Daring 2 Be Future Focused

The Class of '13 is distinguishing itself with students in med school and working at the White House among other adventures.

The Class of ’13 is distinguishing itself with students in med school and working at the White House and State Senate among other adventures including the music industry and international NGO’s.

Every year around this time, the board of Dare 2 Be Great has the privilege to sit down and meet some of the best kids you can imagine.

These are young men and women who live in Delray Beach and have achieved some amazing things in their short lives. But their community service and academic achievements pale in comparison to their dreams and goals for their futures. It is our mission to help them get there.

Dare 2 Be Great provides scholarships and mentoring services to between 6-12 special students a year. To date, we have touched the lives of over 40 remarkable young people.

It’s a modest effort measured against the needs and the number of local students who can use and are deserving of help.

But for those we work with, it’s an important assist–they do the work, we provide some of the funding and guidance.

We have never been a “needs based” organization, preferring instead to invest in students we feel can be game changers. But over the years, we have found ourselves choosing to work with young men and women with little to no means.

We have heard stories of violence, drug abuse, foreclosure, unemployment, illness and even murder. Yet these students are determined to overcome and achieve. They want better lives. And in many ways the challenges they face make them better people and more passionate about changing the trajectory of their lives.

Our investment of time and money is really an investment in Delray’s future. While we cannot and would not mandate that these exceptional young people return home, we do hope they will and we ask if that is something they desire.

Most do want to return after college and that’s a testament to Delray. Think about how many young people want to escape where they grow up. This year, we interviewed students who want to come back to teach, practice medicine and go into business.

It’s our responsibility as citizens to build a community of opportunity for these young people.

The interviewing process is always an emotional one. We laugh, we tear up and we never fail to be amazed by the stories we hear and the personalities we meet. I truly wish everyone in the community can see what we’re seeing because you’ll feel better about our nation’s future.

I will tell you more about these special people once we make this year’s selections—always a tough choice because we see a whole lot of human capital, but have finite resources. But this year’s candidates included a young man who has toured with a famous rock band, the first ever Village Academy student accepted to an Ivy League college and immigrants who have overcome physical, financial and emotional turbulence.

A common theme is loss—of a parent, a home, health, employment. But a stronger thread is desire, hope and aspiration.

Many of the young men and women talk about growing up in Delray—some mention a special teacher who inspired them, a parent who touched them, and a friend that helped them overcome. Others talk of dangerous neighborhoods, temptations they avoided and their passion to make a difference in this life, right here in this community.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Isn’t that what it is all about? Building a community in which our children can return to find opportunity and quality of life.

Like every year, we have a tough choice to make, because the truth is all of the applicants deserve our support. And it’s not just the financial piece—as important as that is—it’s the mentoring and the connection to their hometown. When a community embraces its young people—looks them in the eyes and tells them that we love and cherish them and want to see them succeed it’s a powerful statement.

I’ve spent many years engaged in all sorts of economic development activities on a statewide, regional, county, city and neighborhood level. I’ve been involved with efforts relating to incentives and other tools commonly deployed to land jobs and investment. But while some of those efforts are worthwhile—and a few aren’t to be frank—I have concluded that the best economic development strategy is to nurture, develop, attract, grow and retain young talent.

That’s the best investment we can possibly make, because it pays off in so many ways.

When a community’s young people know the adults care about their future it sends a powerful and profound message. Dare 2 Be Great is but one effort, there are others. But even more is needed and that’s the investment we should be making.

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts…

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in 'paying it forward'

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in ‘paying it forward’

This is the time of year that the Dare 2 Be Great board pours over applications for scholarships.
It’s a humbling experience to read through the resumes and essays of these incredible young men and women.
Many of the essays are inspirational and more than a few are heartbreaking.
The common thread seems to be resilience. It just seems that some people are built by adversity. They succeed regardless of life’s circumstances and overcome hurdles. It’s almost as if they succeed because they are determined to live better lives.
These kids inspire me. I wish we could help them all. It breaks my heart that we can’t. We’ll keep you posted on the Class of ’16.

It’s a Miracle
Congratulations to the Miracle League of Palm Beach County which pulled off its first successful dinner on the diamond last week.
Julia and Jeff Kadel and their team of volunteers have done a remarkable job bringing the great game of baseball to kids who might not otherwise have an ability to play.
So good to see this wonderful non-profit grow and thrive. And I’m pleased to see Celsius, a company I’m involved with, step up and sponsor.

An Affair to Remember

We hope you’ll visit the Delray Affair this weekend.
The 54th annual event is a great chance to see friends and to adopt a rescue pet.
That’s right.
We’ve adopted two pets at the Affair over the years: Randy and Sophie.
Both little dogs enriched our families beyond words. We also hope the city doesn’t “fee” this event to death.

It’s Delray’s signature event, a tradition and helps our Chamber of Commerce stay healthy and more than ever this city needs a healthy chamber.

Hello Rhys, Goodbye Kim
We wish Tech Runway’s founding director Kim Gramm well on her new job in Texas.
Kim did a lot to put FAU’s ambitious project on the map.
She will be missed.

We are excited to see our Leadership Florida friend Rhys Williams step into the role of leading Tech Runway.

Thanks, Alyona

We’ll also miss Alyona Ushe well as she departs Delray’s innovative Arts Garage.
Alyona won’t be far away as she will continue to work her magic in Pompano Beach.
It’s not easy to start something and make it relevant. Alyona put the Arts Garage on the cultural map in South Florida creating buzz and staging lots of memorable shows and performances.
She made an impact.

They Dare 2 Be Great

Dare 2 Be Great supports promising Delray students with a goal of bringing them back home.

Dare 2 Be Great supports promising Delray students with a goal of bringing them back home.

About six years ago, I met Morgan Russell for breakfast at Christina’s in Pineapple Grove.

I hadn’t seen Morgan for a while, he had done a lot of investing in the Grove when I was on the city commission but after I termed out he moved to Colorado and while we kept in sporadic touch, I wasn’t really sure what he was up to when we sat down.

Delray had been good to Morgan and in turn he was good to Delray. He owned and operated some great real estate including a corner of US 1 and Linton Boulevard and the Esplanade in Pineapple Grove, a district he helped to pioneer back when the hordes were heading to Atlantic Avenue.

His signature project–co-developed with Scott Porten — was CityWalk, a gorgeous mixed use project that we had worked closely on to make happen. Imagine that, working closely with a real estate investor, what a concept. But I digress.

Now Morgan was back and anxious to pay it forward as they say.

He wanted to do something cool for Delray. So after some brainstorming we sketched out an idea. I know it sounds clichéd but its true– on a napkin we created Dare 2 Be Great.

The non-profit, which has virtually no overhead, sends great Delray students to college and provides mentoring services as well. In six years, we have supported well over 40 students and we are about to interview candidates for our class of 2016.

Our kids have gone to just about every state school and to places like Stanford, NYU, George Washington, Northwestern and the Savannah College of Art and Design. We have Dare Scholars in medical school and in the White House (a White House fellow, my mentee Ian Mellul).

It has been a spectacular experience. And the students we have met along the way are amazing, inspiring and every other positive adjective you can dream up.

The “human capital” in this city is nothing short of eye opening and remarkable. And I wish everybody could see what we see; because if our citizens could see the potential and the drive and the adversity our kids—Delray’s kids—overcome we’d have a better conversation in Delray about our future.

I’m all in on creating opportunity and quality of life for not only our current residents but our children as well. We need to be a city, county, state, nation and world that thinks about our future and feels an obligation to leave a better place for those who come next. It’s not about any single person’s vision of a village or personal drive times; it is about creating good opportunities for the next generation.

I think it begins with education and ends with good jobs, community, family, friends, spiritual life and quality of life. In order for our community to thrive we need all of those things and a bunch more too—including housing, health care, a quality environment, cultural opportunities and safe neighborhoods.

You can’t scrimp on any of those things—we have an obligation and a duty to be thinking long term.

Dare 2 Be Great is a bet on our future. From the beginning it was designed as an investment in Delray Beach. We believe that if we mentor and provide an education to kids who we believe can be game changers that they will come back home to a place they love and make us an even better community.

While we focus on kids who are succeeding and overcoming adversity, organizations like the Achievement Center, Milagro Center, the Miracle League and Delray Students First are working with kids in the midst of the struggle to overcome a dizzying array of challenges. As a community, we need to take a holistic approach and we need to find a way to scale programs that work so that we can break the cycle of poverty and build a city that cares, loves, nurtures and protects people while providing opportunity. It is important to note that as we interview these kids about growing up in Delray they all mention one program or another that helped them turn it around: the Teen Center, Youth Council, tennis lessons, the Criminal Justice Academy at Atlantic High, a class at Old School Square or volunteering at the Caring Kitchen. These programs aren’t frills they are life savers and investments.

Dare to Be Great is but one effort—there is so much more to do. But in six short years since we left that restaurant with a napkin and an idea we have touched lots of lives. We have seen kids grow and thrive and honestly we have seen a few who have struggled. We have exacting standards; we demand good grades and engagement with mentors. We insist on stellar citizenship and on paying it forward.

We have had a few difficult conversations with bright students who underachieved, but we feel it is an important lesson to impart—we won’t abandon you as people but in life you have to live up to the terms of your obligations or there are consequences.

Fortunately, most of our students make it; they exceed even our lofty expectations.

Some of our students come from solid homes, with two parents and lots of love and support. But many, probably most, come from difficult situations. Parents have died or been murdered, there is poverty, foreclosure, homelessness, drug abuse, crime and violence and yet they have overcome and succeeded. They are succeeding– in an odd way –because of the adversity, we have had many a young man and woman look us square in the eye and say they will do whatever it takes because they cannot live the way they are living and want to escape the lives of desperation lived by their parents and siblings.

Many came in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and despite not having money or even speaking the language within a few years they excelled in high school, worked multiple jobs and found time to volunteer in our community. We feel honored and privileged to help them realize their dreams of a college education.

Last year, we interviewed a very polite young man who had been homeless. He told us of not sleeping at night because he wanted to watch over his younger sister, afraid that if he slept, something might happen to her. In the morning, he would walk to school, where he got all A’s and after school he would take care of siblings. He had never been out to dinner at a restaurant in Delray, something most of us take for granted. But he was a great student, with a drive to succeed and a strong desire to break the cycle of poverty that had engulfed his family.

We were pleased to offer him a scholarship, assign him a mentor and yes –take him out for a meal in his own hometown. P.S. He is doing great at college. We adore this young man.

In a few weeks we will be interviewing a new class of potential scholars. We are currently sifting through applications as we speak. Our volunteer board and a few folks from the community will sit in on interviews that are sure to change their lives—but the goal is to change the lives of our kids in a positive way.

We struggle with many problems here at home and across the country and world. The news has become a veritable nightmare to watch, but the solutions to our many challenges are always people based.

We are helping to educate and mentor the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, professionals, volunteers, philanthropists, scientists and researchers…it is a small but meaningful effort because every one of these students are very special and will make a positive impact on Delray Beach and on our world.

A friend of mine tells me that in church they call this “ministry”. I’m here to say we need a lot more ministry and a lot less complaining. Ministry solves problems, complaining only makes them worse.

In a few weeks, I’ll introduce you to our new crop of Dare 2 Be Great Scholars—they are our children and they are our future.

 

 

Remembering

Jerrod Miller

Jerrod Miller

Eleven years ago today I got a call from the Police Department informing me that there was a fatal shooting outside a school dance in Delray Beach.

Jerrod Miller, 15, was shot and killed while driving his uncle’s car near a breezeway at the Full Service Center, in our southwest neighborhood. A rookie police officer pulled the trigger.

I was mayor at the time and had the spent the evening at Donald Trump’s Mar A Lago (who would have guessed about the Donald?) for a charity fundraiser. I left Palm Beach feeling on top of the world.

That feeling ended when the phone rang in the early morning hours. There is no playbook to reach for when a 15 year-old child is shot and killed by a police officer in America.

The shooting happened exactly 10 years before Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, way before Ferguson, Black Lives Matter and the volatile shooting in Chicago that has engulfed that city’s mayor and cost the police chief his job.

My daughter, now 26, was also 15 when Jerrod was killed. I think that may be why the loss affected me in a very deep and very personal way. I couldn’t imagine losing a child. There are still mornings when I wake up to image’s of Jerrod’s face from a dream.

Never let them tell you that being a small town mayor is an easy job.

I share this because it’s important to remember these types of events because they tend to shape who you are and what you become as a community. The incident—which was a tragedy for all involved—was remembered last year— the 10 year anniversary. But these critical events need to be remembered every year, because it’s important to do so.

History can be a great guide for your present and your future if you take the time to understand it.

The Commissioners I served with valued race relations and we were working on improving our dialogue before the shooting. I think our efforts and the huge strides made before we arrived—especially by our Police Department—helped us cope with a terrible tragedy without widespread violence and recrimination. The leadership of people like Elizabeth Wesley, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Pompey, Vera Farrington, Commissioner David Randolph, Zach Straghn, Evelyn Dobson, Pame Williams, Carolyn and Joe Gholston and many others also made a difference in our community. We had a deep reservoir of work, dialogue and progress to draw on when tragedy struck.

That does not mean that the situation wasn’t deeply painful or easy—I can assure you it wasn’t. But we never came apart as a community because there were relationships and efforts under way for years to address deep seated issues. And because we dug even deeper after Jerrod. We found that we shared a common love for our city and a common passion for improving the lives of all people in the village. So we talked, we met, we cried, we prayed and yes at times we argued–but we never wavered from a foundational commitment to each other and to Delray.

That commitment was not lip service, it was real. Significant dollars were spent in impoverished neighborhoods, programs were supported, strategies to help schools, families and children were not just talked about but were implemented. Community policing built bridges and made people feel safer in their homes and neighborhoods. It was a commitment–a covenant–and it went both ways because citizens were asked to volunteer, step up, lead and take risks and they did and it made a difference. There is never an end to this type of work. Nor should there be. But it’s about more than dollars, even though money and investment is important. It’s about relationships and building community. And it’s about trust and love.

That’s why we made it through, even though there was pain that words cannot describe.

Race has been America’s Achilles heel since our nation’s founding and it has been an issue in Delray for over 100 years.

Recently, there have been mentions of race and the Swinton dividing line on issues ranging from the design of Old School Square Park and where to direct CRA investment to the makeup of city boards and the staff, board and audience of the Arts Garage.

These are issues that need to be surfaced and understood—but the worst thing we can do is apply lipstick and declare victory.

When we started the Race Relations initiative as part of the Downtown Master Planning process it was meant as a long term initiative and this type of work needs to be considered as a long term commitment to fostering better relationships, more understanding and more opportunity.

I think Community Benefits Agreements are good in concept, but the true goal ought to be broad based, long lasting opportunity and prosperity. The only way to achieve that is to improve the capacity of the communities we are trying to lift up. You have to talk about developing human capital and we have a huge amount of it. Otherwise, it becomes about steering money to the politically connected few at the expense of the many.

Efforts like Delray Students First, Village Academy, Milagro Center, Dare 2 Be Great, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, the Achievement Center, Delray Library and yes Old School Square and Arts Garage are all valuable tools for growing capacity and developing human capital.

But there are gaps—we are in an entrepreneurial and technological age and we ought to be investing in programs that teach both—like Girls Who Code, Wyncode, General Assembly etc.

In addition, there are tools and programs to strengthen neighborhoods. We were once very active in Neighborhoods USA and worked with local foundations on leadership training and capacity building. These are valuable tools to help encourage and inspire current and future leaders.

If you don’t do these types of things, you end up with spray paint “solutions” that wash away when it rains—and it will rain.

Optics will not work over the long haul. The term implies that you are merely concerned with how things look. Nope. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. Your work has to be real and it has to be meaningful. And your commitment has to be long lasting.

You have to dig deep.

It has to be about love.

 

 

7 Traits Determine A Child’s Success

Author Paul Tough

Author Paul Tough

Paul Tough is an award winning journalist who believes he has found the 7 traits needed for children to succeed in school and in life.

I had a chance to see and meet Mr. Tough at the recent annual meeting of Leadership Florida, a statewide organization that has been involved in education for over 30 years.

Tough is the author of the best-selling book “How Children Succeed”. He did exhaustive research, interviewed dozens of experts, reviewed countless studies and spent a ton of time in a variety of school settings studying the personalities of kids who succeed.

He found that the following 7 traits were essential: zest (having passion), curiosity, self-control (ability to delay gratification), social intelligence (empathy), grit (resilience), gratitude and optimism.

It’s an amazing list when you think about it. Tough found that in wealthy communities and schools, oftentimes “helicopter” parents (those who hover over their children shielding them from life’s challenges and setbacks) aren’t doing their kids a favor. Over-protected children often don’t develop grit or self-control in a world that demands both. So when the inevitable hurdle is encountered, many of these kids crumble.

Consequently, some kids have it so tough—living in impoverished conditions or with a raft of social pathogens– that they need more nurturing in order to succeed in life.

I’ve been thinking about Tough’s talk, our brief conversation after his speech and his book since meeting him a few weeks back.

It’s hard to stop measuring whether friend’s, my own kids and myself have the traits he mentioned.

I also think that those traits (and others) determine whether people are good leaders and managers.

Think of an elected official and see whether he or she has passion, curiosity, social intelligence, grit or optimism. Do any of the aspirants for the White House possess all 7? Do your children? Do you?

When I take Tough’s research and apply his thinking to the local level, it sparks all sorts of ideas.

Boca Raton has an incredible public school system—“A” rated schools everywhere you look, with involved parents and well-funded PTA’s providing the extras. But in some of these wealthier enclaves are our children learning to be resilient? How can we allow them to fail occasionally, scrape their knees, learn and be stronger for the experience?

Recently, I wrote about a Bar Mitzvah I attended in Milwaukee. At the service, my friend gave a speech in which he told his son that it was OK to experiment and to fail and I thought that was an amazing gift.

In the book Start-Up Nation which chronicles Israel’s amazing entrepreneurial culture, investors view failure as a rite of passage, a way to build resilience and learning. Many won’t invest in an entrepreneur until they have failed, figuring you learn more from your defeats than your victories.

In Delray, our foundation Dare 2 Be Great works with children who often have all 7 traits, in abundance. Many of them have overcome brutal poverty, violence, family substance abuse and other dysfunction. We are there to provide them with the last bit of help they need, some money for school and mentoring. But after reading Tough’s book, I wonder about those left behind.

My friend, Mark Sauer, has a non-profit called Delray Students First, that provides the nurturing and intervention that many of these kids need. It reminds me of what Wayne Barton has done with his non-profit in Boca. Yes, there are children in Boca with needs.

Often, when we focus on our cities we fixate on development and on numbers: how high, how dense, how many trips generated etc. etc. And it’s important, those numbers are the starting point of a good conversation, but they are only a starting point.

When we talk about economic development, we often talk about incentives and “big game” hunting…how do we get the giant corporate headquarters to come to town? But the best economic development we can do is to invest in people. It’s called human capital.

We teach to the test in this state and in many others. But how do we develop children with zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, self-control, curiosity and grit?
That’s the conversation we should be having as a society.

Read the book, it’s compelling.

http://www.paultough.com/the-books/how-children-succeed/

 

If You Could See What We See

Dare 2 Be Great supports promising Delray students with a goal of bringing them back home.

Dare 2 Be Great supports promising Delray students with a goal of bringing them back home.

We just came off an election in which development was the main issue.

The level of debate that we had will be the subject of a future blog, but when we think of development in Delray Beach or Boca Raton we would be foolish to limit our discussion to height, density and traffic.

We ought to be talking about human development and how we can develop young people and create more opportunities for our children and grandchildren. If you want to create a sustainable village, invest in young people. Fortunately, we have a number of worthy efforts to get behind.

Today, I want to tell you about Dare 2 Be Great.

About five years ago, I reconnected with Morgan Russell, an early investor in Pineapple Grove over breakfast at Christina’s.

I met Morgan early in my tenure on the City Commission and while most business people were focusing on Atlantic Avenue, Morgan had his eye on Pineapple Grove, a neighborhood just north of “the ave”.

Morgan lived in the Grove so that he could better understand its rhythms and nuances. He thought it could be a special type of neighborhood but he wanted to make sure that his investments would be made in “the path of progress.”  So one day we met and he looked me in the eye and asked if we were really serious about beautifying Pineapple Grove. I assured him that we were. It would be a public private effort, with the CRA, city and property owners splitting the costs. Morgan invested, along with others, and we did our part and Pineapple Grove blossomed.

So when we sat down years later—after losing touch for a bit of time—Morgan was determined to give back. But he wanted his philanthropy to be an investment in Delray Beach’s future and on a napkin we sketched out a plan to create the Dare 2 Be Great Foundation. We recruited a stellar board of directors and over the next four years we invested in local kids by sending them to college and providing mentoring opportunities. It has been a remarkable experience for all involved.

Along the way, we expanded our reach thanks to a generous donation from Carl DeSantis and a new partnership with Florida Atlantic University. As a result, we are able to help more young men and women.

Last week, we spent two days interviewing finalists for scholarships. Our criteria are simple; we want to support and mentor the next generation of leaders in Delray Beach. Scholars must live in Delray, have a 3.0 gpa, substantial community service and a desire to come back home and pay it forward. As long as they maintain their grades in college, we commit to them for four years and informally do all we can to open doors for them when they graduate.

The best part of the program for me is the interviews. After we pour through applications and essays, we invite the stand outs to meet the board so we can get a sense of who they are. This year we invited a few others outside the board to sit in. They too, were blown away by the talent in this community.

The interviews are always emotional; there are tears when we hear their stories and also laughter and joy when these remarkable young men and women share who they are and what they want to be.

We hear amazing stories of young people overcoming crushing poverty, family dysfunction, violence, peer pressure, racial tension and health issues to become remarkable people. This year, we interviewed kids who lost their parents to murder and illness and a young man who was homeless and walked six miles to school in order to “change my situation.” His mother told him books were the way out and he listened.

These are young people who don’t succumb to their problems, but succeed in a miraculous way, because of them. All are determined to better their lives and are motivated by their difficult circumstances to succeed through the power of education.  Not all of our scholars come from difficult circumstances, but most do. We are looking to help those who we believe have the potential to be extraordinary contributors to our community. As such, this is an investment in Delray Beach. A bet on kids, who dare to be great.

As a result, we ask them about their lives here and whether they are interested in coming back after they complete their studies. We should be proud to know that these incredible kids love our city and are passionate about coming back home and making a difference.

Whether they live in stable homes or homes that are rife with problems they have a common love for Delray Beach and a common pride as well.

They talk about enjoying the beach and the “ave” and others talk about loving their neighborhoods even though,  remarkably some have never been to the beach or to a restaurant downtown.

When the City Commission goes into budget sessions this year, they ought to know that programs put in place by prior commission’s changed lives– literally transformed lives –and that the money devoted to programs such as Eagle Nest, The Youth Council, Delray Center for the Arts, The Arts Garage and afterschool and summer programs touched a whole bunch of amazing and beautiful children.

We interviewed a young artist who was inspired by Delray’s many arts events and festivals. We talked to an amazing young man who found a passion for construction thanks to his work at the Eagle Nest, a city/CRA program.

In years past, we have interviewed kids who were inspired by the Criminal Justice Program at Atlantic High which is staffed by our police officers and this year we talked to a brilliant young mathematician who dreams of coming back home to be a professor/researcher at FAU and who aspires to teach other kids how to love math.

Every year, after we get done interviewing and drying our eyes, the board has the same three conclusions.

  • We wish everybody in Delray can see what we are seeing. The beauty of our diversity, the quality of our kids and the potential that radiates from them when they walk into a room.
  • We wish everybody can see the civic pride they exhibit regardless of their circumstances. They love this town and they want to come back and help and we owe it to them to build a city of opportunities so that’s its possible for them to be here. We need to grow beyond food and beverage; wonderful industries but we need more. Their aspirations need to be a part of our discussion over the future of our city. These are our children.
  • We can’t help them all. And we struggle with some very hard decisions. We need to grow this program and we need to touch more lives. We need more people to invest in the next generation. The return on investment simply cannot be measured. P.S. We have virtually no administrative costs. And yes it does take a village so your help is needed.

Please consider getting involved. There is no better way to impact Delray than to invest in kids, especially kids who dare to do great things with their lives.

 

 

 

Daring To Create A Village

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in 'paying it forward'

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in ‘paying it forward’

About four years ago,  I met Morgan Russell for breakfast at Christina’s in Pineapple Grove.

Morgan was a long time investor and believer in Delray Beach and I got to know him when I served on the Delray City Commission.

Pineapple Grove was a far cry from what we see there today and the first time I met with Morgan he looked me in the eye and asked if we were serious about a public/private partnership to beautify the Grove. I said absolutely.

Morgan was referring to a plan to add a streetscape, landscaping and lighting to Second Avenue. The project would be paid for by property owners, the city and CRA. The investment, coupled with the hard work and vision of Pineapple Grove volunteers, transformed the area. Morgan bet big, investing in real estate projects and the Esplanade shopping center  in Pineapple Grove when most others were flocking to East Atlantic Avenue.  He moved to an apartment above some shops on Second Avenue so he could better understand the rhythms of the street and the nuances of the neighborhood.

His investment in Pineapple Grove did very well.

So when we sat down for breakfast back in 2010, he was grateful for his good fortune. Morgan says he has been lucky. I call him smart.

He wanted to invest again in Delray Beach by giving back to a place that was very good to him. On a napkin, we created Dare 2 Be Great and added a stellar board of directors and a terrific group of mentors.

In a nutshell, D2BG is a non-profit that awards scholarships and provides mentoring to Delray Beach students who want to go to college and come back to enrich Delray; either by launching their career here or paying it forward as we like to say. We look for kids who we feel exhibit greatness and have that intangible spark. We are looking for more than just good grades and a solid resume of community involvement.

Most are students who have overcome great adversity to excel. Challenges range from poverty and family dysfunction and illness to personal challenges so great that nobody gets through our interviewing process without tears. The stories are so touching, the kids so amazing, we are simply in awe of their strength, resilience and potential.

Most of them grew up here, a few came from Haiti (some after the quake)  and through hard work and resolve have managed to put themselves in a position to succeed—if we as a community can help them. And we are.

We often talk about being a village, but being a village is way more than whether or not you allow a 60 foot building or a 54 foot building. It’s about more than setbacks and density and parking calculations and all the others stuff us adults get hung up on.

Talk to kids who grew up in Delray and have gone away to school and ask them what they are concerned about and they’ll tell you that they care about jobs, opportunities and living in a place that has things to do.

They also talk about living in a community that cares. Really cares, not through  lip service, but by actions.

We have interviewed dozens of kids over the past four years and if there’s a common theme it is this:

They like Delray Beach. Many would like to return after college to live here. Most are concerned that unless they are going into a service profession that the opportunities to come back are limited. And most have a positive feeling about their town because of a city program or effort that touched them in some way.

Whether it was an art or photography class at the Delray Center for the Performing Arts that spurred Stephanie Brown and Maria Gracia to pursue careers in the arts or the Youth Council that spurred Ian Mellul to want to become an elected  official (future president? Don’t bet against it) or the Criminal Justice Career Academy at Atlantic High (generously supported by our superb police department) that inspired Joseph Elisma to apply to become a Delray officer, these kids—our kids—were touched by something supported by our community.

Those programs—Explorer Posts, Boy Scout Huts, Youth Councils, Sister Cities, arts classes, summer reading initiatives, early childhood efforts, partnerships with local schools, businesses and non-profits are what makes us a village. At least in the eyes of our children.

They understand that it’s  all about people.

Caring about people.

Helping people.

Looking out for our neighbors.

Creating a city of opportunities for existing residents, our kids and our grandchildren.

Dare 2 Be Great was our answer to how can we invest in the future of Delray Beach. There are other approaches and worthwhile programs in Delray Beach too.

As we approach the holiday season and the New Year, please consider what we can do to touch others in our great city. Happy holidays…see you after the New Year.

Five Efforts to Watch in Boca-Delray

Dennis Max's newest creation: One of five things to watch

Dennis Max’s newest creation: One of five things to watch

One thing we can comfortably say about Boca Raton and Delray Beach: it’s never boring.

Here are five efforts to keep a close eye on. All are interesting and all have the potential to be very influential developments for Boca-Delray

Med U Tech

Med U Tech stands for—medicine, universities and technology– the three pillars that built modern day Boca Raton. Med U Tech is a platform to build and strengthen Boca’s brand by leveraging existing assets and encouraging collaboration between hospitals, universities and tech companies. Each year, the Boca Resort & Club hosts a major Med U Tech conference that attracts movers and shakers from companies large and small. The most recent collaborations are highlighted in a special section of the South Florida Business Journal that is distributed in several other markets—the better to spread Boca’s brand as an innovative and entrepreneurial community. Visit www.medutech.org  to get involved.

StartUp Delray

StartUp Delray—a brand new effort launched by Delray’s Irene Revelas,  StartUp Delray is an effort to spotlight entrepreneurs in Delray by hosting events, meet ups, demo’s and other activities to nurture the fledgling entrepreneurial community that is quickly taking shape in Delray Beach. From “maker” events to fun “pitch” sessions StartUp Delray is a virtual organization that exists to partner and collaborate with the vibrant entrepreneurial scene taking root in South Florida. Follow @startupDelray on twitter.

Max’s Fresh

Max’s Fresh—Veteran Boca and Delray restaurateur Dennis Max’s newest concept is still in the planning stages, but if we know Dennis it will be special and transformative. Rumor has it that Dennis and the Max Group are planning to scale this concept into a possible national chain or franchise. Fresh food fast and healthy—coming soon and hatched right here in Boca.  Stay tuned.

Dare to Be Great

Dare to Be Great—This Delray Beach non-profit foundation www.dare2begreat.org identifies, mentors and supports via scholarships students that dare to make a difference and have the potential to dramatically improve Delray Beach. To date, about 15 scholars are attending college with the support of the foundation. Their promise: to come home and do great things in Delray Beach.

Delray CRA properties

For years, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has patiently acquired key parcels in downtown Delray Beach that are now being marketed to developers. The goal: redevelop the land, stimulate the economy, create jobs and take Delray Beach to the next level.

Among the key parcels that are soon to be awarded: the old library piece on U.S. 1 just south of Atlantic Avenue and several pieces of land that have been assembled on West Atlantic Avenue, just east of I-95.

Rumored to be in the mix: retail, office, entertainment and hotel uses.

For more information visit www.delraycra.org