teacher from each of the 50 states and four U.S. jurisdictions is selected each year.

 Winners received a paid trip for two in July to Washington, D.C. where they met President Barack Obama, and attended recognition events and a series professional development seminars. They also received a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

For O’Brien, recognizing her own failure, may have led to this outstanding achievement.

“It was with my AP statistics class, a group of 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders at Seminole Ridge. We just finished a unit and they were taking a unit test and a big majority of them just bombed – it was terrible,” said O’Brien.

That’s when it hit her: “They’re just spitting back words that I said, but they don’t understand what it means.”

After reflecting on the failure, O’Brien decided to get the kids out of their seats and immerse them in a learning experience. She set up a carousel of learning stations where kids worked together to solve problems and review what they learned before rotating to the next station, each one a little more difficult than the last.

It was the same personal reflection that led her away from the business world and into teaching. O’Brien had earned her bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Delaware.

“I always wanted to be a teacher but my mom said, ‘don’t go into teaching, you won’t make any money,’” she said.

After going into the business world she began tutoring a co-worker who was struggling with math.

“I started to realize how much I love it,” said O’Brien. She told herself: “Life is too short, I’m going to give this a shot. If I don’t like it I always have my business degree to go back to.”

O’Brien earned her teaching certificate from West Chester University in Pennsylvania and her master’s in education, specializing in curriculum and instruction, from Florida Atlantic University. She has been with the Palm Beach County School District for eight years. She taught at Royal Palm Beach High School for five years and then Seminole Ridge for one year before becoming a resource teacher with the school district.

Today the 39-year-old Lake Clarke Shores resident is a teacher teaching teachers.

“Teaching is great,” said O’Brien. “You do something different all the time. It lets you be silly, it lets you be serious, you can let all different parts of your personality out – and that’s a good thing.”


What are you reading now?

Just finished the Divergent series – “Allegiant”

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching reality TV

What’s you favorite junk food?


If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Living or dead? If so, my dad who passed away when I was young.

Who do you admire most?

My mother.

What’s playing on your iPod?

A little bit of everything – I don’t have big favorites when it comes to music.

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

A deck of cards, a good book, and sunscreen.

People think I’m …

Outgoing, but really I’m … really loud – and relatively shy.

Who’s your favorite actor?

There are so many good choices, but Meryl Streep comes to mind for me.

What’s your favorite movie:

“Gone with the Wind,” but I do love comedies like “Old School” and “Bridesmaids.”

In my off time you’ll find me …

Spending time with friends and family.

PBA Employee of the Year known for dedication, humility

January 29, 2015 on 11:09 am | In General | No Comments

Alice Lee is the kind of employee who sees a problem and solves it, maybe even before you knew you had it.

The Palm Beach Gardens’ resident was recently honored when she received 2014 Palm Beach Atlantic University 2014 Employee of the Year Award.

Alice Lee was named Palm Beach Atlantic University’s 2014 Employee of the Year.

Alice Lee was named Palm Beach Atlantic University’s 2014 Employee of the Year.

Lee is the database administrator for Campus Information Services. She and her team manage a software system, Jenzabar, that shares information between multiple departments across campus. She is responsible for the data security and integrity of the whole database.

“I was very surprised and very glad because there are so many qualified employees there,” said Lee, who has been at PBA since 2005. “I was very lucky to get the award this year.”

Candidates are nominated by their peers for their outstanding contributions, customer focus, quality of their work, professionalism, teamwork and innovation.

In nominating her for the award, colleagues described Lee as someone who dedicates herself to helping others and who consistently makes a profound impact on her department as well as on the entire university. She is known for her efforts to help save time and resources, they said, and she goes about her work quietly and humbly.

“We have a gathering at the beginning of the summer. The president invites all the staff and faculty together, the students are not there. We review the past year what we have achieved and set goals for next year and the president introduces new employees and staff for the year and then he gave the award – I was surprised, I was so excited.”

Lee grew up in Taiwan, where her father worked for the government in mainland China, and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in communication at Auburn University. It was there that she met her husband, Charles Lee, who served as professor of pharmaceutical sciences at PBA from 2005 until his retirement earlier this year.

They have two children — Kevin, a health technology specialist, and Tiffany, a health physicist.

The couple belong to the Palm Beach Chinese Christian Chapel in suburban Lake Worth, where they serve in the children’s Sunday school and lead a family Bible study group that meets weekly.

It may have been Lee’s latest innovation with Jenzabar that cinched her win.

“We try to do everything paperless, everything online,” said Lee. “In the past year we started to do the 1098 (IRS) student statement online. But first, we are required to have affirmation from students who agree to obtain the 1098-T form electronically, so we created an online student consent form. The online 1098-T is convenient to both students and parents; no reprints for wrong addresses; projected costs of forms dramatically reduced, staff time devoted to 1098-T processing already reduced and the risk of identity theft also reduced by not using postal delivery. We are saving time, energy and money.”

Getting consent from a student population of 3,000 it was no easy task, but so far the response has been great.

“About 2,000 students and counting,” said Lee.

As for the next innovation …

“I don’t have anything in mind yet,” said Lee. “It’s the challenge, that’s that the fun part. You learn new things, you find a better way to do things.”


What are you reading now?

Clay Christensen’s, “How Will You Measure Your Life.”

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching soap operas from YouTube

What’s your favorite junk food?

Instant noodles

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Bill Gates

What’s your favorite movie?

“Sleepless in Seattle”

Who’s your favorite actor?

Tom Hanks

Who do you admire most?

Bill Gates

What’s playing on your iPod?


What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

A knife, sunscreen and plastic bags.

People would be surprised to know that …

I cannot swim.

Top elementary science teacher aims to gets kids excited about subject

November 13, 2014 on 6:32 am | In General | No Comments

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Tracy Sheppard, 53

Fifth-grade science teacher, Tracy Sheppard, can’t point to one single thing she’s done to win the Elementary Science Teacher of the Year Award. Instead, she can give you a laundry list of things she does on a consistent basis, which may be why she took home the prize.

Bill Ingram Elbridge Gale Elementary fifth-grader student Austin Marton (left), 10, reacts to a small electric shock produced while touching a Van de Graaff generator, and the touch from the pinky finger of science teacher Tracy Sheppard, while student Katelyn Goodale, 10, looks on Oct. 22, 2014 in Wellington. Sheppard was named Elementary Science Teacher of the Year for 2014. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

Bill Ingram
Elbridge Gale Elementary fifth-grader student Austin Marton (left), 10, reacts to a small electric shock produced while touching a Van de Graaff generator, and the touch from the pinky finger of science teacher Tracy Sheppard, while student Katelyn Goodale, 10, looks on Oct. 22, 2014 in Wellington. Sheppard was named Elementary Science Teacher of the Year for 2014. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

This past summer the Palm Beach County Science Educators Association doled out awards to honor the county’s top science teachers at their science symposium held at Seminole Ridge High School this past summer.

Sheppard, who teaches at Elbridge Gale Elementary School in Wellington said she won because she’s good at her job.

“I’m damn good at my job,” said Sheppard. “I work really hard at it. I’m constantly learning, constantly mentoring other teachers. I think that’s a lot of it.”

It could also be the way she does that job. Sheppard likes the kids to figure things out for themselves by telling them to go ahead, make mistakes. Using the textbook as a guide in her classroom, she leads the kids through experiments and experiences.

“My room is crazy full of science. I live it, breathe it. My kids know that. I try do interesting and different things. We hardly use textbook. I use it as reference – we are constantly doing.”

Her class has just finished a unit on energy. The kids experimented with static electricity, electrostatic discharge and electric circuits.

The way she drove the point home was shocking, literally.

“We used a Van de Graaff generator” said Sheppard. “The kids shocked each other; their hair stands up on end; we make lightning. You touch it and you see sparks. We build circuits, test insulators, test conductors and measure how much current flows then we build on that. We’ll talk about electricity, how we heat and cool our homes, fossil fuels, renewable energy. So we build on knowledge.”

For the high-energy, fast-talking 53-year-old Wellington resident with a thick Georgia drawl, teaching is her second career.

A graduate of the University of Georgia, with a bachelor of science degree in social work, she worked in child protective services, foster care and mental health counseling.

In 1999, Sheppard, her husband Jamie, daughter Katie, and son John moved to Florida. As a stay-at-home mom she spent a good amount of her time volunteering at Binks Forest Elementary in Wellington where her children were students.

“The principal said, ‘You’re here all the time, I really need an assistant, would you like to be part time’. I was then encouraged by the principal to go back and get my teaching credentials. I became a substitute teacher.”

She earned her certification in elementary education K-6 through the University of Phoenix. In 2004 she was hired at Elbridge Gale.

For Sheppard, fifth grade is a great time to get students interested in science.

“I get them excited about science. That’s where the future is,” said Sheppard. “When they go to middle and high school they’ll want to take science, math, engineering. That’s where the jobs are. They need to work in teams; I do a lot of cooperative learning, that’s what you have to do in a real world.”

As for being Elementary Science Teacher of the Year, Sheppard said she’s proud and embarrassed with the attention.

“My daughter in college found out and she said, ‘Mom that so cool I’m so proud of you.’ – that was the best part.”


What’s on your nightstand?

“A Storm of Swords” by George R. R. Martin

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Long naps!

What’s your favorite junk food?

Peanut butter on anything, with anything!

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

My mom. She lives eleven hours away and I miss her.

Who do you admire most?

My colleagues at Elbridge Gale Elementary. I work with the most amazing and dedicated teachers and staff.

What’s playing on your iPod?

Top 40 and Classic Rock

What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Water, my kindle, and a boat!

Ice bucket challenges going strong in Palm Beach County

August 28, 2014 on 2:44 pm | In General, Palms West Monthly | No Comments

The idea is simple: Take a bucket of ice water, dump it over your head, record it and post the video on social media.

It’s cold, it’s fun and it’s contagious. But these ice bucket challenges and similar social media-powered stunts also are raising awareness and money for causes such as Lou Gehrig’s disease and breast cancer.pbzoo_ice_bucket

Martha Stewart has been doused. So has Matt Lauer. And pro golfer Greg Norman.

The fund-raising phenomenon asks those willing to douse themselves to challenge others to do the same within 24 hours. If they don’t, they must make a donation to a certain charity. Each person who participates nominates more friends, who nominate more friends, who nominate still more friends, which explains why the trend has exploded.

Locally, temperatures were above 90 degrees at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society on Aug. 13, when Brian Luongo, director of Facilities and Design, stepped up to take the challenge that was given to him from his friend Beverly Davis.

“You would think that with the sweat dripping from my forehead, I would have welcomed a cool down,” said Luongo.

The sun and heat didn’t quite take the sting out of the gushing flow of ice water as three willing staff members, each armed with a large bucket, took their positions. One stood on a chair above Luongo to dump one over his head, the other two flanking his sides waiting for him to call out the five names of the people he’s challenging.

“Let’s just say it was shocking how cold that felt,” said Luongo.

Why three buckets?

“When accepting the challenge I thought it would be fun to use it as a bit of a team building exercise. After all, who doesn’t enjoy soaking their boss without reprimand,” said Luongo.

His boss, Palm Beach Zoo CEO and president Andrew Aiken, was the last name on Luongo’s hit list.

The next day at 5 p.m., Aiken took a seat with Luongo holding the bucket.

In his YouTube video Aiken makes a statement about the disabling disease before the water flows.

“So the quality of life … you have with Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS is terribly debilitating,” said Aiken. “You’re not able to enjoy life the way we all do here at the zoo, run around, have a great time all day doing work that we love. A lot of that has to do with being mobile, being agile and being able to do the things that you want to do. So, it’s very important for us to contribute wherever we can to help with research to beat this disease back, and so that’s what we’re doing today at the zoo.”

Aiken then proceeds to dare more zoo personnel to keep the challenge alive before Luongo dumps the bucket over his boss’ head.

The very public dares have challengers answering the call in droves, if not dumping water over their heads, they’re pulling money out of their wallets – or both.

Recently, Ethel Kennedy took the bath but not before calling out President Obama who will stay dry and make a donation. Oprah dumped a bucket on her head but first called out director Steven Spielberg and actress Dame Helen Mirren. Local WPTV anchor Roxanne Stein also got drenched on live TV.

Matt Lauer got soaked with ice water last month after Greg Norman challenged him and ended up kicking in some cash for Hospice of Palm Beach County.

For those who work to raise awareness of ALS, the ice bucket challenge has been a windfall.

“It’s blowing us away, said Lisa Bublinec, office manager for the Florida Chapter of the ALS Association headquartered in Tampa. “It’s just incredible and everyone wants to do it. Our focus is really to let people know what the disease is about and hope people will give a little verbiage before they actually dump the ice water over their heads. It’s been a fantastic awareness project, we’re very happy.”

Donations in South Florida have increased significantly, said Bublinec. In Florida, $52,826 was raised between July 22 and August 12, compared to $21,368 for the same period last year.

“It’s increased because of the ice bucket challenge (by) $31,458,” said Bublinec. “It’s huge.”

The ALS Association’s national president, Barbara Newhouse, said donations to the national office have also surged. As of Aug. 21, the ALS Association has received $41.8 million in donations since July 29, compared to $2.1 million during the same time period a year ago.

“It’s just been wonderful visibility for the ALS community,” Newhouse said. “It is absolutely awesome. It’s crazy, but it’s awesome, and it’s working.” ν

Denise Lavoie contributed to this story.


November 27, 2013 on 12:11 pm | In Blog, General, PBG Lifestyle Magazine | No Comments

There’s a new holiday for everyone, and it’s called Thanksgivukkah – OY!thanksgivikuh-150x150

It’s a twofer miracle that won’t happen for another 70,000 years. If you’re a Jew like me, you can kill two turkeys with one latke and have the relatives over only once.

A lot of people don’t even know what Hanukkah is about; who cares, it’s the Jewish way of one-upping the Christians’ Christmas. You get one day, we get eight nights.

Usually Hanukkah falls on or near Christmas, which makes for some real kid competition.

Growing up Jewish, you envied those Christian kids. They got to have a whole tree in their living room, tricked out with lights. On Christmas mornings, they’d wake at an ungodly hour, turn on the tree and rip open presents.

Christian friends thought that we got the better deal thanks to presents for eight nights.

Our parents tried to sell us that one.

However, eight nights of gifts isn’t cheap, so you got socks and puzzles. Trust me my Christian friends, you didn’t miss anything.

Thanksgivukkah celebrates two holidays that are based on miracles.

Hanukkah is about oil in the lamp that was supposed to last only one night but lasted eight. (What? I know.) Thanksgiving celebrates the colonists surviving their first winter. Even more miraculously, they survived the trip over here.

I guarantee there were no Jews aboard. After wandering in the desert for 40 years, we’re not taking chances like that again.

If there were, my grandparents’ “Escape from Tyranny ” would have looked like this:

“Harry, did you remember to pack your scarf? It gets cold.”

“Yes, Anna.”

“Did you bring the Dramimine? You know I get sick.”

“Yes, Anna.”

“I just heard from the Goldbergs who sailed 10 months ago. They said the food was terrible, there were no shows and the rooms were drafty.”

“Yes, Anna.”

“They said there are Quakers there. What are Quakers? Are they related to Wilford Brimley, or did they invent the oatmeal?”

“I don’t know, Anna.”

“I worry that there aren’t enough Jews over there to get a decent mahjong game going.”

“So, you’ll teach them, Anna.”

“Oh God Harry, no Chinese food – OY!”

“Stop – you’ll worry yourself sick, Anna.”

“Oh, that reminds me, did you bring the Dramamine?”

Are you ready for some football?

August 21, 2013 on 12:17 pm | In General | No Comments

It’s funny watching your kids grow up…seeing their strengths and weaknesses and realizing many of them are yours.michelle-115-150x150

Take sports. My son and I share a love of whatever mess (sport) we’ve gotten ourselves into. We cheer our teammates on, we’re upbeat and we believe it when they say that the goal is to have fun. Woo hoo.

I played softball. My position – left out.

But a kid’s got to find his own thing, so you let him experiment.

First there was soccer. We quickly learned it wasn’t “his thing.” I think it was the heat and all the running.

I was equally miserable watching all that running in the heat. Up and down, up and down, up and down. Who are all these proud soccer moms and what are they doing while this hell is going on?

I found out. They’re trying to make a non-contact sport safer. Is it possible? Yes, they make sure all the basic safety rules are adhered to. A committee is, at this moment, trying to enforce the use of bubble wrap.

They happily transport their kids in their mini vans playing Michael Bublé, so very Zen and soothing.

Next came baseball. I think three seasons, like three strikes he was out.

The baseball moms are very supportive, wearing the team shirts and lugging bats, balls and gloves around. They drive their Hondas to the field and pray for a rain cancellation.

Then came football.

My husband, a football lover, planted a seed that started to grow, and now my kid loves football.

Yes, it’s a little rough. Yes, it’s gritty, dirty and loud, but so is he – so am I, so is my husband – and we love it.

Finally, I found a kinship: the football moms. Like our sons, we’re a little rough around the edges.

If our boys fall down, we don’t go running on the field with Neosporin, Band-Aids and Advil.

Instead, we yell out, “Joshua! Get your a$$ up! Just rub a little dirt on it! That’s it, now move, move, move!”

We drive our Jeeps home with Lil Scrappy blaring out our windows, singing along with our sons, “I got money in the bank!”

Surfing become healing, growth for these children

April 18, 2013 on 4:15 am | In General | No Comments

For Michelle and RJ Subrani, of Royal Palm Beach, living life with a child who has Asperger’s is not always a walk in the park, but since discovering a special program, they’ve found it can sometimes be a day at the beach.

Surfers for Autism teaches children who have autistic disorders how to surf. Parents have found that when a child, a surfboard and some caring volunteers charge into the waves, something transformative can happen.

The Subrani Family: Michelle, Rachel, 11, R.J. and Jason, 10. Jason, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is taking part in Surfers for Autism in Juno Beach on April 20. (Photo by: Taylor Jones/The Palm Beach Post)

Organizers are expecting more of the same in two upcoming events.

On Saturday, the 4th Annual Surfers for Autism of the Palm Beaches Beach Festival rolls into Ocean Cay Park, Jupiter at 9 a.m. On May 18, the 5th Annual Treasure Coast Surfers for Autism Beach Festival will take place at the Stuart Public Beach beginning at 9 a.m. Although participating surfers need to register, anyone on the beach can take part in activities, such as stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, live music, face-painting and games.

“Kids who were never verbal, who never said their first word, they do after coming out of the surf,” said Dave Rossman, director of communications for Surfers for Autism. “Children who don’t like to be touched, sometimes not even by their caretaker, will stroll hand-in-hand down the beach or bear hug them (the volunteers) — something that doesn’t happen often.”

Michelle Subrani credits the change she has seen in her 10-year-old son, Jason, to all of the attention the volunteers give.

“The three (volunteers) with him, they like adopted him right away,” she said. “They made him want to try. The kids that were helping him — Oh, my God, they were cheering, they weren’t criticizing. They were helping. As a parent, it brought tears to my eyes.”

Jason has Asperger’s syndrome, a development disorder resembling autism that causes him to lack common social skills. Kids who have Asperger’s, although high functioning, can be easily frustrated making them prone to outbursts and tantrums.

Things that make strangers stop and stare.

“People look at you like can’t you discipline your child,” Michelle Subrani said. “It’s so sad that you just want to turn around and say something.”

The surfing events provide parents with a judgement-free zone in a compassionate environment.

“There are few places they can go in public without (someone) staring when a kid starts stimming,” Rossman said.

Stimming — self-stimulatory behavior such as rocking, flapping or repeating words and phrases — is just accepted and understood by every parent on that beach, Rossman said.

“Parents can come out on the beach and just let their guard down,” he said.

The Subrani family went with the attitude of why not?

“I said let’s give it a try, it sounds fantastic,” Michelle Subrani said. “Last year was the first year we went and we’re hooked. We got another couple involved.”

Jason Subrani

Although Michelle Subrani admits that many parents of autistic children tend to be overprotective, she would encourage them to give this one a try.

“People are afraid. They’re only out knee-deep,” she said. “You don’t have to be a swimmer. … Who thinks surfing can have a huge impact? But just watching the faces, the expressions, the confidence he came away with — and watching the other kids do the same thing. They felt confidence and self worth when they were doing it.”

Rossman said that for him, seeing was believing.

Dave Rossman

“I watched a young man, rather severe, rather low functioning on the beach having issues,” he said. “Tantruming, crying. He did not want to be there. It took some cajoling, some coaxing and I watched the whole thing take place. As soon as they pushed him into his first wave, there was an instant and complete transformation. A calm, a still, and a focus that I didn’t see before.”

So, what is it about the sand, sun and surf that can change these kids?

“We really don’t care why it works,” Rossman said. “It’s kinda secondary.”

To a father it’s a little more.

“I think maybe it’s a new experience that they’ve never had,” said R.J Subrani. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I think maybe it’s the ocean. There are kids that have never spoken before that spoke their first word — it’s a magical thing.”

For more information about the program as well as upcoming events, visit www.surfersforautism.org

Click here to see it in The Palm Beach Post

March 15 is deadline to apply to charter school

March 7, 2013 on 10:41 am | In General | No Comments

The deadline for students to apply to the western communities’ newest charter school is nearing. Renaissance Charter School at Palms West, in the former Albertsons at Southern and Crestwood boulevards, is slated to open this fall, and open enrollment ends March 15.

Colleen Reynolds, spokesperson for Charter Schools USA, which runs the Renaissance charters, said interest in the school is strong. “If anybody does want to apply they should do that by March 15th. Everybody whose application is received before the deadline has an equal opportunity to have a seat in the school. That doesn’t mean everyone will get a seat if they’re over enrolled.”

If the number of applicants exceeds the number of seats available, all names will go into a lottery system until the seats are filled, any names over the limit will be placed on a waiting list, said Reynolds.

The site of Renaissance Charter School at Palms West – Photo by: Gary Coronado

The project faced a few speed bumps in the very beginning when Charter Schools USA had trouble working out leasing details with the property owner, delaying construction. The company also had to change its name from Renaissance Charter School at Royal Palm Beach.

The busy intersection also sparked traffic concerns, prompting the Village of Royal Palm Beach to require Charter Schools USA to complete a traffic study to see if an additional traffic light will be needed once the school opens and pick-up and drop-off patterns have been established.

Plans are for Renaissance Charter School at Palms West to open with 661 students in kindergarten to sixth grade. Next year a seventh-grade class will be added, upping attendance to 903, and the following year an eighth-grade class will be added, filling out the ranks for a projected total of 1145 students.

Reynolds says that Charter schools create competition, not only between traditional public schools but other charter schools, improving education overall.

Commenting last month on Renaissance, which is about a mile from her school, Western Academy Charter School Principal Linda Terranova said: “Honestly, I wish they weren’t a mile from my door, but there’s nothing in the law that prevents that from happening right now”. She told the Post she doesn’t expect to lose many students.

Charter schools use public money but are run privately as an alternative to traditional public schools. Palm Beach County now has 40, serving nearly 12,000 students. Those numbers are expected to grow considerably in the next few years.

Reynolds cites key differences between traditional public schools and charter schools including personalized learning plans, a student information system gives parents access to their child’s test scores, attendance and homework. The school requires parents to perform volunteer hours and school uniforms are the rule to limit the distractions of fashion trends.

“Benchmark testing will show a student’s strengths and weaknesses so that a personalized learning plan can be developed,” said Reynolds.

However charter school’s core curriculum is the same as traditional public schools.

The student information system is high on parent’s list of favorite things.

“Parents can, in real time, check on their student’s progress. They can monitor grades over a protected server. Instead of waiting for progress reports or report cards, parents can intervene much sooner. It puts a little bit more control in the parent’s hands.”

Traditional public schools in Palm Beach County utilize Edline to post grades, access textbooks and provide parents direct communication with teachers.

This coming school year, Palm Beach County expects 18 charter schools to open for business.

And business it is, as charters and traditional public schools will compete for students and federal funding.

There is no guarantee all 18 new charter schools will open. Faith-Ann Cheek, the school district’s charter school director, told the Post last month that factors such as contract negotiations could come into play. But at least half the charter schools expected to open this August are run by management companies such as Academica, InterVisual and Charter Schools USA.

According to Reynolds the wave of charter schools is all about meeting parent demand.

“There are a variety of demands – overcrowding. If the community is underserved by the traditional public schools, demand is going to be there. If there is a variety of failing school and parents say we just don’t want this, this is not good for us, we need a higher performing school … and there are a variety of parents who just want a choice. The charter is a huge benefit to a district.”

In turn, Reynolds said that there are demands put on charter schools by the district.

“They’re not going to shut down a traditional school, they’ll find a new remedy, a charter has to perform or they will shut down.”

They also have to succeed financially, or Reynolds said, they’ll have to shut down.

“We have to out perform the traditional public schools, or parents will not chose to send their students to us and we would have to close and that’s he bottom line.”

Click here to read it in the Palm Beach Post

Center for abused women gets Avon grant

January 10, 2013 on 3:49 pm | In General | No Comments

The Florida Resource Center for Women & Children Inc., has once again received a grant from the Avon Foundation for Women, to help it continue to provide services to victims of domestic violence and abuse in Palm Beach County.

The FRCWC provides food, rental, utility, legal and health care assistance to victims and their families, helping approximately 2,500 women and children annually.

“The $20,000 Avon Foundation grant helps fund the Resource Center’s new Fresh Start Project, which provides shelter and support services for victims who are over the age of 50,” said Carol Kurzig, president of the Avon Foundation.

The program aims to empower women to take those first steps toward a new life.

“Last year we served over 175 women 50 and over in that particular project,” said Shandra Dawkins, executive director of the center. “We offer individual counseling. We have an advocate that works with the women, weekly support that addresses their issues – issues that are unique to them.”

Shandra Dawkins, executive director of the Florida Resource Center for Women and Children. Photo by Jennifer Podis.

Mary, 59, of Riviera Beach (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) found the program after being in an escalating abusive relationship for 42 years.

“He was getting worse,” said Mary. “First it was emotional and verbal. At the end he started going physical.”

So, why did she stay?

“You always hope the person you love is going to get better. That you’re going to be able to help them, but you can’t,” said Mary. “They have to want the help.”

“I got to the point that my heath was getting bad,” said Mary. “Finally I said you know what God, I have to have a little faith. I’ve got to get out of here.”

Abused women have a bond much like veterans of war. Sharing with her peers offered Mary special comfort.

“I think we understand each other and we’ve been through a lot more,” said Mary. “Young people are just starting (to get help) and they don’t understand all of the damage you can get.”

The center got Mary back on her feet by helping her help herself. Now she finds solace in having a place of her own. The center gave her a boost by providing first and last month’s rent.

“If it wasn’t for them I would not have my own apartment,” said Mary. “I get to come home from work and relax. If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t be possible.”

Dawkins said that the center also provides an essential element, listening.

“We always take an assessment of what the community needs, that’s what makes us stand out with our programs and services,” said Dawkins. “So often people tell a victim what they need, and not ask them.”

The center also runs a mobile health clinic and education center manned with two nurse practitioners, a nurse’s aid, all under the watch of a physician.

“It’s a clinic that serves those particular individuals that are under insured or don’t have insurance,” said Dawkins. “Every person that walks in that door not only gets a health assessment, they get a domestic violence assessment that measures if the individual coming into our program is at risk of domestic violence.”

Dawkins explained that many women do not seek health care because of visible injuries inflicted by their abusers. Many are afraid of the truth getting out or being questioned by law enforcement.

For Mary, the greatest gift from the center was her restoration.

“I’m so happy, so grateful to them. Not only emotionally, but they helped me financially,” said Mary. “They make you feel good about yourself, that you’re special and that you’re not a victim anymore, and that’s great.”

The Avon foundation’s mission is two-fold, to fight breast cancer and wipe out domestic violence. For more information visit, www.avonfoundation.org.

For more information about the Florida Resource Center for Women & Children, Inc., call the 24-hour hotline, 561-848-8383, or visit, www.frcwc.com.

Click here to see it in the Palm Beach Post

Coach goes extra mile for baseball player

December 27, 2012 on 6:24 am | In General | 2 Comments

It’s often said that baseball is a lot like life. For 8-year-old Patrick Cerasuolo and his Wellington little league team the Yankees, they learned that when life throws you a curve ball, you’ve got to come out swinging.

Patrick, a die-hard Yankee’s fan impressed his coach, Scott Lefante, right out of the gate.

“Patrick was my number one round draft pick, said Lefante. “You could see it at the tryout – he’s going to give it his all no matter what’s out there.”

Then Lefante started to notice that the happy-go-lucky kid just wasn’t himself.

“He started missing game and practices,” said Lefante. “We weren’t sure what was wrong. You could tell he was very lethargic – just not himself.

Patrick had a bum kidney that had to come out.

“His urine was going into the kidney fine, but not draining into the bladder properly,” said Patrick’s mom, Rose Cerasuolo.

The ailment meant surgery and possibly missing the season.

Lefante felt terrible for the player he describes as all smiles. With the help of the team’s parents, they got him a personalized Yankee’s shirt with his team number, 8, and last name on the back. They all signed a card wishing him well.

But the coach wasn’t satisfied. He knew that Patrick had a favorite player, Curtis Granderson.

“This is my mission now,” said Lefante. “To find him something that is Curtis Granderson related. Maybe a signed baseball, jersey – whatever it may be. I wanted to find that thing that would make this kid feel better, brighten his spirits a little bit.”

Lefante reached out to the Yankees’ public relations team, but he figured that they must get thousands of calls with stories like his and he’d never hear back. He tried contacting organizations that Granderson was associated with, he even put in a call to Granderson’s agent.

Three strikes, but he never gave up.

Then it happened, the call came.

“The Yankees apologized for taking so long to get back to me, said Lefante. “Here I was, just floored to see New York Yankees on my caller ID.”

With a slight delay due to hurricane Sandy, Patrick received a special package loaded with Yankee swag, including an autographed baseball signed by center fielder, Curtis Granderson.

“I opened the door and I saw this package,” said Patrick. I brought it in and gave it to my mom, she said it was from the Yankees. Why would the Yankees give me something? They did even know about my surgery, that’s when my mom told me my coach did it.”

Meanwhile the Wellington Yankees weren’t fairing so well. The coach pitch team of mostly first time players, 6 to 8 years old, were learning the basics the hard way – piling up losses.

Teammates, Kyle LeFante, Myles Medina, George Stahl, Kevin Stahl, Jonathan Meers, Ben Bostwick, Eli Weeks, Andrew Hynes, Parker Nochomson, Sam Cohen and Carson Adkins had won only three games, but they toughed it out. Each time, they got back in the game, never giving up.

After a successful surgery Patrick returned to play first base. The team was heading into the playoffs with a dismal 3-9 record.

“The whole montage of the season was, we’re not going to give up, we are going to play hard,” said Lefante. “If you don’t try to achieve certain things like contacting the Yankees or tying to do anything important in life, you don’t know what can happen.”

Like a lot of baseball stories it was a fairytale ending.

“We wound up winning the playoffs beating the top three seeded teams,” said Lefante. “A big part of that reason was that when Patrick came back all of the players were excited to have him back.”

Patrick also learned another lesson.

“I learned that my coach is a special guy.”

Patrick also got a calendar with the Yankee’s 2013 season dates, including Tampa on April 22-24, 2013.

“He’s been waiting for dad (Joe) to take him to a real Yankee’s game,” said Rose.

As Patrick reminds his mom with a big smile, it’s on his brother’s birthday.

Click here to see it in The Palm Beach Post

Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Wellington wants dogs to have home for the holidays

December 23, 2012 on 7:11 am | In General | No Comments


The holiday season is all about giving. Opening up our homes to our family and friends. This year, the Big Dog Ranch Rescue is hoping that people will think about taking that one step further.

The Ranch, a no-kill, 28-acre shelter in Wellington, is looking for volunteers to participate in their Home for the Holidays program. The new concept aims to send pooches to a good home over the winter break to provide them with some much needed attention.

In return, besides a wet nose in the face, the host family will receive that warm, fuzzy feeling – literally.

“We’d love to get as many fostered as we could,” said Meg Weinberger, vice president and volunteer at Big Dog Ranch – who has added 12 dogs to her own family.

“If you can’t adopt, you can just foster them over the break so the animal can be in a home for the holidays,” said Weinberger. “We have over 200 animals in foster care and 130 in our facility.”

It’s not only doggone fun, it helps the dogs.

“It’s so good for the dogs to be a part of the family,” said Weinberger. “To learn what it means to be a member of a family, in a home and not in a shelter. If you foster a dog you’re saving two because now you make space for another one to come to the shelter – fostering one, saving two.”

With less volunteers on hand during the holiday season, fostering helps the rescue by easing the burden of the work load.

Kelly Nelson spends time with her 11-year old daughter Amber volunteering at the facility. She has a special place in her heart for those who foster.

“I give them all the credit in the world,” said Kelly Nelson. “It’s a wonderful thing that they can take them home and still release them to another family.”

Weinberger explained that fostering is more than dog sitting – it’s a little like advertising. The dogs go out with their foster families wearing special bandanas to let the public know that they’re available for adoption.

“They can get the dog, socialize them, deal with training issues, give it love in a home instead of at a rescue,” said Nelson. “Then when there’s somebody who wants to adopt, they can move that dog on.”

To make fostering a walk in the park, the facility provides families with all of the food the dog will need over the break.

Weinberger advises that if you’re actually looking to put a new pet under the tree as a gift, you should seek out a rescue.

“Don’t shop, adopt,” said Weinberger. “Rather than going to a pet store and buying a dog, go to a rescue and adopt a dog.”

Weinberger said that people may be surprised that many purebred dogs can be found in shelters, and of course the hybirds, as Weinberger likes to refer to them.

This past fall the Big Dog Ranch itself was adopted by Lifetime TV’s Designing Spaces. A crew renovated the clinic into a surgical suite and revamped the food pantry. The show found sponsors, including one who donated $20,000 in medical equipmen and another who is supplying 5,000 pounds of food monthly for a year. The show will re-air on Dec. 27 at 7:30 a.m. It can also be viewed on their website, www.designingspaces.tv (search for Big Dog Ranch).

What’s at the top of facility’s wish list? Foster failure.

“A lot of times people don’t bring them back,” said Weinberger. “We hope that some of them bond with the family and that becomes their forever home.”

For a schedule of events, or for foster and adoption forms visit the website at www.BDRR, or call 561-791-6465. Big Dog Ranch is at 10948 Acme Road in Wellington. The group will have dogs available for adoption at the Wellington Green Market on Saturday.

Click here to see it in The Palm Beach Post

Premature Hoiday Elation

December 23, 2012 on 7:07 am | In General | No Comments

The holidays are fast approaching. The signs are all around us; one has only to look for them. Well, not really, they’re being shoved down our throats.

Take the media, for instance, which insists on letting everyone know just how many days are left with the “Countdown to Christmas” – but as a non-partisan person myself, around our household it’s called “Chrismahanukwanzakah (said all as one word).

If you have kids, they’re like an early warning signal – the proverbial canaries in the coal mines – you’ll begin to hear the chirps somewhere between the last Hershey eaten from the Halloween stash or when they bring home that little turkey, artistically sketched, from their little handprints. Basically, you’ll hear it right from the little pony’s mouths.

Which brings us to the television shows they watch. They’ve just begun to up the ante by showing more toy commercials than the political ads with which we were all just beaten to death.

Unless you were under a rock these last few weeks, there was Black Friday, which now begins on Thursday. It happened so fast that retailers haven’t coined a catchy name for it. They must think that if there’s a snappy name for it, it’ll be easier for us consumers to swallow. But have no fear, those mad men of Madison Avenue will have one just in time for Labor Day next year – why not get a real jump on things?

Then there are the malls, which I consider the worst offenders. Putting up holiday decorations while I’m out buying Halloween candy is just offensive. Give it a little time. We all grinned and bore it when they started hanging the stockings with care after Thanksgiving, and now they’re doing it before Thanksgiving, as if we wouldn’t notice.

Et tu, my lowly Sunday paper? Now it’s so stuffed with circulars that it almost reminds me of the Sunday papers of yore – i.e. pre-Internet – when it was once filled with actual news and feature stories.

My grocery store is also part of the conspiracy, piping in barely audible Christmas carols among the adult contemporary music to subconsciously lure me into buying canned pumpkin – so sad.

Man with cerebral palsy driven by his passion for music

December 20, 2012 on 9:27 am | In General | No Comments

Some may say that Korey Soderman dances to a different beat. The 23 year-old music fanatic who was born with cerebral palsy has always been restricted to a wheelchair, but that has never stopped him from rock’n and roll’n.

Through rounds of therapy and difficult surgeries, Soderman has always had his music. He is unable to speak, but answered questions via email.

“Music was my escape from my situation,” said Soderman. “Ever since I was little, music has motivated, soothed and inspired me.”

But nobody likes to dance alone, so Soderman founded Korey’s Krew, a non-profit organization that provides special needs kids, adults, wheelchair athletes and veterans free access to the social functions we all enjoy – concerts, fairs, festivals and sporting events.

Recent events on Soderman’s calendar include a Florida Panther’s Hockey Game, concert trips to see Brad Paisley, Journey, Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts. As well as a fundraiser flashmob at Duffy’s on Clematis.

The organization not only strives to entertain, Soderman said. The Krew’s mission also is to help those confined to a wheelchair or otherwise specially abled, to get out, have fun and make friends.

Korey’s parents Wendy and Kris Soderman are very supportive of his passion, as is his twin brother, Kyle.

“As a family we knew that we could not change the body that I was given, so we all decided to treat it as a gift or opportunity to be better people and have a richer life,” said Soderman.

But life at the Soderman home is anything but typical.

“We all have a pretty warped sense of humor and make wheelchair jokes,” said Soderman. “We all realized that music was something that the whole family could enjoy.”

Music and dancing.

“I remember when I was little, family and friends would play dance music and lay flat on the floor since I could not stand. We would all yell out, ‘Lay Down Party’.”

Today Soderman’s dream team is his family – an integral part of the Krew.

He’d like to see the beat goes on with the Krew expanding to every major city, allowing differently-abled people to attend social events together.

“It is so powerful when you live your life with purpose – no disability here,” said Soderman.

For more information visit, www.koreyskrew.com

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