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All in the Family

A look at some of the most important relationships in our lives

“My father was an amazing man. The older I got, the smarter he got.” ~ Mark Twain

 

Families may not be all we wish they could or would be, but they are arguably the most profound relationships in our lives.

 

Here, we feature a fully functional family, the Ciccarelli clan, who have overcome obstacles in the pursuit of honoring family first and foremost.

 

For children who have lost a parent or caregiver, grief can be the obstacle to a promising future. Valerie’s House shares a story about how one family chose not to go through grief alone.

 

For family caregivers, we talk to two women affiliated with NAMI Collier County who share the journey of caring for loved ones affected by mental illness and the care these caregivers need.

 

Lois Sabatino shares a heartwarming, historical memory of her family dynamic, and in honor of National Take a Hike Day, we present ways to enjoy nature together along the trails of CREW.

 

We hope you keep your family close. They are the link to your past and to your future.

 
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER 61

 

FROM THE HEART

The House on Blatchley Avenue

Looking back at one American family’s evolution

by Lois Sabatino

Her name was Ursula. She was my mother’s mother, my Italian nonna. She lived in a little house on the corner of Blatchley Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut.

Ursula had piercing blue eyes and always wore one of those aprons you stick your hands through and tie in the back. Like me, her hair turned pure white when she was very young. But about a hundred years ago, when they arrived from an impoverished part of Italian farmland, you didn’t color your hair.

In married life, Ursula dreamed of having a house of her own in this new country. Her husband, Crecenzo, said he understood. That’s why he took part of his pay from the foundry envelope every week and put it away for the house she wanted.  

After several years of earning a few extra dollars as the neighborhood’s midwife, Ursula told Crecenzo it was time to use the money he’d saved to put a down payment on a nice house for sale around the corner. Crecenzo confessed there was no money. He had been spending it with his friends at the local bar.

Ursula never spoke to him again, but that didn’t stop babies from being born. There were 11 children. Five boys and six girls grew up in that little Blatchley Avenue house.

I remember the garden had a big grape arbor with scary spiders hanging off the leaves; a welcoming kitchen with cracking linoleum floors; a gigantic table that held the whole family for wonderful meals Ursula made with so little money on an old stove fed with wood that heated all four rooms.

The three bedrooms were cold in winter and stifling in summer. The parents slept in one bedroom, five boys in the bigger bedroom’s only wooden bed and the six girls in the smallest room in a big brass bed with a mattress that fell down regularly. (The trick was to get to bed early so you were at the head while the latecomers ended up at the foot.)  

The aunts were really something, spirited and pretty in their own ways. Their bedroom was the center of everything until they married and escaped to new lives.

Aunt Rose was called Pretty Rose until she was older and renamed herself Faded Rose. She had five kids and couldn’t figure out how they kept coming. Somebody told her to wear shoes to bed and she wouldn’t get pregnant. That didn’t work, so she dumped four husbands in a row, ending the procreation. Pretty Rose was a terrible housekeeper and lived on welfare, but any sick sister or friend would go stay with her to be nursed back to health.

Aunt Jennie was the prettiest, with blue eyes and a little turned-up nose. She married a wealthy man and moved into a lovely house in the country. Her children were raised with the best of everything and missed out on all the fun of being poor.

But the sisters’ teenage years were precious, filled with hardships they thought everybody had. Strict Momma Ursula knew how tough the world was and forbade them from talking to boys — until their hormones took over and she lost control.

The big thing in those days was going to dance halls with friends. But getting out of the house was not easy with Momma watching every move the sisters made and brothers threatening to kill them if they got “in trouble.”

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And if they ever got out of the house, what would they wear, with no money to buy fancy dresses or gowns? After rummaging through the clothes in their one closet and borrowing from each other, the two or three girls who were old enough would get dressed up. But makeup was another thing nobody could afford. The problem was solved by their bedroom’s old pink-and-red-rose wallpaper. While the younger sisters watched, the escapees would spit on a finger, rub it on the wallpaper roses, and use the ink on their cheeks and lips. Then they would open the window and climb out of the first-floor bedroom window and head for the dance hall while Momma slept.

My mother, Margaret, was the third born in the mix. Less than 5 feet tall and with a head of black curls, she finally spit on her finger at age 17. That night, she met Red, one of the musicians at the dance. They were married soon after, in the middle of the Great Depression. They moved into his family’s two-family house on Summer Street and welcomed my brother, Joe, a year later.

At age 7, Joe got a job washing dishes in a restaurant. His pay was a dollar a week with all he could eat, something that helped him survive those terrible times. I came along when Joe was washing dishes.

By the time I grew up enough to remember, the Depression had calmed down, and every Sunday morning, my mother and I would walk over to the Blatchley Avenue house. Nonna Ursula’s sons and daughters were growing their own families, most living in the same neighborhood. Sundays meant getting together at the old house for coffee and sweets after Mass at St. Donato’s Church down the street, catching up on the news and what we could do to help each other.

My grandfather, Crecenzo, was a quiet man and would sit under the grape arbor, smoking a little cigar while we laughed and talked on those Sundays. After he died, Nonna Ursula lived a few more years until she went to sleep one night, never to wake again.

That’s when the 11 children and their broods felt drawn to the suburbs. Sundays became packed with new friends and busy kids — too busy to get together with family.

Blatchley Avenue was widened. They knocked down the little house with its grape arbor and spiders. People drive by today, never knowing about the squeaky beds filled with kids giggling and telling secrets and the pink-and-rose wallpaper, now just a faded memory.

 

Lois Sabatino is a consultant in public relations, community relations, special events, fundraising and motivational training. She was the first female executive at United Technologies (now Raytheon). 

FEATURE

It’s All About Family

Ciccarelli siblings model their parents’ legacy of brotherly love

by Kathy Grey

Not since “The Waltons,” the 1972-81 TV series that symbolized family values, have we experienced seven siblings so impeccably groomed by their parents’ positive influence.

         

Meet Kathy, Debi, Ray, Kim, Paul, Gaynell and Jill, the offspring of Frank and Joan Ciccarelli, who filled their Buffalo, New York home with seven children from the 1950s to the 1960s.

         

In family memories shared by Ciccarelli sisters Jill Rapps and Kim Kantor, the words “sacred” and “dedicated” come to mind. That’s what parents Frank and Joan most wanted for their children. And it’s a legacy the seven Ciccarelli siblings live by.

Although Frank and Joan have passed, their legacy lives on. It’s about being open hearted with everyone the seven siblings encounter, from extended family and friends to employees, clients and people they might have just met.      

What’s remarkable is that Frank came from a broken family, Kim says, noting that he joined the Army so that he could get an education through the GI Bill. He returned from service and went to college. But the military called him back, redrafting him into service. Frank quit school and served his country again. But because of a glitch in the military system, he returned home to learn that his military education funding had been lost.

Undaunted, Frank moved forward and signed up for night school. Brilliant in math and an entrepreneur at heart, Frank formed an investment company that would ultimately employ 350 people in western New York and California. He did all this while supporting his wife and family.

Before Frank sold the business in 1970, Kim and her brothers, Ray and Paul, loved going to their dad’s office, absorbing everything they could in their budding entrepreneurial minds.

Joan, the family’s nurturer and caregiver, had an infectious laugh and spirit, bringing humor home and seeing the beauty in the simplest things.

“If I wasn’t her daughter,” Kim reflects, “this was a person I would have chosen as a friend.”

Joan was known for her “happy day” gifts, thoughtful gestures and surprises she would bestow on her family. It’s a tradition Kim and Jill carry forward to this day.

For Frank and Joan, family was their steadfast priority, and despite their differences in age, the children bonded and remain best friends.

Frank, known as “Poppy” to his kids, would invite any of his children facing a life issue to a breakfast that would last into the evening. They call the sessions “Poppathons.”

“He was so good at opening up people’s visions and helping them see the opportunities before them,” Jill recalls.

“Our dad opened up our worlds,” says Kim.

The parents instilled in each of their children a deep faith in God and family, also teaching them that the only constant in life is change, and that challenges were opportunities that only needed to be thought through.

“He addressed change in a very positive way,” Jill says. “We learned to see change as opportunity.”

The parents knew what interested each of their children and supported them, encouraging and stimulating their passions.

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7 Ciccarelli siblings (Jill, Ray, Gaynell, Kim, Debi, Paul and Kathy)

“Our dad said it was a sin not to use your talent,” Kim remembers.

Family always came first, and the Ciccarelli children learned that “home is anywhere we make it,” Kim muses.

The parents vacationed in different places with their children each summer until they visited Chautauqua in upstate New York, a place infused with culture, recreation and enlightenment. The family would return to Chautauqua every summer.

         

“It was all about being together,” Jill says.

And it continues to be. The Ciccarelli children still convene in Chautauqua whenever possible.

         

Of course, the family endured tragedies, too. When Jill was 2 and Kim was 8, their mother was involved in a serious car accident that kept her hospitalized for four months. At the same time, one of their sisters was being treated for cancer in another hospital and would sneak out of her room to visit Joan in the other hospital. As Frank juggled his business and being at his wife’s side, the children were cared for by extended family until Joan was well enough to return home. But due to her injuries, she couldn’t speak for a year.

         

“Can you imagine having seven kids and not being able to talk?” Jill asks. “It was a very challenging time,” she says, one that cemented the bond that keeps the Ciccarellis together. 

         

Frank and Joan moved to Naples with their youngest children in 1977, and all would follow, eventually. Though Ray lives in Rochester, he owns a Naples condo.

         

As their parents’ health declined in their later years, the children worked collaboratively on their behalf.

         

“Once we decided on a course, we all got behind it,” Jill says, with Kim adding, “Working like that has made us even closer.”

         

Because end-of-life decisions often create great stress, family collaboration is a strategy they foster in their business, Ciccarelli Advisory Services. With offices in Naples and Rochester, the company provides estate planning and wealth management services.

         

Not every Ciccarelli kid went into the financial sector like Ray, Kim, Paul and Jill. Kathy’s passion was education. Debi was all about the arts and was instrumental in forming what is now the United Arts Council. Gaynell owned Absolute Physical Therapy in Naples and founded the annual SpelLife wellness conference with Jill.

         

It’s “all in the family” for the Ciccarelli clan, who developed leadership skills, thanks to their parents. Each one of them values family first: supporting, working, traveling and spending time together. They are living their best lives and instill those values in everyone around them, investing in their communities and encouraging others to do so.  

“Our deepest drive is to let other families thrive and build their own legacies,” Jill says, noting that the seeds of brotherly love were planted years ago by Frank and Joan.

“We were raised in a very healthy family environment,” Kim says.

“Our parents always presented a united front,” Jill says. “I’m grateful for that every day.”

Frank and Joan in Naples

EMOTIONAL HEALING

A Place to Grieve

Valerie’s House families unite to help each other

by Nina Mendes

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Morely women: Caprice, Veronica and Coral Morley

Veronica Morley knows what it’s like to grow up without a father. Her dad died when she was a teenager.

Veronica is now a mother of two daughters and is walking a new part of her grief journey with them. 

Veronica is a Valerie’s House-Naples caregiver, grieving the loss of her husband. He died suddenly of unexpected heart complications in August 2016. She and her two teenage daughters, Coral and Caprice, have been attending group night since 2017 to grieve their loss.

“Valerie’s House has been a saving grace to my family,” Veronica says. “I do know what it feels like to grieve as a child, and Valerie’s House has become my safe space. It’s a place where I can openly be a widow.”

After the loss of her husband, Veronica began to withdraw from her friends and family. Valerie’s House has given her and her children a place to freely talk about their grief and express their emotions. Veronica is grateful that her girls will not have to feel alone in their grief the way she did as a child. 

“One of the first experiences my daughters had at Valerie’s House was realizing that this happens to a lot of people. That alone was a huge relief,” Veronica says. “It’s important for them to know they are not the only ones going through this.”

Veronica strives to keep the memory of her husband alive by talking about him and honoring his life. Coral and Caprice also have yearly traditions to remember their father. Their favorite is when they release balloons with notes attached to them on his birthday and on the day he died.

“When my husband died, my foundation was moved from under my feet, and it felt like I was in quicksand,” Veronica says. “I tell my girls that life is not supposed to be easy, but life is full of happy moments. Valerie’s House has encouraged us to be strong and to keep on going.”

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Caprice and Coral with their father

November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month, and no child should be alone in his or her grief. The mission of Valerie’s House is to help children and families work through the loss of a loved one so they can go on to live fulfilling lives. To learn more, visit www.ValeriesHouse.org.

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CAREGIVERS' MONTH

Caring for the Caregivers

NAMI Collier County offers support for people seeking help for their loved ones

by Kathy Grey

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Patty DeMauro and her husband, Dennis

Patty DeMauro; her son, Frankie; and her husband, Dennis, were living in Ohio when, in his late teens, Frankie started acting out. He stole things. He became involved with drugs and alcohol. He was in jail for a year and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was only 20, and it would change all of their lives.

Frankie is now 38, living independently in Naples, not far from his mother and stepfather, who own Patty’s Apparel, also in Naples.

He has been medication compliant for five years. It’s a hard-earned victory for Frankie and for his family.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize and honor caregivers, whether they care for parents, children, family or beloved friends.

It is also a time to raise awareness about the issues caregivers face, to inform the community and to grow caregiver support.

“Not having family here is tough,” says DeMauro. “Whether they’re doing well or not, when you’re a caregiver, (the worry is) always there.”

She found the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Naples and bonded with the late Kathryn Hunter, then its CEO. Hunter provided the advice DeMauro needed to navigate the complexities of Southwest Florida’s mental health resources.

Advocating for Frankie was a long and difficult process that took its toll on DeMauro, who was juggling her son’s care as the family business took off.

“Frankie is our priority,” she says. “You have to push.” And push hard they did.

According to mayoclinic.org, about one in three U.S. adults provides care to other adults.

That’s why NAMI Collier County provides its Family/Caregiver Support Group at the Sarah Ann Drop-In Center in Naples.

Starting as one of the group’s members, Marcy Aizenshtat is the NAMI-certified facilitator of the group.

“I had been a caregiver for many decades,” Aizenshtat says about caring for her daughter who was diagnosed at age 13 and is now 52. “And I thought, caregivers are most in need of care.”

Gifted with the ability to redirect negative energy into positive, Aizenshtat was asked to take a more active role. She was certified in accordance with NAMI’s guidelines and appointed as the facilitator of the Family/Caregiver Support Group.  

Despite COVID restrictions and not being able to meet in person for some time, the twice-monthly group “emerged victoriously,” she says. “We zero in on each other to hear from each other.”

Occasionally, a gifted caregiver and pianist takes to the keys in the meetings, providing therapeutic music for the caregivers, who, by extension, bring that healing to the loved ones they care for.

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Marcy Aizenshtat

“It’s a really wonderful group,” Aizenshtat says. “We have such love for each other, and we sprinkle humor into everything, because if we don’t laugh, we cry.

“If you need support to know that you’re not alone,” Aizenshtat implores, “please come.”

The NAMI Family/Caregiver Support Group gathers from 6:30-8 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month at NAMI’s Sarah Ann Drop-In center. All caregivers are welcome. To learn more, visit www.namicollier.org/family.

EXPERT ADVICE

Improving and Maintaining Healthy Looking Skin

Tips for the best daily skincare regimen

by Kiran Gill, M.D.

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Healthy, naturally beautiful skin is evidenced by characteristics of tone, texture, moisture, firmness and smoothness.

These attributes can be achieved using gentle — yet effective — daily products that clean, moisturize and protect (with SPF).

To improve skin irregularities such as wrinkles, discoloration and crepiness, simply add in an activating treatment such as retinol, peptide or vitamin C.

If you’re not sure what’s right for you, ask your board-certified plastic surgeon for a skin consultation and a customized daily skincare regimen.

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FYI: FOR YOUR INSPIRATION

Mindful Musing

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“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

 

— Jane Howard

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EXPLORING THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Exploring Southwest Florida’s Iconic Beauty

Take a hike at CREW, here in our own backyard

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Guides lead a program at CREW’s popular Flint Pen Strand. courtesy CREW volunteers

It’s “National Take a Hike Day,” and what better place to explore the majesty of Florida’s own backyard than along the numerous trails at CREW Land & Water Trust?

CREW’s 2021-22 season highlights a Strolling Science Seminar, the hidden stories of trees and Dr. Bernie Master’s guided birding walks at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp.

Many regional newcomers (and some longtime residents) might not be familiar with CREW, the private, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. The watershed stores and filters water, enhancing the local water supply, reducing the risk of flooding in surrounding areas and providing essential wildlife habitat for many species of plants and animals.

Founded in 1989, CREW, also provides quality environmental education programs for all ages. Its recently released 2021-2022 season schedule can be found below.

Guided Walks

Guided Walks are suitable for beginner to advanced levels, based on distance. They are offered on select dates from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. November into March/April.

 

•  First Tuesdays at CREW Marsh trails, 4600 Corkscrew Road (CR 850), Immokalee. Suitable for beginners.

Third Tuesdays at CREW Cypress Dome trails, 3980 Corkscrew Road (CR 850), Immokalee. Suitable for beginners.

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The region’s snowy egret is a favorite find at Flint Pen Strand. courtesy CREW volunteers

Wednesdays at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail, 1295 Shady Hollow Blvd., Naples. Suitable for beginners.

 

Thursdays, December through April at CREW Flint Pen Strand trails, 15970 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs. Suitable for beginners.

 

Weekdays: Hike the Loop at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail, 1295 Shady Hollow Blvd., Naples. Suitable for more advanced hikers.

 

Strolling Science Seminars

These scholarly walks are best suited to guests 18 years and older. Price is $30 per CREW Trust Member and $40 per nonmember. For time, location, event description and to purchase tickets, visit crewtrust.org/events.

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Hikers might just spot an alligator along Bird Rookery Swamp. courtesy Anthony Eugenio

Dec. 6: Panther Outreach
Panther Outreach Specialist Ashlee O’Connor of Fish & Wildlife Conservation guides a thoughtful walk into the woods that panthers call home.

 

January 24: The Stories Trees Tell

Brenda Thomas, FGCU faculty member and CREW trustee, leads a storytelling session about the trees of CREW.

 

March 4: Herping the CREW Land

Local ecologist and herpetologist Shane Johnson present the herpetofauna (herps) of Southwest Florida through a walk in the CREW lands.

 

April 8: When Bugs & Plants Collide

Julie Motkowicz, CREW Trust education coordinator (and self-proclaimed plant/bug nerd) leads a scholarly walk and talk about the interactions between the plants and bugs of Southwest Florida.

 

Special Walks and Tours

 

March 11: Birding with Dr. Bernie Master

March 21: Birding with Dr. Bernie Master

March 26: Spring Wildflower Walk with Roger Hammer

 

To learn more about CREW, event information, registration and tickets, visit crewtrust.org/events.