A Remarkable Young Man…

This is actually a follow-on to the post about STEM and STEAM. I just sent in the article for this week’s South Dade News Leader, so consider this as an “insider” preview.  Each year non-profit grants are awarded by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). These are special funds put in place after Hurricane Andrew that will expire in another few years. The CRA has different grant programs and one is focused on non-profits that support education, enrichment, etc., within a specified area of town where many families struggle economically. There are always more applicants than funding and the committee carefully reads all proposals to determine which ones are most likely to be able to have an impact and responsibly manage the funds.

Brandon Okpalobi, founder and CEO of DIBIA Athletic Development, established Dibia Dream in 2014 as a non-profit in order to expand their community outreach to students. While this is not uncommon within corporations, Brandon’s background, success, and sincerity in what he does is truly heart-warming. Originally from New Orleans, he was removed from his second grade class for being such a disruptive influence. In the way alternative classes are supposed to work, his life was pointed in the right direction and he learned to channel his tumultuous emotions correctly. I may be able to hear the whole story someday, but he left New Orleans later, was a walk-on to the U of Miami basketball team and in founding his business, he’s won a string of awards. From the very beginning, he did outreach for under-served youth because he knows it can make a difference.  All their different programs are listed on their website of https://dibiadream.org

Even though there are moments when trying to juggle writing for the paper and other things is tiring, getting to meet people like Brandon is always worthwhile.

 

Very Pleasantly Surprised…..

I have mentioned before we don’t really do musicals, but have been to some of the performances at our Seminole Theatre to support the theater. In view of the fact we’ve had almost non-stop events and company all the way through Jan 2, looking at our tickets for the show F”orever Young, Your Life, Your Music” on Jan 4th gave us pause. On the other hand, we did have the tickets and we did have time to enjoy dinner before going to the theater. There was a decent-size crowd, but timing no doubt affected a number of decisions about attending. We said hi to friends, chatted with the theater director who told us it wasn’t really a musical; more like a music revue. Okay, we’re good with that.

What a great time we had. “Based on a true story” doesn’t always mean that, but for the sake of this, we’ll assume it’s close. Five guys who love playing baseball together in NYC hang out in a basement and all discover different songs they really love. They go through all the teen things one goes through, certain songs making memories. The five split into their separate ways; a couple of them in fact as singers; one a baseball player. At some point, they each come to realize music is what they are truly passionate about and want to have a shot at. They individually start performing, and ultimately make their way to Branson where there are lots of singing gigs available. One of the guys teams with his brother to capture all this by creating Forever Young.

The 2-hour show with intermission was not-stop, high energy, and incredible voices. There is narration as opposed to dialogue, but everything flows together seamlessly and the range of songs are from the 1950s to more or less current. It was a terrific evening and I’m glad we went.

Forever Young is set in a NY basement. Great show.

(https://www.foreveryoungbranson.com)

You Never Quite Know….

In the course of writing for our weekly community paper, I’ve run across some people who’ve done some remarkable things “back in their day”. As time passes, their accomplishments are certainly dimmed, if not forgotten. In a case like this, it was something not locally known. The full article I wrote is here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/eedition/page-a/page_95874306-7dde-54f3-841a-d10e560a297f.html

One of the guys on active duty reached out to the newspaper publisher to tell him about Joyce Kutsch, one of two women to be the first to go through U.S. Army Airborne training in 1973. That was during the initial phases of closing out the Women’s Army Corps (as well as the other women’s services) and integrating women into the regular services. Jump school, as it is commonly referred to, has never been easy. Yes, people who sky dive for fun can go out and get a quick lesson, especially if they’re planning a tandem jump of jumping together with a professional. Military jumping is quite different and in Joyce’s case even more so. She was to go to jump school because it was a prerequisite to being a parachute rigger. This was one of the male-only fields (except for necessity during WW II) opened to women in 1973. While the specialty does mean packing parachutes for soldiers, it also involves packing for equipment drops; everything from pallets of supplies to vehicles. Try figuring out how to rig a 5-ton truck for a drop and you get the idea of skill required.
In addition to being a rigger, Joyce was assigned to Fort Bragg in support of the 82d Airborne Division and finding a more testosterone-filled unit would be difficult. Like many “inadvertent pioneers” at the time, Joyce wasn’t looking to make history, but she and the other women weren’t going to let skepticism and derision nor the intense physicality of the training/follow-on duties stop them.
Despite forging the way for other women, Joyce didn’t stay for a career and she wound up here and has been a postal carrier for more than twenty years. Interviewing her was a delight and we’ll be staying in touch.

 

Veterans Day and Memories…..

For most people today, the idea of women in the military is considered so normal they don’t realize the different women’s services were actually in effect until the 1970s. In other words, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Women’s Army Nurse Corps, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) for the Navy, and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) were all separate organizations with distinct rules as to how women could be assigned and were controlled by women. The structure was for women to be assigned only within the female service and while they had duty assignments with men, they came under the administration of other women. There were also rules such as a woman could be married, but not remain in service if she had children. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I came in during the transition period when women were being phased into the regular services and therefore I met a number of senior women who had only been familiar with the separated services. As usually happens in a major organizational shift, there were those who looked forward to the new opportunities and those who were not able to adapt.

There was of course tremendous resistance in some cases, both male and female who didn’t think integration could be successful. It was probably true there was more reluctance on the male side because they had difficulty in imagining women could handle jobs in traditionally male fields. Part of the transition was the restriction of women going into branches of Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Field Artillery and Combat Engineers. Those branches were restricted until such time as they could work out physical requirements and the psychological impact of women being placed at the “front lines”. As the type of warfare shifted so “front lines” became blurred, the very real issue of physical requirements for certain things also underwent changes due to technology advances. Some tasks that required brute strength such as lifting 50-plus pound artillery rounds were made easier by auto-loaders. In other cases, there is simply no way to lessen the muscle-driven demand. It’s not that some women aren’t as strong as some men; they, however, are the exception rather than the average. And so, when people ask me if I think it’s fair when women are still restricted from specific duties, my response is, “the mission must always come first”.

And Another Good Cause…..

I often do a post after I submit an article for the paper when it comes to non-profit groups. Almost everyone who writes for our weekly paper is a stringer, but we do have more-or-less “beats”. It’s no surprise I focus on the military, but also non-profits, certain aspects of education, and generally heart-warming things. I do, at times, get the heart-breaking as well, but thankfully those are less frequent.

In this case, there was a piece I intended to do months ago, but other topics kept bumping it back since it wasn’t time-sensitive. Among our tourist attractions, we have the Everglades Alligator farm with air boat rides, plenty of gators and so forth. When the kids were here right after Christmas, we thought two-and-a-half for Amelia was probably still a bit young for that, but we also have the Everglades Outpost Refuge. It is actually on the way to the other and I thought it would be more age-appropriate. A plus was that before son was diverted by his passion for dance, he intended to be a wildlife ecologist and work with restoring animal habitats. So off they went and had a wonderful time. Their description of the place was far different from what I was expecting and I mentally filed away a story.

Anyway, back in 1991, a couple who had some acreage in Redland officially established an animal refuge since in truth, they’d been doing that in an unofficial capacity. The founder had his first pet alligator around age six and there are both odd laws and illegal activities that cause non-native animals to be in a situation to need rescue. Basically, when the Florida Wildlife agents conduct a raid and find something like a tiger, they need somewhere to put it. In other cases, there are native animals hurt that need rehabilitation. The website for the Outpost has all sorts of stories, photos, and some video clips. https://www.evergladesoutpost.org

In essence, they are on “speed dial” for the Florida Wildlife agents and they are linked with other groups around the state. The resident camel that certainly can’t be released into the Florida wild was at another place in Florida and the owner was having too many issues with him. The three gray wolves (mostly wolf with a little bit of dog) were born into captivity, yet again, they aren’t native to Florida. They’ll be in residence unless someone else is willing to adopt them. As I mention in the article I did for the paper last week, there is never a shortage of good causes to support. This is one I can vouch for if helping wild animals is something you care about.

Another Musician From Our Time….

Ah, Aretha Franklin, whom I never heard in concert, but did admire. A voice lost to us as have been others in the past few years. Now, as I mentioned a few months ago, we did go see Jimmy Buffet and the Eagles together in concert which was amazing. In fact, last night we went to one of our regular restaurants that has this one guy who plays and sings on Thursday. He takes requests, but mostly does 60s, 70s and 80s with the mix of Croce, Fogelberg, Atlantic Rhythm Section, etc.,. He was good and those songs do bring back memories.

I have often said you know you’re getting older when you are in a music section and look at the top songs unable to tell what the title is from the name of the band. Or you don’t even bother with the Top Tunes stations and instead have Classic Rock or something similar as your pre-programmed stations. C&W is a little different because in general, the top selling new artists aren’t terribly far afield from those of the 70s and beyond. Granted, you go back to the 50s and there will be some noticeable changes.

At any rate, The Queen Of Soul did give us some great songs and I say Rest in Peace with all respect.

What Spirit Does……

I would say I can’t believe nearly an entire week slipped past me, but there’s been a fair amount of turmoil swirling around the non-profits I work with and some other obligations. The irony of course is this is “the slow time of year” for a number of organizations/individuals. As I’ve explained in previous posts, that doesn’t hold true for Hubby and me.

Anyway, in writing for our weekly community paper, “heartwarming” is one of the areas I specialize in. A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a Facebook post from one of our council members who has a great non-profit of, This Is For The Kids. It’s another one of those that began quietly and small and they’ve steadily grown it. Not beyond local size, but still quite respectable. They do different things throughout the year, but their big event is an annual Rib Fest. In the summer, they select 5 non-profits that mostly (or exclusively) support kid causes. The proceeds from the Oct Rib Fest is then split among the selected five. So, the founder is always on the lookout for other situations and he ran across one a few weeks ago that I then picked up on for a story. It was the the lead piece in the July 20th edition (http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/eedition)

The summary is a young man who was a very promising athlete had swapped from track and field into football. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind he would be a college star with a decent shot at the pros. That was before the automobile wreck where his two best friends were killed and he was left paralyzed from the waist down. You can imagine the impact on the families and fellow students. This is a “small town” despite a rise in population and the track and field coach for one of the other high schools knew of the young man’s athleticism. No one here is involved in adaptive sports, but the coach was sure Isaac would have the ability if he was willing to make the effort.

They worked together for him to focus on wheelchair races, discus, javelin, and shot-put. Not only has he excelled, he is being invited to be a motivational speaker by some notable area athletes. In raising money for him to be able to go to the Junior Olympics last week, he brought home more medals and made more contacts. The hope is he can get a scholarship to one of the colleges/universities where they have an adaptive sports program.

 

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 https://www.habitat.org 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 http://www.vietvet.org/jtffainf.htm 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 http://www.reef.org;Tel: (305) 852-0030.