Another Heartwarming Program…

In writing for our community paper (weekly), I mostly cover community and military subjects (hardly a surprise). Therefore,  I know a lot of the non-profits and like as today, there are stories which I then sometimes also post about in the blog.

I think most people are familiar with Habitat for Humanity and the article I’ll be working on this weekend has to do with a “Blitz Build”. (Before I proceed, we have been supporters of this organization for many years. It meets all the criteria we look for in a large non-profit.) From a logistics perspective, these builds are impressive. From a human interest story, they’re even harder to beat.  Hubby participated in one several years ago,  when I was on one of the extended business trips I used to take. He had a great time, learned how to cut and hang drywall, and yes, still has the tee shirt. Anyway, Blitz Builds are usually two weeks in duration and ten houses are built during that time. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Witness” and the scene with the old-fashioned barn raising, it’s the same concept on a larger scale. Volunteers, Habitat for Humanity staff, and the homeowners spend the two weeks starting from bare ground. Licensed professionals are brought in for certain tasks of course, but everything that can be done by semi-skilled, unskilled individuals is completed by volunteers and the potential new owners.

The program is an excellent example of a hand-up, not hand-out. In order to qualify for a house, the homeowner/homeowners must be able to qualify for the mortgage, but there is no monetary down payment nor interest on the mortgage. The homeowner must however work for 250 hours on a combination of their house as well as others. This accomplishes three primary goals of 1) giving a true sense of ownership, 2) “paying” the down payment in sweat equity, 3) having/acquiring a far great sense of what it will take to maintain the house once it’s finished. People not familiar with how the program works often believe the houses are given away, but that is not the case. However, because of the criteria for eligibility and the process they use, default on mortgages of Habitat houses runs about 2% which is far below the national average.

The particular piece of property this build is on actually has had other builds and the ten houses to be turned over to new owners tomorrow completes the total build-out of 65 houses. That means 65 families who might never have been able to afford down-payments/mortgages will be homeowners.

You can go onto to see great photos of these builds and read the individuals’ stories.

One of the Lesser Known Military Units…..

First, I thought I had posted this the other day. Then again, I thought I had previously written about this topic, but apparently it hadn’t made it beyond the idea stage. When we were stationed in Hawaii we knew of a number of smaller, specialized units, one of which is officially named the Joint Task Force–Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI). It is commonly referred to by the acronym of CILHI (pronounced like Sill Hi). Although there are some military personnel assigned and a friend was the commander for a couple of years, the staff is predominantly civilian experts. You can read more details at but I’ll explain.

A Joint Task Force means all military services are involved and it is especially fitting for JTF Full Accounting. The remains of thousands of American service members are still missing and over the years, sites have been discovered in some pretty remote paces. The term “leave no man behind” has existed for a long time and it extends to the idea of bringing home the bodies of those who have served their country. With advanced forensics and the amazing capabilities of the Laboratory those can be used to either positively identify someone or at least greatly narrow the possibility. For example, if a plane from WW II was last heard from over a certain area in a mountainous region, and the Task Force is notified of wreckage being found in that same region, a team can go in to look. Since airplanes can disintegrate and/or burn upon impact, there may be little left after decades of growth taking hold. The staff intensely studies equipment and uniforms from every era of our military which is why the smallest item or fragment can be used to help with identification. In a case like this, if no human remains are found, they still might be able to identify the aircraft. All sites are handled in a similar manner to an archeological dig and the teams often work in extreme environments such as jungles or mountainous areas.

Information about potential sites come from many sources.  Local stories are frequently passed down about military men who were quickly buried or a crash site that has been overgrown. At other times, an area is being cleared for building or a family member has done research and passes along what they know so the team can consult their database. Several months ago, my husband taught classes to some of the JTF members because they want to have internal capability of accessing underwater sites. He was of course thrilled with the opportunity and the team appreciated the fact he was familiar with their work.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Not knowing where the loved one is adds yet another dimension to the grief. And even though the service member/service members are not returned until sometimes decades later, in almost all cases it is appreciated by the family.

A New Addition To Check Out….

REEF is the short name for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation established in 1990 in Key Largo with a variety of programs set up for children through adults. Although the yellow “Keys House” office on the median between the highways at 98300 Overseas Highway could be overlooked, it’s more noticeable now thanks to a recent grant, some talented individuals, and work of the staff.

The 1913 building is in fact the oldest house in the Upper Keys, and as is the case with many historic structures, handicap accessibility is limited and space can be tight for some of their popular gatherings. That has changed with the new Interpretive Center opened in December 2017. In order to best utilize the space that provides wheelchair accessibility, two modular sections were brought in and adeptly joined together to become a multi-functional room for interpretive displays and classes. The impressive “wrap-around” interior mural is far greater than simply decorative, however. Stephen Frink, Key Largo’s internationally known underwater photographer, provided a series of his images and Jim Hellemn of San Diego used his incredible techniques to take the images and create a floor-to-ceiling seamless journey through different local underwater environments. Thirty-three species of fish are displayed in the sections of Shipwrecks in Service, Biodiversity in Barrier Reefs, Patch Reefs and Predators, and Important Inshore Habitats.

The fish and turtle featured are what REEF focuses on in the local area surveys.  The center is open during regular hours of 9:00-5:00, Mon-Fri. Their on-going and some new programs will be posted to the calendar as soon as they are scheduled.

The exterior of REEF also had a make-over with some notable features. One of the original wooden cisterns has been restored as a reminder of the days before pipelines were in place. A Native Plants Trail has interpretive signs about flora and fauna. This wide, wheelchair-accessible path dotted with a few picnic tables, curves around the office building. Other plans are to install an electric car charging station and a solar-powered telephone charging station.

If you aren’t familiar with REEF, their mission statement is, “REEF conserves marine environments worldwide. Our mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community.”

Although fish surveys scuba divers and snorkelers participate in is a major program of REEF, there are workshops and events open to anyone who cares about marine conservation. If you’re in the area, set aside some time to stop by the center for a leisurely stroll to enjoy the mural of our “fin friends” and chat with the staff.

For more information log onto;Tel: (305) 852-0030.

Back and In A Whirl…..

The trip home went fairly well until close to the end when a wreck slowed traffic to a crawl and rain pounded for a while. Both situations were manageable and we literally swung into the house to drop bags off, then went to catch the last hour of early voting and proceeded to the annual Rib Fest. The organization, This Is For The Kids, does the Rib Fest and it was founded by a local man who was also later elected to City Council. Each year in leading up to the Fest, they ask for nominations of non-profits that focus on children. It has grown over the years and I ordinarily cannot attend because it’s usually held the same weekend that I travel to Louisiana. That’s how it was scheduled, but it was another of the events re-scheduled due to Hurricane Irma. We didn’t stay long, although did bring ribs and roasted corn home for dinner. In fact, since we wanted to sample from all three rib places, we had leftovers we enjoyed last night as well.

Sunday was a totally full day with yet another rescheduled event, the one-man play “Gospel of Mark”, at the Seminole Theatre. It was first done in the Middle Ages when the all-powerful Church felt religious plays were what the populous needed. The drama of this particular play was such that it actually provided a degree of entertainment and inadvertently laid the foundation for modern theater as we know it. The way it was explained to me is because plays began to be “too secular” and the Church sent them beyond their walls. With less restraint, religious themes gave way to others. This play endured as a piece of theater history and has been done on Broadway and in London by notable actors such as David Suchet, who played Inspector Poirot in several movies and the television series.

I have my usual commitments to take care of and am helping out a friend who is in the hospital so not much downtime is planned for the next few days.

A Rousing Success…..

The big dive trade show we are at is set up like most with a mix of exhibits, seminars, and different programs. I had submitted Richie Kohler as a speaker even though he fell into the “other” category compared to the industry/business side. Marketing, inventory management, etc., are all unquestionably vital to business. He crafted his presentation, “Forty Years of Shipwreck Exploration”, to speak to the “heart and passion” of diving which is at the core of the business since other than the industrial/engineering aspect, it is absolutely a discretionary expenditure for people. If you can’t spark and retain the passion for diving, the business dissolves.

We had no input as to when he was to be scheduled though and the show planners put him into the 8:30 a.m. slot this morning. Considering that two of the largest social events were last night, there was a fair question about how many people would show up. He was set up in the large room although I hadn’t checked to see how many seats were available. When I arrived a few minutes after 8:00 to coordinate a couple of last minute details, there were already a few people seated. As the room filled to capacity, more squeezed in. It was a long presentation of a little more than an hour while Richie took everyone from his beginning days of teen-aged diving through his numerous transitions of both advances in technologies and opportunities he had never dreamed of coming his way.  Spontaneous applause broke out twice when he touched on subjects of special poignancy. The only way to describe the morning was indeed as a rousing success. By the way, even though we chronicled many of his adventures in Mystery of the Last Olympian: Titanic’s Tragic Sister Britannic, his website of has far more than we included.

Scuba Related…..

A modular design for an artificial reef created and provided by Walter Marine of AL

Thursday, Sept 14th, I’ll be doing a presentation on Artificial Reefs in Key Largo based on my book, Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the USA

Since the book came out in 2009, I needed to update a few things for the PowerPoint show. One of which was to check on a guy, David Walter of Walter Marine. I’ll explain. First, artificial reefs for those who might not be as familiar are a variety of items that rest in the water and attract marine life which take up residence and create a reef complete with coral, sponges, fish, etc. The marine creatures don’t mind that it isn’t a natural rock formation – it provides shelter and over time, marine growth increases. The most spectacular artificial reefs tend to be shipwrecks, but there are lots of others. Many are underwater by accident, but the planned ones are the focus of the book. Again, taking a massive ship like the 510-foot USS Spiegel Grove, prepping her and sending her to the bottom is a huge effort that takes years of planning/work and lots of money. There are, however, way cool and smaller options.

Every other year, the big scuba trade show is in Orlando and the year I was doing intense research for the book coincided with the DEMA show. I was able to talk with several people involved with artificial reef work, one of whom was David. I have previously posted about Reefball (TM) that is a non-profit organization. They create modules that can be deployed to create a reef based on what size and shape is desired.

David, who as he explained always liked to figure things out for himself, did a few projects with them and then decided to establish his own business. (  (Note: not sure why, but the website wasn’t loading when I wrote this. It was fine the other day.)

Anyway, back to David. He played around with designs and materials and it was fascinating to talk to him. I popped onto his website the other day to see how he was doing and he quickly responded. His business has expanded and he sent me the photo here. The uses for his products have also expanded and it’s nice to see. (I will acknowledge there are opponents to artificial reef work and they are certainly entitled to their opinion.) I love the entrepreneurial spirit and I love a good artificial reef, so I hope Walter Marine continues to thrive. By the way, the lovey fish along with the jelllyfish in the photo is a type of triggerfish.

A Different Kind of Motorcycle Place….

Okay, not travel-related precisely, but I do think I have a few motorcycle followers who might travel this direction. Here’s the deal and it’s seriously cool. K&G Cycles opened a few months ago in Florida City. ( It’s more than 3,000 square feet of space selling all sorts of parts and accessories and a state-of-the-art service center. The motorcycles there are a mix of vintage and other, but “Dr. G” doesn’t actually sell motorcycles.

You can read the entire history on his website, but loving motorcycles led him into a fascination with vintage motorcycle restoration. More than merely tinkering, however, he’s won multiple national awards. His enjoyment wasn’t limited to vintage machines though and in 2006, he established K and G Cycles as a customer-friendly on-line business. He carefully selected the right kind of people for his staff and spent more than a year in creating the website to be as responsive as he envisioned. From that initial beginning, he  expanded their motorcycle parts and accessories offerings to more than 500,000 items and represents products from over 700 manufacturers as well as all major motorcycle parts and accessories wholesalers.

There were a lot of calls asking if he was going to have a full-service store in addition to the website. Although his staff had also posed the question, making the leap from on-line to a store was not a decision to be taken lightly. Two major elements came into play. As any realtor will tell you, “location, location, location” is key. The “where” was an ideal piece of property in Florida City. One of the representatives of a major supplier added this to the mix. “If you open a store, you know you’ll be the only one between Cutler Ridge and Key West.”

“Dr. G” knew if he was going to step onto this path, it would be with the people he trusted. He gathered them for a discussion and to ask for their input about the store’s design and function. He developed the drawing, turned to a builder he had used for other projects, and by Spring 2017, K and G Cycles Motorcycle Service Supercenter opened their doors to eager customers. Service, retail, and the impressive on-line offerings enable him to confidently say, “If you can’t get it from K and G Cycles, it’s probably going to be really hard to find.”

And, as icing on the cake,  if you read the post a few weeks ago, Joe’s Famous Burgers food truck us set up in the parking lot. Okay, maybe the middle of summer isn’t when you want to eat outside. You can do take-out though.

A New Non Profit……

There is certainly no shortage of worthy non-profit organizations to give to. A few years ago I did a post about how at some point we all have to choose to not give to some we might want to, because we simply can’t add another one to our list. As an aside, a friend of mine once made the comment that she had stopped giving to any of the “big” charities because she was involved in local causes where she could see the direct result of what she was helping with. At any rate, in the writing I do for our community newspaper, one of my primary focuses is the many area non-profits and the heart-warming stories of what they do. (And yes, some of the people they help can come with heart-breaking stories)

When I was recently contacted about a new group, Brightseasons Foundation, I was a little unclear as to their goals and during the interview for the piece for the South Dade News Leader, I was delighted to learn about them. The article ran in yesterday’s (well, Thursday’s) paper although it isn’t posted on-line yet. Their website is and they are just getting established as a group. There are 27 women on the board (yes, guys are also volunteers) and their purpose is to give a “hand-up” in situations where other assistance might not be available. There are examples on the website, so I won’t steal their thunder and do invite you to check them out if you want to have one of those “feel good” moments.

If you’re local, you might know someone who needs help, and if you’re not local, you may know of similar groups.

A Delightful Concert…..

Followers of the blog know I ‘ve been part of Homestead Center for the Arts ( for quite some time now. There are almost two dozen Affiliate members within HCA – those are the structured groups devoted to arts and culture. Those are groups like Homestead Community Concerts, The Children’s Art Gallery and Center, etc. We also have two committees within HCA; one for the Bea Peskoe Lunchtime Lecture Series and the other for the Music Series (MuSe). In general, we have four lectures per season (Oct-April) and 3 MuSe events. Last night we had three wonderfully talented students from the Frost School of Music down from Miami. Miclen LaiPang was on violin, William Locke, cello, and Jonny Cruz, piano. I do not profess to “know” classical so I can’t speak knowledgeably about their selections other than to say it was a terrific concert. Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, Liszt, and Saint-Saens were featured.

Aside from their sheer talent, their stage presence was impressive. When we have classical music, we try to hold the events at City Church because the acoustics are so well-suited and the three young men agreed. We will see about having them again in the not too distant future. Hubby couldn’t attend last night so we don’t have cool photos. I took a couple with my phone and for whatever reason, the email I sent myself hasn’t worked. (Yet again, frustration with my lack of tech ability.) Anyway, I know how hard these guys must have worked to achieve what they have and their parents (and perhaps siblings) have no doubt made sacrifices of money/time to help them. I also know how proud they must feel when they watch them perform.

Women in Agriculture…..

I attend different community events and today was one of those annual gatherings you don’t find in every part of the country. Well, actually, you might these days. As I have mentioned before, the modern history of deep South Florida only dates to the late 1800s due to a lack of roads and the difficult environment of thick foliage, heat, humidity, bugs, and snakes. Once Henry Flagler extended his railroad, getting goods to markets was improved and big packing houses were commonly seen close to the tracks. The large agricultural area here is still “hidden” from many people in Miami who don’t realize the sheer number of acres being grown. And the face of agriculture has changed over the decades. Small family farms have never been easy to keep going and there are new challenges for multiple reasons.

With that said, twelve years ago the Dade County Farm Bureau Women in Agriculture Committee looked closely at the statistics of agriculture in our region and realized numbers backed up something they already knew – women were a significant force in local agriculture. They had the first annual luncheon to publicly acknowledge a woman who made special contributions for that year. These are women who farm along side husbands/parents or in some cases, start their own business. They participate in programs like Ag in the Classroom, helping plant gardens at schools, are advocates for agricultural issues and much more. I didn’t know until today that more than 36% of our farms are owned by women. Today’s honorees were in fact a mother and daughter representing the 3rd and 4th generation of a family who came south in 1917 to plant their first local fields. Although the mother did marry into the farming family, the daughter started with chores and responsibilities at an early age and plans to continue with the family tradition. Right at 100 people were present today at Schnebly’s Winerary and Brewery which is the perfect setting for such an event. It was a delight to be surrounded by these strong women, and yes, there were men there as well.