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.

 

 

Second Chances….

Recently, I went to an open house at a nonprofit called The Second Chance Initiative.

I was swept away.

It was my second visit to Second Chance’s warehouse like headquarters in Boca and both times I left there deeply moved by the nonprofit’s mission and the work being done by women overcoming obstacles so they can rebuild their lives.

There is so much good work being done in our communities. Much of it is done quietly and without fanfare, but lives get saved and that’s what matters.

Some of you may know that I serve as a trustee for the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation https://www.carldesantis.org/. It is an amazing honor to do this work. Carl was a generous and kind man. Those of us involved in the Foundation are deeply committed to extending his legacy and his strong desire to help people.

Giving people a second chance in life was a value that Carl believed in. He related to the underdog and always rooted for the David’s in their struggles against the Goliaths of the world. I don’t know the root cause of that sentiment, but I think that Carl thought of himself as an underdog in many ways. He itched to take on the giants—whether it was competing with the big players in nutrition or challenging the leaders in the energy drink space. Carl was always up for a good challenge.

One time, he went to Mexico and tasted a hot sauce. He came back with the recipe and a plan to take on Tabasco.

That’s how Tabanero was born, right here in Delray Beach. Today, Tabanero is poised to make a run at the big players in the field. The little brand with a big taste is already at Walmart.

But as much as he loved business and the challenge of taking on the champs, he truly loved helping those who needed a second chance.

So, when a friend from Delray told me about the Second Chance Initiative, I was all ears. Second Chance is dedicated to changing the trajectory of women’s lives. The program enables women in recovery to work toward self-sufficiency by breaking what they call the “cycle of shame” that often leads to relapse.

Second Chance believes that work can contribute to well-being. In the small warehouse in Boca, women in recovery produce mugs, ornaments, and tumblers that they sell on Etsy. Proceeds get funneled back into the program which also teaches job skills and provides a supportive and loving community for women rebuilding their lives.

When a colleague and I conducted a site visit to the check out the program a few months ago, I committed a terrible faux pas. You’re supposed to observe the program, ask tough questions and be dispassionate, but we met some of the women and we heard their stories and I found myself….well… I found myself choking up.

I was touched by the stories of women who lost it all—families, children, marriages, homes, careers and their self-worth. And I was moved by the stories of how this program is helping these women rebuild their lives.

They are getting a second chance. They are finding a community of compassion, and it’s powerful to witness. You can feel the love that goes into every coffee mug; it sounds goofy but there’s magic unfolding in suite 312 in a warehouse district on Boca Raton Boulevard.

And so, I thought, my friend Carl would love this mission. It had it all, stories of people overcoming obstacles, women learning business and life skills so they can live good lives. And they were making cool products that I knew the “product guy” in Carl would really appreciate.

Luckily, the board agreed with our recommendation to fund a gift.

When we returned for the Open House, we were greeted by a group of women working at Second Chance. We were treated to amazing stories of resilience by those who “graduated” and are doing well—one day at a time— and we met several friends who support this mission.

This time, I didn’t tear up, but my heart filled with joy. This was a joyous experience, and I was grateful that my friend’s generosity made it possible to help others.

I’m falling in love with philanthropy. I’ve been on the asking end as a board member raising funds for local nonprofits for decades and that’s been fulfilling too. But giving is extra special.

We are trying very hard to make every hard earned dollar count, to honor Carl’s memory and to help people and communities thrive.

When I come to my office, I long to share what I’m seeing with my friend, who made this all possible but he is no longer here. When I shared that sentiment with a co-worker, she assured me that Carl knows what’s happening.

I believe he does too. And I believe that we are going to do a lot of good.

For more information on the Second Chance Initiative please visit https://her2ndchance.org/

If you need holiday gifts for the office or home Shop Directly https://her2ndchance.org/pages/shop-us-direct or visit the Etsy Shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SecondChanceMugs

Use Code GIVE20 to save 20 percent.

 

Rest In Peace

This week, we remember Cathy Arts who passed Nov. 6.

Mrs. Arts was the wife of my friend Mike Arts and the mother of my friend Peter. Both Mike and Peter are well-known for their public service, but Mrs. Arts was a major contributor to the community as well.

She served as a past president of the Palm Glades Girl Scout Council, past chair of the Florence Fuller Development Center and past president of the Boca Raton Historical Society.

She will be missed by many.

We also lost a dear friend Sister Mary Clare Fennell.

Sister Mary Clare led St. Vincent Ferrer School for years. I fell in love with her spirit of kindness, her sense of humor and her beautiful Irish brogue. She became a touchstone for me and so many others. When she retired and moved back to Ireland, I wrote about her for this blog. Here’s the link. https://yourdelrayboca.com/until-we-meet-again/

The title of the blog was “Until We Meet Again.” We had talked about going to Ireland and visiting. But once again life took over and we never did take that trip. I regret it, but I have a feeling we will meet again. Sister was a guiding light in this world; a positive, compassionate and loving soul. I’m glad she went home to her beloved Ireland, but wow did she make a mark right here in Delray Beach.

Open photo

 

We also extend condolences to Roy Simon and the Simon family on the loss of Mary Elizabeth Simon.

Mrs. Simon was involved in the committee that created the Delray Affair. She was also a Jubileer and was involved in our library and St. Paul’s Church.

May her memory be a blessing.

 

 

Honoring A Special Friendship By Seeding The Future

Carl DeSantis and Jerry Kay in NYC circa 2018.

Longtime friendships are magical.

They feed our souls and enrich our lives. And sometimes, when they are really special, they enrich the lives of others.

When I see old friends, my mind instantly scans the years. I can still picture my buddies as young men, with everything in front of them. Of course, we are now 40 and 50 years older, so the “boys” are well into middle age or dare I say it: old age.  As my friend Scott reminds us: how many 116 year-olds do you know?

He’s right, but we aren’t old—yet. Hopefully, we will get there. Together.

Regardless, as we age, I can still see the boy in every face. I know their laughs; I know their voices and their expressions. I still see the 8-year-old and the 18-year-old when I talk to the 58-year-old.

It’s oddly comforting.

Once again, old friends are top of mind.

Recently, the foundation I’m involved with—the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation—honored a special friendship between our namesake and his best friend Jerry Kay, who passed away suddenly in March.

Below is the story.

It’s a good one and I wanted to share it because friendship is one of life’s biggest blessings.

Many of us at CDS International Holdings—where I work—got to witness the chemistry between Carl and Jerry. We relished hearing the stories of long-ago adventures and we happily tagged along as these two gentlemen—who are gentle men—made new memories.

Please enjoy, and if you are so inclined, call an old friend. We never know how long we have left.

 

Entrepreneur Carl DeSantis’s gift pays tribute to the legacy of his lifelong friend and business partner E. Gerald “Jerry” Kay.

 

By Debbie Meyers

 

Carl DeSantis began his entrepreneurial journey in the 1970s by running his home-based, mail order vitamin and herbal supplement company out of his garage in Florida. Meanwhile, up in New Jersey, after years of working with his father in the nutrition industry, E. Gerald “Jerry” Kay became the sole owner of Manhattan Drug Company.

 

When DeSantis and Kay met, they had an immediate connection. DeSantis’s spark and drive moved Kay to invest in him. DeSantis’s business flourished to become Rexall Sundown, one of the world’s largest vitamin manufacturers, which DeSantis sold in 2000. Kay’s enterprise also experienced growth as he founded Integrated BioPharma, a company which manufactures, distributes, and sells vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products.

 

Kay died in March 2023, weeks before his 87th birthday. To honor his lifelong friend and supporter’s memory, DeSantis’s foundation has given $1.25 million to establish an endowed scholarship in Kay’s name for students enrolled in a Rutgers nutrition program.

 

“Since Mr. Kay was a pioneer in the nutritional field, we thought it made sense to support the next generation of leaders in that space,” says Jeff Perlman, a director of the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation. “We researched several programs and were deeply impressed by Rutgers. Since Mr. Kay lived and worked in New Jersey, choosing Rutgers felt right. It’s a wonderful university.”

 

Laura Lawson, executive dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, says the scholarship will benefit students in the school’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, which is ranked tenth nationally for undergraduate and master’s programs in nutrition. “We are honored that the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation has chosen to memorialize Mr. Kay’s memory through the E. Gerald Kay Scholarship in support of nutritional sciences students,” Lawson says. “This scholarship will help to ease our students’ financial burdens and allow them to develop careers that will support the common good, improving health locally and globally.”

 

In addition to undergraduate students majoring in the nutritional sciences program, of which there are 150, any undergraduate studying nutrition at Rutgers will be eligible for the scholarship. This includes students in the School of Public Health and the School of Health Professions.

 

Perlman says the DeSantis Foundation created this scholarship as homage to Kay, someone who gave DeSantis years of joy and friendship. Their friendship took them on travels and adventures all over the world. Their professional relationship endured, and they were advisers to each other’s businesses for decades.

 

“The common thread for both men was entrepreneurship—they were always discussing ideas for new businesses, new products, new packaging, and exciting marketing campaigns,” Perlman says. “As much success as they had, they never stopped dreaming. For them, it was less about financial success and more about the process and whether they could create something consumers would benefit from. It’s inspiring to be around that kind of passion because it is so rare.”

 

They ultimately were passionate about supporting good health. “Health and nutrition are inextricably linked—you can’t have one without the other,” Perlman says. “Since health is so important to a good life, the advancement of nutrition is essentially an investment in people. We’re hoping that the next generation can be as innovative as Carl and Jerry have been so that we can improve the health and quality of life for people all over the world.”

 

Kay’s daughters, Christina Kay and Riva Sheppard, continue to follow the family’s vocation as executive officers of both Manhattan Drug Company and Integrated BioPharma, which are based in Hillside, New Jersey. “My dad was a dedicated family man,” Christina Kay says. “Family also included the staff present and past at the company and great friends he met during his 60-plus years in the business. He loved life and went to the office every day, even if just to say hello to Riva, me, and his work family.”

 

Sheppard adds, “Our family is honored, especially our mother and his wife, Heidi Kay, that his name will be remembered for years to come through the E. Gerald Kay Scholarship. Our father—a man who believed that a balanced lifestyle is key to longevity—would have been thrilled that many will be given the opportunity to pursue their interest in the industry that he dedicated his life to along with his best friend Carl.”

Letter To You: Ferreri Edition

Gary getting a promotion.

To start the New Year, The New York Times ran a “7-Day Happiness Challenge.”

I thought it was great.

I completed the challenge and I have to say, it made me feel happy.

But of all the exercises they suggested, Day 4’s challenge resonated most deeply.

Here’s what the Times asked its readers to do.

“For today’s exercise, we’re going to get vulnerable and tell an important person in our lives how we feel about them. “Think about what they have done for you in your life,” said Dr. Bob Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of the new book “The Good Life.” “Where, or who, would you be without them?”

Consider what you would thank this person for if you thought you would never see them again. Take a few minutes and write down what you would tell them, with as many specific examples as possible. Don’t overthink it: It can be both dashed off and straight from the heart. Think of it as a eulogy for the living. Then send it — by email, text, handwritten note, whatever. The medium doesn’t matter, sending it does.”

Yes, it does.

The happiest people take time to cherish the people they love, Dr. Waldinger said. Writing a note of appreciation to someone, research has shown, has an immediate positive impact on feelings of well-being and connectedness, for both you and the recipient.

I believe that.

I publish this blog every Monday morning in part to do just that—connect. And my writing often focuses on the people I have come to love and admire.

It feels good to write about special people who touch us. It makes us feel grateful and in a world that often feels a little off kilter (to put it mildly) that’s a good thing.

So am I going to up my game, or at least the frequency in which I devote this space to letting people know how cool I think they are.

With that intro, I want to send a shout out to Lt. Gary Ferreri of the Delray Beach Police Department.

Let’s start by saying that to know Gary is to love Gary.

He’s warm, funny, devoted, and accessible. He’s a wonderful police officer because he wears his affection for this community on his sleeve. He loves this place, and the community loves him back.

While still a very young man, Gary has already done a lot for his department, his city, and his friends. He’s the guy you can call at 2 in the morning and know that he will help. He’s been an officer for 16 years now and I have watched him go up the ranks and do well at every stop along the way.

If you google Lt. Ferreri you will see story after story of service.

Whether hosting youth football camps, delivering blankets to the homeless, warning residents how to avoid burglars or going to Washington D.C. during National Police Week to honor fallen officers, the common thread is protecting and serving. Another trait he exhibits: respect for others and the job itself.

Delray Beach lost an officer named John Kennedy in 1974. Officer Kennedy was ambushed in his cruiser while working on West Atlantic Avenue. He was 32 years old, had five children and a pregnant wife at home.

On Officer Kennedy’s Officer Down Memorial Page, Gary posted the following note. I found it touching and instructive. Read this note and you will know Gary’s heart.

“Today is a day of great sadness; Yesterday afternoon two NYPD Officers were murdered in cold blood, 3AM this morning a Tarpon Springs Police Officer was also murdered. I woke up and felt that I needed to visit you on this page.

Although I never met you and probably would’ve never met you as you would have been retired after I started my career at the DBPD in 2007, I feel like I have known you forever. I am honored to say that your son John has accepted me into your family as if I was his own son for the simple fact that WE share the same profession. I met your son, daughter in-law and grandchildren many years ago responding to a burglary that occurred across the street from your old home. Since then, we have become the best of friends. I have gone on vacation with your family, even been pranked by your grandchildren multiple times (the best was when they put flour and glitter in the A/C vents in my car, “priceless”). Last year, I had the most amazing honor and privilege of escorting your family to Washington DC’s National Police Memorial and hope to go again this coming year. This week I will be having Christmas dinner with your family and couldn’t be more happy.

Your spirit lives on at the Delray Beach Police Department and you will never be forgotten.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Gary suffered the loss of his father recently. Attendance at the funeral was huge.

I couldn’t be there, but I was with Gary in spirit as so many were. We appreciate this amazing young man who has given us 16 wonderful years and G-d willing many more.

I wanted to remind Gary that this community cares for him because he cares for us.

If you see him around town, thank him. I will. And I will pray for the safety of the men and who protect and serve us so well.

I’m writing this in the wake of the tragic death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. Like most of America, I was gutted by the release of the body cam and video footage of the vicious assault that took his life.

Like every profession, there are good officers and bad officers. I believe the vast majority of officers are good people trying to do a hard job. Let’s hope that out of this tremendous loss we can find a better way forward together.

 

In Memory of Peter Blum

Philanthropist, business leader and former Manalapan Mayor Peter Blum passed away Jan. 23.

Mr. Blum was a wonderful man who touched many lives through his long life of giving and achievement.

His name adorns the Boynton Beach YMCA and countless charities thrived thanks to his generosity and vision.

I was personally touched by his big heart when I had a serious case of Covid in 2020 and Mr. Blum and his lovely wife Mary shook the trees to help me get convalescent plasma, which was not yet approved but allowed for compassionate use.

Many others searched for and donated plasma as well. I am grateful to them all.

I was in ICU and heading downhill quickly when I received two doses of plasma. The treatment turned the tide and I believe saved my life.

I wrote to Peter and Mary Blum when I got out of the hospital thanking them for their efforts. I received a lovely note in return.

Because of the pandemic, I never had a chance to see the Blum’s in person.

But I am forever thankful.

Here’s a link to his obituary. What a wonderful man.

https://www.lorneandsons.com/obituary/peter-blum

 

 

 

 

 

Plastridge Makes History

From left, Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch.

If you Google companies that last 100 years…you stumble on some interesting facts.

The number of businesses that last a century is a very short list….less than half a percent of companies according to one study I found. It’s a rare company that lasts these days.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton are home to one of them. Plastridge Insurance, founded in 1919, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and we were honored to attend a banquet for employees, friends, retirees and family recently.

For my wife and I, it was a true pleasure. We feel very close to the Lynch family, who have led the business for the past 50 years or so. That’s when Tom joined the company after teaching English for a spell at St. Vincent Ferrer School on George Bush Boulevard.

I first met Tom 32 years ago when I moved to town to take a newspaper job. He was considered an up and comer in those days, a prominent business leader who was a founding chair of the CRA, chair of the Chamber, active at the local hospital and a key member of the Mayor’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force.

When Tom was elected mayor in 1990 it proved to be a landmark election for the city. As a reporter, I had a bird’s eye view of the changes he and his fellow commissioners were poised to make—implementing the Decade of Excellence bond, bringing Visions 2000 to life, working on local schools, stabilizing attrition at City Hall and hiring a police chief who would turn around the fortunes of the Police Department.

It was a great time to be in Delray and I loved covering the goings on. Diane, who came to work for the city during the same era, would later tell me that she (and others) were inspired by the vision, professionalism and team work that Tom and others on the commission championed. She (and others) were also struck by the courtesy extended to staff. Department heads and rank and file employees felt empowered to bring forth ideas, question assumptions and suggest the best path forward.

As a journalist, I was paid to question and to be skeptical. But I was won over by the leadership style of Mayor Lynch. Later, when I pursued my own entrepreneurial endeavors, I sought advice from Tom and began to become fascinated by his success with Plastridge and some of his other business endeavors. He was always generous with his time and advice. When we would get together, it would seem that we would never run out of subjects to talk about and while we agreed on many things, we also proved that you can be friends and politely disagree on the subjects where we saw things a little differently.

I’ve written before that Tom encouraged me to pursue local politics and it was his initial belief in me that got me to seriously consider a run for office in 2000. During my 7 years in office, he served as a trusted sounding board and I can’t overstate how valuable that is. He never once told me what to do, but he helped me through some difficult times with advice I knew was always meant to help me and the city we both cared a lot about.

Sitting at the Marriott listening to long time colleagues such as Mike Bottcher (38 years at Plastridge) and his assistant Paula Post recount how many lives he’s touched at the agency and in the community, I realized how lucky I was to be one of them.

Over the years, I got to know Tom’s wife Hillary who is wonderful and community focused too and his terrific children all of whom are accomplished and kind.

Out of the six kids, I’ve gotten to know Connor and Brendan the best. Both have done a great job moving Plastridge into the future now that Tom is taking some time to paint and indulge other interests.

Both Connor and Brendan are friends and I’ve grown to admire them both greatly. They are smart, talented, dedicated and effective in business and in the community. I was thrilled when Connor was recognized by the Sun-Sentinel last week with a prestigious award that recognizes his devotion to the community and his business acumen and potential for even greater success.

As I made my way around the party and ran into a few folks I’ve known over the years—Tom McMurrian, Peter Arts, Lula Butler, Janet Meeks, Ryan Boylston—all noted the incredible achievement of lasting and thriving for 100 years. And all noted how special the Lynch’s are.

Communities rise or fall based on the quality of people that show up to lead, encourage, mentor, volunteer, run for office, serve, give, employ, invest, think, risk and nurture others.

We were so fortunate that Tom came from the cold of Chicago to the warmth of Delray. Here, he and his family have chaired non-profits, given generously to good causes, dreamt of a better city/county/state and did something to make it so. The list goes on and on. Now, thanks to a new generation, all the good is sure to endure.

Here’s to the next 100 years.

 

 

He Gave Kids The World

Henri Landwirth

Henri Landwirth died last week. He was 91.

You may or may not know the name. But he was a great man and a great Floridian too.

His obituary did appear on the front page of the Orlando Sentinel, but in many places his passing was obscured by the death the same day of Barbara Bush, also a great person with ties to the Sunshine State.

Mr. Landwirth was a remarkably successful hotelier in Central Florida who built an empire from scratch.

But I got to hear of him—and meet him a time or two—because he founded “Give Kids the World”, a magnificent charity that makes dreams come true for seriously ill children and their families. Over the years, Give Kids the World has served over 160,000 children from all 50 states and 75 countries.

I was introduced to Give Kids by former Delray Beach Vice Mayor Jon Levinson whose family was very involved in the charity.

Every year, Jon and his family would buy a few tables at the Give Kids the World Annual Banquet at the Peabody in Orlando.

And each year, Jon would invite a few friends to come for a fun filled but meaningful weekend. Diane and I and the kids were able to go a few times and we happily supported the organization.

Nearby, Mr. Landwirth and the charity built Give Kids the World Village, a warm and inviting place that served as a respite for families going through indescribable sorrow and stress.

A visit to the village gave everyone instant perspective on what was truly important and how if your loved ones have their health—well let’s just say that whatever is stressing you isn’t so bad after all.

Jon made it a point to take his guests to the village. This way it wasn’t just a fun weekend at the Peabody. (The Duck March is a hoot though).

Many of the visitors were deeply affected. When our friends Bill and Tracy Branning visited, their daughter Kelly was inspired to start an organization at Boca High that raised funds for the charity.  We all thought that was very cool and a big hint to the size of her heart. She now teaches in an inner city school in Washington D.C.

Mr. Landwirth was a Holocaust survivor who suffered terribly as a child in the camps. From the age of 13 to 18 he was imprisoned by the Nazis. He was separated from his twin sister, his parents were killed and he was frequently beaten. He came to the United States with $20 to his name, started in the hotel industry as a bellhop and built an empire, starting as a Holiday Inn franchisee. It’s a true only in America story.

His motivation for starting Give Kids was simple: he didn’t want children and their families to suffer.

So the village was built to give kids and their families a taste of a nicer world and allow them to experience a weeklong dream vacation. From humble beginnings, the village grew to 166 accommodations spread out over 84 acres in Kissimmee.

We urge to check it out and get involved. Visit https://www.gktw.org/

This kind of empathy is what’s needed to create a better world. And it’s important that we do.

We need more Henri Landwirth’s.

They not only give us a world with heart, they heal broken hearts too.

Old School Square Makes Us A Village

The anchor is a beacon.

We went to a great party Sunday afternoon to celebrate a generous donation to Old School Square.

And we were reminded about how art builds community.

Margaret and Robert Blume stepped up to make the transformation of the Cornell Museum possible.
When the newly renovated museum re-opens in November, we predict that visitors to the space will be amazed.

As Old School Square CEO Rob Steele puts it: the museum will become an important community asset for Delray Beach with profound and enduring benefits.
That’s exactly what it should be. Community museums and art centers are meant to be treasured assets valued by residents, tourists and artists.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of donors like the Blume’s, dedicated staff (and Old School Square has a terrific staff), a committed board, volunteers and a supportive city.
It really does take a village.

The Blume’s were taken by Old School Square’s story and it’s importance to the community and stepped up as a result.
Let’s face it, when it comes to philanthropic dollars there is enormous competition. You have to have a compelling mission and an ability to deliver in order to stand a chance with so many worthy causes to choose from.

Those of us who are board members and fans of Old School Square are hopeful that others will be inspired to step up and help Old School Square in its important mission. Rob and his dedicated team have created naming rights and other opportunities for philanthropy and involvement.

Here’s hoping that many seize the opportunity to shape the future. Old School Square is a special place and plays a central role in our community.

I’m reading a great book by musician Dar Williams called “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” which is devoted to the observations of an artist who has spent a life on the road.
Ms. Williams is a self taught urban anthropologist and her eyes have been trained to see what works in towns she visits that thrive.
In her book, she notes a concept she calls “positive proximity” —or the creation of spaces where people can gather, meet, talk, experience music, art and community.
Sound familiar?

That was the genius of Frances Bourque’s idea when she looked at a dilapidated old school sitting on the very best real estate in town.
She saw a place that could be the focal point of our city. A place that could build community.

Over the years, Old School Square has delivered.

It’s where we practiced for our All America City awards, where we gathered to light the Christmas tree and Menorah, where we thanked volunteers, where we held a vigil after 9/11 and where we met as neighbors to discuss race relations.
It’s also where we met to discuss our downtown master plan, where we have lit unity candles on MLK Day and where we attended weddings and other important personal celebrations.
In its classrooms, we have seen artists of all ages learn and explore their passions. On its stages, we have experienced magic.

Old School Square is our most important asset. It belongs to everyone. It honors our past, informs our present and speaks to our future.
And it needs our help. Now more than ever.

We need to complete our parks plan, reinvent for the future and make the most of the amphitheater.
If we fulfill its promise, we will remain a strong community. In  a world that’s increasingly polarized and growing more remote thanks to technology (and fear of one another) we risk losing “positive proximity.”
That’s a loss we may never recover from and will be sure to regret.
Old School Square was the key to Delray’s revitalization three decades ago. It’s even more important to our future.

Wanted: Civic Giants With Heart & Vision

Terry Stiles

Terry Stiles died Sept 11.
He was 70 and was a civic giant.
He was also a developer.
His success as a builder enabled him to give back to his beloved Fort Lauderdale.
We need more of his kind.
More people willing to step up and give. More people willing to step up and make it happen.

Mr. Stiles was one of the people credited with transforming Fort Lauderdale from a small beach town into a thriving city.
Some people like what’s happened. I’m sure some long for the  good old days.

But regardless of what side of that divide you fall on, there’s no denying the impact Stiles Corporation has had on Fort Lauderdale. But it wasn’t just the skyline that was impacted, it was the entire business community, the arts scene, health care, education and economic development that was forever changed via one man’s involvement, passion and commitment.

I met Mr. Stiles a few times over the years. I know people who worked for him and we have a few friends in common who knew him far better than I did. But I’m impressed and awed by these civic giants–these local icons who make a dent in their corners of the universe.

Compared to Fort Lauderdale, Delray is a small city. We have had our share of civic icons. And several have been generous.
But we need more.

Boca Raton has been blessed with some incredible philanthropy. Christine Lynn, the Schmidt Family Foundation, Dick Siemens, the Snyder’s, the Drummond’s et al.
They’ve made a profound and lasting difference.

But right about now, Delray can use a few folks to step up and make some things happen.

Old School Square can be a national cultural treasure, the Arts Garage needs angels, the Library, Historical Society, Spady Museum, Achievement Center, Caring Kitchen, Milagro Center, Miracle League, Sandoway House, Impact 100 all need financial support and commitment.

The list of worthy non profits and causes goes on and on. All of them need people willing to say: We need to solve this problem, we need to seize this opportunity or we need to rescue kids, animals, families etc. The city itself is a cause: we need people to step up and devote themselves to making a difference in Delray.
You get the picture.
And it’s not just charity.
Civic leadership also means people willing to commit to designing great parks, improving local schools, building affordable housing, creating jobs and opportunities for all, solving the scourge of substance use disorder, giving entrepreneurs a chance to succeed and artists a place to create etc.
We need civic giants.

Those people who move the needle are those who think long term and have ambition not for just themselves but for others.

We have enough naysayers. We have enough complainers. We have enough armchair quarterbacks playing gotcha, spouting off on social media, second guessing decisions and casting blame.
We need more leaders, angels, healers, supporters, investors, mentors and visionaries.

Yes, it matters who sits on the City Commission. Good mayor’s move the needle, they sell their city. They build civic pride. They evangelize and they nurture and support and still find a way to hold people to account without destroying their spirit.

They build, they fix. They don’t tear down.
And they inspire. They make you want to get involved. They make you want to be a citizen.
But…
We need more.
We can’t rely on five people serving for three years at a time.
We need long term players. People who are committed to creating something positive and important.

Such as:
Reinvent Congress Avenue.
Make Delray a cultural capital.
Create a sports and food Mecca.
Make our schools great, not good, but freaking great.
Vastly improve race relations so we are viewed as a beacon for the rest of America.
Break the cycle of poverty in this town. Learn from other cities but blaze our own  trail of greatness.

We need serious people.
Adults.
We need civic giants, people who  change the game.

State of the Arts

Arts Advocacy Day was a few weeks ago.

If you missed it, don’t worry most of us did.

But the day gives us a chance to assess the state of the arts and the important role culture plays in our community.

While there is some question about federal support for the arts in Congress, it appears states and cities are doubling down on their investments because they see—rightly—that the arts serve as an important economic development tool. In fact, one could argue that both Boca and Delray’s “edge” comes from a burgeoning arts scene.

While food and beverage have played a significant role in Delray’s renaissance, the arts made it possible for restaurants and other businesses to succeed. Old School Square was the catalyst for Atlantic Avenue and the many festivals and special events helped to create Delray’s vibrant and valuable brand.

In Boca, technology, education and medicine (MeduTech) are big factors in the city’s success, but layer in a robust arts and cultural scene and suddenly you have a city that is hard to compete with.

The arts create quality of life and place. The arts drive value and create and attract jobs.

Across America, states are investing in culture.

According to research by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), State Arts Appropriations increased in Fiscal Year 2017 including in Florida where the Governor and legislature have been battling over funding for tourism (Visit Florida) and economic development (Enterprise Florida).

Nationwide, legislative appropriations to state arts agencies increased by 8% in 2017, according to NASAA.

After a small decrease in state arts agency appropriations last year, FY2017 continues a trend of post-recession growth. State arts agency appropriations experienced a 20-year low of $260.2 million in FY2012. Between FY2012 and FY2017 these agencies gained $108 million. For FY2017, state legislative appropriations total $368.2 million, equating to an investment of $1.13 per capita. This is the third year in a row that state arts agency legislative appropriations have been above $1.00 per capita.

“State arts agencies address critical needs for American communities,” said NASAA CEO Pam Breaux. “They utilize the creative power of the arts to strengthen the economy, rural development and education. They help preserve American culture, heritage and traditional practices. They support our military service members and help heal our veterans. State investments in the arts help leverage an additional $11 billion in local and private support for these causes. You would be hard-pressed to find a better return on investment.”

Indeed.

Florida’s support for the arts went from $38.88 million in 2016 to $43.65 million, a 12.3 percent increase, well above the national average.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton have both used the arts to create value and drive economic development efforts.

Boca’s “Festival of the Arts” is a signature series of events featuring nationally known artists and writers.

Mizner Park garnered public support when it was first proposed by promising an arts and cultural component and both Lynn University and FAU have invested heavily in arts programming and venues.

Boca is also blessed with “The Symphonia Boca Raton”  which bills itself as “South Florida’s World Class Chamber Orchestra” and the city also has the Boca Ballet, Harid Conservatory and several impressive arts galleries and museums.  Not to mention a non-profit children’s theatre (Sol Theatre) and a vast array of film, literary and music events at the Levis Jewish Community Center.

If you want to get a fuller picture of culture in Boca visit: https://www.artsinboca.org/ 

Delray has also made a splash with its arts and cultural offerings.

The revitalization of the city was launched by the renovation of Old School Square which catalyzed downtown Delray and changed the city’s narrative from dull and blighted to vibrant and cool.

Newer offerings such as the Arts Garage, Spady Museum and a new library on West Atlantic Avenue were investments that have yielded return on investment in terms of city branding, crowds and buzz.

The city’s many festivals have also contributed to Delray’s economy and brand. Last weekend’s 55th annual Delray Affair– the city’s signature event– has in its roots a juried art show.

Across the country, many cities have chosen to invest in arts and culture in an effort to increase awareness, attract residents, tourists and businesses.

Of course, the public investment needs to be leveraged by private support, which Boca Raton has done very well and Delray still struggles with.

As for cross-border cooperation—it seems like it’s sometimes hard for organizations in the same city to collaborate, which makes the Boca Cultural Consortium all the more impressive.

Regardless, the arts are an important driver for the local economy. And evidence shows that the role of the arts may grow even larger in the future.

And that dear readers is a good thing indeed.

 

 

 

 

We Need You To Make An Impact

We need you: To Make An Impact

We take a break from local politics  to focus on something just as important: local philanthropy.
Last week, the newly formed Impact 100 for Men Palm Beach County held its first awards night at Delray’s Arts Garage.
It was a fun and memorable evening. And hopefully, the start of a long history for the nascent group started by my friend Chuck Halberg, a local contractor (we won’t call him a developer..heaven forbid) who spearheaded the group to support non-profits serving children in southern Palm Beach County.
I am honored to be part of the founding board along with a group of truly great guys. Impact 100 was modeled after the wildly successful Impact 100 for Women’s group which I think now gives close to $600,000 a year to local charities.
The concept is brilliantly simple: write one check, attend one meeting and vote to give a big amount to a few non-profits. Repeat year after year and make an impact.
In our first year, we managed to attract 56 men who stepped up and wrote checks for $1,000 plus a fee to the Community Foundation which houses the funds eliminating the need for us to form and administer a 501c3.
While we fell short of our goal of giving away $100,000 we were pleased with our debut and hope to grow each year.

The big winner in our first year was The Miracle League  founded and run by our friends and neighbors Julia and Jeff Kadel.
We’ve written about the Miracle League in this space before. The program allows children with special needs to play the great game of baseball.
It’s an amazing and beautiful endeavor. I was fortunate to be on the City Commission when the Kadel’s approached the City of Delray with the idea of opening the first accessible baseball diamond in Palm Beach County. We provided some seed money along with the county and the league formed at Delray’s Miller Field. It has grown and thrived ever since attracting private philanthropy, grants and scores of volunteers.
The dream now includes creating a boundless playground for children at Miller Park.
The Impact for Men group voted last week to award the Miracle League $50,000 toward the dream after hearing a compelling presentation from Julia.
We were also proud to donate $3,000 each to the amazing Milagro Center in Delray and to Junior Achievement which teaches kids the importance of entrepreneurship.
We are hoping that those dollar amounts increase in subsequent years and that we can make as large an impact as the Women’s group has been able to achieve.
While we live in a community that features great wealth, we are also a community that has overwhelming needs.
Less than a mile from million dollar homes and a rocking downtown there are many people living in crushing poverty.
There is hunger and deprivation in our communities and children and families  who go without.
We are fortunate to have many great non-profits that work hard to address the needs from Family Promise of South Palm Beach County which provides emergency housing to families and the Milagro Center which has a remarkable track record of impacting our most vulnerable children to Delray Students First which mentors and cares for kids looking to break out of the cycle of poverty to the stellar Achievement Center for Children and Families we are blessed with organizations that care and do a great job.
But despite the talent and dedication to making lives better there are unmet needs. And each of the organizations mentioned and many others struggle to raise funds for their critical missions.
I have long felt that while Delray has done a remarkable job revitalizing our city we have fallen somewhat short in our potential to develop a deeper pool of local philanthropists.
Yes, we have many generous people and a few foundations that have been invaluable. But from my vantage point, too many people are sitting on the sidelines, giving “back home” or simply unaware of the needs we have here at home. And this is our home.
While I’m sure there are unmet needs in Boca, from across the border I’ve long admired that community’s ability to raise funds for education, health care and the arts.
I have had the good fortune to sit on many non-profit boards over the years and it’s been a struggle to expand the pool of those who give back.  And so I see many of the same people going to the well time and time again. I’m so thankful for them. But we need more people to give what they can.
Many of the charities in our community are designed to break the cycle of poverty or inspire people to do more and be more.
Whether it’s teaching a child to consider business as a career (Junior Achievement) providing children with an arts experience that may spur a career choice or inspire beauty and understanding (Old School Square, Milagro) or spurring an interest in education (The Delray Public Library, Delray Students First) etc., we have vehicles to transform people. We just need some more fuel.
I’ve enjoyed the first year of Impact 100 for Men. The camaraderie of guys getting together to do good and the emotion of awards night.
I continue to marvel at the leadership and energy of people who step up, like my friend Chuck and many others.
As Uncle Sam might say, we need you to get involved. It really does take a village.