Changing Lives, Two Wheels at a Time

by Chip Colandreo

For a little girl, living without the use of her legs in an impoverished village in El Salvador, it was a simple and touching wish.

“She desperately wanted a wheelchair because she read that a wheelchair would allow her to dance,” says Mandi Howell of Sanford. “I’ve always had a passion for helping people, often with little acts that hopefully add up over time, but the Wheelchair Foundation gave me the opportunity to do something more, something life-changing for people in need.”

At a cost of $150, Mandi made the little girl’s dream come true. The Wheelchair Foundation is an international nonprofit group that, in conjunction with Rotary Clubs around the globe, distributes high-quality wheelchairs to those living in poverty. To date, nearly one million wheelchairs have been given to men and women of all ages, though tens-of-millions more are needed in the world’s developing countries. Per Wheelchair Foundation tradition, anyone who raises or donates enough money to fund even a single wheelchair is invited to help distribute the chairs in person. That’s precisely what Mandi did during a recent trip with the Wheelchair Foundation to El Salvador, where she saw one darling girl’s life change right before her eyes.

“The moment she was placed in the chair, the girl began to dance,” Mandi recalls. “She refused to let anyone push her, but she spun and glided as fast as her tiny arms would allow. She’d stop to catch her breath every few seconds – her arms weren’t nearly as strong as they would quickly become – but the smile never left her face.”

Mandi’s employer, Glen Mather, is Seminole County’s strongest supporter and largest fundraiser for the Wheelchair Foundation. He’s made the Foundation the international charity of choice for his Lake Mary company, NuView IRA. Glen’s employees, with Mandi at the lead, have rallied the community to raise tens-of-thousands of dollars for the Wheelchair Foundation. In 2013, the group organized the inaugural Hero Games at Oval Park in Heathrow to fund 100 wheelchairs and the trip to El Salvador to distribute them. In addition to its support for the Wheelchair Foundation, the Hero Games paid tribute to military service members and public safety officials with an obstacle course competition simulating the training programs these heroes go through to prepare for duty. More than 60 sponsored participants competed on the course while another 150-plus supporters cheered them on.

Glen, Mandi, and their team are hard at work on the 2014 installment of the Hero Games, which will take place in October. A 5K race will be added to the festivities, with a special division for supporters of the cause who are wheelchair-bound. Food trucks, a favorite feature of last year’s event, are scheduled to appear again, and many more surprises are in store.

“Our goal is to raise enough money to fill a shipping container full of wheelchairs,” says Glen. “That’s about $42,000 to fund 280 chairs, and anyone who funds a $150 chair and helps us reach that goal will be honored at the Hero Games and invited to join us on the trip to distribute them.”

Glen won’t know where the chairs will go until later in the year. Central and South American countries are popular for U.S.-based distributions. Since the Wheelchair Foundation was established in 2000, nearly 160,000 chairs have been distributed in Mexico. Only China has received more (about 340,000). The Wheelchair Foundation distributes the chairs without influence from local or federal governments in the receiving nations, many of which are unstable and fraught with corruption. Instead, local Rotarians identify who is in greatest need of a chair and personally verify that the chair stays with the recipient for as long as it is required. When possible, chairs are then recycled and given to others. Donors are responsible for airfare and accommodations, though the Wheelchair Foundation works with reputable hotels in the donation area to offer discounted rates.

What are the distribution events like? “Tearful, but exciting at the same time,” says Mandi. “Recipients come from rural areas hours away, sometimes carried by family members to get their chairs. Every chair is a small miracle, and they all add up to an incredible experience.”

“It’s one chair, one person, and a complete life change over and over again,” says Glen, who has distributed chairs in Mexico City, Guatemala, and El Salvador. You come back humble, grateful, and eager to do more.”

Photos: Twelve years ago, Hector Manley (right) lost both his legs during an earthquake in his native El Salvador. He has since become one of the Wheelchair Foundation’s greatest advocates. He’s pictured here giving the gift of mobility to another El Salvadoran boy, with Glen Mather and Mandi Howell (left).

Community Organizer


by Kristen Manieri

How do you pay forward the gift of life? For Lyman senior Jake Gouty, it’s all about education, appreciation, and his “Save 8: Educate” organ transplant awareness club.

Sixteen years ago, Ginger Gouty stared down at her 15-month-old son and faced the possibility of a parent’s most unspeakable terror: the death of a child. Her son, Jake, had contracted a virus that was attacking his liver. He eventually slipped into a coma, and many feared he would never emerge.

“It started out with jaundice,” Ginger remembers like it was yesterday. “He had been kind of sick, but not enough that you would go to a doctor. But all of a sudden he became very sick. The doctors started doing tests, and he got more orange and lethargic. Tests showed his liver numbers were going crazy. At first, they hoped the virus would just cure itself, but soon it became clear that he needed a transplant.”

So Ginger and her husband Billy, Savannah residents at the time, headed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which was the closest pediatric transplant center. Little Jake was placed at the top of the transplant list for the region.

“It was coming down to a matter of days,” says Ginger, who was pregnant at the time with Caitlin, the Gouty’s second child. “The doctors were calling every hospital in the region, letting them know it was such dire straights.”

Ten days later, with Jake in total liver failure and lying in a full coma in the hospital’s surgical intensive care unit, the Goutys received lifesaving news. A liver was available, that of a 30-year-old man in Little Rock, Arkansas. To this day, Jake and his family know nothing about the man, including his name or how he died. All they know is that, years before, the same man checked a small box on his driver’s license application and became an organ donor. For Jake and his parents, it was the greatest gift imaginable.

Jake, now 17 and a senior at Lyman High School, thinks about that man a lot. In fact, he’s never stopped thinking about the way organ donation saved his life. From as far back as he can remember, probably as young as four, Jake and Ginger have spoken in front of any group that would hear them, sharing their story and educating people about organ donation.

As a freshman at Lyman, Jake launched “Save 8: Educate,” a club with a mission to inform teens, especially those just getting their permits and driver’s licenses, about organ donation. The goal is to let teens know that one organ donor can save eight lives. Jake’s classmates are encouraged to become donors and, more importantly, share their wishes with their parents.

“I started the club when I began at Lyman, and it was a little rough at first,” says Jake, who is quick to admit that, while he’s a great spokesperson, organization isn’t really his strong suit. “But then my sister joined.”

“I’m the president and he’s the face,” says a smiling Caitlin, who organizes the club’s twice-monthly meetings. When members gather, they plan a variety of events and sign up to volunteer with TransLife, the federally designated organization that oversees the organ and tissue donation program for East Central Florida.

“Our main goal is to inform high-school students about organ donation,” says Caitlin. “A lot of them don’t know what it means, so they usually don’t sign up. We talk about the myths and misconceptions, and we tell them the facts. All we want to do is use every chance we get to tell our peers about organ donation.”

The club also supports GR8TODON8 (, a 5K fun run and 8K timed race that serves as a major fundraiser for TransLife. Now in its fifth year, the event was created by local physician Dr. Jeff Sadowsky and will likely host 800 participants at this year’s run on Saturday, April 5.

Having the Goutys as such strong advocates and compelling spokespeople for the organization has been incredibly helpful to TransLife’s mission, because it not only attaches a real face and story to the issue of organ donation, but it also makes a huge difference in the club’s efforts to inform new drivers of the facts.

“There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about organ donation,” says Kristine Neal, the public education coordinator for TransLife. The organization is charged with educating 3.8 million people in its 10-county service area about registering as an organ donor and the importance of that act.

Encouraging teens and parents to talk openly about organ donation, according to Kristine, Jake, and Caitlin, can make all the difference. The conversations can remove the stigma about donation and ensure a teen’s desire to save the lives of others can be fulfilled if the worst should occur. If an eligible donor passes away before they turn 18, a parent’s authorization is still required to make the donation.

Nationally, there are more than 118,000 people waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 4,600 are in the state of Florida. Every 10 minutes, a new name is added to the transplant waiting list, and every day 19 lives are lost due to the lack of organs available for transplantation.

With those staggering statistics in mind, Jake, Caitlin, and their club are armed with a slew of Save 8: Educate materials – including rack cards, bracelets, and pens – which share the message that signing up for organ donation, either at the DMV or online at, has the potential to save eight people just like Jake.

In the years since Jake began speaking publicly, he’s lost count of how many lives he’s touched. Most of the time, Jake’s impact is anonymous, but he’ll never forget the time a doctor approached him at the gym.

“He had seen me give my speech at the GR8TODON8 event, which never feels like a big deal because I talk in front of people all the time,” Jake says. “But this doctor told me he changed the way he works because of me. I allowed him to see what comes out of his work. He told me he now wakes up every day with a smile and thinks about how he can help more kids like me. I was speechless. It was so surreal.”

An avid snowboarder, lacrosse player, and an accomplished singer-songwriter-musician, Jake has post-graduation plans that include all of the above. It’s all part of a full and happy life he never would have lived if not for the organ donor program.

“I thank God everyday for this gift of life, and I try to live it fully,” Jake says. “As Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother says, ‘Live every day, legendary.’ That’s my motto now.”

Duke Energy

Have you thought about your power company lately? If the answer is “no” – and it probably is – that’s likely because everything is working without a hitch. Duke Energy, however, wants to be on the minds of Seminole County residents even when the lights are on and the AC is blowing cold, and the utility is working hard to be a positive community partner.

“People may not think about their power company often, but there are a number of people at Duke Energy who contribute to our day-to-day operation, and they contribute to the Seminole County community in so many positive ways, as well,” says Tricia Setzer, Duke Energy’s district manager in charge of community affairs.

In fact, Duke Energy has about 300 employees in Seminole County, with operation centers in Longwood and Oviedo and an office building in Lake Mary. Duke Energy acquired Progress Energy in July 2012, and the transition was practically seamless. Duke is now the largest electrical utility company in the United States, serving approximately seven million customers in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Duke’s customers have probably noticed little difference, with the exception of the name and logo on their electricity bill. At the Longwood Operations Center, many of the company’s employees have been working there for more than 20 or 30 years.

For customers, new logos may be the only obvious change, but there is strength in numbers. So Duke Energy does, in fact, have an advantage over smaller power companies. The company’s size helps to reduce costs for customers, and Duke is also very involved in renewable research – trying to learn more about how to generate power from natural resources.

Duke Energy also has an advantage when it comes to emergency situations, such as massive power outages due to natural disasters, like hurricanes or any major storm event.

“We’re able to pull support from all over, and that’s huge,” Tricia says. “If we can bring our folks down, we don’t have to increase costs by bringing in outside support. And if it’s our folks, they already know our policies, our procedures, and our ways of doing business. So they can hit the ground running.”

Now that you know a little more about the people at Duke Energy, you have even more reasons to think about them.

“I’d love for people to think of Duke Energy as a great community partner,” Tricia says. “And I’d love for them to think of us as a company that provides safe, reliable, cost-effective power.”

– Jill Cousins

Photo: Just a few of the engineers, field crew members, and support staff at Duke Energy’s Longwood Operations Center who keep your lights on and your air conditioning running.


Aged Out & Looking Up

by Kristen Manieri

Florida’s foster care system often sends young men and women out into the world with marginal chances for success. But one local superstar is proving a dark past can’t suppress a bright future

Nineteen-year-old Taj Banks has every reason to have a chip on his shoulder. One of 14 brothers and sisters, Taj faced abuse at the hands of his parents as a child and then spent 13 years in foster care before aging out of the system in 2013. The result, you’d expect, would be a hardened and angry young man – but you’d be wrong.

With his high-spirited personality and a winning smile, Taj genuinely shrugs off the tough hand life dealt him, preferring to focus on the road ahead rather than wallow in stories about a childhood filled with self-preservation and grief.

“My parents didn’t help me through life,” he says, quite simply. “I don’t try to understand them; I just moved on. I’m not letting what happened in the past affect me in the future.”

Taj will tell you that it’s his steadfast, optimistic attitude that moved him from the wrong side of the daunting statistics, numbers that show only 30 percent of Florida youth aging out of foster care will graduate high school and fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25. According to Impower, which runs a local transitional housing village where Taj now lives, 71 percent of girls will be pregnant by 21, 1-in-5 young adults will be homeless within three years, and 1-in-4 will be involved in the criminal justice system by the age of 20. Statistically, kids who age out of foster care have a very rough road ahead.

But that’s not Taj’s trajectory. For starters, in May 2013 he graduated from Oviedo’s Hagerty High, a place that will forever hold a piece of his heart. While the road to graduation was filled with ups and downs – including an expulsion in his freshman year – Taj eventually learned to avoid the “wrong crowd” and surround himself with people who could help move him forward. In return, the community has embraced Taj, and a number of different people have since rallied around him.

That list includes Matt Malkovich, a Hagerty history teacher and coach of the track team. In his sophomore year, Taj was seriously contemplating quitting school, something he confided to his track coach.

“I remember that conversation clearly,” Taj says. “I told him I couldn’t do this anymore, and I was going to leave school.” But Matt would have none of it. “He told me dropping out is for the weak,” Taj continues. “Only strong, smart guys stay in school. It was one of the first times an adult really stood up for me. And from that point on, I started going to him for everything. I still do.”

Taj will never forget that conversation, but neither will Matt, who took Taj under his wing.

“He needed someone, and my door was open,” Matt says. “Hagerty High School was the only stable thing in his life for four years. Prior to that, he was in and out of foster homes and separated from his family. Hagerty was a very important part of his life. He’s the only one in his family who has graduated high school. It was pretty important that he not continue the trend of this vicious cycle for foster children, and it’s critical that he continues schooling, or he could easily be a number.”

That’s advice Taj has taken to heart as he embarks on his studies at Orlando Medical Institute, where he’s earning his Certificate of EMT. After the 14-week course ends in April, Taj will move on to fire school.

“I want to help people out,” he says. “I’ve been helped, so I want to help others. I want to be a firefighter, and I am single-mindedly focused on that.”

Tuition for his schooling at OMI and beyond comes thanks to a full scholarship given to Taj by the Institute’s president and founder, Felix Marquez, who first learned about Taj during a WESH Channel 2 special spotlighting kids in foster care.

“I’m a fireman for the City of Orlando,” says Felix. “One day while I was in the firehouse I saw a story on television about a kid who had a lot of obstacles in life. But he was really positive and wanted to be a fireman once he graduated from high school. This kid had every right to be disgruntled. But he wasn’t. So I reached out to WESH 2 News and told them I wanted to help Taj out.”

Besides tuition, Felix also bought Taj his uniforms and set him up with some extra tutoring support at the school.

“Taj really wants this, but he just needs the mentorship,” says Felix. “And when he gets it, he’s so willing to listen and absorb the information. He’s such a bright, good kid. Lots of kids struggle like this. They just need someone to give them a break.”

Felix isn’t the only one to think so. Last year, Taj was sharing his story at the Wings of Hope Gala in Lake Mary, a fundraiser that supports young people like Taj who age out of foster care. Sanford resident Jennifer Ferguson and her husband James Vickaryous were so moved by Taj’s hardships and his impossibly positive attitude, they gifted Taj his first car, a 2001 Toyota Corolla they no longer needed.

“Taj was talking about his desire to finish his schooling and how he was appreciative of the community,” Jennifer says. “And he mentioned that it was challenging getting around without a car. James and I just looked at each other and knew we would give him ours.”

Taj was sitting outside of his home when the couple came over and handed him the keys. “I just started crying,” Taj remembers. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The kindness of others has so motivated Taj that he spends a few hours a week mentoring others to pay the goodwill forward.

“I’ve been in their shoes and can tell them honestly that if you’re someone who doesn’t think you can move forward in life, you’re wrong,” Taj says. “I’ve had a whole lot of disappointment in my life. I’ve had to do life on my own. But I don’t let the past affect my future. There is no past; just forward on.”

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

by Crystal Lang

Local and national organizations team up to help families in the midst of cardiac crisis

As any parent can imagine, when Lake Mary resident Melissa Lue received confirmation from a cardiologist that her precious two-month-old baby boy had a serious heart condition, she was devastated.

In fact, trying to comprehend the details of baby Matthew’s rare condition – a heart murmur caused from the regurgitation of blood from the mitral valve, preventing blood flow to the lower left heart chamber – felt like information overload.

“Before the diagnosis, all I knew about Matthew’s heart was that it was located on his left side, and that it pumped blood to his little body,” says Melissa, who remembers being grateful for the information she received from the American Heart Association (AHA).

“When our family tried to process the complexity of Matthew’s situation, the American Heart Association’s information packets and websites were so helpful,” recalls Melissa.

A further source of comfort for Melissa was the “Mended Little Hearts” program, a nationwide patient support organization that is affiliated with the AHA. The community-based support group offers encouragement to parents of children who are suffering from heart disease by providing trained volunteers and toll-free helplines. The local Mended Little Hearts group is based out of Orlando.

Most of all, Mended Little Hearts gives families the opportunity to connect with others who might be experiencing similar heartfelt circumstances.

Behind the scenes, the medical advancements and research funded by the AHA helped make a lifesaving procedure for Matthew a possibility. Because research is a major weapon in the war against heart disease, the AHA has spent more than $3.5 billion since 1949 to study and increase knowledge about cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the Association currently funds more than 2,000 researchers and scientists.

In addition to its extensive research, the AHA works diligently to provide medical teams with valuable education and training necessary to battle heart disease, still America’s number one killer. The accredited scientific conferences and professional development seminars are the leading cardiovascular meetings in the country, and they help doctors and scientists stay current on the latest developments in all matters of the heart.

Greater Orlando Board Chairman Dan Artone is proud of the critical lifesaving work of the American Heart Association, but he knows there is still so much to do in continuing research and advancements. After all, one in 100 babies is born with some sort of congenital heart defect. One in three women will die from heart disease, compared to one in 30 who will die from breast cancer.

These facts and figures alone make it imperative for the American Heart Association to march forward with full force in its efforts not only to fight heart disease, but also to prevent it.

One of the keys to the prevention of heart disease is awareness. The AHA website constantly releases the latest news on key issues such as teen obesity, nicotine exposure, and recognizing the warning signs for heart attack and strokes. The site also provides local resources for anyone interested in learning more about stress management, as well as a complete online nutrition center for those who are hungry for information about healthy eating habits and exercise programs.

Besides being active participants in our own prevention, the AHA offers plenty of opportunities for us to get involved in touching hearts and saving lives. From walking in a local Heart Walk to attending or donating toward the annual Orlando Heart Ball, we can join together to spark awareness, compassion, and a deeper understanding of the nation’s deadliest killer. This year’s Heart Ball will be on Saturday, March 15, beginning at 6:00 p.m. at SeaWorld.

Today, baby Matthew is thriving, and the scars on his chest are a reminder to his family of how grateful they feel for the doctors and surgeons who saved his life. Thankfully, the lifesaving work of the AHA has given babies like Matthew the chance to live a healthy, normal life, which might not have been the case ten years ago. However, just like the human heart, the AHA must continue to pump its passionate efforts to help keep Americans healthy and strong.

Rise & Shine

by Peter Reilly

Early birds give flight to words at Lake Mary’s Toastmasters Club

Early to bed and early to rise helps these orators verbalize.

At 7:15 a.m. on Tuesday mornings, a time when many night owls can barely speak, the members of the Lake Mary Toastmasters Club are using the spoken word to educate, entertain, and energize their fellow early birds.

The club is known for its high-energy elocutionists who use the hourlong meeting at the Panera Bread across from Heathrow as a warm-up for the workday ahead.

“Because this is a morning club, it tends to attract a lot of professionals,” says Steven Morgan, club president, pointing out that many Toastmasters Clubs meet in the evening. “Our members want to get things done early. Early risers are usually very successful. We have a lot of those people. It’s a great way to start your day – to get this energy going before you go off to work.”

This address-for-success attitude was apparent in the members’ chosen speech topics at a recent meeting.

Jessica Reschke, vice-president of public relations for the club, gave a talk about a problem facing young professional women – a reluctance to weight train like guys for fear of bulking up like the Hulk.

In her speech, Is Your Workout Sexist?, Jessica explained that lifting weights actually helps women lose weight because adding muscle burns more calories. Women don’t have to worry about getting bulging biceps because they lack male testosterone. To look like Mr. Universe, according to Jessica, females must be taking part in extreme workouts. Some female body buliders have even used performance-enhancing drugs.

Jessica’s weighty talk was followed by Suzanna Kaye, who spoke on the timely topic of time management. Her speech, Time Control: Tips for Taking Charge of Your Time in 2014, showed members how to be more efficient.

The third lecture of the morning was Steven’s cautionary tale about the burst of the 1990s dot-com bubble that caused businesses and investors to go bust, putting many Americans out of work. Steven, a Longwood resident, wrapped up his speech with a poignant question: “If this is the price of doing business… what business are we in?”

Afterward, an evaluator gave each speaker a constructive critique of his or her speech, all delivered in a positive and encouraging manner.

“The club is so supportive,” says Jessica. “Everyone is here to help you.”

This has been a 90-year tradition of Toastmasters International since the organization was founded in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley in a basement of the YMCA in Santa Ana, California. Today, according to its website, the organization has nearly 300,000 members in 14,350 clubs in 122 countries.

The founder’s formula of leadership training, mixed with public speaking programs and constructive criticism, has transformed thousands of members into sensational speakers – including those who early on would’ve rather faced a firing squad than deliver a five-minute speech.

“The key is practice and preparation,” says George Kostopoulos of Sanford, an area governor of Toastmasters who was visiting the Lake Mary club that morning. “I have seen people give their first speech, and they were trembling. By the time they give their 10th speech, it’s no big deal.”

The Lake Mary club has been creating confident speakers since 2002 and has 25 members, many of whom have done well in oratorical competitions.

Jessica, who has been a member only since October, came in second for the division in the Humorous Speech category at a recent competition. She wowed judges with a funny story about her dad. Incredibly, it was the first time she competed. Congratulations also to Suzanna, who came in second in her category of the Humorous Speech competition, too.

Another competition, the Toastmasters International Speech and Table Talk contest, was held just as this issue of Lake Mary Life went to press. How did club members do? You’ll have to pay the club a visit to find out.

“The Lake Mary club is one of the most prestigious clubs around,” says George. “It is also one of the friendliest and most welcoming clubs in Seminole County.”

“We have a great group of people,” says Jessica. Members come from as far away as Maitland (Jessica) and Altamonte Springs (Suzanna).

So, if you’re interested in improving your leadership and public speaking skills, come as a guest and see if the Lake Mary club is a good fit. Everyone is welcome… even you night owls. Just don’t forget to set your alarm clocks the night before.

Photo: Members and guests at a recent meeting of the Lake Mary Toastmasters Club

The Eyes Have It

Cover image by Mary Balanda, Oviedo Photo Club member

By Chip Colandreo, OWSL

As seen through the lens of the  

Oviedo Photo Club, our

community’s beauty is boundless

It’s been said that painters make the best photographers, because a painter understands depth, composition, color, and the various roles each element will play in a compelling image. That’s all well and good, but what that really means is this: Photographers, like painters, are artists at work.

Indeed, the more than 50 artists who make up the Oviedo Photo Club are immensely talented, and they do a tremendous amount of good work for the community, to boot.

You’ve almost certainly seen members of the club going about their business, even if you didn’t realize who they were. The Oviedo Photo Club lends its talent to the City of Oviedo, the City’s Recreation & Parks department, and many philanthropic organizations by busily photographing dozens of community events throughout the year. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade and festivities, the Great Day in the Country event, the iconic Easter Marshmallow Drop, the July 4th extravaganza, every performance of the St. Luke’s Concert Series, the Cops ‘n Cars auto show, the winter Snow Mountain celebration, and many more – Photography Club members capture all the action and then make their best shots available for anyone in the community to download for free from the club’s website (, then click the Gallery link). It’s an incredible resource for Oviedo-Winter Springs residents and a wonderful opportunity for club members to share their gifts.

“The beauty of our club is that we have novices, enthusiasts, and even professionals, and each member is willing and excited to mentor anyone who wants to improve their own photography,” says club president Frederic Krueger. “We’re not at all competitive among ourselves. We all want to get better. That makes us much more cordial, much more friendly.”

Unlike other, larger clubs, the word “competition” is banned from the Oviedo Photo Club’s lexicon. Instead, members gather on the first and third Mondays of every month to share images and trade compliments and constructive advice. The atmosphere is welcoming and warm, and most meetings feature a guest speaker who discusses various photography topics.

The club is about to christen a new, permanent gallery at Oviedo City Hall, where samples of members’ work will be rotated among frames lining one of the building’s prominent hallways. The Oviedo Photo Club also just finished a three-month project to visually preserve the historic buildings and other landmarks that will be impacted by the expansion of State Road 434 through downtown Oviedo. The club has done similar work for the Oviedo Historical Society and The Oviedo Preservation Project.

Next time you see smiling cameramen (and camerawomen) snapping away at a local event, don’t be shy. It’s likely a member of the Oviedo Photo Club who is eager to meet fellow photography buffs.

“It’s fun for us,” Frederic says. “People come up to us all the time and say, ‘Hey, I saw you at that other event.’ We always keep plenty of club business cards handy, and we’re always excited to welcome new members.”



Vascular Vein Centers

Veins do a lot of lifting in our body. It’s the job of veins to return blood to the lungs for a fresh dose of oxygen before being pumped by the heart to all parts of the body. Some veins work harder than others. Veins in our legs wage a constant war against gravity to do their job. As with any war, casualties occur, and that’s where Vascular Vein Centers comes in.

Veins have valves, that’s how they move blood up from the legs with the calf muscles as the pump. Valves are vulnerable over time to leaking, possibly because of an inherited weakness in the vein walls or because of pregnancy, which causes vein distention due to fluid retention. Valves can also be damaged by clots in the veins or by prolonged standing (at work, for example) which distends veins.

We all know what the problems look like – varicose or spider veins – but unfortunately most patients, and even many doctors, don’t realize the potentially serious medical consequences.

“The fluid that leaks out of those veins, because of the pressure of gravity, is caustic,” says Dr. Sam Martin, founder and director of Vascular Vein Centers, who developed an intense interest in vein issues when he helped found a wound-care center in the 1990s. To his own surprise, Dr. Martin discovered that 40−60 percent of wounds seen in the wound care center were secondary to vein problems. “When malfunctioning veins are left untreated, they can cause inflammation, skin discoloration, lymphatic issues, and ulcers.”

Patients often approach their family doctors with the first signs of these problems – the aforementioned varicose veins or a darkening of the skin above the ankles – only to have their concerns dismissed as cosmetic. Some patients end up in the dermatologist’s office for treatment. These issues, though, are only the tip of the iceberg, and doctors and staff at Vascular Vein Centers know to look deeper.

Treatments at Vascular Vein Centers, with an office on Lake Mary Boulevard, are advanced, comfortable, convenient, and covered by most insurance plans.

Years of experience and specialty training combined with a sole focus on venous and lymphatic problems gives Vascular Vein Centers an unmatched expertise. When patients leave Vascular Vein Centers, they look better, feel better, and are healthier.

“It’s significant and important work we do here,” says Dr. Martin. “Veins are a medical problem. Giving people relief and improving their health is work I love.”

Photo: Dr. Sam Martin and his staff at the Vascular Vein Centers office in Lake Mary


Sweetwater Episcopal Academy

Imagine a school with a curriculum tailored to suit each child’s needs, one that provides boundless enrichment opportunities and appropriate acceleration. Add to that a dedicated and talented faculty certified in gifted teaching methods and focused on the personal growth and success of each student. You don’t have to imagine. That school is Sweetwater Episcopal Academy (SEA).

“Sweetwater Episcopal Academy provides differentiated, small group instruction across all core subject areas,” says Janet Stroup, head of school. “This process leads to more individualized teacher attention and personalized student learning. If your child excels in one area but requires additional instruction in another, SEA’s teachers maximize every student’s potential by providing the individual attention they need.”

In addition to traditional math and reading programs, SEA also offers robust academic programs in science and social studies, filled with daily hands-on learning opportunities and exciting field trips at every grade level.

“Our knowledgeable teachers truly care about each student, and their passion for teaching is evident,” Janet says. “Interested in the arts? Students can audition for a solo in Miss Shatley’s Evening of the Arts program, where students showcase their musical and vocal talents. Prefer a paintbrush? Why not become Michelangelo for the afternoon in Mrs. Miller’s Art Room, creating a masterpiece while painting on your back.”

For more information about Sweetwater Episcopal Academy, visit or call Jackie Hewett, director of enrollment at 407-862-1882 to schedule a tour.


Mike Ertel: Counting Votes & Blessings

by  Chip Colandreo

He’s now known on the international stage (see below), but how many of his own constituents know the intriguing life story of Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel?

“Sometimes, life can be a game of Chutes and Ladders,” says Mike Ertel, Seminole County’s Supervisor of Elections since 2005. “Every now and then, you’re going to fall down a chute. You just have to decide which ladder to climb back up.”

From any other elected official, the words would ring hollow, but Mike speaks from all-too-real experience. A product of Seminole County, Mike is the model of homegrown success today. In his younger years, though, Mike has been homeless, alone, and he spent much of his youth with little direction and even fewer prospects for success.

A young, stubborn, and uninterested student by his own admission, Mike dropped out of high school as a sophomore, though he eventually returned to graduate from Lake Howell High. With the ink still wet on his diploma, Mike was determined to move out of his parents’ home and make it on his own. He rented a house from a family friend, but the odd jobs Mike held couldn’t sustain the residence for long.

Eventually, Mike was homeless, showering sporadically at a buddy’s house and sleeping in spurts inside the men’s room at a 24-hour laundromat on State Road 436 in Casselberry.

“I’d sleep for 30 or 45 minutes, until someone knocked on the door,” Mike remembers. “I spent three months living that way, but I didn’t know it was only going to be three months. I really wondered if the rest of my life was going to be this way. That’s what poverty is. It’s not just a lack of funds or a lack of food. It’s a lack of hope.”

Through it all, Mike always held down a job and eventually got back on his feet. At the age of 19, Mike decided to fulfill a boyhood dream and join the military.

In the Army, Mike blossomed. He quickly displayed an aptitude for communications, both technical and interpersonal. After serving four years in the infantry, Mike was sent to public affairs school, ironically one of the Army’s most intense programs. Despite his checkered academic past, Mike excelled. He eventually went on to attend the University of Maryland while in the service. Mike became one of the Army’s top spokesmen and an accomplished military journalist, serving in Berlin, Germany, and elsewhere before the conclusion of his duty in 1997.

Mike returned to Seminole County a new man with impressive public-relations skills. PR stints with Winn-Dixie stores, Orange and Seminole Counties, and VISIT FLORIDA put Mike on the map, and an impassioned letter to then-Governor Jeb Bush earned Mike the appointment to Seminole County’s vacant Supervisor of Elections office in February 2005.

“I had become an expert at communicating during chaos,” Mike says, explaining that elections in Florida always seem to be in a state of turmoil. Everywhere in Florida, that is, except Seminole County, where Mike’s constantly open lines of voter communication and fanatic attention to detail have created a unique environment of trust and confidence in the electoral process.

Today, a photo of the infamous 436 laundromat greets Mike every time he wakes his smartphone. It’s a reminder that humble beginnings don’t always portend a disappointing finish. After all, Mike knows better than most that election night is never over until every last vote is counted.

And the Award Goes to…

“Well, the finalists in my category were the entire nation of Mongolia or the guy from Seminole County,” says Mike Ertel, Seminole’s Supervisor of Elections, with a chuckle. “So, I didn’t particularly expect to win.”

A $2,500, 22-hour plane ride and a mountain of painful scheduling-conflict resolution stood between Mike and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Britain’s International Centre for Parliamentary Studies (ICPS) recently handed out a slew of awards for achievements in government relations and electoral policy. Mike didn’t go, but he did win, dealing a stinging blow to the Mongolian Electoral Commission. In fact, Mike was one of only two Americans honored at the awards ceremony. The other: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.



Specifically, Mike received the International Electoral Ergonomy Award in recognition of his voter-trust initiatives in Seminole County. Mike remembers delivering a speech at an ICPS conference a few years ago about the process of building voter trust, a speech which obviously made quite an impression on the Centre’s awards committee.

“We constantly tell people about our elections process here in Seminole County, and that builds trust in the process,” says Mike. “Trust, in turn, builds confidence, and that’s what has led to our high registration rates and high voter turnout figures, which are the best of any large county in Florida. And we do it with one of the lowest cost-per-voter figures in the state.”

Steady as She Goes

By Chip Colandreo, OWSL

With a podium finish at the national championships under her belt, local figure skater balances life as both kid and wunderkind

It reads like the scene from a well-worn movie: a 12-year-old girl, blessed with an incredible ability, lives the life of someone twice her age. To dedicate more time to the art of figure skating, this young lady, Sarah Rose of Geneva, is homeschooled so she can maximize her training regimen. Between rinks in Maitland and the Brevard County town of Rockledge, Sarah often spends more than a dozen hours a week on the ice, and her trophy cases are filled with the impressive hardware Sarah has collected for her efforts.

There’s one critical difference, though, one way in which Sarah smashes the cliché of the immensely talented child prodigy: She’s happy. Bubbling, in fact. “Sarah is a little ball of joy and energy,” says her dad, Scott. “She wakes up in the morning like she’s already had two pots of coffee. She’s a little jokester, a wonderful kid, and a really sweet girl.”

And despite all the travel, all the training, the intense pressure of national-level competition – perhaps in spite of it all – Sarah is still having fun.

“I just love it so much,” Sarah says of her chosen sport. “If you love something you want to go out there and do it, you want to practice more and compete more.”

Sarah is a pairs skater. She and her partner, 13-year-old TJ Nyman of Rockledge, have climbed the ranks of the juvenile division of pairs skating and recently placed third at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Massachusetts. Only 12 juvenile teams from across America were chosen to compete at the national championships, the same competition that catapulted skaters in the senior division to the U.S. Olympic team. The podium finish is even more impressive considering the fact that Sarah and TJ were the only pairs skaters who earned a medal in their first year at the tournament. Both teams ahead of them were competing in their third-straight national championships.

“The championships were so exciting and very tense,” says Sarah’s mom, Susan. “I usually don’t get nervous, but I had to force myself to watch. It’s really been a journey for Sarah and TJ. I remember Sarah telling me, when she was four years old, ‘Mommy, I want to skate.’ One eight-week skating class led to another, then private lessons, and here we are.”

Sarah and TJ’s coach, Brian Kader, is a former senior-level pairs skater and a 25-year coaching veteran. He’s been working with Sarah for the past several years and is quick to praise both her mental and physical prowess on the ice.

“Sarah is a tough little cookie,” Brian says with a chuckle. “She’s a great kid with a super attitude who works like a fiend, and she has wonderful support from her family. She’s going to make it far in this business because of all that. I had a pretty good feeling going into this season she and TJ would be competitive. We spent the year traveling, competing, and getting our feet wet, and now Sarah and TJ are reaping the rewards of their hard work.”

The young pairs team won’t rest on their laurels for long. Sarah and TJ plan to advance to the intermediate level of competition next season. Like Olympic skating, both short and long skating programs are required at the intermediate level, and competition naturally gets much more fierce.

In pairs skating, the hardest part, according to Brian, is keeping the team together. Not because of in-fighting or bad chemistry, like you see in the movies, but because great pairs skaters are often great singles competitors, too. Both Sarah and TJ began as singles skaters, and TJ still competes in the juvenile boys division. In fact, a day after the team captured bronze in Boston, TJ took to the ice again and won the juvenile boys national championship.

Sarah, for her part, keeps a special place in her heart for pairs skating.

“In pairs, you have the throws, the big jumps, the overhead lifts – that’s my favorite part,” says the daredevil Sarah.

“That’s not my favorite part,” groans dad, who has watched both his girls tumble to the ice more times than he cares to remember. Sarah’s 14-year-old sister, Sydney, is an accomplished skater in her own right, currently competing in the intermediate ladies division. Scott is a former collegiate football and baseball player who helps keep his daughters’ minds and bodies perfectly tuned for the surprisingly intense athletic endeavor that is figure skating. “Many of the men look like they could play outside linebacker,” says Scott.

What does the future hold for TJ and Sarah? One can’t help but invoke the “O-word” when evaluating young skaters with such immense talent. Sarah doesn’t shy away from Olympic talk, though she addresses the topic with a maturity far beyond her years.

“We’re only at the intermediate level now, and there are a lot of levels to climb before we start thinking about the Olympics,” says Sarah, who will turn 13 in April. “Of course the Olympics are my dream, and hopefully dreams come true. For now, I’m so happy to have competed in Boston. It was so cool to rub shoulders with the skaters who did go to the Olympics. The competition gave me more confidence to know I can be a great skater, but there’s so much hard work ahead.

“I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me get this far,” Sarah continues. “My sister means everything to me. I don’t know what I’d do without her and her support. My parents are so encouraging and do so much to allow me to skate at this level. I’m having so much fun, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Pace Brantley School

“Lots of schools have people they call teachers, but PACE has heroes.” – Pace Brantley School student

At Pace Brantley School (PACE), those “heroes” are the reasons why many students consider the school “home.”

Accredited by the Florida Council of Independent Schools, PACE is a state-of-the-art, 501(c)(3) nonprofit school for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorders, and ADHD.

“PACE believes that learning disabilities should carry no stigma, that everyone should be treated with fairness, kindness, and respect, and that all children can learn,” explains Kathleen Shatlock, the school’s director. “Our mission is to help students restore and rebuild their often fragile self-concept. Here, many students make their first true friends, their teachers understand them, and they learn to become leaders academically and socially.”

Offering specialized programs for grades 2 through 12, including Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment, and Orton-Gillingham, PACE’s curriculum supports Common Core standards in a traditional school environment. The school also offers competitive, club, and intramural sports and extracurricular activities including community service, art, and leadership programs.

“PACE is a place where my daughter can feel normal, which for me is huge,” says a PACE parent.

To find out more about Pace Brantley School, visit or schedule a tour with admissions coordinator Erin Shaffer at or 407-869-8882.

– Shelley Ouellette 


Montessori Kids Learning Center

When Larysa Druzhynina began looking for a local Montessori program for her 2-year-old, she found that most schools required students to be at least 3 and potty trained.

“That didn’t meet my needs or the needs of a lot of moms who want access to a great Montessori curriculum, but who also need some flexibility,” she says. So Larysa, a certified Montessori teacher with a bachelor’s degree in education, decided to open her own school, the Montessori Kids Learning Center on Lake Mary Boulevard in Sanford.

“We are the only Montessori school in the area that takes 1-year-old children and offers potty training programs and workshops,” Larysa says.

Ideal for both stay-at-home moms and working parents, Montessori Kids Learning Center, open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., has full-day, half-day, and three-day-per-week options designed to meet the unique needs of parents and their children ages 1 and older.

“I opened this school because I know Montessori is the best education option for kids, and I wanted to offer this curriculum in a truly affordable and flexible family environment that feels like home to the children who come here,” Larysa says. “The result is an enhanced curriculum with emphasis on individual growth and self-motivation.”

– Kristen Manieri


Half-Centuries of Happiness

by Hedy Bass

Celebrate with us as we honor three Lake Mary couples who’ve each shared 50 years of wedded bliss

Patti and Rudy Pavlik

In the late 1950s, the small town of Lorain, Ohio, was home to giant companies like Ford, American Shipbuilding, and U.S. Steel. It was also home to two young high-school students, Patti Nemecek and Rudy Pavlik.

“He was new to the school,” says Patti, who recalls how good-looking the other girls thought Rudy was. “I didn’t think so,” she laughs.

Patti was a sophomore; Rudy, a junior. They were good students, involved in social clubs, who would frequently see each other at Firestone’s, a local soda shop. It wasn’t long before they started dating, and a five-year romance led to marriage in 1964.

The couple got engaged in 1962 while Rudy was a freshman at Ohio University. By then, Patti, following in her mother’s footsteps, was a businesswoman with her own beauty salon in Lorain. After marrying, Rudy went on to earn his MBA.

The Pavliks’ definition of love is simple and poignant. “When she became more important than the other things in my life, like cars and sports, that’s when I knew I was in love. She became my best friend,” says Rudy. Patti is quick to add, “He became my best friend, too.”

Patti and Rudy admit the early days were not easy.

“We came from basically nothing, but we were hard workers,” says Rudy, giving credit to the work ethic both gleaned from their parents. And that hard work paid off. As Patti’s business grew, Rudy embarked on a successful corporate management career that would eventually take him and Patti to several cities over 35 years: St. Louis, Dallas, Cleveland, Tampa, and Orlando.

Though the moves forced Patti to give up her salon, she always managed to find work as a makeup artist and consultant at prestigious stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The Pavliks are the proud parents of three grown children: Kathi, Rudy Jr., and Michele (a Lake Mary resident, herself) plus six grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 17.

Though life has been generally good to the Pavliks, they’ve had their share of ups and downs, like most couples. Says Rudy of those times, “You get knocked down and you get up.” Patti agrees, saying, “You work together and get through it. We never thought of giving up.”

Today Rudy is happily retired and enjoys his time watching his favorite sports and playing golf when he can. Patti fills her days as a member of the Lake Forest Women’s Club and also teaches china painting and Zentangle in her home.

What secrets of marital success can the Pavliks share? For women especially, Patti advises to just be yourself.

“I was never Mrs. Rudy Pavlik, I was Patti Pavlik,” she says. “It’s good to have your own identity.” Using a sports metaphor, Rudy adds, “You don’t have to win all the games. Compromise has solidified our time together.”

The two wholeheartedly agree that trust, mutual respect, and being yourself is part of the magic formula that has seen this couple through 50 golden years of marriage.

Theresa and Ted Kilger

Long before they walked down the aisle together, Theresa and Ted were strolling down the streets of Buffalo, New York, just babes in carriages being pushed by their German immigrant mothers.

“My parents ran a boarding house,” says Theresa, which is where Ted’s parents first met and where the immigrant couples became friends. Little did these mothers know that more than twenty years later their children would fall in love and marry.

Despite their auspicious introduction, Theresa and Ted did not meet up again until many years later. Though they grew up in nearby neighborhoods, their paths did not cross, that is until Ted’s sister invited each of them to attend a dance at the local soccer club. It was 1962, and Ted had just gotten out of the Army as a radio operator at Fort Carson, Colorado. A couple of weeks after the dance, Ted called Theresa and asked her to go on a double date to a soccer game in Toronto. It wasn’t long before the two were steadily dating.

How did Theresa and Ted know they were in love? “It just felt good being together,” Ted quickly replies, as Theresa nods her head and smiles.

The couple married in May 1963. By then, Ted was in the home remodeling business and Theresa was working for the Iroquois School System in upstate New York. They began a family and had two daughters, Susan and Lisa. Living in Buffalo, the Kilgers were accustomed to bitterly cold winters, but the blizzard of 1977 – and a fateful trip to Orlando at the request of Ted’s nephew – got Ted thinking about a different kind of life for his young family.

Excited about what he had seen in the Sunshine State, Ted told Theresa, “We’re moving.” But it took several years of convincing for Ted to get his wife to pack up the family and head south. By 1982, the couple had chosen Lake Mary as a place to raise their teen daughters.

“At that time, Lake Mary still had a rural feel to it,” says Ted. “Lake Mary Boulevard was only a two-lane road then.”

With their youngest daughter Lisa enrolled at Lake Mary High School and their eldest Susan enrolled at Seminole Community College, Ted started a home remodeling company, which is now owned and run by his son-in-law, Jerry DiBartolo.

What advice would Ted and Theresa give other married couples, or young couples thinking about marriage?

“Be good to your husband,” says Theresa, “and if you disagree, take time to cool off. Never say, ‘Don’t do this or that.’ It just doesn’t work.” And, adds Ted, “Never go to bed mad.”

The Kilgers say they have no regrets about their lives together, but they both agree it takes work to have a successful marriage.

Today, they still reside in the home they bought in 1982, and the Kilgers are the proud grandparents of two Lake Mary High School alumni: a granddaughter, Paige, who graduated from Florida State University, and a grandson, Jared, who attends Seminole State College.

Lynn and Ken Edwards

Lynn and Ken were 15-year-old high school sophomores when they first met at a party in East Orange, New Jersey. Lynn came from an artistic family. Her mother was a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, her dad a pianist and teacher. Ken’s mother was a nurse, and his father worked in the family’s manufacturing business.

“It never would have occurred to us then that this was a match made in heaven,” says Lynn.

After graduating from East Orange High School, Ken enrolled at Upsala College in New Jersey. Lynn, a talented violinist, turned down an opportunity to attend the Manhattan School of Music and instead enrolled at Upsala so she could be with Ken. Lynn fondly recalls her sweetheart Ken, with his athletic good looks, as “so cute.”

How did they know they were in love? “I don’t know,” says Lynn. “I just knew it was right, and so did he.”

It was 1963, and Ken and Lynn were juniors in college when they decided to elope. But because they were underage, it was Ken’s dad who had to sign the marriage application for the young lovers.

When Lynn told her parents about their plans, her mother implored them to wait “just two weeks” so that she could make a catered reception for them in her home. After the brief two-week engagement, the pair were married in East Orange in Lynn’s parents’ apartment. For the next year, the newlyweds lived in the third-floor apartment of Ken’s parent’s home while they finished their degrees.

After graduation, Lynn went to work for New Jersey Bell as a service representative while Ken took a sales job with Liberty Mutual. By 1973, they were living in Springfield, New Jersey, with a young brood of four children: son Bob and daughters Kathy (now a Lake Mary resident), Susie, and Carolyn. Lynn went on to be a successful realtor while Ken continued to grow his career in insurance sales.

In 2004, their daughter Kathy, who by then was married and living in Lake Mary with her young family, needed a bigger home. Retired and looking for an easier life and warmer climate, Ken was more than happy to consider his daughter’s offer to buy her house. Lynn was a little less sure about this big change in their lives, but with Ken’s nudging she agreed to make the move to Lake Mary. Smiling, Lynn looks over at Ken and states, “That was the year of the four hurricanes: Charlie, Frances, Ivan, and Jean.”

Despite that first tumultuous year, Lynn and Ken both agree that after ten years, the move was a good one. Lynn is involved in the Heathrow Women’s Club and has been a tutor at Lake Mary Elementary, where her two grandsons were students. While Ken still keeps abreast of his passion for the stock market, he always finds time to be available for his grandchildren.

Finding time for each other, according to Lynn and Ken, is what makes their marriage work.

“Don’t be afraid to put in the time and commitment,” says Lynn. “It’s so worth it.” Ken sums up what both feel is the foundation of their marriage: “We have a deep-seated connection. Trust, love, respect, and sharing have made our relationship enduring.”

Bryan D. Oeth, DMD

When Dr. Bryan Oeth sold his thriving dental practice in Tampa and opened a new office in Lake Mary, he saw it as an opportunity for growth. For Dr. Oeth, that didn’t mean simply growing the number of patients he served. Dr. Oeth embraced the opportunity to grow his own repertoire of services, as well.

Over the years, Dr. Oeth has accrued one award after another for his outstanding achievements. He was first named a Top Dentist by Tampa Bay Magazine and then by from 2007–2011. Dr. Oeth eventually received recognition from Time magazine, establishing his reputation for excellence on a national level. Today, in addition to his exceptional roster of traditional dental services, Dr. Oeth is also offering patients relief from sleep apnea, affordable cosmetic procedures that feature Botox and the dermal filler Restylane, and teeth straightening.

“The idea is to provide affordable solutions that improve an individual’s health and self-image,” Dr. Oeth says. “For example, going to an orthodontist to straighten your teeth is an important first step. It is the ideal. But if an individual simply cannot afford to go that route, I may be able to help by straightening the all-important six front teeth at a much lower cost.”

With encouragement from his wife Judi, Dr. Oeth began providing Botox and Restylane treatments “because if I whiten or straighten someone’s teeth, and the patient has other visible signs of aging that concern them, the smile still may not be all it could be,” Dr. Oeth explains.

The cosmetic procedures may do more than just boost self-esteem. Many patients report an improved level of confidence that manifests itself in the workplace and in the community. Dr. Oeth is committed to offering the procedures to his patients at a reasonable fee.

Judi explains that her husband is a genuinely caring individual, giving a specific example about one young man whose severe dental problems prevented him from getting a job.

“He was unable to find a dentist who could help him,” Judi recalls. “When he came to our office, Bryan gave him affordable options and literally rebuilt his mouth. The result? The man was able to secure employment.”

Living in Lake Mary is an exciting adventure for both the Oeths.

“It’s a beautiful place, and as a vibrant and growing community, all of us have a voice in making it the way we want it to be,” says Dr. Oeth.

When they are not in the office, Bryan and Judi spend time with their large family of six kids and five grandkids, usually outdoors playing tennis or golf, or attending church with their friends and neighbors.

– Mary Foster


Lake Mary Endodontics

We could tell you a lot about Dr. Travis Caissie, founder of Lake Mary Endodontics. We could mention, for example, that Dr. Caissie has been named the Best Endodontist in Orlando by members of the American Dental Association every year since 2007. We could describe Dr. Caissie’s sterling reputation for excellence in the community and list the dozens of local doctors, dentists, and other practitioners who seek out Dr. Caissie for their own endodontic work and trust him to help members of their own families. We could even provide a breakdown of the incredible technology Dr. Caissie has at his disposal, tools he uses to solve complex problems with ease – at least, he makes it look easy, and patients report minimal inconvenience and little-to-no discomfort.

We could go on and on, but why not let one of Dr. Caissie’s own patients tell her story. That won’t be hard. A quick check of the practice’s website ( shows patient testimonials aplenty. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to look far to find one of Dr. Caissie’s biggest fans. Lake Mary Life’s publisher, Sheila Kramer, has been a loyal patient of Dr. Caissie’s for years, and she is quick to praise his exceptional work.

Wait a minute… A loyal patient for years? Dr. Caissie is an endodontist. That’s the guy who does root canals, right? How often do you need one of those? Isn’t an endodontist the kind of practitioner you visit once in your life to get out of a bind and then never see again? If root canals were all Dr. Caissie did, that might be true. But in fact, as Sheila can attest, root canals are just the tip (or root, perhaps?) of the iceberg.

“The skill set required for endodontics actually gives us a lot of expertise and experience in dealing with complex issues in the mouth,” says Dr. Caissie. “That includes advanced surgical skills that can treat issues which can’t be solved with general dentistry or even general endodontics alone.”

Like most of us, Sheila didn’t realize all that at the beginning, but it didn’t take her long to figure it out.

“I first came to Dr. Caissie for a root canal, like most patients,” Sheila remembers. “I was referred by my general dentist to someone else, but I knew about Dr. Caissie’s reputation, and I also knew I was free to choose the endodontist I wanted. I was blown away by how simple and comfortable the whole experience was. After the procedure, I left the office with a prescription for pain medication if I needed it, but I never filled it. I didn’t even take an Advil. There was literally no pain. I couldn’t believe it.”

Not long after, Sheila’s general dentist encouraged her to seek out a specialist for what they both believed was a periodontal or “gum” issue near one of her other teeth. Sheila asked Dr. Caissie to give it a look.

“My dentist and I were both stumped, but Dr. Caissie recognized the issue immediately, took care of it in minutes, and I left the office good as new, again with no discomfort.”

Sheila and Dr. Caissie were just getting started. Next up was some 30-year-old bridgework that needed attention. Sheila feared the bridge and the two anchor teeth underneath would need to be replaced.

Because saving teeth is primarily what endodontists do, Dr. Caissie was able to preserve one of Sheila’s teeth, which saved her a lot of money, too. The other tooth did have to go, but Dr. Caissie had a solution for it, as well. Lake Mary Endodontics is also a dental implant provider. In fact, Dr. Caissie uses an advanced CBCT 3D scanner for guided implant placement.

Dr. Caissie extracted Sheila’s problem tooth, surgically placed two implants, and worked with Sheila’s general dentist to have the crowns made that are now independently placed on each tooth, meaning Sheila will never have bridge trouble in the area again, and her dental function is now better than ever. “Having had a previous implant done by a different dentist who used general anesthesia for the extraction, I was thrilled to be able to have this one done with oral medication,” Sheila says. “And again,” she adds, “with no pain.”

Every patient’s mileage will vary, but the minimal discomfort experienced at Lake Mary Endodontics is the result of Dr. Caissie’s tremendous skill, attention to detail, and his use of an endodontic microscope to do all his complex work.

“The microscope allows me to do minimal damage to tissue during any kind of dental operation, and that will help reduce or even eliminate discomfort,” Dr. Caissie says. “We see a lot of complex situations here, so we’re able to detect and deal with many different issues. It’s convenient and comfortable for patients, especially because I handle nearly every aspect of treatment personally.”

“Dr. Caissie has become my go-to specialist,” says Sheila. “He always works in concert with my general dentist, and I feel like I’m in expert, capable hands.”

– Chip Colandreo

Photo: The friendly and knowledgeable staff at Lake Mary Endodontics: Indy Butler, dental assistant; Aida Gomez, office manager; Abigail Buono, front desk; Lee Caissie, business manager; Yolanda Williams, dental assistant; and Dr. Travis Caissie.


Winter Springs Roofing & Repair

“We specialize in finding the most innovative solutions for the most difficult roof repairs throughout Central Florida,” says Bill Sumner, owner of Winter Springs Roofing & Repair (WSRR) and a 30-year veteran in the industry. “We also keep current with the newest technology for reconditioning existing roof products.”

Bill is not bragging. A member of the Better Business Bureau, Winter Springs Roofing & Repair has not had a customer complaint filed against it in almost three decades. The Orlando Award Program recently selected WSRR as the Best of Orlando in the Roofing Contractor category. And one needs only to ask scores of satisfied customers – “Bill’s word is his bond;” “We will recommend your company to all friends and family;” “Thank you for a wonderful job!” – and it becomes very clear that Bill knows what he is doing, and he does it very well.

When a potential customer calls Bill, he or she may surprised that the boss answers his own phone. If he takes the job, that immediate connection continues throughout the length of the project.

On a personal note, six years ago, my wife and I noticed some moisture on the ceiling of our living room. We immediately called Bill, and within a day he was at our home. “A small problem,” he assured us, adding that “you might need a new roof in a couple of years.” Three years later, we asked Bill to check to see if it was time for that new roof. “It’s getting closer to that time, but before you make a decision, how long do you plan to stay in the house?”

The point is, Bill is always looking out for the customer. And in that way and every way, he keeps the customer satisfied.

– Michael Kramer


Fast Friends

by Jill Cousins

Searching for lasting friendships? Look no further than the Newcomers of Central Florida.

With a name like Newcomers of Central Florida, it’s only natural to think this group is either designed for new local residents or that it exists to welcome new neighbors to the area.

Actually, it’s a little bit of both – and so much more.

The organization, which currently has 191 members (many from Oviedo-Winter Springs) between the ages of 38 and 94, is a women’s social club and welcoming committee to both new and longtime residents in the Central Florida area. The club offers something for almost everyone, from monthly luncheons to bunko groups, social outings to charity functions. But, most of all, it’s about friendship and camaraderie.

“It’s hard to describe,” says Judy Babine, who joined the club in 1999 and is the current president. “It is the Newcomers of Central Florida, but it’s not just for new people. It’s mostly about the friendships and the bonds. I just love it.”

Oviedo resident Ronnie Telzer became a Newcomer about five years ago when her daughter was a senior at Oviedo High School. Ronnie was looking for a way to get more involved in the community. She and her friend Joan Leonard, both originally from Fort Lee, New Jersey, became co-historians that first year.

“You don’t have to be new to the area,” says Ronnie, now co-vice president in charge of programs. “All you need is the desire to make new friends.”

The organization officially became the Newcomers of Central Florida in 1991, but the group dates back all the way to 1951. At that time, a group of Orlando-area women formed a local chapter of the Welcome Wagon Club. The Welcome Wagon, established in 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee, was one of the first all-female organizations in the United States. It was based on the early Conestoga “welcome wagons” that offered hospitality and refreshments to pioneers who were traveling west to make a new life for their families.

Charitable work has always been a big part of the club, and that’s what originally attracted Judy to the Newcomers. She had already lived in Central Florida for 15 years when she heard about the club from a friend.

“I’m a volunteer person, and I’ve always been an organizer,” says Judy, who raised three children with her husband, who served 28 years in the Navy. “We lived all over the country. We made 22 moves in 28 years. And I was always volunteering. So, I wanted to be a volunteer in the [Central Florida] community.”

Judy is also an avid bunko player, and the Newcomers offer three dice-rolling groups: Daytime Salad Bunko on Mondays, Bunko Belles on Thursday nights, and Bunko Babes on Wednesdays. The Newcomers club also has special interest groups for mah-jongg, bridge, international dining, “chick flicks,” potluck dining, book clubs, and cultural outings.

Popular monthly luncheons are held at various locations in Central Florida. At a recent luncheon, 78 women showed up at Tuscawilla Country Club for an interesting program that featured local TV personality Amy Kaufeldt, co-anchor of FOX 35’s Good Day Orlando. The mother of three young children, Amy talked about “Finding a Healthy Balance in Life.”

The club’s Helping Hands group offers support for members who are recovering from surgery or illness. In fact, Newcomers members helped Judy through a liver transplant in 2009 and knee surgery last September.

“There was so much support and love,” she says. The club is also heavily involved in raising funds for the Russell House for Atypical Children and SafeHouse of Seminole, among other charities.

Susan Cross, the club’s publicity chairman, joined last May. She has lived in Oviedo for the past 21 years. An avid mah-jongg player, Susan was excited when she saw some women from the Newcomers club playing the Chinese tile game in the Memorial Building in downtown Oviedo. The group now plays three times a month at the Riverside Community Center on Lockwood Boulevard.

“Several years ago, I saw a flyer in the library,” says Susan, whose sister, Celia Spiro, is also a Newcomers member. “I started showing up to play, even though I hadn’t played in years. I was just amazed at how welcoming everybody was. The club is a great way to meet new people, make friends, and join in on all the activities.”

Susan points out that sometimes it’s hard to make friends in many of today’s suburban communities. Not every subdivision offers social activities for residents to get to know each other.

“I live in Stillwater, and I know my neighbors on my block and two other neighbors,” Susan says, “but there are 300 homes here! Everybody’s busy, and we don’t have community functions. I didn’t know where to go to meet other women. So this is a place to go – whether you’re new to the neighborhood or not.”

If you would like more information about the Newcomers, visit

Photo: At a recent game day in Winter Springs: Louise Gallagher, Diane Olivi, Brenda Jones, Joan Lenard, Judy Babine, Linda Gallagher, and Ronnie Telzer.

At Home, On Deck

by Terry Matthews-Lombardo

Where do Major League ballplayers go to stay fit in the off-season? A surprising number of them train right here in Altamonte Springs

Walk anywhere near a local baseball field this time of year, and you’ll hear the crack of a bat and the slam of a baseball hitting the soft spot of another young player’s glove. Major Leaguers, too, are already well into their spring training regimens in stadiums across Florida and Arizona. But for the professional ballplayer, training is a year-round affair, and several Major League Baseball stars return home to Seminole County every winter to visit family and hit the gym. Altamonte, as it turns out, is something of an epicenter for offseason baseball activity, and Altamonte-Wekiva Springs Life caught up with three local players who call our community home.

Named the Orlando Sentinel 2009 Athlete of the Year, infielder Nick Franklin was immediately drafted straight out of Lake Brantley High School by the Seattle Mariners. Now, five years later, Nick still returns to his home base of Altamonte Springs to train at The Next Level Baseball facility off State Road 434. Exactly how much time does Nick spend honing his skills during the winter? Let’s just say Nick and The Next Level staff have become quite close.

“They’re like my second family,” Nick says with a chuckle as he settles in for one of his six-day-a-week workouts as spring training approaches. In fairness, Nick has been training with his Next Level “family” for more than eight years, beginning when he was still at Lake Brantley.

This offseason, following his MLB debut in May 2013, Nick often began his training days at the Competitor Gym, owned by another famous area athlete, Kawika Mitchell, a former NFL linebacker and graduate of Lake Howell High School. After the morning workout, Nick, who focused on strength and power development this offseason, typically paused for a protein-packed meal before beginning the baseball-specific portion of his training program.

Another player who’s proud to call Seminole County home is catcher Drew Butera, a former Lake Mary Little Leaguer and an off-season resident of Timacuan. First drafted by the New York Mets in 2005, Drew made his Major League debut with the Minnesota Twins and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. Like Nick, Drew trains almost daily during the offseason and considers Next Level Baseball “my second baseball home.”

Much of Drew’s training is done under the watchful eye of his father, Sal, himself a former MLB catcher and 1987 World Series player for the Twins. As a catcher, Drew’s offseason workout focused on leg strength and agility. He begins each offseason “standing up” to give his tormented legs and knees a rest. This year, Drew didn’t get down into his catcher’s squat again until after the holidays.

What happens to a player who ends his season early due to injury? St. Louis Cardinals pitcher John Gast, a former Seminole County Player of the Year and a 2007 graduate of Lake Brantley, made his Major League debut last season and quickly piled up two wins in three starts, but a shoulder injury and subsequent season-ending surgery sent him back to Altamonte more quickly than he planned.

His recovery included daily visits to physical therapy, as prescribed by the Cardinals, followed by his own personal regimen of conditioning and strength training. Limited to the amount of throwing he can do, John still worked out to stay sharp as he planned his comeback.

In a winter full of training, is there any time left for downtime? A bit, but not much, according to these Major Leaguers. Drew did sneak away for a weeklong vacation to Europe in late winter, though. For Nick, a few sporadic rounds of mini-golf on State Road 436 represented the bulk of his leisure time this offseason.

Such is the glamorous life of a big-league superstar, but these Altamonte-area MLB players prove, at least, you can always go home again.


(not so) Hidden Treasure

by Hedy Bass

There is a gem in our midst. If you look it up, the word gem is defined as “a person or thing considered being outstandingly good or special in some respect.” Clearly, the definition applies to the Maitland Art and History Museums, collectively known as the A&H.

The A&H is a five-building cultural corridor in the heart of Maitland. The various museums and exhibits were gathered under one banner when two organizations, the Maitland Art Center and the Maitland Historical Society, merged in May 2010. The result is a cultural hub we can all enjoy right in our own backyards. The only thing more surprising than the A&H’s spectacular diversity of exhibits and experiences is that so many locals have yet to enjoy them.

As early as 1937, when the Maitland Art Center (formerly the Research Studio) was founded by artist and architect J. Andre Smith, artists of renown like Milton Avery, Doris Lee, and Ralston Crawford were drawn to Maitland. There, they created works in the studios of the Mayan-styled buildings that still host guest artists today.

In 1969, the City of Maitland acquired the art center, nestled near Lake Sybelia. Like the city, the museum has grown and thrived, now offering a wide array of gallery exhibits, live Artists-in-Action demonstrations, and educational arts instruction for both adults and children. The exquisite campus includes the beautiful Main Garden and the popular Chapel and Mayan Courtyard used for weddings and other special events. The Art Center, one of the few examples of fantasy architecture in the Southeast, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just next door to the Maitland Art Center is the Maitland Historical Museum. Through stories and artifacts, it celebrates the town’s hardworking pioneers and explains how its legacy led to the thriving city Maitland is today.

If you never think of leaving home without your cell phone, then a visit to the adjacent Telephone Museum is a must. You’ll learn how, in 1910, Maitland resident Carl H. Galloway improved service for his father’s grocery store by installing phones in his customers’ homes so they could phone in orders. This tiny museum offers a lot of information and interactive exhibits about early phone service and the growth of technology in Central Florida.

A short stroll from these museums, just off Lake Lily, sits the Victorian home of pioneer settler and builder William H. Waterhouse. This elegant home, built in 1884, has been restored to its original beauty, allowing visitors to use their imaginations to experience the life of a middle-class family during the late Victorian era.

Before you finish the journey through Maitland’s cultural corridor, be sure to visit the carpentry shop, now an interactive working museum, housing a collection of woodworking tools and materials, including some owned by Mr. Waterhouse.

The two campuses of A&H, comprised of these five museums, are surely more than the sum of their parts. They provide an opportunity to experience and explore art and history in a way that engages and enlightens visitors of all ages.

Art: 31

Thirty-One Days of Experimentation and Collaboration

Throughout the month of March, A&H’s Maitland Art Center invites the community to take part in 31 days of engagement. Highlights include wrapping the Maitland Art Center, an Art Car creation with Andrew Spear, workshops led by Nancy Cervenka and Elysia Mann, films, Jake Fernandez performance art, Culture Pop! in participation with the Enzian Theater and Florida Film Festival, Artists’ Critique & Conversation with famed gallerists Mindy Solomon and Mark Dean, exhibitions and artists’ talks, an interactive family sculpture project, and the culminating event, Participation Dinner Affair. All programs take place at the A&H’s Maitland Art Center.

“Art31 is a month-long dose of experimental and collaborative art,” says Andrea Bailey Cox, A&H executive director/CEO. “Just when you think you may have had enough, you will want to come back for more. We challenge you to engage for all 31 days.”

Here are some highlights:

March 2: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.: A&H Art Car Day: Help artist Andrew Spear create the Art Car

March 7: 5:30 p.m.: Ladies Art Lounge: Film Sculptures with sculptor and filmmaker Nancy Cervenka

March 8: 2:00 − 6:00 p.m: Workshop with Artist-In-Action Trent Tomengo: Color Theory and Color Mixing

March 9: 4:00 p.m: A&H Art Car Party featuring the big reveal of the A&H Art Car, with music, food, and a talk on creativity by Andrew Spear

March 10 –14: A&H Art Car Outreach at local schools and community centers with A&H Artist-In-Action Chris Ware

March 14: 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.: Opening Reception for Film Stories: Nancy Cervenka and Moving Pictures, In partnership with Enzian Theater and Florida Film Festival

5:30 p.m.: Ten Questions with Nancy Cervenka

7:00 – 11:00 p.m.: Culture Pop!: Roll, Repeat – in partnership with Mama’s Sauce, Enzian Theater, and Florida Film Festival

March 15: 1:00 p.m.: Family Days at the Museum: Interactive Garden Sculpture Party with A&H Artists-In Action

2:00 p.m.: Screening of Herb & Dorothy

March 22: 2:00 p.m.: Screening of Herb & Dorothy

March 23: 2:00 p.m.: Jake Fernandez La Finca de Parchman performance piece includes a lecture and Q&A session.

March 23 – 30:

La Finca de Parchman – Check out live video stream at

March 25: 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.:

*Screening of Art21: Compassion

6 :00 p.m.:

Artists’ Critique & Conversation featuring famed gallerists Mindy Soloman and Mark Dean as guest panelists

March 29:

Participation Dinner Affair:

One of Central Florida’s most intriguing and popular fundraising events, the A&H’s Participation is an innovative sensory experience; one where artists turn tables into art installations and guests dine with the selected artist. Guests learn from the artist and create their own works of art in an evening of elegant dining, performances, and art, all in the beautiful setting of the A&H’s Maitland Art Center campus.

March 30: 2:00 p.m.

La Finca de Parchman finale with Q&A session

For more information,


Photo: Amanda Henry, art education manager ; Gretchen Miller Basso, director of program marketing; Megan Berry, museum education manager; Kasey Jones, operations senior manager