Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards

I was at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards luncheon yesterday and there were six categories of business and individual awards presented. There was a nice crowd since the names of the nominees had been sent to people and the winners kept quiet until the presentations. As the Chair of the Committee said, it was difficult to choose among the nominees because so many of them were strong candidates. The key criteria was in working to help make the community a better place as well as carrying out whatever business was involved. In the case of the Citizen of the Year and the Volunteer of the Year, they were individuals whose service to the community included activity with multiple organizations. Not everyone is in a position to do volunteer work and for a lot of Baby Boomers, it is something we can choose to do in our semi-retired or second (third, etc.) career lives.

This year’s awardees were: Large Business of the Year was Keyes Realty; Small Business was Lumo Graphics; Non-Profit was WeCare; Agriculturist was Medora Krome; Volunteer of the Year was Pastor Brock Schiffer, and Citizen of the Year was Sharon Haxton. I know all the ones selected and many of the nominees, and it was indeed a tough choice. It was good to see everyone recognized and it was an effort on the part of people who nominated them to take the time to do so. These are the type of moments that bring a smile to your face.

Crystal in the Clouds……

I truly intended to post yesterday before we left for the Homestead book fair and that obviously didn’t happen. One of the many fun things about a book fair is when you meet other authors that you don’t know, and in this case it was the recent release of a family history book that took a very unexpected turn. Leonard Mowry of the Homestead pioneering Mowry family began to chronicle his family’s story and vague tales he had heard of his grandfather’s first wife led him down a different path. Cyrstal in the Clouds ( has it) was the book that emerged, the fascinating capture of the woman who was the first known female parachutist in the area, a woman who broke multiple aviation records, a woman who was truly a pioneer in the sky.

I haven’t finished the book yet and we are planning to arrange to have it for sale in the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum soon. If you like 1920s-1940s history and especially tales of strong women who didn’t allow their gender to keep them from a dream, this is a book to consider.

It is also a point that I make in my presentation about capturing family history that you frequently don’t know where the research will lead you. It may be routine or you might uncover something very much different than you anticipate. Mr. Mowry certainly did.


Cool Ladies, Cool Ties…..

Anyone who has spent approximately five minutes in the South Florida heat is looking for relief. If you’re engaged in outdoor activities though, escaping into the air conditioning isn’t the answer. And if you’re an agricultural worker, that isn’t remotely an option. Hats, hydrating, and sweating up a storm is how that goes.

With that in mind, two local artists, Suzanne Moe and Marcela Noriega (SUMA) are combining art, ingenuity, and compassion into their project Community Art Cool Ties. It’s the special technology of wetting a specific fabric that you then tie around your neck to help with the heat. What makes this “Cool Tie” extra special is not just the way in which it brings some relief, but also because each tie is locally artisan made, and Suzanne and Marcela have pledged to donate 7,000 ties to local agricultural workers. The ties sell for $15.00 and they also accept donations to try and meet their goal.

They will be having an event Sunday 28 Sept 12-4 p.m. at La Playa Grill at Homestead’s Bayfront Park. The usual entrance fee is supposed to be waived if you tell them you are attending the event (on the other hand, you can think of it as a two-fer in supporting the park and pay the fee), and there will be music as well as La Playa’s good food for sale. For those who haven’t been to La Playa, it’s a great view out across Biscayne Bay, but they don’t take credit cards. (They do have an ATM machine available). So if you’re looking for something different and to help a good cause, put this on your calendar

That’s for more information.

Homestead Book Fair…..

The Homestead Centennial Book will be one of many available during the 2014 Book Fair

The Homestead Centennial Book will be one of many available during the 2014 Book Fair

The Second Annual Main Street Homestead Book Fair will be Saturday, 11 October from 1:00-5:00 p.m. in Losner Park on Krome Avenue as it was last year. I’m posting this early for two reasons. First, for you to save the date since that is a long weekend and there are usually a lot of activities going on. Second, we still have room for a few more authors and it is a great opportunity if someone does have a book (or books) for sale. It can also be an e-book as long as the author has a flier and can interact with attendees about the book. There is no charge for authors which makes this an ideal platform for authors who may not have access to bookstores. There is a simple one-page application and anyone interested can contact me at

We will have some returning authors from last year such as Roger Hammer, Marjorie Doughty, Angela Thomas, Bob Jensen with the Homestead Centennial Book, and others. REEF will be sending someone with their Lionfish Cookbook and while the theme this year is about being the Gateway to the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, we will have multiple genres of fiction and non-fiction for children, young adults, and adults. Selected authors (to include yours truly) will give 30-minute lectures across the street in the Historic Town Hall Museum. Robert Chaplin and Stephen Shelley will also have some of their beautiful photographs that they have taken in and around the National Parks.

Other vendors will be set up on Krome Avenue and with the event ending at 5:00, the Homestead Hot Spot of Stick and Stein, Fat Monkey Bar, and the Martini Bar will be open. The other downtown restaurants of Chefs on the Run, Casita Tejas, El Toro Taco, and Las Aztecas, and Whistlestop Café in Hotel Redland will have been open earlier. Please help spread the word and come join us.

A Geeki Girl Gathering…………

I spent my Saturday doing one of those things that make you look around with pride. Noreen Legault Mendonza is the founder of the organization and you can read the details about the team and the background at their web site of

I met Noreen literally by accident one day when she was on the end of a meeting with a woman who I was meeting with next. Although I don’t qualify for the Geeki in the sense of being tech-savvy or inclined to science, math or engineering, I have most assuredly made my way in non-traditional roles. I was glad to sign up to be one of the presenters at the breakout sessions and have lunch in between. There were around 100 girls in attendance at the South Dade High School, ranging from middle school through seniors. The Miami-Dade County Public School System has incorporated the STEM/STEAM academy into many of their schools as a voluntary track. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is the basic STEM and schools can elected to add the “A” in either Art or Aeronautics. Studies consistently show that middle school is where girls start backing away from math, etc.,. and so the focus for yesterday was to encourage girls to enter the STEAM academy that does have “Art” as the “A”. Indeed, one of the morning speakers was an engineer who had started in art, then moved into architect, and finally engineering having never thought that was something she would pursue. Geeki Girls emphasizes marrying art and technology and this impressive young woman was a perfect representative for that approach.

The presenters covered quite a range – Air Force Officer, Cisco Code Writer, Police Detective, Entrepreneur, Physician, Model, Animator, and so forth. Not surprisingly, the “CSI” and film making were among the most popular breakout sessions, but those of us with less exciting topics had a good time. During lunch when they asked us to be sure and sit with girls that we hadn’t interacted with yet, it was a special treat for me to have one of them say she was in JROTC and planned to go into the Army through college ROTC and one of the other girls was looking at the Air Force. That really was a coincidence of where I sat down.

I have mentioned the value of mentoring in other posts and while Saturday’s session wasn’t quite that, it was an opportunity for role modeling to girls that the world is truly open to them.


Part of Our Marine World……

As I have posted in the past, I am cautious of many environmental groups/causes due to the tendency to take unyielding positions that are often not rooted in either practicality or an understanding of the “big picture” of how working with business can often lead to genuinely sustainable solutions. And please do not misinterpret that statement – I fully agree that there are numerous areas in which we need to improve when it comes to taking care of Mother Earth and Mother Ocean. With that said, while we were in Orlando at the big dive trade show (DEMA), I had the chance to go by the Reef Ball ( booth although I did not get by the Coral Restoration Foundation one. (  These are two organizations that are doing extraordinary work in helping to protect and/or restore reef systems in South Florida and around the globe. They take two very different approaches; the details of which can be seen at their respective web sites.

What makes these organizations even more remarkable than the success of their projects is that neither was founded by some well-known, highly credentialed group. In the case of Reef Ball, it was an avid diver and his father who had seen severe reef damage in the Cayman Islands after a hurricane and began to think of a way in which easily manageable modules could be manufactured to serve as artificial reefs. The concept was to have something with a relatively low-cost that could be installed with only a few “experts” and other team members could be volunteers. Twenty years later, more than 4,000 projects impacting 70+ countries have benefitted from this technology.

The Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) had an even more modest beginning of being a 4-H daughter-father project. As with Reef Ball, CRF has now gained international attention and they are continuing to expand their capabilities. Volunteer divers from around the world join into projects along with notable colleges, universities, and other organizations. If you have some time, do visit their web sites and prepare to be amazed at what you see.


An Incredible Group in Farm Share…….

I have highlighted a number of organizations that do wonderful work in different areas and written about the people behind the idea. And even though I don’t have a huge following, I am asking that you help me spread the word about Farm Share, not only because of the good work they do, but because Patricia Robbins, the President and CEO, has developed a system that is, and can be, a model for similar undertakings throughout the country. She was not some billionaire who turned to altruism. She is a woman who worked hard all her life, then determined that she wanted to take on the task of re-packing fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away and provide those at no charge to organizations that feed the hungry. By being located in the heart of South Florida’s agricultural center and having a career in the wholesale seafood business, Patricia set out to harness her business and logistics expertise into Farm Share with phenomenal numbers to show their success. The real story is told on their web site at but I will throw out a few facts to make the point.

They work in a public-private partnership with the state (as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs) to maximize support that can be provided to more than 500 organizations they give food to. They also have periodic Food Distribution events where volunteers join them to support hundreds and sometimes thousands of families in a four-hour period. They maintain a small staff to keep their administrative costs down to under 3% – a remarkable achievement for a non-profit, and through the techniques they have honed, they can provide 11.5 pounds of food per every $1 of donation. On average, they distribute  more than 15 million pounds of nutritious food to approximately 600,000  low-income households across Florida each year. In fact, their reputation for efficiency means they have farmers from a multi-state area that make food available to them. Their system enables them to often have a mere twenty-four hour turnaround from receipt of tractor trailers filled with goods to that same food being repackaged and into the hands of soup kitchens, food pantries and similar organizations. Much of Farm Share’s cost goes to paying for the transportation of the food because again, they do not charge one cent to the organizations they support. They have also begun to be offered non-food items such as truckloads of bicycle helmets and child car seats, but when tight dollars can’t fund transportation for both, food is given the priority in keeping with their primary mission.

Farm Share now operates out of the original location, plus two others in Florida and they would love to expand. They are more than happy to share their knowledge and give tours of the packing house to show their operation. If you are looking for a charity that is making a tremendous difference in people’s lives, productively utilizing what would be tons of wasted food, and doing so with remarkable stewardship, then Farm Share is one such group.

Spreading the Word for YEA!……

Yesterday rather fell apart on me with meetings literally all day, but the last one was about an exciting new program that we are going to be helping with. It’s the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) and I’d like everyone who is in the Homestead area to please help spread the word. There is a special page on the Chamber of Commerce web site dedicated to it and an FB page

In a nutshell, this 30-week program is open for students in grades 6-12 and it actually teaches them how to create their own company. Students meet once a week and learn all about how to take their idea to actual creation of a company under Florida state law and the within their city of residence. In this case, the classes will be held on the Miami-Dade Campus Homestead on Tues 4-7:00 p.m. There is a $395 cost, but that covers all the books and materials for the whole 30 weeks. There will also be scholarships available if you know of a student who would be perfect for the program, but simply cannot afford the fee. This is not merely class work – it is hands-on and there are a number of students in other YEA! Programs (it started in 2004) that have opened their businesses, run them for more and a year, and some are still going. The students in the program also get to compete for such things as scholarships and an opportunity to appear on the TV show Shark Tank. Applications are available through the web site above or you can call the Chamber of Commerce at (305) 247-2332. There are 50+ other Chambers in the country that have this program, so if you aren’t in the Homestead area, but are interested, there may be a program near you. I would please ask you to spread the word through any means you can since the application deadline in 31 August 2013.


A Salute to Local Animal Rescue…..

This Is The Dog Event Poster

This Is The Dog Event Poster

Many newcomers to the Homestead area are startled to learn that there is no animal shelter below South Miami. The reasons for that are a bit muddled, but two groups have stepped forward in what is sadly an on-going struggle against irresponsible pet owners. People who chose to have pets and refuse to have them spayed or neutered or who toss them aside to whatever fate want to pretend that this is not a serious issue. A grassroots group, This Is The Dog, ( works incredibly hard with volunteers and inadequate funding to do what they can to rescue and foster dogs and cats as they find homes for them. They also try to educate people as to the growing problem and work with other rescue groups to promote spaying, neutering, and adoption. A second group, the Gateway Animal Shelter ( is helping raise funds and promote awareness to actually build a shelter in Homestead.

There is a fundraiser tomorrow, Friday, 26 April from 6:00-10:00 p.m. on Krome Ave in Homestead. It’s a “Fashion Show” for dogs and more. Lots of fun, food trucks, and a great chance for animal lovers to help out.

Recognizing Abuse….

Serious content alert. No matter what we might say publically, most people are willing to believe that abuse doesn’t happen to people that we actually know and certainly not in “nice” families. The concept of human trafficking is the stuff of novels and movies. There is a program in town called Start Off Smart (SOS) at that was established to try and address the root causes of domestic violence and other abuse and raise awareness of the very real issue of human trafficking. Sadly, Florida is one of the leading states in this plague because so many people who want to immigrate are vulnerable to exploitation. I won’t go into graphic details, but local human trafficking often involves forcing individuals into labor situations that are in essence modern day slavery. These people are often in the country illegally and therefore, how can they ask for help? One of the most effective ways for ordinary citizens to assist is to understand that it does exist and if a situation seems suspicious or if someone comes to you for help, don’t dismiss it as “not possible”.

Domestic abuse is always a sensitive issue because aside from the fact that no one wants to accuse someone in error, there can be other reasons to not want to be involved. After all, how do you initiate a conversation with someone asking that question? Since I have personally never been a witness to such a thing (to the best of my knowledge), I don’t have a good answer. What is important though, I think, is to find out what resources are available in your area so that you know what to do in the event that you do become aware of a problem. Another aspect is that if you are looking to volunteer, helping with a shelter or other program might be something to consider.

I spent time this morning with an extended family of three sisters and a mother and then another woman, all of whom finally broke away from abusive relationships and/or marriages. There were multiple generations of abuse and more than anything, the women want their children to understand that this is not how things should be. As heartbreaking as their stories were, the fact that they were able to find a program to help them rise above what had happened was uplifting. No, abuse is not a pleasant subject, and perhaps you will never personally  encounter it. But I would urge you to check into your local resources as a just-in-case sort of thing. You never know who you might be able to help.