A Helping Hand

An army of volunteers helping others.

The first thing you notice when you enter the doors of Boca Helping Hands is the hustle and bustle.

Everywhere you look there are volunteers rushing about. It’s a Thursday and Boca Helping Hands is getting ready to serve hot meals to a growing line of people idling in their cars waiting for their dinner and a shopping bag full of carefully curated foods.

It’s a stunning sight to see—at once heartening and sobering. These are working people—our friends, neighbors, maybe even our co-workers who struggle to make ends meet in 2024 South Florida.

There’s a new term—at least to my ears—to describe these people: ALICE which stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. Many have several jobs to make ends meet. They struggle with housing, food costs, bills, and insurance. An unexpected expense can upend their world.

So, while it is encouraging to see the community respond, it is also heartbreaking to see the struggle. We have become a very expensive place to live.

Boca Helping Hands is on the front lines of this daily slog. While the name says Boca, the organization’s reach extends to central Palm Beach County including cities such as Delray Beach, Lantana and Lake Worth Beach.

Boca Helping Hands is a 25-year-old nonprofit that has become one of the largest service providers in South Florida serving almost 35,000 people a year. There are 23 staff members and more than 300 volunteers. The board is an impressive list of local business leaders led by Chairman Gary Peters, a retired securities executive whose family foundation has given generously to the nonprofit for years.

We’re proud to announce that the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation has decided to help the cause with a $75,000 grant to expand an existing job training program.

The program speaks loudly to our philosophy of providing a “hand up, not a handout.” Our founder Carl Desantis believed in helping people find a sustainable path in life. Mr. D believed in education and training that could lift people to a better station in life.

The Boca Helping Hands Job Training Program (JTP) works with community partners to provide adult workforce training for unemployed and underemployed adults.

The program takes a holistic approach to their clientele identifying barriers to employment and providing mentoring, training, certifications and needed support to find and secure employment.

The program is run in three phrases starting with an assessment of individual needs followed by vocational training in one of 11 “in demand careers” and culminating in on-site or virtual mentoring to make sure clients stay employed.

Boca Helping Hands works closely with local workforce development programs, colleges, universities, and social service providers to make sure that programs are current and lead to employment. Clients receive help with food security issues, housing, and general well-being issues.

Boca Helping Hands invests in people and all that goes with that investment: care goes into making sure that issues like childcare, transportation and the ‘hiccups’ of life don’t derail the opportunity for a better life.

Careers include: commercial driver’s (starting salaries $60K), electrician, plumbers, HVAC repair, medical billing, and certified nursing assistants.

Since 2020, the program has helped 213 clients gain the skills they need to escape poverty.

The program is supported by others local partners including the Jim Moran Foundation, United Way of Palm Beach, and individual donors. There is a broad base of support.

During our visit, we met with Executive Director Greg Hazle, Director of Development Steve King and Director of Career Development Trina Chin Cheong. We also met with board member Dr. Sarah Lochner, a physician. We were impressed with their commitment and the smart design behind their training program.

The program is designed to make sure students succeed. They provide a lot of handholding and counseling to ensure success. The numbers back it up. And while the handholding may sound like a lot of work, it’s needed to ensure success. Life happens and there needs to be a plan to help people navigate the issues they encounter on the path to a better future.

If you can trade $15 an hour into a job paying $55K plus a year it makes a difference. It’s not an answer to all problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. Investments in programs that change lives is always worthwhile.





Michael Singer, a legendary sculptor and landscape architect, died last month at his home in Delray Beach.

Mr. Singer was so prominent that he earned a lengthy obituary in the New York Times, a rare honor.

I got to know Mr. Singer a little bit while serving on the City Commission from 2000-07. Michael would send me frequent emails, usually to weigh in on design and historic preservation.

The last time I saw him was a few years ago when we met for lunch with his partner Jason Bregman to discuss a project on Congress Avenue. Michael and Jason shared their work across the country, all of it remarkable. The firm had commissions in NYC, Denver International Airport, and a recycling center in Phoenix. Although we never had a chance to formally work together, I sure wish we had.

From his NYT obit: “Mr. Singer was often characterized as a landscape architect, and an accomplished one at that…But in fact he was an artist, one who saw his medium, and his ambition, in expansive yet humble terms, with work that attempted to remediate humanity’s disruption of the natural world.”

I highly recommend you take a look at the full obituary. Here’s a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/04/arts/design/michael-singer-dead.html

The piece includes photos of Michael’s work. What a talent. May he rest in peace.

Father and Son

Close readers of this blog know I cherish old friends.

One of those friends lost his dad last week. Ron Willemstyn was a great guy and I have a ton of fond memories of spending hours and hours hanging out with his son Ben at his house in the “S” section in Stony Brook, N.Y.

Mr. Willemstyn worked for Grolsch beer, a premium brand known for their “swing top” bottles.

In his garage, he had a large collection of Grolsch and I wouldn’t be honest if I said we didn’t sample from the cache a time or two. The sophisticated taste was lost on our underage taste buds. We also spent our fair share of time trying to flick the “swing top” bottles open with one smooth move.

Ben could do it. I never could.

Those same bottles now sell for between $12 and $60 on ebay. They were cool and unique.

Mr. Willemstyn was much sharper than we were. He knew when we went astray. He had a humorous way of paying Ben back for any indiscretions—beer or otherwise. He would sneak into Ben’s room before daybreak after an especially rough night and wake Ben for some early morning physical chores. We got away with nothing, which is a good lesson. You pay when you play.

Later in life, Mr. Willemstyn lived in Port St. Lucie. He made frequent sojourns to Delray to sample the restaurants.

Mr. W was a great guy. He will be missed.


Bob Graham…

We lost Bob Graham last week at the age of 87.

The former Senator and Florida governor was someone I deeply admired.

I had two “encounters” with Senator Graham.

A number of years ago, we were on the same commuter plane from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale.

I saw the Senator when I boarded and said hello. Although we had met briefly a few times, I doubt remembered me, but he acted as if we were old friends.

When we got to Fort Lauderdale, we were greeted by police and K-9’s and asked to stand on the tarmac while the dogs sniffed our bags. Nothing was found. I don’t know what it was about, but I have a picture somewhere of one Florida’s greatest governors being given the once over by a large German Shepherd.

The second memory is a more positive one.

A few years back, I had a chance to see Governor Graham and former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence in conversation on stage at a Leadership Florida event. Seeing these two civic giants share stories, talk about the past, present and future was something I will never forget.

These are men of substance. Last week, we talked about long term players and I got to share my thoughts about Mayor David Schmidt and so I was in that mode of thinking about the difference people with gravitas can make in our world when I heard the news.

Bob Graham was one of those special people who brought intellect, class, dignity and intellectual rigor to the public square. In a world where the lightweights and haters often steal the spotlight, I remain thankful for those who transcend and transform.


Speaking of someone who transformed…

On April 28, the public is invited to attend a monument unveiling honoring Alfred “Zack” Straghn at 4 p.m. at the Delray Beach Pavilion on A1A near Atlantic Avenue.

If you want to join a processional to the event, please go to the Libby Wesley Amphitheater on West Atlantic Avenue at 3 p.m. for a walk to the beach.

The walk is symbolic because the late Mr. Straghn was a key figure who opened our beach to Black citizens.

A committee, led by retired fire chief Kerry Koen, raised the funds for the monument. I was privileged to be on the committee. It was a labor of love for all of us, but Kerry was the driving force.

The two men shared a unique and valuable friendship when Kerry led our Fire Department and Zack was running a local funeral home.

Mr. Straghn was a lifelong mentor to countless community leaders, a wonderful man, and a great contributor to our city. It is fitting that his contributions will be memorialized.

When Mr. Straghn passed in 2020, I wrote this. Check it out if you want to learn more about this civic treasure. https://yourdelrayboca.com/?s=Straghn


  1. Robert Wieder says

    FATHER and SON ll….

    Gary Peters and his son Greg Peters are both 💯 % committed to helping people that could use a helping hand.

    Boca Helping Hands is an amazing group of local people that continually GIVE BACK.

    Father and son get the job done when people need it most…
    Day after day….
    Bravo GP and Greg Peters….
    Wonderful caring people.

    Happy Passover Jeff Perlman and family.
    Bobby D

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