Kapadia Orthodontics

by Chip Colandreo

Another beautiful, smiling face has been added to the Kapadia Orthodontics family… literally.

Lifelong Oviedo resident Dr. Ajay Kapadia and his wife Jigna are celebrating the birth of their first child, a bouncing baby boy named Niam. Now a two-generation Oviedo family, the Kapadias are embracing the same values in their home that Dr. Kapadia promotes in his practice.

“Family and community are what matter to us most at the office,” Dr. Kapadia says. “Yes, we have the very latest orthodontic tools and training. Yes, we take a lot of pride in the beautiful results we deliver for our patients. But I don’t think any of that matters unless patients realize we care about them. This community is my home. I grew up here, went to school here, and now I’m raising my family here. I want to take care of my neighbors and do for them what orthodontics did for me.

An alumnus of Stenstrom and Partin Elementary Schools, Jackson Heights Middle, and Oviedo High, Dr. Kapadia developed an interest in dentistry and orthodontics at an early age. His own teeth, however, were very crooked, meaning the young college student would have to be an orthodontic patient before he could pursue his dream to be a practitioner.

“Orthodontics changed my life,” Dr. Kapadia remembers. “I became so much more comfortable and more confident in my smile and myself. I got to experience firsthand just what orthodontics can do, and being able to give my patients the same experience is so enjoyable for me.” After dental school at the University of Florida and advanced orthodontic training at the University of Colorado, Dr. Kapadia quickly returned to his hometown where he was handpicked to succeed longtime Oviedo orthodontist Dr. Douglas Ware.

Kapadia Orthodontics is now serving a new generation of Oviedo patients as Dr. Kapadia and his wife welcome a new generation of their own. Besides enjoying time with his newly expanded family, Dr. Kapadia spends countless hours in the community giving back and educating kids and adults about the many benefits of quality orthodontic care. He’s participated in Teach-In events at Jackson Heights with his old science teacher, and Dr. Kapadia and his staff are frequent sights at numerous community events like the Taste of Oviedo and Babe Ruth baseball opening day.

“This community means everything to me,” Dr. Kapadia says. “This is where I want to raise my family, and where I want to do the most good.”

Photo: Dr. Kapadia with a group of his patients at Oviedo on the Park



Together Again…For the First Time

by Chip Colandreo

Though they’d never met, two local women help each other battle – and beat – breast cancer.

This is the incredible story of two young women – one a Lake Mary High grad now working at Scholastic Corporation, the other a Lake Mary Elementary School teacher – both diagnosed with rare forms of breast cancer in their early 30s. Audrey Perrott, who LMHS classmates will remember as Audrey Frazier, started her battle first in March of 2013. Kindergarten teacher Christina Johnston joined the fight almost exactly a year later. The two quickly became sisters-in-arms, with Audrey serving as Christina’s beacon and guide, giving her firsthand reports of the challenging road directly ahead.

The two have cried together, laughed together, and cheered each other up on days when the sun never seemed to rise. But though they’d shared a unique and powerful bond, they never once embraced in a reassuring hug or witnessed the hope, fear, and empathy in the other’s eyes. Because until they recently gathered to take the photos you see on these pages, Audrey Perrott and Christina Johnston had never actually met.

Now cancer free and finally in the warmth of each other’s company, both Christina and Audrey have the chance to celebrate and reflect together. It’s the perfect opportunity for all of us to get to know them, too. Because while the tale of their meeting is impressive, they both have pretty intriguing life stories of their own:

Audrey Perrott

Happy birthday. You have cancer.

Though the news was delivered with more tact, its irony bit just as hard.

“I had felt lumps in my breast before, but they all turned out to be nothing,” Audrey recalls. “This one just felt different.” One mammogram and two ultrasounds later, Audrey’s doctor scheduled her for a priority MRI.

“The only day they could get me in was my 33rd birthday,” says Audrey. “When the MRI was over, I actually felt relief. Now I can go celebrate. I wasn’t home an hour before the phone rang.”

Audrey’s doctor ordered a biopsy that very afternoon. “My chart literally had a giant exclamation point on it,” Audrey recalls. Audrey’s birthday, the MRI, and biopsy all happened on a Friday. Her phone rang again at 7:15 on Monday morning. The instructions were soul-crushing: Come to the doctor’s office now. And you should probably bring someone with you.

The news was bad but the prognosis surprisingly good. Audrey would spend the next year enduring surgeries and chemotherapy, but she would survive. There was, however, another problem.

“We were in the process of adopting a special-needs baby from China,” says Audrey. “My husband and I had to decide if we should still move forward and grow our family.”

In the midst of the debate, Audrey and her husband stumbled upon a prophetic Bible verse-of-the-day: Trust in the Lord and keep your roots by the stream. Even in the year of drought, you will bear fruit.

When Audrey returned home from her second-to-last chemotherapy treatment, a message from her adoption agency was waiting. A young girl in China with a cleft palate had been matched with Audrey’s family.

“I told the adoption agency what was happening, that I was now cancer free but still battling,” Audrey says. “They were OK with it, but I still had seven weeks of daily radiation treatments ahead. I now had her face to think about and pray for, though. Every time I climbed up on that table, I thought about what that little girl was going through. I finally finished my treatments, and we got approval to travel to China in March of 2014. We met our daughter for the first time and signed the papers to adopt her on March 18, exactly one year to the day from my official diagnosis with cancer.”

Even in the year of drought, you will bear fruit…

Back in the U.S., more surgeries followed. Not for Audrey, but for little Ting Mae Perrott, who is now a healthy, happy part of her new family.

With the cancer battle behind her, Audrey was eager to give back to an organization that had meant so much to her, The Gina McReynolds Foundation. A talented writer, Audrey volunteered to contact other women with cancer who were being helped by the foundation and collect testimonials for the organization’s website. That led to a mutually beneficial encounter…

Christina Johnston

Christina Johnston’s doctors looked at her like she was insane. “’Well, I have to keep teaching,’ I told them,” Christina says as she describes a conversation during the development of her treatment plan for stage 3 breast cancer. “Teaching is part of who I am. I can’t change who I am and what I do, so I told them we’d have to figure something out.”

Late in the school year of 2014, the doctors explained Christina was about to embark on 18 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy treatments – treatments that would leave her immune system depressed and her head completely bald – followed by radical surgery and 30 rounds of follow-up radiation. Yes, Christina was only 32, otherwise healthy, and had a good overall prognosis, but why in the world, the doctors wondered aloud, would Christina stick herself in the middle of the germ-laden Petri dish that is a kindergarten classroom? Christina’s only response was to explain that Lake Mary Elementary School was a family.

“On the day of my first treatment, May 22, right before the school year ended, I got a text message every 15 minutes with a picture of another person at Lake Mary Elementary wearing these pink ‘LME Family’ shirts,” Christina recalls. “As I sat in the chair getting that first dose of chemotherapy, I got eight hour’s worth of those pictures. The best one was our custodian. The shirt was so tight on him, but his smile was so big.”

As the first day of the new school year approached, Christina was in the throes of treatment, bald as could be, but determined to make her experience a teachable moment for her kids.

“Meet the Teacher Day was a little tricky,” Christina admits. “I typed up a letter for all my students and their parents. It said, ‘I understand you have a lot of questions. I hope this letter answers most of them.’ I wanted the students to see adversity and be comfortable and open with it. I wanted to take the fear away, to let them know it was going to be OK.”

By the end, Christina had taken a grand total of three days off for treatments and a doctor-mandated six weeks of leave after surgery. The day before her final treatment, Christina let her students bedazzle and decorate her head.

“We all got through it together,” Christina says with a smile.

At her side for nearly the entire ordeal – figuratively if not literally – was Audrey.

“She contacted me to hear my story for the Gina McReynolds Foundation website, and I’ll never forget my first conversation with her,” says Christina. “Because she was a year ahead of me, Audrey knew what I was going through and what I was about to face. She has two young kids just like I do. Her perspective and advice was incredible. I don’t think she really understands just how much she helped me.”

And Audrey’s help is now more valuable than ever. With the treatments and major surgeries over, and an official status of “cancer free” but not yet “cured,” Christina now begins a new and possibly more nerve-wracking phase of her recovery.

“The fears are there – the ‘normal’ that I used to have doesn’t exist anymore,” says Christina. “It can be a bit paralyzing. That’s why having someone like Audrey to talk to is such a gift.”

After a year of fighting, confiding, and friendship making, it’s a gift Christina is finally able to unwrap in person.



Winter Springs Roofing & Repair

by Hedy Bass

Do it right the first timeThe old adage still holds water. Yet, for many Floridians, it may instead be their

roofs that are holding water. Often, damaging water retention and leaks in roofs are the result of substandard construction or shoddy repairs by disreputable contractors. Bill Sumner, owner of Winter Springs Roofing & Repair, knows this all too well. Much of his business is fixing their work.

“We’re actually one of the only companies in Florida with more than 30 years of experience that has never had a single complaint against them filed with the Better Business Bureau, which is unheard of in this business,” says Bill. “That’s why we have the reputation we do. We don’t do low-budget, volume work. We do quality and specialty work that few companies have the expertise to do.”

Bill is proud of his crew, many of whom have been with him from the start.

“Our team is highly skilled. We don’t hire apprentices to practice on your home,” Bill says. “Plus, we have the expertise to tackle unique problems most others cannot.”

In an industry with minimal requirements and little to no enforcement, Bill assures customers excellent value for every dollar spent with unparalleled workmanship and know-how.

What separates Winter Springs Roofing & Repair from so many other companies may just be Bill himself. Ask Heidi Rosenzweig of Winter Springs.

“He is completely professional and thorough,” says Heidi. “He explains things to you, including the materials he’s using and why.” On a recent visit to Winter Springs Roofing & Repair’s new 4,500-square-foot Longwood showroom/warehouse run by Bill and his wife Tammy, Heidi marveled at the tile selection and how clean and organized everything was. “You get to see what you need,” says Heidi.

Richard August of Orlando constantly battled a leaky roof for 20 years before he met Bill.

“Bill came out himself and looked at the problem,” Richard explains. “He redesigned the drainage on the roof, and I haven’t had a problem since. Whatever you’re buying, this is a customer service business, and Bill provides that.”

“We modify, upgrade, and redesign, if necessary, using seven-to-eight-staged layering,” Bill says. “When we’re done, it’s the last place of the house that will ever leak.”

When your roof needs repair, do it right the first time. Give Bill a call.

Photo: Bill and Tammy Sumner’s showroom in Longwood provides customers with personalized service, innovative solutions, and a large selection of top-of-the line tiles.


Purium Health Products

by Shelley Ouellette

Superfoods. They are in the news. They are in the grocery store. They may even be in your refrigerator!

What exactly are superfoods? Often described as “nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being,” the superfood label is commonly found on plant-based foods, fish, and dairy that has been identified as nutritionally dense and valuable for one’s health. But, according to Purium Health Products, not all superfoods are created equal.

“All humans eat, every day. What you put in your body will determine how you look, feel, and perform. Superfoods give you nutrients as nature intended,” explains Purium independent distributor Bibiana Mendez. “The food supply in today’s world offers a lot of empty calories, but not the nutrients that the human body needs to be healthy. Purium products are the answer to the standard American diet, which is the root cause for sickness and disease in this country. Purium products provide real, whole-food nutrition to support the body’s nutritional needs. Our 10-Day Transformation will help you to detoxify your body, reset your metabolism, and lose weight.”

Based on the tradition of Naturopathics, which operates on the premise that human bodies are self-healing if given the right tools and environment, Purium Health Products are whole-food supplements comprised of the freshest and most pure superfoods and herbs, and they never contain artificial flavors or colorings.

“We offer whole foods with no synthetic vitamins, GMOs, binders, fillers, excipients, or magnesium stearate,” Bibiana says. “Health is our most precious asset. Purium Health Products’ 10-Day Transformation serves as the path one can take to rediscover health and vitality by embracing a natural, organic, non-GMO lifestyle.”

Inspired by her own results, Bibiana became an independent Purium distributor to share her experience with others seeking enhanced health and weight loss.

“I did the 10-Day Transformation program and got amazing results,” reports Bibiana. “I lost 10 pounds in 10 days and felt great. My energy level has increased, I sleep better, and I don’t feel cravings for processed foods anymore. It completely changed my relationship with food. It’s like having your own organic garden in your backyard and access to the green juice and high nutrient-dense foods you need to live a healthy lifestyle without all of the fuss of juicing and blending.”

To learn more about Purium Health Products, visit WonderfulSuperfood.com.

Photo: Bibiana Mendez, independent distributor for Purium Health Products


Bibiana Mendez, Realtor

by Shelley Ouellette

With more than a decade of experience in the Central Florida real estate market, Bibiana Mendez of Jupiter Properties, Inc., specializes in the sale of luxury homes, new construction, and commercial real estate.

A licensed real estate specialist, Bibiana is well-known for her high level of integrity, respect, trust, and knowledge. She is dedicated to not only selling homes for her Lake Mary clients, but also securing them the best prices in the area.

“My clients are always happy with my personalized service and the generous amount of time I allocate to find them a house, which is often their biggest lifetime investment,” Bibiana says. “I have lived in the area for many years and understand Seminole County’s real estate market from a very unique perspective. I am committed to following the trends to deliver the best deals for my clients.”

In addition to being a full-service Realtor, Bibiana is a mother of two and an engineering graduate of EAFIT University in Medellin, Colombia. She speaks fluent English and Spanish and says her passion is finding her clients the perfect long-term home.

“I believe that real estate is much more than simply buying or selling a home,” says Bibiana. “Whether your move is across the street or across the country, my staff and I are dedicated to listening to your needs and serving you with honesty, integrity, and professionalism to ensure your next house is your forever home.”



Orlando Fly Sports

by Shelley Ouellette

Have you ever dreamed you could float in the air like Iron Man, fly like Superman, swim like Aquaman, or surf the sky like the Silver Surfer? At Orlando Fly Sports (OFS), guests of all ages are turning that dream into a reality.

Specializing in Flyboard and Hoverboard experiences, OFS delivers a unique hydro-flight adventure. Powered by water propulsion from a jet ski, the Flyboard allows riders to move through the air like Iron Man, fly like Superman, dive across the water like a dolphin, or plunge underwater like Aquaman.

Additionally, the Hoverboard, which resembles a wakeboard, produces the ultimate waves every day.

“It allows the rider to cruise the water on an endless wave or surf the sky like the Silver Surfer,” says owner Jamie Piromalli. “The people who have tried this experience have all compared it to being a real life superhero. Guests as young as five and as old as 74 say the same thing – that this is one of the most amazing experiences they have ever had, better than skydiving.”

OFS is currently offering first-time flyer specials for Central Florida locals.

“A single flyer is just $49.99, and our two-person, first-time flyer rate is $79, saving you $161,” Jamie adds.



Nature & Nurture

by Hedy Bass

Lawton Elementary rededicates its educational garden on Earth Day

From the road, Lawton Elementary looks like many other schools in Seminole County. But what may not be so obvious to the casual passerby is a small oasis within – a natural habitat that sits adjacent to the school’s classroom buildings. First established in 1995, the Lawton Environmental Study Area, better known as the LESA Garden, is one of Oviedo’s hidden treasures. And thanks to a recent expansion and overhaul, the garden’s bounty of riches is more vibrant than ever before.

Though the garden has received some occasional updates since the mid-’90s, the big seeds of change were planted (literally and figuratively) last summer by Eagle Scout candidate John McHale. For his required Eagle Scout project, John decided to restore the butterfly area of the LESA Garden. He gathered donations from local businesses and coordinated volunteers to complete a renovation so significant, the area was eventually certified as a Monarch Way Station that provides food and shelter for monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America.

The success of John’s project motivated the Lawton Elementary PTA to restore the rest of the environmental area, turning it into an outdoor learning center that would give students an opportunity to literally get their hands dirty tending vegetable gardens while learning about the delicate balance of nature and its connection to the environment.

Through the tender, loving care of community volunteers, school staff, and students, the LESA Garden was expanded to a 1.7-acre preserve that includes well-tended vegetable, flower, and butterfly gardens; a natural wetland area; and even a new chicken coop.

Like any successful undertaking, it took a commitment of time, energy, and enthusiasm to make the new garden a reality. Lawton’s clinic assistant, Nancy Palmer, with expertise in environmental studies, stepped up to coordinate the multi-faceted project. But she needed the help of volunteers to make the garden grow and flourish.

Last October, at the Eco Adventures Cub Club Nancy started, she met Jennifer Ferrell, whose two daughters attend Lawton.

“I came out to help weed the area, but it felt more like walking into a secret garden,” recalls Jennifer. “I was astounded it wasn’t being used to its full potential.”

By December, Jennifer and her husband Eric, often with their daughters in tow, were clearing the land of fallen debris from past hurricanes and removing invasive plants.

Nancy credits much of the LESA Garden’s current transformation to the Ferrells.

“They dedicated so much of their time, talent, and resources to restoring the garden and creating learning stations for our students,” Nancy explains. “Much of what you see here is because of their work, including the chicken coop.”

The Ferrells, both veterinarians by profession, are passionate about the outdoors and preserving the environment, so the challenge to expand the LESA Garden and put their passion into action was eagerly accepted.

“We immediately saw the potential for native plants and ways to engage the students,” explains Jennifer. “We had dozens of plans for expanding the ‘new side’ of the LESA garden.”

The garden’s revitalization, which was unveiled to the community during an open house and rededication ceremony on Earth Day in April, included 100 new native plants, bird feeders, and bird nest boxes. Meanwhile, harmful plants were removed, two 50-gallon compost bins were installed, and vegetable boxes were built for classroom projects.

Others have also contributed to the new LESA Garden, like Robin Powers, a PTA member, who raised more than $1,500 during a shoe drive. A UCF biologist lent expertise, and several local businesses provided needed materials and advice. The Oviedo Woman’s Club even chipped in with a $200 grant.

So it was especially fitting that on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, Lawton Elementary rededicated the newly expanded LESA Garden to the delight of hundreds of supporters from the community. Parents, students, teachers, school board members, and local officials all marveled at the transformation of a “small secret garden” into one of the community’s best classrooms.

Sustaining the LESA Garden is a community effort. If you would like to get involved, contact Jennifer at JenBFerrell@yahoo.com or Nancy at Nancy_Palmer@SCPS.k12.fl.us.

Ladybird Academies of Rock Springs and Wekiva Springs

by Shelley Ouellette

Ladybird Academy’s outstanding reputation for delivering quality early education is evident across Central Florida. As the region’s fastest-growing early-learning provider, with 17 locations throughout the Sunshine State, it’s easy to see why Ladybird is consistently recognized by parents as the “best in Orlando.”

Featuring high-tech, hands-on programs that encourage kids to create, explore, move, and play, Ladybird Academy’s newest locations in Rock Springs (Apopka) and Wekiva Springs provide children the highest quality learning experiences in a bright, spacious, and secure setting.

“Because we believe even the youngest children have the capacity to learn, we integrate math, reading, and language fundamentals into all class levels from infant to preschool,” says Simon Hansla, vice president of the Ladybird Group.

Additionally, Ladybird’s “Explorers Club” after-school program offers children age 5 through 12 the opportunity to take advantage of the academy’s many sports, enrichment activities, and projects that are not often available during a regular school day.

“We use a true educational curriculum, which prepares children for elementary school, while still providing a fun atmosphere,” says parent and Ladybird Academy of Rock Springs owner Rick Law. “As a result, my own children and many other Ladybird graduates have stayed ahead of the curve years later. I am thankful that we found Ladybird Academy early on, and we are proud to offer these services to more children around Central Florida.”


A Community Curtain Call

by Jim Abbott

Two beloved Altamonte Springs music teachers pass the baton

There may be plenty of headlines about the dire state of the arts in public schools, but two inspirational music teachers defied such discouraging trends for three decades in Seminole County. When the school bell rang for the final time this past year, these veteran educators – representing roughly 80 years of collective classroom experience – stepped out of the spotlight, a glorious finale worthy of a standing ovation.

Join us as we honor longtime Forest City Elementary School music teacher Debbie Clifton and iconic Lake Brantley High School band director Cynthia Berry as they both settle in to a much-deserved retirement.

Reaching for the High Notes

Fortune-cookie wisdom is notoriously hit-or-miss, but a recent post-meal prediction struck a chord with teacher Debbie Clifton: “You will live to a ripe old age, happy and in the love of many children.”

It’s a fitting sentiment for the former music teacher at Forest City Elementary School, who retired in May after more than 40 years spreading the rudiments of rhythm and melody in Central Florida. When she arrived after a stint at Casselberry Elementary (1973-75) and eight years at English Estates Elementary in Fern Park, Debbie became a fixture at Forest City in 1983 until her retirement.

“I hate to give up this room,” said Debbie during one of her final days on campus as she looked around at the tempting array of African drums, oversized tambourines, and dozens of xylophones of all shapes and sizes. Every inch of wall space in the acoustically perfect 2,200-square-foot music room was adorned with inviting posters that announce, literally and figuratively, “Let’s Make Music.”

Debbie arrived at Forest City four years before the music room was built, meeting with students in a portable classroom as she optimistically awaited the future.

“I knew I was coming into a great situation,” Debbie says of a program that would eventually collaborate with teen-age band students from nearby Lake Brantley High School to produce annual community Veterans Day productions, renowned for pageantry and musical skill.

Those events, as well as a recent “Around the World” cultural festival that attracted more than 1,500 residents, reflect Debbie’s goal of teaching students to play music, not merely appreciate it. Set the bar high, she says, and children often will reach it.

“Kids will try to accomplish everything,” Debbie says, holding her hand above her head. “You can pull them really, really high. I wanted them to be able to make music.”

One of Debbie’s former colleagues knows that such lofty accomplishments only occur with the guidance of a gifted educator.

“She’s the most devoted teacher I’ve ever met,” says Forest City kindergarten teacher Maria Smith, herself a 39-year classroom veteran. “She was completely dedicated to making sure students who walked through her door each and every time were blessed with the power of music.”

A graduate of Titusville High School, Debbie earned a music degree at Stetson University, where she studied flute with influential master Geoffrey Gilbert of the London Symphony Orchestra.

“It absolutely changed my life,” Debbie says. “I use things I learned from him every day. I almost went into performance, but it’s a good thing I didn’t.”

Instead, Debbie, 63, shared her passion with generations of students, who sometimes returned to visit her as professional musicians themselves. Debbie was fond of the interactive, often whimsical learning methods developed by German composer Carl Orff. The catchy melodies were easily executed by tiny hands, and fundamentals of rhythm, tempo, and dynamics were reinforced by silly rhymes.

Although Debbie was often frustrated by class schedules that limited time in the music room and the increased reliance on standardized testing, she always believed in music’s power to reach young minds.

“It inspires them,” Debbie says. “There’s some special magic that sends them in the right direction.”

A three-decade passion for music

When Cynthia Berry played her first musical notes as a budding five-year-old accordionist, the future high-school band director immediately embraced a collaborative process that would inspire a lifetime career.

“When your left hand and your right hand can do something together, it’s a cooperative accomplishment,” says Cynthia, who retired in May after three decades as director of the award-winning band program at Lake Brantley High School. “Then, I have to play with the person next to me. I have to play softer or louder, depending on the music. It’s very rewarding.”

At Lake Brantley, Cynthia imprinted that notion on a 250-member marching band that has scored across-the-board superior ratings at state competitions for 29 consecutive years. That unit is part of a formidable roster that also includes three concert bands and two jazz ensembles. It’s a program that earned Cynthia 2002 induction into the Florida Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame.

Yet Cynthia, 62, talks more passionately about the teamwork required to maintain such excellence, lessons that transcend musical performance, she says.

“It’s about organization; it’s about working as a team, about understanding how you fit into things,” says Cynthia. “Everyone has a spot, and everyone is important in their spot. It’s a huge task, but in a way, that individual responsibility makes it so much easier.”

At Lake Brantley, the cooperation continues to extend beyond the band members.

“For it to work, you need four things,” Cynthia explains. “A teacher who cares; talented, hardworking students; a cooperative administration; and an involved parent organization. It’s a big family in many ways. There are dysfunctional elements in the family, and there’s also so much camaraderie. In Seminole County, our school board has been supportive. There are music programs in every elementary school, and band and chorus programs in every middle and high school. Those students have those opportunities.”

A Fort Lauderdale native, Cynthia started playing clarinet in junior high, eventually earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education at Florida State University. Before Lake Brantley, Cynthia taught at Piper High School in Sunrise (1975-81) and Edgewater High School in Orlando (1981-83). In retirement, she plans to return to South Florida.

The no-nonsense approach that has coaxed excellence from student musicians has helped Cynthia look at her recent career milestone without excessive emotion.

“Each student, to me, never gets older than 18,” Cynthia says. “I remember most of them. Give me time, and I remember all of them. I tried to enjoy them when I had them, but I never wanted to keep them there. I know that high school was great, but I always hoped the next step was better.”

Still, Cynthia admits the tears were hard to avoid at a May 16 tribute concert at Lake Brantley featuring alumni, parents, and current students.

“It was very bittersweet,” Cynthia says. “But 30 years at one place is a long time. I know that our principal and staff will find a really good replacement, and things will continue to get better.”

Photo: Debbie Clifton, retired music teacher at Forest City Elementary (left), and longtime LBHS band director Cynthia Berry

Lake Forest Dentistry

by Jill Cousins

During the planning stages of Lake Forest Dentistry’s new state-of-the-art office, Dr. Dennis Horanic envisioned the ideal dental office of the future. It would be 100 percent solar powered. The waiting room would have the feel – and aroma – of a high-end spa or hotel. Innovative technology would ensure patients get pain-free treatment with foolproof sterilized equipment, and examination rooms would provide patients with some of the comforts of home.

Dr. Horanic’s vision became a reality when the new office opened last year, in the same Publix plaza as the original location, on State Road 46 in Sanford. He designed an office that offers his patients the benefits of the latest environmentally friendly technology and advanced equipment. But Dr. Horanic’s primary motivation for this ambitious project might surprise you: It was Kaitlyn, his eight-year-old daughter.

“This was like my gift to her,” Dr. Horanic says. “I didn’t want to create more pollution in the environment. I figure I’ll practice for another 20 years, and when I retire, I will have made as little of a footprint as I possibly could. And maybe she’ll look back and say, ‘My dad did the right thing!’”

Kaitlyn’s dad now has the first fully solar powered dental office in the country, generating 200,000 watts of electricity every day. During the first five months of the year, Dr. Horanic’s office avoided 24,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and saved $2,200 in energy costs. On Lake Forest Dentistry’s website, you can watch videos – including one starring Kaitlyn – that showcase the office’s unique features.

“In the past, doing something like this was considered too expensive,” Dr. Horanic says. “But we think what we’re doing is important, and we’re proving that it can be done.”

Dr. Horanic’s patients will appreciate the relaxing waiting room, complete with a plumbed-in coffee machine and three flat-screen televisions. One of those TVs is a 70-inch “serenity screen,” which broadcasts amazing high-definition footage of aquariums, fireplaces, mountain scenes, or beaches of the Pacific islands.

During treatments, patients can sit in comfortable memory-foam chairs and binge-watch their latest Netflix guilty pleasure on the ceiling-mounted TVs. Dr. Horanic also uses a new device called a Dental Vibe to eliminate the pain of a Novocain injection.

“A big priority for us is patient comfort,” Dr. Horanic says. “People should judge you by your abilities and facilities, and I don’t think there’s a better facility in the state right now.”

Photo: Dr. Dennis Horanic and his expert staff


Pain Management Institute & Aesthetics

by Jill Cousins

Pain– we all experience it during our lifetime as a result of injury, illness, or the natural aging process. Some of us live with pain every day and just accept it as a way of life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

At Pain Management Institute & Aesthetics in Altamonte Springs, Juliet D. Burry, MD, has dedicated herself to helping her patients relieve or possibly even eliminate their pain.

As an anesthesiologist with a pharmacy background, Dr. Burry specializes in medication management as well as any type of pain that involves the nervous system or the musculoskeletal system. Among the treatments she uses to relieve pain are cortisone injections, prolotherapy, spinal blocks, and epidural injections. Dr. Burry also helps her patients get on the path to better health through healthy eating and supplements.

“There is a different mentality about chronic pain now,” Dr. Burry says. “Medicine has changed, and we are living longer with chronic illnesses. We have more medication now than ever before for the treatment of pain, and more research is going into the management of pain.”

In fact, according to Dr. Burry, the primary change in the area of pain management is that we actually address the issue at all. It wasn’t until the past 25 years or so that doctors began asking their patients to assess the level of pain they were experiencing. In addition, patient advocate groups began looking into issues of pain management so that individuals with chronic or terminal illnesses could find some relief for their suffering.

At Pain Management Institute & Aesthetics, most of Dr. Burry’s patients fall into two categories: Younger, active patients who require treatment for their joint injuries so they can get back on the golf course or tennis court, and elderly patients who need pain relief so they can just go about their daily lives.

“We call those ADL – activities of daily living,” Dr. Burry explains. “If you can’t take care of things like personal hygiene, dressing yourself, or shopping, you can no longer be independent.”

Dr. Burry says there is a growing trend of patients who want to take control of their health and their pain through exercise and healthy eating.

“We try to incorporate education,” she says, “so we can help you maintain your body and your health for as long as possible.”

One of the treatments Dr. Burry is excited about is prolotherapy, which involves injecting a proliferant agent (such as sugar water or other stimulating substances) into ligaments, tendons, or joints. The goal is to activate healing, tissue regeneration, and repair. Unlike the more commonly used cortisone injections, prolotherapy doesn’t just relieve the pain, it can actually provide a more permanent result.

“Prolotherapy can help people with any kind of tendinitis, as well as arthritis,” Dr. Burry says. “It can also help with back pain since it can be caused by ligament strain over time. The encouraging aspect of prolotherapy is that you can actually heal yourself – if you catch [your problem] early enough – or at least reverse some of the damage.”

Dr. Burry says prolotherapy also eliminates the side effects of cortisone injections, such as fluid retention, appetite problems, and weakening of the affected ligaments. Also, cortisone is considered a short-term fix, usually lasting about three or four months, and most patients are told by their doctors that they can only have cortisone injections a maximum of four times a year.

“Sometimes a simple cortisone injection is enough; we don’t take any options off the table,” Dr. Burry says. “But once it becomes a problem, cortisone is not the best answer, because it does nothing to change your condition. You’re just temporarily relieving the pain.”

The bottom line is simple: You may not have to live with your pain. There are ways to alleviate it, and Dr. Burry has the experience to help.

“It’s so rewarding when we are able to get patients back to normal and back to their true selves,” Dr. Burry says. “The goal is to get our patients on that path of healing by harnessing their own body’s ability to heal.”

Photo: Dr. Juliet D. Burry of Pain Management Institute & Aesthetics in Altamonte Springs. Photo courtesy of Steven Miller Photography Orlando.


Framing Creations

by Jack Roth

When Eric and Adriana Nye moved from Colombia to Central Florida in 1998, they wanted to open a business that they could both enjoy and make successful. Eric had printing experience and wished to explore custom finishing. Adriana had a keen eye for interior design. When an opportunity presented itself to get into the framing business, the couple jumped at the chance.

“We had some related experience, but we had to learn the specifics of framing quickly,” says Eric, owner of Framing Creations in Lake Mary. “We loved it right away, but it requires a certain sensibility, an ability to match colors and textures and to understand what a client wants. We learned to spend a lot of time with customers in order to make sure we give them exactly what they desire.”

In the framing business, it’s all about guiding customers into something that feels right to them. Whether they come in with a painting, a signed sports jersey, or a photograph, it’s the job of the framer to steer them in the right direction. Framing Creations has competitive prices and an enormous display of frames and moldings to choose from, but Eric and Adriana know that doesn’t mean a thing if they can’t make customers happy

“We work closely with interior designers for our corporate clients so we can match the frames with the rest of the office’s interior design,” explains Adriana. “We also go to trade shows throughout the year to find out about new styles and techniques. We want to be able to offer the customer the best options out there.”

From preservation and assembly techniques to the plethora of molding, foam board, and matte options, framers need to know their trade. For Eric, it’s all about trust.

“Customers need to trust you with their framing needs,” he says. “We get a lot of repeat business because we do it right the first time, but we also get a lot of walk-in business, and these customers will leave it all to us a lot of the time, so we need to come up with something that works based on our knowledge of the craft.”

The Nyes have never regretted the decision to move to Central Florida and enter the framing business. They have raised three children in this community and have run a successful business for nearly 20 years. All has worked out well, and they feel like they offer a valuable service to the community.

“We love this area, and we love playing a part in making people’s homes or items prettier,” says Adriana. “We feel connected to this community, like it’s part of our family, and family is very important to us.”


Eric And Adriana Nye, owners of Framing Creations in Lake Mary


Kid City USA

by Pam Neff

If you’re searching for an early education program that’s buzzing with excitement, creativity, and learning through play… Kid City USA is the place to BEE.

Honoring the school’s bee-inspired slogan, “Where Kids Can BEE Kids,” the directors and staff at each and every Apple Accredited Kid City USA location take pride in its effective approach to learning.

“In our creative curriculum, learning transpires through hands-on play in a literacy-enriched environment,” says Kid City USA founder Audrey Bruner.

Along with the school’s slogan comes its colorful and fun-loving mascot, Mr. Bee, who often makes classroom visits to remind children about the importance of kindness and good behavior.

Just as every child is different, so is every Kid City USA facility. “We breathe new life into existing buildings in the community and make them our own,” says Audrey. Although each school’s appearance differs, its exceptional educational practices and nurturing environment remain constant.

Since opening its first location in 2000, Kid City USA now operates 15 schools across Central Florida with three more Florida schools scheduled to open this summer.

“It makes me extremely proud to know that we are creating beautiful, quality programs where kids can BEE kids,” says Audrey with a smile.

To find your local Kid City USA, visit KidCityUSA.com.


StarChild Academy Lake Mary

by Jack Roth

Childhood experts agree: Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not. StarChild Academy has earned a reputation of excellence above and beyond typical early learning centers by offering children the strongest academic experience available.

“The earliest years are critically important in developing a child’s full potential and establishing a strong educational foundation,” says Stuart Friedman, owner of StarChild Academy Lake Mary. “Basically, kids are learning one year ahead here, and they are exiting our programs well-prepared for the transition to the next phase of their education.”

Stuart and his wife, Elena, believe strongly in the idea of learning in early childhood, and so they opened the StarChild Academy location in Lake Mary seven years ago. Since that time, they have added a private elementary school currently through grade three, with plans to add fourth grade in August of 2016 and fifth grade in August of 2017. The private elementary grades are only offered at select StarChild Academies.

“Parents love continuity, so having a preschool and an elementary school under the same umbrella was very appealing to them,” says Stuart, who opened the elementary school last July. “We realize that people have a lot of choices when it comes to elementary school education, but parents keep their kids here because of our progressive educational approach and the fact that we aren’t burdened by state-mandated, standardized tests and curriculum. We have the freedom to focus on developing those skills that we know are essential for your child to succeed.”

StarChild Academy’s private elementary school students follow an advanced academic core curriculum including the SRA Open Court Reading and Saxon and Singapore Math programs. There is also an emphasis on critical subjects, including science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (known these days as STEAM) to prepare young learners for the future. The technology program includes topics such as robotics, 3D design and printing, computer animation, game design, programming, and website development.

“Because we teach one year ahead, our students get a jump-start on their educational journey,” says Melissa Asmus, StarChild Academy’s curriculum coordinator. “By starting them at such a young age, it builds their confidence. Young children are capable of doing way more than most people expect, and by challenging them in this way, they are able to learn and grow beyond our expectations.”

Stuart and Elena engage with parents on a daily basis, and every time a parent has something positive to say about their child’s development, which is often, it validates the couple’s passion for early-childhood education. Elena and Stuart are also delighted by what they have been able to do with the five acres of land originally purchased. The space, off Longwood Lake Mary Road near Lake Mary Boulevard, enabled StarChild Academy Lake Mary to add the elementary school and build world-class playground and recreation amenities. But all you have to do is listen to staff members to know what makes StarChild Academy so unique.

“My son has been here since he was 10 weeks old, and he has learned so much academically,” says Tiffany Bryant, assistant director at StarChild Academy Lake Mary. “He’s four now, and other parents are amazed at what he knows. I couldn’t be happier about what he is learning here. He’s really getting a head start on his education, which is an incredible gift.”

Photo: From six weeks of age to grade five, students at StarChild Academy Lake Mary get a jump-start on learning and life.


A Scholar’s Reward

by Jim Abbott

Four Seminole State College graduates change the trajectory of their lives by earning one of America’s most prestigious and lucrative scholarships

Every year since 2007, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKCF) has identified the most outstanding scholars in America who have completed a two-year degree program from a state or community college. The reward is immense: a scholarship worth as much as $40,000 per year to complete a bachelor’s degree plus another $50,000 per year to earn a master’s degree. Seminole State College students are no stranger to the awards, having earned eight Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarships during the past nine years. Previous winners have gone on to some of the nation’s top universities, including Harvard.

This year, however, Seminole State and its Grindle Honors Institute students broke the mold. The JKCF recently awarded scholarships to four SSC students, making Seminole State only the second college in the program’s history to produce four JKCF scholars in a single year.

These honors students didn’t just produce in the classroom. Each has overcome incredible personal obstacles to lift themselves and their families out of turmoil. With the JKCF scholarships in hand, the students are now poised to build a legacy that will shape their family’s future for generations. These are the stories of three of the JCKF scholarship winners who live in our community:

Shannon Conner

When Shannon Conner talks about helping those fighting long odds against success, she speaks from the experience of her own grim reality following a serious car accident nearly two decades ago.

Shannon eventually overcame daunting obstacles to become an honor student with unique empathy for other potential long-shot success stories.

“My prognosis was that I was never going to escape being severely neurologically impaired,” says Shannon, 48, a single mother of three children. “I couldn’t accept that. I didn’t know what I was going to do about it, but I knew it was up to me.”

With determination, the Lake Mary resident defied doctors’ predictions to regain her pre-accident brain power, only to face another physical setback in 2010. Heart failure triggered by severe anemia required Shannon to leave her job and temporarily place her three children with relatives.

“It dismantled my entire life,” she says. “I had to essentially leave my life.”

When Shannon returned, education emerged as the key option for putting the pieces back together.

Shannon devoted herself to her studies at Seminole State, earning an honors diploma and a Phi Theta Kappa Distinguished Member award. She also founded the school’s Non-Traditional Student Club, an organization devoted to adult students balancing family, career, and academic responsibilities.

“On campus, I noticed that non-traditional students weren’t unified and were often isolated from each other,” Shannon says. “There were not resources dedicated to helping them with the college experience. I thought, ‘I’m going to do something about this.’”

Her story reflects Shannon’s goal of becoming a self-help author and motivational speaker. She recently started taking communication classes at Rollins College with that career in mind.

“I was scared to death,” Shannon says of leaving the nurturing confines of Seminole State. “It’s a new level of academic rigor, a new level of expectation. Again, I don’t know if I have what it takes, but I have to stand and face it. Whether I do or not, I’m going in as if I do.”

If history is any indication, don’t bet against her.

Juliana Rodriguez

For as long as she can recall, Juliana Rodriguez has focused on a medical career with laser-like intensity.

“I always wanted to be a doctor,” says Juliana, 20. “I found it fascinating how the human body works and how we do the things we can.”

Juliana added an academic foundation to her dream in the Academy of Health Careers at Seminole High School, where she embraced the goal of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon.

“I fell in love with everything about medicine in high school,” says Juliana. “That’s where I found my specific interest, studying the heart and the way that it works.”

Sadly, Juliana’s medical studies became real-life lessons when her mother was hit by a car as she walked on a sidewalk near a local road.

“She needed someone to take care of her after she came home from the hospital,” Juliana says. “My dad was working, so it was my job to take care of her. I helped her with basic necessities – eating, moving around – and it gave me the true experience of what it’s like to help someone when they are most in need.”

A native of Colombia, Juliana moved with her family to Casselberry at age six. She will major in biomedical sciences and chemistry at the University of Central Florida, where she already has started her first class in microbiology. Juliana dreams of attending medical school at Columbia University in New York.

“UCF is definitely a lot bigger than Seminole State, so I’m a little nervous – but I’m very excited about it,” she says. “I was speaking to advisers in the honors college, and it’s amazing how many opportunities they give students who are willing to work for them.”

Juliana says she’ll miss friends and faculty at Seminole State, where the environment contributed to her academic success.

“It’s a place filled with very hardworking people,” says Juliana. “They push to get the best out of students. They strive for excellence. You can see it in the classrooms when you see the professors lecturing about topics they are most passionate about. They are inspiring people.”

Melissa Cunningham

No one would’ve blamed Melissa Cunningham for not starting her college career.

Melissa faced enough challenges to quash anyone’s dreams: Within months in 2012, she and her husband both lost their jobs and faced daunting health issues. At the same time, Melissa’s infant son underwent successful open-heart surgery.

For almost a decade, Melissa had been a server and manager in the hospitality industry, until she had to quit because of mold exposure that eventually required multiple trips to the emergency room. Her husband was forced out of work with five herniated discs in his neck, an injury received when a drunk driver slammed into the family car.

“It was a period of incredible emotional stress and also financial distress,” Melissa says. “I had the feeling that if I went back to waitressing again it would be a dead end. I thought to myself, ‘My life does not match the vision I have for my life and my family, what I want to provide for my son.’”

For Melissa, 36, that vision came into focus at Seminole State.

“I started with one course in the evening, then the next semester I took two night classes,” she says. “I took a few summer classes. I loved the classes, but I didn’t really feel like a college student.”

That changed when the Sanford resident became part of the Honors Program in 2013, embracing an opportunity to take challenging courses and meet like-minded students.

“There were friends and a support system,” says Melissa. “Everyone in that program was part of a very tight-knit group. There are tons and tons of ways to build on your skills and challenge yourself. You just need to reach out and do it.”

In the fall, Melissa plans to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, with the goal to become a doctor.

“Every career that I’ve considered would involve at least a master’s degree,” she says. “If I’m going to be in school anyway, I should find what I’m most compelled to do and just go for it.”

That’s also her advice for others: “If a person has a goal, then just take the first step and be brave,” Melissa says. “Take a leap of faith and go toward your goals. Once you’re determined to achieve something, there’s nothing that will stop you.”  


Home1st Lending

by Chip Colandreo

This August, Home1st Lending will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Seminole County. And when talking about the mortgage business,

what a decade it’s been.

“When we opened our first office in Seminole County in 2005, the mortgage industry was going berserk, but we chose not to be greedy,” says Home1st CEO Theresa Lentini. “So many lenders and brokers were putting people in loans they had no business being in. But our priority was to do what was best for our clients so we could sleep well at night and lay our heads down on our pillows knowing we did a good job for our customers. A few years later when so many mortgage lenders went out of business, we survived precisely because we did what was right, and we’re so proud to be celebrating this 10th anniversary in a community we care so deeply about.”

Today, Home1st Lending has established itself as the go-to brokerage firm for local clients who want to protect their credit while shopping among more than 60 different lenders for the perfect home loan or refinance package to meet their goals.

“Because we represent so many different lenders, we can do all the comparison shopping for our clients while only checking their credit report once – and that’s a major advantage,” says Christian Lopez, Home1st Lending’s director of operations and senior loan originator, who is also Theresa’s son. “Our clients’ credit is protected during the process of finding a loan package that best fits their needs.”

Home1st Lending’s deep roster of available lenders gives clients incredible flexibility. If a client has been turned down by a traditional bank or single-source lender, Home1st can likely find a specific lender and loan package that will be approved. But challenging approvals are only the tip of the iceberg.

“We have lenders who specialize in very large loans, and we have lenders who embrace small loans – $30,000 to $40,000 mortgages that traditional banks won’t touch,” says Christian. “We always seek out the lowest rate first and show every client three different options for their loan. Sometimes speed is a client’s priority. If they need to move quickly to secure their dream house, we have lenders who can close in two weeks or less.”

All this incredible service must come at an equally incredible price, right? Absolutely not, and in fact Home1st Lending delivers value to its customers that the so-called “no closing cost” lenders can’t touch.

“Loans cost money to process, so those lenders who advertise ‘no closing costs’ are simply building those costs into the loan itself, often via a higher interest rate,” Christian explains. “Here at Home1st Lending, our closing costs are described up front and in detail, but we save our clients real money by giving them our broker credit [a payment lenders issue back to the mortgage broker] and applying it against those closing costs. So our customers still end up with the very lowest rate and minimal closing costs. It’s one of the reasons we have so much repeat business, and it makes refinancing a home extremely affordable, so our clients can always take advantage of rate drops or changes in regulations that can save them money.”

And don’t tell anyone, but employees of those “no closing cost” lenders often come to Home1st Lending to secure their own loans.

“They’re in the business – they know it’s not smart to pay a higher rate,” Christian says with a chuckle.

This commitment to customer service above all else has helped Home1st Lending thrive in an otherwise tumultuous 10 years for the mortgage industry. Home1st now has three offices in Seminole County, seven in Florida, and several dozen around the country… And the company boasts an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

“We care about this community, and we want to take care of our neighbors here,” says Theresa. “We do business the right way, and we provide an invaluable service. Going from lender to lender on your own to shop for the best rate and terms can be maddening, and it can damage your credit in the process. Here, we do the shopping for you and preserve your credit score. It makes the process simple and enjoyable.”

Photo: The expert staff at Home1st Lending’s corporate headquarters in Lake Mar



Strength at the Summit

by Pam Neff

Currently waging her third war with cancer, retired Lake Brantley High School icon Tracey Sullivan prepares to make one more journey to the mountains where her local legacy was forged

Sometimes all it takes is one influential teacher to make a difference in the life of a high-school teenager. For thousands in our community, that teacher has been Tracey Sullivan, a person whose love, compassion, and guidance impacted students from inside the classrooms of Lake Brantley High School all the way to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tracey’s dream had always been to teach inner-city schoolchildren. However, after earning her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida, Tracey landed her first internship and teaching job at Lake Brantley High School, the school where she taught for all 28 years of her career.

In the summer after her initial year at Lake Brantley, Tracey’s students asked her to sponsor them for the YMCA Christian Values Conference held in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So in August of 1973, Tracey traveled with her students to the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, for her first conference… the first of what would become 43 in a row.

The conference experience was life changing for all in attendance, including Tracey. She loved getting to know her students better each year at the weeklong conference. Tracey often compared the experience to the movie, The Breakfast Club, a place where teens would arrive with stereotypes and labels and leave with true understandings of each other, valuable life lessons, and most importantly, new friends for a lifetime.

“Part of it was building a community first,” remembers Tracey. “It didn’t matter if they were ‘A’ or ‘D’ students. They enjoyed coming because they got to know each other through teambuilding lessons and activities.”

Tracey brought these lessons back to Altamonte and incorporated them into her classroom.

“At school I ended up teaching a lot of interpersonal skills as well as communication skills… along with Robert Frost,” jokes the former English literature teacher.

Word started to spread about the unforgettable conference in the mountains, and more Lake Brantley students rushed to sign up every year. Unfortunately, registration fees and travel costs to the faraway conference kept several eager and deserving teens away.

So in 1983, Tracey created a mini-Blue Ridge conference experience called the “Winter Retreat” at YMCA Camp Wewa in Apopka. With such a diverse group of teens now attending both the Blue Ridge conference and Camp Wewa Winter Retreat, Tracey says her students learned tolerance, acceptance, and giving.

“They came home with a servant heart regardless of their background,” says Tracey. “They learned by listening and creating a community.”

After retiring in 2001, Tracey continued to write programs for both the Winter Retreat and the Blue Ridge Conference. Most of her facilitators were now her friends (and former students) who had once attended the retreat and conference as teens.

Remembering her desire to teach the less fortunate, Tracey also started to involve more teens from low-income communities throughout Central Florida. After contacting a friend who leads a Bible study group in Sanford, Tracey had three teens join the retreat. One of those teens was Tiara Mills, a girl whose camp experience and special bond with Tracey helped shape her future.

“I can’t imagine not going to the retreats or conferences. They helped me break out of my shell,” says Tiara, who attended both the Winter Retreat and mountain conference. “Tracey was so friendly and became a second mom to me.”

Recalling a time when Tiara and her family had just moved and were without furniture, Tracey was there to fill her home and her heart.

“She went out on a limb and made sure my family had beds, but she didn’t stop there,” Tiara explains. “Somehow she pulled strings to get us a couch, a table – basically a whole living room set – plus groceries and all of her love.”

Tracey was also there to witness Tiara become the first in her family to graduate high school. Tiara’s second trip to the mountains, and last conference experience, helped change her mind to go to college.

“My life wouldn’t be the same without Tracey,” Tiara says. “Because of her, I am who I am today. I want to be just like her. She loves like no other. She gives like no other. This woman walks the walk every day.”

Tracey says the time spent with teens like Tiara Mills and so many others has made her a better person.

“These experiences with the teens made me a better teacher, wife, and although we never had children, it’s allowed me to act as a ‘foster mother’ to so many,” says Tracey.

Eventually, Tracey raised enough funds to bring more kids from low-income communities to the Winter Retreat.

“These kids had a wonderful time,” Tracey says with pride. “When they were leaving, some were crying because they didn’t want to go home.”

Recently, the Dr. Phillips YMCA board agreed to send 25 teens on a full scholarship to the mountain conference this summer. And last year, an endowment was established in Tracey’s honor that will continue to send financially challenged teens to the conference for decades to come.

For the thousands of teens who have attended the events with Tracey, her words of wisdom and love, her listening ear, and her guidance still resonate with them. Students from years ago are now grown and raising families of their own. They still keep in touch with Tracey, and many of them donate regularly to the endowment to help others make the summer trip to North Carolina.

Since Tracey’s most recent diagnosis with cancer, many of these same friends have rallied around her. Although Tracey is a two-time cancer survivor, she is now facing her toughest battle with her newest diagnosis. Nevertheless, in between her treatments, Tracey continues to enjoy scrapbooking, knitting, and spending time with her husband and greatest supporter, Tim. Despite Tracey’s fight, she and Tim plan to make one final trip to Black Mountain this summer to nurture her newest group of teens.

Photo: Tim and Tracey Sullivan


Bridge to the Future

by Jill Cousins

Kids at Bear Lake Elementary are breathing new life into the classic card game of bridge

The morning bell won’t ring for almost an hour at Bear Lake Elementary School, but 16 students have already assembled in Anissa Dyen’s classroom, and the looks on their faces are much more serious than that of your average 10-year-olds.

During the past school year, these students arrived promptly at 7:45 every Friday morning to do something most unusual at an elementary school, or at any school, for that matter. They are learning and playing the age-old card game of bridge.

“The kids absolutely love it,” says Mrs. Dyen, a third-grade teacher who began the bridge classes this past September. “They had no problem getting here early every Friday morning, and they never missed it. We had zero dropouts. That part was surprising. They all stuck with it and loved coming. It was a really neat group.”

For 10 years, bridge instructors Jill Lundberg and Bea Ronske taught the game to the school’s gifted students. Seven years ago, one of those students was Mrs. Dyen’s son Spencer, who was a third grader in Bear Lake’s gifted program. Spencer took to the game and began traveling to national tournaments, and the entire Dyen family – mom, dad Scott, older sister Avery, and younger brother Mitchell – decided to learn how to play.

All three Dyen children are now nationally competitive bridge players, and each year they travel across the country with several other local students to compete in the North American Bridge Championships (NABC). A few years ago, Jill and Bea stopped teaching bridge at Bear Lake (Jill now teaches bridge at Lake Brantley High School), and Mrs. Dyen wanted to continue the tradition at her school.

“The kids were thrilled, because they heard about it previously, and some of them had brothers or sisters who played bridge in the gifted class,” says Mrs. Dyen, who plans to continue lessons with interested students during the summer and bring the program back to Bear Lake next school year. “The parents love it, too, because it’s both fun and educational.”

One of the students in Mrs. Dyen’s inaugural bridge class was fifth grader Elise Bedell. Elise knew her grandparents, Barb and Larry Steiner, played bridge, and she couldn’t wait to tell them about the class. When she mentioned to Mrs. Dyen that her grandparents played, Mrs. Dyen told Elise to ask them if they’d like to help with the weekly lessons.

“We went that next week, and we never looked back,” Barb says. “It’s been very rewarding. It’s unbelievable how these kids have taken to it. It’s really amazing. They just love it. And bridge really makes your brain think, so I expect this will help these kids in school and in testing. It makes kids sharper.”

Mrs. Dyen offers the bridge lessons to fourth and fifth graders with strong math skills. The game, by nature, involves a great degree of concentration, continuous challenges, and learning a complex language. Among its devotees are two of the three richest and most successful men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and they both work hard to promote the game to the nation’s youth.

Bridge, also known as contract bridge, is a game mostly played by older retirees because it is time consuming to both learn and master. The game peaked in popularity in the 1940s, when one survey found that it was played in 44 percent of U.S. households.

You wouldn’t know that bridge has a reputation as an old-people’s game by watching the kids in Mrs. Dyen’s class. She even had one of her own third graders, Elise’s brother Nathan Bedell, age nine, among her bridge students. Nathan is one of several students from Bear Lake who will compete in the NABC event in Chicago this August. Also competing are Grace Stoker, Katelyn Ashley, Soor Hansalia, Tessa Edstrom, and Katie Schlitt.

Nancy Hagerty, Youth American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) education advisor for district 9 (Florida), has helped arrange for each participant to receive a $500 scholarship from the ACBL toward travel expenses.

“It’s fun and it requires a lot of thinking,” Grace says. “My friends who don’t play it, they don’t understand.”

“It’s new and interesting,” Soor says. “Most kids don’t like doing anything new. I do.”

To generate even more interest, Barb Steiner arranged for the students to have a bridge party at the new North Orlando Bridge Center in Altamonte Springs. The students played bridge

with the help of Lake Brantley High’s bridge players and enjoyed cupcakes and candy midway through the session. The kids were then rewarded with trophies and various gifts and prizes.

“It was mainly just to get them excited about playing bridge and keep up the interest,” says Glen Martin, who opened the center in January with co-manager Perry Poole. “The kids who do play it really like it, but it’s not easy to get kids involved.”

Glen is hoping word gets around to other schools, and maybe more of them will offer bridge lessons. The game teaches teamwork, communication skills, and strategic thinking – all things that will help young people succeed in school and in life.

“Bridge is a super game,” Glen says. “I’d hate to see it die out. I’d like to see the kids keep it going!”

Bridge is Thriving in Altamonte

The North Orlando Bridge Center (NOBC), which opened in January, offers friendly bridge lessons and games for beginners to experienced players of all ages. A 12-week course for beginners includes weekly, two-hour sessions.

If you are already an expert or advanced player, there are game opportunities every weekday afternoon at 12:00, Tuesday evenings at 6:45, Wednesday evenings at 7:00, and Saturday mornings at 10:00. All games are sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League and offer master points. Table money is $6 for members, $8 for visitors. Annual subscriptions are available for $25.

The NOBC is located at 225 South Westmonte Drive, Suite 2010, in the Premier Point office building, off State Road 436. For more information, call Perry Poole at 407-808-7900 or Glen Martin at 407-435-5123

Photo: Teacher Anissa Dyen with bridge players Nathan Bedell, Elise Bedell, Grace Stoker, Katelyn Ashley, and Soor Hansalia

Brains, Brawn, and Ivy Bound

by Jill Cousins

Winter Springs High School grad David Moodie is on his way to the Ivy League’s Brown University

As a member of Keeth Elementary School’s running club back in 2006, David Moodie wasn’t planning to compete in the last cross-country meet of the year. But he changed his mind at the last minute and managed to win his very first trophy in the one-mile race. It was a life-changing moment for the nine-year-old third grader.

“He was so happy,” Michelle Flynch says of her son. “After winning that trophy, he never wanted to come in second – ever. David wanted to win trophies, not just medals or ribbons. That became his goal.”

David, now 18, doesn’t remember as much about that day as his mother, but one thing is indisputable: David Moodie is a champion… in every sense of the word.

David recently graduated from Winter Springs High School with a laundry list of accomplishments. He was a two-time state wrestling champion, a first-team all-district linebacker on the football team, and the top sprinter on the track team. Bright House Sports Network honored David as Seminole County’s Scholar Athlete of the Year as a junior and as Seminole County’s Wrestler of the Year as a senior.

A member of the National Honor Society, David finished his high-school career with a 4.255 weighted grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and ranked 19th in his graduating class of 521 students.

David, who also holds a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, will take his athletic and academic skills to Brown University this fall, where he will play football and study biology or pre-med at the prestigious Ivy League school.

“I think I’ve always been competitive,” says David, now a strapping 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, “especially since I started doing martial arts when I was young, and I became very athletic. I just want to be great. I don’t like being average.”

David’s athletic success is even more impressive considering he grew up without his father, Herbert Moodie, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2004 when David was seven years old and his mom was pregnant with sister Mikayla, now ten.

“David really didn’t get involved in [team] sports until he was in high school, because he didn’t have a father around to show him how to play baseball, basketball, or football,” Michelle says. “But he started doing martial arts in kindergarten. And that was all he knew.”

As far back as Michelle can remember, though, David loved to run.

“When he took his first steps,” she recalls, “I would let go of him and he ran straight to his dad. When he was in elementary school, I would let David out of the car at the mailbox, and he would run home and try to beat my car. He sprinted the whole time, running as fast as he could. He was a pretty fast boy!”

David’s earliest memories involve running around the family’s house in the Bronx, New York, where he was born. David says he was influenced by the video game character Sonic the Hedgehog.

“That was my favorite video game,” David says. “I was fascinated with all the running he did. I was running around everywhere. Nothing could stop me from running.”

Shortly after the family moved to Winter Springs in 2001, David’s parents signed him up for a T-ball league. That only lasted one year. David didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t much running involved in baseball. But when he started taekwondo classes at age six, David found his home away from home.

Michelle is certain David’s involvement in martial arts – and his relationship with his teacher, Master Rodney Robertson – is what enabled David to bounce back from the tragic loss of his father.

“His martial arts instructor took David under his wings and raised him to be the man he is,” Michelle says. “He taught him to be respectful and disciplined.”

Master Robertson says teaching David was no chore.

“I was just blessed that I could help,” he says. “David always had a natural passion for trying, and he had desire, which is the root to success. You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach a child to care, and David always cared. He would do whatever we told him to do, and then he would ask if there was anything else he could do. David is an amazing kid, and he deserves everything that comes his way.”

At the martial arts studio, David learned the importance of having a quality body, a quality mind, and a quality heart. He learned to eat wisely and exercise daily, and to always focus on the positive.

By the time he got to Winter Springs High School, David was much more physically mature and athletic than a typical 14-year-old freshman. He earned a spot on the freshman football team as a defensive end and soon caught the eye of wrestling coach Scott Gomrad, who would pull David out of his seventh period weightlifting class to show him wrestling highlights on his computer. It took a while, but David finally gave in and joined the team.

“David is a great kid, and he has been an awesome team leader,” Scott says. “He’s what I call the total package: He’s got the academic talent, the athletic talent, he’s very charismatic, and he’s a good citizen. In every aspect of his life, he excels.”

Despite his outstanding credentials, college football coaches were not knocking on David’s door. The wrestling coaches at Duke and Stanford scouted him, but football recruiters were not interested − that is, until his track coach and family friend, Ocky Clark, stepped in and called a contact he had at Brown University. The Brown coach met with David and offered to sign him on the spot as a running back, a position David never played in high school.

“What makes David so special is his perseverance, and his mom is his backbone,” says Ocky, who is also a dean at WSHS. “She had to be a strong disciplinarian, because she had to be the mother and father.”

David says he is looking forward to the challenge of playing running back in college – after all, he still loves to run – and would like to pursue a career in medicine. Someday, instead of winning trophies and championship rings, David would like to be successful enough to purchase one of the fancy cars he covets, like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.

“I just want to be a good student and a good athlete, and after college, I want to go to medical school,” David says. “I want to make enough money to get anything I want and help my mom out, too.”

His former coaches have no doubt David will, once again, succeed.

“David is a very bright kid, and he hasn’t come close to reaching his full potential in football,” Ocky says. “I think an Ivy League school like Brown will give him the perfect opportunity to excel. Like my favorite Biblical character, David will continue to go out there and slay giants.”

Photo Credit: The Canovas Photography

Ladybird Academy of Lake Forest/Heathrow and Lake Mary

by Shelley Ouellette

Ladybird Academy’s outstanding reputation for delivering quality early education is evident across Central Florida. As the region’s fastest-growing early-learning provider, with 17 locations throughout the Sunshine State, it’s easy to see why Ladybird is consistently recognized by parents as the “best in Orlando.”

Featuring high-tech, hands-on programs that encourage kids to create, explore, move, and play, Ladybird Academy’s flagship locations in Lake Forest/Heathrow and Lake Mary provide children the highest quality learning experiences in a bright, spacious, and secure setting that feels like a “home away from home.”

“Upon stepping into the beautiful ‘play town,’ we were amazed by the time, effort, and attention to detail that had gone into making Ladybird Academy a nurturing, loving, and child-centered environment,” say parents Jim and Karen Wallace. “Ladybird Academy has provided our son with a solid foundation of social, emotional, and academic learning. Through our partnership with Ladybird Academy, we feel that he has been well prepared to meet life’s challenges in a positive and constructive manner. The Ladybird Academy experience has enhanced our lives. To experience is to believe.”

“When children step into a Ladybird Academy, they gain access to limitless opportunities for their growth and development,” explains Simon Hansla, vice president of the Ladybird Group. “We are committed to providing our students access to the most advanced technology, including Apple Cyber Labs, Hi Tech Smart Tables, and reading corners featuring Kindles, all of which are now available in our recently renovated, spacious school-age classroom addition at the Lake Forest/Heathrow academy and at many other locations.”

Ladybird Academy’s NECPA-certified (National Early Childhood Program Accreditation) teaching philosophy also incorporates stories, toys, music, and games to aid in the development of cognitive, language, and gross and fine motor skills. These interactive lessons and activities are designed to stimulate the senses and are delivered by experienced, qualified educators who teach children ages six weeks through five years the foundations for elementary-school success.

“Academics are a top priority in our award-winning centers,” says Simon, who has three young children of his own, two of which have gone through the Ladybird program. His youngest son is currently a Ladybug. “Because we believe even the youngest children have the capacity to learn, we integrate math, reading, and language fundamentals into all class levels from infant to preschool. Our exclusive ‘Learning Adventures by Ladybird’ curriculum is a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive learning experience specifically designed for every developmental stage of education, with theme-based units, specific learning activities, enrichment lessons, and fun, engaging instruction.”

Additionally, Ladybird’s “Explorers Club” after-school program offers children ages five through 12 the opportunity to take advantage of the academy’s many sports, enrichment activities, and projects that are not often available during a regular school day.

Ladybird’s outdoor play areas and nutritional program have also been designed to complement each child’s overall learning experience.

“With a wide range of age-appropriate climbing and play equipment, our recreation spaces feature bike trails, soccer pitches, and AstroTurf playgrounds that are outfitted with shock-absorbent safety surfaces to reduce the likelihood of little bumps and bruises,” Simon adds. “Those families lucky enough to be enrolled in our updated Lake Forest/Heathrow academy can now also enjoy a round of golf at Lucy’s nine-hole miniature golf course. Our meal program offers kids healthy, fun menu options for breakfast, lunch, and two snacks a day while also integrating learning opportunities that highlight proper hand washing and table manners and explore the colors, flavors, and textures of each meal.”

Ladybird Academy is also well-known for its top-notch safety and security features, including biometric fingerprint scanners and magnetic door locks. Parents are encouraged to check in on their little ones at any time via their Academy’s live, online password-protected webcams.

“With a reputation as ‘the best’ child-care center in the area and a motto of ‘only the best for your child,’ we hold Ladybird Academy to a very high standard,” say parents John and Sydney Mitchell. “As parents, we feel we have presented our children with an excellent opportunity to grow. The interaction amongst the kids, in addition to the curriculum, is providing our children with an excellent head start on life. The excitement in their voices tells us Ladybird Academy is the right place.”

To learn more about Ladybird Academy of Lake Forest/Heathrow or Lake Mary, or to schedule a tour, visit LadybirdAcademy.com.


Ladybird Academy Ladybugs prepare for a round of miniature golf at the Lake Forest/Heathrow academy.