Small acts make a big difference for Kim Cornetet and those she touches

Kim Cornetet receives her butterfly wings

Kim Cornetet receives her butterfly wings at a Girls Inc. luncheon.

“Someone once told me the 2 most important days in one’s life: the day you were born, and the day you realized why you were born.”

Kim spoke these powerful words recently when accepting the Visionary Award from Girls Inc. It took her 45 years, and losing her mother, to discover her why.

In December, 2003, Kim’s mother, Joyse Siebers, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Joyse had been a dynamo. She’d majored in phys ed at Transylvania U. and studied dance under Martha Graham. She taught phys ed, dance, exercise and swim classes in high school and at the Y in Oswego and Fulton, NY. She became a college men’s golf coach to soldiers returning from WW2. When Kim graduated, Joyse gifted her with a series of golf lessons, saying, “I hope you stick with it. You meet the nicest guys on the golf course.”

When their mom was placed in hospice, Kim and her sister, Lynn Ricketts, wrote notes on Christmas cards to alert Joyse’s friends. Kim says, “Every one wrote back mentioning some small thing my mother did to change their life. ‘When I was new in town, you were the first to invite me over to meet the neighbors…’ ‘You sent me a Valentine when no one else did.’” When her daughters read these messages to their mom, “she just smiled. She felt such peace,” Kim says.

“That’s when it hit me like a lightning bolt—my why. I always thought God’s plan was something big I was meant to do. As my mother’s life was winding down, I realized the power of small acts of kindness. Servant leadership. It was right under my nose. I had been doing it all along. My mother had modeled it for me and instilled it in me.”

Kim and James Cornetet

Kim and James Cornetet

Kim did meet a nice guy, James. Their first date took place on a golf course. They’ve been married for 29 years and raised 4 children.

The family motto: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Kim and James practice what Kim calls Bumblebee Management. “Like a bee spreading pollen from flower to flower, we spread kindness from person to person and watch them blossom.” Kim learns from everyone she encounters. “And then I buzz around spreading information, love, and ideas others teach me.”

Girls Inc. of Sarasota, FL, is part of a national nonprofit dedicated to inspiring all girls to be “strong, smart and bold.” Girls of all backgrounds, ages 5 and up, take classes in entrepreneurship, technology, finances, engineering and science. They participate in a girl-run city called “Dream Harbor” and pay what they can afford.

At the luncheon honoring Kim and others, 3rd and 4th graders spoke of their own progress. In a moment that had guests reaching for Kleenex, more than 60 members of the Girls Inc. choir swayed with flashlights and sang Jessie J’s “Flashlight” (from Pitch Perfect). “…I’m stuck in the dark, but you’re my flashlight/You’re getting me, getting me through the night…”

Kim grew up in Fulton, NY and, like her mom, attended Transylviania U. She’s now a Board of Regents member. Kim also volunteers or fundraises for organizations including the Salvation Army and Second Chance Last Opportunity (you may want to ready my earlier column about Second Chance founder April Glasco). Kim teaches Sunday school and leads Bible Studies at Sarasota’s Church of the Palms. She and James own a company that distributes decorative fabrics.

Kim Cornetet and the Girls girl

Photo by Cliff Roles Photography.

The theme of the Girls Inc. luncheon was transformation. Event chairs Veronica Brady, Susan Malloy Jones and Sally Schule wore sheer capes with a blown up image of a butterfly. In a symbolic gesture, at the end of the luncheon, they bestowed these capes on the day’s award winners.

Closing her remarks at the luncheon, Kim said, “As the light in my mother’s life began to dim, her example illuminated my own purpose for me. My sister and I learned that little acts become a BIG act, and they lead to a life well lived.”

In a recent WSJ column on the American Dream, 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner Peggy Noonan expresses a related insight. “A big house could be the product of the dream… but the house itself was not the dream. You could, acting on your vision of the dream, read, learn, hold a modest job and rent a home, but at town council meetings you could stand, lead with wisdom and knowledge, and become a figure of local respect. Maybe the respect was your dream.”

Thanks, Kim, for reminding us of the difference small acts can make. Thanks to you and Girls Inc. for kindling girls’ dreams. And for your fine definition of a life well lived.


Dr. Lisa Merritt’s dedicated to helping others, especially her daughter

Dr Lisa Merritt and her daughter Amara Photo by Barbara Banks Photography

Dr. Lisa Merritt and her daughter Amara (Photo by Barbara Banks Photography; used with permission.)

“It’s all about the kids, and who’s there to speak for them,” Lisa says.

This one woman band is tireless in pursuing better medical care for others, especially among minorities. We met when she received a “Women in Power” award from the NCJW, Sarasota. Her acceptance was so eloquent I decided we (you, dear reader, and I) needed to know her.

After graduating from Georgetown U. and Howard med school, Lisa trained in family and physical medicine and rehab. Working in California as a catastrophic care consultant for an insurance company, she was driving to Monterey to investigate a case. She was lamenting the difficulty many people of color and ethnic backgrounds have navigating the medical system. “I was struck with a clear thought—to start a multicultural health organization. It was like God was talking to me. But how?”

She figured out the how, served on a stateside minority health task force, and opened a clinic. It grew to 2500 sf, staffed by doctors, psychologists, rehab specialists, etc. She served on the staff of 3 hospitals, taught at U.C. Davis and started the Multicultural Health Institute. Over the last 20 years, MHI has helped thousands with health care and won many awards.

After 10 years in California, Lisa moved to Atlanta. In what would become a pattern, she uprooted her life to help a family member. Her beloved Aunt Gloria was battling (and subsequently lost) her fight with lung cancer. In Atlanta for 6 years, Lisa also worked on projects and won a national award for her research on cardiovascular disease and diabetes among African-Americans.

Multicultural Health Institute homepage

Click on the logo to learn more about Dr. Merritt’s institute.

When Lisa’s mother contracted cancer, Lisa moved again. This time to Sarasota, to help her parents. In Sarasota, she started a chapter of MHI, consulting on care coordination, wellness plans, HIV/AIDS awareness, etc. Among programs she developed: enlisting high school students to teach senior citizens to use their mobile devices to track their health care. She runs a support group for cancer survivors and care givers and has developed programs for non-English speaking people.

With its “Gatekeepers of Community Health,” MHI has held hundreds of wellness programs and mentored and inspired hundreds of students to seek STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) careers and has impacted health delivery in the region.

Lisa’s from a family of high achievers. “My parents were social activists,” she says. “Do something to help people was the operating formula.” Her mother, Eleanor Merritt Darlington, and her mom’s 2 sisters are “ridiculously brilliant.” Eleanor attended the La Guardia School for the Arts (as in the movie “Fame”), got her masters from Brooklyn College and chaired a high school art department. She recently had a 60-year retrospective of her paintings in Sarasota. Eleanor’s sister Gloria was a concert pianist who liked to complete the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle—in ink. Her brother, a physician, established gynecological programs in Jamaica and NC. Her father, an engineer, returned to school for a PhD in social work. Surrounded by such smart relatives, Lisa calls herself “the runt of the litter.”

Aside from assisting her mom with medical matters, Lisa helps her father with his heart problems. She jokes, “I tell my parents they got a big R.O.I. (return on investment) out of me.”

Lisa started out with “a great education in a teeny New York school with inkwells nailed to the desk.” She and classmate Debbie Ruben were assigned their week’s homework on Monday. “By Tuesday we’d be finished. We’d spend the rest of the week tutoring other kids and reading. I read everything in the library—classics, the encyclopedia.” She graduated a year early, having just turned 17.

At 5’8”, Lisa was also an athlete. She captained several teams and started a girls track team (just after Title 9 was enacted). At gymnastics camp, she trained 7-10 hours a day. She set records in high jump and sprinting and won the MVP award. In college, she placed 1st on the East Coast and 3rd in the country in the national collegiate Judo championships.

“Sports drove the focus and intensity of my life and taught me team building.” Injured in several car accidents, she now mostly swims, does yoga and walks. “And I dance madly around the house, embarrassing my daughter.”

As a child, Lisa spent time with her grandmother in Jamaica, “a kind and gentle soul who imprinted me with caring for others.” Her grandmother wrote in her 6th grade yearbook: “Have many friends. Trust few. Learn to paddle your own canoe.”

Lisa’s 17 year old daughter Amara was recently diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor—a rare form of childhood lung cancer. Ever the researcher, Lisa says Amara’s condition affects 1 in 2.8 million. Lisa’s raising her daughter alone. Her husband died from a heart attack at age 40. Lisa has pulled back on her clinical activities to focus on her daughter. “I’m using all my medical and investigative skills to keep her well and strong.”

Amara recently underwent a 7 hour surgery and could await more. She joined us at lunch, appearing robust and only a tad sad about having to miss yet another track meet.

Thanks, my new friend, for sharing your story. And for all you do for humanity. May you and Amara keep paddling.

Soil from a family’s Cuban homeland connects generations

Urn of Delia Calderin's ashes in Delin's home

On a table in Delin Bru’s Miami home, she kept her mother Delia Calderin’s ashes in an urn along with a photograph of Delia, when she was young.

Delin had a dilemma. What to do with her mother’s ashes? She’d intended to house them at the Miami, FL, cemetery where her grandparents (and many other Cubans) were buried. There, while Delin was putting her mom’s cremains into a niche, someone broke into her car, which was parked next to the cemetery office. A small case of jewelry was stolen.

Delin saw the incident as a sign. The next day she returned to the cemetery and demanded her mom’s ashes, and her money, back. Delia’s ashes sat for many months atop the piano in the Brus’ Miami apartment. (Their main residence is on Longboat Key, Sarasota.) A vase of fresh flowers, a photo of Delia Calderin, and a candle completed this piano top altar. (Delin’s a pianist and singer. I’m sure Delia appreciated the musical vibes.)

Every week a housekeeper checked on the apartment and changed the flowers. After more than a year, the housekeeper called Delin and recommended the Catholic Cemetery of Miami. Delin made an appointment. She found “a big, beautiful place out in the country, very quiet with peaceful energy.” The perfect spot.

Delin also decided to move her grandparents’ ashes, so the family could be together. She’d been told that moving ashes requires a court order and considerable lead time. Nonetheless, she picked a lovely glass case in the chapel with space for 4. (Her elderly father’s still living.)

When would she like to transfer the ashes? Delin’s daughter Bonnie and son-in-law Gerry happened to be visiting from Panama. The whole family would be in Miami that weekend. Daughter Barbara lived in Miami. It was a Wednesday. How about Saturday? Delin asked, though doubting the cemetery could obtain her grandparents’ ashes that soon.

The cemetery director agreed. He showed Delin pictures of urns. Delin picked “a pretty one,” blue and silver with an image of 3 doves. (An only child, Delin liked the symbolism of 3—her mother, father and she.) The cemetery was out of that style. Delin asked daughter Bonnie to find the urn and order 4. Bonnie found it on Amazon, and for a lower price. An Amazon Prime customer, she received 4 urns in less than 24 hours.

And now, some background.

Delia Calderin and Juan Antonio Calderin

Delia Calderin and Juan Antonio Calderin

Delia was born in Cuba. After Castro took over, in 1959, the government nationalized privately owned businesses. Many wealthy Cubans left the island. The government determined when they could leave. When Delin was 12, her mother put her on a plane, saying “Even if I never see you again, go.” Delin was sent to Malaga, in Spain, and lived with family friends.

Now a mother and grandmother, Delin says, “I can’t imagine the courage it took for my mother to let me go.” Delin and her parents were reunited in New York City 5 years later.

Wedding of Delia Calderin and Juan Antonio Calderin

The Calderin wedding

Delia was “amazing, smart and successful,” Delin says. Delia graduated Magna Cum Laude and earned master’s degrees at NYU and Columbia. She taught 3rd and 4th grades in Cuba and the Bronx. She taught college Spanish. In her 70s, Delia became a journalist. She wrote about Cuban issues for a Miami magazine, for which she interviewed Marco Rubio. She herself was photographed for an article in front of the popular Miami Cuban restaurant Versailles.

Juan Antonio Calderin, Delin’s father, lost his business in Cuba—a company that manufactured and sold fertilizer to the sugar cane industry. In the US, he started and ran a company that supplied food to restaurants.

As a young woman preparing to attend Juilliard, Delin met another Cuban, Abelardo. A few months later, they married, and Delin accompanied her husband on his fast rising career. They lived in several places including Mexico, New Jersey and Texas. Al became CEO of Frito Lay. In 2005, he retired as vice chairman of PepsiCo. Recently, Delin and Al returned to Cuba. They visited Reforma in the province of Las Villas, the sugar plantation once owned by Al’s family and where he lived as a boy.

Delia and Juan Calderin with their grandchildren

Delia and Juan Calderin with their grandchildren

Delin’s mom despised the revolution that happened in Cuba. Delia hated the Castro regime and refused to ever return. She was so adamant that Delin never told her of her visit.

Delia had diabetes and, at 80, lost a leg. Still, she carried on. Delin says, “Her motto was: acceptance.” She lived another 5 years. “I think she owed her last 5 years to her faith in God, to my father’s support, and to the devotion of Pearl,” head of the wound care center at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

In failing health, Delia learned her caregiver, Aymara, would visit her son in Cuba. Delia asked her to bring back some dirt from their shared homeland. The day her caregiver returned, Delia died. Aymara gave the bag of dirt to Delin. The reddish orange soil, from the Pinar del Rio region west of Havana, is the soil in which the best Cuban tobacco leaves grow.

When Delin at last decided to commit her mother’s ashes to the Catholic Cemetery, she knew what else she needed to do. Putting the ashes into the urn Barbara found on Amazon, she mixed in the soil from Pinar del Rio.

Proving you can go home again, just not necessarily in the same form.

(Thanks for sharing this touching story, my dear friend Delin. Vaya con Dios, Delia.)

Delin and Al Bru

Al and Delin Bru

Noel Patterson shifts focus from wine to honey

Bees at Dos Manos Apiaries (2)

Just some of the workers at Dos Manos Apiaries.

“2 years ago, if you’d said I’d become a beekeeper, I’d call you bonkers,” Noel Patterson says.

Noel had sold wines for 15 years. He loved the friendships he’d made with restaurateurs and the fun of tasting and talking about wines.

Noel Patterson at Dos Manos (1)

Noel Patterson at his organic farm.

In 2008, his then girlfriend, an organic farmer, built him a bee hive (a wooden box with frames hanging inside) for a birthday present. His reaction? “This is crazy. I live in the middle of downtown Tucson across from the high school football stadium. I have no idea what to do with this thing. But I had to be a good boyfriend, so I learned.”

It helped that his girlfriend had also found him a mentor to teach him the basics and “bail me out of trouble.”

Noel says, “It was 3 years before I figured out what I was doing.” Once he did, he began showing his honey to restaurant contacts. One of them, who had a restaurant in the historic 4th Avenue district, had kumquat and lemon trees in his yard. He tasted Noel’s honey and said, ‘This is fabulous. Let’s put it on the menu.’”

Noel reminded him he only had one hive; the honey would run out in a few weeks.

“He wouldn’t take no for an answer. The next season he said: What do I have to do to get you to sell me?”

It would cost $300 to build a second hive, Noel said, if he built it himself. His client wrote him a check. Word spread. 48 hours later, another restaurant owner called. “I hear you’re selling Peter honey. I want in.” In the next couple of months, 11 more calls.

Before he knew it, Noel had 6 six aviaries (bee yards), about 25 hives, 11 sponsors, and was producing about 550 lbs. a year. He bottled honey for clients and printed their names on the label. He charged restaurants his costs, and continued supporting himself selling wine.

Two years ago, he received a call from Miraval—the luxury spa my daughters-in-law and I visit each year. Miraval was creating a sustainability committee; would Noel advise them? “I figured it was a temporary whim; they didn’t really mean it. But I was wrong. Miraval’s very mindful. I met with them for 2 hours and came away with a plan to put a few hives on their property.”

Logo of Dos Manos Apiaries (1)

Click on the logo to visit the Facebook page.

Months later, Noel became Miravai’s resident beekeeper and began conducting programs. He teaches classes to Miraval guests and escorts students in beekeeper suits to tastings of honey right from the hive. Honey flavor depends on where bees get nectar. Apple tree honey tastes different than strawberry plant honey. “Honey has a sense of place,” Noel says. Honey from a hive in his backyard tastes different than honey from his friend’s yard a mile away.

After taking Noel’s class, I have new respect for honey bees. They enter and leave the hive through a hole in a bottom board and fly up to 3 miles. They bring a drop of nectar back to the hive, put it into a cell and fan it until it’s dry. If the comb is full, bees have a gland in their abdomens that makes wax to start another comb.

How’s your sense of direction? (Mine’s not so hot, though I always manage to find my way to Neiman Marcus.) Bees excel at directions. Scout bees clue hive mates into their latest discovery by performing a “waggle” dance. The dance indicates the direction and distance to a new food source. If a bee dances up or down the honey comb, she shows the angle toward or away from the sun. How much time she waggles tells the distance of the food source. If she buzzes loudly and excitedly, other bees know she’s found a bonanza. (Anyone want to waggle with me?)

Of about 4000 species of bees, honey bees are most susceptible to parasitic mites that spread diseases. Conventional beekeeping is chemically intensive. Noel raises his honey bees organically, which he thinks makes them better able to recover when sick.

The queen bee mates once in her life but lays thousands of eggs every day. She is “the reproductive organ” of the colony. When she starts to fail, the worker bees choose another queen.

Noel now has 74 hives (soon to be 130) in 8 locations around Tucson. Consuming honey, he says, has cleared up his allergies. Though he’s been stung many hundreds of times, it’s a price he’s willing to pay. His advice to honey lovers: Buy local. Look for raw honey. If it crystallizes, eat it in that form. Heating honey, he says, destroys its “nuanced flavors.”

Thanks, Noel, for a fascinating peek into one of nature’s sweetest phenomena.

Lynn Buehler’s late father leaves a lasting imprint…on her noggin

Six Wilson siblings

The Wilson siblings, from left on top Bruce and Tom; middle Mark, Carolyn and Lynn; front Jeff.

“Growing up in a large family had advantages and disadvantages,” Lynn says. “The advantage was having built-in friends and partners in crime. The disadvantage was constant chaos.” Lynn and her siblings numbered 6. 10 years separated the oldest from the youngest. The family lived in a 3-bedroom house in Ecorse, MI.

Lynn calls her mom “the no nonsense parent;” her dad, Bill Wilson, “the cool parent.” When her dad disciplined them (read: her 4 brothers), “We knew he meant business. But we also knew some sort of chuckle would come later.” Her dad had a favorite expression: “Clunks for you.” It was a figure of speech meaning a “flick on the noggin.” He was famous for saying it, though Lynn never saw him deliver one.


Lynn, left, with her father in 2010

Lynn calls her late father “a kid magnet.” He was a pal to all the kids In the neighborhood. They called him “Mr. Bill” and loved his slapstick sense of humor. Lynn recalls Christmas eves, spying on her father and his best friend trying to put together toys for her younger siblings, cracking up on discovering missing parts. Bill was a businessman. He sold insurance, “so he could enjoy his real job: devoting himself to kids.”

Bill played baseball, football and hockey. Above all, he loved golf and earned a respectable 14 handicap. As his kids grew older, Bill coached little league, hockey and crew. He served on the Recreation Commission, which oversaw sports programming for kids. “One of my parents came to every tennis tournament of mine, swim meet or softball game of my sisters, baseball game and regatta of my brothers, and even hockey all winter long,“ Lynn says.

Bill was a “fierce competitor and insisted we be the same.” Lynn’s brothers Tom and Mark played college hockey; Jeff played high school hockey. Lynn played college tennis; her sister Carolyn swam and played softball in high school. Brother Bruce was an “amazing” bowler. “Quitting was not an option. We were in it to win it.”

Lynn says, “I have natural ability for many sports, but golf isn’t one of them. I love it, so I persist. But It’s humbling.”

Recently, just a couple of days before the one-year anniversary of Bill’s death, Lynn was playing golf with some folks from her Oakland University alumni association. She was on the 10th hole. “It wasn’t one of my better days on the golf course. I wanted to give up after nine, but I didn’t. Everyone was hitting well except for me.” She decided to grab an 8 iron. When she returned to the cart to get it, she banged her head on the roof hard enough to produce an instant goose egg.

“At that moment, I heard my dad saying, ‘Clunks to you. Now go out there and show them you can do it!’ That was my dad, reaching beyond the grave to tell me to hang tough.”

Lynn did play better on the back nine. She was glad she’d listened to her father and hadn’t quit.

I met Lynn when she was the uber capable and compassionate concierge at Karmanos Cancer Institute and I was a freaked out patient. We’ve been dear friends ever since. If you read GODSIGNS, my memoir of recovery from stage 4 cancer, you may remember Lynn—a hero of my saga. Lynn now lives near me in Florida. She’s program director for Compeer, a remarkable organization that teams mentally challenged people with mentally stable mentors.

Lynn today

Lynn today

On the one-year anniversary of her father’s death, Lynn wrote this to me: “In the few days before my father died, he was in great spirits. He told me how proud he was of me and that he thought he had the two most beautiful daughters. At age 87, my father packed the funeral home for his service, all seats occupied by every available boy or girl he coached over a lifetime. I sure do miss him. As he got older, his hearing was so impaired it became difficult for him to participate in conversation. But we simply adjusted and wrote on a white board. Now he’s communicating in a different way, and we hear him.”

Thanks, Lynn, for this delightful remembrance. Keep listening.

(Readers: Do have words of wisdom from your parents? Thoughts that keep you going? Please write them in the comment/reply section of this post. I look forward to hearing from you.)

A mutual love of birds helps Wendy Palmer’s late dad let her know he’s still in her corner

Wendy Palmer dancing with her father

Wendy Palmer dancing with her father.

Leonard Allen wanted to be a surgeon. Shot with a beebee gun at 11, he was left with a blind eye. Instead, he became a pharmacist—which fortuitously led to my friend Wendy’s appearance on earth.

After several years of dementia, Leonard died in August, 2017. His death involved a series of avian Godsigns. But first, the back story…

Len served in the Korean War. He helped create the army’s first mobile dental unit to aid soldiers in the field. Returning home, he opened his first pharmacy, a Rexall, in Taylor, MI.

Len met wife Karen when she was shopping for cold medicine for one of her kids. Karen, a single mom, worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office to support a son and 2 daughters. Len adopted Karen’s 3 kids, and the couple had 3 more. My pal Wendy was #5.

Len named Wendy for the character in Peter Pan. Wendy appropriately grew up a tomboy. The family led “fun and active” lives, Wendy says. They went to the beach at Boblo Island, to Tigers baseball and U of M football games. (Len was a Wolverine. Go Blue.) Wendy turkey hunted with her dad. He taught her to identify birds. She helped him in the vegetable garden. Wendy decided to build her own tree house, 20 ft. up, and soon fell out. In a body cast for months, she “never got chastised.”

Len opened a second Rexall store in Taylor. At about 12, Wendy began working part time behind the pharmacy counter. She recalls a male customer asking if they carried prophylactics. Not knowing the word, she yelled at her father, “Dad, do we carry prophylactics?” The quick disappearance of her customer and tittering of others clued her in to her indiscretion.

Len and Karen put all 6 kids through college. Sadly, Karen died at 61. Wendy grew up, became a business exec, and married Burton’s and my friend Ron. They live in Grosse Isle, MI, and raised twin boys. After Wendy’s mom died, the Palmers invited Len to travel with their family. Wendy and her dad became even closer on boat trips to the Exumas and Abacos islands in the Bahamas and one from New York to Maine. Len spent winters at Ocean Reef in Key Largo, FL, to be near Wendy and her family.

On one trip, Ron insisted on having a sketch made of Wendy. Reluctant to display it in her house, she gave it to her dad. He hung it in a place of honor. Whenever Wendy visited, her dad pointed to the portrait and said, “That’s my girl.”

In later years, Len developed dementia. “He knew he was declining, but never complained,” Wendy says. “He was happy. Until the last month when he no longer recognized us, he always told us he loved us and appreciated everything we did for him.”

Wendy visited Len twice on what would be the last day of his life. His breathing was labored; he had stopped eating. After dinner that evening, Wendy felt “agitated.” She decided to visit her father for a third time.

“I wanted to have one last drink with my dad,” she says. She and Len had often enjoyed Hummers together. (Rum, Kahlua and ice cream; created in Detroit at the Bayview Yacht Club. Yum.) She mixed a pitcher full and took it to the convalescent home. Len’s eyes were closed; he could no longer speak. Swabbing the drink on her father’s lips, Wendy “downed a large one.” As she was leaving, her father opened his eyes and looked at her. He died later that night.

After, some events convinced Wendy her father’s spirit was around…

Inheriting a love of birds from her dad, Wendy had filled hummingbird feeders for the past 2 years. No takers. Back home, Wendy still felt “unsettled.” She walked outside on the deck. There, having just shared hummers with her dad, she noticed movement between her flower pots. In full moonlight, she saw 1, then 2, then 3 hummingbirds flitting from one blossom to the next.

Soon after, following dinner with friends, 3 crystal glasses sat on the Palmers’ kitchen counter, waiting to be hand-washed. The next day, a cleaning lady broke one of the glasses. The glasses were etched with birds. Wendy was on the phone, planning her father’s funeral. Ron sat at a desk paying bills, using envelopes Wendy had provided long before. For the past 6 years, Wendy had been missing a diamond ring. Seconds after the glass broke, Ron picked up an envelope. The long-sought ring popped out.

Wendy says, “The hummers, the hummingbirds, the glass, the ring—I knew my father was there, and looking out for me, letting me know he still loved me and always would.”

Thanks, Wendy, for sharing your father with us. And R.I.P., Leonard, for a life well lived.

Leonard Allen

April Glasco shares hard earned lessons with others

April Glasco of Second Chance Last Opportunity in Florida

April Glasco

April survived hell and back. Instead of being embittered, she uses her experience to help others in Newtown, a low income neighborhood in Sarasota, FL.

At 18, April married a man who began abusing her. She knew she needed to leave. With 4 children, she lacked the courage and means. “Every time I brought up leaving things got worse,” she says. She worked 2 jobs while husband Lynn baby sat and took college courses.

Finally divorcing husband #1, April married again. She thought James was everything she wanted. “I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” she says. “The first year, he threatened to kill me.” #2 abused not only her, but her 4 children as well. She says, “I needed a plan.”

April saw an ad in the newspaper. Bold, black letters read: SELF DEFENSE. The ad promoted a job training academy in nearby Manatee County, FL. April enrolled. 2 years later, as a deputy sheriff, she got to know her fellow officers. They helped her to escape. SPARCC, a Sarasota rape and crisis center, helped her slap an injunction on her husband. James was arrested.

Studying for a certificate in mental health, April realized her husband’s behaviors were typical of a substance abuser. “As I learned about his addictions, he got meaner. He belittled me.” He quit his job and changed her life insurance policy to become the beneficiary. He took his girlfriend on vacation.

By the time she left #2, she’d been married for 19 years. She weighed over 260 lbs. “I was so broken.” She and her daughters moved into a small apartment.

April’s husband had beaten her so badly that she was rushed to the hospital, hemorrhaging blood. Surviving that crisis was, she says, her “second chance.” In the hospital, she dreamed about starting a program to help young women avoid the problems she’d faced. She told her father, a minister, about her dream. He said he’d had a similar dream in which she started a program called Last Opportunity.

She started taking care of herself. She began to exercise and focus on school. “I wanted to inspire my daughters to never give up. Going through all I did made me a stronger person.”

April Glasco's daughters from left Sianda, Sha-Quess, Sherrin and Sherral Mapps

April Glasco’s daughters: From left Sianda, Sha-Quess, Sherrin and Sherral Mapps

April and her daughters moved to community housing, in an apartment with no furniture. She decided to reach out to young women. It was 1992. April started inviting her daughters’ friends to their home, providing pizza, talking about HIV and how to protect themselves. Word of her informal ministry spread. Others came. “Some were high or drunk. Some were teen moms. Some were poor or homeless. I talked about making better choices, staying in school.” As a girl, April had sung in the church choir and elsewhere. She ended every session at her home with singing. The girls she worked with called themselves “the positive teens.” They began receiving invitations to sing. By the end of the first year, April had counseled about 350 girls and boys, ages 11 to 16.

April says, “I realized the purpose of going through what I did—domestic violence, homelessness, unhealthy relationships—was so I could help others.” She also became an ordained minister and an HIV-outreach counselor. “I couldn’t give up on a community that needed my help.” She determined to expand her programs and to give them a real home. To finance her dream, she worked as a certified nursing associate and a clerk at Family Dollar. She wrote grants and solicited donations and managed to buy a 900-square-foot building on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Sarasota. She recruited volunteers. “We have a building that’s paid for. It’s full of people with big hearts.”

April’s non-profit, Second Chance Last Opportunity or SCLO, is named for her close health call and her father’s dream. SCLO still operates today out of the building she scraped to buy. She and about 45 volunteers run classes on parenting and other life skills. Their mission statement: “To serve as a gateway to hope for individuals who want to change their lives for the better.”

There’s a Sisters Circle of women 15-36, some of whom have lost children. “They support each other in becoming stronger women.” SCLO offers one-on-one mental health counseling. “A lot of people don’t even know they have a disorder.” Her clients are mostly Caucasian and Hispanic, though many are African-American.

April started out with an empty building, with no furniture or sign. She noticed a girl walking up and down the street, holding a crying baby. April asked if she needed help. She learned her “first client,” Candace, was 13 with a wet and hungry baby. Candace had a check from a summer job but didn’t know how to cash it. April took her to the local bank and sought out the president. Using the girl’s school i.d., they set up an account. Candace used her pay to buy milk for her baby. “Today she’s married and pregnant with her 6th baby—her mom had 9—and independent.”

April’s especially proud of her “positive teens.” She says, “Today they’re working. They dress appropriately. They’ll stop by the office and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’” And of a young man named Jason. When they met, he was 15, homeless, “living place to place.” His mother had died from cancer; his father was in prison for drug dealing. He attended a Positive Teen class, twice. Now he’s 36, living on his own with a job in marketing and a “stable life. He didn’t end up like his dad.”

April has won several awards for the work she does from organizations including Girls, Inc. In 2014, she was named one of the Amazing Women of the Suncoast by WWSB-TV.

April’s daughters are all adults and certified nursing assistants. One is also a registered nurse. They’re all also certified security officers and certified HIV outreach workers. “They put themselves through school,” their proud mother says. “I helped with whatever I could.” Like their mom, the Mapps girls are singers. Youngest daughter Sha-Quess, who graduates from Hillsboro Community College in June, has been invited back for her 3rd audition on “The Voice.”

My neighbor Kim Cornetet has known April for 20 years. “I admire how April helps women escape abusive relationships by turning to God,” Kim says. “I’ve seen her pull herself up and put herself through school and devote herself to her community. I’m amazed at how far she’s come.” April calls Kim when she’s “in a pinch.” April decided to take a group of women in their 40s and 50s to a women’s leadership conference in Orlando. Some of them had never before left Sarasota. April raised all the money except for $100 for gas in the van. “She called me for $100,” Kim says. “She could have asked for more.”

Kim hosts an annual celebration at Laurel Oak CC in Sarasota for April and her volunteers. Last year, about 100 attended. This year’s party, with dancing and a DJ, will be on May 20.
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(Thanks, April, for sharing your remarkable story and for the equally remarkable work you do. Thanks, Kim, for the input. Thanks, Linda Salisbury, for introducing me to April.)

April Glasco at her Second Chance Last Opportunity in Florida