Savoring What’s Magical

 

The winners of the first annual Catalyst Award: Sergeant Danny Pacheco and Pastor Bill Mitchell. Photo by Amy Pasquantonio (who is terrific).

I had a magical day last week and I just want to share.

Have you ever walked into a room and gotten swept away by the spirit and positivity in the air?

Luckily, I’ve experienced magic a few times in my life and when it arrives it makes you feel fully alive.

I live for those moments, but they can be few and far between. But when you get swept away you want to live in that moment. You don’t want it to end.

So, here’s what happened.

I co-hosted a lunch on behalf of the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation at La Cigale where we got to celebrate our grantees and honor two people who are doing amazing work in our community.

People who devote their lives to giving back are very special. I like businesspeople and admire entrepreneurs—their success creates the type of wealth needed for non-profits to address some of our most pressing needs.

But there’s something extra special about the philanthropic world so when you put those people in a room and mix them together, the molecules change.

Our goal at the foundation is to build community. Our hope is our grantees can work together and leverage each other’s strengths if possible.

We are off to a good start, but as the song says, ‘we’ve only just begun’.

A few years back, a colleague and I were asked by Mr. DeSantis to create a foundation. We reached out to friends who connected us to philanthropic leaders across Florida and the country. These leaders were generous with their time and advice, and we built the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation using best practices that we studied. It was an incredible experience to dig into this world. When we presented our business plan to Mr. D he was all in.

We started modestly with a few quiet grants in December 2022, had a busy 2023 and we are off to the races in 2024. Along the way, we are meeting and supporting philanthropic leaders who are making a difference in our community and beyond. Our areas of interest include health and nutrition (Carl was the founder of Rexall Sundown, one of the leading vitamin brands in history), leadership and entrepreneurship, faith-based charities, and civic innovation. We have a special project supporting early childhood education in South Africa where Carl spent many happy years, and we are all in on tackling Alzheimer’s Disease.

Many of our grantees were able to come to La Cigale to learn about each other’s programs and we saw them interact and partner in real time (thrilling!). It’s natural for these type of leaders to collaborate. It was a room full of optimistic problem solvers with big hearts. I wish I could harness and bottle their enthusiasm for making our world a better place.

We are getting behind “name brands” like the Mayo Clinic and Max Planck Society, but we are also working with promising non-profits such as Delray based Bound For College and The EJS Project as well as established local standouts such as 4 Kids and the Achievement Center for Children and Families. We’ve discovered the amazing people at Boca-based Second Chance Initiative and we are working with FAU on a promising program that will harness services for families who are impacted by Alzheimer’s.

It’s such a joy.

As we were celebrating, I couldn’t help thinking about my friend Carl and what his entrepreneurial talents have made possible. I wish he was here to see it all, we lost him in August, but I believe he knows what’s happening.

When I think of Carl, I can’t help but smile.

My goodness I miss him.

He was really something.

Carl was a man of action, he made things happen.

He was compassionate, generous, and colorful —in a word —he was a catalyst.

To honor that spirit— which led to so much good in the world— we wanted to create an award that recognizes the catalysts in our midst. The people who show us what is possible if we act, never give up and dare to try.

And so, we created the Catalyst Award to honor those in our community who are making good things happen.

This is a no-strings-attached cash award to individuals who exhibit transformational leadership and contribute significantly to their community. You cannot apply for this award; the work you do speaks so loudly that it can’t help but be noticed.

The catalyst award celebrates individuals who inspire and motivate others to excel.

The award recognizes those that go above and beyond to contribute to their community’s well-being.

Just as a catalyst triggers chemical reactions, the recipients of this award spark positive change wherever they practice. They are known for their ability to identify areas in need of improvement, and they take proactive steps to bring about transformational change.

They are impact players; just like Carl was.  And we are blessed to have them working in our communities.

The first ever winners honored last week are Sergeant Danny Pacheco Jr. of the Delray Beach Police Department and Pastor Bill Mitchell of Boca Community Church.

Danny founded “Delray Kicks”, a soccer program that works with children, most of them immigrants who might otherwise run from the police. Instead, Danny, Officer Mark Lucas and others  have created a program that has built relationships, taught citizenship and generally changed the lives of the kids they serve. One mom of a player called Danny an “angel.” We agree.

Danny is a special kind of leader.

He is an immigrant from Peru and he has a special feel for the immigrant experience and what these children experience.

When he said he wanted to become a police officer, people scoffed at him. Danny not only became an officer, but he also became a standout leader and community servant. Hearing him tell his story was powerful and emotional. The value this catalyst creates is incalculable. We can’t say Danny and Delray Kicks are completely unsung, his program made the national news a few years ago but more people need to know, and more people need to take pride in the value he and others in our police department bring to our city.

I shared that sentiment with our Police Chief Russ Mager who was at the luncheon. Chief Mager started his career when Delray was a far more dangerous place…the police department’s work made our community safe for success to take root. That work continues with people like Danny.

Our second Catalyst winner is the amazing Pastor Bill Mitchell, whose Boca Lead program has made a huge difference in Boca Raton and has now scaled to other cities in Florida and the Midwest.

Every month, a sold-out house fills Boca Community Church where attendees get a lesson in life and in business and community. You see corporate chieftains and small business owners, educators, non-profit leaders, elected officials and others gather to listen to Pastor Bill’s lessons. As a longtime “business guy” before entering the ministry, he can relate to anyone. If you haven’t experienced Boca Lead, I urge you to do so. You will leave inspired with tools to help your business, organization, and family. Bill Mitchell is a Catalyst and a man I deeply admire. He’s inspirational and has lived the lessons he imparts.

Leaving La Cigale last week, I felt hope for our world. I won’t let that go. I hope you don’t either.

If you want to feel magic get involved in a non-profit, attend a Boca Lead event, mentor a child, check out local cultural offerings, coach a team, rescue a pet—and celebrate those who work quietly, often with few resources, to make our world a better place.

 

 

A Call To Heal

A rendering of the planned Wallach Center at FAU.

We stumbled on an interesting sign during a recent visit to FAU’s Theatre Lab.

The sign announced the future site of “The Kurt and Marilyn Wallach Holocaust and Jewish Studies Building.”

I was intrigued, so I did a little research and learned that the Wallach’s pledged $20 million (with $10 million going to the building) to create an education center dedicated Holocaust Studies, Jewish Studies, human rights, and leadership training.

When looking into the program words like dignity, compassion, human rights, and understanding were peppered throughout the literature.

“This is truly a transformative gift that values the strength of education in combating anti-Semitism as well as hatred and intolerance of any kind,” said Dr. Michael Horswell, Dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. “This building will become a living testament and example for thousands of students and community members who pass through its doors.”

Let’s hope so.

As we begin a new year the usual promise of a fresh start is shadowed by an ominous feeling.

Our nation is divided.

Our world is dangerous.

There are conflicts that have the potential to spin out of control. It’s a scary and uncertain time.

When we are faced with these challenges, it seems natural—maybe even logical—to tune them out or try to ignore them. But we can’t.

We just can’t.

We must confront hatred and intolerance. We must step up and defend Democracy, decency, and human rights. Somehow, someway, we must dial down the hate. We have the tools to do so. We just need the will.

There are inspirations and guides everywhere if we open our eyes. People who lead with love and compassion. Organizations that are trying mightily to overcome those who seek to foment hate and divide us.

We must rise above.

Over the holidays, we watched the Kennedy Center Honors which included the great Billy Crystal.

Mr. Crystal was lauded for his comedic chops, his many hit movies and for the longevity of his career. It was great to see scenes from “When Harry Met Sally” (which is the perfect romantic comedy) and “City Slickers” which was a boon to dude ranches everywhere.

But what struck me most was Whoopi Goldberg’s tribute to her friend. She invoked a concept called “tikkun olam”, which is a Hebrew phrase that calls on us to heal and repair the world.

She said Billy Crystal was all about tikkun olam, doing right by people, healing the world in his own way through humor.

My grandparents and parents did not use that term when I was a child. But they encouraged my sister and I to be “mensches.”

A mensch is someone who tries to do the right thing—always.

In a world in need of repair, we need mensches more than ever. I’m hoping the Wallach Center mints mensches.

Here at home, we are heading to yet another election season where voters will be hard pressed to choose amidst the nasty rhetoric and flat out lies about candidates. Lost in the cacophony of mail, social media wars and robocalls are serious discussions about important issues. We don’t debate ideas; we don’t talk about challenges, and we don’t seem to be discussing opportunities either.

What a shame.

Candidates vow to “fight development”, “cut taxes and spending” and find “innovative solutions to traffic.” But we don’t see the details, do we? We never see the details.

You’re going to fight development? Ok, what are you going to do to provide housing? Are workers supposed to magically appear to serve you in restaurants, dress your wounds in the hospital and teach your kids and then just vanish? Don’t they need places to live?

You say you are going to cut taxes and spending? Wonderful! What are you going to cut? Roughly half the budget goes to police and fire, do you want to invest in those critical departments or do you want to lose our best to nearby agencies who are always hiring and always looking for great cops and firefighter/paramedics.

Then there’s traffic.

What are your solutions? More lanes? That doesn’t work.

You’re going to vote to stop that new apartment complex? Great, so our workforce gets to clog our roads driving from elsewhere when they could be living in town close to their jobs.

Everyone one of the challenges I mentioned are real and every one of them can be made better with detailed analysis, strategic decision making and the political will to involve the community and then stick to your guns when the critics fire up their laptops and call you a turd on Facebook. And you can count on that happening.

I know I’ve been rambling a little here…just taking my mind out for a spin. Thanks for bearing with me.

I’ll conclude with something else I saw over the recent break. I opened the sewer they now call “X” and was greeted by some hate-filled hack barking about Kwanzaa. Apparently, this holiday didn’t cut it for this charmer. It wasn’t “real”, it was “offensive” and “fake.”

I feel sorry for this person. I do. She was so unhappy with Kwanzaa that she had to share her venom with the twitterverse.

Like magic, a longtime resident, began posting about Kwanzaa on Facebook. Each day, he explained the principles of Kwanzaa. I had seen them before, but I had forgotten what I had learned. The posts allowed me to revisit the principles and because they were served in daily doses, I was able to think about them and process their meaning.

My favorite was UJIMA (oo – GEE-mah): Collective Work & Responsibility. Here’s how it was explained.

“Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present, and future, and how that will affect the role we play in the community, society, and world,” he wrote.

“As residents of “The Set.. (a historic neighborhood in Delray) we must make our neighbors’ issues our collective responsibility. By doing this, we can solve our struggles together. Each one, teach one.

To transform into the Beloved Community envisioned by our ancestors, each resident must buy into the principle of “Ujima”. We must care for – our public spaces, children, elders, history, and institutions. The health and welfare of The Set is the responsibility of all residents.

Our personal sense of Beloved Community is the key to successfully transforming our neighborhood. Each resident must love and care for The Set and pass the legacy on to our children. The Set must be recognized as unique and something to be protected.”

Well said.

I like the notion of collective responsibility. I agree we have an obligation to the past, present and future. We are called to heal the world. Let’s get after it.

Changing Our Corner Of The World

Home grown, a point of civic pride.

It was a wet and blustery night.

The wind was tossing palm fronds like match sticks as we drove through deep puddles on Lake Ida Road toward our destination.

As we got out of the car at the beautiful Aloft Hotel on Federal Highway, we felt the awesome power of nature when the wind almost knocked our car doors off their hinges.

But we were determined to get to where we were going—a celebration hosted by Bound For College– a remarkable Delray Beach nonprofit that is changing lives in our community.

Am I being dramatic?

Yeah, about the storm, but not about the life changing power of Bound For College.

Bound For College is a transformational organization.

We are lucky they are here serving our kids.

It’s my strong belief that Bound For College is important to the future of Delray Beach because we need organizations that are future focused. We need leaders who think expansively, who tackle big issues and focus on creating a better future.

I’ve been watching founder Mark Sauer for a long time now. He’s a big thinker.

When I first sat down with Mark to hear his vision I was impressed. Mark is an impressive guy. As a sports nut, I was taken by his background which includes running the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Blues.

Mark understands business, has a passion for kids who need a boost, and he has energy to burn.

Mark told me he saw something special about Delray Beach. He didn’t want to live anywhere else once he discovered our city. He didn’t come here to rest; he came here to work.

Despite a storied career, Mark wanted to do more and through his example I’m seeing that if you have the drive, you can do big things in the later innings of your life. I want to be a Mark Sauer because he wakes up every morning with a purpose. He has a passion to help kids do something with their lives.

Bound For College is hard at work providing tutoring, mentoring and all sorts of other important stuff for kids who aspire to get a degree. Many, if not most of the students Bound For College serves are the children of immigrants and the first in their families to go to college.

The goal is to break the cycle of poverty and give a boost to students who have the desire and the smarts to go to college but often don’t have the financial resources to do so.

Along the way, Mark, his staff, and a dedicated board have crafted what I think is a brilliant business model.

Bound For College works in local schools (including Atlantic High and Village Academy) identifying motivated students early in their high school years and pairing them with teachers and mentors who help them prep for college.

The students must commit, they volunteer for tutoring and are required to stay engaged.

Bound For College hires certified teachers who watch these students during the school day to ensure that every student stays on track. After school, students get hundreds of hours of tutoring to give them the tools they need to get into college and succeed once they get there.

I like the model because it works. But I also like the idea of students “buying -in” and teachers getting paid. This is win-win, and it doesn’t require monies to be spent on a building or transportation because the tutoring takes place at the high school.

Bound For College ensures that students take the SAT/ACT multiple times to create a path for improvement in scores. The organization also aids with applications (for admission and scholarships) and college tours to expose students to what college is really like.

The results are evident.

Consider these stats:

  • Test scores increased by an average of 23 percent in the most recent year measured.
  • A majority of students attend college debt free. (This is huge).
  • And there are plenty of success stories.

We heard a few on that rainy Wednesday night at the Aloft. The students were poised and grateful, they spoke excitedly about their college experience, their aspirations to go to school and their desire to pay it forward which builds community. We heard from mentors and teachers too. I thought to myself, this is an answer—if every community stepped up and let their children know that we care about their future paths,  the world would be a better place.

I saw immigrants—young people who came here after the earthquake in Haiti aspiring for a better life and I was reminded of the value that immigrants bring to this country. That’s my family’s story, it’s yours too, unless you are a Native American.

I’m proud that after years of conversations that in a small way I can help Mark achieve his goal of transforming lives. The Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation invested in Bound For College recently.

We’re sold on the value, we’re confident in the leadership and we want to partner with these wonderful people in our community.

It’s an honor to do so.

The choirs of Temple Sinai and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church joined forces and created a magical moment.

 

The Birth of Something Special

Last week, Diane and I attended an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Temple Sinai.

It was a very special night.

Given the times we are in, we were moved to see people of different faiths—Jewish, Christian, Muslim—come together for an evening of fellowship and community.

It was emotional to see the choirs of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Temple Sinai sing together.

They sang a beautiful version of “Oseh Shalom” which is a song of peace.

We heard from leaders of various dominations who talked about what they do to serve the community.

Temple Sinai makes and delivers sandwiches to the hungry, churches minister to the homeless, CROS Ministries collects food, the temple gathers clothing and shoes, and the Islamic Center provides shelter during storms among other community initiatives.

It was wonderful to hear the testimony and to see the food bins filling before Thanksgiving.

But for me, it was the feeling in the room that was special and the impromptu interactions between people that gave the evening depth and emotion. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Rabbi Steven Moss walk over to Dr. Bassem Alhalabi of the Islamic Center. The two men smiled, exchanged some words, and shook hands. I don’t know what was said, and it might not even matter. But to see basic human kindness and hear about plans to do more together made us feel good inside.

Our Police Chief Russ Mager was there, along with Assistant Chief Jeff Rasor and the relationship between the faith-based organizations and the Police Department was mentioned several times during the evening.

The desire to be safe in one’s community. The need to connect with our neighbors is basic to the human experience. I’m heartened that in our community, efforts are being made to build bridges.

As was pointed out, there is hatred and violence in our world. But there are more people who yearn for peace than those who live to hurt others. The issues are real and so are the challenges, but you get the sense that love is the answer. We need more love and less hate.

One interfaith service in one synagogue doesn’t change the world. But it’s a start.

That’s why I was most excited to witness the launch of the Anti-Bias Coalition of Delray.

The group is just starting out and I hope you will consider getting involved as they roll out their mission.

The goal is to eliminate bias and to treat all people with respect and understanding.

The evening ended with a benediction from the Book of Numbers 6:24-26. We saw the prayer chanted in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Creole by faith leaders and that was cool to see.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Peace..We long for peace. Even right here at home.

Before we left the synagogue, we sang God Bless America.

At a time of dangerous division, where both sides of the divide view the other as an existential threat, we sang lyrics written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, born in Russia, who came to America at the age of 5 to escape discrimination, poverty, and brutal pogroms.

“G-d bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.”

Amen.

Special thanks to Kristen Murtaugh and Betti Adams for the invite. It was a magical night and the start of something special.

Editor’s note: Last week, I erroneously gave credit to my friend Randy for always reading to the end. Proper credit goes to Scott Porten who actually reads to the end.

 

EJS Project: 9 Years Of Action

Delray’s EJS Project has impacted over 500 teens in its first nine years of existence.

We went to the annual EJS Project gala at The Addison in Boca Raton last week.

It was a fun event.

“Delray Morning Live” host Jamael Stewart is a natural comedian and the mood in the room was happy, festive, and hopeful. This was a family gathering and it was beautiful to experience.

The EJS Project is a Delray Beach nonprofit that is transforming the lives of local teenagers by giving them a safe place to gather, study, talk about issues and learn the skills they will need to navigate a tough world.

To date, more than 500 of our children—and they are OUR children—have been touched and in many cases transformed by the EJS Project.

We heard from several alumni of the program. They talked about how EJS changed their lives by caring for them in every aspect of their lives. There is counseling, tutoring, group therapy sessions, field trips and training in soft skills.

Kids who get involved are exposed to leaders at all levels of society. They take trips to Washington D.C. and talk to policymakers about issues, they travel to Tallahassee to lobby the powerful and they go to City Commission meetings to see how their own community is governed.

The catchphrase used by the EJS Project is “Bout Dat Action” and it means that students who engage in the program are called to take action; they are challenged to make the changes they want to see in the world.

I sat next to a local hero, Yvonne Odom at the gala. Mrs. Odom was a long-time educator in our community.

She knows kids.

She’s raised them, taught them, coached them along with her husband Red and pressed their interests as a vocal activist in Delray and beyond. She’s also an historical figure having been the first African American student to attend Atlantic High School. Mrs. Odom also happens to be the grandmother of Coco Gauff, who just won the U.S. Open and has the promise to not only be a tennis champion but someone who makes a difference beyond sports.

As young people testified about the power of the EJS Project, I was moved by the reaction of my friend Yvonne.  She was beaming with pride.

What we were seeing was special. It was powerful too.

We saw a shy young man testifying in front of hundreds of people about how this program helped him break out of his shell and opened his eyes to the potential of his life. We heard from a once troubled young woman who doubled her GPA with the help of EJS and became focused and interested in her own future and listened to how a socially anxious young woman found her confidence through EJS and the internship they secured for her at a local company, Festival Management Group producers of local favorites such as Garlic Fest and the Delray Affair.

Jamael, the talented emcee, talked about growing up in Delray and how he and others felt there were limited opportunities for a bright future. Many of his childhood friends sought opportunities elsewhere but he and others returned to give something back. To coach, mentor, tutor, encourage and urge the next generation to believe that their potential was limitless.

Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson, the founder of EJS was one of those who returned after college. Dupree has dedicated his every waking hour to helping the next generation find a way forward.

Mr. Jackson had to navigate some tough streets as a young man. He knows the pitfalls that can consume a young person and never release them. He wants the teens he works with to dream big, act and become leaders not only in their own lives but in the community as well.

We need this kind of training—desperately.

I’m proud to say that the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation, of which I am a director,  is investing in EJS’ work. We see the potential.

My wife and I are investing as well.

There is no more important mission than to build and empower tomorrow’s leaders. If we are to survive, if we are to thrive, we must ensure that tomorrow’s leaders are ready.

Yes, that is a trite and obvious statement. But it doesn’t mean we’re doing it; progress is not a given.

As I sat next to Diane and Mrs. Odom at a table that included some wonderful people who serve our community as teachers, volunteers, elected officials, business owners etc., I thought back to a long ago experience I had with Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Hollywood recently made a movie called “Just Mercy” with Michael B. Jordan about Mr. Stevenson’s life.

I was at a Leadership Florida event when Stevenson got up and gave the single best speech I’ve ever heard.

Mr. Stevenson talked about proximity—and the importance of getting close to others and their issues, regardless of how hard it is to see.

In order to solve problems, to understand each other we need to be proximate to one another. Stevenson calls it the power of proximity.

I’m seeing that power, I’m feeling that power at The EJS Project.

I was at a table with Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston, Commissioner Angela Burns and candidate Nick Coppola. Candidates Christina Morrison and Tennille Dacoste were in the room too.

I didn’t have a chance to speak with them, but if they are reading this, I sure hope they were as swept away as I was. I’m betting that they were. And my hope is that Delray pays attention to this little non-profit that is making a big impact. This is the kind of work we should invest in. The return on that investment will be a better world.

To learn more about EJS visit  https://ejsproject.org/

 

Sad News

Lt. Keith was a role model to many.

Ray Keith, a 31-year-old lieutenant with Delray Beach Fire Rescue, died Wednesday, October 18 after a courageous two-year battle with cancer. Keith has served the residents of Delray Beach since October 2016. Lt. Keith will be laid to rest with full honors.

 

“Our hearts are heavy today, and I know that every single person in our department is affected by this tremendous loss,” Delray Beach Fire Chief Keith Tomey said. “Lt. Keith was everything a firefighter should be – brave, kind and selfless. I thank him for his service and sacrifice. Our department will not be the same without him, but he left behind a great legacy in his three children.”

 

Lt. Keith, who was named the 2022 Firefighter of the Year, was one of the department’s first 21 lieutenants promoted to serve as an officer on a rescue company. He was certified in hazardous materials, was a member of the DBFR Honor Guard and a leader for the DBFR Explorer program. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2021.

 

When nominating him for Firefighter of the Year, one of his peers said he “embodied perseverance, positivity and class.” Another said he is “a true inspiration for all firefighters with his strength and leadership.” Yet another lauded his “humility and compassion while training, working and responding to the calls in our city.”

 

Lt. Keith is survived by his wife, Amanda, 12-year-old son Gabriel and 2-year-old twins, daughter Willow and son Kairo.

 

“On behalf of the Delray Beach City Commission, we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. “We are grateful for his dedicated service to our community.”

 

Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to research by the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.

 

 

Titans Leave A Wake

Jim Moran was known as “The Courtesy Man.”

I recently had the pleasure of spending a day at JM Family Enterprises in Deerfield Beach.

It was– in a word– amazing.

The campus on Hillsboro Boulevard is spectacular and the company that occupies the grounds is remarkable.

JM Family is in the car business—in a big way. Southeast Toyota and JM Lexus are what the company is famous for, but divisions also work in finance, insurance, franchising, and dealer consultation. JM is a nearly $19 billion a year concern, making it the 17th largest privately held company in America.

JM Family regularly makes “best places” to work lists and it’s easy to see why. The campus is beautiful, the amenities next level. Associates (that’s what employees are called) have access to six onsite physicians, a hair salon, gym, a state-of-the-art cafeteria, massage therapists, their own Starbucks, and great spaces in which to work and mingle. It was impressive. But the amenities-while wonderful– don’t tell the whole story. JM’s most valuable asset is its culture.

I was at JM Family for a business retreat, and we had a chance to hear from President and CEO Brent Burns and Scott Gunnell, the president of the JM&A Group which handles finance, insurance, and consulting.

Both men were passionate about their company’s mission and accomplishments. But what struck me the most was the reverence shown to founder Jim Moran, who built this conglomerate from an initial $360 investment in a gas station into a very special business.

Sitting there listening to Mr. Burns and Mr. Gunnell, I noticed how often they referred to Jim Moran’s values. Mr. Moran’s persona is very much alive on that campus and beyond.

“We do it better,” is the company tagline. The phrase is not meant as a boast but rather a challenge and an aspiration. Those four words serve as a reminder that JM  associates can and should do everything better than the competition.

Associates are valued but held accountable. Yes, there are perks galore, but you must produce if you want to stay.

Mr. Moran, as he is known, is everywhere in the building and in the hearts and minds of employees many of whom never met the man. He passed in 2007.

Listening to his values being proudly shared in 2023 by current leadership got me thinking.

South Florida has been blessed by a few “giants”; their businesses, civic, cultural, and philanthropic visions shaped our region and way of life.

JM CEO Burns happened to work for three of these giants: Michael Egan, the founder of Alamo Rent a Car, H. Wayne Huizenga who led Blockbuster, Waste Management and AutoNation and the legendary Moran.

I happened to have worked with (never for) a fourth such business titan: Carl DeSantis, founder of Rexall Sundown, a vitamin company, and a major investor in Celsius, which is revolutionizing the energy drink space.

Carl passed away in August, but he left a legacy that is ever expanding with investments in Tabanero hot sauce (shameless plug; it’s awesome), real estate, restaurants and more. The crown jewel remains Celsius, but Carl’s entrepreneurial energy and boundless aspirations didn’t wane after he achieved success, which he called “winning.” He just moved on to the next idea with enthusiasm and confidence.

I keep returning to the Celsius story, because it’s remarkable.

From humble beginnings in a small office on 4th Avenue in Delray Beach, Celsius grew to become a global juggernaut. Its partnership with Pepsi can be a case study (no pun intended) in how an upstart entrepreneurial brand can work with a legacy company to reach new heights without losing its soul.

We owe Celsius’ very existence to Carl’s vision and willngness to keep going when others would have stopped.

Carl’s legacy at Nova Southeastern University was celebrated last week when a new Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame class was inducted. It was 20 years ago that Mr. D dedicated the funds for the Carl DeSantis Building on the NSU campus in Davie. Today, that building is the hub of a vibrant and growing campus community where South Florida’s next wave of entrepreneurs are learning the skills needed to succeed.

I’ve gotten friendly with Andy Rosman, the wonderful business dean at Nova. That school has truly become an economic engine for our region and our friend Carl played a role that I’m not sure he fully realized.

That’s what standout people do, they create waves and value in unexpected and surprising places.

Thanks to Mr. D’s generosity, we are working in the philanthropic world as well.

We just ended the fiscal year at the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation where we are investing in a wide array of local, national, and international non-profit organizations that are making a difference.

I think about my friend Carl every day as I navigate my job at his family office in Delray Beach. We are committed, like our friends at JM Family, to keeping Mr. DeSantis’ spirit and values alive.

These special people shape our world and region. They create influence in unexpected places.

I never met Mr. Moran, but two special people working for the Delray Police Department 20 years ago were inspired by his Youth Enrichment Vocational Center in Hollywood. To address a car theft issue in the southwest section of Delray, Johnny Pun and Fred Glass intervened and urged youth in the area to stop stealing cars and instead learn to fix them.

They had success with a few kids at the Moran funded Youth Enrichment Vocational Center and decided to start their own school. Inspired by Mr. Moran, the Delray Beach police became the first department in Florida to charter its own school. That’s a part of Jim Moran’s legacy. Those are the waves I’m referring to.

I sure wish I had met Mr. Moran. I did meet Mr. Huizenga at a few business events over the years. He changed the Fort Lauderdale skyline and helped to turn that city from a Spring Break oasis to a business hub.

There are other big players who really shaped our region. The late Alex Dreyfoos played a major role in bringing the cultural arts to Palm Beach County and former Delray Mayor Tom Lynch, owner of a large insurance brokerage, created the template for how a successful business leader can bring those skills to local government. He played a key role in Delray’s renaissance, was a remarkable School Board chair and was influential on the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County among many other things.

It’s critical that we understand the legacy of those who came before us so we can navigate the future.

Last week, I mentioned that I was a has-been. I caught some flak from friends for that remark. So let me qualify that sentiment.

First, it is better to be a has-been than a “never was”, but I wholeheartedly agree that those who are retired, doing other things with their lives, or even deceased have a lot to teach us.

Let’s face it, this world is a mess. It wasn’t always like this and there are examples of people who came before us who knew how to get things done. The best ones did it with class, kindness, hard work, vision, guts, and empathy. They had ethics, took the long view and tried to move the big rocks.

They dared to dream big things and as a result big things happened.

I saw a glimpse of the power of that kind of leadership at JM Family, and I lived it with my friend Carl DeSantis. And I saw it in my adopted hometown of Delray Beach too. And for that, I am grateful. Eternally grateful.

 

 

The State Of Things

What a tough weekend.Images from Israel are now forever seared in our minds—like they were after 9/11.It’s hard to fathom or understand. There are just no words to describe the barbarity that humans are capable of. We see it in Ukraine, we see it in Israel and we see it here at home too. We are not immune.

I’m a proud and patriotic American; born and raised here. But Israel has always been important to me and my family. As a Jew, I was raised to be proud of Israel. I was taught it’s history and was told of its importance. Israel would be a place where Jews would be safe, a haven from violence and antisemitism.

Sitting in suburban America, it seems easy to feel removed from it all, but the notion of Israel as safe haven was taught to me by relatives who fled atrocities fueled by authoritarian mad men. Some of our relatives didn’t get out. Six million of our people were slaughtered. So I listened to these stories and I respected those who saw and experienced what I pray we’d never encounter.

I took pride in Israel’s military prowess and it’s technological, entrepreneurial, scientific and cultural achievements. “Start Up Nation”, written about Israel’s entrepreneurial culture, is one of my favorite books.Like every country, Israel is not flawless. Like America, the nation is divided. Terribly and dangerously divided. I hope this tragedy focuses people on what’s really important. I hope it reminds us of our common bonds. I visited Israel once, in 1992, as a reporter on assignment to cover the 25th anniversary of the Six Day War.The trip was a professional highlight and I got to meet with and interview leaders including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Mr. Rabin would be murdered a few years later by an extremist. I came home from that trip deeply impressed with Israel’s strength, resolve, resilience and ingenuity.I’m confident those traits will see Israel through the darkness and the difficult days ahead. I have no doubt that terror will not prevail. But I also have no doubt that there will be many dark days ahead.

*****************************************************************

State Senator Powell

I recently sat down with State Senator Bobby Powell to discuss politics.

Senator Powell is running for Mack Bernard’s County Commission seat. He came by my office in Delray Beach to discuss the race and some other things happening in politics. Bobby has spent the past 8 years in Tallahassee so it was really interesting to catch up.

I’m 16 years removed from the day-to-day grind of politics, but I still follow some of it, not like I used to, but old habits die hard.

For some reason, candidates still like to drop by and get a has-been’s perspective. I’m not being self-deprecating when I say that.

I am a has-been when it comes to politics (and many, many other things). My era is a distant memory for most people. And the game has changed a lot since I was in it.

When I ran for office in the early 2000s, I think I raised a grand total of $20,000, a big number for that time. Last week, my favored candidate for mayor announced that he had raised a total of $111,000 and the election is 5 months away.

When I was elected to the Commission, the city didn’t have a consolidated website. We built one, but it was over the objections of a few who didn’t think a website would be necessary. Maybe the internet would be a passing fad? And who would ever use the internet to access government services?

Yes, those were different times.

In fact, I’m not sure I would have got into politics if it was as toxic back then as it is today.

I often ask former elected officials from my time and before, if they would run today and the answer is often an emphatic no. That saddens me because these are good people and many were incredible public servants—honest, ethical, smart, and experienced. They made great things happen and today they wouldn’t even dare try.

Why is that?

Because public squares in cities all over America have been poisoned. Often, good people won’t willingly dive into a toxic well. Thank goodness, a few are still willing. We need good people to run, but it shouldn’t be ridiculously dangerous to do so.

Before you label me naïve, idealistic, or overly sensitive let me say this. I am all those things. But I also  believe that if you can’t stand the heat you don’t belong in the kitchen.

Still, there ought to be some rules of the road. Your record is fair game. But your family, sexual orientation, appearance, religion etc. shouldn’t be a factor—at least in my version of an ideal world.

Anyway, Senator Powell is a good guy, passionate about public service and anxious to continue serving.

He’s also an urban planner and that comes in handy when you serve in local office, because shaping the built environment to work for the greater good is an important job. I have a bias toward planners ( I married one). They understand placemaking, sustainability, traffic— all the fun stuff.

But I’m hoping that our planning for the future goes beyond height, density, setbacks, and floor area ratios. I hope we begin to think about how we can make our county and cities attractive and accessible to a wide range of people.

I’d love to see our young people go off to trade school, university or the military and come back to enrich our communities with their ideas, energy, investment, and passion. I’d love for our county to be a magnet for talent from places far and wide.

And I told the Senator this.

We can’t do it without attainable housing. We can’t do it without good schools and good jobs. We can’t do it without great universities, cultural opportunities, and recreation. We need it all—safe streets, great hospitals, beautiful parks, clean air, and safe drinking water.

Yes, we need it all. And that takes leadership. People willing to endure the snipers, the NIMBY’s, the internet trolls, and the constant criticism that comes with life in the arena. Because none of the good stuff happens without it, and a whole lot of damage happens when the wrong people get their hands on the reins of power. They rip and tear at what’s been built. We see the damage they do at all levels of government.

It can take 25-30 years to build something of value, and you can blow it all in a year or two. We call that municipal math; it’s a cruel rule, it’s neither fair nor just, but it’s as real as our humidity.

I shared these thoughts with the good senator because this subject consumes me. I said we needed to build a bench of good people willing to serve and he looked at me and said: “we don’t need a bench, benches blow away in a strong wind. We need to plant trees because trees have roots.”
That line stopped me cold in my tracks. Bobby’s right. We need to plant trees and we need to tend to those trees, so they grow strong roots; deep roots, enduring roots.

I love the analogy.

And we ought to start right away because there is no time to waste.

Why the urgency?

Because those who would rip out the roots are always raring to go.

Delray Pie

I’m stealing this opening from a friend.

If he wants credit, I’ll reveal his name next week. If he wants to enter the witness protection program, I’ll try  to help.

But I love the analogy and I thought I’d share. So here goes.

Imagine, if you will, that every time you step forward to help, you get hit in the face with a pie.

That’s what happening to the good folks who have hung in there at Old School Square.

Last week, they went to a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting to discuss the results of a city commission workshop in which it was decided that the DDA should consider working with the non-profit to offer arts classes and to begin to get the Crest Theatre up and running again. I believe it was also decided that an invitation to negotiate will be made available to other organizations. That’s the right and proper thing to do. Let the best ideas win.

Without dredging up the ugliness, they got hit in the face with a pie from a board member who doesn’t have her facts straight.

The details of the latest pie in the face are not important. It’s the same tired, discredited arguments that have been made since Old School Square was terminated “without cause” (how’s that for irony?) in 2021. Still, Old School Square fired back with a letter to the DDA chairman requesting that the facts be read into the public record.

That’s a good and necessary step.

But there’s a deeper issue here and one that we really ought to understand and address.

But let’s digress for a moment.

Books– with lots of chapters and lots of words– have been written about how to build a successful city.

I wrote one of them and I’ve read a lot of them too.

Cities are complicated places; they succeed or fail for a variety of reasons. But if you boil it down, there are two essential ingredients for success. Let’s call them table stakes; the minimal entry requirement for success.

They are?

Drum roll please…

It must be safe to aspire, and it must be safe to volunteer.

That’s it.

The rest is negotiable.

Sure, it helps if you have a pristine beach or a city with what they call “good bones.”

Universities and cultural amenities are cool and good schools are a huge advantage but if volunteering is treacherous, you’re toast. If aspiration is anathema, you’re DOA.

Not only won’t you move forward, but everything that you’ve managed to build is in danger if citizens who aspire feel it’s dangerous, frustrating, or downright impossible to invest or volunteer.

I’m afraid that’s where we’ve been in Delray Beach. We’re digging out, but we have work to do.

It reminds me of that old saying: There’s a reason why we can’t have nice things—just yet anyway.

It’s hard to build community when there are elements who just won’t accept facts.

Of course, we are entitled to our opinions, but you really can’t have your own facts and function properly. The Earth is not flat and nobody at Old School Square took a dime of taxpayer money and stuffed it into their pockets. All public money given the organization was earned after services were rendered. For years, volunteers raised 75-80 percent of the money used to run our cultural arts center and did all the work, now the taxpayer pays 100 percent. That’s a fact.

The volunteers didn’t stick the taxpayers with a bill for the renovation of the Crest Theatre either. That project was funded by a generous donor who had a pie thrown in her face and withdrew her money.

Now the taxpayers must ante up millions for projects that were privately funded through the efforts of Old School Square.

If you’re an arsonist, you shouldn’t be able to burn down a house and then blame others for the destruction you caused.

Old School Square fired back at the latest pie in the face by stating the facts. That was the right thing to do.

But the larger issue is the pie throwing itself;  the larger issue is the sense that if you fall on the wrong side of the political divide, you face peril.

It’s not fun to write that sentence, but building anything of value requires radical candor. Problems don’t magically go away, if left unaddressed, they fester. In our community, we have a bad habit of just trying to plow forward. We skip the healing part, we skip the analysis and we sacrifice the learning and the reconciliation that’s possible if we talk through issues and try and find the lessons in painful moments.

The new composition of the city commission is making strides. We have kind people serving on the city commission. Our city and our world need empathetic leadership at every level.

I am not asking for some kumbaya moment. But I’m thinking we should take advice from Otis Redding and try a little tenderness.

Robust debate is healthy and necessary. If you see something you don’t like, speak out, even if you shake when you do so.

We can disagree. We can even compromise, imagine that?

But we cannot be successful if volunteers don’t feel safe to serve or disagree.

You can say Old School Square made mistakes, but if you are alleging corruption, you better bring the goods.

Margaret Atwood who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an expert communicator on dystopias and utopias.

She says we have a choice.

“Writing dystopias and utopias is a way of asking the reader the question, “where do you want to live?” she recently said. “And where you end up living is going to depend partly on what you do now.”

Yes indeed. What do we do right now?

We have a choice.

I hope we choose kindness and support those who value building a community where it is safe to dream, volunteer, invest and aspire.

If we don’t, there will be nobody to throw pies at, volunteers and those who aspire will find somewhere else to give their time, talent and treasure. We will lose what took decades to build. We already have when it comes to Old School Square.

 

 

 

The Power of Waves

 

Sometimes life crashes into you; like a wave.

You can be cooking along on autopilot only to be floored by a bit of news…. or a work of art.

When that happens— when the waves hit—you get snapped out of your rhythm. You’re reminded that you’re human; fragile, vulnerable, at risk.

In some cases, the waves are beautiful. They knock you over in a good way. You shake your head and marvel at all this world has to offer.

But sometimes a wave knocks you over and fills your lungs with dread. You’re left breathless, as if you’ve been punched before having a chance to brace yourself.

I’ve had four such waves hit me in recent weeks.

Two of the waves may seem silly, but they’re not. A great piece of art can reach deep, where it matters most. Art can take many forms—sculpture, a painting, music, or a TV show that touches you in a profound way and leaves you with a new perspective.

And sometimes, a wave can come via a text from a friend who tells you that something awful has happened.

In one text, we learned of the suicide of a friend’s 20-something daughter and in another we learned of the death of another friend’s 38-year-old daughter felled by a stroke. Both waves hit hard.

When you cherish your friend’s, when you open your heart to a kindred spirit, it’s a wonderful thing: an antidote to America’s crisis of loneliness. But you also become vulnerable to heartbreak. Bad things happen to good people and when they do you ache.

When my mother passed away in 1998 at the age I am now, the pain I felt was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. At the time, I sought solace in the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner who passed away earlier this year.

“Pain is the price we pay for being alive,” he wrote. “Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”

That’s a question worth thinking about.

Globally, 1 in 100 deaths are by suicide. That’s a stunning figure.

There are no words or deeds we can offer my friend or any other person who has lost a loved one to suicide to make up for that loss, but we sure feel the pain.

And there are no words to soothe our hearts when a young talented woman is lost to a devastating stroke at a young age.  We take some solace that her organs will give life to others, but we grieve. The waves leave a permanent scar.

Still, I come back to Rabbi Kushner’s question which I have been wrestling with since I read his words 25 years ago.

“What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”

I think the answer is we love others, and we aspire to fulfill our dreams and lead a good life.

And that leads me to the two good waves that hit recently.

I’m a fan of good writing and recently two of the best written TV series of all time ended their runs. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Ted Lasso” wrapped up their decorated runs with final episodes that were pitch perfect. Although I will miss both series immensely, I’m grateful for the artistry and the messages these shows provided during a tumultuous period in our world.

I’ve been studying playwriting recently and one of the main takeaways is that the best works contain a message, a point of view that propels the story forward.

For Mrs. Maisel, the message that drove the series was the importance of pursuing your dreams and never giving up even if the odds are stacked against you. So, despite setback after setback, Mrs. Maisel perseveres. She may wobble at times, but she always keeps her eyes on the prize. It’s a good lesson, because life is not easy and it’s sure not a straight shot to the top.

As for Ted Lasso, well….the message of that sweet show is the magic of love.  Ted Lasso is a show about love, made with love about the power of love.

There is no better message.

Some waves you want to lean into and ride because they’re beautiful and you want to be transported. Other waves knock you off your feet. Our world sure has its ups and downs.

“Upon us all, a little rain must fall,” the Led Zeppelin song says.

Indeed.

The Beatles answer with: “when it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind.”

So true.

Here’s hoping you catch some good waves. And I hope that when you get hit with a bad one, that you find meaning in the pain and a way forward. Always a way forward.

 

 

Odds and Ends.

Bishop Stokes

A very special man, with Delray ties, retired last week and I can’t let the moment pass without saying thanks to a dear friend.

Chip Stokes, the former pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on South Swinton Avenue, who left us in 2013 to become the 12th Bishop of New Jersey, retired from his post June 4. His last official visitation was at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, where it all began for my friend and his lovely wife Susan.

Chip and Susan were a blessing to our community and for me, he was an important touchstone. Chip’s door was always open and even though we came from different faiths, I found solace in his advice and inspiration in his passion for community and social justice. He was a trailblazer in race relations, a trusted friend to many and a beloved pastor who is dearly missed.

I often turned to Chip for advice when I was feeling the weight of the world during my tenure as mayor which included the shooting of a young man named Jerrod Miller, numerous hurricanes and my strong desire to bridge the gap between the races in Delray Beach. I could always rely on Chip to listen, give sage advice, and to buoy my spirits. He was more important to me than I think he knew at a time when I really needed someone of his immense sensitivity to care. We shared a desire to improve race relations, a love of baseball, and a belief that the world could be a better place if we could somehow connect with our fellow human beings.

When he was being vetted for the Bishop’s job, a team of church leaders came to Delray Beach to talk to parishioners and community leaders about Chip. I was honored to be among those they interviewed. We met at the historic church on Swinton, a place where I would from time to time, to see my friend and I was asked about his impact on the community.

Something happened to me when I began to answer. It has never happened before and it hasn’t happened since. But as I described my friend and the love he had shown for our town, I found that tears were welling up in my eyes. I was surprised and a little embarrassed at the time, but the interviewers were kind and understanding. I knew in my heart that Chip would get the job; he was too gifted not too and I could tell by the questions that the interviewers were smart people. They would surely see what I saw in Chip, that he was a man with extraordinary leadership qualities. I would miss Chip, Delray would miss Chip, but we wanted him to get the job.

He did and he knocked it out of the park.

Reflecting on his Chip’s influence in Delray last week, I kept coming back to the words love and passion. The best leaders are full of love and passion for people. They have compassion as well.

And as I ache for my divided country and also my divided city, I realize that Chip’s example still teaches me; leadership cannot happen without love, passion and compassion. Fomenting hate and division is not leadership, it is the opposite.

I thank Bishop Stokes for his example. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but we’ve remained in touch and his impact still resonates around these parts.

We wish Susan, Chip and his New York Mets nothing but health and happiness.

 

The Teachers In Our Midst

The chiefs who left a legacy: Kerry Koen and Rick Overman attending the Bronze Star ceremony at Old School Square for retired Officer Skip Brown.

If you’re lucky, teachers show up in your life long after you’ve tossed your last mortar board in the air.

I’m lucky.

I’ve been blessed with the best teachers imaginable.

They’ve taught me lessons large and small. They’ve taught me things I didn’t know, and they have reminded me of things I may have forgotten but shouldn’t have.

The best teachers may not even know that they’re educators, they just share their hard-earned wisdom in doses you can absorb and at times when you need to hear what they have to say.

This piece is dedicated to my good friend Kerry Koen. To call Kerry a teacher is an understatement. He’s more like a professor and I’ve hung on to every word of his eloquent lectures for a long time now.

If the name Kerry Koen rings a bell, it’s because he’s a revered retired fire chief who served both Delray Beach and Boca Raton with distinction.

Chief Koen is universally respected, and that’s a rare thing these days.

Let’s face it; we’re a cynical lot, aren’t we? Not the good readers of this blog of course, but society as a whole.

We’ve become snarky and insensitive. We don’t give weight to expertise, service, integrity, intelligence, and kindness.

Institutions we once had faith in, we no longer trust.

But I still believe.

I believe in the good people I’ve met and grown to love and respect.

In the top tier of that list is my friend and teacher Kerry.

We became friends through my involvement in Delray—first as a reporter, later as a city commissioner and finally as a mayor and now way beyond that blip in my life.

Kerry had left Delray before I got elected and served Boca with distinction before being lured back by City Manager David Harden.

We had a solid relationship during my commission tenure; Kerry taught me a lot about the fire service and the challenges of serving a city as complex as Delray Beach.

Our downtown had come to life on his watch and while that was good, it presents challenges as well, especially if you are in the public safety business. Large crowds, lots of traffic, special events, tourists, alcohol. It’s a lot.

Then 9/11 happened and our world and our little city changed. Now when we rode with firefighters on the bright red engines and handed out treats on Halloween, we would receive calls from panicked parents concerned that the sugar spilled on the kitchen table from their kid’s candy buckets might be anthrax. We found out that several of the 9/11 plotters were living in our city—going to our library, filling prescriptions at our downtown pharmacy, attending our local gyms.

It was the end of the innocence. Our world was forever changed.

In dangerous times, we look for extraordinary leadership. Our little city had that with Chief Koen and Chief Rick Overman, who ran our police department.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Mayor David Schmidt never lost sleep about doings at City Hall because he had faith in city staff. I’ve been thinking about that statement, and it was true for me as well.

I lost sleep over my ability to handle a racially charged shooting, hurricanes, and other controversies but I never lost sleep over whether our fire or police departments could protect and serve us.

I had faith in the men and women who served, and that faith continues today. And in my opinion, Kerry played a big role in building a magnificent Fire Department that continues to serve us long after his retirement.

We can trust that when we dial 911 that we will receive top-notch services. We can trust that if we face an emergency—manmade or Mother Nature- that we are in good hands.

Kerry’s superpower —so to speak— is to always see the big picture. He has an analytical mind and draws connections to the past and the future. He “sees” where we are headed and generously shares his thoughts which are prescient, deeply felt and ultimately hopeful.

He sees trends and is steeped in history.

But he’s also current and forward-thinking, which is of great help to those of us who cherish his friendship.

Still, I find myself thinking of his time as chief and how deeply I admired his approach to the job.

We are a diverse community and Kerry got out of his office at the main station on West Atlantic to engage with civic leaders. He grew close to people like Alfred “Zack” Straghn, a local civil rights icon, and he cultivated strong relationships with the people of Highland Beach. His department served Highland Beach and he took that mission to heart.

The relationship between Delray and Highland Beach was win-win and now that’s gone. Losing that contract is a loss for both municipalities—a mistake that I would wager would not have happened if Kerry could have helped it.

After my 7 years of service, Kerry vowed to stay in touch. And he did. He made the effort. We began to meet for lunch and conversation. There were phone calls and emails too. Every interaction is memorable. He taught and I listened and learned.

He sent me interesting pieces to read, suggested subjects for this blog, shared wonderful photos of his travels and coached me through my ups and downs.

He showed me things—passages from books, meaningful quotes, historical tidbits and invited me into his home to show me a fire bell display he had built over time.

He has such unique insights. He sees the things I miss. He changes how I view issues and how I see the world itself.

And remarkably, I am not alone. There is a large cohort of us who benefit from Kerry’s generous intellect. He has “groups” in Boca and Delray—connections in Chicago, Memphis and Illinois that he tends too lovingly.

Some of us know each other and we marvel at his capacity to build and sustain relationships.

When I think of the richness of this world, how much there is to know, experience and learn, I get overcome with gratitude.

The experts say there is an epidemic of loneliness in this world. Last week, loneliness was labeled a public health issue.

There is no vaccine for loneliness, but there is a remedy: connection.

These days my community involvement is much smaller than it used to be. Some of it is cultural, (Delray is a different place but a new day has dawned!), some of it is where I am in life and in my career, but I’ve tried to keep up as best I can with the special people. We may not see each other much, but the connection is there.

The ties that happily bind us all.

With Kerry Koen it’s easy, because he makes the effort, checks in and because he cares so much.

He’s remarkable. A gift—- to so many lives. And for that I am  forever grateful.

 

 

The Oath…

The biggest crowd in memory turned out to see Rob Long and Angela Burns sworn in.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” Simon Sinek

Delray Beach starts the week with two new commissioners: Angela Burns and Rob Long.

I wish them well.

After a bruising campaign season, Angela and Rob were sworn in last Thursday for three-year terms.

The crowd that turned out to see them was jubilant. There’s excitement in the air, there’s a chance to turn the page and be a better Delray.

Yes, the swearing in was a very special moment for this community. Hope has made a comeback.

Now the work begins.

We had a saying back in the day: first you’re sworn in, then you’re sworn at.

But all kidding aside, serving your community is an honor and a privilege.

I’ve long believed that local government is where we can really make a difference. It’s a big enough job to be fascinating—especially in a city like Delray—and easy to make an impact if you’re focused. After all, if you have a suggestion on a Tuesday night and two of your colleagues agree, change can start happening Wednesday morning.

That’s the beauty and promise of local government.

Make no mistake, serving in elected office is no walk in the park. It’s an awful lot of work if you do the job right. Commissioners can look forward to a lot of reading, a lot of meetings, and of lot of nights and weekends away from family. It’s all worth it.

In a dynamic city such as Delray, you are tasked with being visible, accessible, and responsive. Again, it’s worth it.

You have to become familiar with urban planning principles, economic development, labor issues (the city has three active unions), pensions, capital improvement budgets, municipal finance, how CRA’s operate and function and a whole host of other stuff ranging from coastal conservation and water issues to issues concerning the business community, local schools, neighboring governments, public safety, race relations, civic engagement and more, much more.

It’s challenging but wonderful. It can be stressful but immensely fulfilling.

Governing is the fun part (most of the time), but politics are hardly ever fun and in this town the politics have become increasingly toxic.

While there are ideological differences between factions in Delray, the most worrisome differences are personal.

If the differences were only ideological, there would be hope for compromise. There’s a chance that two parties can sit down and work something out.

But when personality conflicts erupt, it gets ugly. Each side begins to look at the other as an existential threat. That’s what happened nationally and that’s what we may be up against in local politics.

I wish I had answers, but all I have are theories as to how to make the public square safer and better at delivering results for communities.

It does start with leadership and I believe a specific type of leadership; i.e. servant leadership.

Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. Leaders have to remember that  they work for us, we don’t work for them.

We, as citizens, do have a responsibility to engage, be informed, remain civil and vote. Too many of us don’t practice the fundamental building blocks of Democracy.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know Rob Long and Angela Burns better. I think they both held up extremely well under fire, I see them as kind people who are committed to Delray Beach. Both care about education, housing, jobs,  government transparency and the culture at City Hall.

I think they have a chance to do good things. And this community hungers for good things and positivity.

I hope and trust that they will remain visible, accessible, and responsive to all citizens. As I mentioned in an earlier post, in his victory speech last month, Rob emphasized that he was there to serve everyone not just those who voted for him. I like that.

Why?

Because this city needs healing.

We also have challenges to face and opportunities to seize.

Good leaders roll up their sleeves and help people win.

If you want to make a complex job simple; that’s the formula.

Finally, one piece of unsolicited advice. The best part of being a servant leader is the opportunity you are given to connect to others. Take the time to build relationships. Take the time to work shoulder to shoulder with the people you serve. Help them succeed and then recognize those achievements. That’s how you build community; that’s how you build and sustain civic pride.

Wishing Angela and Rob and the rest of our commission the very best.