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HOMETOWN HERO

Full Bellies, Fuller Hearts

“Morning Mom” helps vulnerable kids start the day off right

What happens first thing in the morning when parents have kids in school? They get them up, make sure they’re dressed, have their backpacks filled with the right stuff and make sure they have a good breakfast.

But what happens when school kids live in an emergency shelter because they’ve been removed from a traumatic home situation? Who gives them breakfast, timed to coordinate with their individual bus schedules?

 

The answer at Youth Haven in Naples is Terri Robert.

For seven years, Robert has served as Youth Haven’s Morning Mom, getting the boys of its emergency shelter and Homeless Teen Shelter ready for school in the morning with a proper breakfast.

“Morning Mom was an idea that started around seven years ago,” says Youth Haven’s Associate Director of Development, Laura Lafakis. “When the children would wake up for school, the staff on duty were working to get kids properly dressed, teeth brushed, backpacks checked and together,” she explains.

“It was difficult adding ‘cooking a nutritious and healthy breakfast’ to that every morning, as well. In the boy’s cottage, we have beds for up to 29 kids, and at the time, we were almost always full. When we met Terri, she was a perfect fit and … we hired her to be our permanent Morning Mom.”

Robert enhances the quality of care so that each child has a positive start to the day.

“I nurture. I’m at that age. I’ve had kids, grandkids … I love to cook ...” But it doesn’t take long for her to express the underlying reason a full belly means so much to Youth Haven’s boys.

Terri Robert (right) is Youth Haven's Morning Mom. She is pictured here with Esperanza Velez, the organization's youth support specialist.

“These kids are all different. Some are traumatized. Some are sad. Some are rascals,” she says. Seeing them in the morning gives them a familiar face, breakfast and a chance to talk. “And that’s good for them,” she emphasizes.

She was making scrambled eggs and toast one day when a boy commented, “I never had breakfast. I lived in a car.”

And then there was the 8-year-old — one of nine children in his family — who came to her while she was cooking and said, “My mom doesn’t want me anymore.”

Despite the anguish, Robert knew she had to lighten the moment. “I told him, ‘Well, I love you! I’ll make you breakfast!’ I can do a lot of talking while I’m cooking breakfast,” she adds.

Each boy is different and has different needs, and “Ms. Terri” knows their likes and dislikes.

There are Muffin Mondays and Waffle Wednesdays, fun things the boys can count on and look forward to. 

“They still miss their moms or grandmothers,” Robert says. “I can’t save the world, but I can do this,” she says.

She started working at Youth Haven seven years ago, serving 26 boys in the cottage. The number of boys fluctuates, and currently the Morning Mom serves 13. The boys are all on different bus schedules, but she says it is manageable.

 

She arrives at Youth Haven Monday through Friday at 5:45 a.m. (“I get up at 4, anyway,” she says.) She checks the boys’ appointments and schedules and starts cooking right away, catering to each request till about 8:30. “I take my time, get to the boys and try to not be rushed.”

“Then I prep for lunch if anyone’s home or on break, and I leave by 11.” She helps other staff members from 9-10 a.m. with students who are studying remotely.

For years, Robert served as director of convention services in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She and her husband later had their own wine business until 2008. In semiretirement, she says she wanted to do something she loves.

“I love cooking and I love the kids. It can be a challenge sometimes,” she says of the behavioral complexities of the young people she serves, but she strives to leave the boys in a better emotional place than when she first met them.

“You want to help them in their development before they go to foster care or go back home,” she says. “And I do love it. They’re so good to me at Youth Haven.”

And Youth Haven is lucky to have the perfect Morning Mom.

“Now the kids wake up to the smells of breakfast cooking in the kitchen,” Lafakis says. “They walk out of their bedrooms and are greeted with the bright, cheerful face and voice of Terri … such an important figure in the lives of our children.”

A MOTHER'S IMPACT

Humor, Memories and Life Lessons

Precious perceptions and memories about our moms

We asked our readers to tell us about their mothers: their funniest and favorite mom memories, and things she taught them.

 

Below are just a few heartwarming responses that harken to Mother’s Day, celebrated this year on May 9. We hope these experiences will inspire you to contemplate and celebrate the mom you have, the one you had, or someone who was like a mother to you.

 

DONNA MESSER

Favorite memory: I grew up in New York. We walked everywhere, and as I became old enough to go to the store by myself, my mom would send me to our local deli to pick up Italian bread for dinner.

I couldn’t resist the warm, crusty feel and overpowering scent of freshly baked bread, so I would nibble on the end of the bread and then turn it over in the sleeve, thinking mom would never suspect what I’d done before I got home. 

Mom never said a word until many years later, when it somehow came up in conversation. She smiled and said, “Did you really think I didn’t know what you were doing when you went to the store to pick up Italian bread?” 

Thing my mom taught me: My mom taught me how to give. She modeled it and lived it. She gave indiscriminately, with no expectation of consideration in return. Her compassionate heart and devotion to others was magnanimous and selfless. She was my hero. 
 

NANCY SCHRANCK

Funniest thing: As my mom rocked our daughter, who was probably six months old at the time, I heard her say, “Now, don’t you worry, Trish, you are starting to look more like our side of the family every day.”

 

YESENIA BROWN

Funniest thing: My mom was not one to drink at all, but at her youngest sister’s wedding, my sister and I were drinking something sweet, but not very strong. My mother liked it, and every time we would walk by her with a full glass, she would take it from us. She was … dancing and laughing and very relaxed. 

My mother had a hard life growing up and being married to an abusive man. It was the first time we got to see a relaxed side of her.

 

PHYLLIS SOULIA
Two things my mom taught me: 1. If you look better, you’ll feel better. 2. Always put everything back where it belongs.

 

MICHELLE POWER

Favorite memory: How loving she was with her first grandchild with special needs. Nothing stood in the way of how she cared for him. She truly loved all her grandchildren. 

Thing my mom taught me: Be kind to everyone and anyone. 

SEAN CROKE

Favorite memory: My mom kept me home from elementary school one day, and we rented “Innerspace” on VHS. I’ll be 38 this month, and we still dance around to “Twistin’ the Night Away.”

 

SUE ANN MOREAU

Funniest thing: My mom dressed up for the Red Hats parade.  

 

Favorite memory: A weekend with all children and grandchildren in NYC for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Also, a photo of mom and dad together just before their 70th wedding anniversary.

Thing my mother taught me: Stay close to God in prayer with family and true friends.

ELYSEE MARSHALL

Funniest thing: I am the oldest girl of five. In my earliest memories of him, my younger brother, Mark, misbehaved often. Mom was strong on love, but weak on discipline. Mark was around 7 when I witnessed her first attempt at corporal punishment. She was chasing him through the house waving one of her Keds sneakers and shouting, “You’ll meet your Waterloo with me!” (Mom never did hit Mark with her shoe, although she could easily outrun any 7-year-old.)

I did not know where Waterloo was until my first trip to Europe in my 30s. As I passed the battlefield in Belgium, I marveled at what a scenic place that was for Mom and Mark to meet. Mom is now 91, and I feel fortunate that her love always outweighed her anger, no matter what misdeed my siblings or I committed.

 

DR. ANN RASMUSSEN

Thing my mom taught me: Forty-five years ago, my mother moved here from the Philippines. With hard work, she earned her MBA and built a life to be proud of. Even today, she inspires me, not only with her career success, but also with her love, grace and daily acts of kindness. She’s a true role model for her children and grandchildren.

 

KATHY GREY

Thing my mom taught me: How to sew — by hand and on the machine.

Favorite memory: When I was a kid struggling to learn French, my mom would quiz me after dinner. “How do you say spoon?” (Cuiller.) “Let’s do the dishes.” (Faisons la vaisselle.) “Salt and pepper.” (Sel et poivre.)


My mom is not French nor is she conversational in the language, but she was determined to get me over the language hurdle. In time, I became pretty darn proficient in French.

 

DANALYN CAHILL

Thing my mom taught me: Believe in the good in people.

 

ALETA RANDALL

Favorite memory: Seeing her teach a yoga class; she was the first yoga teacher to ever teach in Boulder, in the 60s.

 

JAYNE OLSON

Funniest thing: My mother always said “Gott im Himmel” when she was mad. We thought she was swearing at us, but it means “God in Heaven” in German. Eventually, we caught on.

 

MARSHA LITSINGER

Things my mom taught me: Her work ethic. Also, that anything worth doing is worth doing well. And, one of her favorite quotes: “Lots of hands make quick work.”

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TECH TALK

The Pros and Cons of Browser Syncing

by Heather Hall

Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera and Safari are popular browsing applications that get you to the internet.

Research, shopping, banking and email are just a few things we do on a daily basis, and if you are busy like me, you try to do these things as quickly as possible.

Bookmarks brings you to your favorite websites with one click. Auto-fill is super convenient. Your browser allows you to save your passwords, name, address, email address and even your credit card numbers, so the computer does the work for you each time you need to enter this information into an online form.

If you depend on the computer to remember your personal info, you may want to enable browser syncing.

The moment you sign in and sync the browser (upper right corner) you now have cloud back up of your browser settings, including your sensitive information.

Conveniently, you can mirror one computer browser settings with another computer or device. This is practical for seasonal Floridians who have two or more computers. Furthermore, if a hard drive crash occurs, your settings will appear as soon as you sign into your account again. 

  

On the other hand, this could be a nightmare if your computer or device gets stolen. Changing your stored passwords and credit card information would be required.

Second, never sign into a browser to sync on a public computer, such as the public library or your clubhouse.

Third, always have good security software installed and enable the browser add-in so it protects your surfing from malware. 

Finally, never let anyone connect to your computer remotely — ever.

Always remember that hackers are pressuring people continuously to allow remote access to your computer to steal your information and money. 

 

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 Services, installing and implementing technology for residents and small businesses.

FEATURE

Motherhood 2021

Amid pandemic pressure, moms need a break now more than ever

by Pamela Hayford

The pandemic upended family life. Some changes were gut-wrenching: lost income, lost lives and the grieving of normalcy.

Yet some changes enlightened us. Our packed schedules gave way to casual walks through the neighborhood or coloring together at the kitchen table. Some of us took up hobbies or made box forts with our kids.

Chelsea Clementi, a Southwest Florida mother of two, ages 2 and 4, had some rough days.

“Many of my Zoom calls happened while my 2-year-old was sitting on my lap or crying for snacks,” she says. Pre-pandemic, she worked from home part time while the kids went to preschool in the morning.

When the pandemic hit, preschool closed. Luckily, her clients were understanding, and her husband stepped up whenever possible. There were bright spots. She potty-trained her daughter and taught her to swim.

“We used all our Amazon boxes to build a box fort city that took up our entire playroom and extended into the hallway.”

Before the pandemic, it appeared moms were crushing it. With most moms working full time, we had become an important part of the economy. More of us had college degrees than our parents’ generation. Our spouses were doing more housework and child care than ever before. But there were snags in the fabric of motherhood, and the pandemic unraveled it like a delicate sweater.

When day cares and schools closed, moms had to juggle child care, virtual classroom help and work. And while dads pitch in more than ever, home and child care duties still predominantly fall to mom.

“This pandemic has asked many moms to set aside their individual needs to focus in on the needs of their children,” says Alise Bartley, clinical assistant professor of counseling and director of the Community Counseling Center at Florida Gulf Coast University. She’s also the founder of the Relationship Center of Southwest Florida in Bonita Springs.

“So, the other thing that we notice is that moms are also experiencing an increase in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.”

Studies and reports bear that out, and Bartley, a mom of four grown children, sees it in her own practice.

“The moms that I work with are so overwhelmed,” Bartley says.

A common example: Mom must shift from working at the office to working at home. Maybe she split household chores with her spouse before, but because she’s working at home, she may be expected to take care of everything involving the kids and the house.

Maybe the kids are little and need more attention. Maybe they’re older, but need guidance in virtual classes. She’s exhausted and becoming resentful. That resentment begins to impact the marriage and thins her patience for the children.

“That’s why it’s really important for us to reach out and ask for help, even if it’s not being offered,” Bartley says.

While society grapples with what to do, Bartley offers advice to moms in the meantime.

• “First and foremost, as moms, we need to set aside some of the things we think are really important that don’t matter,” Bartley says. Things like a spotless house and homecooked meals.

• Next, accept help when it’s offered. Ask for help if it’s not being offered: from friends, family and your significant other.

Be OK with it not being done to your standards. Some people don’t see dads as capable caregivers for their own children. Dad doesn’t do things the same way as mom, but his system works, too.

• Finally, feed your soul. Do something that makes you feel good about you. Being a mom in 2021 means we must stand up for ourselves more than ever.

In the end, the goal of motherhood remains the same as it has since the dawn of humanity: to raise your child to be a healthy, functioning adult. Being overwhelmed and exhausted isn’t going to help you do that. (You can ask the same about pre-pandemic practices, like jam-packed schedules and making perfect cupcakes for your kids’ school event.)

“This is a hard spot for us, not just as moms, but as women: that we are expected to do it, to do it all and with that bow on it. It needs to look perfect,” Bartley says. “That’s so unrealistic.”

Clementi’s husband had to leave the house for work most days, but he made sure to give her breaks.

“Every day when he would get home from work, he told me to go outside and take a few minutes to myself,” she says. “In addition, he would sometimes stay home for an hour or so in the morning if I had an important phone call that couldn't have kids screaming in the background.”

In ways big and small, we all can help moms out.

“If anyone knows a mom, please offer some support,” Bartley says. “I would challenge the kids, too, to say a big thank you to their moms.”

 

Pamela Hayford served as an environmental reporter and then as editor of SWFL Parent & Child magazine for 16 years. She and her husband, Stephen, raised their children, now ages 16 and 19, in Southwest Florida.

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A ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Mothering Cross-Country

Following their dreams, Southwest Florida family packs up and hits the road

by Rachel Revehl

Life is often likened to a road, and motherhood is a journey unto itself. It’s less common as a mom to take on the actual road, trading a 3,200-square-foot home in Southwest Florida for a 330-foot travel trailer.

Yet here I am, writing from a tiny nook in “Flora the Explorer” (cleverly named by my daughter), overlooking the Sierra National Forest, the latest in a steady string of socially distanced stops across the United States in the past six months. Across from me on our refrigerator is a magnet I’ve had since college with an Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

Before kids, I objectively did “scary” things. As a journalist, I covered crime, natural disasters and foreign wars. Later, I started my own marketing business. But if you had told me two years ago that today I’d be purged of most possessions, waking up somewhere new week to week and educating my 7- and 9-year-old kids, you would have really scared me.

Travel never scared me. In fact, my husband, Wil, and I arranged our respective careers to allow us to work from anywhere when the time was right. But it never was. 

My mother was ill. We had two kids in two years. We bought a house. Our son was diagnosed with autism. There were doctor’s appointments, therapies and IEPs — on top of dance recitals, soccer practice and birthday parties. Wil co-founded a tree-planting nonprofit. We got a bear of a dog we named Zen. I co-led a Girl Scout troop. There was always a commitment and never enough time. I was grateful for a flexible work schedule, but it was a lot of going through the motions while always feeling a few paces behind.

I liked our home, but my husband dreamed of a bigger yard. We agreed to move again someday. Neither of us ever considered homeschooling, but we didn’t plan for a pandemic, either. 

COVID-19 created a domino effect: closed schools, lost income, mounting bills and helping the kids navigate the new terrain of virtual school, and teletherapy. More often than not, the kids were either bouncing off the walls or glued like zombies to a screen.

Strained beyond capacity, downsizing made sense. When my husband suggested selling/storing everything, buying an RV and traveling the country full time as a family, I looked at him like he’d grown a second head. Talk about terrifying. 

Still, the more I pondered this ridiculous idea, the more I thought about how the pre-pandemic daily grind had sucked us into this relentless rhythm of living to work, rather than working to live. We’d talk in passing of wanting to give our kids “less stuff” and “more experiences,” but “stuff” is easier than time.

Now, suddenly, nothing was easy. Change was happening, no matter what, and time was rapidly marching on.

If we could shape the future, how did we want it to look? We decided it looks less like “work-work” and more like long, winding Saturday drives to a new adventure. It’s fewer clothes in our closets and less care about dirtying the ones we have. It’s slowing down for more morning snuggles, afternoon hikes and silly campfire games.

It’s connecting more directly with the environment and recognizing our direct impact on it. It’s sharing the mind-blowing majesty of sights like the great sequoias, while also cherishing mundane things like cooking together — something we were too busy to appreciate before.

Yes, there are homeschool headaches and transit troubles. (Our maiden voyage began with our bike rack scraping the pavement on I-75, with sparks flying as other motorists frantically flagged us down.) There are tense moments of “too much together,” driving home the importance of clearly communicating needs. All of it has stretched us as parents and as people, helping us grow in ways we’d never realized we needed.

I imagine we’ll return to Florida eventually, but we aren’t eyeing the finish line yet. Given all we’ve experienced together so far, Wil and I shared a scary thought the other night under the stars: What if we’d never left at all? 

 

Rachel Revehl is a full-time family road-tripper, road-schooler and owner of Go Media Marketing, LLC, an online marketing firm.

The Revehls in Yosemite National Park: Wil, Rachel, Ayden and Audrey

 

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE NEXTGEN SPEAKER SERIES

“Self-Donation”

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Kristen Coury, CEO & Producing Artistic Director of Gulfshore Playhouse, shares the challenges of opening a new playhouse in a town where she knew only one person—her Realtor. Learn how Coury’s adoption of “self-donation” can help you achieve your business goals, just as it helped her lead Gulfshore Playhouse to become Naples’ premier professional regional theater.

 

The excerpt is from the NextGen Speaker Series panel discussion, “Leading Ladies: The Business of the Arts.”

TIPS AND TRICKS

Mother’s Day Tips from Diane Torrisi Designs

Who you are is all you’ve got! 

Mother’s Day is just one day a year, but being a mother is a lifelong calling, filled with dedication, selfless devotion and unconditional love. Bring on the flowers and breakfast in bed, etc., but I’d like to promote daily self-care for the amazing women we are. 

Tips for Daily Self-care

  • Splurge (without guilt) on the best mani/pedi — and make it a regular visit,

  • Go ahead and buy that outrageously expensive coffee table book you’ve been eyeing for so long. Indulge in its beautiful glossy photos! 

  • Pick up the phone and plan that lunch/dinner/happy hour with your girlfriends. It’s cheaper than professional therapy and a lot more fun. 

  • Book that yoga class you’ve been tempted to try. I will, too. 

  • And finally, step away from your electronics — your phone, email, Facebook, etc. — and take a walk along the beach to recharge. 

 

Remember the instructions, “put the oxygen mask on yourself first?” Your world is yearning for the best of you, so take care of yourself all year long! 

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all women! 

Diane Torrisi grew up in Europe — an American benefiting from the best of both worlds — and she brings that European flair to her design projects! Last year, she opened her own successful design studio in downtown historic Bonita Springs. She is active in her community and has her own podcast (see link at
www.DianeTorrisiDesigns.com).

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The Power of Motherhood

Exploring the vital role women have in shaping our lives

She was our first love and best friend. Our mothers have served in many roles throughout our lives, first as the woman who helped us survive infancy. Later, she was our advocate, guiding us through youth and all its awkwardness. And ultimately, she had the courage to set us free to experience life on our own.

Here, our readers recall impacts their moms had on their lives in memories and lessons learned.

We also share Rachel Revehl’s story: a mom who chose a different path — literally — taking her family of four (and a big dog) on the road to learn about life as they RV across America.

It’s been a hard year for moms in this pandemic era, who are expected to carry a normal load in abnormal times. Journalist Pamela Hayford puts their plight into perspective, helping us realize that the mightiest of moms need support, even if they don’t ask for it.

And some women step into the mom role when youngsters need a mother figure most. Every day for seven years, Terri Robert has met the needs of some of the most vulnerable children in our community. This is the story of Youth Haven’s Morning Mom, our Hometown Hero.

On a different note, interior designer Diane Torrisi encourages moms to relax into a few lifestyle lessons, as Heather Hall (business owner and mom) offers expert tech tips to make life a little less complicated.

As J.K. Rowling wrote about Harry Potter: “He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.”

Take a moment with us to cherish those female nurturers who have left their indelible marks upon each one of us.