Ann Marie Giordano Gilden, P.A.

by Shelley Ouellette

Committed to integrity, professionalism, and extraordinary client care, Ann Marie Giordano Gilden, P.A., seeks to help families resolve difficult legal cases.

“I strive to efficiently resolve challenging family situations with a minimal level of confrontation and stress, particularly when children are involved,” Ann Marie says. “I take pride in the care, concern, and compassion I apply to each client’s case. I communicate often with the family as the case develops and keep them informed as it transitions through the judicial process.”

With more than 26 years of professional experience, Ann Marie practices in the areas of marital and family law and guardianship proceedings including divorce, custody, alimony, child support, adoptions, domestic violence injunctions, and paternity.

“Ann Marie and her staff demonstrated compassion and a steadfast commitment to protecting my interest, during this difficult period,” says a satisfied client. “Divorces are emotional. Ann Marie did a phenomenal job bridging the gap and educating me on the letter of the law.”

A former assistant state attorney for Lake and Orange counties, Ann Marie is a member of the Florida Bar, Seminole County Bar Association, Orange County Bar Association, Central Florida Collaborative Law Group, Volie Williams Inns of Court Seminole County, and Central Florida Family Law Inns of Court. In 2013, Ann Marie was recognized by her peers when she was named the Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society Attorney of the Year.


Fountain Parke by Ashton Woods

by Jill Cousins

Imagine living in a gated luxury community with exquisitely landscaped grounds, Mediterranean-style townhomes, a resort-style clubhouse and pool, fitness center, playgrounds, tennis courts, golf putting green, and charming streetscapes with a European flare.

Imagine living in a magnificent home with a gourmet kitchen, designer cabinetry, granite countertops, and spacious bathrooms and bedrooms with walk-in closets.

Imagine being just minutes away from major highways and Lake Mary’s best restaurants and shops. And best of all, imagine spending your weekends enjoying your beautiful townhome and the pristine Florida weather, rather than mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, or taking care of home repairs.

This is the lifestyle at Fountain Parke by Ashton Woods.

“We offer the best in resort-style living,” says sales counselor Rich Foutz. “Fountain Parke is a low-maintenance, luxury townhome community right in the heart of Lake Mary.”

Many new residents have come to Lake Mary to work for one of the major businesses in the area, such as AAA, Verizon, and Amazon. “We see a lot of different buyers across the board,” says Michael Roche, vice president of sales for Ashton Woods, Florida Division. “We have people with kids, people with no kids, empty nesters. We also get a lot of downsizers who have sold their larger home in places like Heathrow, Magnolia Plantation, and Alaqua. It’s just a really great, diverse group of people.”

The three-story townhomes, with prices starting in the mid-$250,000s, are currently available in three floor plans, ranging from 2,070 square feet to 2,504. Fountain Parke will soon feature three more floor plans, all with elevators. A model home with an elevator will open in May.

Fountain Parke also offers “quick move-in homes” in addition to its semi-custom homes. The sprawling community features nearly 50 buildings, with between three and eight townhomes in each.

All townhomes feature a two-car attached garage and three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the top floor. The second floor, or main level, includes an amazing designer kitchen with a large island workspace and an attached dining room, a large living room, a sunroom, a balcony, and a powder room. The ground floor features the entrance to the garage, storage areas, and a “flex room” that can be converted into a fourth bedroom with a full bathroom. The flex room can also be used as an office, a children’s playroom, or a home theater.

All master bathrooms have two-sink vanities and an extra-large shower. All models have utility rooms on the top floor, with room for a full-sized washer and dryer. Two of the models, the Venice and the Messina, have both a balcony on the main floor and a porch on the first floor.

Ashton Woods takes pride in its architectural details and the personalization of each property.

“We believe that every home’s design tells a story,” says Michael. “And at The Studio, our team of experienced design consultants works together with homebuyers to build a home that tells their own unique story and brings their vision of home to life.”

The beautiful clubhouse can be rented out for parties and special events. The pool area is simply spectacular. It features a resort-style pool and hot tub, with an adjacent “tot lot” playground and tennis court. The fitness center includes free weights, weight machines, and cardio machines.

“Whether you’re coming from a country club community or a high-end apartment complex, you will enjoy all the resort-style amenities within the neighborhood,” Michael says. “Ashton Woods’ trademark is design, personalization, and possibilities. Just the flow of the community gives Fountain Parke a unique feel. We give a lot of attention to landscaping because we want this to feel like a high-end, luxury resort.”

Ashton Woods is one of the nation’s largest private homebuilding companies, blazing new trails in design and personalization to build homes as unique as the people who live in them. Collaborating with homeowners for over 25 years, the company and its team of world-renowned designers look beyond the conventional to draw inspiration from unexpected sources, resulting in exceptional design in every Ashton Woods home. Recognized as the Most Trusted Builder in America by the Lifestory Research 2013 and 2014 Most Trusted Builder in America Studiessm, Ashton Woods’ collaborative approach is a key driver of its best-in-class customer satisfaction scores, with 95 percent of homebuyers likely to recommend the company to friends and family. For more information, or to experience the excitement of becoming another satisfied Ashton Woods homeowner, visit

In an effort to continuously improve its product, Ashton Woods Homes reserves the right to change plans, specifications, and pricing without notice in its sole discretion. Square footage is approximate, and window, floor, and ceiling elevations are approximate, subject to change without prior notice or obligation and may vary by plan elevation and/or community. Special wall and window treatments, upgraded flooring, fireplace surrounds, landscape, and other features in and around the model homes are designer suggestions and not included in the sales price. All renderings, color schemes, floor plans, maps, and displays are artists’ conceptions and are not intended to be an actual depiction of the home or its surroundings. Basements are available subject to site conditions. Homesite premiums may apply. Please see Sales Representative for additional information.


Elase Medical Spa

Take a look in the mirror. Do you like what you see? Do you look as young on the outside as you feel on the inside? If not, Lake Mary’s Elase Medical Spa and Cosmetic Surgery Center would like to help you look and feel better.

Conveniently located at the corner of International Parkway and Lake Mary Boulevard, Elase could have you looking 10 years younger in a matter of minutes. A variety of esthetic treatments are available at affordable prices to help you eliminate smile and frown lines, restore volume to your lips or cheeks, and make crow’s feet around the eyes disappear.

“Elase has changed all the rules, making laser and cosmetic services affordable to anyone who wants them,” says Stacy Proscia, DC, Elase Lake Mary’s new owner. “Patients are able to receive the highest quality treatments for low monthly payments – without down payments, credit checks, or financing. Elase has made it affordable to look and feel your best, without the hassles!”

Elase uses only the most advanced, high-tech products that have proven results, including injection fillers like Botox and Dysport. The full-service cosmetic surgery center also offers revolutionary treatments and the most advanced beauty solutions, such as laser hair removal, SmartLipo, and laser skin tightening.

Many clients first discover Elase at one of its monthly events, which are designed to introduce some of the medical spa’s most popular services in a fun environment. The spa recently hosted a complimentary “peel day,” where prospective patients were invited to try a peel and ask questions about microdermabrasion and chemical peels. Both treatments are a great way to reveal healthier, more youthful skin by sloughing off the old and dehydrated top layer.

Also popular at Elase are spa parties, in which a group of friends or colleagues has exclusive access to the spa. Some groups choose a Botox theme or have a skincare party, where each person is treated to a 15-minute microdermabrasion or laser treatment to get a taste of what the experienced aestheticians at Elase can do.

So, if you are ready for a boost in self-esteem, just make a visit to Elase Medical Spa and Cosmetic Surgery Center to see how the staff can help you feel and look years younger.

“I love going to Elase because it is clean, relaxing, and beautiful,” says one regular client. “But how I feel when I walk out the door is even better!”

Photo: Dr. Stacy Proscia, new owner of Elase Medical Spa


Couldn’t Be Bothered

by Georgia Fojo

Local rock band Bothering Dennis chases its big break at The Big O

Bothering Dennis, a local band made up of five Lyman High School students/alums, is on a roll… rock ‘n’ roll that is. If you’re wondering about the origin of the band’s name, let’s just say it pays homage to a not-so-happy neighbor who would frequently call the band out with noise complaints. It doesn’t get much more punk-rock than that. And while the band is focused on perfecting its sound, the five members are also enjoying newfound fame after recently giving a high-energy performance at The Big Orlando Music Festival – dubbed “The Big O” – at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

Three of the five bandmates (Matt Fowler, Caitlin Kaiser, and Aaron Trnka) are seniors at Lyman and the other two (Austin Taylor and Rachel Gentry) are recent graduates. Part of the band’s charm is its five-pointed personality.

“We like to be crazy,” says vocalist Austin. “You have to be fun to watch and connect with the crowd. That is a huge part of performing, and we have that. We want to be entertaining.”

With each band member drawing on a myriad of influences, the band’s inspiration list is an eclectic mix. The other part of Bothering Dennis’s charm is the absence of egos.

“It helps that we like each other,” says Rachel with a playful smile. “When we bring a song to the table,” adds Matt. “It goes through everybody.”

Earning a slot in The Big O festival lineup was no small feat. The band entered into an online battle of the bands and rallied support for votes. Only two local bands were selected for their category, and Bothering Dennis was one of them, opening up a grand opportunity to perform a 25-minute set alongside nationally-known acts like Weezer and Fall Out Boy.

“Our school supported us hard-core,” Austin says.

To propel Bothering Dennis to The Big O, Lyman teachers wrote the voting Web address on classroom whiteboards, the TV production class made announcements in the mornings, and a few teachers even danced at a handful of Bothering Dennis gigs to bring attention to the band. The support of faculty, friends, and fans was instrumental in helping Bothering Dennis come out on top.

On the big day at The Big O, the humble crew sold merchandise out of a guitar case, never anticipating the taste of fame and the surge of new fans that was ahead.

“Usually, we pull a good crowd of friends to our gigs, but this was different,” Matt remembers. “We played for a big crowd. Strangers were wearing our T-shirts, and people wanted our autographs and photographs.”

The evolution of Bothering Dennis was quick and natural. Matt and Austin started jamming together in Matt’s dimly lit garage, covering tunes from a favorite band of the pair: Rage Against the Machine. Soon came the bassist Rachel, who hooked them up with a drummer, and finally Caitlin joined in on rhythm guitar to complete the quintet. When Aman Singh, the original drummer, left to start classes at the University of Florida, newbie Aaron Trnka was gig-ready and eager to fill the open slot.

For nearly two years, Bothering Dennis has been working the local beat, starting with open-mic nights at the Red Lion Pub in Winter Park. The band has even played at Austin and Rachel’s graduation in the UCF Arena.

“It was the first time Lyman High School had ever invited a band to play at its graduation ceremony,” says Sharon Fowler, Matt’s mom. Needless to say, Lyman High has shown where their loyalties lie.

On the heels of its momentum, Bothering Dennis’s next big step is to record an album complete with 10 original songs.

For Bothering Dennis gig updates, check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Help them with their goal of performing at the 2015 Warped Tour by casting a quick vote at

To hear some of the heart-pumping tracks, visit

Photo: Bothering Dennis: Matt Fowler, Rachel Gentry, Aaron Trnka, Austin Taylor, and Caitlin Kaiser

Central Florida Pain Relief Centers

by Kevin Fritz


The word itself conjures up an array of thoughts and visions, none of which is particularly pleasant. There’s back pain, shoulder pain, migraines, abdominal pain, and pains in the neck. For as long as there have been people, there has been pain, but recent advances in medical science are creating new opportunities for welcome relief.

“Pain centers have been around for about 20 years, but board certification in Pain Management is only about a decade old,” says Dr. Teddrick Dunson, double board-certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Management, who practices from the Altamonte Springs location of Central Florida Pain Relief Centers. “And that’s what sets us apart; all of our doctors are board certified in pain medicine.”

With Central Florida Pain Relief Centers in Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, Sand Lake, and downtown Orlando, relief for acute or chronic pain is never far away.

Dr. Dunson says the approach to care at Central Florida Pain Relief Centers is the application of an array of modalities to ease the patient’s pain, not just pills or surgery.

“We treat the source of the pain,” he says. “We find out what is causing the pain, fix it, and get rid of it.”

Being focused and efficient is important. Dr. Dunson and Charito Alley, a nationally certified physician assistant at the Altamonte Springs clinic, see an average of 50 patients a day. They have gained a reputation for seeing patients quickly, usually within a week of the initial call. They are also known for not over-medicating.

“Treating pain with opiates is not always the best course of action,” says Charito. “When appropriate, those medications should be used in conjunction with non-opiates and therapy. It’s best to use a collective approach to pain management.”

At the initial consultation with each patient, a pain management plan is developed. Dr. Dunson recommends a family member be present in case the patient forgets part of the conversation, and to support the patient as they execute the pain treatment plan.

Sometimes the pain management plan calls for no medication. Sometimes physical therapy will alleviate the pain. Other times, injections are the best answer. Dr. Dunson always focuses on exercise and diet as part of any regimen.

Dr. Jorge Fernandez-Silva, who like Dr. Dunson is double board-certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Management, sees patients at the Lake Mary location of Central Florida Pain Relief Centers.

“We alleviate pain, take it away and help patients cope with the symptoms,” Dr. Fernandez-Silva says. “Some patients associate pain management clinics with pill pushing. While appropriate and monitored medication management may be a component of the treatment, it is not what we lean on.”

Dr. Fernandez-Silva says implanted devices work well in some cases. For example, an intrathecal pump (also known as a pain pump) can slowly deliver medication beneath the skin to ease pain, and a spinal cord stimulator applies an electrical current to the pain’s source.

While most patients have pain associated with a physical injury or trauma, doctors at Central Florida Pain Relief Centers treat plenty of wear-and-tear from aging. Over time, the spine naturally deteriorates and stresses out nearby joints and discs.

“Sometimes we have to retrain the body to heal it,” says Dr. Fernandez-Silva. “The problem doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does the treatment. When we refer a patient to physical therapy, it will involve exercise that will be incorporated into their life.”

The doctors are firm believers in using everything in their power to avoid the operating table, noting that unneeded surgery can lead to added chronic pain.

Both Dr. Dunson and Dr. Fernandez-Silva and all healthcare professionals at Central Florida Pain Relief Centers – including Dr. Avi Bhandary, Dr. Michael Creamer, Dr. Carlos Placer, Physician Assistant Charito Alley, and Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner LaMisa Rayside – are proud of their individual service.

“Each patient is different, and they have their own ideas, too,” says Dr. Fernandez-Silva. “You can’t treat everybody with a cookie-cutter approach.”

To schedule a consultation, visit, or call 877-362-7472. New patients may require a referral from their primary doctor.

Photo: Dr. Teddrick Dunson and Physician Assistant Charito Alley



Bryan D. Oeth, DMD

by Hedy Bass

“Going to the dentist should be a pleasant experience,” asserts Dr. Bryan Oeth, a nationally acclaimed dentist who moved his practice from St. Petersburg to Lake Mary four years ago. “Most people don’t regularly go to the dentist because they’re afraid or think there’s no need. If we can get people in here at least twice a year, then we can keep them out of trouble, which minimizes serious dental problems and keeps costs down.”

Dr. Oeth’s practice focuses on family, starting with patients as young as three. “We believe in family,” he says, noting that he and his wife, Judi, have six children between them and a sixth grandchild on the way. “I look at my patients, and they have families too. I’m not concerned with just one person. I’m concerned about the whole family. We’re here for people. I’m not here to push treatments on anyone. I find out where patients want to go, what they want, and what I can do for them.”

Dr. Oeth knows patients also appreciate “one-stop shopping,” preferring not to be referred to specialists, unless absolutely necessary.

“We can do just about anything most specialists do,” he says. “If, for example, a patient requires oral surgery, I have the same high-quality standards as an oral surgeon and years of experience. So, if I determine I can do the work, I will, without compromising the patient’s safety.”

Still, Dr. Oeth is quick to add that certain advanced treatments may require specialists to ensure his patients get the most positive results.

Since coming to Lake Mary, Dr. Oeth and Judi have established themselves as active members of the community. Whether participating in their church outreach or doing pro-bono work for those most in need, the Oeths enjoy great satisfaction in helping others.

“He loves to rebuild lives,” beams Judi, recalling the time her husband treated a young man whose teeth had been ruined by years of drug use. “Though he had stopped using drugs, his poor oral condition prevented him from finding work. Treatment not only improved his teeth but his self-confidence.”

“I want people to feel like no matter what’s going on, we can provide a solution,” says Dr. Oeth. “There’s no greater joy than having someone walk out of our office saying, ‘I can smile again.’”

Photo: Bryan D. Oeth, DMD, and Judi Oeth


Christopher Fojo, Sperry Van Ness

by Shelley Ouellette

Christopher Fojo, CCIM, senior advisor with Sperry Van Ness Commercial Real Estate Advisors, knows how and where to build a successful business in Seminole County. A longtime resident and community supporter, Chris specializes in providing local businesses full-service commercial real estate and brokerage services.

“I focus exclusively on Seminole County, which allows me to be highly knowledgeable about this lucrative and robust market,” Chris explains. “Additionally, Sperry Van Ness provides a highly collaborative environment, allowing me to work with other brokers in the firm who can provide the expertise needed to fully service clients in all asset classes including land, office, industrial, retail, and medical. We also offer full property management and advisory services.”

A Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) with more than 25 years in the commercial real estate field, Chris is experienced in advising not only local clients, but also international businesspeople about the many opportunities and investment structures available to commercial property investors in the Central Florida market.

Additionally, Chris heads the Lake Mary Council of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce and is very involved with the CCIM Central Florida District and Leadership Seminole.

“I am client focused, and I seek not only traditional solutions to my clients’ needs, but also innovative strategies to maximize the return on their investment,” Chris adds.

To learn more about Chris and the Sperry Van Ness roster of services, call 407-949-8162 or visit


Got Milk…and Gatorade?

by Jill Cousins

The recent recipient of two of her sport’s most prestigious awards, Oviedo’s Courtney Furlong is quite simply the best high-school volleyball player in America.

It’s not unusual for a young athlete to dream of playing professional sports or competing in the Olympic Games. It is unusual to turn those goals into a reality. Unless, that is, you happen to be Courtney Furlong.

A senior at Oviedo High School, Courtney was recently named the top high-school volleyball player in the country, as the winner of the prestigious Gatorade Player of the Year award. The 6-foot-2½ outside hitter was also honored as the 2014 Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Volleyball, making her the best player in Florida, and she was named to the MaxPreps All-American Girls Volleyball Team.

“I didn’t even know these awards existed when I came in as a freshman,” says Courtney, who turns 18 on March 18. “I never expected my high-school career to be this amazing. I never expected to win so many awards.”

In fact, Courtney’s list of awards and accomplishments at Oviedo is so long, it would fill up this entire page.

“Courtney just excels at pretty much every volleyball skill,” Oviedo Coach Jen Darty says. “Not only is she good, but she also wants to be the best and is always working hard to get better. Courtney is definitely very deserving of all the honors she has received. It has been so much fun watching her grow as a player and a person.”

Outstanding athletic ability and a great work ethic aren’t the only things Courtney has going for her. She also has enviable athletic bloodlines. Her uncle is former Major League Baseball star Frank Viola, and her cousin is diver Brittany Viola, who was on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team at the Summer Games in London. Mom Nancy is Frank Viola’s sister, and Brittany is Frank’s daughter.

Most people know Frank from his playing days with the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets. He was a three-time MLB All-Star, won the American League’s Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher, and was the 1987 World Series MVP. Brittany was a star diver at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, and then won two 10-meter platform NCAA championships while at the University of Miami.

Courtney’s cousin Kaley Viola, Brittany’s sister, played college volleyball and is currently an assistant volleyball coach at Davidson College. Their brother, Frank Viola III, has played professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays organizations.

“It’s pretty special to have that lineage,” Courtney says of her athletically rich family. “But I don’t brag about it, or even talk about it, unless somebody brings it up.”

Her uncle Frank occasionally uses his experience as a pro baseball player to give Courtney advice on how to maintain her composure and be a team player and leader. As Oviedo’s captain, Courtney has always tried to lead by example.

“I don’t really tell the other players what to do,” she says. “I just try to do my best and hope they will do the same.”

Courtney, whose brother Kyle is a freshman on Oviedo’s volleyball and bowling teams, started playing volleyball recreationally when she was 10 years old. By the time she was a sixth grader at Jackson Heights Middle School, Courtney began playing club volleyball.

Courtney currently plays on the Orlando Volleyball Association’s 18 Asics team, and she has signed to play college volleyball at the University of South Carolina.

“For college, I really want to be an All-American,” Courtney says, “and after college, I want to play professionally or in the Olympics… or both! I’m really excited about going to the next level, to be in college and play and see where it takes me.”

Her high-school coach has no doubt Courtney will continue to be successful.

“I think she’s going to make an impact from day one,” Jen says. “She’s already such a highly skilled athlete, but she still has so much potential.”

Career Highlights

• As a junior in 2013, Courtney led the Oviedo Lions to the first volleyball state championship in school history.

• She is a two-time Class 7A Player of the Year.

• She was named the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Florida Player of the Year.

• She is a three-time Seminole Athletic Conference first team selection.

• During her last three years at Oviedo, Courtney was team captain and Most Valuable Player.

• She set school records for most kills in a season (600 in 2013) and career (1,586). The career total is also a Central Florida record.

• A four-year starter, Courtney led Oviedo to a 74-43 record during her career.



Holy Cross Lutheran Academy

by Rebekah Riley

Holy Cross Lutheran Academy (HCLA) has big news. Starting this fall, the school will begin offering its exceptional, faith-based education to high-school grades. Ninth grade will begin this year, and HCLA will add another grade each school year until the program is available through 12th grade. To accommodate growth in all of its programs, HCLA opened in August its state-of-the-art Upper School Campus in Sanford on Aero Lane. It currently houses HCLA’s middle-school program (grades 5 to 8 ) and they will add high school there next year.

“For years, especially the last four or five years, the community has been asking us to open a high school. We’re so excited that we’re now able to accommodate our loyal families and new families looking for a faith-based, wholesome education for their high-school-aged children,” says Betty Hoyer, director of education at HCLA. “Our high school will really fill a void as there are no other faith-based high schools located in northern Seminole County. The location makes us a valuable option for eastern Lake County and southern Volusia County families, as well.”

Growth is a common theme for HCLA, which has increased from 28 K-8 students in 2002 to 240 students this year. Altogether, HCLA serves more than 400 pupils, who can begin as early as one year of age.

Part of the reason for the exceptional growth is the school’s high academic standards with a strong emphasis on arts and technology. In fact, a new Fine Arts building on the Sanford Upper School Campus is almost complete and will house art classes, drama classes, and two music rooms. Other classrooms are being converted into digital media rooms and science labs to keep up with the fast-growing, forward-thinking curriculum offered at HCLA.

Holy Cross Lutheran Academy offers an alternative to public education’s new Common Core standards, allowing children to enjoy a more flexible curriculum, especially in the higher grades.

“I like to say we’re uncommon,” says Betty with a laugh. “We have uncommon values, uncommon learning, and that gives us uncommon results.”

For instance, all high-school students will be required to complete a Crusader Capstone project during their senior year. Students will select a topic, profession, or social problem that interests them; research the subject; and create a final project demonstration which will be presented to a panel of teachers, experts, and community members. Goals of the project are to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop public speaking skills. Capstone projects are typically not required for traditional high-school students, but HCLA leaders believe such a research endeavor will help their students prepare for a successful college career.

“Our students are critical thinkers,” says Sue Stark, admissions counselor at HCLA. “Since our teachers don’t have to teach to a standardized test, it’s not all about cramming and regurgitating the information.”

But perhaps the biggest draw to HCLA for parents and students is the school’s tight-knit community, which creates a positive experience for students during what are usually considered the most socially challenging years of life.

“By eighth grade, our students have really bonded as a group,” says Betty. “Our eighth graders actually enjoy coming to school and enjoy the sense of camaraderie here. For my own kids, I remember that middle school was a rough time, and I just don’t see that reflected in our students here at HCLA,”

Walk through the halls of the Sanford Upper School Campus at lunch time, and it is clear that Betty’s statement is accurate. Middle-school students are laughing and enjoying each other’s company as they head to lunch and go through their lockers. Betty and Sue believe the great teachers help foster this rapport among the students.

“We have a joke here that the only time our teachers leave HCLA is when they move away from the area,” says Sue. “This is the first year since 2007 that I haven’t had children at HCLA since my daughter graduated five years ago and my son graduated last year. They both enjoy staying connected and coming back to see their former teachers.

“I’ve seen the results of an HCLA education firsthand with my own children,” Sue continues. “That’s why I am so excited about our growth and the fact that we can offer this experience to more students.”

Photo: Eighth graders say a quick prayer before lunch.


Talented Hands, Generous Hearts

by Crystal Lang

On the occasion of the Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club’s 40th anniversary, and with its 10th annual Garden Fair about to begin, AWSL checks in with a group of dedicated locals who spread seeds of kindness throughout our community

For Sweetwater Oaks resident Rae Martin, it seems like only yesterday that a quaint group of ladies got together with the sole purpose of promoting community spirit and beautifying their surroundings.

“We each had unique talents, and everyone shared ideas about how we could bring gardening and horticulture into our neighborhood so that people could gain appreciation for the beauty in our environment,” recalls Rae.

Since the new group had limited funds, they joined forces with the Sweetwater Women’s Club, and put together an arts and crafts tea to earn money. The club soon became a member of the National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc., the Deep South Region, and the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc.

Although it may seem like yesterday to the inaugural members, more than 40 years have since passed, and the Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club, Inc. (now a federally incorporated nonprofit), has blossomed to about 90 members who are excited to be involved in a wide variety of activities and events.

On the second Monday of each month from September through May, members get together at First Baptist Sweetwater for an array of programs and projects that include presentations from local growers and floral designers, field trips, eco-river cruises, and visits to local parks, nurseries, organic farms, gardens, and lakes.

The club also offers numerous special interest groups, such as the Horticulture Group, Floral Design Group, and Junior Gardeners program. The Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club also hosts the community’s annual Garden Fair and a number of other arts and crafts shows.

Besides their valuable efforts to conserve and beautify our community, the club also raises money for agriculture and horticulture scholarships and other nature programs. Every year, the club sponsors select students to attend the Wekiva Youth Camp, a nature camp at Wekiwa Springs State Park, where students (third through eighth grade) spend one week during the summer to study nature and learn about protecting our planet. The Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club is also proud to offer scholarship money each year to three University of Central Florida students who will major in the field of horticulture.

“We emphasize the importance of our younger generations of gardeners, because if children find joy in beautifying and protecting our environment, they will promote this love to future generations,” says Ann Todd, current club president and chairman of the Junior Gardeners Program.

The Junior Gardeners Program, which meets twice a month, is a fun way for children to get hands-on experience planting fruits and vegetables and participating in other creative activities that involve nature. Each year, the children enter their creations into the club’s Youth Flower Shows, and through the years they have won numerous awards both on the state and national levels.

The Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club has contributed thousands of dollars to local beautification projects, like the donation of a flagpole and American flag to the Sweetwater Community in commemoration of the events of September 11, 2001, and the Butterfly Garden landscaping project at the historic Bradlee-McIntyre House in Longwood. The club provides weekly floral arrangements for hospice organizations and donates to other worthwhile groups such as The Florida Audubon Society, Loaves and Fishes, The Humane Society of Seminole County, The Mustard Seed, and the Lake Brantley High School Landscape Fund.

The club is especially excited about its 10th annual Garden Fair on Sunday, March 8, in Sweetwater Square at Wekiva Springs Road and Fox Valley Drive. Each year, thousands of locals come out to peruse vendors of plants, trees, pottery, flowers, garden art, and accessories. The fair, which raises money for student scholarships, offers fun for all ages with children’s activities, food, floral displays, raffle prizes, and a butterfly encounter.

“Everyone has their own special talents to contribute to the events,” says Rae, who spent 30 years as a wedding planner and especially enjoys the hospitality of the Garden Club. “After 40 years, we continue to focus on making communities into neighborhoods by getting people involved in enhancing and protecting our environment.”

With such noteworthy contributions to our community through the years, it’s no surprise that members of the Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club still hold true to the same essential values they did on day one.

For more information about the Sweetwater Oaks Garden Club, please visit




Double Feature

by Jill Duff-Hoppes

Spring musicals at both Lake Mary High School and Seminole High give theater lovers a chance to share some laughs with their favorite characters in April

If you’re a fan of musical theater, expect to be very busy from April 10 to 12. That’s when both Seminole High School and Lake Mary High will put on their annual spring musicals, and this year’s shows promise to be as charming as they are nostalgic. Lake Mary High will present The Addams Family while Seminole High will showcase You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Before rehearsals wrap and the curtain goes up, we sat down with cast members from each show to find out just what audiences can expect during the busiest weekend in local show business.


Lake Mary High School

They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky

photo: Junior Michael Cerasoli and senior Alexa Lively will play Gomez and Morticia in Lake Mary High School’s spring production of The Addams Family.

For Alexa Lively, wiping the smile off her face is one of the biggest challenges of playing Morticia, the atypical mom in The Addams Family. The Lake Mary High School Players of the Arts will present the musical comedy, based on the macabre characters created by Charles Addams, as its spring show.

“I’ve never played anyone like her,” says Alexa, a bubbly, outgoing senior. “I usually play very upbeat, happy, energetic characters. Morticia is very stone-faced and kind of cold. I’m working on not smiling.”

Alexa is a fan of the show’s strange collection of characters and is even more enthusiastic about the music.

“Every single song is so good,” she says. “It’s very contemporary. It’s not old, classical songs. It’s all music that gets you pumped up and excited.”

That kind of student reaction is one reason why LMHS chose The Addams Family, says teacher Becca Southworth, the show’s director. Susan Eissele is the musical director.

“We always want to pick a show that’s going to get the kids excited and showcase their talent at the same time,” Becca says.

Audience appeal is another big factor. In recent years, LMHS has enjoyed both creative and box office success with the contemporary musicals Legally Blonde and Seussical. So, the drama department is sticking with what’s working, for students and audiences.

“We’ve set a bar, and I think that we just want to keep raising it every year,” Becca says.

One thing she likes about The Addams Family is that it spans generations. The clan has been around for decades, on TV in the 1960s and in the movies in the 1990s. The musical version debuted on Broadway in the spring of 2010.

The oddball family includes Morticia and her husband, Gomez; their children, Wednesday and Pugsley; Uncle Fester; Grandma; and Lurch. The catchy TV theme song, with its accompanying finger snaps, best describes them all: “They’re creepy and they’re kooky. Mysterious and spooky. They’re altogether ooky.”

Morticia is all of those things, but she is also rather traditional in one important way.

“She comes off as very hard, but her main thing is that she really cares about the family,” says Alexa. “She’s kind of like an overprotective mom.”

The Addams Family, with a 28-member cast, will be presented at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 10; at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, April 11; and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 12.

Performances will be at the LMHS auditorium at 655 Longwood Lake Mary Road. Tickets are $6 for students and $8 for adults. Tickets will be available at the door, which opens 30 minutes before the shows begin.




Seminole High School

Everyone’s Favorite Yellow-Shirted Friend

photo: Sarah Franklin and Zachary Racine, already in character as Lucy and Charlie Brown.

Zachary Racine is happy to be playing the title role in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Seminole High School this spring – for the most part. He just isn’t thrilled with his character’s fashion sense, particularly that trademark yellow shirt with the black zigzag stripe.

“The problem with being Charlie Brown is that yellow is just not my color,” the junior says with a laugh.

At least Zachary doesn’t have to go bald for the show, like the character in the iconic comic strip and TV specials. Instead, he plans to dye his red hair brown.

“His name is Charlie Brown, not Charlie Redhead, so I guess it fits,” Zachary quips.

The musical comedy is based on the classic Peanuts kids created by Charles M. Schulz. Seminole High teachers Tiffany Ortiz and Lesa Boettcher are the show’s director and musical director, respectively.

Last year, the Seminole High School Theatre Company staged The Wizard of Oz as its spring musical. This year, the directors opted for something smaller in scale but still well-known to audiences.

“We always like to pick musicals that are family-friendly and shows that are going to resonate,” Tiffany says. “People are going to hear the name and go, ‘I know that.’ Even if they don’t know the show, they know Charlie Brown.”

The Peanuts comic strip has been around for decades. It made its newspaper debut in 1950, and A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on TV in 1965. The musical is sweetly nostalgic, with vignettes about book reports, baseball, and kiteflying.

“The show is great for kids because it has bright colors,” says Tiffany, “and the songs are light and fun.”

The musical features all the familiar characters, including the bossy Lucy, her brother Linus and his ever-present blanket, the piano-playing Schroeder, and Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally.

And let’s not forget the lovable Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s canine companion. In this production, the head beagle is being portrayed by Lauryn Reid, a sophomore.

“I think the dog thing is really fun. There are lots of woofs and howls,” says Lauryn, noting that one of her numbers is an ode to the joys of suppertime.

The 14-member cast will perform You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 10; at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 11; and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 12. Performances will be in the SHS auditorium, 2701 Ridgewood Avenue in Sanford.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. For advance tickets, email the director at

Homework Assignment: Pay It Forward

by Hedy Bass

Take a lesson from two local teachers who’ve gotten caught up in the most positive sensation to hit Facebook in, well, ever!

It was early January, barely days into the new year, when retired Seminole County teacher Denise Contino found herself scrolling through her Facebook feed. A post from a friend caught her eye:

I’m participating in this ‘Pay it Forward’ initiative: The first five people who comment on this status with “I’m in” will receive a surprise from me at some point during this next year (2015) – [It will be] anything from a book, a ticket, something homegrown, homemade, a postcard, absolutely any surprise! There will be no warning and it will happen when the mood comes over me and I find something that I believe would suit you and make you happy. These five people must make the same offer on their Facebook status. Once my first five have commented “I’m in” I will forward this message to you privately, so that you can copy and paste it, and put it on your status, (don’t share it) so that we can form a web of connection and kindness.

“I read the post,” says Denise, “and immediately thought this is what more people should do, so the more people you can include, the better. Besides, I was curious to see who would respond.”

So, with just two little words, “I’m in,” and a click to post, Denise set in motion a homegrown web of connection that included a good friend’s daughter, her sister-in-law, and several local friends. Among those friends was Linda Townsley, another retired teacher and guidance counselor living in Sanford with her husband Mike, himself a longtime educator and principal in Seminole County.

“When I saw the post, I felt the same way as Denise, but I’m a newbie to Facebook, so I had to figure out how to post it to my friends and family,” recalls Linda with a laugh. She did, and the Pay it Forward phenomenon continued to spread.

Suddenly, as Denise and Linda began distributing their acts of kindness to those who’d said “I’m in” on their posts, bits of joy managed to find their way back to the pair of retired educators.

Linda recalls a recent encounter with a former student: “He said he remembered how I used to leave little notes in his desk,” says Linda. “It meant so much to me to hear it. You never know what a huge difference you can make in someone’s life.”

So, what do these two teachers, with more than 60 years of classroom experience between them, suggest as ways to pay it forward? Whether it’s through the Facebook initiative or “the old-fashioned way,” here are just a few of their ideas:

• Reconnect with someone you haven’t seen or talked to in a long while.

• Share a fond memory that may have happened years ago with a friend or family member.

• Send a handwritten note of thanks or a letter of gratitude to someone who has touched your life.

• Make a casserole and bring it to a busy working mom.

• Share old photos of people you knew when they were young.

• Show up for occasions – birthdays, weddings, funerals – especially the ones that may make you uncomfortable. Remember, your presence makes a difference.

• Encourage young people to be kind on social media and to talk about Paying it Forward. Both Denise and Linda say this could help cut down on cyber-bullying.

• Give your children your time. It can be the best gift you can give them.

In a busier-than-ever world, where people never seem to feel they have enough hours in a day, Denise and Linda say Paying it Forward doesn’t take a lot of time and doesn’t cost a fortune, especially with the help of Facebook. Besides, they’ve learned firsthand that the rewards far outweigh the effort.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go Pay it Forward… Teacher’s orders!

To learn more about the Pay It Forward Initiative on Facebook, visit

Photo: “I’m in” friends Jeanine Coursin, Linda Townsley, and Denise Contino are Paying it Forward through Facebook.

Nuviva Medical Weight Loss of Altamonte Springs

by Crystal Lang

For many of us, achieving and maintaining our ideal body weight as we age can be a real challenge, but thanks to Nuviva Medical Weight Loss of Altamonte Springs, we now have the opportunity to look and feel better than ever.

“We love helping clients improve the quality of their lives by safely and effectively customizing their weight loss program, and then providing the support and counseling they need every step of the way,” says Amy Rahill, owner and nutrition coach at Nuviva Altamonte Springs (NAS).

In fact, it was NAS’s unwavering commitment to achieve client success that recently inspired the clinic to team up with the medical experts at Hormone Therapy of Orlando, now co-located at 155 Cranes Roost Boulevard, suite 2020.

“While it’s scientifically proven that hormones play a significant role in how we look, feel, and age, the reality is that both men and women can experience a decline in their hormone levels as early as age 30,” explains Amy.

Sadly, this decrease in vital hormone levels can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and health issues.

Although generations before us were forced to suffer through this passage in life, we now have the ability to restore our vitality. Just ask Nuviva client Marla L, who hit a plateau shortly after beginning her weight loss program.

“I felt sluggish and depressed, and the medical team at Hormone Therapy of Orlando knew something wasn’t right,” recalls Marla.

After a simple blood test and a comprehensive consultation with Hormone Therapy of Orlando, a specialist customized a treatment plan tailored to meet Marla’s needs. Marla has since lost 50 pounds and has energy to spare.

“Once hormones are properly balanced, many Hormone Therapy of Orlando clients feel as vigorous as they did in their prime,” says Amy, who points out that bioidentical hormones are preferred since they are an exact match to hormones occurring naturally in the human body.

Amy and the team at Nuviva Altamonte Springs take pride in knowing that their success rate is higher than other weight loss methods. With an easy-to-follow diet, nutritional supplement program, and exercise plan, Nuviva’s trained physicians and nutrition coaches provide an extensive support system that is specifically designed for each client, including those who come to Nuviva as part of a company wellness plan.

“Today, many employers are doing the best possible thing for their companies by encouraging employees to get healthy the Nuviva way,” says Amy.

So, what are you waiting for? Let Nuviva Medical Weight Loss of Altamonte Springs help you start living your best life today!

photo: Amy Rahill, owner and nutrition coach of Nuviva Altamonte Springs


Remembering Lake Mary’s Martha Miller

by Shelley Ouellette

Martha Miller loved her community. And, as evidenced during her January memorial service, her community truly loved her.

Martha, 70, died in January of Alzheimer’s disease, but the marks of her dedication to the people and businesses of Seminole County will serve as a permanent reminder of her life and legacy.

Often described as the ultimate “connector,” Martha was best known locally for her contributions to the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce, where she enthusiastically served as vice president of marketing and business development, presiding over an unprecedented growth surge that helped turn the chamber into a powerhouse of community action.

“Martha was an expert at making connections,” says her longtime pastor and friend Paul Hoyer of Holy Cross Lutheran Church. “She would greet you at the door and guide you over to someone you needed to meet. Then she would give you their phone number and follow up until you connected.”

Martha was also an active supporter of Seminole State College, Kids House of Seminole, UCF, and Sports 4 The Kids. A graduate of Leadership Seminole, she served as an advisor to the team that created the Lake Mary Events Center and supported development of recreational trails around Lake Mary and the city’s Splash Park.

“Martha had an amazing skill designed to bring people together to enhance our community,” says Dr. E. Ann McGee, president of Seminole State College. “She always insisted that she was my chief cheerleader – and she meant it! She was always looking for ways to advance Seminole State College and the lives of our students. But Martha wasn’t just concerned about our students. She was also someone who cared very personally about people. Martha’s caring was grounded in reality and in what she thought the person needed at that time in their life. We need more Marthas in our lives!”

In addition to her passion for the community, Martha was a devoted wife of 48 years to the love of her life, Lake Mary Commissioner Sidney C. Miller. She was a dedicated mother to sons Sidney C. Miller, Jr. and J. Christopher Miller, and a grandmother to six.

“In her role at the chamber and during special occasions, Martha was the person who always made everything perfect before the rest of us showed up,” says Pastor Hoyer. “I believe it was no accident that she is the first in her family to pass, as I am sure she’s in Heaven, preparing the perfect place for the rest of us and waiting to take us by the arm and lead us in the door.”

In honor of Martha’s life and legacy, the Miller family has established the Martha Miller Endowed Memorial Scholarship through the Foundation for Seminole State College. To make a donation, visit or call 407-708-4567.

Photo: Martha and her husband Sidney C. Miller-

Photo Credit:

Got Talent? Well, Get Ready!

by Jennifer Clemens

Tune up the band, lace up the dancing shoes, or go over your lyrics one more time… Auditions for this year’s Winter Springs Got Talent competition are right around the corner.

So you think you’ve got talent? Has your family been telling you to take your singing out of the shower and onto a main stage? Do you salsa and tango around your living room while picturing yourself on Dancing With the Stars? If so, the Winter Springs Got Talent committee wants to hear from you!

Planning is now underway for the local talent showcase that has become an annual Fourth of July tradition at Central Winds Park in Winter Springs. Applications are due no later than Wednesday, April 1, with auditions scheduled Saturday, April 11 for Winter Springs residents and Saturday, April 18 for potential contestants who live elsewhere in Seminole County. The best acts will then compete at Central Winds Park’s Celebration of Freedom event on July 4 at 5:30 p.m. A winner and runners-up will be crowned, and each performer will have the opportunity to meet with a talent agent.

Excitement for this year’s event is already mounting, with bigger prizes and now two age groups in which to compete. The committee, spearheaded by Kim Coburn and her team at RE/MAX Town and Country Realty on Tuskawilla Road, has announced there will be one grand prize of $500 and two $100 runner-up prizes for each age group — “ages 0 to 16 and 16 to 101,” as the committee describes them. Any kind of talent is welcome.

“Use your imagination, even if you’ve never performed before,” says RE/MAX Realtor Laura-Leigh Wood, who is joining forces with Kim to promote the event. Kim has lived in Winter Springs for nearly 20 years, and Laura-Leigh is a lifetime resident of Seminole County.

“We love promoting the arts in Winter Springs,” says Kim. “It’s just fun!”

Keeping with the theme of fun, the committee wants everyone to know of an important change this year: Critiques of each performance will be done privately. Previously, the event included American Idol-style commentary from the judges over the park’s PA system. All comments will be handled confidentially this time around, encouraging even the shyest among us to step into the limelight.

Everyone who auditions in person at the RE/MAX office in April will get a prize. Can’t be there on the scheduled day? You can email a YouTube audition by Friday, April 10 to

Local emcee extraordinaire Arnie Nussbaum, who will once again host the event, calls Winter Springs Got Talent “a wonderful gift to Seminole County where über-talented neighbors perform their hearts out.” Arnie is honored to be part of the show again and has great advice for anyone nervous about trying out.

“It’s not so much about the competition, but rather neighbors supporting neighbors,” he says.

One of Arnie’s favorite memories from past competitions, echoed by Kim and Laura-Leigh, is a gentleman from a local senior center who wowed the crowd by crooning like Frank Sinatra.

“You would have thought Ol’ Blue Eyes was on stage,” remembers Arnie. “I am always amazed at the talent we have right in our backyard.”

For Brian Dunigan, a native of Winter Springs and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department coordinator for programs and special events, this particular showcase is not only the city’s largest each year, but also “a unique way for the community to connect.” Brian sees it as a win-win for Winter Springs, giving performers a chance to get their names known and providing the city an opportunity to discover new talent for future events like Hometown Harvest.

“At the core, that’s what the Parks and Recreation Department does,” Brian explains. “We provide opportunities for residents to connect with each other and gain meaningful experiences.”

The city has been hosting the Winter Springs Got Talent competition for years, modeling it on the famed TV shows American Idol and America’s Got Talent. Although it used to be a forum for singers only, a few years ago the competition was opened to other talents.

Since that time, according to Kim, “every year has been bigger and better. The goal is to make this a fun event with great memories for our community.”

So get your talents ready, Winter Springs! Watch for flyers to be posted around town and for promotional visits to area schools and retirement communities.

Applications are due by Wednesday, April 1

Auditions begin Saturday, April 11

Email to receive the audition application and other important details.

STEM Standouts

by Jack Roth

They’re still not halfway through high school, but this local brother-sister pair are already pushing the boundaries of major medical research

How does a 15-year-old sophomore at Oviedo High School get to perform graduate-level research and develop an iPad app for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease? And how is it that his sister, a 14-year-old Oviedo High freshman, is engaged in her own graduate-level research to help kids with autism improve behavioral and speaking skills?

The answer: Nikhil and Sapna Patel are both building on partnerships between Seminole County Public Schools, Seminole State College, and the University of Central Florida. The teenage siblings are involved in an honors-level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) research program that gives high-school students the opportunity to conduct research alongside leading scientists who also act as mentors.

“The fact that high-school students in Seminole County are being exposed to this level of research is a credit to the region,” says Sanjay Patel, proud father of Nikhil and Sapna. “Seminole State College and UCF have bent over backwards to provide opportunities for students, and Seminole County Public Schools has stepped up to create these important partnerships.”

Two years ago, Nikhil’s grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s, a tragedy that impelled him to make sure no one else had to suffer. Nikhil asked himself why there wasn’t a simpler test for Alzheimer’s, and the STEM program provided him with the opportunity to do just that. Nikhil developed an iPad app that measures the amount of time it takes subjects to identify sensory cues, thus creating an opportunity for doctors to detect the disease cognitively and in its earlier stages. Nikhil’s findings have been published in the September 2014 issue of the International Test and Evaluation Association Journal.

Nikhil is currently working with Dr. Charles Hughes, a professor at UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training, to gather more data. “Medical research can most definitely be enhanced by computer science,” says Nikhil. “I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to do what I love at a very high level while still in high school. The amazing programs that SSC and UCF have created for high-school students should be replicated in all communities. Seminole County is ahead of the game when it comes to preparing its students for the next level.”

Nikhil’s sister, Sapna, is also doing impressive things for someone her age… or any age, for that matter. While in middle school, Sapna volunteered in a class for autistic children, saw their struggles firsthand, and decided she wanted to somehow make their lives easier. She recently gave a presentation at SSC on WUBeeS, an emotional analysis avatar pioneered by Dr. Darin Hughes, another researcher at UCF, as a way to measure empathy-oriented behaviors. Sapna is currently working with Dr. Hughes and other UCF researchers to help students with autism read non-verbal cues and feel empathy, thus enhancing the way they relate to others.

“Dr. Hughes guides me through the research,” says Sapna. “I’m being exposed to a doctorate-level research environment, and for somebody like me who wants to become a research doctor, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I feel like I’m already contributing to the field of autism research, and I’m thankful to be at Oviedo High School because it has created these incredible opportunities.”

When Seminole State College’s STEM research program began in 2009, it was the first of its kind in the Florida College System. Broken into two semesters, the program (which today has about 20 students enrolled) offers a one-credit-hour introductory course on the basic understanding of the scientific method and a three-credit-hour class that pairs students with researchers. This year, students in the program have held internships with the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Stetson University, and the University of Florida IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center.

As a father with two smart and dedicated children, Sanjay is thankful for the opportunities his kids have been given. “My children have clearly benefited from this,” Sanjay says. “It’s really neat when people have capability and opportunity. All kids should be given these opportunities and have mentors who can guide them in their fields of interest. This has impacted the way my children look at the world and helped them develop skill sets that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

Heathrow MOMS Come Out To Play

by Chip Colandreo

Members past and present of the MOMS Club of Heathrow are invited to celebrate the group’s 15th anniversary

Babysitters of the world, be ready – Thursday, March 5, is going to be a very busy day. That evening at Sawyer Lake Park, the MOMS Club of Heathrow will host an absolutely epic “MOMS Night Out Reunion” to celebrate the 15th anniversary of one of Heathrow’s most dynamic and supportive social clubs.

“We plan to gather as many members of the club as possible, past and present, for an evening of fun, food, wine, and community service… It’s all the things we do best!” says Amisha Sheth, current president of the MOMS Club of Heathrow and a member since 2005. “Many of our members may have moved out of Heathrow or their children have grown up, but we want to bring everyone back together to recognize how much this club has meant to all of us.”

The “MOMS” in MOMS Club of Heathrow stands for Moms Offering Moms Support, and it is an international organization with chapters around the world. The Heathrow MOMS Club chapter began in 2000 to bring Heathrow mothers and their children together for support and fellowship.

“When my first child was born, I just wanted to meet other moms,” says longtime MOMS Club member Susan Slater. “In our little subdivision of Heathrow, there weren’t any other kids, so this gave my daughter a chance to play with kids her age, and it gave me a real sense of community. Every time we come to the park, we see kids and other moms we know. It’s just wonderful, and the activities organized by the club are always so much fun.”

The MOMS Club of Heathrow is famous for its play dates, group field trips, pajama parties, and holiday activities for the kids. The moms enjoy monthly wine tastings and the club’s regular Moms Night Out events, which give moms a chance to let their hair down with other members of the group. Recent Moms Nights Out have included a simple dinner at a local restaurant and a special SunRail trip to Winter Park for a casual lunch. But it’s not all fun and games. The MOMS Club of Heathrow is also a major force for good in the community, a theme that will loom large at the 15th anniversary celebration.

“We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and we donate a lot to local charities and to the club’s Mother-to-Mother Fund,” says Amisha. “To date, we’ve given more than $10,000 to organizations like the Ronald McDonald House, Seminole County’s Families in Transition, Harbor House, and others. At our 15th anniversary party, we’re having a ‘baby shower’ to benefit the Sanford and Oviedo Crisis Pregnancy Centers.”

From backpack drives to gifts for local teachers, MOMS Club members take pride in their philanthropic work and stress that the club is also an important resource for each other.

“When we need help, that’s what the MOMS Club is for,” says Michelle Wilson, who is a member of the Heathrow Club and is the statewide coordinator for all MOMS Clubs in Florida. “If there was an emergency, I could call any one of the other moms in the group and know they would take care of my children. We’re here for each other in good times and bad. We have a lot of fun, but we also take care of one another.”

“We’re also a tremendous source of information for each other,” says Amisha. “If a new mom in Heathrow wants to know where to find the best pediatrician or pediatric dentist, or if they want to know if that great new restaurant is kid friendly, we have the answers. Our website is there with plenty of great info, and every member receives weekly and monthly newsletters by email. We have a private Facebook group, too, where members can ask questions, share advice, and post pictures of their kids or our events for other members of the club to enjoy.”

Dues for the MOMS Club of Heathrow are a mere $25 a year, and mothers who live anywhere inside the Heathrow or Heathrow Woods properties are eligible to join.

“It’s great to know that our members are the other kids and families your child will see at school and around the neighborhood,” says Michelle. “All MOMS Clubs are kept very local just for that reason. We really want there to be a tight sense of community.”

“It’s so amazing that the club is already 15 years old, and we intend to celebrate!” says Amisha. “Our anniversary party will be a night to remember and a night to honor past presidents and all the members who have made the MOMS Club of Heathrow so special.”

MOMS Club of Heathrow MOMS Night Out Reunion

The Clubhouse at Sawyer Lake Park in Heathrow

Thursday, March 5, 7:00 p.m.

All MOMS Club of Heathrow members past and present are invited. Attendees are encouraged to bring a “baby shower” gift to support the Sanford and Oviedo Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Photo: Leaders of the MOMS Club of Heathrow at the Sawyer Lake Park playground: Michelle Wilson, Fionnuala Murphy, Susan Slater, Denise Grealis, Lorrie Andrews, Amisha Sheth, Julie Povlick, Trisha Walshe, Julie Rando, Eliana Sutherland, and Brisa Laborda. Not pictured are executive board member Monika Pelletier and pre-school-age coordinator Sara Mirsky.

CenterState Bank

by Chip Colandreo

”Hi, Paul! How was your birthday?”

Banks big and small may talk about personal attention and friendly service, but when CenterState Bank customers are greeted like this – in the drive-through, no less – you know the concepts are very real at downtown Sanford’s most community-oriented community bank.

“We know nearly all our customers by name, and that’s very important to us,” says Matthew Vegter, vice president and commercial lender. “With today’s technology, customers don’t just come to the bank to process transactions. Virtually all those things can now be done on our computers or even our phones. They come, instead, because they want to see and know the people who are taking care of their money. They need to trust the folks who are handling their accounts. It’s important for them to know us, and it’s important for us to get to know them.”

Whether it’s a few hundred dollars in a checking account or a multi-million-dollar portfolio, Matthew’s not exaggerating when he says CenterState customers can soon manage their finances from a phone or computer. In the coming weeks, CenterState will roll out an all-new smartphone app with complete mobile banking support, from savings-to-checking transfers to check deposit via the phone’s camera.

“We have all the technology of the big banks, but we still have the personal touch no other bank can match,” Matthew says.

Personal service applies to CenterState’s loan decisions, too. For commercial, residential, and personal loans, all decisions are made locally, often within the downtown Sanford branch itself.

“We review every loan application personally, and if approval isn’t cut and dry, we don’t just tell the customer ‘no.’ My team and I work together to find a way to help everyone we can,” says Geeta Rampartab, area vice president and branch manager of the downtown Sanford location.

Geeta’s commitment to personal service is so strong, she proudly displays her name and phone number on the bank’s sign along First Street, instructing those seeking a loan to contact her directly.

Geeta also invests the bank’s manpower and resources back into the community as often as she can, frequently sponsoring city events and sending her staff on official CenterState “Random Acts of Kindness.” A recent Random Act saw CenterState partner with one of the bank’s own business customers who organized a holiday meal drive. CenterState helped the business buy and prepare holiday meals, and the business, in turn, worked with Geeta to deliver the meal to a CenterState customer whose family was facing difficult times.

“This is our community,” says Geeta, “and community means everything to us.”

Photo: CenterState commercial lender Matthew Vegter and branch manager Geeta Rampartab in front of the CenterState sign (featuring Geeta’s name and direct phone number) on First Street in downtown Sanford.


A Three-Decade Duet

by Jim Abbott

Artie and John Almeida – Altamonte’s “first couple” of music – share their secrets of a life lived in rhythm, harmony, and the selfless accompaniment of others

No disrespect to the Whos in Whoville, but their Seussian noise has met its match in a whimsical classroom at Bear Lake Elementary School.

With a collection of oddly shaped pipes, kid-sized steel drums, cutting boards, metal cans, stick horses, parachutes, ribbon streamers, stretchy bands, plastic plates, and glow-in-the-dark snowflakes, veteran music teacher Artie Almeida has earned a national reputation and shaped the lives of generations of students.

“You’ve got to have a dog-and-pony show to get little ones to pay attention,” says Artie, an Altamonte Springs resident who has delivered her blend of “heavy academics, delivered joyfully” for 36 years in Central Florida. “You have to be dynamic to draw children into anything.”

For Artie and her husband, John, an associate professor of trumpet studies at the University of Central Florida, music education is the glue that has cemented their 30-year marriage. They were introduced briefly at a music rehearsal at UCF in the late 1970s, eventually married other people, then met again in 1983, both recently divorced. They married on St. Patrick’s Day in 1984.

“For us, it’s been 200 percent music,” says Artie, 57. “We’ve been driven by two things, music and kids.”

It’s not unusual for John to present free performances and trumpet clinics in area classrooms, demonstrating the shimmering, formidable power of a brass instrument properly played. He mentors promising young musicians, occasionally students who once banged on metal cans in his wife’s classroom.

“My focus is to teach quality music to young people, so they grow up having an appreciation of music of merit,” says John, 63, who also teaches private lessons to middle- and high-school students four nights a week. “Learning to play an instrument teaches you a lot about yourself, about your skills, about how to work with people. Traditional academics don’t always reach every child, but music has a power to reach a person’s soul.”

At a time when art and music programs are often among the first casualties of budget cuts, the Almeidas offer proof that there’s a way to make them work.

“You’ve got to get out there and advocate, to the legislature, to the school boards,” Artie says. “You don’t take it for granted anymore.”

Artie has created powerful evidence with the Bear Lake Sound, a student ensemble that has presented its highly elevated mix of recorders, voices, and percussion at Walt Disney World, on NBC’s TODAY show and at conventions. The group is the entertaining embodiment of the purpose and discipline at work amid the kinetic movement and rowdy noises in Bear Lake’s music room.

“It’s about raising their music above the expectations of what they can do,” Artie says. “They will give you as much as you ask, or as little as you ask. The standards must be high.”

She teaches her students to frame their music in silence.

“You start it in silence, so it gets the attention it deserves,” Artie says. “You end it in silence, to let the audience have that moment, where it sinks in – what you’ve done.”

Audiences and educators beyond Central Florida are listening. Artie is among the nation’s elite music education clinicians, booked for dozens of national conferences annually. She has written more than two dozen publications that describe her methods for teaching rhythm, music reading, and instrumental skills. Her instruction book Recorder Express has sold more than a half-million copies.

In 2007, Artie was proclaimed College of Education Alumni of the Decade at UCF, where she completed her bachelor’s degree (1979), master’s (1985), and doctorate (2002).

Artie still loves to talk music education in her focused, fast-paced staccato anywhere, anytime, just as she did in the early 1990s for fellow SCPS music teacher Bonnie Shea, who was then just beginning her own illustrious education career.

“She didn’t know me from anybody, knew nothing about my background or anything, but she was so willing to share,” says Bonnie, now the music teacher at Sabal Point Elementary. “Now, she’s teaching children of people who were taught by her. So whole families have been changed in the community by knowing her.”

One former student, Rob White-Davis, now teaches elementary school music in Delray Beach.

“I still go to Artie for advice,” he says.

The Almeidas wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love it here because there’s such parental support of schools and music in the schools,” Artie says. “The people here really get it.”

2015: Year of the Volunteer

Each issue this year, we will highlight local volunteers who support our community’s most worthwhile nonprofit organizations

Voices of the Vulnerable

by Georgia Fojo

Guardian ad Litem volunteers advocate inside and outside the courtroom for Seminole County’s abused, neglected, and abandoned children.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A model example of individuals who live by Emerson’s words are Seminole County’s Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteers, who serve exclusively as the voices of vulnerable children in dependency court. These children are removed from their homes by the state due to allegations of child abuse or neglect. The state’s end goal is to find each child a safe, stable, and permanent environment, but getting there is often a long and tedious process – too traumatic for any child to undergo alone. These children need a hand to guide them through the dependency system and a watchful set of eyes to protect them.

Thankfully, Florida statutes mandate that all alleged abused, abandoned, and neglected children must be appointed a Guardian ad Litem volunteer to operate in each child’s best interest. The volunteers live by the motto of Florida’s statewide Guardian ad Litem program: I am for the child.

Volunteers meet with the children to understand their needs while they monitor case progress and participate in complicated court proceedings. Volunteers work in tandem with case coordinators and attorneys to build trust and form relationships with the families involved and, most importantly, the very children in need of support and guidance.

GAL volunteers are like detectives looking at their child’s case under a microscope. They work with the community to provide each child with proper resources, meet with teachers and family members, conduct house visits, report on potential red flags, and make recommendations to the court.

Being a GAL volunteer is not an activity for the faint of heart. The responsibility is big and the impact bigger. Speak to any GAL volunteer and it’s clear that they are relentless and passion-driven to make even the slightest positive difference in a child’s life.

Seminole County’s GAL volunteer program is one of 21 local programs throughout the state in which volunteers are matched with children in need of representation. While there are more than 160 GAL volunteers in Seminole County’s program who are equally committed, we’d like to recognize a few standouts in our community:

Gail O’Connor

“When I meet a child I’m going to represent for the first time, I know I’m meant to help them,” says Longwood resident Gail O’Connor, who has worked on three cases over the last three years. Although Gail was certified in September 2011, becoming a Guardian ad Litem volunteer had been teetering in the back of her mind since 2005 when she first saw a poster about the program. “I always felt in my heart that I wanted to work with abused children and advocate in the justice system.”

After seeing her own three children through high school and receiving her MBA from Rollins in 2009, all while working full-time as the finance manager at a landscape architecture firm, Gail’s hope came to fruition. Organized, observant, methodical, and a good communicator, it’s Gail’s lawyer-like traits and big heart that help her keep track of case progress, make thorough reports, and build relationships.

Gail feels that the role of a GAL volunteer is very respected in Seminole County, and that her recommendations are always taken into consideration. Equipped with excellent training and support from the program’s dedicated staff, Gail makes use of every resource available to do the best job possible. In addition to being fully committed to GAL, Gail sits on the board of The Sharing Center, volunteers with the American Red Cross, and is an active member of Annunciation Catholic Church.

Kimberly Benedict

Kimberly Benedict’s ultimate goal is to help people going through crisis. Having faced similar challenges during her childhood, Kimberly knows what it’s like to be on the other side.

“I overcame it and made something of myself,” says Kimberly, who has been volunteering with GAL for five years. “I feel like I can give back and show kids that they don’t have to be held back by what they’ve gone through.”

A resident of Lake Mary, Kimberly was a paralegal for 12 years. She now works as a victim’s advocate at the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. Although she admits that being a Guardian ad Litem can be hard work, Kimberly knows it’s what she is meant to do.

Kimberly currently has three ongoing cases and spends a significant amount of time on the phone with various family members, making monthly visits and keeping tabs on the children to which she’s assigned. Kimberly, like most volunteers, is constantly looking out for each child’s welfare and knows how to ask the tough questions: Are they being fed? How are they doing in school? Are they clean?

Kimberly is also on the human trafficking task force at Northland Church and is a proud wife and mother to her beautiful two-year-old son Landon.

John Horan

What started off as pro-bono work for former lawyer and current Seminole County Commissioner John Horan turned into more than 50 cases and 30 years as a dedicated Guardian ad Litem volunteer in Orange County. A Winter Springs resident, John decided to get involved with Seminole County’s program after retiring in 2012. Though he’s a relatively new volunteer in our county, he’s undoubtedly a seasoned and knowledgeable addition to the program.

John’s professional specialty was commercial law, but he’s always been passionate about issues involving children.

“In court, I serve as an independent voice, and I have only one goal, and that is to have the best interest of the child in mind,” says John, who also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

One commonality among GAL volunteers is their ability to maintain a balance of detachment and passion for advocacy, and John is quick to add that a GAL volunteer needs to have common sense and be an intelligent observer. He praises Seminole County’s program for growing a critical mass of support staff and volunteers. So far, John has handled one case in Seminole County and is gearing up for more.

“I encourage anyone thinking about volunteering with GAL to do it,” says John. “There is a definite need and Seminole County’s program is wonderful.”

Ron “Doc” Bobele

A recipient of two Purple Hearts for injuries in combat, Ron “Doc” Bobele was wounded twice in Vietnam during his tours as a medic corpsman with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1969 and 1970. A retired immunohematologist, Doc is now in his fifth year as a GAL volunteer.

“When you’re retired, there are a lot of things you can volunteer for, but I don’t know of any program like Guardian ad Litem where you can have such a direct impact,” says Doc, who lives in Altamonte Springs.

GAL cases can be complicated and heartbreaking, but for Doc, his commitment doesn’t end after the case is closed. He follows up on kids who have aged out of the program to see them progress. Two of the children Doc has represented have gone on to pursue college degrees, which serves as a testament to Doc’s mentorship. He credits the superb training and advice he has received over the years from GAL supervisors and staff.

Doc also volunteers with Honor Flight and Toys for Tots, and he is on the board of directors for the Marine Corps Motorcycle Club.