Heroes Change Lives

Delray Students First is a local non-profit that is changing the lives of young people.

 

Mark Sauer is one of my local heroes.

The founder and visionary behind Delray Students First has a passionate desire to help young people break the cycle of poverty so they can find a better life. We are blessed that he landed in Delray and has decided to put his considerable talents, abilities and passions into changing the lives of our young men and women. After a long and successful career at the top of the sports and corporate worlds (past president of the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Blues), Mark has immersed himself in our community. Thank goodness.

One of those lucky folks who landed in Mark’s orbit was Delray’s own Tre’Quan Smith, a University of Central Florida wide receiver who was drafted in the third round by the New Orleans Saints this year.

Smith is currently experiencing his first NFL training camp training under the watchful eye of disciplinarian coach Sean Payton.

So imagine the delight when we got an email last week from Mark directing us to the New Orleans Saints website  http://(https://www.neworleanssaints.com/video/afternoon-wrap-for-monday-july-30) where we caught a first glimpse of Tre’Quan doing his thing which is basically catching everything thrown his way by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.

The Saints are absolutely over the moon with Tre’Quan’s early performance—although Coach Payton sticks to the script with some cautious words of what he needs to improve. But based on what we know about Tre’Quan Smith, we can rest assured that he will do what needs to be done to make the most of this shot at the NFL.

Now my friend Mark Sauer will never say it because he’s humble and kind, but there are many young people like Tre’ Quan who have a shot at a good life because of the efforts of Mark and his talented team at Delray Students First.

The organization provides tutoring and mentoring to talented young people who need a dose of caring and love in order to succeed.

These are the type of efforts that change lives and communities. Mark and his lovely wife refer to Tre’Quan as a son—and that love, caring, attention and help has made all the difference.

There is a very good chance that Tre’Quan can have a successful career in the NFL. He’s talented, hardworking and hungry. If you watch the video you won’t see over confidence despite a strong early camp. What you will see is a humble young man who is dedicated to getting better, who is anxious to dive into the complex playbook so he can make the most of a unique opportunity that a whole bunch of people have worked hard to make happen.

While Tre’Quan gets the ink and is the most vivid story of Delray Students First’s success, he is not the only example of a life made better thanks to the efforts of an organization and its supporters.

Delray Students First empowers high school students in Delray Beach to reach their potential…We love that word empower. Because this program asks a lot of its students. They have to put in the work. They have to study, avoid temptation and work hard. If they do, there is a community of caring professionals and volunteers who will help them achieve.

But it does take a village and so Mark is an evangelist in search of resources. So if you happen to be looking for a great cause driven by great people—look no further. Delray Students First changes lives.

 

 

Things We Loved In March (with one exception)

March Madness ends in April. Our prediction: Villanova.

 

March was a great month.

Glorious weather, lots of things happening: St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Flora Exhibit at Old School Square, March for Our Lives etc.

Here’s what caught our eye:

Students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School joining Hamilton Star Mandy Gonzalez onstage of the Crest Theatre at Old School Square.
Our friend and local hero Joe Gillie described the event beautifully on Facebook: “This is why Old School Square is here.” Yes indeed. Preach Joe!

Receiving a text message from another of my heroes Bill Wood. Trust me, it’s a thrill. Ask him to text you and you’ll see why.

The Dr. Zhivago drink at Che with some empanadas of course. A truly great spot on the Intracoastal in Delray; especially at sunset.

Blowing off steam at the Silverball Museum in Delray. Pick up the Delray Newspaper and check out the back page for special offers.

Elections! Ok I’m kidding. Just checking to see if your paying attention.

My sister in law Maria’s artichoke chicken (which sadly returned to Pittsburgh).

Texting with Marisa Herman and Scott Porten and watching Scott fall behind as the lightning fingers of Marisa and the quick wit of a certain middle age blogger engulfs him in speed and humor.

Bagels from Bagels With. Also, Bagel with A Schmear, where the owners are beyond nice.

Dinner at Grato in West Palm. Worth the drive from Boca and Delray. Don’t miss the cauliflower side dish.

Kibitzing with the deli crew at Fresh Market.

Seeing Celsius on the shelf at Fresh Market. (Shameless plug number one).

Watching a Miami Heat game and seeing a Tabanero hot sauce ad. We are the official hot sauce of the Heat. (Shameless plug number two).

The weather.

Spending time with and texting with Old School Square founder Frances Bourque.

Voting alongside Jim Nolan. Well known Delray raconteur.

Seeing the Persily’s. Great people.

Visiting with Sandy Tobias and Cathy Weil from the Seagate at The Hamlet.

Name checking Pame Williams.

March Madness brackets and rooting for Syracuse along with Deborah Dowd.

Jen Costello turning 50! Where oh where did the years go? Then again her boys are now a foot taller than I am.

March fact: Delray Beach’s mean credit score is 719, ranking the city 734th in America and in the 71st percentile of cities in terms of credit. Boca’s mean credit score is 722, putting the city in the 76th percentile and ranking the city number 620.
Number one ranked: The Villages, Florida at 807. The  worst credit scores can be found in Camden, NJ at 541.  Stats were compiled by Wallet Hub.

A trip to the Miami Open on picturesque Key Biscayne. The event is moving next year to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens after 32 years at Crandon Park. The move has many locals sad, all the more reason we should keep the Delray Open and stop wasting taxpayer money on a lawsuit that had to be amended by a lame duck commission—an admission that their costly politically motivated suit was on shaky ground. Enough already. (Sorry, couldn’t contain the rant).

Lunch with Mark Sauer at the Cuban Cafe…he’s inspiring. So is his Delray Students First.

Until next month…be safe.

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.

 

 

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/