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It Takes a Village

Working together for a healthy community

Though the exact origin is unknown, many people believe that the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” began in communal African or Native American cultures.

In this chapter, we focus not only on the child, but the essence of coming together as a community.

Julie Clay brings us the story of Ruth Orange, who reaped the benefits of a caring community upbringing and returned to not only invest and support in it, but to share the experience with her own children.

In this chapter, Lee Health experts guide us through recognizing stress in children, we present a look inside Valerie’s House, where no child grieves alone and the Community Foundation of Collier County shares the genesis and effectiveness of its Collier Comes Together relief funds.

In recognition of Grandparents’ Day (which should be celebrated every day), our readers share insights into their most cherished relationships, and as September is Save Your Photos Month, Tech Talk columnist Heather Hall offers tips on storing our most treasured images.

As much as it takes a village to raise a child, all of us working together creates a healthy community.

 
 
 
 
 

FEATURE

Coming Full Circle in Naples

Ruth Orange, Esq. reflects upon — and serves — her earliest learning environment

by Julie Clay

Naples attorney Ruth Damys Orange is living a full life as both a professional working mom and as a student studying for her third college degree. But one aspect of her life has already come full circle.

Orange grew up in Naples Manor, the daughter of Haitian immigrants who arrived in America in the early 1980s. In the early ’90s, Orange was a preschool student at Naples’ Fun Time Early Childhood Academy. Now, some 30 years later, Orange is a member of its board of directors.

“I don’t think I learned English until I went to Fun Time,” she says. “It definitely contributed to my being able to communicate in this country.”

Not long ago, she went through some documents at her parents’ home and came across one of her Fun Time assessments. The visual reminder strengthened her resolve to contribute to the school that had impacted her life — and now her children’s lives.

Being busy balancing motherhood and her practice, Orange had lost track of Fun Time, and her children were at another preschool. But they were often sick and suffering skin problems in an unhealthy environment.

“I had spent so much time going to emergency rooms with my son. He was getting sick and had breakouts all over his body,” she says.

Her cousin suggested Fun Time as an alternative, and Orange was delighted to discover that the preschool she remembered was still around and conveniently located. She toured the facility and was impressed by its sanitary environment, complete with laundry rooms and a pristine kitchen.

“They told us how they buy brand-new mats, blankets and pillows for the kids every single year. ‘Sanitary to the T’ was what got me.”

In 2009, Fun Time moved to its permanent home across from Baker Park, but when Orange attended, it operated in portables outside downtown Naples.

“I started right before turning 3,” she remembers. These days, there are kids at Fun Time whose parents were her classmates and friends.

Ultimately, Orange graduated from the University of South Florida in 2009 and headed to Texas to study law, where she earned a Juris Doctor at Southern University Law School and a master’s in tax law at the University of Houston Law Center. Orange then returned to Naples to start her practice.

Ruth Orange, Esq.

“My parents owned several investment properties. I always saw my dad with a briefcase. When I was 9 years old, I told him I was going to be an attorney so he wouldn’t have to hire one,” she recalls.

Orange’s son graduated from Fun Time last year. Her daughter graduated in May. With both kids in elementary school, the timing was perfect for her to pursue her own education goals, attending nursing school full-time to become a legal nurse consultant, taking on medical malpractice cases. She admits she’s taking a longer route, but says it’s all worth it.

Orange hopes to contribute to Fun Time’s board from her personal experience as an alumna and experienced Fun Time parent. She looks forward to getting Fun Time’s name out in the community with the upcoming Safari Gala in February and Give Where You Live.

She pauses to reflect.

“Your kid can be anything or anyone they set their mind and their heart out to be,” she says. “I’m living proof.”

 

Julie Clay is a radio broadcasting professional and writer who has been contributing to area publications for more than 15 years.

CHAPTER 53

READERS WEIGH IN

It’s Grand to be Grand!

Grandparents reflect on special relationships with their “littles”

There’s a special bond between grandchildren and grandparents that only they can understand. To honor Grandparent’s Day — something we think should be every day of the year — our readers weigh in on the special bonds they have with their grands.

Seeing our world through the eyes of our grandchildren allows us to celebrate with them where they are, guide them forward by sharing wisdom from our lives and relive the beauty of our lives through experiences in their lives. ~ Sue Ryan

Being a grandparent is a unique bond. I watch my son as I play with his daughter and now newborn son just like I did with him and his sister, and see him smiling, remembering his childhood and how grand it was. When his second baby was born just a few weeks ago, he asked me to help explain to his daughter about being the oldest, because I was, and he was. I told her, (and it was) exactly how she felt. She was like, “You do?” ~ Sally Wilson

 

It was a sleepover at the grandchildren’s home. Almost before dawn and before parents or puppies had greeted the day, I was awakened by the sound of Katharine’s tiny bare feet pounding down the hall. Then there was an excited leap up onto the bed. She burrowed into the covers, and it was time for morning stories. Then, I heard the purposeful, tiny feet of Jack, her little brother. He scrambled into the pile of covers and burrowed in with, “Mimi, tell us a story.”  So much love and joyful little spirits in an old antique bed. Delicious memories. ~ Jo Ann B. Ward

I didn’t have children, so grands were not on my life expectations in later years. I now have eight grands through a second marriage and everything they do and say is absolutely brilliant. “Grammy Pat” loves them unconditionally. ~ Patricia Wheeler

We have a needlepoint pillow, found in the Shelter Options Thrift Shop, that says, “Had I known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first!” ~ Jackie Kupper

My greatest joy is being Nana to my amazing tribe of granddaughters and one grandson. In the COVID world, my weekly Nana Zoom call has connected me with my tribe in ways never anticipated. We are making the best of COVID in unexpected and most fulfilling ways. ~ Diana Riley

My husband and I went to visit our precious 21-month-old granddaughter. As we walked in the door, we saw her tiny face light up with a squeal, running to us as fast as her chubby little legs could go. Scooching to the floor, I flung open my arms for the joyous hug only to have her run right past me, shouting, “Papa, Papa!” I admit I was a bit deflated, but watching my husband scoop her up into his arms filled my heart with joy. ~ Kaydee Tuff

I never knew I could love another human being as much as I loved my own children … until I became a grandparent. The very first moment I held him in my arms, and he looked up and our eyes met, I was instantly in love and connected to this very precious little man. One of the best parts about being a grandparent is the fun you get to have and the spoiling you get to do. It’s a wonderful experience.  Life comes full circle. The gift of life you gave to your children they, in turn, give back to you with their children. I am very blessed. ~ Cheri Schwartz

Being a grandparent is one of the greatest joys of my life. One of my happiest days of the year is a tradition started 5 years ago when we moved to a home where the entire backyard is a walk-through garden. We decided to have an annual Easter Egg Hunt with all six of our grands: Quinn, Reagan, Blake, Bentley, Bella and Pearl. It is magical tradition! ~ Marsha Litsinger

COMING TOGETHER

Giving Rise to Hope

No child grieves alone at Valerie’s House

by Kathy Grey

Angela Melvin, Photo Credit: Megan DiPiero

Valerie’s House also introduced “Val’s Pals,” a program that matches grieving children with adult mentors who, themselves, suffered devastating losses as children.

As its programs and reach expand, Melvin says, “The future will be going wherever the need is … to areas without resources … day in and day out for children left to walk the journey of grief alone.”

Melvin faced the loss of her own mother by talking about it, “getting the grief out” and sharing memories.

She asks that young people suffering the loss of a parent, sibling or significant loved one start the healing journey at Valerie’s House.

“There’s no cost. Please reach out,” she implores. “It takes a lot of courage, (but) it’s important to find a sense of community while you’re grieving so you don’t do it alone.”

Still, the apprehension, the “not knowing,” can be intimidating for some.

The mission of Valerie’s House is to help children and families work through the loss of a loved one together and go on to live fulfilling lives.

“Our vision is that no child will grieve alone,” says Angela Melvin, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization with locations in Fort Myers and Naples, and serving the communities of Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte and Pensacola. Melvin knows the heartbreak of this grief intimately. Her mother, Valerie, the organization’s namesake, was killed in a car accident in Fort Myers when Melvin was just 10 years old.

Valerie’s House is a shining example of community coming together to care for its own — most specifically, children and teens grieving the loss of a parent, caregiver or sibling.

“It started with an idea in my head,” Melvin says. “I told a few people and it spread.”

It spread throughout Southwest Florida, with individuals and companies contributing time, talent and treasure to make the idea a reality and calling on the services of volunteers to board members. (This includes board chair Mike McMurry, whose own father died when he was young. Melvin says he’s the best board chair she’s ever met.)

Valerie’s House grew from a single group meeting in 2016 with 20 kids to its current Florida locations hosting three group meetings a night. That adds up to 30 to 40 groups for grieving children held every week, serving 1,000 parents and children in just one year.

As Valerie’s House expanded, some of its volunteers became employees — some giving up longtime careers in order to support the needs of young people in the most tumultuous times of their lives. That’s what Melvin did, too, parting from a career in journalism to create Valerie’s House, her life’s passion — a dream that grew from her own catastrophic loss.

The primary focus of Valerie’s House is on children, Melvin says, because they grieve very differently than adults.

“Inside they’re crumbling,” Melvin says of young people suffering such loss. “With children, we know that the most influential way you can help is by taking care of the person who’s caring for them,” she continues. “There are families who lost a child, and the siblings want to talk about that loss — and the loss for their parents, too.”

 

Valerie’s House has a special group for men in their 30s and 40s who lost a life partner. “It was never expected,” Melvin says. “They were not prepared, and they need help from each other.”

Angela Melvin holds the Group Rules sign, reviewed before every group session. The last rule (not pictured here) reads, “It is OK to cry.”

“It’s hard to walk through these doors,” Melvin acknowledges. “There’s disbelief that this happened to them. They are afraid to open up and where that would lead.”

But in one or two sessions, Melvin hopes those who step inside Valerie’s House will have found an extended family with whom they can evolve, persevere and ultimately help others who are enduring unimaginable loss, because as she says, “Their hearts are wide open.”

Melvin views the future of Valerie’s House as something that doesn’t belong to her. Looking far into the future, she envisions that her successor will have found healing at Valerie’s House, emphasizing, “This belongs to the families and community well beyond my lifetime.”

To learn more, visit www.ValeriesHouse.org.

Valerie’s House: Beliefs about Grief

To help guide families through their journeys of grief, Valerie’s House refers to the Six Needs of Mourning and the Four Tasks of Grieving. These guidelines, with insight from mental health professionals and the nonprofit’s own experiences with grieving families, helped inform Valerie’s House’s following beliefs about grief:

• Each person has the capacity to heal.

• Grief is individual.

• Grief is personal.

• There is no timeline for grieving.

• Grief comes in waves.

• You don’t just get over grief; you learn to live with it.

KIDS' HEALTH

Stress in Children

Signs, symptoms and strategies caregivers should know about

by Sandra Mills, pediatric psychologist, Lee Physician Group Pediatric Behavioral Health

We all live in a time of increased stress — our world as we know it has undergone a drastic shift — and our children are not immune to the impact. Like adults, many kids are struggling right now.

Children absorb feelings going on around them. They notice when their parents or caregivers are stressed and may react to our emotional states. However, they don’t always have the emotional intelligence or vocabulary to express themselves and they lack an understanding of what is truly happening. To them, it just feels different, uncomfortable, unpredictable and downright scary.

The best thing we can do is to tune into their emotional or behavioral cues to provide support and guidance in these turbulent times. 

Stress in children can manifest as changes in their typical behavior. Each age/stage may show this differently. Toddlers and young school-age children often show their emotional stress in physical ways. Complaints of their tummies hurting is a common reaction.

This has some truth to it. When we are stressed, our bodies make chemicals that have physical effects. We call this the fight or flight reaction, a surge of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Additionally, stress lowers the pain threshold. A hypersensitive nervous system sends signals up the spine and relays pain signals to the brain when a child is stressed.

Children ages 4 through 6 years old under stress might show signs of regression. For instance, children who have been successfully potty-trained may wet the bed again or have accidents. They may have trouble paying attention to you. They may have temper tantrums and separation anxiety. Battles about eating and bedtime may be recurring.

Children ages 7 through 9 may be more aware of the unusual times we find ourselves in. They may have fears for their own health. They may also fear for their families because, developmentally, they are gaining the ability to consider another’s perspective. It could present as worries about their grandparents. They may release their fears as anger or irritability. This state of being on edge is part of our hard-wired fight or flight response.

Tweens, ages 10 through 12, are in that uniquely tenuous stage of late elementary school and middle school, which is stressful enough without a worldwide pandemic. Adding to the stress are the challenges of virtual learning, homework expectations, less access and guidance from teachers and the requirement to be self-directed. Children in this age group may also be less likely to talk about their worries and fears, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Teenagers, age 13 and up, struggle with multiple issues. High school is a time when peers and their support are often more important than family. Due to the pandemic, they have lost important rites of passage: prom, graduation, college visits or their last years of sports and other activities.

As a result, the sense of isolation is leading to irritability, sleeping all day and up all night, breaking curfew and social distancing rules, depression, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and increased anxiety. In some ways, teens may be feeling trapped by spending more time with the family. Developmentally, they are ready to gain independence to move on.

Many teens are reporting a loss of energy, apathy, losing interest in previously enjoyed activities and overall low mood. Parents may notice their child withdrawing from the family. Stress may also take the form of abandoning friendships or hostility towards family members. 

Stress is often not a familiar term for children. It could be that they express distress with words like worried, confused, annoyed or angry. Sometimes, it comes across in what they say about themselves or the situation. This can include negative self-talk such as “I’m dumb,” or “nothing is fun anymore.”

Adults can make a significant difference for stressed children by providing safety, empathy, structure, age-appropriate information, comfort and guidance.

When children use negative self-talk, don’t just disagree. Ask them to really think about whether what they say is true or remind them of times they worked hard and improved. Learning to frame things positively will help them develop resilience to stress.

If you see that something seems to be bothering a child, say so, and name the feeling you think your child may be having in that moment. Make it in the form of an observation rather than an accusation, which suggests that you want to hear more about your child’s concern.

Ask what is wrong, then be patient and open. Avoid the urge to judge, lecture or advise them of what they should be doing. Feeling heard and understood helps the child feel supported.

For younger children without a broad emotional vocabulary, teach them to label what they might be feeling, which allows them to learn better how to communicate with you. This emotional awareness can be key to avoiding behavioral meltdowns, where feelings are expressed as behaviors rather than with words.

It’s important to model healthy coping. Caregivers can talk with children about how they’ve thought about and dealt with their own stressful situations.

Let kids be problem-solvers. When parents swoop in to solve every little glitch, their children don’t have a chance to learn healthy coping skills. Let your children try to solve their low-stakes problems on their own, and they’ll gain confidence that they can deal with stressors and setbacks.

Promote media literacy. Today’s kids spend a lot of time online, where they can run into questionable content, cyberbullying or the peer pressures of social media. Parents can help by teaching their children to be savvy digital consumers and by limiting screen time.

The American Psychological Association provides the following tips for managing stress:

  • Experts recommend nine to 12 hours of sleep a night for 6- to 12-year-olds. Teens need eight to 10 hours a night. To protect shut-eye, limit screen use at night, and avoid keeping digital devices in the bedroom.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes a day of exercise activity for children ages 6 to 17.

  • Talking about stressful situations with a trusted adult can help kids and teens put things in perspective and find solutions.

  • Make time for fun — and quiet. Also, while some children thrive bouncing from one activity to the next, others need more downtime. Find a healthy balance between favorite activities and free time.

  • Spending time in nature is an effective way to relieve stress and improve overall well-being.

  • Studies find that expressing oneself in writing can help reduce mental distress and improve well-being. For example, writing about positive feelings can ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • A study of a five-week mindfulness training found that teens who learned mindfulness experienced significantly less mental distress than teens who did not.

It’s OK to feel like you’re not the expert on children’s mental health. Nobody gave out an instructional booklet on parenting during a pandemic. Therapy is an option that many families find helpful. Kids are being seen both via telehealth and in person with safety protocols in place.

Sometimes having a professional provide the space to discuss what they’re feeling may be the lifeline they need right now.

Sandra Mills is a pediatric psychologist for Lee Physician Group Pediatric Behavioral Health. Lee Health has a team of dedicated professionals at Pediatric Behavioral Health clinic to help kids navigate their stress and develop tools and coping skills to feel better. For information, call 239-343-6050.

FYI: FOR YOUR INSPIRATION

Mindful Musing

“The truth is that it does take a village … a community of families working, playing, cooperating and facing obstacles together.”

 

~ Oliver DeMille, American author, educator and public speaker

 

COMMUNITY CARE

Philanthropic First Responders

The Community Foundation of Collier County is there to help in troubling times

by Cindi Withorn, Community Foundation of Collier County

Community Foundation of Collier County fund distributions helped food pantries like St. Matthew’s and Our Daily Bread meet the exponentially growing food demand.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring: a Category 5 hurricane, an emerging drug epidemic or a mass casualty event?

That was the question Community Foundation President/CEO Eileen Connolly-Keesler asked in 2017, when she and a county official brought several partners together to discuss how local leaders should prepare — philanthropically — for a natural or human-made disaster. Two weeks later, on Sept. 10, Hurricane Irma roared ashore at Marco Island, and Collier Comes Together was ready to respond with emergency relief funds. Being ready to react quickly to Irma’s widespread disruption was a valuable lesson.

“We don’t know what the next crisis will be,” Connolly-Keesler says. “But when it comes up, you can’t move fast enough. And we know they are going to continue to crop up. They won’t just stop.”

Indeed, Irma proved to be a warmup. The Community Foundation has established four emergency Collier Comes Together relief funds totaling $3.9 million in the past four years:

  • 2017 - Hurricane Irma: $2,202,113

  • 2018 - Red Tide: $82,500

  • 2020 - Golden Gate Wildfires: $20,200

  • 2020 - Coronavirus Relief: $1,644,000

Connolly-Keesler often says that the Community Foundation is the community’s philanthropic first responder and convener, spearheading the charge through collaboration and leadership. The Community Foundation hastened its trustees to establish the latest Collier Comes Together fund since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. They also issued a matching grant challenge that provided NCH Healthcare System with more than $273,000 for protective gear and sanitizing robots in the pandemic’s earliest days.

The foundation then collaborated with Naples Children & Education Foundation, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and the United Way of Collier and the Keys to identify priority needs, streamline assistance and reduce duplication. They became known locally as “the philanthropic four,” meeting weekly through the end of the year to continue meeting the community’s greatest needs.

An application to serve the community’s most vulnerable populations was created in a three-way partnership — the Community Foundation, Naples Children & Education Foundation and Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation. Launched in April, the Community Application for Resources and Emergency Services (Collier CARES) is a free, bilingual mobile and web app that connects residents in need with essential resources and services.

The Community Foundation also managed $10.5 million in public funding designated to distribute $5.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding in Collier County and another $5 million in tightly restricted American Rescue Plan Act funds. The foundation used its cash reserves to expedite funding to eligible food banks and food pantries while simplifying the application process.

With a visionary lens polished through past experiences, the foundation is leading the charge to create a $2.5 million Community Crisis and Disaster Relief Fund as part of its new "Your passion. Your Collier” capital campaign. The fund is unrestricted to enable the Community Foundation board to act at a moment’s notice for sudden disasters that lead to mass job losses, shuttered businesses, medical-system strains and mass casualties.

The complete $15.5 million "Your passion. Your Collier” campaign tackles six fields of significant concern identified in a comprehensive community survey: mental health and substance abuse; housing and hunger; education and employment; seniors and veterans; environment and accessibility; and crisis and disaster relief.

We are living in unprecedented times, but the Foundation began planning its Community Crisis and Disaster Relief Fund long before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has laid bare pressing community issues. Why wouldn’t an affluent coastal community — vulnerable to hurricanes, red tide, wildfires, global pandemics and other crises — plan ahead?

“What we need is money set aside so we can react to it on Day 1 and not Day 30,” says Connolly-Keesler. 

 

For the past 36 years, the Community Foundation of Collier County has been connecting people who care to causes that matter, growing its charitable legacies and funding nonprofit organizations to improve the quality of life in Collier County.

Design a Philanthropic Plan for Your Charitable Priorities

 

Meet with the CFCC team to design a philanthropic plan that achieves your unique charitable priorities.

 

Together, we can make a positive impact on Collier County — both now and into the future. Learn more at cfcollier.org or call 239-649-5000.

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TECH TALK

Saving Precious Memories

Digital or not, there are many ways to store your cherished photos

by Heather Hall

Since photography was invented in 1826, humans have been capturing images and documenting history.

Although Generation Z will never know what it was like to process film in a dark room or wait for a roll to be developed at the corner store, we do know that they, too, enjoy the art of photography. In fact, thanks to the convenience of today’s technology, people are taking more photos than ever before.

September is “Save Your Photos” month, a worldwide effort to document and preserve your precious memories from a natural disaster or technical failure for future generations to enjoy, share and embrace heritage and history.

Since the invention of the smartphone and digital picture frame, photo albums have become a thing of the past, but my mother still loves to share her old-fashioned printed photo albums with us from time to time. It’s special, but if you want these treasures to last, you need to consider better protection for printed photos.

It's most important to avoid extreme temperatures, humidity and light when storing them, because these conditions destroy snapshots over time. Thus, photos should be kept in dark, climate-controlled spaces, in containers that are acid- and lignin-free.

If you’re a person who just tosses pictures in a box, make sure you use one that does not have dyes, recycled material or plastic. (Archivists still don’t know how photographs react to plastic over years.) Finally, if you document the events and people in the photo, experts recommend using a separate index card or a pencil on the opposite side of the picture because it lasts longer than ink.

When it comes to good, old-fashioned photo prints, it never hurts to convert them to digital images by making scanned copies or using a photo scanning service. Taking the extra time to convert them will allow you to back them up. There are several techniques that I recommend:

  1. Copy photos to a USB flash drive or external hard drive and store in a fireproof safe.

  2. Utilize cloud services (Google Photos, iCloud, Dropbox).

Once you have a backup plan in place, have fun with your photos! After all, they don’t have to just sit on a hard drive or cloud server. You can share them with friends and family using social media, Google Photos, iCloud, AirDrop and Dropbox. You can also easily display them with Apple TV or Chromecast.

Digital frames have come a long way, and are easier to use now than ever. New models have Wi-Fi capability and an email address. Simply email photos to the frame and watch a slideshow of your memories come to life. Take it one step further and share the email address with family so that they, too, can send photos to your frame.

However you do it, there are many options for taking care of your treasured photographic images.

 

Former educator Heather Hall never imagined she’d be making one career of two passions: teaching and computers. She is the owner of Virtual Computer Service, (www.virtualcomputerservice.com), installing and implementing technology for residents and small businesses.