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Introducing The Inaugural Our Wellington Awards

Introducing The Inaugural Our Wellington Awards

The inaugural Our Wellington Awards honor members of the Wellington community who have made an award-winning difference to our village. These awards, presented here for the first time, are a unique and special way to salute members of the community who have gone above and beyond in a voluntary capacity for the betterment of all village residents.

Wellington The Magazine decided to establish these awards to pay tribute to the many incredible volunteers that our community is fortunate to have among us. In this inaugural year, the Our Wellington Awards are recognizing community leaders who have made significant voluntary contributions in the many areas of public service, such as philanthropy, community welfare, sports, culture, the arts, recreation and education.

We are acknowledging those who have made unique contributions, very often out of the public eye, although they also may be well known within their communities, where their names are synonymous with “making a difference.” Wellington The Magazine is pleased to shine the spotlight on them.

We are happy to announce this year’s Our Wellington Award recipients: entrepreneurs and philanthropists Frank and Herta Suess; equestrian leader and Great Charity Challenge Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin; longtime Wellington High School educator Paul Gaba; Daniel, Sarah and Jonathan Clein, founders of the local nonprofit Bricks Busting Boredom; and community activists Marcia Hayden and Maggie Zeller.

Over the next few pages, you will get to put a face to the names of these community members who make Wellington more than a great hometown, but also a hometown with a heart. Learn about their background, how they became involved and what motivates them. Learn about the organizations they work with and how they decide to make a difference in the lives of others.

We hope you enjoy reading about these dynamic individuals and consider becoming involved in a worthwhile cause, benefiting and improving the lives of your neighbors as well.

This is the inaugural year of this award, and we look forward to receiving many more nominations for our upcoming 2023 award season.


Frank And Herta Suess
Entrepreneurs Frank And Herta Suess Are Big Supporters Of Their Adopted Hometown

Story by Mike May | Photo by Abner Pedraza

For longtime Wellington residents Frank and Herta Suess, the Village of Wellington is home, sweet home. It has been that way for more than 30 years for the couple, who were both born and raised in Germany.

“My wife and I moved to Wellington in 1989 from Long Island, New York,” Frank Suess said. “We had friends here at the time. We now have lots of friends in Wellington, and we enjoy it here. We always want to have a home in Wellington.”

While living in Wellington, they also raised their two sons, Oliver and Marcus. Both boys are now grown, married, have children of their own, and live in the Asheville, North Carolina, area.

Wellington and its fledgling business community benefited a great deal by having entrepreneurs and philanthropists Frank and Herta Suess living in the community. They operate their medical supply companies and several other businesses out of a location on Fairlane Farms Road.

“We were some of the first members of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce,” recalled Frank, who remains a member of the local chamber, which honored him with its Man of the Year Award in 2003.

Frank was also honored by then Wellington Mayor Tom Wenham with a certificate of appreciation for his work in support of the Village of Wellington. And in the early 2000s, the Wellington Rotary Club also recognized Frank with its coveted Gladney Award for his service to the community.

Over the last 30 years, Frank and Herta Suess have operated a number of successful businesses in Wellington, but what has made them leaders in the community was their willingness to support a wide array of nonprofit organizations across a broad spectrum of focus areas.

“Over the years, we have supported the Boys & Girls Clubs with donations, and supported Little Smiles as well,” Frank said. “We are still involved with Little Smiles, which provides day-to-day assistance to families whose children are battling cancer. We are also supporting the Wellington Community Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, Hospice, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County, My Brothers’/Sisters’ Keeper and Doctors Without Borders.”

Herta, meanwhile, is a member of the Wellington Historical Society and has provided hands-on assistance with the Wellington-based nonprofit Back to Basics. Internationally, Frank is also working with an organization in Poland that helps Ukrainian refugees.

Originally from Bavaria in Germany, Frank’s educational background is in industrial engineering. He worked in the engineering industry in New York but became an entrepreneur when the family moved to Wellington, first focusing on respiratory supplies before moving on to diabetes equipment. Their current businesses span a number of different industries.

When Frank and Herta Suess are not working and supporting those in need, they like to take extended trips.

“I’m not a golfer or tennis player,” Frank said. “But we love to travel. We visit our sons and their families in North Carolina. We return to Europe every year in the fall, and we like to visit Asia.”

Anne Caroline Valtin Equestrian Anne Caroline Valtin Supports Wellington Through Her Great Charity Challenge Leadership

Story by Mike May  |  Photo by Lois Spatz

Nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach County are better off now than they were 13 years ago thanks to the hard work of Anne Caroline Valtin, executive director of the Wellington-based Great Charity Challenge, sponsored by Fidelity Investments.

The big-picture numbers associated with the Great Charity Challenge are eye-opening. “In 13 years, the Great Charity Challenge has distributed $17.7 million to 294 charitable organizations and nonprofit groups,” said Valtin, who is also an accomplished equestrian rider.

Every dollar raised by the Great Charity Challenge is distributed to approved Palm Beach County-based charitable organizations, due to the GCC’s support from Equestrian Sport Productions and the Global Equestrian Group covering all event expenses. “We are proud that 100 percent of the funds raised are distributed to approved causes in need,” said Valtin, who has led the Great Charity Challenge since its second year of existence. “We track how the funds are distributed and spent, and we generate a report every quarter. We are very transparent with how we distribute the funds and how that money is spent.”

The GCC’s grant application process starts each year on Oct. 31. Groups have two weeks to get their paperwork completed and submitted.

“Our application process is very fair and simple,” Valtin said. “We know that nonprofit organizations have limited time and resources to dedicate to such a task.”

Valtin makes sure that the vetting process is performed in a professional manner.

“We have a very thorough vetting process to determine the validity and impact of each group’s mission, thanks to a partnership with Bank of America and the support of GuideStar,” she said.

Once a nonprofit has been approved, its application is placed in a lottery bin. By the end of the vetting process, roughly 300 groups will have been approved. Then, just like in lottery drawings, one approved application after another is extracted from the lottery bin. An average of 50 applicants will receive funding through the process, which will next be held in January 2023.

Soon after the drawing, nonprofits will be assigned to 35 different show jumping teams for the event held in early February. At the GCC, those 35 teams will compete against one another at Wellington International, home of the Winter Equestrian Festival. The better that each team does, the more money its charitable organization will receive. The 15 charities not assigned to a show jumping team will receive funding in the form of grants, but not as much as the 35 charities involved in the Great Charity Challenge itself. The riding groups will win $15,000 to $100,000 for their nonprofits.

On the day of the GCC, everybody affiliated with the nonprofit groups is a show jumping fan.

“I am passionate about equestrian sports and philanthropy, but for this special night, I’m truly just a facilitator,” Valtin said.

And thanks to Valtin, the Great Charity Challenge will continue operating smoothly, which means that charitable organizations in Palm Beach County will continue thriving.

For information regarding the 2023 Great Charity Challenge, visit www.greatcharitychallenge.com.

Paul Gaba Educator Paul Gaba Has Led Wellington High School’s Highly Regarded Debate Program For Two Decades

Story by Mike May  |  Photo by Abner Pedraza

The role of teachers and coaches in the lives of students is difficult to fully measure, but they certainly can positively influence students in a way that will impact them for their entire lives. And when a coach gets to teach what he coaches, then the impact can be powerful and profound.

Paul Gaba, a teacher at Wellington High School, is one of those educators who coaches what he teaches. He teaches speech and debate at WHS and also coaches the school’s highly regarded speech and debate team.

“I’m now starting my 21st year as the speech and debate teacher and coach here at Wellington High School,” said Gaba, 58, a native of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who also teaches a TV production class and two social media classes at WHS.

Gaba realizes that when students register for his speech and debate class and join the team, they will learn more than just how to speak in public.

“With each student, I focus more on success than winning a speech or debate tournament,” explained Gaba, whose speech and debate team is nicknamed the Red Dawn Debaters. “For me, success takes place when a student achieves more than they thought was possible, such as a student being afraid of public speaking and then actually doing it. Success can be measured when a student discovers a new talent and passion. I’ve had students who couldn’t talk their way out of a paper bag, and then they actually master public speaking. That’s success.”

While many students learn about teamwork, sacrifice and communication as members of any of the athletic teams at Wellington High School, those same skills and more are taught by Gaba to the members of his speech and debate team.

“As the speech and debate coach, my focus is bettering each student’s future,” added Gaba, who has personally taught and coached more than 3,500 students since he has been teaching here in Wellington.

Gaba’s speech and debate squad competes on a local, regional, state and national level — and the Red Dawn Debaters have achieved success at every level.

Gaba has been leading the debate program since 2002. He is also chair of the Florida Oceanfront National Speech & Debate Association District, vice president of the Palm Beach Catholic Forensic League, and statewide tournament coordinator for the Florida Civics & Debate Initiative. He was named Florida’s debate coach of the year in 2011-12.

Aside from his work at Wellington High School, Gaba is an active member of Wellington’s Temple Beth Torah, where he is a board member of the Temple Beth Torah Brotherhood, a service group that raises money for charitable causes.

If you’re interested in learning more about coach Gaba’s squad, follow the group on Twitter @RedDawnDebaters and visit the team’s web site www.wellingtondebate.com.

With Gaba’s teaching and coaching, the Red Dawn Debaters are sure to achieve success this year, which is the ultimate goal. And don’t be surprised if they add to Wellington High School’s impressive collection of speech and debate trophies.

The Clein Family Bricks Busting Boredom: Clein Family Brings Smiles Through Lego Bricks

Story by Mike May  |  Photo by Abner Pedraza

Creativity is essential to enriching young minds. To help build this creativity, Wellington siblings Daniel, Sarah and Jonathan Clein collect Lego bricks and distribute them to children in need.

Their nonprofit Bricks Busting Boredom has grown rapidly since Daniel started the program in 2015 after visiting his cousin in the hospital and learning of how useful Lego sets can be for young patients.

Daniel, soon joined by his sister Sarah, saw that there were very few creative outlets for children undergoing treatment. While fighting for their health, children are stuck in the hospital, sometimes for months. While hospital staffers work hard to entertain the children, they need assistance.

The Cleins realized a colorful and creative channel for these children: Lego bricks. They just needed to find a way to get them into local hospitals. So, they founded Bricks Busting Boredom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to collecting new and used Lego bricks to give to the children.

Daniel ran the organization while he was in high school. While serving as head of the organization, he expanded the donation sites to include homeless shelters and foster homes.

In 2017, when Daniel graduated, he passed the mantel as head of the organization to Sarah. She also loved meeting the children who were the recipients of the donated Lego sets. Sarah decided that, along with their donations, Bricks Busting Boredom would start throwing “Lego parties.”

“We hosted the parties for children, brought the used Legos for them to play with, and left new Lego boxes for each child to take with them,” recalled mom Deborah Clein.

At these parties, the Clein family piles the Lego bricks on tables and then encourages the children to be creative with them and have fun. After hours of playing, they each get to leave with their own Lego box.

“Along with food and games, BBB’s Lego parties give the parents of these children time to take a break and watch their children simply be kids, playing with Legos and having fun,” Deborah said.

Clearly, Bricks Busting Boredom has grown into a great family project. Deborah and her husband Kenneth have supported their children as they each contributed their own ideas to expanding this family-run organization.

After Sarah graduated from high school in 2021, the youngest Clein child, Jonathan, became the new head of Bricks Busting Boredom. Nowadays, Jonathan conducts events at the Quantum House in West Palm Beach, the Kids Cancer Foundation in Royal Palm Beach, and JAFCO, an emergency shelter in Broward County.

Since this unique, Wellington-based nonprofit was founded, the impact that the Clein family has had on the lives of local children has been significant.

“Since 2015, we have collected and delivered more than two tons of Legos,” Deborah said. “We collect new and used boxes from those who contact us. Each donation makes a huge difference in the lives of children. So, if anyone has new or used Legos that they want to donate, they should definitely contact us.”

For more information, visit www.bricksbustingboredom.org, e-mail bricksbustingboredom@gmail.com or call (954) 682-3816.

Marcia Hayden Marcia Hayden Has Dedicated 20 Years To Her Community Service In Wellington

Story by Mike May  |  Photo by Abner Pedraza

One of the reasons why Wellington is such a great place to live is because of people like Marcia Hayden. Every community needs to have more residents like Hayden, who has done more in 20 years for Wellington than most people will do in their lifetimes.

Hayden’s commitment to Wellington started in 2001 when she and her husband Frank relocated to the community.

“We moved to Wellington from Detroit, Michigan, when my husband took a job with the South Florida Water Management District,” Hayden recalled. “We chose Wellington because we wanted to live in a community with great schools.”

With her youngest son attending high school and her husband busy working, Hayden started volunteering with the School Advisory Committee beginning in 2002.

“I’ve been involved with SAC for nearly 20 years, and I was president for a number of years,” Hayden said.

Her commitment to local schools also extends to her volunteer work on Wellington’s Education Committee, which works to support and improve local schools through keeping open lines of communication and also providing direct grants to the schools.

In addition, Hayden and a number of other college-educated women recently started a local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. “Our purpose is to be of service to mankind and to give back to the community,” Hayden said of the organization, which is also known as the Crowned Pearls of Wellington.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority members helped distribute free food to needy families who lined up at the Mall at Wellington Green. They also helped stock the pantry at Wellington Regional Medical Center with free food, snacks and drinks for hospital workers who were working extra-long hours as they tended to the needs of patients.

Another one of Hayden’s causes is Students Working to Achieve Greatness (SWAG), a public-private partnership between the Village of Wellington, local schools and local businesses. “We work with students from both high schools in Wellington,” she said. “It’s a mentoring program where we help prep students for life.”

When Hayden speaks to the students, she tells them of her immigrant roots and reminds them how fortunate they are to be living in the U.S., where opportunities abound. “I encourage students to find their passion and follow their dreams,” Hayden said.

In addition to being mentors to the students, Hayden and her SWAG colleagues have mobilized students to help with hurricane preparation in Wellington and provide internship opportunities for the students during the summer months.

Hayden is also the secretary for the Florida division of the American Civil Liberties Union. With the ALCU, one of her key initiatives is voter registration. As an immigrant, she really appreciates the power of voting. “Many people have lost their rights and don’t know that they have been restored,” she said.

With all that she does, it’s not a surprise that her husband is amazed at her commitment to Wellington. “My husband says my volunteerism is like a full-time job,” Hayden said.

Maggie Zeller Community Service And Helping Others Is A Way Of Life For Maggie Zeller

Story by Mike May

If community activist Maggie Zeller didn’t have a job, she’d spend even more time providing a helping hand. “I love giving back to the community and volunteering in Wellington,” Zeller said. “It’s my passion.”

Zeller, 70, is an independent health insurance agent. Also known as “Medicare Maggie,” she works to make sure that seniors have the right Medicare coverage.

“I want to make sure that seniors make the right decision on their Medicare policy,” Zeller said. “I’m passionate about our seniors. I’m one of them.”

When Zeller is not at work, she’s busy providing assistance to those in need.

“Growing up in Westchester County, New York, my mother was president of the Junior League,” Zeller recalled. “I remember attending meetings with her. As an adult, the first nonprofit I joined was the Junior League.”

Today, Zeller is a board member of the Wellington Rotary Club, the Wellington Community Foundation and Back to Basics. One great thing about volunteering in Wellington is that organizations often work together.

“We all work together as we help children and seniors,” Zeller said. “My role with the Wellington Rotary is to organize and coordinate all the community projects that Rotary does.”

Three of the projects that the Rotary supports and Zeller helps coordinate are the Dictionary Project, the Angel Program and the Pay It Forward program.

“With the Dictionary Project, we go to every public elementary school in Wellington and provide a free dictionary for every third-grade student,” Zeller said. “Every year, we distribute more than 2,500 dictionaries.”

The Angel Program is a holiday program through Back to Basics for underprivileged children. “We give children in need a care package that includes new socks, sneakers, underwear and school uniforms,” Zeller said. “The Rotary and the Wellington Community Foundation support this holiday program by volunteering to purchase and wrap gifts.”

The Rotary recently started a new program, Pay It Forward, which provides groceries for a number of families whose children attend the local Boys & Girls Club. “We helped more than 200 families with bags of groceries that contained rice, sugar, macaroni and cheese, pasta, sauce, canned goods and vouchers for food at Chick-fil-A,” Zeller said.

Recently, Zeller participated in the Village of Wellington’s Back-to-School event. Backpacks and school supplies were provided by the Wellington Rotary and the Wellington Community Foundation. School uniforms were purchased by the foundation through Back to Basics. Zeller coordinated volunteers to make sure that the children who attended received what they needed for school.

For Zeller, being a volunteer in Wellington is like being a part of a winning team. “I cannot do what I do without the support of the dedicated volunteers with both the Wellington Rotary and the Wellington Community Foundation,” she said.

When not working for local seniors or the local community, Zeller enjoys spending time at the beach.

“You can find me on the beach Sunday mornings, where I sit in my beach chair, read my book, and watch my two grandchildren ride the waves and play in the sand,” Zeller said.

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Investing In The Community

Investing In The Community
Upcoming Wellington Capital Projects Will Keep The Village Moving Forward

By Deborah Welky

The Village of Wellington is implementing an ambitious Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) designed to keep the village moving forward across all facets of the community, from utilities and drainage to recreation and public safety.

In a municipality, the CIP outlines the structure, funding and timeline for projects that will shape the community for decades to come. Its ultimate goal is improving the quality of life for residents.

Wellington Village Manager Jim Barnes prefers to refer to his CIP as a “Community Investment Program.”

“Since Wellington was incorporated, we have been investing and re-investing in the community,” Barnes explained. “That is what increases our property values, what increases the satisfaction rating of our residents, and what keeps us a great place for people to live and raise a family.”

With a proposed capital project budget of $23.8 million for fiscal year 2023, which gets underway Oct. 1, there are numerous expenditures on the drawing board to be studied, weighed and considered by the Wellington Village Council. Many have been on the books and approved for years. Some are newer suggestions. Some projects are crucial improvements to critical services, while some are forward-thinking enhancements that many communities can only dream about.

In all, over the next year, Wellington will spend $9,985,000 on improvements to its water and wastewater utilities; $9,365,024 on one-time projects that include recreation and public safety; and $4,460,000 to sustain ongoing programs, like streetscapes, technology upgrades and existing parks.

Here, we are looking at just a few of the key capital projects residents can expect in 2023 and beyond.

Utility & Drainage Improvements

Before Wellington was incorporated in 1995, it was governed by the Acme Improvement District, which maintained the community’s drainage system, utilities, roads and parks. Those remain core functions for Wellington’s government today.

Now, with a population of more than 65,000 and a reputation as the “equestrian capital of the world” that attracts still more people during the winter months, the stresses and strains put on the drainage and utility systems are many and varied. A large part of the village’s capital budget is that unseen money that makes sure those services remain seamless for residents, businesses and visitors alike.

A $4 million expansion of Wellington’s water treatment facility and a group of projects at the water reclamation facility totaling $3.5 million are nearing completion, keeping Wellington’s municipal water supply pure and its residents safe.

Due to the sub-tropical climate of the area, there’s water, water everywhere and no-one wants to drive through it. Surface drainage is always a consideration, particularly this time of year, which is the height of hurricane season.

“We’re continuing our neighborhood pipelining project that was started several years ago,” Barnes said. “We’re sticking to the reinvesting in our infrastructure with improved flood protection and resource protection. That is how we control the quantity and the quality of stormwater.”

This project, with $510,000 budgeted next year, is focused on the older areas of the community.

“We’re starting to go into our oldest neighborhoods that are 40 to 45 years old, the ones that were part of the original development, and renewing, replacing or both to extend the life of these pipes for 30 to 50 years or longer,” Barnes said. “Some of the systems have stopped functioning as they were intended to, and we want them to function well. The evidence of our efforts is that now our neighborhoods recover from storms quickly. We have also made improvements and added efficiencies to our pump stations that handle the surface water before it moves into the regional water system.”

Improvements at Town Center

With an increased population comes the need for a central municipal area where residents can access information, speak to village representatives, gather for community functions and more. In Wellington, that “more” is so much more. In early May, the council approved a contract with Urban Design Studios to move forward with Phase Three of the Wellington Town Center project.

“We have already completed the boardwalk along Lake Wellington, and we are working on Phase Two — the expansion of the Wellington Amphitheater. Phase Three is comprised of the aquatics center and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office substation. Together with the Lake Wellington Professional Centre, we will monitor how those site plans affect Town Center and present a comprehensive plan to the council for their consideration,” Barnes said.

This is an area that has been a work-in-progress since 2008.

“In that time frame, we started the work here at the Town Center, and what was here before was the old Wellington East Club building, the pool and some tennis courts. There was a lot of vacant property around it for years,” Barnes said. “But even in 2008, when times were tough, the village started investing and reinvesting in the community with the new Village Hall, and we haven’t looked back since. We used a grant from Palm Beach County to construct the amphitheater and the Williamson family’s generous donation for the Scott’s Place barrier-free playground. The relocation of the tennis center to Lyons Road and the reconstruction of the new Wellington Community Center has made this area the place to gather and govern.”

The Future of the Aquatics Center

A new aquatics facility is high on the village’s priority list. But officials want it done right, and that takes research and time.

“The current aquatics facility was one of the original facilities we’ve had since nearly the village’s incorporation, and except for the 2009 renovations, it’s largely still the same hole in the ground it was when it was part of the Wellington East Club,” Barnes said.

The location of the new facility remains the key question to be answered.

“The big decision that the council still has to make is the site, since we do have options and the opportunity to build a new one,” Barnes said. “What I think is important is that we don’t take the existing facility out of service during the construction. It’s critical that we look at that. Construction would probably take one and a half years, and we don’t want to shut down programs that may never get their participants back.”

The village plans to use sales surtax funds to offset the estimated $4.9 million cost, $3.4 million of which is in 2023 budget, and hiring the right consultant to help choose the site is key.

“We would require the consultant to look at all existing potential areas within the village,” Assistant Planning, Zoning & Building Director Michael O’Dell said. “Village Park has some additional property near the 120th Avenue South entrance, Greenbriar has some vacant areas, and the School District of Palm Beach County has allowed us to consider a site on their property near Wellington High School. We want to look at all possible considerations.”

Public Safety Annex

Keeping Wellington safe means making sure that the PBSO has a state-of-the-art facility as its local headquarters. There is $3.9 million earmarked for this, of which $3 million is in the 2023 budget.

“Ever since our incorporation as a village, we have worked with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to keep our residents safe,” Barnes said. “As part of our contract, we provide the space for them to operate, to support their work at the village. They used to be in a leased space at the original Wellington Mall. Then they moved into the old village administration building on Greenbriar Blvd.”

This latest effort aims to make the PBSO substation more centrally located.

“In our efforts to have a central area in which to ‘gather and govern,’ we have a desire to have them located at the Town Center site,” Barnes said. “We want a public safety complex to house everybody from the PBSO at one location, whether it’s adjacent to Village Hall or elsewhere on the Town Center property. We are working on planning, design and site selection, and the council is very committed to that, which speaks to their commitment to public safety.”

Athletics Training Facility

Although not at the top of the list, a proposed training facility for up-and-coming local athletes is garnering a lot of enthusiastic attention. At the site of what used to be the old Wellington Boys & Girls Club building on South Shore Blvd., there is talk of a 90,000-square-foot training facility for athletics built through a public-private partnership.

Outside, field space would be improved and conditioned for softball, baseball and an open sports field perfect for soccer, football and other sports. Some money for the project, which is not yet fully approved, is in the 2023 budget.

“That project, privately funded by a group named Wellington Athletics, would come in at between $33 to 36 million,” Barnes said. “The village would have to prepare the site, at a value of approximately $1.5 million, as part of the public-private partnership.”

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Educating The Next Generation

Educating The Next Generation The Moorcroft Foundation Inspires Conservation And Preservation In Wellington And Beyond

Story By Jessica Brighenti  |  Photo by Georgie Hammond

Wellington is known for its renowned equestrians, close proximity to beaches and beautiful weather. But it is also home to some of the rarest and endangered animals in the world, serving as educational ambassadors for a foundation with a mission of conservation, preservation, inspiration and education.

The Moorcroft Conservation Foundation, founded by accomplished equestrian and trainer Charlie Moorcroft, and his personal collection of rare animals, introduces children and adults to important conservation, rescue and rehabilitation issues while inspiring them to make a difference. The foundation raises funds to support collaborative organizations around the country while also bringing awareness to the local community and beyond.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Moorcroft spent much of his time outdoors riding horses, fishing and spending time in nature. Growing up in a large family with a schoolteacher as his mother, Moorcroft learned early on the importance of giving back, communicating and educating.

Throughout his life, Moorcroft tried his hand at many different careers, but was always drawn back to what was intertwined in his DNA — equestrian sports, nature and being around animals.

He made the move down to Wellington about 17 years ago for the horses and to continue his passion for educating the sport’s youth.

Moorcroft is renowned for his exceptional ability to teach children not only how to ride and care for an animal, but how to be confident, independent and communicative in life outside of the arena.

“I tell my students, there’s always someone more experienced than you, and there’s always someone who needs to look up to you or wants to look up to you,” Moorcroft explained. “I try to impress that upon my students. We inspire kids to help kids. I want kids to know that they are role models, and they are inspiring the next group. I want the kids coming up to know that we were once them.”

Riding lessons with Moorcroft are far from conventional. He brings students out to a track around a 15-acre body of water, where riders get to learn about and see everything from alligators, to fish and birds, butterflies, turtles and snakes. “I use that as a real teaching opportunity to talk about life and nature,” Moorcroft said. “The journey it takes these riders on is fascinating to me. It leads to a lot of great conversation.”

Besides his genuine passion and appreciation for horses and teaching the younger generation, Moorcroft heads up an even bigger passion project, the Moorcroft Conservation Foundation.

Following his involvement in the United States Hunter Jumper Association Foundation, he was inspired to do something more than just house special pets. He wanted to tell an educational story. In November 2020, the Moorcroft Conservation Foundation was born.

“We started the foundation just as a way to bring awareness and real-life experiences to people within and beyond our niche community,” Moorcroft said. “Our goal is really to bridge the gap between kids and education, and also bring funds to other organizations that we trust, so that they can also provide opportunities for kids to be involved at a local, national and global level.”

On the foundation, Moorcroft is assisted by notable equestrian Geoff Teall as executive director, and a board of directors that includes Louise Serio, Holly Caristo, Abby Blakenship and Susan Gordon. They look forward to continuing to share the foundation’s passion and initiatives while inspiring others in the Wellington community and beyond.

“The Moorcroft Conservation Foundation has been instrumental in introducing many people from the Wellington area, both young and old, to the importance of conservation issues,” Teall said. “This has included members of the equestrian community, as well as many year-round Wellington residents.”

Gordon said that the foundation offers an amazing experience to the groups of school children who visit.

“Having this hands-on learning opportunity with endangered animals right here in Wellington is surely an experience they remember for years to come,” Gordon said. “What a great way to inspire the next generation of conversation ambassadors!”

Blankenship has been impressed by Moorcroft’s ability to reach students on topics as varied as equestrian training and conservation.

“Everyone in the horse community knows about Charlie’s amazing gift of teaching children to ride,” she said. “With the foundation, the opportunity is available for people outside of the horse world to also experience his gift and his knowledge of conservation. Charlie’s charismatic method of teaching inspires people to want to learn more and do more. Wellington is fortunate to have a place like the Moorcroft Conservation Foundation. It’s a big museum education in a quaint and personal setting.”

Moorcroft also feels strongly about raising money for smaller, lesser-known, organizations, and he carefully vets and researches the ones his foundation gives to.

“I have a lot of crazy friends and a lot of crazy access to amazing ‘mom and pop’ sanctuaries and rescues that do rehabilitation, and a lot of organizations all over the country and the world that give back to animals in need on a real conservation and preservation level,” he explained.

Moorcroft’s own personal collection of animals is just a small piece of the puzzle to help drive the conversation about these unique species and the importance of conservation and preservation. “The animals and the foundation are very separate to me,” Moorcroft explained. “The animals themselves are owned, supported [and] taken care of by me.”

Although not a public facility, Moorcroft encourages people to come and visit, talk about and meet the animals, and understand conservation and the importance of helping these animals.

“I really enjoy merging my worlds by having some of my dear friends and even equestrian acquaintances come over to learn more,” Moorcroft said. “We do accept donations for the foundation and other organizations that we work closely with, but whenever possible, we love having people over to meet the animals and create conversation.”

Since its inception, the Moorcroft Conservation Foundation has supported organizations such as Feline Conservation, the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center, the Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group and McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, to name a few.

“I am excited to see what the future holds and what we can do for organizations around the world,” Moorcroft said.

To learn more about the Moorcroft Conservation Foundation, or to get involved, visit them on the web at www.moorcroftconservationfoundation.org.

 

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A Family Recipe For Success

A Family Recipe For Success Mario The Baker Restaurant In RPB Continues A Generations-Long Legacy In Fresh Italian Cooking

Story and Photos by Melanie Kopacz

What started as a father and son’s special connection through the love of cooking authentic Italian dishes together has turned into a legacy of recipes that have since been shared for generations across southeast Florida.

Mario The Baker has been dishing out its northeastern style pizza and Italian food since the restaurant opened in 2001 on State Road 7 in Royal Palm Beach. It has since become a staple in the community. It all goes back to the late Mario Scinicariello. “My father-in-law’s recipe for success was very easy,” General Manager Kevin Puebla said. “Keep things fresh and serve things you would only serve to your family.”

The motto at Mario The Baker is “Everything’s Fresh” — whether it’s picking up a hot pizza chock full of toppings like homemade Italian sausage, or sitting down to a piece of smooth and creamy lasagna. The longtime staff strives to greet customers with a familial flair, serving up hearty favorites that have made this a spot where many regulars spend time with friends and family.

“Mario started in Miami in 1969. His first restaurant was actually in Connecticut when he was 18 years old,” explained Puebla, who also got his start at the same age while working at the Royal Palm Beach restaurant as a teen.

That is where he met and later married Mario’s daughter, Palmina. The two have been running the family business ever since.

“Most of our recipes, like our tomato sauce and our marinara, are recipes that were his mother’s and father’s,” Puebla said. “They were also restaurateurs in Connecticut. When they first came over from Italy, his father was a baker by trade, hence the name, Mario The Baker.”

Both the baking and the sauce process start early every morning.

“We simmer our tomato sauce for five hours every day,” Puebla said. “It’s still the same old-school recipes that he had when he opened his first restaurant.”

That sauce is key to the recipes. A touch of sweetness comes from Italian tomatoes along with layers of flavor.

“The flavor profile — we use pork bones and sauté those with onions and garlic and add our tomatoes. A little bit of seasoning, and the flavor as it simmers for five hours — you get the flavor of the bones. There’s no meat in the sauce, but we use it as a flavoring, like you’d use a stock. It’s different from basic marinara sauce,” Puebla said.

While the sauce is simmering, the dough is rising. Balls of dough are draped on trays across the counters, ready to be turned into a feast.

“On a Friday night, we can push out between 350 to 400 pizzas,” he said. “Our pizza sauce is really simple. We use fresh, Italian tomatoes. We grind them with a small amount of seasoning.”

Cheese and pepperoni may be the most popular toppings, but the Italian sausage is a specialty. “We make it homemade as well,” Puebla said. “We use freshly ground pork butt with our seasoning. That’s it. No fillers, no nothing.”

Also popular is “Our Favorite Pizza,” made with sliced tomatoes, garlic and basil.

Before any entrée, come the must-have hot garlic rolls. They’re baked to perfection with just enough crisp on the outside and a light, airy inside, with freshly chopped garlic on top.

“On a good weekend day, between our catering and dining business, we go through four or five thousand garlic rolls in a day,” Puebla said.

Along with the rolls, comes a side of spaghetti with dishes like the chicken parmesan — one of the biggest sellers.

“It’s a local favorite. We do a tremendous amount of catering from 40 people to 1,500, and I’d have to say the majority have chicken parmesan in their catering,” Puebla said. “All our chicken is free range. No hormones, no antibiotics. It’s very clean. You can definitely taste the quality.”

Quality is key when it comes to picking tomatoes, too.

“We’re constantly on top of trying to be sure we have the right product and good quality. Throughout the year, we’ll buy tomatoes from different packers and farms in Italy, because different times of the year, different harvests could be riper, or a better product,” Puebla said. “The California tomatoes have a little tang to them, and Italian tomatoes tend to be a little sweeter.”

The sauce is a big factor in the lasagna, too. The ground beef is layered with Sopraffina ricotta.

“In Italian, ‘sopraffina’ means super fine. So, it’s really creamy, not lumpy. And the meat, we mix with some of our sauce. It’s delicious,” Puebla said. “Our veal parmesan is also huge. It’s a top-round butcher cut. Most people wouldn’t think coming into a little place like ours, that you’d get something like that, but we use a really good product.”

There are a number of pasta choices in addition to some newer favorites — including the chicken francese.

“It’s very light, made with a lemon, white wine and butter sauce. We added a few things to the menu, along with a porcini mushroom tortellini with a shiitake parmesan cream sauce,” Puebla said.

From salads to soups and subs, kids’ meals and desserts, there’s something for everyone who loves Italian, along with a selection of beer and wine.

Longtime customer, Carolyn Reynolds, dines with friends and family regularly, as if it were her home. “I come here two to three times a week. We’re like family,” Reynolds said.

The large and casual open space can hold 150 people with another 30 in the outdoor dining area. A brown tiled ceiling and vintage stained-glass lighting are reminiscent of a traditional pizzeria. Family keepsakes line the walls.

“I’ve watched a lot of families grow up here, including my own,” Puebla said. “It’s a family environment, and one of us is always here. It’s really important to us that one of us is always here to greet the customers.”

So, while namesake Mario Scinicariello may have passed away in 2016, his love of food, community and gathering lives on.

Mario The Baker is at 1007 State Road 7 in Royal Palm Beach. For more info., call (561) 798-4030 or visit www.theoriginalmariothebaker.com.

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For All Your Skin Care Needs

For All Your Skin Care Needs
Dr. Paloma Reiter Joins The Glick Skin Institute Office In Wellington

Dr. Paloma Reiter has joined the team of skilled dermatology associates that make up the Glick Skin Institute with offices in Wellington and Margate.

“Dr. Reiter is a kind and compassionate physician who will bring to our dermatology practice extensive training in dermatologic oncology and the management of complex medical skin diseases,” said Dr. Brad Glick, founder of the Glick Skin Institute, which specializes in medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology. “We are thrilled to have her on board!”

Reiter is a highly skilled dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon who is also an avid, lifelong equestrian eager to serve patients in the Wellington community.

A native Floridian from Plantation, Reiter graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University. She completed her medical degree at the renowned Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Reiter then completed a family medicine internship at the Larkin Community Hospital Palm Springs Campus and her dermatology residency at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York. In accomplishing one of her goals of helping patients detect skin cancers early, Reiter has also completed a pigmented lesion fellowship, where she developed a mastery in dermoscopy.

Reiter enjoys seeing patients of all ages. With her diverse training, she recognizes that the skin can be a window to internal diseases, how we perceive ourselves, and how others see us. Whether she is dealing with conditions such as acne, psoriasis, hair loss, skin cancer, autoimmune diseases or aging, Reiter is committed to optimizing her patient’s health and self-confidence.

With her multi-ethnic background, Reiter has unique insights into the treatment of different skin types, including those of color, and can communicate with her patients in both English and Spanish. Reiter has also received advanced surgical and cosmetic training, which allows her to provide patients with exceptional cosmetic outcomes. She exemplifies compassionate patient care and is an inductee of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

Reiter is passionate about providing her patients with the best care by continuing to stay up to date with the latest research and treatment options. In addition, she believes in the importance of contributing to the field of dermatology and continues to educate residents in the art of dermoscopy. She has been published in several prestigious academic journals, including the British Journal of Dermatology and the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Reiter is also an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, the Women in Dermatology Society and the Skin of Color Society, among others.

Aside from being an avid, lifelong equestrian, Reiter’s other non-work pursuits include spending time with her family and dog, hiking, practicing vinyasa yoga, traveling and trying new restaurants.

Reiter joins Dr. Brad Glick at the Glick Skin Institute, which is part of a growing, leading edge, patient-focused dermatology group practice known as SPC Dermatology Partners. The practice performs a balance of dermatologic, surgical and cosmetic procedures and provides full-service dermatologic care in the areas of skin cancer, dermatologic surgery, Mohs surgery, hair and nail diseases, pediatric dermatology, fillers, Botox and laser surgery.

Glick is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon who specializes in medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology, as well as in clinical research. He is the director of clinical research for GSI Clinical Research in Margate and has been in practice for more than 27 years.

Glick is a diplomate of the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology, the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners and is a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. He has authored numerous publications, journal articles and textbook chapters, and has served as a speaker, consultant and advisor to the pharmaceutical industry for more than 25 years.

A past president for the Florida Academy of Dermatology, Glick is a compassionate and dedicated physician who constantly strives to go above and beyond for his patients by providing the most comprehensive dermatologic care available.

The Glick Skin Institute is located at 1447 Medical Park Blvd., Suite 107, on the campus of Wellington Regional Medical Center. For additional information, call (561) 798-3494 or visit www.glickskin.com.

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Beautiful Home In Village Walk

Beautiful Home In Village Walk
This Private, Mediterranean-Style Home Is Located In One Of The Most Desirable Neighborhoods In Wellington

Photos Courtesy Sophie Ghedin/Keller Williams Realty

This beautiful home on desirable Xanthus Street in Wellington’s Village Walk neighborhood offers high-quality, custom, updated amenities throughout. A bright foyer beckons as you enter the living area with a modern design, custom window treatments and automatic shades. The updated chef’s kitchen is tastefully done with high-end fixtures, cabinetry and case goods with extra built-in closet space for kitchen storage. The interior entertainment area flows to a screened-in outdoor room for lounging and eating, backdropped by an oval pool and well-maintained gardens and lake.

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High Expectations For Students And Staff

High Expectations For Students And Staff Binks Forest Elementary’s Principal Michella Levy Lives By The School’s Motto ‘Expect The Best’

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

Binks Forest Elementary School opened in February 2000 as the third elementary school in Wellington, serving the community’s growing western areas. For the past 13 years, the school has been led by Principal Michella Levy.

Levy is living proof that success can be achieved no matter what life throws at you. Raised in a small central Florida town, she recalled struggled all through her school years, in a community where education did not seem to be a priority.

“I didn’t get the education that I needed, and I had no family support,” Levy said. “I went from kindergarten through 12th grade with the same group of kids. I was on a work/study program where I learned only basic reading, basic math, and went to work for the rest of the of day. There were 103 in my graduating class. I have a great work ethic, but school was not a great experience. And that’s why I’m a teacher and a principal now — to make a difference.”

Once Levy started reading in earnest, she read everything she could. Although it took her eight years to earn her bachelor’s degree, she completed a typically three-year master’s degree program in just one year — all while teaching full time.

By age 27, she was teaching elementary school at an inner-city school in Orlando. She went on to teach fourth and fifth grade in Palm Springs here in Palm Beach County, while also working as a reading coach, showing teachers how to successfully teach reading. She knew firsthand just how important that was.

This was followed by six years at Hidden Oaks Elementary School in suburban Lake Worth.

“I wanted to become a school counselor, but the principal at Hidden Oaks said, ‘No, I want you as my assistant principal,’” remembered Levy, who earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University and took the job.

Thirteen years ago, Levy was promoted to principal at Binks Forest here in Wellington.

“I’m very grateful and very humbled to be here. I truly do get to make a difference for 1,200 kids every day,” she said. “Every decision I make, I ask myself, ‘Am I doing the best for the child?’ If there’s a problem, I call the kid in, read their soul and see what they need. I’ll move a kid out of a particular class in a minute if that’s what they need.”

Levy gives special thanks to former Area Superintendent Dr. Matthew Shoemaker for his support during her early years as a principal.

“His guidance was amazing — with love and patience. The people who you love, you do things for out of love. The people you fear, you only do it out of fear. So, I lead with love,” Levy said. “I greet them at the door, hug them, want to know what kind of morning they had. I tell them, ‘We’re a family. We don’t bicker. We don’t gossip. We’re family. We love each other.’”

When Levy took over as principal, Binks Forest was already an A-rated school, in part because it was a gifted center, home to high-performing students from across Wellington. Today, most elementary schools keep their high-performing students, so Binks Forest is no longer classified as a gifted center, but it’s still an A-rated school.

“We’re a perfectly rounded school,” Levy said. “One-third of our students are functioning below grade level, one third are at grade level and one third are above grade level. We have more of our students than ever on the free and reduced-price lunch program, and people don’t realize that. It’s not the same ‘clientele,’ but we’re still scoring high on the state tests.”

For the past two years, being a principal meant dealing with many more social and emotional challenges — for staff, as well as students.

“You had to be there for everybody,” Levy said. “Even though we were delivering laptops and desks, kids were raising themselves in front of screens, my own included. I was too busy to ‘enjoy’ the pandemic.”

Yet Levy doesn’t consider the pandemic to be her biggest challenge as a principal. Instead, it’s something much simpler.

“Our motto at Binks is to ‘expect the best.’ I expect the best, and I’m a pro-active person. So, I find it hard to run a school when I don’t have complete control over everything. For example, maintenance and furniture. I know what I need, and it’s difficult, with maintenance budget cuts, to get the resources. Getting a toilet fixed can take a while, but, if a bathroom isn’t fixed, a child loses seven minutes of class time going to another bathroom further away. Maintenance is important.”

Levy has tried to offset the problem by doing some fundraising on her own, but she always works to put her focus on the students.

“We pride ourselves on extremely high expectations for kids, but we also want to make learning fun,” she said. “We’ve planned 11 field trips for our fourth graders because I believe they will remember experiences over workbooks. We turn science, social studies and English into a farming experience. We plant things; we shuck corn. We dress up for a ‘Coming to America’ history lesson. They may not remember a book, but they will remember ‘Coming to America’ in second grade.”

What Levy looks for when hiring teachers goes beyond academics. “My staff and my teachers have to have heart,” she said. “I can teach teachers how to teach, but I can’t teach ‘heart,’ so that’s what I look for.”

At the start of the school year, Levy also takes the time to make sure that each student is placed with the correct teacher.

“I have their background on cards, and I look at every single kid individually,” Levy said. “It takes me about 60 hours to place every kid with the perfect teacher, but my goal is to educate the whole child — to make sure each child has a great year. Even then, I never let academics go — if a child needs individualized instruction in one area, that’s what they will get.”

Levy once had set her sights set on becoming a high school principal or even a superintendent but, upon reflection, decided to stay put.

“I’ll make more of a difference here,” she said. “I love what I’ve built at Binks Forest — the culture and environment. Because I’m so grateful to all the people who mentored me, I participate in a ‘My Mentor and Me’ program, as do many of the teachers here. It’s a good program for any student who needs a little extra love and attention. I mentor six children because I know what it’s like. Nothing has been handed to me.”

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THE SHOW MUST GO ON!

THE SHOW MUST GO ON! Wellington Schools Return To The Stage After A Two-Year Pause

For two years, the local fine arts and theater programs at schools across Wellington were on a pandemic pause. However, that all changed this spring when the local theater productions roared back to life to excited audiences at schools near you.

At the high school level, Palm Beach Central High School’s Bronco Players performed the classic musical Annie to sold-out crowds of theatergoers. Not to be outdone, Wellington High School’s theater department capped the school year with a fantastic performance of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!

Disney shows were popular at local elementary schools, with Wellington Elementary School presenting Aladdin Kids and Binks Forest Elementary School performing Lion King Jr.

Smiling students at all grade levels were excited to get back to the stage and perform for their peers and parents.

Palm Beach Central High School

The Palm Beach Central High School Bronco Players took to the stage, lighting it up as bright as the sun with the musical Annie.

The student-run show about the famous Depression-era orphan opened to a rousing audience of several hundred, as a cast and crew of 53 put on the musical over four performances held March 10-12.

“It has been a long road and journey to get back to this moment,” Artistic Director Gail Marshall said, adding that Annie was the perfect show for this year. “It has a great theme and lesson of being able to look beyond the troubles of today because tomorrow, being only a day away, can bring us so many possibilities.”

The show included surprise cameos from alumni and faculty, including Principal Darren Edgecomb. Twelve of the students were graduating seniors, including Marshall’s daughter, Amelia Marshall, who played Miss Hannigan.

Binks Forest Elementary School

Students from Binks Forest Elementary School performed The Lion King Jr. on March 4 to an appreciative crowd. The performance featured wonderful singing and amazing, intricate costumes.

The audience was singing along to the songs from the popular Disney classic featuring Simba and all his friends. Directors Niki Gilberti-Wheeler, Kathy Zangen, Claudine Ashley and Robin Peck did a fantastic job and thanked the Morrison family, Karen Epstein and Jennifer Roland for their support

Wellington High School

The Wellington High School theater department staged a fantastic performance of the popular musical Mamma Mia! from May 19 through May 21.

The musical featured the music of ABBA brought to life through the story of a young woman planning her wedding. A total of 30 cast members were in the high school production, including main stars Leora Zimmerman and Allie Alder. The cast and crew worked tirelessly to make the show happen.

Wellington Elementary School

The Wellington Elementary School Fine Arts Academy made its return when the musical theater group performed Aladdin Kids to a sold-out audience on May 19. Directed by Dave Morrison, the group was made up of mostly students who had little to no stage experience, but they did a fabulous job bringing the story of “street rat” Aladdin and his Princess Jasmine to life.

The faculty, staff and students got to enjoy the show at two morning performances. The students worked hard at after-school rehearsals, which included choreography, chorus practice, student actors and actresses rehearsing lines and songs, and much more.

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Two Decades Of Proven Success

Two Decades Of Proven Success Western Academy Charter School Will Begin The Academic Year In A New, Larger Facility

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

The upcoming school year is going to be an exciting one at the Western Academy Charter School. After many years of success using rented space in a shopping plaza, Western Academy is in the process of moving into its new home — a 62,400-square-foot building located at 12031 Southern Blvd. in Royal Palm Beach.

“We’re very excited about going into our new building and being able to offer more opportunities for both our existing students and for new students that we’re now able to serve from the surrounding community,” said Executive Director Linda Terranova, who founded the school nearly 20 years ago. “We’ll be able to help more children.”

Western Academy Charter School opened with 157 students in 2003 and expanded five times at its previous location. This fall, the new building will open with 575 students — and they’ll all be under one roof.

“We’ll have more control over the security and grounds,” Terranova said. “We won’t have to use a public park as our playground. We’ll have our own fenced-in basketball courts, a soccer field, an indoor gym room and a large multi-purpose room. We used to have two small cafeterias — now we can have 350 people in this multi-purpose room and use it for the cafeteria, for dances, graduations, after care and special events like Halloween night. We’ll have more classrooms, pull-out support rooms and special education offices, too.”

With students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Western Academy offers traditional education programs that adhere to state standards and curriculum, but it was initially created to serve a specific need.

“My oldest son has Asperger syndrome and was falling through the cracks in the Palm Beach County School District system,” Terranova recalled. “Back then, children like him were secluded out in portables. I wanted him to be mainstreamed into the regular education system. I wrote the charter, and we expanded from that. There was such a high need for something that was not a district school, and we were the only charter school out here for years.”

Terranova explained that Western Academy is set up as a nonprofit organization, unlike many other charter schools.

“Because we are a self-run nonprofit — not a for-profit charter — we don’t have to pay a management company, and the money can go into the programs,” she explained. “We also have some flexibility for what our students need. We don’t have to wait to get permission from the school board, where it can take a long time to get the support down to the kids. We can implement programs for the students we have that year. If they have problems with math or have reading issues, we can tailor-make our curriculum to correct that because we’re an independent school.”

Terranova, who has a master’s degree in educational leadership, served as the school’s principal for the first 16 years but recently handed the baton to Tsiri Miller, who took over as principal for the 2021-22 school year.

“In my new role as executive director, my focus was to find us a new location, get bonds to pay for the new facility, oversee the renovations and get us moved into the new building,” Terranova said.

With support from the Village of Royal Palm Beach, Western Academy was able to arrange for bond money through the Arizona Industrial Development Authority to take over and update the vacant building at the northwest corner of Southern and Crestwood boulevards. It was most recently the home of the Palms West Charter School.

Western Academy has been an A-rated school since 2006 and has also been designated a “School of Excellence” for being in the top 20 percent of all Florida schools. Its math program ranks in the top 5 percent across the state. Based on tests given to all students in grades 3 through 8 statewide, Western Academy has beat all the district schools in Royal Palm Beach and emerged as the No. 1 charter school in all of Palm Beach County.

Miller became the principal after serving Western Academy as one of its assistant principals, dean of students, ESE coordinator and a teacher. She said the school’s biggest challenge recently has been providing high-quality education during the pandemic while keeping students and staff safe and healthy.

“Even during the pandemic, our students thrived and succeeded,” Miller said. “We were one of only a few schools in the county who opted-in for an A school grade in 2021 and remain the No. 1 charter school in Palm Beach County. I’m really proud of our students, staff and parents for working together and supporting each other during those difficult times. I am excited to be moving into our new building where we will be able to serve more students in our community.”

Terranova is delighted to see how the school has grown over the past two decades.

“The climate of our school is special because it’s like a family,” Terranova said. “We’ve been around for so long. Some families have multiple children going through our school. We care about the safety, security and academics of our children. It’s a family atmosphere in an all-inclusion school with regular programs, advanced/honors programs at the middle school level and programs for those who are academically challenged.”

Western Academy has closed its enrollment period for the coming school year with all spaces filled, a waiting list and a lottery already conducted. Call (561) 792-4123 to ask to be put on the waiting list in case a space opens up. In the meantime, enrollment opens for the 2023-24 school year on Sept. 1.

For more information about Western Academy Charter School, visit www.westernacademycharter.com.

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The Future Of Sports Instruction

The Future Of Sports Instruction
Star Athletes Aim To Breathe New Life Into An Old Wellington Park

By Mike May

While Wellington is firmly established as the premier destination for equestrian sports, it’s likely that Wellington will also soon become home to one of the finest training and instructional destinations for sports such as football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and cheerleading.

The business entity pushing this new idea is Wellington Athletics LLC. It’s being spearheaded by three local athletes who went on to the big leagues: Jon Bostic, Devon Travis and Pat O’Donnell.

Bostic, a current NFL linebacker, has played in the NFL since 2013 for Chicago, New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Washington. Travis is a former Major League Baseball player with the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays who is currently coaching for the Atlanta Braves organization. O’Donnell, meanwhile, is currently the punter for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

All three of these sports stars are also graduates of Wellington’s Palm Beach Central High School, and all three are committed to giving area residents, especially young athletes, the chance to get first-class coaching right here in Wellington, rather than travel far away to receive this high-level instruction.

Bostic, Travis and O’Donnell readily admit that they were fortunate, as they benefited from great coaches and mentors in their amateur athletic careers. Now, they want to extend that same option to other up-and-coming athletes in central Palm Beach County. Wellington Athletics is looking to fill a void.

“The mission is to close that gap by providing young athletes with a holistic approach to achieving their goals — on the field, in the classroom and at home,” explained Bostic in his proposal letter to the Village of Wellington.

The mission of Wellington Athletics is to transform the currently underutilized Wellington Community Park, located at 3401 South Shore Blvd., into a 91,784-square-foot multi-purpose sports training and coaching complex, as well as a youth sports academy. In order to build this complex and turn their sports training and coaching dreams into a reality, they need some assistance from the village.

Wellington Community Park was originally built as the home of the Wellington Boys & Girls Club in the 1980s and has not had major updates since that time. The club left in 2013 for a brand-new facility across town. Since then, the only structure at the park, the old club building, has been used for storage, and the fields are in poor shape.

The Wellington Athletics plan would knock down the current building and replace it with a state-of-art sports training facility. Meanwhile, the fields would get a major upgrade.

How is this new idea going to be financed? Enter the Village of Wellington. After putting out a request for proposals seeking a new use for the old park last year, the village has been working with Wellington Athletics to figure out how to make the finances work for the benefit of both Wellington residents and Wellington Athletics through a public-private partnership.

Wellington Village Manager Jim Barnes said that this public-private partnership is getting closer to reality, but it’s going to take some time for it to be finalized.

“When you are dealing with funds from the Village of Wellington, it just takes time to get matters approved,” Barnes said.

For a project of this magnitude, there is one big number to consider: $36 million. That is what it will cost to build the headquarters for Wellington Athletics, upgrade the fields and get the program underway. And that doesn’t include the initial $1.5 million required to dismantle the former Boys & Girls Club building.

Once the current structure is demolished, it’s going to take $36 million to build the new home of Wellington Athletics. This site will contain indoor baseball/softball batting cages, at least six indoor basketball courts, an indoor cheerleading training area, a fitness center/gym, and rooms to house a chiropractor and physical therapist, among others.

Outside, there will be state-of-the art lighted baseball and softball fields with dugouts and a large multi-purpose field, which will be big enough for a full-sized football, soccer or lacrosse field.

To get access to the coaches, instructors and sports specialists at Wellington Athletics, families will have to pay an annual membership fee. The fitness center/gym facility will have a separate pricing structure, which might be ideal for parents who can drop off their child for coaching and then visit the fitness center for a workout.

“The gym will be a huge revenue source for us,” Bostic predicted.

There will be many benefits for Wellington residents. They include access to at least one basketball court for use by local teams from 6 to 10 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, access to the outdoor baseball and softball fields every Saturday from 1 p.m. to sundown, and access to the outdoor multi-purpose field at all times, unless Wellington Athletics needs to use it for clients. And since Palm Beach Central High School does not have lighted fields for its baseball and softball teams, those squads will be able to use the lighted fields for home games.

According to Barnes, the Village of Wellington will use money from a bond to finance $33 million, while Wellington Athletics will contribute the remaining $3 million to the overall project. The timetable for making payments to the Village of Wellington to reimburse the village for its $33 million investment has yet to be determined, but the proforma business model for Wellington Athletics indicates that this concept will not be profitable until its third year of its operation.

However the final numbers work out, the $33 million will be returned to the Village of Wellington based on the terms of a 30-year lease. The agreement will also give Wellington Athletics the option to accept two additional 25-year leases after the initial 30-year lease has expired.

According to Assistant Village Manager Ed De La Vega, the Village of Wellington will always remain in control of the land. “We never relinquish ownership of the property,” he said.

If, for some reason, the business model for Wellington Athletics fails, then the Village of Wellington would take control of the project.

Based on comments from Barnes, the Wellington Village Council has at least three more meetings to fully discuss and approve all actions needed to officially start the process.

“The best-case scenario is that the old Boys & Girls Club building gets removed starting in the first half of 2023 and that construction of the new building will be finished about 14 months later,” Barnes said.

To ensure that the Village of Wellington is making a financially sound decision, it has consulted with an outside source with experience in dealing with sports groups like Wellington Athletics. That expert is Don Schumacher of DSA Sports. Schumacher, who has extensive experience in working with sports facilities, will assist in a comprehensive market analysis.

“We are in the process of evaluating all of the hard work Wellington Athletics has put into this project,” Schumacher told the council in June. “I don’t have any information in front of me that says this is a bad idea.”

While Bostic, Travis and O’Donnell are the face of Wellington Athletics, they will not be running the day-to-day affairs of the operation. That is expected to be delegated to Clearwater-based Sports Facilities Companies, which has years of experience in running operations similar to Wellington Athletics. Sports Facilities Companies’ Jim Arnold is very optimistic that Wellington Athletics will be a success.

“I’m very bullish that a complex like this will be successful,” Arnold told the council in June. “This [facility] is a one-of-a-kind along the east coast of Florida.”

The economic impact of the presence of Wellington Athletics being operational could be as much as $6.4 million in its first year. It could be as high as $10 million by the fifth year.

“This is the new wave of sports,” Bostic said. “This is something which has taken countless hours to piece together. This is a lot more than athletics.”

Time will tell if Bostic, Travis and O’Donnell are right. But the Village of Wellington appears willing to make that initial first investment.

 

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