Two Paths

The guy on the left is a CPA, the dog on the right is a Certified Party Animal.

My son earned his CPA recently.

It’s a proud moment. He has worked so hard.

When Ben went down this road, I didn’t really have an appreciation of how hard it is to pursue a degree and a career in public accounting.

But I quickly learned that accounting is an immensely taxing discipline—pun very much intended.

Earning an accounting degree from the University of Florida and later a master’s at FAU required a huge commitment. Luckily, Ben’s experience at Atlantic High School’s IB program prepared him for the copious amount of studying it takes to make it through.

It was a far cry from my experience at SUNY Oswego in the 80s where studying took a back seat to going to the tavern with my buddies.

When given the choice between the library and pitchers of Genesee Cream Ale, well let’s just say the Dewey Decimal System didn’t stand a chance. I had a group of entertaining friends who went by names like “Tank” and “Large Guy.” There was a kid from Utica who had a blank stare and never said a word and there was a guy who looked like Bob Denver from Gilligan’s Island. I think the quiet guy became an accountant.

Large Guy never went to class, and I found that…well… I didn’t really give it a thought.

My day of classes would be ending, and I would be coming back to my dorm room when I would see him in a robe paddling down the hallway on the way to the showers. He was just waking up when my day of classes were ending.

One year, when my friend Scott and I had a late final before Christmas break, we wandered back to the dorm after our test. It was dark and cold and windy, because it was Oswego and it was always dark, cold and windy.

We no longer lived in the dorm, but we went back to our old floor in Hart Hall for something. We saw Large Guy sitting in the TV lounge, alone in the dark, watching a small black and white television.

He had nowhere to go. It was a pathetic site. We took pity on him and invited him to our off-campus house because we knew the dorms would be closing and we weren’t sure where he would end up.

It was an early act of mercy, not common when you’re a young man focused on things like 10-cent wings and Monday Night Football.

We felt good about our benevolence for about two minutes which is when Large Guy got on our nerves on the long walk from campus to our house on a dark, cold, and windy Oswego night.

I graduated with a degree in political science, which was a decent background for my first career in journalism. But I have to say that my son’s focus on a profession was smarter than my haphazard approach to my formal education.

I’ve learned a lot after leaving school. I’ve had to learn on the fly, reinvent a few times and fake it till I made it more times than I can count.

It’s been exhausting.

I have zero complaints and things have certainly worked out for me. I’m a grateful guy but my son is taking the smarter path.

He’s building the scaffolding first. He’s made the investment and he’s paid his dues. Now he can go anywhere knowing he has that scaffolding beneath him. I wonder what that’s like.

Accountants get a bad rap in our society. They are often the butt of jokes about being boring. But I’ve noticed that many CEO’s have a background in accounting.

They may not have stayed in the profession, but they parlayed their expertise to lead companies and they will often credit their success to the knowledge they gained studying accounting.

Lately, there has been a lot of anxiety over Artificial Intelligence and its potential to possibly replace humans in a variety of fields; accounting being one of those endeavors.

That may be true, but I have to think that the human touch will never go out of style.

At least I hope it won’t.

I’m here to make a case for people over machines. For face-to-face interactions over screens.

Give me a town hall meeting over a social media page and a doctor’s visit over telemedicine. Oh, I get the convenience of computers, but we must never give our entire selves over to bits and bytes.

Recently, I listened to an audiobook on Spotify for the first time. I chose Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new book “Be Useful” because I like Arnold and because it was short. I also love his accent. I’ve been talking to the dogs in my Arnold “Terminator” voice for the past week. “I’ll be back,” I tell them when I leave for the office in the morning.

The book was pretty good—Arnold said a whole lot that I agreed with, and he said some things that made me want to debate him. That’s a good thing. He challenged my thinking.

Arnold repeated over and over that he was not a “self-made” man. He generously credits a slew of mentors who helped him achieve success in bodybuilding, Hollywood, politics, and philanthropy.

I love that he shared his gratitude for those who lent a helping hand to him along the way. Too many famous people subscribe to the “I’m a genius” mindset and that’s why I made it. But we all know that success is a team sport.

And so, Arnold urges us to find mentors and to mentor others. In the age of selfies, we need to look beyond ourselves and connect with others. And that is not only good advice for a happy life, but also a guarantee that we won’t just look to ChatGPT to write all of life’s essays.

So, I agreed with Arnold on that major theme of the book. But I did think he was a little hard on formal education, particularly college. Yes, going to a university can be expensive and student loan debt is a real burden. But there is something to be said about spending a few years learning to live on your own. It’s valuable to spend some time letting your mind wander by taking courses in history, philosophy and in my case creative writing (the only course I ever failed). And there’s certainly value in prepping for a profession such as accounting. Higher education is a place for both exploring and digging deep.

I did one of those…I explored. And I’ve been exploring ever since. My son did both—he had fun and he went deep and developed a skill. I think he made the right decision. We are so proud of him.

Mike Wigderson

We lost retired Delray Fire Rescue Assistant Michael Wigderson last week. It’s a big loss.

Chief Wigderson was a wonderful man, a believer in Delray Beach and a major contributor to our community.

He was a big reason why we have the very best Fire Department in the state, and he worked extremely well for a long time with Chief Kerry Koen.

When I learned of Mike’s passing, I reached out to Kerry who shared a few stories of Mike’s can-do spirit, his positivity, and his unwavering commitment to Delray.

Chief Wigderson was very involved in St. Vincent’s Church and quietly helped so many people in our community when they needed it most.

We’ve lost a wonderful man.

This has been a very difficult year for our Fire Department with the loss of five (that I can count) key contributors.

When all is said and done, life is a “people business.” If we’re lucky we attract good people who devote their lives to a cause, a community or an endeavor that enriches others.

Mike was a good man. And Delray was lucky to have him. So lucky.

We wish Sue and his family peace during this difficult time. May his memory be a blessing.

My Generation

As this pandemic goes on and on, I’ve been struck with a recurring thought: I’m so glad I grew up when I did.

I’m a child of the 70s and 80s which means a few things.
I grew up with great music.
I experienced drive ins.
I saw ET, Rocky, Jaws and Animal House in the theater.
I remember watching the Watergate hearings on TV and saw elected leaders put their country over their party. Can you imagine that?
We watched Walter Cronkite every night, read an actual newspaper every day and believed what we heard and read. Why? Because it was true.
My friends and I played outside until it got dark. My parents didn’t feel a need to hover, they knew my sister and I were safe in our neighborhood.
We knew our neighbors, every single family on the block, and we looked out for one another.

I remember when a neighbor’s house caught on fire and we stood on the lawn watching the blaze and were scared that the house may burn to the ground and that our friends would be forced to move away. We cared for each other genuinely.
As pre-teens we roamed the mall, soon to be a relic of the past, visited bookstores (remember those) and saved our money to buy record albums (vinyl!) and baseball cards.
We didn’t keep the cards in pristine condition or look at them like investments.  We flipped them, traded them, put them in the spokes of our bicycles and memorized the stats on the back. We even chewed the bubble gum inside the packs even though it tasted like cardboard—dusty cardboard.

We took the Long Island Railroad to the city and wandered Manhattan and saw some things that… well …helped us grow up.
We bought old cars for little money. Rusty Mustangs and Cougars and we even managed to appreciate the unique design of the AMC Pacer—which in our optimistic eyes looked like a short squat Porsche.
We went to dances, proms, comedy clubs and Broadway shows which were affordable back then.
We went to Shea and Yankee Stadium and truly believed that the “Magic was Back.”  (It wasn’t).
Our friend’s mom worked as a store nurse for Macy’s (do they have those anymore—store nurses that is, Macy’s seems on the way out too) and she made sure to reserve us concert tickets which were $8 back then.

We saw Billy Joel, The Doobie Brothers, Styx, Aerosmith and a slew of other classic bands. We once slept outside to get tickets to see The Police at Shea Stadium only to get seats just below heaven. We didn’t care, we were there and that’s what mattered.
We had fake ID’s and we snuck into bars and it felt exciting. We could get caught. But we never did. And every time we got past the burly bouncer we saw another kid that we knew wasn’t quite of age.
We spent hours shooting hoops, throwing around a baseball or a football and trying to hit a spaldeen ball with a stickball bat over the roof of the neighbor’s house.
We listened to music, shared pizza and talked about what we were going to do with our lives.
There were no texts, no social media, no Tik Tok videos but we did have MTV when the station actually played music.
Can you imagine?
Last night, I shared 90 minutes of Zoom laughs with five guys who were there for it all.

Dave, who biked to my house to trade baseball cards when he was five and I was six. We’ve been friends ever since.

Joe, whose dad owned the pizza place with the best thin slices. New York style.
Greg, who drove a Dodge Dart Swinger and was our designated driver.
Scott, the Mets and Giants fan, who could hit the ball over the roof.
And Howie, whose mother was the store nurse and who had an older sister who would drive us around and talk sports with us. She would later become a famous pioneering sports journalist at ESPN. But to us she was the cool older sister with the driver’s license who thought we were funny.
When we speak via Zoom these days we gather from Southern California, Northern Virginia, New Jersey, Raleigh, N. C., South Florida and Stony Brook, N.Y.
Our conversation these days is focused on current events and we argue—politely. But those arguments always end with “hey, I still love you guys” which could be a lesson for all of us.
And we do.
There’s too much history and too much in front of us to ever walk away from each other over how we differ in our views of a virus.
I see the men these guys have become—all successful in their own ways every time we talk.
But I still see the boys we were too and that connection to the past is critical.

 I remember conversations from 1979 when a few us pledged to stop being so shy around the young women we liked.
That conversation prompted me to finally ask for a date with someone I had a crush on for years.
I was so nervous that I did not remember what she said when I asked. I walked away from her so nervous that I literally had no idea what she said.
Apparently, it was a yes because a day later she said she couldn’t go out because she was going fishing with her uncle or something. I never had the courage to ask again.
My supportive and sensitive friends responded by printing T-shirts of people fishing with a cutting remark underneath the graphic. Hey, this stuff makes you resilient. So thanks guys.

Anyway, we talked last night about how we feel so sorry for kids today. Cut off from their friends and girlfriends, denied proms and graduation ceremonies and unsure if they will be going off to school in the fall or if they will be cracking open their iPads.
One of my buddies kids is in limbo about college and another just had two boys graduate college and grad school only to enter a scary job market.
You wonder and you worry how this will impact a generation.
As I said, I’m grateful to have grown up when I did. We didn’t have much in the way of technology but we had each other. Still do.

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.





Boca Firm Steps Up With College Scholarship


From Left, Robert Barboni, President, Evershore Financial Group, Sean Fallon,  Daniel Zagata, Managing Director.

From Left, Robert Barboni, President, Evershore Financial Group, Sean Fallon,
Daniel Zagata, Managing Director.

Following the tragic death of his father several years ago, Sean Fallon realized that pursuing his dream of securing a college education would be difficult.

But through community support, a supportive family, and hard work, the recent Jupiter High School graduate is attending the University of Central Florida with his sights set on becoming a Certified Public Accountant.

The tension of paying for four years of college became a bit easier recently when a local financial services company stepped up and presented Fallon with a $7,000 scholarship check.

The path to receiving this check was a bit convoluted since Fallon had originally submitted an essay for the national Life Lessons Scholarship, which is given to a student in recognition of “the character and perseverance that so many young people show in the face of adversity.”

While Fallon didn’t win this scholarship, his moving essay recounting the trauma of his father’s suicide was forwarded to Evershore Financial Group, a financial services firm with offices in Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton, and Orlando.

“Sean is such an inspirational young man,” said Robert Barboni, president of Evershore Financial Group. “He’s gone through a lot, yet he’s done what he can to take care of his family and is now striving to receive a higher education. We are so glad to be able to give him a little boost along the way.”

The original amount of the scholarship Evershore expected to award was $2,000, however, when Evershore advisors and staff learned about Fallon’s story, they enthusiastically contributed an additional $5,000. When the over-sized check was presented to Fallon, there was hardly a dry eye in the audience at the Wyndham Grand Harbourside in Jupiter.

“I originally thought that the scholarship was going to be $2,000,” said Fallon. “But when they explained that it was actually $7,000…wow. What a surprise. I am so grateful for this opportunity and thrilled that Evershore has provided this scholarship for me.”

Before lunch, Fallon was invited to tell his story to the audience. Many in attendance were in tears as he told his story and he received a standing ovation. Once the applause cleared, Barboni made the emotional presentation.

“The Fallon family has been through an unimaginable tragedy,” said Barboni. “It was with great pride and humility that I was able to meet this young man who is an example to everyone in the audience. I know that I have learned so much from Sean and how he has persevered through these difficulties.”

Barboni was particularly moved by the following passage from Fallon’s essay:

“I know that life is going to be different for me and I know that I am always going to have to work hard. I just am hoping to get some help financially with college. My mom is a teacher and also works after school to help make ends meet. We are surviving and will continue to do so.”

Fallon was joined by his aunt, Lori Hausman, who is a Certified Public Accountant and the inspiration behind him aspiring to enter this profession.