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It’s all about being connected

Humans have a basic need for connection, whether to family, loved ones, causes, business endeavors, animals, hobbies, sports teams or nature, to name a few.

This chapter of èBella èXtra touches on many of these necessary connections, from a mother/daughter realty duo, self-love, service dogs, business building, female friendships and empathy (or the lack thereof).

At a time when these critical relationships can become strained — especially due to outside influences — we hope these articles about association aid in carrying you along your path.

Working Together
Life Changing Relationships
Empathy Running on Empty?


Creating a You and Me Culture
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From Self-Loathing to Self-Love
What are You Doing Valentine’s Day Eve?


Creating a You and Me Culture

A business model whose time has come

by Kelly Townsend


Leaders talk about valuing employee engagement in organizations, yet Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report states that 51% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged. The Employee Engagement Institute, in a joint study with The Conference Board, discovered that U.S. companies lose $550 billion each year from disengaged employees.

If the cost is so high for organizations, why is employee engagement so low? These statistics point to the fact that many leaders are not connected to what really matters to the people in their workforce — and possibly the source of high performance in their organizations.

The 2021 report states that employees are beyond unhappy and are actually resentful. People are left like the only thing that matters is shareholder profit at their expense. We call this a “You or Me” business model, in which one party wins at another’s expense.

Maybe it’s time to retire this model and develop a new kind of leader, one who authentically leads from the concerns of all the constituencies impacted by the enterprise. Maybe the time has come for leaders to commit to creating a culture of “You and Me,” where engagement happens naturally. And according to the Gallup 2021 report, when employees are engaged, companies report reductions in absenteeism (41%) and turnover (59%).

The pandemic has created especially challenging times for leaders. But times of crisis can be transformational if we look to learn from what is not working. We have the opportunity to reflect on what is missing and what can be brought to the future that constitutes a win-win for all stakeholders.

How does a leader access the You and Me culture of engagement? It begins with a certain kind of listening. Leaders must listen from the future as a possibility, imagining what the organization can be and what can be realized by all contributors impacting the organization. Great leaders create a painted picture for themselves of how they see the future, then create conversations with all the relevant parties to see how they see the future.


What are people worried about when they think of the future? What are their hopes and dreams? Listening to what people have to say helps inform and connect the leader in creating a leadership message that expresses a shared vision and speaks to what matters to stakeholders. Consistently taking the time to have these kinds of conversations when hiring and communicating with employees makes a very positive difference in people being engaged.


People naturally perform better in organizations with shared vision, values and practices. Employees who are highly engaged also bring that kind of engagement to their customers. A culture in which team members experience that they are listened to, that their voice matters, feel like they belong. This is critical to employee engagement.

Leaders must get the fact that employee engagement is more than satisfying employees or looking at what makes them happy. Maybe employee engagement is more about creating a culture in which leaders are authentically committed to hiring workers who are aligned in purpose, direction, philosophy and shared practices. 

Fostering a You and Me culture in which people experience that they make a noteworthy contribution to a shared future is an enlightening and inspiring journey for new leaders — and it makes the organization a great place to work.

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Kelly Townsend is the principal at Leaders Team (, an organization that calls itself “Codebreakers for Human Performance.” The team is comprised of experienced professionals who work to unlock human potential, helping organizations create breakthrough results.


What are You Doing Valentine’s Day Eve?

Galentine’s Day offers a perfect opportunity to celebrate your BFFs

by Kathy Grey


It’s a pop-culture holiday that originated in February 2010 on the television show “Parks and Recreation.” Feb. 13 is Galentine’s Day.

The concept was embraced by real-live women, making Galentine’s Day the Valentine’s Day of female friendships. It’s a day to celebrate your women friends and shower them with appreciation.

In the “Galentine’s Day” episode of “Parks and Recreation,” the main character throws the annual Galentine’s Day party the day before Valentine's Day and declares that the platonic female love between friends should always be celebrated with a long brunch, balloons and an exchange of presents and life stories.

This is a display of female friendships that shape who we are, help us navigate the world and offer support, advice and a really good time.

According to the “Parks and Recreation” script, Galentine’s Day must include brunch, but there are other ways to celebrate. Here are a few ideas.


Favorite Things Party

If you’re looking for an easy way for your friends to learn more about each other, host a favorite things party. Ask everyone to bring two identical gifts that are their favorite things. (It’s wise to set a budget.) All the guests at the party put their name in a bowl twice. Each gift-bearer reveals why this is her favorite thing and draws two recipients’ names from the bowl. The game continues until each favorite thing has been revealed and each guest goes home with two special gifts.

Saturday Night Slumber Party

Since Galentine’s Day this year is on a Sunday, get the party started early with a slumber party featuring snacks, jammies, games, and binge-watching romantic comedies or a trending series.


Paint and Sip

While you can book a space for this event, you can also gather your own materials and have your friends bring their favorite drinks for an at-home art session.


Group Fitness Class
What better way to get everyone's heart pumping than with a group fitness class? You can host this in your home or book a class. Be creative with options like aerial hoop and pole dancing classes.


Sweet Fondue

Fondue is a lovely sharing experience among friends. Host a sweet chocolate fondue event with fruit, marshmallows or any dipping treat that suits your fancy. Of course, cheese fondue is also a great option.


Secret Cupid
Once you have a list of attendees for your gathering, randomly pick names and assign each lady a recipient of a gift (spending limit suggested). Everyone goes home with a thoughtful gift.


Wine Swap
For wine lovers, this BYOB event is creative and fun. Ask your friends to bring their favorite wine (red, white or bubbly) and let the tasting begin.


Tea Party
Much like a wine tasting, each guest brings her favorite tea (there are chocolate teas, don’t forget). Food ideas include finger sandwiches cut into hearts, heart-shaped biscuits, a chocolate-themed dessert tea and even a chocolate fountain.


And finally, any Galentine’s Day gathering is about celebrating female friendships, so don’t forget to share your thoughts with notes that let each lady know how special she is to you.


From Self-Loathing to Self-Love

Seven transformative steps to making your next chapter the best ever

This Valentine’s Day, give yourself the gift of self-love and become your own best friend forever.

Bestselling author Dr. Ellen Albertson teaches people how to swap self-loathing for self-love by practicing radical self-compassion. 

Body image is Albertson’s area of published research. She says the fastest way to reverse body dissatisfaction and change body image isn’t changing your body or even your mind. Albertson's self-compassion research resulted in her book, “Rock Your Midlife,” a step-by-step program that helps readers become who they want to be as fast as possible — without confusion, frustration and discouragement. 

“Learning to love yourself through self-compassion is a game-changer because when you love yourself, you stop doing things that insult your soul, and you start attracting what is best for you,” Albertson says. “My goal is for women to become authentic, follow their hearts and create something amazing in their lives that generates joy and vivacity.”

Based on research from her work with hundreds of clients in dozens of countries, Albertson advocates transforming the mind and body simultaneously by:

• Learning Self-Compassion: Treating yourself like you would a good friend.

• Managing Emotions: Embracing all your emotions. “They are your GPS device,” she says.


• Go from Self-Loathing to Self-Love: Trade self-criticism for self-kindness to decrease stress, anxiety and depression and increase well-being, optimism and resilience.

She also suggests that midlife is the best time of life if you know the seven steps to thrive:

  1. Know yourself

  2. Love yourself

  3. Energize yourself

  4. Reprogram your brain

  5. Empower yourself

  6. Rehab your relationships

  7. Enlighten yourself

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Dr. Ellen Albertson is a psychologist, registered dietician, national board-certified health and wellness coach and self-compassion teacher. She helps women transform themselves so they have the energy, confidence and clarity to make their next chapter their best chapter. Learn more at



Empathy Running on Empty?

Psychiatrist Dr. Charles Herrick explains how insidious traps can deplete compassion

by Kathy Grey


Catastrophic events make headlines, and we are bombarded by information about them. Top those heart-numbing issues with everyday human crises — declining health, death of a loved one, loss of income, food insecurity and unaffordable housing, for example — and we have a recipe for compassion overload.

We reached out to Dr. Charles Herrick, network chair of psychiatry for Nuvance Health Network for insight about empathy burnout. Here are his answers to our questions.


èB: How do we stay engaged without becoming overwhelmed by local, national and international news?


CH: Whenever one form of engagement begins to crowd out other forms, problems develop. When engagement is with hedonic activities, such as food, sex, alcohol, drugs and the internet, it is called an addiction. When it’s with activities that cause distress, such as politics, terrorism, epidemics and economic woes, it is called an obsession. When pleasure crowds out everything else, or rumination and worries do, it is a problem.

Engagement has both a negative and positive valence in life, and we need to be conscious that healthy engagement requires balance. 

It’s important to take a daily inventory and consciously monitor our “thermostat” of engagement to ensure balance is restored when we are trending in the wrong direction. Since we have no control over our feelings when engaged, we must change what we expose ourselves to and redirect our attention. This is why pet videos and humorous memes occupy so much space on social media. 

Many overwhelming feelings come from a sense of loss of control. When getting emotionally caught, take a step back. Ask yourself, “What can I do about it?” If there is something you can do, do it so that you feel you have some control. But when events are not in your control, ask yourself if it is useful information. If it is more for entertainment and has no impact on your life, it is an obsession and limiting exposure to it is the only control you have.

It is important to remind yourself how historical periods come and go. Still, humanity finds a way to move on. For example, one of the greatest catastrophes ever perpetrated on humanity was World War II, in which 70 million people died. But Americans moved on.

However challenging, this period in our lives will one day become history, and we will pass through it with similar awe and wonderment as that of other historical periods.

èB: How do we remain (or seem) impartial in a polarized society?


CH: Reminding ourselves that we are more similar than different is the first step in refusing to participate. 

I have two friends on opposite ends of the political spectrum that send me canned political cartoons, memes and jokes, and all I must do is change the names and parties for them to read the same. But these same friends also send me lighthearted, nonpolitical memes, jokes and pictures — and those are identical.

Remind yourself that the actual values everyone wants are the same, including freedom, opportunity and love of neighbor. 

Polarization has been consciously manipulated by politicians and the media, particularly social media, with the hope that people will “buy” into their websites both figuratively and literally.

èB: How do back-to-back crises impact our ability to empathize?


CH: Humans are an economically minded species, and empathy can run dry quickly. We intuitively know we have limited resources to dole out, and our default mode is to conserve energy and give only in times of abundance. While this had survival value in the past, it is a liability today. It makes us prone to the emotional traps laid by others, especially when our emotional well has run dry. This is when our default mode is to operate on gut instincts because it requires too much energy to engage consciously and think things through.

We must first remain vigilant of the traps we can fall into and regularly question our emotional landscape by pulling back, becoming conscious of our emotions and asking ourselves if they are valid or falsely generated by outside forces. Being conscious of it allows us to immunize ourselves from it.

“Reminding ourselves that we are more similar than different is the first step…” ~ Charles Herrick

Second, we must dispense with divisive thinking and seek understanding and empathy for those with different viewpoints. Because emotion overtakes reason, creating trust is paramount. That means active listening and engagement without judgment and finding the common ground of shared values, rather than petty differences that divide us.

Third, we must reframe the catastrophes. For example, there have been some very positive aspects of COVID. Telehealth stalled due to technical, regulatory and cultural obstacles. Overnight, COVID changed that. We need to slow down, listen thoughtfully and reframe our crises as opportunities for positive change. Only then can we replenish.

èB: How can we help individuals impacted by a crisis?

CH: Show them that you know their pain, that you care about them and want to help them.

èB: How can we manage what feels out of control?

CH: To feel better, it is crucial to act on what you can control and jettison what you can’t.

Practice self-care, including exercise. Exercise both the brain and body. Start small. Go for a 10-minute walk every day. Focus on what you are grateful for and what you want to accomplish every morning when you first wake up.

Speak with a mental health professional to address your situation. You do not have to be mentally ill to benefit from speaking to a mental health counselor. The vast majority are not. Look instead to them as coaches to help you train your mind in developing mentally healthy habits in the same manner you use a trainer at the gym to help you develop physically healthy habits. 


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Dr. Charles Herrick is the network chair of psychiatry for Nuvance Health Network. He has been at Danbury Hospital since 1998. He did his residency training at Tufts New England Medical Center and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at UC San Francisco.


Life Changing Relationships

Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs Celebrates 10 Years

by Sue Huff

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Jeannie Bates works with puppy cadets.

Life is about relationships: those we create with one another and, for Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs, those fostered between veterans and their assistance dogs.

Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs is celebrating its 10th anniversary as it looks back upon the many lives that have been changed through the relationships between their assistance dogs and those they serve.

“I have the privilege of helping veterans and their golden partners train. It’s hard work, but so worth the outcome. I fall in love with every dog, and when you see one of our golden angels begin bonding with his or her veteran, it’s just overwhelming. It’s as if our Golden PAWS dogs know they are not only loved, but they are needed,” says volunteer handler PJ Harris. “They respond to their veterans in an entirely different way: It’s deeper, it’s more intuitive and it’s a bond like no other.”

“The dog becomes the veteran’s wingman — their comrade — and, most importantly, their best friend,” adds volunteer handler Gina Day. “A Golden PAWS dog will comfort the veteran in the middle of the night when he or she is crying from a night terror. The dog enables the veteran to go into a crowded store with confidence, get on a plane again following traumatic combat flight experiences or even simply socialize. Things that we may take for granted, the assistance dog relationship makes possible.”

Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes independence for combat-wounded veterans and children with life-changing disabilities through partnerships with skilled assistance dogs. Golden PAWS dogs are always placed at no cost to those they serve. The 47 active volunteers — 37 of whom are women — care deeply about the mission and donate their time to make sure each puppy cadet is loved and trained for his or her “forever” relationship.

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Zelda, a Golden PAWS service dog, sits happily beside Joe, a U.S. Air Force veteran.

“Over the past 10 years, we have witnessed so many veterans who felt alone or lost before they found their best friend in one of our assistance dogs,” says Jeannie C. Bates, founder and CEO of Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs.

Golden PAWS will place its 100th assistance dog soon and will celebrate the completion of its newly renovated facility on Pine Ridge Road, the Ken and Susan Meyer Center for Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs.

Visit to learn more about Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs’ programs and mission.

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Working Together

Mother/daughter relationship augments real estate partnership

by Kathy Grey 

Pat Biernat has been selling real estate in Collier County since 1987, when her former husband gave her a choice of Connecticut, Colorado, Michigan or Naples.

It was 1987, she says, and Naples was starting to boom, but still held that Old Florida charm. In fact, the streets had yet to be fully developed.

“I fell in love with Naples. It was small and quaint,” she says.

Her daughter, Margaux, a child when the family relocated to Naples, was less than impressed. She went to a private school and then to boarding school. 

She told Pat, “I’m in Social Siberia.”

As an adult, Margaux launched a successful career in fundraising, working with some of the wealthiest philanthropists in America. Ultimately, her health ended her illustrious career with National Geographic, and she returned to Naples to be with Pat.

Real estate was something Margaux had learned “by osmosis” from her mother, she says. Throughout her illness, she worked in support of Pat.

“I’d ask how I could help her with marketing and out-of-the box thinking: things she wouldn’t traditionally use,” Margaux says, adding that her tech skills were much more advanced than Pat’s.

Pat had always been there for her, Margaux says. As she settled in with Pat, her mother asked, “Why don’t we work together and make it great?”

And it has been. The duo answered a few key questions about their successful partner-relationship. Here’s what Margaux had to say, with a steady dose of input and approval from Pat.

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Clowning around - Pat and Margaux love this photoshoot outtake. Photo Credit: Nick Shirghio

èB: How long have you been in business together?

Since April 2021, but I previously assisted Pat in an unofficial capacity.

èB: How do you set and maintain clear boundaries?

If I had that answer, I should consider a career as a guru.

èB: Do you feel you shed your mother-daughter roles at work?

I’ve worked in many large corporations with more stringent rules and work ethics, so I tend to separate the two easier.

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Pat, Havanese puppy, Kipling, and Margaux Biernat. Photo Credit: Nick Shirghio

Mom has been a sole proprietor for more than half her life, so conversations about work tend to blend into other topics, such as what’s for dinner. Pat is a mom and loves her mother role, so it is harder to function strictly as a boss, as opposed to a mother/boss.


èB: How do you use your bond as a business advantage?

We share our connections in the community, whether it is my tennis or pickleball friends and past donors from nonprofits, or mom being able to make direct contact with many of the more established agents in Naples with ease.

Since we live together, we have the added advantage of picking up for each other when schedules get hectic or overlap. We know each other well and can anticipate what the other needs, stepping in to help at the drop of a hat.

èB: Do you schedule business-free time together?

No, but we try to walk my puppy, Kipling, together a few times a week and occasionally head to the farmers market at Vanderbilt Shoppes, trying not to talk about work — “try” being the operative word.

èB: How do you navigate business disagreements?

Being from different generations, we have different approaches to tackling problems. (Often we’ll) approach it again at a later time and from another direction.

èB: How do you evaluate each other's performance?

We try not to, since we approach the job differently. Watching her from childhood, I have learned so much from my mom.

Mom always shares with me when I do a good job as I am the newer one in the industry and I need a bit of reassurance that I am doing the right thing. She does it because she is the team leader and also because she is my mom. She is proud of me.

èB: Do you have a succession plan?

Mom loves real estate and would love to work forever. As she has emeritus status as an agent for her long career in the field, I think she will always have her license and continue to work with her longtime customers.

(Eventually,) I will take the helm and build a team of agents. That is the long-term plan.

But for right now, we are enjoying the business and working together.

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