‘Total disbelief’

‘Total disbelief’

Veteran from the Cape wins boat raffle

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 29, 2015 issue

Frank DePace

Veteran Frank DePace won the 2015 Wounded Warrior Anglers boat raffle. 

A charitable drawing likely sent a Cape Coral resident reeling as his name was drawn from 4,000 raffle tickets at the Olde Fish House Marina Saturday, making him the winner of the 2015 Wounded Warrior Anglers boat raffle.

The reality of his win hit home Wednesday morning as he signed the papers for his very first boat at Fort Myers Marina.

“Every day I’m coming back down to earth,” Frank DePace said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

He won a 2015 NauticStar 2110 Sport Bay with 150 horsepower four stroke and magic tilt trailer.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace on his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Vice President Judy Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace in his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Vice President Judy Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Tate Hutchinson, Wounded Warrior Anglers co-founder and treasurer, said he could not think of a better person to have won the boat. He said he thinks a lot of people were in tears the night the name was drawn for the boat raffle.

“It was awesome to see a fellow soldier that was there to win it . . . it was pretty awesome and fantastic,” Hutchinson said.

DePace joined the Army in 1966 and served until 1981. He said since he was going to be drafted anyway, he elected to be enlisted giving him the choice of which branch of military to join.

“It was an experience of a lifetime. One that I will never forget,” DePace said.

He and his wife, Marsha, moved to Cape Coral on May 1, 2014 from Connecticut. He heard about the Wounded Warrior Angler organization after meeting President Dave Souders and Capt. Jim Conant at Pineland Marina

“They invited me to come to attend one of their meetings. I did and have been there ever since,” DePace said, who is now a member of the organization. “Being a veteran myself – I fought in Vietnam – it’s an organization that there is a lot of camaraderie and a lot of the individuals know how you feel and we care about each other. It’s a great organization.”

As a way to contribute to the organization, he purchased six boat raffle tickets never thinking he was going to win. When his name was called Saturday evening during the 3rd annual Redfish Shootout in memory of Spec. Michael Plath, he was in “total disbelief.”

Hutchinson, who takes his 10-day yearly vacation around the tournament’s schedule, said the boat raffle is the center point of the organization’s fundraising efforts throughout the year. He said the proceeds from the boat raffle allow the organization to hold the Warrior and Caregiver Retreats, as well as helps pay for a boat to raffle off the following year.

In addition, Hutchinson said the boat is also “wrapped,” portraying the military and all the branches of service, which excites people that were in the military and still are in the military.

DePace said Fort Myers Marine hopes to have his boat ready next Wednesday. He hopes to put the boat in the water that day or Thursday.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace on his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace in his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Forever Bright

Forever Bright

Forever Bright 

Pink Heals unveils new vehicle dedicated to young cancer victim from Cape Coral

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 19, 2015 issue

The legacy of a young Cape Coral girl who lost her battle to cancer earlier this year will live on as the newest pink fire truck travels throughout Southwest Florida baring her name while bringing comfort to others who are faced with cancer.

“This is huge,” Amy Castro said, adding that her daughter’s name, Amiyah, is now on a truck that travels all over bringing awareness to pediatric cancer.

Pink Heals

The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District donated its very first fire truck Saturday afternoon to the Pink Heals Southwest Florida Chapter at Shrimp Shack in Fort Myers. Engine 20, a 1988 fire truck, was donated in memory of Firefighter Dale Jedlick for his 24 years of service of maintaining the truck and keeping it in good shape.

The donation, Chief Joe Marzella said, was a great opportunity because rather than the engine rusting away, they were able to give it another life by repurposing its use.

Engine 20, he said became one of the M/PIFCD reserves after Iona McGregor Fire Protection & Rescue Service District donated a truck to it.

“We treat the trucks as rolling memorials,” Pink Heals Southwest Florida Chapter President Michael Piggott said.

Amiyah Castro 2

The chapter’s mission is to support women and their families while raising awareness for all types of illnesses.

The conversations began almost two years ago with the Pink Heals Southwest Florida Chapter, which resulted in an emotional dedication as South Trail Fire District trucks and an ambulance led the procession line followed by “Suzy,” the first Pink Heals truck for the chapter and “Amiyah,” the newest addition.

Pink Heals Southwest Florida Chapter President Michael Piggott offers comfort to Amy Castro during a dedication Saturday afternoon at Shrimp Shack in Fort Myers.

Pink Heals Southwest Florida Chapter President Michael Piggott offers comfort to Amy Castro during a dedication Saturday afternoon at Shrimp Shack in Fort Myers.

During the dedication, Piggott said although it was extremely tough naming the new engine, somebody who contributed a great deal to the community instantly came to mind. He said Amiyah Castro, a young 7-year-old, had so much spirit.

“She was very carefree,” her mother Amy said, adding that she was sassy and bright.

The front of the fire truck was revealed during the dedication, reading “Shine Bright Like Amiyah,” which was followed by many tears of those who attended the event. The family, Amy, Pablo, Kayden and Khyleigh Castro were given the first opportunity to sign the newly painted pink truck before others in the audience shared touching words of remembrance of the young girl.

The Castro family also received a $1,000 donation from Pink Heals during the dedication. Amy said although the check donation was great, the truck meant so much more.

Amiyah was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on April 3, 2014 and passed away on Jan. 24, 2015 at the age of 7.

Castro family

Amy said her daughter was always worried about her friends and always knew that it would be okay.

“She prayed for everybody,” Amy said.

Piggott, who is a banker, decided to start the Southwest Florida chapter in November 2013 after learning more about the organization and witnessing the national Pink Heals chapter stroll through the area on its tour more than five years ago. In February 2014, the group acquired their first fire truck from Crescent City, Florida, which bares the name Suzy.

Piggott said any tax paying agency, such as the police department, EMS and the school district, can get involved in the chapter.

“We would paint it pink,” he said of police cars, ambulances and school buses.

In addition to Suzy and Amiyah making an appearance at events in the area, they are also used for home visits and school visits. He said when a home visit is made the local fire, police and EMS get involved in the caravan of vehicles.

The lights are flashing and the sirens are blasting when they roll up to the location, Piggott said to grab the community’s attention. He said most people that have cancer keep it to themselves, which is another reason they do home visits.

When the pink fire trucks roll through, neighbors come out of their homes and learn that someone next door has cancer, which turns into another arm of support.

Piggott said many times the home visit is a surprise for the survivor and organized by the family.

All the money the chapter raises remains local to help families in need in Southwest Florida.

“We want the money to stay here,” he said.

For more information about the chapter, visit http://www.pinkhealsswfl.org.

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‘Numb from the generosity’

‘Numb from the generosity’

One Lehigh Acres veteran is still “numb from the generosity” he received from the Wounded Warrior Anglers Acts of Kindness Emergency Fund, earlier this month.

“It’s just awesome,” Allen Sparks, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said. “My heart and soul goes out to you guys. I appreciate it to no end.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Keith Campbell said a few weeks ago Mary Jo Sparks reached out to him when her husband Allen went missing. He said Allen had suffered a stroke when he was found, which left him in the hospital for a few days.

“Mary Jo had reached out to me again saying she was behind on financial bills and didn’t know where to turn to as far as help,” Campbell said, adding that he guided them to a couple of veteran organizations, including Wounded Warrior Anglers.

He presented the Sparks with a $2,500 check on Tuesday, May 5 to help them financially.

Mary Jo Sparks, Allen Sparks and Keith Campbell.

Mary Jo Sparks, Allen Sparks and Wounded Warrior Anglers Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Keith Campbell.

“It feels good as long as we can get them back on the right page and right direction,” Campbell said. “I hope they can maintain it and move forward in the right direction.”

Allen served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1989 before being honorably discharged with a service related injury. The veteran suffers from many health related issues, including amnesia caused by PTSD. Due to his medical condition, Allen is not able to work, which leaves his wife generating the income to pay the bills.

“It’s like a hand of God that came through,” Allen said of the donation. “It was a beautiful thing. Keith being a long time friend and the people of the Wounded Warriors were awesome. They are great people. It’s a major blessing for that to happen. I don’t know what I would do without an organization like that that would step up.”

The donation, he said will help with his recovery, as well as stress that comes with worrying about paying bills.

“We were able to take a step forward and continue on with strong strides,” Allen said.

He said he has been in the area for 22 years working in the towing business, as well as delivering pizza. Over the years he has grown to know the people of the community, often times helping people broken down on the side of the road.

“People say that you are blessed 10 times over. It seems to be coming back around. I appreciate the people of Lee County that are able to reach out like this,” he said.

Allen said he looks forward to helping the organization, just like they helped him.

“All they have to do is pick up the phone and call and I will be there with bells on,” he said, adding that he offers a hearty gratitude to the organization. “I love them to death and I have some good new friends.”

The Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund also helped Cape Coral resident Joe Boccuzzi’s brother John late last month. He said his brother, a disabled veteran who served during the Gulf War era, is looking to relocate from Ohio to Florida for work.

“I didn’t hesitate to ask any questions,” Campbell said. “If it is going to help them get a job and turn things around for them . . . let’s do it.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers provided $250 to the Boccuzzi family to help pay for John’s flight so he could attend the interviews.

“He wants to work somewhere year round,” Joe said.

During the winter months John, who works in a labor union for a commercial road construction crew, is laid off because of the Ohio winters.

“He has been with the same company for years. The winters are hard and he is getting older and wants to be able to work year round instead of seven or eight months a year,” Joe said.

He heard about Wounded Warrior Anglers during a motorcycle run that was benefiting the organization. After a conversation with President and Founder Dave Souders, he decided to become a member because he too is a veteran.

“There’s no looking back,” Joe said. “It’s a great group of people.”

The Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund became a part of the organization on Oct. 14, 2014. The fund was created to provide appropriate relief to eligible veterans or disabled veterans who experience a qualifying event or emergency.

Gear Up Florida cyclists

Gear Up Florida cyclists

Special Populations welcomes 

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 12, 2015 issue

Almost 100 members of Special Populations, cheering and holding handmade signs, welcomed 21 bicyclists Monday afternoon at the Sun Splash Family Waterpark pavilion.

IMG_3276

Nina Strickland organized the event for the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, which is part of the cycling group Gear Up Florida, which is organized by The Ability Experience. The group of cyclists raises awareness and funds for people with disabilities.

“I have a special needs daughter,” she said of her daughter Alexandra Blythe.

Strickland said her daughter loves going to Special Populations because of her friends who also attend the program. She said her daughter has the opportunity to participate in different activities that provide life skills.

“This is her life,” she said. “She can’t wait to come here.”

Last year the Pi Kappa Phi members stopped at Special Populations for the first time during their Gear Up Florida cycling trek. The bike ride raised funds for Special Population, which allowed the organization to purchase trikes.

Sara Sansone, Special Populations supervisor, said she likes the ride’s mission statement of drawing awareness to disabilities.

“They will be ambassadors,” she said of the cyclists.

Sansone said they will have the opportunity to touch others by sharing the experiences they had Monday, as well as learn more about people with disabilities.

Strickland said her son, who is a Pi Kappa Phi member, is the reason her family became involved in organizing the stop in Cape Coral.

“My son is always involved in special needs,” she said.

Strickland’s son, Stephen Blythe, a graduate of Ida Baker High School, began Baker Buddies while attending school to offer such events as bowling and ice cream socials to engage interaction with special needs students.

“It has exploded since then,” he said of the club.

After graduating high school, he enrolled at the University of Tennessee and joined the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity his freshman year. In August 2011, Blythe decided to become more involved by participating in Journey of Hope, a bike ride that departed from San Francisco June 9, 2011, and ended in Washington D.C. Aug. 10, 2011. He said the trip included 60 cycling days with an average of 80 to 85 miles a day.

Each cyclist had to raise a minimum of $5,500. Blythe raised $9,100 for the ride. He said the great thing about the ride is when they stopped for “Friendship Visits” a grant was given that day with the money they raised.

“You do see it’s being put to good use,” he said.

Blythe said the life changing experience was the perfect college experience. The men he rode with from San Francisco to Washington D.C. became his close friends. The most difficult part of the experience was saying goodbye to friends after spending 70 straight days with them.

Shey Siegert, now a junior in college left Idaho to attend college in Alabama.  He became involved in the Pi Kappa Phi two years ago because he wanted to get involved in a fraternity that touched upon academics, social and philanthropy. Siegert said the fraternity spoke to him because he had a friend in high school that had a brother with Down Syndrome.

“He was always happy to see me,” Siegert said of the experience that encouraged him to continue to hang out with others with disabilities.

IMG_3280

This year, 21 cyclists from 10 to 15 different states and eight crew members are participating in the Gear Up Florida ride. Siegert said some of the cyclists traveled from California, Iowa, Ohio, Arizona, Alabama and Florida.

Those who participated in Gear Up Florida had to raise a minimum of $2,500, which enabled the group to provide a grant of more than $50,000 to Special Populations before leaving Monday afternoon.

Siegert said he raised $2,600 by reaching out to alumni, starting an email campaign, making phone calls and starting a Facebook page. He said everyone who made a donation through Facebook will receive a journal that includes daily photographs and excerpts.

The ride began Sunday, May 10 with 95 miles from Miami to Clewiston.

The cyclists arrived at Special Populations around 11:30 a.m. Monday for a “Friendship Visit.” After being greeted, the cyclists gathered under the pavilion to hear Cape Coral City Councilmember Rick Williams read a proclamation declaring Monday, May 11 as “Gear Up Florida Day.” The cyclists then handed out slices of pizza to the members of Special Populations before sitting down and joining them for conversations.

IMG_3291

“I have never been to a Friendship Visit,” Siegert said. “It’s pretty amazing . . . having a great conversation with everyone.”

Sansone said since the cyclists stopped during the time they offer programs, the fraternity members had the opportunity to dance, take a walk and play games with those who attend Special Populations.

“For our group, they get to meet college students,” she said of the learning and growth experience.

After leaving Special Populations, the cyclist traveled to Lee County Arc in Fort Myers. Strickland was having the team over for dinner Monday night before they headed to Sarasota Tuesday morning. The ride will conclude Saturday, May 23 in Tallahassee after visiting 13 cities, for a total of 866 miles.

Nick Julian, who is the logistics coordinator for the ride, said he makes sure the roads they travel are safe and plans events during the ride.

“To be able to engage this way shows how great Florida is,” he said of the Monday event.

Vans travel with the cyclist to ensure they are safe and have what they need throughout the ride. Siegert said every 10 miles the vans will park and provide the cyclist with water and food while they are still riding. He said about every 10 miles he will eat a Cliff bar and about every 20 miles will hydrate with water.

In addition to the vans, Siegert said the cyclists also look out for each other during the ride with open communication. He said if one of them sees a piece of medal, they yell out debris and left or right.

“Look at it with an open mind . . . “

South Cape bars can now apply to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze April 3, 2015 issue

With a new ordinance approved, businesses and bars in the South Cape are weighing the pros and cons of what a two-hour weekend extension can have on their business.

Monday night the Cape Coral City Council approved an ordinance that will give businesses and bars the option to apply for a special permit to participate in a pilot program extending hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. In addition to applying for the permit, business must pay to have an off-duty Cape police officer on premise for safety; install surveillance systems to monitor all activity; comply with the state Responsibility Vendor Act; have one dedicated security staff person per 150 patrons and 15 minutes before closing will be last call.

City spokesperson Connie Barron said permitting staff is finalizing the process and should have forms and fact sheets ready by the end of next week for the new ordinance.

BackStreets Sports Bar Marketing Director David Delli Paoli said they will be participating because they believe in the concept.

“We believe that this is one thing that can add to an already great entertainment district,” he said. “We are going to be coming out of pocket to be paying for the police because we believe in this so much.”

Although they intend to apply for the permit, Delli Paoli said they probably will not open the extra two hours for another couple of weeks because they want to make sure they have everything in order first.

Throughout any point of the day BackStreets has a diverse age group that ranges from 21 to 75. Currently, with the 2 a.m. closing time, Delli Paoli said they have a very strong showing of people in their 40s and 50s.

He said with the ordinance going into effect on April 3, he believes it will be a good chance to try it during off season when they can handle an extra two hours with local traffic before having to beef things up later in the year.

“People look at it and focus just on those two hours,” Delli Paoli said. “What they don’t focus on is the options that it brings. We have a very, very strong European presence and they all look at you funny when you say you close at 2 a.m.”

He said visitors from larger northern municipalities are also used to later bar hours.

The extended hours, Delli Paoli said will draw people into the area.

“Once they are here maybe they can see everything else. Maybe book a vacation,” he said.

With more tourism, Delli Paoli said more businesses and jobs will come to the area, which means more tax income for the city that then equates to fewer taxes for homeowners. That trickledown effect, he said, will take some time to kick in.

Every municipality that they have talked to with bar hours to 4 a.m. said “if you build it, they will come,” he added.

Although he believes the extended bar hours will be good for the economy, he also understands the communities safety concerns.

“We were voted as the second safest city in Florida,” Delli Paoli said. “We do have one of the greatest police forces around. They can handle it, especially if we are paying to have more police officers out there.”

He said they want to make sure their customers always feel safe.

Another concern the community has expressed are the possible increase of DUIs.

“What this law will do is it will bring more people here,” Delli Paoli said. “Add more variables to a situation; you are going to increase the chances. It’s a numbers game. People are trying to say from 2 to 4 more . . . more people creates more DUIs. If that is the case should we stop tourism all together? It’s not the hours being from 2 to 4 that are going to create more DUIs.”

He went on to say that there are many bars that offer happy hour specials.

“How many of those people get in their cars and drive home during rush hour,” Delli Paoli said, adding there are no DUI checkpoints at that time of the day to collect data.

“I know there is a lot of opinions and emotions involved,” he said. “A lot of people have been affected by drunk drivers. I have lost family members and dear friends to drunk drivers. (You have to) remove emotions and take a look at the facts and the economic boost that the ordinance brings to this place. Look at it with an open mind and give it a chance to work.”

There are also businesses and bars in Cape Coral that have expressed no desire to apply for the permit.

The Dek Bar Manager Billy McKee said applying for the special permit is not financially reasonable for them to do. He said for an extra two hours, they would have to pay bands more money, as well as pay an off duty police officer for those two nights.

“We are not going to make a profit off an extra two hours for all the money going out,” he said.

In addition to the extra money going into the extended time, he said it would be hard on their employees as well. McKee said if they closed the doors at 4 a.m., his employees would not be leaving until 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.

“That is an issue for my boss,” he said.

Cape Coral Councilmember Richard Leon, who spearheaded the effort, said he hopes the pilot program will show the community the level of safety that can be maintained while extending the bar hours.

He said people will come to the city to go out to dinner, watch a movie before going out and enjoying a few drinks.

“I can go out and have a good time at these events and have a good time at night,” Leon said, adding that the trial period is an experiment to see if those types of situations unfold.

Leon said he hopes to also extend relationships into Bonita Springs and the Florida Gulf Coast University communities to provide some type of trolley service to bring people into Cape Coral.

Throughout the ordinance’s trial period, Leon said he wants to make sure that they are looking at the economic value of extending the hours. He said there are many things in the following year that the City of Cape Coral needs to keep an eye on to provide research data for 2016.

He said with Cape Coral being the only location between Tampa and Miami to have the extended bar hours, the sales will increase not only for the local bars, but for restaurants and hotels.

“It’s another tool to sell Cape Coral,” Leon said.

He said since Cape Coral extended the bar hours it makes the city a unique and rare location on the west coast of Florida, which provides an opportunity for property values to increase.

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“A taste of home – Canada”

“A taste of home – Canada”

Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village: Poutine proves to be popular ‘secret menu’ treat

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze Dec. 24, 2014 issue

A secret menu item was added to the restaurants at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village after the general manager wanted a taste of home – Canada.

Executive Chef Drew Tait said poutine, a traditional French Canadian dish, was added to a “secret menu” after the manager one day asked him if he could make the delicacy for him.

“He wanted something that reminded him of home,” Tait said.

After General Manager Eric Ashton shared the ingredients of poutine – French fries, cheese curd and thick brown gravy – Tait whipped up the comfort food for him to enjoy.

He said after the dish was made, they began tossing around the idea of a secret menu.

“Only people in the know know about the menu,” Tait said of the menu that has never been printed. “We tell people and it’s kind of a word of mouth then.”

He said since they always have ingredients for poutine, it is something that will be around for a long time.

“I like the poutine because my style of food is very simple,” he said. “I’m more of a natural chef.”

Rather than using heavy sauces, Tait enjoys using quality ingredients where he can change the food’s profile and move the guests taste palette.

“That’s the cool thing with the poutine,” he said.

Tait put a twist on the traditional dish.

The poutine uses light brown gravy with good quality French fries and mozzarella cheese.

Poutine

Poutine

“It’s a mix of light and heavy,” he said. “It’s good when it is a little cool outside. It’s almost like tomato soup, it warms the soul.”

Once the French fries are done cooking they are seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with mozzarella and brown gravy.

“The heat melts the cheese and heats the gravy,” Tait said.

There are three different kinds of poutine offered at Marker92, Waterfront Bar & Bistro and The Nauti Mermaid Dockside Bar & Grill. He said the main place he sees guests order the special item is at the bar because it is a little salty and fills the stomach.

The traditional poutine includes French fries, mozzarella and gravy.

Floridian Poutine

Floridian Poutine

The Floridian poutine includes French fries topped with fried grouper bites, mozzarella and gravy. The dish is then drizzled with lemon aioli.

The loaded poutine includes green onions and sour cream.

“It’s fun,” he said of creating the poutine dishes. “It’s cool because with our general manager having a connection to Canada, he gets to offer the poutine and explain how it all came about.”

The history of poutine, Tait said goes back to the 1950s when it was invented by Warwick Quebec because some of the best cheese curds come from Canada. He said in Canada there are annual festivals that have a theme of poutine.

Loaded Poutine

Loaded Poutine

In addition to the “secret menu” item, Tait said they are looking to roll out their new menu in mid January.

“This is when we change the menu,” he said, and “add things like short ribs and heavy dishes that fit when the temperatures change.”

He said they are making additions to the menu based on their guests’ feedback, which will include small plates.

One of those small plate items will include short ribs slider – shredded short ribs with a little gravy. He said they are also looking to add some dips such as roasted eggplant and mozzarella dip, as well as various types of bruschetta.

“The idea with the small plates is it’s about the experience of sharing with people and being able to get five or six plates and pick and choose and see what you like,” Tait said. “It is the people’s chance to try something new without spending a lot of money or a lot of food to take home.”

Tait’s career began as a dishwasher when he was 13 years old. He said one day the breakfast cook did not show and he learned how to cook eggs.

Eight year ago he became an executive chef in Punta Gorda at the Turtle Club. He began working at the property in 2012 before it was transitioned to Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village.

“Cooking to me is just as much about how they feel when they leave,” he said of the diners.

“Our Christmas comes from our heart”

“Our Christmas comes from our heart”

Organization makes holiday a little brighter for Cape family

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze Dec. 18, 2014 issue

A Cape Coral family received a little holiday cheer Wednesday night from the Wounded Warrior Anglers Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund to help them through some financial hardships.

“With all of our warriors that are members, board members, volunteers and everybody that donates and makes Wounded Warrior Anglers possible, I want them to know that they are part of helping somebody come through the month of December financially,” Wounded Warrior Anglers Vice President Judy Souders said. “I want them to know they are a part of that. All of us coming together over the last three years have made this possible. Everybody coming together and doing a little here and a little bit there has all added up.”

The Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund became a part of the organization on Oct. 14. The fund was created to provide appropriate relief to eligible veterans or disabled veterans who experience a qualifying event or emergency.

Melissa and Eddie Breese were the first to benefit from the newly established fund on Wednesday, Oct. 22, because of hardship they were experiencing. After the donation was made, a community member reached out to Wounded Warrior Anglers and donated gas gift cards and food gift cards to further assist the family with their needs.

Since that donation, Eddie’s condition has become worse. Now with only one income, a part-time income, trying to make ends meet to pay the bills and put food on the table, has become extremely difficult.

To help alleviate some of that financial burden the family is experiencing, the Wounded Warrior Anglers Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund donated $1,200 to the Breese family again on Wednesday.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Kevin Purdy, Melissa Breese, Eddie Breese, Gracie, the Breese’s granddaughter, and Wounded Warrior Anglers Vice President Judy Souders.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Kevin Purdy, Melissa Breese, Eddie Breese, Gracie, the Breese’s granddaughter, and Wounded Warrior Anglers Vice President Judy Souders.

“It shocked me,” Melissa said of the donation amount. “We have good people around us like Judy and all the Anglers.”

The donation will help the Breese family pay for their December monthly bills, as well as put food on the table.

“Without a question, there is an absolute blessing to be in a situation to help people like that,” Wounded Warrior Anglers Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Kevin Purdy said. “It touches you so deeply. You can’t put it into words.”

Eddie, a Fort Myers High School graduate, enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Desert Storm from 1988 to 1992. After returning from the service he started working on roofs, while owning his own business at one time.

Unfortunately on Sept. 11, Eddie took a bad fall, falling 25 feet through a skylight to the concrete. That fall broke his back, mangled his right arm, broke his ribs and gave him severe head trauma.

After Lee Memorial Health System released him after the accident, Melissa took her husband to the VA clinic in Cape Coral. He then was taken to Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.

While he was at Bay Pines he spent time going to a speech pathologist, physical therapist and occupational therapist.

Eddie returned home on Friday, Oct. 17, after spending two months in the hospital.

Melissa said since October he has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and began having focal seizures because of the head trauma.

“Some days he may have one or two,” she said Wednesday night. “The day before yesterday he had six.”

Melissa said when he has a seizure it is as if Eddie is staring right through her with no response.

“He looks dead,” she said.

Limited funds have made it hard for Melissa to drive Eddie to Tampa to see the doctor.

With working part-time and being a full-time caregiver, Melissa said they had to send their 1-year-old son, Keygan, to West Virginia to stay with family.

Although the family is struggling, Melissa remains positive.

“At least I have him at the end of the day and God saved him,” she said. “We have him and that’s what is important.”

Melissa said Eddie has always been her best friend.

“It’s always been Eddie and I,” she said, adding that they used to play co-ed softball and volleyball together. “That is what saved his life. If his body was not in the shape he was in, he would have never survived that. He is fighting every day.”

Souders said being able to help the Breese family is what Christmas is all about.

“That is a big part of our Christmas because our Christmas comes from our heart,” she said.

Community members, who would like to continue the spirit of Christmas and help the Breese family, can contact Souders at (423) 620-9104. Any gift donated to the Wounded Warrior Anglers Act of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund is tax deductible.

School grades above state average

School grades above state average: 76 percent of Lee high schools get an A or B

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze Dec. 18, 2014 issue

Two high schools in Cape Coral sustained their A grades, while the other two schools went from an A to a B for 2014.

Cape Coral High School and Ida Baker High School kept their A grade, which both schools have earned since 2012. Island Coast High School received a B, after earning an A for the first time since 2010. Mariner High School received a school grade of a B, which is the first time since 2010.

According to the School District of Lee County, 76 percent of high schools in Lee County earned an A or B grade, which exceeds the state average of 71 percent. Statistics also show that there are 60 fewer A schools in the state of Florida compared to last year, which includes four high schools in Lee County – Island Coast, Cypress Lake, Mariner and Lee Virtual.

Lee Virtual dropped to a B because only 94 percent of its students tested.

East Lee County High School was one of 55 schools in the state of Florida to have raised a letter grade from a D to a C.

“Even though we improved there, we understand we have a lot of work to do,” Board Member Steve Teuber said. “This board will be looking at changing how we apply resources to East.”

He said the board will look at what resources are necessary for success, giving East further attention and emphasis to improve the letter grade even further.

The high school grades are based on 50 percent assessment performances and the remaining 50 percent is based on such components as graduation rates, ACT and SAT scores and for the first time this year U.S. History End of Course exam.

Teuber said the graduation rate continues to increase for Lee County schools. He said Island Coast High School had an 89 percent graduation rate, Cape Coral High School had an 88 percent graduation rate, Ida Baker High School had a 90 percent graduation rate and Mariner High School had an 86 percent graduation rate.

The dropout rate, on the other hand, Teuber said, stinks.

“The state doubled and we tripled,” he said.

Lee County’s dropout rate went from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent, compared to the state dropout rate of 4.3 percent.

Teuber said if a ninth to 12th grade student moves to Georgia and tells the school district they are moving, that student is taken out of the system. If the school district is not made aware of a student moving out of the school district, they are considered a dropout.

The school grade scores were changed on a state level from the previous year, 2013-2014 for A and B schools. Schools were required to earn 70 additional points to earn or maintain an A grade. In order to earn or maintain a B grade, high schools were required to earn an additional 50 points.

Teuber said the question the district has to look into is did those schools drop a grade because of the extra 70 points they had to earn, or would the school grades have dropped if the bar was not raised.

“I don’t know if it’s indicative to less performance or didn’t perform enough,” he said, adding that he will further look into the state data.

“Oldest theater group in Lee County”

Catching a Show at Cultural Park Theatre

Published in Community Lifestyles Cape Coral October/November 2014 issue

The oldest theater group in Lee County is celebrating 52 years of providing entertainment to Southwest Florida residents and visitors.

coverExecutive Director Michael Moran said the Cultural Park Theatre began with a group of 10 thespians in the early 1960s who enjoyed putting on plays and performances, performing for folks at the Yacht Club.

The shows became very popular once the entertaining began, which led the group to changing their troupe name to the Cape Coral Community Players.

“They performed anywhere and everywhere they could find space,” Moran said.

The Cape Coral Community Players saved up their earnings, and together, built the Cultural Park Theater. The little house, at 528 Cultural Park Blvd., has remained the same over the decades it’s been in use, with the exception of upgrades to the decor and sound system.

The original group was scheduled to have their first stage production in November 1963.

“They had to cancel the first show they ever did because it happened on the same day President Kennedy was assassinated,” Moran said. “They canceled their first performance in honor of the president.”

He said the troupe decided it was far more tasteful to be closed that day.

“From there they have just grown tremendously over the years,” Moran said. “January through May you have to call early to get a seat in this place. The summertime gives us a little more play room.”

When the Cultural Park Theatre first began holding performances, there were one or two a year. Now the theater hosts approximately 26 of them a year.

The theater has numerous seasons throughout the calendar: Broadway shows September through May; concert series September through May, summer concert series and summer camps.

The concert series, now in its fourth year, is the newest of the programs offered for residents.

“It has grown substantially,” Moran said. “When we started four years ago, we had to chase after artists and now the phone rings by people who want to be a part of the season.”

The music varies, so it is appealing for all patrons. This year the series includes mostly tributes of different styles of music.

Cultural Theatre2This year’s season kicked off with a Patsy Cline tribute by Linda Fazioli. The season will also have David Morin as Elvis Presley Friday, Oct. 31, Saturday, Nov. 1, and Sunday, Nov. 2, performing four shows, both matinees at 3 p.m. and evening shows at 8:30 p.m.

“He is a knock-your-socks-off performer,” Moran said. “He covers the Elvis venue, from young Elvis to the end.”

Other performances include a Charlie Vee tribute to Barry Manilow in February; Simply Streisand Carla Del Villaggio as Barbara Streisand in March; Neil Zirconia as Neil Diamond in April and Cultural Park Theater’s Reveilli Revue in May.

Tickets for the concert series are $20. The theater seats 184 people.

The Broadway shows will include “You’re Never Too Old” in October; “And Then There Were None” in November; “Fantasticks” and “Christmas Spectacular” in December; “Monty Python’s Spamalot” in January; “Dixie Swim Club” in February; “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” in March; “Fools” in April and “Odd Couple” in May.

Moran said the Cultural Park Theater has the most reasonable tickets in the area for their Broadway season. Tickets are $19 for adults; $17 for seniors; $13 for students with ID and $10 for children under 12 years old.

In 1991, the theater began holding children and adult education classes and summer classes. There are three educational programs offered for every age group.

The most popular class is the Broadway Babies program for children ages 5 to 7, which has already begun for the fall session.

“The program is an introduction for young students to come in and start learning the basics of acting, singing and dancing,” Moran said. “They get together to meet for eight weeks, one day a week and put a program together for friends and family at the end of the class.”

The theater also offers Musical Theater Performance Level I and Level II. Music Theater I is geared for children 7 to 10 years old and the Musical Theater II is for 11- to 16-year-olds.

Moran said the more advanced classes work on all aspects of musical theater, such as acting, singing and dancing. The older kids work on character development during the course.

The last of the educational programs is an Adult Acting class. The class does not begin at a certain level, but rather teaches as if students were learning the craft for the first time. The instructors, Moran said, work individually with each of the students in the class.

The summer camp is another favorite among elementary- to high-school-aged children, attracting 45 to 50 students every session. The camps, which run all summer long, are held for two weeks at a time, focusing on developing stage presence, acting, singing and dancing, as well.

At the end of the two week session, the students put on a showcase for their families and friends.

The two-week camp is $240 and is held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information about the Cultural Park Theater, any of its upcoming performances, classes or to purchase tickets, contact the box office at 239-772-5862 or go online by visiting CulturalParkTheater.com.

‘Satisfying that sweet tooth’

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Sweet Treats

Satisfying that sweet tooth in Cape Coral

Published in August/September Cape Coral Community Lifestyles

Everyone loves a sweet treat from time to time. Cape Coral offers a few sweet treat destinations where individuals have an opportunity to indulge themselves with some incredibly tasty artisan chocolates, fudge, cookies and cupcakes, which will satisfy their sweet cravings.

Rosie’s Gourmet Fudge

Rosie’s Gourmet Fudge has been a part of the Shell Factory for more than 38 years, offering sweet goodness to its customers at the 2787 N. Tamiami Trail location.

Fudge master Kim Corbett said they offer 30 different varieties of fudge, all hand-made at the shop. She said the 45-minute process begins by pouring ingredients into a copper pot and cooking it at 230 degrees.

After the fudge is done cooking, it’s poured onto a marble slab table and shaped into loaves of bread with a little spatula. Once shaped, the fudge is put onto trays that are then moved to the store’s display.

“I make four to five batches a day,” Corbett said.

page 23Fudge is made daily except on the weekends – all without preservatives. Since the fudge is made without preservatives, it can be left out for two weeks or put into a freezer for up to a year. The fudge, however, cannot be placed in the refrigerator because it will harden.

“On Monday we make it again and start fresh,” she said. “I try to make up a good selection.”

On average, there are 20 different flavors of traditional and gourmet fudge.

Some of the varieties include maple pecan, plain maple, Butterfinger, Snickers, chocolate raspberry, mint chocolate chip, Health Bar, cookies and cream, chocolate walnut, vanilla with pecans, coconut, and peanut butter banana. Another favorite is penuche, which is old-fashioned brown sugar fudge, offered both plain and with walnuts.

Corbett said the fudge has nuts rippled throughout, as well as inside. The candy fudge is made the same way. Chocolate-covered Oreo cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels and chocolate-covered marshmallows are also offered to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.

Rosie’s also carries homemade ice cream, made in Sarasota from an Amish family. There are 28 flavors offered. Some of those include peanut butter cup, cotton candy, rocky road, pistachio, Oreo cookies, Superman, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and two sugar-free flavors.

Banana splits, sundaes, root beer floats, coke floats and milk shakes also grace the ever-tasty menu. Corbett said Rosie’s offers specialty waffle cones and a variety of toppings, as well.

For further information about Rosie’s Gourmet Fudge, visit Et sy.com/ shop/Ros iesGourmet Fudge or call 239-997-5555.

Miz Catherine’s Dessert Cafe

A business reopening their doors on Santa Barbara Boulevard is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth with its gourmet cupcakes, cookies and variety of cakes, at 3032 Santa Barbara Blvd., Unit 201.

Catherine Hoggs-Perez reopened her store, Miz Catherine’s Dessert Cafe, earlier this month after closing at the end of April. The cafe originally opened on Nov. 2011.

page 24“I’ve been baking since I was a young girl,” she said. “I always baked with my mom and grandmother. It is something we have always done in my family and we bake from scratch.”

Hoggs-Perez spent time taking classes in New York at a culinary school, primarily to acquire some new decorating skills.

Her bakery consists of cupcakes, cookies, cake pops, wedding cakes, custom cakes and birthday cakes.

“It’s just a sweet shop,” Hoggs- Perez laughed, which is all made from scratch.

She hopes to add cobblers, slices of pie and parfaits to the menu to provide a variety of desserts customers can choose from while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Hoggs-Perez said when creating and decorating cakes, she takes individual’s ideas, and adds her own sweet touch, making masterpieces.

“The bride sends me pictures and we chit chat of what their dreams are and come up with something special for them,” she said.

In order to make a wedding cake, Hoggs-Perez said she has to have at least six- to eight-week advance notice, unless the cake is less intricate, which can then be made in less time. With birthday and theme cakes, she needs at least two to three weeks advance notice.

“I just love doing them,” she said of making wedding cakes.

The cafe will also offer gluten-free and vegan cupcakes for customers, in addition to the 25 flavors that already grace the shop.

“On a daily basis, I do between seven and eight flavors,” Hoggs-Perez said of the cupcakes. “After two days I rotate to two new offerings.”

Some of the gourmet cupcake flavors include mint chocolate chip, classic red velvet, coconut chocolate chip, cherry pistachio, pink lemonade, classic tiramisu, lemon raspberry and blackberry delight.

The cafe also offers an assortment of cookies, which regularly rotates. The cake pops, which she said children really love, come in such flavors as key lime, chocolate, lemon, pumpkin and peanut butter.

For more information about Miz Catherine’s Dessert Cafe, visit MizCatherines.com, or find the cafe on Facebook by searching “MizCatherinesADessertCafe.”

Send It Sweetly

If artisan chocolates and gourmet popcorn is among your cravings, stop by Send It Sweetly in South Cape Coral to satisfy that sweet tooth.

Ande and Shane Grant opened Send It Sweetly a year ago on 47th Terrace after making sweets in the Phoenix area for a while. Ande said although her husband has played with chocolate his whole life, due to working in restaurants since he was 15 years old, he has been creating chocolate flavors for the past four years.

The couple purchased the 6,000- foot building, 1309 SE 47th Terrace, and decided to give it a facelift by re- painting the exterior and putting up new signs, so customers know precisely where they are.

sweetsThe couple makes artisan chocolates, custom candy bars, more than 50 flavors of gourmet popcorn, half-pound jumbo cookies and half-pound Belgium brownies.

Boutique wines from small vineyards are also available.

“My stuff is the best that is bad for you,” Ande laughed about the ingredients they use for their Noela Chocolat.

She said they carry Belgium chocolates in dark, white and milk chocolate in close to 100 different varieties. Some of the flavors include pistachio, chipotle cinnamon, honey caramel, green apple, strawberry and raspberry.

The purees are pure and natural, and the business uses fair trade chocolate whenever possible.

“We try to use fair trade because they help the farmers; it is organic and kosher,” she mentioned.

Ande said the one thing she and her husband take pride in, is when customers bite into their chocolate, they know what the flavor is without looking at a cheat sheet.

“If you bite into orange (flavored chocolate), you are going to know exactly what you are eating,” she said. “We put a lot of product inside of them. We don’t skimp on them. That was how we started tweaking our chocolate so people know … there is no doubt in your mind.”

The couple also makes customized candy bars in bright colors like yellow, metallic, silver, purple, red, copper, green, gold and red. The copper, for example, includes a variation of honey, caramel and walnuts, while the green has pistachio and caramel and the silver candy bar includes gooey marshmallows and graham crackers.

“My husband I like to play with stuff,” she said of creating new flavors. “We are constantly trying new and different things.”

The gourmet popcorn includes such tasty flavors as orange cheese mixed with caramel corn, pretzel toffee crunch, green caramel apple and regular caramel drizzled with chocolate. Ande said she uses coconut oil to make the popcorn.

The Grants’ shop is geared toward gifts and personalization. The business’ specialty is personalizing the sweet gifts by using an engraving machine on the merchandise.

Customers can personalize their chocolates by placing a business logo on top, or if someone gets married, their wedding date can be added to the chocolate. Boxes and wine bottles can also be engraved with whatever the customer chooses, as the business offers many customized boxes of selected chocolates.

“It’s a personalized sweets factory,” Ande said. “If someone walks in, we can turn the logo-ed chocolates around in 48 hours.”

Shane has his own transfer sheets on premise, so nothing goes out, everything is made fresh and in house.

To see a collection of what the Grant’s offer, visit SendItSweetly.com, or call 239-793-3859.