Good Neighbors 2019

Meet a group of community angels whose caring nature makes Orlando a better place.

Stephanie Bowman

A onetime homeless addict who offers hope, not judgment.
By Cheri Henderson

“EVERYBODY HAS A STORY”: Two decades ago, Stephanie Bowman was addicted to drugs and living on the streets of the Parramore neighborhood, with her 5-month-old and 5-year-old daughters. Eventually her children ended up in foster care, and Bowman was admitted to a treatment center. She was inspired by “other women around who were praying for me and praying with me, loving me till I learned to love myself,” she says. So at One Heart for Women and Children—which she founded 10 years ago, 10 years after she got clean—“that’s what we do.”

MEETING PHYSICAL NEEDS: The Orange County-based organization partners with Trader Joe’s, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and other organizations to provide free groceries to needy residents, serving at least 3,000 people a month. Bowman says it’s about “not only serving God but serving our community through God.” “The warmth and the welcome are the same regardless of who comes,” says client Franklin McMillan, an underemployed janitor.

REBUILDING LIVES: The charity has a 3,600-square-foot thrift store filled with clothing and household items. All proceeds—roughly $3,200 a month—go back to the food bank. “We have a work-for-voucher program, so families or individuals can come in and they can earn $10 an hour in vouchers and trade the vouchers for anything we have in our thrift store,” Bowman says. But sometimes even household items are free. “She provided us free beds, and it helped us tremendously,” says client Sheri Nugent, who shares a home with women like her who are trying to get their lives back on track.

WON OVER BY LOVE: Dylan Schimka, a marketing representative with Gold Focus Media, began representing One Heart pro bono after seeing Bowman in action at a feeding for the homeless in Parramore. “You can’t find that many people with that passion and drive. At the last Sunday feeding, I saw her take her shoes off her feet and give them to a lady who didn’t have any.”

SERVING UP INSPIRATION: Bowman’s daughters, now 20 and 25, volunteer at One Heart and have become “advocates for the homeless and advocates for kids who are in foster care,” she says. Bowman’s story inspires client Ruqaiyah Farrar, a senior citizen on a fixed income. “I really felt that not only did she overcome everything that she’s gone through, but she’s turned that around to help other people and to inspire them. If she can go through [that] and do and give, why can’t we?”


Musical Minds Choir

An arts outreach that thrives on awakening memories.
By Cheri Henderson

“THIS IS A SAFE PLACE”: That’s how choir director Scott Kinkead describes the Wednesday morning gathering of seniors with memory loss, their caregivers, and volunteers at One Senior Place in Altamonte Springs. Central Florida Community Arts launched the choir four years ago. A second choir meets Mondays at the Winter Garden Art Association.

SHARING A LOVE OF MUSIC: Kinkead leads the music while about 15 volunteers get participants situated and join in song. Volunteers also prepare snacks to share later. “It’s a beautiful space for care partners and those in early stages of memory loss to come together and communicate in a way that is not stressful and in a way they share a common language of music,” says Leah Porrata, CFCA’s senior director of education and outreach.

A BREAK FOR CAREGIVERS: Porrata says the sessions provide a respite for caregivers, for whom “interactions can be a struggle, and you forget or get away from the previous nature of your relationship. So coming to something like this, where the only thing you have to do for an hour is sing and have fun and smile and hang out with fun people like Scott and our volunteers, who are a laugh riot, allows them to interact in a loving and healthy way.”

TRAVELING BACK IN TIME: Each participant is given a book that contains lyrics to more than 50 songs—from “Amazing Grace” to “Great Balls of Fire.” Many sing from memory. “I know a lot of research has shown that the musical memories are the last memories to go, so I think you can see somebody just light up when they hear a song they know, and they’ll actually sing it and remember the words,” Kinkead says.

SEEING THAT SPARK: “We have one lady who comes and on a good day she’s up and dancing. You can just see her coming alive in there,” says volunteer Marti Osborne. “Music moves the soul.” Some participants break into dance with such favorites as “Rock Around the Clock.” They may even link arms and form a kick line during “New York, New York.” The scenes warm the heart of volunteer Terry Lulofs. “Maybe they’re not as light on their feet as they once were, but the songs just bring something up, and they’re just free and they’re happy. Who can’t be happy when watching that?”

FINDING ENCOURAGEMENT: “We’ve developed good friendships not only with other caregivers but also with people who are memory-impaired,” says Dennis Dulniak of Oviedo, who cares for his memory-impaired wife, Nancy. “This is one thing Nancy looks forward to.”

Gloria Puerto

Providing tools for those in despair, from one who knows their plight well.
By Megan Stokes

A GIVING NATURE. Growing up, Gloria Puerto sometimes came home from school without her coat. She’d explain to her upset mother that she’d given it away to a classmate who was cold. Today, Puerto’s life still revolves around helping others.

PICKING UP THE PIECES. Puerto founded Feed and Fortify, an organization that helps families break the cycle of poverty, while she was climbing out of financial ruin herself. Seven years ago, she had lost her job, her marriage, her home and car and was working minimum-wage jobs to support her 6-year-old son. “When I was in my worst situation I decided to do this craziness. God gave me this purpose and from there, I got to a good place,” she says.

DOORS OPEN. She viewed volunteering as a way to help herself practically and spiritually. In addition to running Feed and Fortify, she began volunteering for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, helping plan events. A member there liked Puerto’s work and gave her a job. “Sometimes crisis can help you find the best point of view. It doesn’t matter the situation; it’s the way you react,” she says.

ESSENTIALS AND MORE. Puerto’s day typically starts around 5 a.m. and doesn't end until around 9 p.m., as she splits  time between her full-time job and Feed and Fortify. She and her 10 steady volunteers work with families on the edge of homelessness, usually due to divorce, addiction, a criminal record or escape from abuse. Feed and Fortify provides rental assistance to prevent them from living on the street, a quarterly series that teaches resume writing and budget guidance, and donates slow cookers to families living in hotels. “Most of the people really want to change their situation,” Puerto says. “We are giving them a hand today. Maybe they can give someone a hand in the future.”

MAKING LIFE SURVIVABLE. Feed and Fortify has served more than 30,000 meals in seven years, helped 200 families find transitional housing and serves nearly 500 families annually at Thanksgiving and Christmas events. Puerto realizes, however, that change doesn’t come easily. She estimates that only a handful of the families she helped place in housing have realized the ideal picture of success—a stable home and income. But she knows her work helps to make her clients’ struggles more bearable or, in some cases, survivable—and many times allows them to make small steps in the right direction. “It all depends on how you measure success,” Puerto says. “If they see human compassion, it might be enough for them not to commit suicide or to stop drinking. That keeps me going.”

Monique Morris

An educator tirelessly serving her community: “I just do what I do.”
By Cheri Henderson

HER PASTOR’S CHALLENGE. Monique Morris remembers when her pastor, Herman Dericho of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, challenged his congregants to get involved with the community’s youth. A weekly FCAT tutoring program featuring free dinner was born, with Morris at its head. “I just go back to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘Anybody can serve.’ You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to serve,” she says. As Dericho says, “She’s always trying to help people.”

ROLL THE CREDITS: “Ms. Morris has committed her life as a community servant,” says Orange County District 2 Commissioner Rod Love, who nominated Morris for District 2 Citizen of the Year in 2018. Morris serves on the board for Relay for Life of Apopka, on the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade committee, and with the National Night Out Against Crime, the Get Out the Vote initiative and the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance scholarship program.

FAITHFUL THROUGH THE STORM: When a tree fell on Morris’ house during Hurricane Irma in 2017, that didn’t stop her from serving. “I couldn’t stay in my house for 10 days. I would go to my aunt’s house, take a shower and go serve food at my church. I was on Facebook Live saying, ‘Come out here and get something to eat.’ I was in my car delivering stuff —food, ice and water.”

SHE’S ALL IN: “If I can’t do something 110 percent, I don’t do it at all,” Morris says, whether in her volunteer work or her day job as an administrator at Ocoee High School. “I don’t want to lack anywhere.”

A LESSON TO YOUTH: As a single mom raising her three sons, who are now in their 20s, “I included them in a lot of the things that I did. I want them to know they need to care about others, they need to serve others, and they need to respect people.” As for the millennials she mentors, she hopes they will follow her example—that they will “want to give back.”

SHE REMAINS HUMBLE: When Morris got word she was named District 2 Citizen of the Year, “I called Ms. Shirley, Rod Love’s aide, and said, ‘I just received something in the email. Did you send that to me by mistake? Do you want me to give that to somebody?’” she laughs.

A TANGIBLE REMINDER: Morris has a cross in her room that reminds her why she does what she does. “When I come to the end of my journey, I want God to say, ‘You have used every talent I have given you.’”

Charlie Sanford

A sweet idea to save the creatures that keep our Earth humming.
By Megan Padilla

A HARSH REALITY REALIZED: Charlie Sanford is a bee guy. The raw honey from his hives tastes like Florida: orange blossoms, sea grapes, palmetto, melaleuca and black gum tupelo. His brand, Honey Feast, is now in 300 stores, and chefs such as Michael Dunton of Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, use it by the gallon. But Sanford has witnessed the destruction of habitat. “If there’s a hive anywhere here, they kill it,” he says, referring to relentless development of a growing Orlando that often overlooks the fact that our very existence relies on bees and their pollination. How could he rescue them, he wondered?

MEANT TO BEE. Instead of relocating displaced bees to agricultural lands, Sanford instead looked to urban locations such as backyards and rooftops. “They are out of everyone’s way and the bees can have their own domain,” he says. The Bee Above It project was born and Chef Dunton agreed to host the first hives. In the typical Sanford style of throwing himself into a new project, he ordered a bunch of new bee boxes, put a call out on Facebook to hire some artists and three days later hosted a painting party at Infusion Tea in College Park to transform the plain white wooden crates into works of art.

BEEKEEPERS IN WAITING. Knowing that the hives would need tending, Sanford tapped two of his employees who had so far worked solely in the processing and marketing of Honey Feast, but never in the fields. Kasy Bradshaw and Kala Piercy jumped at the chance to don the head-to-toe white jumpsuit and learn the art and science of being an apiarist from Sanford, who learned it from his father. The two have become passionate about their new responsibilities. “Until I’m doing this every day,” says Bradshaw, “it won’t be enough.”

ROOM TO GROW. So far, the pilot program is under way at the Renaissance, and for logistical reasons, the hives aren’t on the roof but have been situated near a service entrance outside  the ballrooms, where Dunton has also planted fruit trees. In order to sponsor these, and other planned hives throughout the state, Sanford sells a plastic pouch of wildflower honey labeled Bee Above It in 26 Earth Fare and Lucky’s Market stores in Florida, channeling proceeds to fund the program.

Faith-Christina Duncan

A talent for spreading happiness with her homemade quilts.
By Cheri Henderson

GIVING BIRTH TO HOPE: Faith-Christina Duncan, an 18-year-old philanthropist and entrepreneur with Down syndrome, makes quilts for babies newly diagnosed with the congenital disorder. Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida CEO and Executive Director Janet Carmello delivers the donated quilts to their parents. “When I pull out that baby blanket and let them know a teenager with Down syndrome has taken her time to make a blanket and let them know what life can be like for their baby, you can immediately see the change in their faces from fear to hope.”

THAT TRANSFORMING MOMENT: Paige McMillen of Winter Park was one such parent. Her newborn son Tristan was diagnosed with Down syndrome in 2017. “We received the diagnosis officially when he was born. You tend to look at the worst-case scenario,” she shares. The blanket “just changed the way I thought about Down syndrome and about how Tristan’s life would turn out.”

MATERIAL GAIN: The St. Cloud teen, who began sewing at 13, funds her donated quilts, totaling more than 100, through her online store, Imperfect Creations. Her quilts hang in the local Down Syndrome Association lobby, as well as at Best Buddies Florida. Duncan describes the quilts as “a reminder of my accomplishments and also as a beacon of hope for anyone that visits their offices.”

FOCUS ON ABILITY: A mainstreamed student who has made honor roll and is a member of the National Honor Society, Duncan is scheduled to graduate in May. “I always tell people, ‘Don’t diss my ability,’ because I know I can do something they cannot do.” She plans to study American sign language in college and become a teacher and interpreter. Meanwhile, she juggles school, homework and church activities with her sewing.

PRIZED EFFORTS: Duncan’s efforts won her the Youth in Philanthropy Award in 2017, earning her a $2,000 check from the Edyth Bush Foundation to help fund her charity. She has also received the Jennie Bronstein Citizenship Award and has been featured as an Everyday Hero on Spectrum News Channel 13. Her reaction to all the accolades: “I’m overjoyed.”

RAISING THE BAR: “The inspiration she gives to individuals is overwhelming,” her mom, Nancy-Carole Duncan, says. “We give God the credit for everything He has helped her do. We’re beyond proud of her.”

Lee Perry & Caroline Chomanics

Best friends raising the profile of urban agriculture.
By Loraine O'Connell

A MEETING OF MINDS: Growing up in low-income housing in Massachusetts, Lee Perry (in hat, above) and her mom raised tomatoes, corn and broccoli in their tiny porch garden. Fond memories of their gardening inspired her interest in environmental activism.  For Caroline Chomanics, family camping trips and four years as a caretaker at Gotha’s Nehrling Gardens nurtured her connection to nature.

A GREEN DISCOVERY: While working on her horticulture degree, Chomanics learned about Fleet Farming. The fledgling nonprofit had sprouted in 2014 from IDEAS for Us, a nonprofit founded by Chris Castro, the city of Orlando’s director of sustainability. Fleet Farming’s goal: to convert underused lawn space into edible gardens. Chomanics was drawn to Fleet Farming’s mission and hired as a farming coordinator. When she met Perry at a gathering of those interested in sustainability issues, she asked Perry to join her. The activists quickly became best friends, as well as Fleet Farming’s program director (Perry) and program manager (Chomanics).

URBAN AG'S BENEFITS: Local farming provides organically grown produce to residents and farmers markets. Growing food locally also can reduce the energy needed to transport the average meal 1,500 miles from farm to table, and the 3 million tons of chemical fertilizers, 30,000 tons of pesticides and 800 million gallons of gasoline used yearly for lawn mowing.

HOW IT WORKS: Perry and Chomanics’ fleet of bicyclists go on “swarm rides” three times a month to tend the program’s 20 Audubon Park farmlettes. “Homeowners donate their land and startup funding,” Perry explains. The resulting produce goes to the homeowner and to local farmers markets. In the program’s Parramore branch, farmlettes are located on land donated by churches, schools and community centers. The program’s 200-plus “edible landscapes” are located within a 20-mile radius of greater Orlando. Fleet Farming installs and, for a fee, will maintain raised garden beds and fruit trees for individuals and organizations. “We build gardens to empower people to grow their own food,” Chomanics says. For low-income schools and nonprofits, Perry and Chomanics have used grants and donations to install gardens. Success stories include Catalina Elementary and the Academic Center for Excellence in the Callahan neighborhood.

IN THE WORKS:  The best friends are busy seeking donors to support garden installations for several organizations, including the Coalition for the Homeless and Quest, Inc., which serves people with disabilities. “We can really become a leader in urban agriculture,” Chomanics says, “because our climate allows us to grow in spring, summer and fall.”

Tina Kadolph

Coffee-brewing for a cause—to end human trafficking.
By Lisa A. Beach

A HORRIFIC BEGINNING: Growing up in California with her mom, a prostitute, Tina Kadolph got involved in sex trafficking at age 4 and was sexually abused for more than a decade. She ran away from home at 17 but met and married “the wrong guy.” Into drugs and violence, he put a gun to Tina’s head and threatened to kill her. Friends intervened and he was arrested and sent to jail. All this and Tina was barely 20 years old. Yet, that rough start in life planted the seed for Palate Coffee Brewery—a volunteer-staffed café in Sanford where all profits go toward abolishing modern-day slavery: human trafficking.

HER SAVING GRACE: Life changed for the better in 1981 when Tina met Carl Kadolph at a party. “He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” she recalls. When Carl gave her a rose to demonstrate her beauty and worth, she says, “It was the first time a guy had ever treated me with kindness.” They moved to Florida, got married, had two daughters (now 31 and 33), and adopted a son (now 23) from Guyana. Tina and Carl recently celebrated their 34th anniversary.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Through therapy, Tina learned to deal with her past, which led the Kadolphs to start Love Missions in 2000. Dedicated to ending human trafficking, the nonprofit does mission work through community awareness, education, and hands-on projects. In the U.S., volunteers travel to impoverished areas to care for those in need. Globally, they build safe houses. On a trip to Guyana, Tina encountered a 7-year-old girl whose mother sold her for $25 to a 57-year-old man. “That triggered me,” notes Tina. “I wanted to give them hope that life can be different.”

A CUP WITH A CAUSE: Wanting to empower their local community to make a global difference, the Kadolphs opened Palate Coffee Brewery in 2015 to raise money and awareness for Love Missions. Tapping into his construction background, Carl saved dozens of pallets to help design the space’s interior. Considered an ugly throw-away, the pallets symbolize what Tina says human trafficking victims feel—that they’re trash. But the Kadolphs turned the pallets into something beautiful—a coffee shop with a purpose. Through Love Missions and Palate Coffee, they hope to do the same for victims—turn their lives into something beautiful by providing hope, support, and resources. The all-volunteer baristas at Palate pour “a local cup with a global mission,” where all profits (including tips) are funneled to Love Missions. To date, Palate has raised more than $36,000 (in funds, clothing, hygiene kits, and other items) to help fight human trafficking. |

Categories: Community