Category Archives: Feature Stories

Wellington The Magazine, LLC Featured Articles

A Playground For Dogs Wellington Dog Park Offers A Gathering Spot For Canine Residents And Their Human Companions

A Playground For Dogs Wellington Dog Park Offers A Gathering Spot For Canine Residents And Their Human Companions

By M. Dennis Taylor

With a strong focus on recreation, the Village of Wellington is home to many parks. Some parks are designed for organized sports, some for more passive activities. Most of them are designed for Wellington’s human residents. That is, except the Wellington Dog Park.

The Wellington Dog Park, located in Greenbriar Park at 2975 Greenbriar Blvd., near the intersection of Greenbriar Blvd. and Aero Club Drive, is a place where canine friends and their human companions come together for some much-needed recreation and socialization.

“Wellington has always recognized the importance of our dogs,” Parks & Recreation Director Eric Juckett explained. “Our facility is divided into three sizes for large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs.”

This division makes sure that little ones aren’t endangered by their rambunctious big cousins, who may outweigh them exponentially.

Since the facility opened more than 15 years ago, Dr. Marc Pinkwasser of the Courtyard Animal Hospital has been a key sponsor of the park, supporting both special events at the park and items needed for its general maintenance.

Juckett noted that Pinkwasser sponsors the pit crew items that allow visitors to pick up all of their pet’s waste materials. Failure to “scoop the poop” is strictly forbidden. In fact, the park’s community of users work hard to self-police this policy and others that make the whole concept work.

Pinkwasser tells patients of the importance of exercise for every stage of the dogs’ life and knows the value of getting out in an open space for that exercise. He practices what he preaches with his two golden retrievers named Ella “Fly Me to the Moon” Fitzgerald and Satchmo “High Society” Armstrong.

“Dr. Pinkwasser gives us a donation every year to help out,” Juckett said, adding that a team of dedicated maintenance staff cleans the facility daily to the highest premium condition residents would expect and utilizes regular pest control maintenance procedures. “We have a dedicated day each week on Thursdays when the park is closed in the morning until 3 p.m. to allow for a more extensive cleanup.”

While the park is not a fully staffed recreation location, Wellington crews keep a close eye on the facility.

“It is not supervised, but our staff checks in on the facility during the course of the day,” Juckett said.

Proud of the 6.5 acres reserved for canine residents, Juckett said the village receives many compliments from its users. Prime time for the Wellington Dog Park crowd is between 4 and 6 p.m. daily.

“That’s when people are getting home from work and when we have the largest number of people throughout the day,” he said.

Juckett added that the facility is popular with seasonal visitors. “Equestrian and polo season from October to April is when we get the most use,” he explained.

Open from dawn to dusk, for an early morning stretch of the legs to a final run at the end of the day, the facility requires visitors to follow current Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines and village protocols.

All three sections of the Wellington Dog Park feature a large fenced-in, off-leash area with pet wash and waste disposal stations located throughout the facility. There are water fountains for dogs and people, and restrooms for the pet’s parents are on site. In addition, there are walking paths and pavilions for shade. People accompanying a dog must have a hand leash with them and be at least 16 years old.

The rules are common sense and fair. Only dogs and people are allowed, no other animals and no personal items or toys are permitted to avoid jealousy. There is, of course, a risk any time a pet owner allows their dog to come into contact with another dog, and the village is not liable for any incidents, but aggressive or excessively barking dogs are not allowed, and any dog displaying aggressive behavior is required to be immediately removed.

Problematic incidents at the dog park are rare, and a trip to the Wellington Dog Park is sure to be your best friend’s favorite part of the day.

The Wellington Dog Park is part of the village’s award-winning recreation system that aims to make sure that Wellington’s recreation amenities are among the best available. Keeping them that way is a key component of Wellington’s recently approved comprehensive plan for recreational amenities for the next 10 to 20 years, which continues to put a heavy focus on high-quality park amenities.

That recreational blueprint addresses amenities for residents of all ages, in groups from children to seniors, and yes, also mentioning dogs of all shapes and sizes.

All dogs visiting the Wellington Dog Park must be legally licensed and vaccinated and wear a visible dog license. They must be at least four months of age, and female dogs in heat are not permitted. Other rules apply and can be found at www.wellingtonfl.gov.

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It Takes A Village Community Partners Step Up To Deliver 2,500 New Backpacks To Wellington Students

It Takes A Village Community Partners Step Up To Deliver 2,500 New Backpacks To Wellington Students

The old adage “it takes a village” took on a whole new meaning when a wide array of community organizations joined forces to meet the 2,500 backpack challenge set by the Village of Wellington’s Community Services Department.

The demand for backpacks filled with school supplies was up sharply over previous years. “We were amazed to hear that more than 2,400 Wellington students will be receiving either free or reduced-cost lunch this school year, but we were up to the challenge,” said Tom Wenham, chair of the Wellington Community Foundation. “I have to say that seeing everyone come together made it a really overwhelming success.”

The Wellington Community Foundation, now in its fifth year of working with the village to deliver new backpacks and school uniforms to Wellington students in need, received a call that this year the number of students that needed assistance had risen to 2,500. Would the foundation be up to the challenge? Without hesitation, the foundation’s board jumped into action.

Knowing this was a huge undertaking with little time to prepare, the board members knew it would take the entire community coming together to get the goal accomplished. Although the foundation’s donors showed up with generous support last year during the WCF’s Red, White & Blue Jeans virtual fundraiser, the nonprofit would have to rally more donations and support to bring the goal of 2,500 backpacks to fruition.

Several organizations joined WCF on this mission, including the Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation, the Rotary Club of Wellington, Women of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, My Community Pharmacy, Premier Family Health, Prominence Health Plan, Baptist Health, the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Health Specialty Center, Clinics Can Help and the Village of Wellington.

With the assistance of Wellington’s Michelle Garvey and Paulette Edwards, goals and event dates were set. The mission was to collect as many school supplies as needed to fill backpacks at the “backpack stuffing” event that took place Monday, July 19 at the Wellington Community Center. On Saturday, July 24, the village would host three separate block parties throughout Wellington. Backpacks filled with school supplies, school uniforms and other school-related items would be distributed to families that attend. The village invited families to a day of food, beverages and games to make it a fun-filled event.

Dozens of volunteers were welcomed as they stepped up to help fill the backpacks. Community Services Director Paulette Edwards said that the village was very thankful for all the supportive community partners.

“The past year’s COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all of us, and especially our youth. In support of our school-age youth in the community, the Village of Wellington’s Community Services Department provides a number of programs and activities designed particularly for our families most in need,” Edwards said. “Once again, we have partnered with our local nonprofits to provide back-to-school backpacks for those families hardest hit financially from the on-going pandemic. We look forward to seeing the smiles on their faces when they return back to the classroom carrying their new backpacks and supplies.”

Already on board was longtime supporter RoseAnn LaBella Voils, director of the Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation.

“Five years ago, the Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation partnered with the Village of Wellington, and we were the premier sponsor of the event. The event was held in the parking lot of New Horizons Elementary School,” she said. “Our foundation’s mission is to give back to the community through educational and athletic opportunities for children and young adults.”

Named in honor of LaBella Voils’ late son, the foundation is dedicated to making a difference in Wellington.

“We are a very small Wellington family organization,” she explained. “Our main fundraiser is our annual golf tournament, which raises money for our foundation. This event is very personal to our family. Christopher, my son, passed away in 2006. He grew up and attended schools in Wellington. We want to continue his legacy by giving back and helping as many children and young adults in the community as we can.”

LaBella Voils is proud to see how the village’s back-to-school event has grown. “We are amazed to see in five years how the event grew, with not just one but all the organizations coming together, and their donations helping so many children in the community,” she said.

The Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation looks forward to teaming up with the Village of Wellington again next year, and LaBella Voils hopes the planning for it gets underway much earlier. “I would like to be included in the planning stages for the event, which should start in April or May, and we should know the date of the event sooner. I was disappointed that with the generous donation that we contributed, we were not in town to assist on July 24,” she said.

The Wellington Rotary was also a key supporter of this year’s back-to-school event. Not only did club members donate thousands of dollars in school supplies, they filled backpacks and attended all three block parties.

One of the event’s biggest cheerleaders was Maggie Zeller, who is actively involved in a number of different nonprofits.

“Because of my involvement with the Rotary Club of Wellington, the Wellington Community Foundation and Back to Basics, I have become incredibly aware of the basic needs of so many children in our community,” Zeller said. “I have participated for the last few years at different back-to-school events, but this one will really reach the elementary school children right in our own neighborhoods, and the children who need school supplies, backpacks and uniforms will be provided for.”

Zeller is proud that the Wellington Rotary stepped up and purchased the needed school supplies. “The Rotarian motto ‘Service Above Self’ is evident by the response from Wellington Rotarians as volunteers from stuffing backpacks, organizing uniforms, collecting children’s books and being there at all three locations on the day of the event,” she said.

Wellington Rotary President Tom Carreras added that the backpack challenge falls well in line with the club’s mission.

“The Wellington Rotary Club raises money all year using various fundraisers for purposes like this, and we were happy that we could help,” Carreras said. “It brings all of our members joy knowing we have helped kids. We especially like to know any project we are involved with is successful, and we are happy this was, too.”

Longtime Wellington Community Foundation supporter Johnny Meier, owner of My Community Pharmacy, also stepped up to help out.

“I was asked to help, and I was honored to do so,” he said. “This is a necessary endeavor to invest in the next generation, so I didn’t hesitate to help where I could.”

With such short notice, it was difficult to jump from a need of 600 backpacks last year to 2,500 backpacks this year, but Meier didn’t hesitate. He contacted Premier Family Health, and the two businesses agreed to split the necessary donation.

“I believe the youth of our community are very important to the future of our village,” Meier said. “I know that sounds obvious, but I don’t think we do enough to foster our youth and give them the proper mentorship to be successful and productive. We need to first make sure they can succeed in the classroom. That’s what this effort helps to achieve.”

After the joy and excitement of knowing that every Wellington child needing the proper school items to succeed will get it, Meier noted that My Community Pharmacy would absolutely be on board for next year’s event.

Once Premier Family Health President Tony Nelson learned about the event, he wanted to become involved.

“Premier Family Health made a commitment years ago to serve within the community and give back, specifically to the youth, who we see as the future,” Nelson said. “Through this event, we are happy to support the local youth to make sure they have the supplies for their educational needs.”

Unlike the nonprofits, which raised donations through fundraisers, Premier Family Health donated the funds to the efforts of the Wellington Community Foundation and funded thousands of dollars in backpacks.

“It was a true privilege to be a part of this event that will have a positive impact on so many students to start school with the tools they need to have a successful school year,” Nelson said. “The realization that there remains a continuous need for support for the underserved and underprivileged youth in our community is the driving force behind our participation.”

Last year, the Wellington Community Foundation heard about the wonderful back-to-school effort organized by the Women of the Wellington Chamber and reached out to see if that organization wanted to join forces in helping with the 2,500 backpack challenge. WOW Chair Jennifer Hernandez said the group would be all in. WOW committed to filling 100 backpacks, and the group’s members went above and beyond.

“The Wellington Chamber, through the Women of Wellington, hosts an annual supply drive every year because we believe in our professional community coming together to support our village, residents and students,” Hernandez said. “We also believe in the power of collaboration, so combining the efforts of our supply drive with the Wellington Community Foundation initiative impacted our community in a very powerful way.”

Along with all the school supplies, each filled backpack received a large bottle of hand sanitizer, compliments of Clinics Can Help.

“Providing the necessary supplies and equipment to not only enhance the lives of children and adults, but to protect them, is what we do at Clinics Can Help,” CEO Owen O’Neill said. “We are honored to have been a part of the backpack project within the Wellington community. Our hope is that we play a role in reducing the spread of germs when children and staff return to school very soon.”

The Wellington Community Foundation is overwhelmed with the effort and support received for the 2,500 backpack challenge and looks forward to doing it again next school year for the community’s children, added WCF Board Member Dr. Gordon Johnson.

Wellington Village Manager Jim Barnes thanked all the community partners for making the backpack challenge a reality.

“To say that the last year and a half has been challenging may be understatement,” Barnes said. “Through it all, our community partners continue to outdo themselves with their generosity and support. We are grateful for the backpack challenge initiated by the Wellington Community Foundation, rallying other community partners for support and, in the process, making a difference for so many Wellington students.”

To learn about how you can become involved in making a difference in the Wellington community, visit www.wellingtoncommunityfoundation.org.

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Extraordinary Educators Four Teachers From Wellington School Honored With The Economic Council’s Newest Award

Extraordinary Educators Four Teachers From Wellington School Honored With The Economic Council’s Newest Award

They blazed trails, created a space where students could express their fears, built a sense of community and persevered despite personal heartbreak as they walked a unique tightrope between in-person learning and online classes.

They are the four Binks Forest Elementary School team members honored during this spring’s Extraordinary Educator Awards, sponsored by the Economic Council of Palm Beach County — teachers Emily MacMillan, Sally Mascia and Brandi Soto, and behavioral health professional Hope Jackson.

The awards were based on nominations and testimonials from parents. Among the county’s nearly 200 schools and more than 12,900 teachers, no other school had more than two honorees, according to the council’s Facebook page.

Of Soto, one parent reflected on the virus-driven wildfire of anxiety that scorched through the spring of 2020: “We have never felt so supported by a teacher. She made us feel stress-free during a time when everyone was switching from brick-and-mortar to online learning! … Thank you so much, dear Mrs. Soto, for the amazing, great teacher you are!”

Soto was very moved by her nomination, let alone winning the award.

“When I saw what some of the parents wrote about me, I cried,” said Soto, who grew up in Palm Beach County and has been teaching for 17 years. “Parent involvement is huge here.”

Soto, a Florida Atlantic University graduate, has been impressed by the Binks Forest faculty ever since arriving at the school eight years ago. “At Binks, going above and beyond is simply in our nature,” she said.

Such an attitude inspired the married mother of two to become a Trailblazer, a school district designation for a teacher who has volunteered for extra training in classroom technology. So, when classes for the district’s 169,000 students went online in March 2020, then returned in the fall in hybrid form — some students in class, some learning online — Soto was well equipped to handle the technical challenges and aid other teachers.

“That’s one thing about our school, teachers lift each other up and support each other,” said MacMillan, another local graduate who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FAU. She has been teaching at Binks Forest for 10 years.

Parents think MacMillan is special, too. One wrote: “Emily exemplified her extreme care during the pandemic… Her sincere love for teaching and her students makes learning exciting.”

MacMillan, a single mother with a 13-year-old son, said the biggest challenge for her over the last 18 months was not technical but emotional.

“I’m big on creating and fostering a classroom community,” she said. “So, the biggest thing was making sure my students felt connected to me and to each other with some of them in the classroom and some of them at home.”

Enthusiasm carrying her forward, MacMillan focused on the idea that everyone is persevering through the challenges together.

“I’m a big believer in lifelong learning, and that my students aren’t there just to learn enough to get through the third grade… These students will talk about this [pandemic experience] for the rest of their lives. They’ll say, ‘Remember the year when?’”

No doubt first-grade teacher Mascia will remember this school year vividly and with no small measure of melancholy, having faced the personal pain of losing her father in September, then her mother in January to COVID-19. Despite traveling to her native Ohio for the funerals, Mascia maintained contact with her students through the Internet.

A teacher at Binks Forest since 1999, Mascia let parents know about the personal losses she had suffered and allowed them to share, or not, with their children as they thought appropriate. “First-graders need consistency,” Mascia said. “I didn’t want the deaths to hamper my teaching.”

Throughout Mascia’s personally challenging year, parents, fellow teachers and the school administration led by Principal Michella Levy were there for her.

“They’re amazing,” said Mascia, a graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland. “The teachers pull together and support each other, personally and professionally.”

Like several of the teachers, Mascia also gave credit to the school’s very active PTA organization.

In June, Mascia retired after teaching for 35 years in Florida schools. She’s looking forward to spending time with her first grandchild.

Reflecting on the last year and a half, Mascia said, “The children were troopers. They never complained… [But] it was a challenge making sure we reached the kids at home. I’m praying we reached them.”

Parents who wrote to the Economic Council to nominate Mascia are very sure about the calm, steady difference she made: “This past year has been quite different. It has been chaotic and unsettling at times. The pandemic has been plain nerve-racking and stressful, that is, until you reach the classroom door of Ms. Mascia.”

Through all the stress, chaos, uncertainty and fear generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson was there providing emotional outlets for students, information for parents and encouragement for fellow staff members and teachers. And parents noticed, one writing: “Ms. Jackson remained bright throughout this storm of darkness surrounding her students, peers and her family.”

Jackson said her goal was to create a safe space where students could “scream, shout, cry, throw a chair if they need to, then figure out how to deal with what they’re feeling,” she said. “There is no problem so big we can’t help them.”

Of course, providing that space for students still learning from home was a challenge. “I still tried to do it with extra attention, extra check-ins with parents and virtual students,” she said.

One of the keys was letting students act out scenarios of their choosing, she explained.

“Role playing lets the students verbalize about different situations… and learn about what sort of skills are needed to cope with them,” said Jackson, a Belle Glade native who earned degrees from Bethune-Cookman and Shaw universities.

Despite Jackson’s many normal work responsibilities and mothering a blended family of seven ranging in age from 7 to 25, she found the time to write a motivational e-mail each Friday for faculty and staff, underscoring the fact that at Binks Forest, “we’re a team.”

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Building For The Future Elbridge Gale Students Excel At Robotics Program With Appearance At International Invitational

Building For The Future Elbridge Gale Students Excel At Robotics Program With Appearance At International Invitational

By Deborah Welky

Small, plastic Lego bricks are ubiquitous in most homes with school-age children. The bricks are a staple of creativity for children and adults alike, evolving into much more than a toy. In fact, they are also a key component of a robotics program that teaches students STEM skills like engineering and technology.

Four years ago, Wellington’s Elbridge Gale Elementary School created a Lego Robotics team, which was an instant hit with students. It is currently operated by teachers Tara Dicurcio and Nicole Crane.

“I wanted to coach because I’m interested in robotics myself. I wanted to learn along with the kids,” Dicurcio said.

“The season typically starts in August with competitions running from February through March,” Crane added. “Last year, that was extended while everyone figured out the logistics of competing virtually.”

The teachers’ dedication propelled the school’s 2020-21 team to new heights, which included an invitation to participate in the FIRST Lego League Virtual Open International, headquartered in Greece.

The “Gator Bots” team was comprised of Corben Dicurcio, Skyler Peterson, Cristopher Martin-Aguirre, Yashasvi Rajpurohit, Colbie Phillips, Chris Powell, Oliver Parreco and Ariana Porterfield. They entered the qualifier, participating with students from Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties in an effort to receive an award and advance to regionals.

Advance, they did. The regional competition heated up with new participants from as far away as Key West and, when the dust settled, Elbridge Gale’s Gator Bots were selected by judges as one of seven Florida teams to represent the United States in Greece. They were one of just 59 teams invited from throughout the U.S., and one of only 200 selected from a worldwide pool of 350,000 competitors.

Of course, last year, no one was physically going to Greece.

“As any educator would say, it was challenging to stay engaged across multiple platforms — with some students working from home and some not,” Crane said. “It was difficult to coordinate but, at the end of the day, the pandemic may have actually worked in our favor. There are six core values that the students work on developing as part of the competition, and two of those are inclusion and teamwork. Restrictions imposed due to the pandemic helped the students to develop that core set as the season went on.”

In addition to making sure all in-person and virtual teammates felt included, the students had to wear masks, so it was difficult to understand each other at times. They also had to stay six feet apart — especially challenging when collaborating and building with tiny bricks. Wearing gloves and repeatedly sanitizing everything they touched slowed things down a bit, too.

Their coaches were there for guidance only. “It shouldn’t be me doing the project,” Dicurcio said. “Our motto around here is ‘Kid Done, Kid Fun.’ For instance, if they needed a new coding system to help put everything together, I could research a fantastic tutorial set, pull those lessons and show them step-by-step, but they’d have to figure out how to apply it. If they wanted to add a line-follower to their build, I could show them how to develop it, but they’re the ones who have to decide how to apply that knowledge to the robot.”

Sounds seamless, right?

Not always. The team experienced several setbacks along their path to glory, not the least of which was having their computer crash the day before the qualifier round. They lost all their content and had to learn the skills necessary to develop their app and rebuild in time to compete the next day. The silver lining? They received the Break-Through Award, given to the team that “faces a challenge and continues pressing forward.”

Setbacks are a part of life, and these Wellington students are now better prepared to deal with them.

“Creativity and problem-solving are two of the strongest components of the program,” Crane said. “It’s not just building and engineering skill sets; there’s a lot of technology, a lot of research. Each year, the students are learning things that I facilitate but, very often, the students know the coding and programs and vocabulary better than I do. And, if they don’t know it, they learn it faster than I can.”

In 2020-21, the robotics league program assigned a timely challenge that would require competitors to develop a solution to an existing problem — retaining health and fitness during a pandemic.

“It was a pretty good topic,” Crane said. “How do people exercise when they’re afraid to go outside? How do you incorporate space with social-distancing recess options? How can students even do PE in a distance-learning situation? The team had to find ways, so they created a survey, got the survey out there and collected data to see which direction they should go in when solving their problem. They got a crash course in learning some different strategies to do that, and watching them do their exercise was fun. It was pretty cute.”

The teachers know they are preparing their students not only for jobs but for life.

“The six core values are the guiding force for Lego Robotics — discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun,” Crane said. “Teams are judged on their use of teamwork — that their project was done together, not individually. They are taught respect and embracing differences and not leaving anyone out. They do coding, programming and public speaking. Ultimately, they built a virtual fitness trail to help people remain active during COVID-19.”

Along the way, they learned skills and had unique experiences that will be able to take with them no matter where they end up heading in life.

Visit www.firstlegoleague.org to learn more about the FIRST Lego League program.

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Wellington’s Young Black Leaders Wellington High School Creates BLAST, A New Course In Black Leadership

Wellington’s Young Black Leaders Wellington High School Creates BLAST,  A New Course In Black Leadership

By Margaret Hunt

With an aim to help build the future base of tomorrow’s Black leaders, Wellington High School has created an innovative course known as BLAST, which stands for the Black Leadership & Achievement Student Team.

When AICE math teacher Nancy Toussaint and student McKenzie Henry, then a senior, realized that Black students were under-represented in Wellington High School’s leadership programs, they both wanted to make the school more inclusive. They needed a team, but there was a problem — they had no clue that one another existed.

However, when Mike Kozlowski, a school administrator with a similar vision, approached Toussaint about meeting Henry, it led to the creation of a class for underserved Black students.

In January 2020, at the next faculty meeting, WHS Principal Cara Hayden gave her support to adding a leadership class for Black students at the school. She noted that the previous schools that she worked in all had courses designed for Black students, but when she became principal at Wellington High School, there were none. She wanted the school to be a place where minority students could thrive as well.

A follow-up faculty meeting occurred via Zoom near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Toussaint invited Henry to attend. She wanted a student to be involved in the discussion about creating a Black leadership class.

During the meeting, the late Assistant Principal Henry Paulk created the name for the proposed class after pondering it some time. He came up with the acronym BLAST and suggested that Toussaint have an interview process for prospective students.

Toussaint eventually carried out the interviews in August 2020, when BLAST officially became a class at WHS. She worked with faculty members Audra Davis, Oscar Robinson, Suzanne Nichols and Danielle Fairclough to create an application form that the students would fill out before being approved to participate in the program.

From there, Toussaint and Henry met on Google Meet to discuss creating a commercial for the class. Henry filmed a promotional video that would later be played for the BLAST students. She used word-of-mouth to get her fellow classmates interested in joining the program, garnering the first eight students. Fairclough, a guidance counselor, located more Black students that she would e-mail the application to. The class started out with 16 founding students, but it will expand to approximately 24 students during the 2021-22 school year.

BLAST is currently offered as an honors elective at Wellington High School, available for students in grades 11 and 12. Its mission is to, “Empower Black students to create a positive mindset, achieve academic success and develop leadership skills.”

Toussaint’s vision for the class was for students to serve in a similar capacity as the Student Government Association. One of her primary goals was for the class to be student-led. Before he passed away in October 2020, Paulk’s goal was for BLAST to increase the students’ communication skills and to improve their group dynamics. It is safe to say that in its first year, the class accomplished that.

“BLAST has created a safe place for me and my friends to talk about anything,” WHS graduate Melik Frederick said. “We motivated each other every day and learned a lot from each other. Being the first year of this class, we got a lot done. Special thanks to Ms. Toussaint.”

During the 2020-21 school year, following through with her student leadership goal, Toussaint allowed the students to give their input on what they would like to be taught. BLAST students learned different leadership styles, goal setting, active listening skills, financial literacy and more. Henry was chosen to serve as president, and the seniors delegated class-officer positions among themselves. They formed groups named after tribes from different African regions and made projects about topics such as African American historical figures.

The most notable part of the class was “Free Talk Friday,” where students had an environment to discuss their opinions on current events and talk about their lives. It was from this time set aside every week that the students in the class realized that the things they had to say mattered.

“BLAST was an amazing experience and by far the best class I took at Wellington High School,” recent graduate Hermione Williams said. “It was a class where I could comfortably express how I felt about national events and learn more about my history. With the help of Ms. Toussaint, we learned that despite the stereotypes set upon us Black people by society, we all have the potential to create a path for excellence. We were more than just peers and a teacher — we were family.”

With the help of the Village of Wellington, the BLAST students were able to use their newly found voices to make an impact on their community through a series of videos that they made during Black History Month to celebrate their heritage and to speak up about topics that they were passionate about. These videos included, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Racism,” “We Still Have Dreams” and “Black Inventors.” They were played during school and were shared throughout Wellington.

Because of their videos, six BLAST students were able to participate in the Village of Wellington’s SWAG program, which stands for Students Working to Achieve Greatness. Through this program, the students received summer internships at varying locations, along with tools to become successful in the workforce, such as interviewing pointers, financial literacy, attire and more. They met with and got advice from accomplished Black people in the community and got the opportunity to network with community leaders.

BLAST’s meetings with community organizations and school leadership classes such as the Urban League, SWAG, the Student Government Association and Latinos In Action have played a crucial role in spreading the word about the new program. So much so, that School Board Member Marcia Andrews, and Brian Knowles, manager of the Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust and Gender Studies for the school district, met with BLAST to discuss the expansion of the class to other schools across the county. Andrews was receptive to the proposal, and the likelihood of BLAST’s expansion is favorable.

Along with expanding the class, BLAST has internal goals for Wellington High School. The group hopes to implement programs that will help the students, such as Big Brother/Big Sister-style mentoring, conflict mediation, and dealing with student complaints and concerns. BLAST members have talked with the school’s administration about the integration of these programs and have concluded that they will take time and training to fully implement.

However, the program has shown that there are many faculty members in support of minority students in the school. In the future, BLAST aims to collaborate with other classes, clubs and student groups to make sure that every student is represented within the school’s leadership.

 

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WELLINGTON’S WINNING MOVES The Village Has Taken Home Its Third Let’s Move Championship From The Palm Health Foundation

WELLINGTON’S WINNING MOVES
The Village Has Taken Home Its Third Let’s Move
Championship From The Palm Health Foundation

By Melanie Otero

Not even a global pandemic could stop Wellington residents from winning their third Let’s Move challenge, besting 378 teams from across Palm Beach County in the highly competitive countywide competition by logging an impressive 26 million minutes of physical activity during March 2021.

Presented by the Palm Health Foundation and Digital Vibez Inc., Let’s Move invites residents to form teams and commit to exercising at least 30 minutes a day during the month of March. The highly competitive campaign has teams from municipalities, county organizations and other groups all vying for top prizes, which were awarded at a ceremony on April 16.

Hosted by the KVJ Show’s Virginia Sinicki at a live presentation at the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium, the Village of Wellington was named the winning 2021 Let’s Move team with the highest number of physical activity minutes. Wellington residents logged more than 40 percent of the total 59,472,053 minutes logged for the entire county — a record for the highest number of physical activity minutes in Let’s Move’s nine-year history.

Wellington is no stranger to winning Let’s Move, taking home the championship title in 2018 and 2019. What’s even more remarkable is that the number of minutes in 2021 were more than twice the number of minutes logged in either of the previous years.

“It took the whole community to win the award,” said Michelle Garvey, the village’s assistant director of community services. “To have so many people come together shows how important our residents believe it is to have a healthy community. We really appreciate them.”

Building a culture of health was exactly the idea behind Let’s Move when it was first launched in 2012 by the Palm Health Foundation, Palm Beach County’s leading community foundation for issues relating to health. Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2010 Let’s Move national program to decrease childhood obesity, the foundation created the local challenge for adults and children to improve a variety of health issues through regular physical activity. The challenge promotes daily exercise as a way to combat illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, and strengthen brain health and life expectancy, among other benefits.

“Let’s Move is about taking charge of our health as a community by integrating physical activity, nutrition and healthy behaviors into our daily lives, and having fun while doing it,” said Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of the Palm Health Foundation.

“This is the campaign’s ninth year, and we could not be prouder of the amazing results,” added Wilford Romelus, founder of Digital Vibez. “This past year was full of unexpected challenges for everyone, but we came back stronger than ever.”

With the pandemic limiting in-person events, Garvey and her team under the direction of Community Services Director Paulette Edwards had to get creative to get — and keep — people motivated. The village’s instructors offered free classes, including aerobics, Zumba and dance classes through Zoom, giving everyone the ability to participate, from Wellington’s own 300 employees to seniors and youth.

Community organizations and businesses from sports teams to private schools to LA Fitness joined in to rally members and contribute. For kids, the village partnered with the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club of Wellington to introduce new activities like Frisbee and teach football and soccer. A huge March Madness basketball competition brought kids out to the courts, and a dance club brought to the Wellington Amphitheater by Digital Vibez kept kids moving to the latest beat.

To get as many young residents as possible participating in Let’s Move, Garvey’s team knew they couldn’t just wait for the kids to come to them. They needed to take fun activities out into the neighborhoods. Program coordinators Ian Williams and Gus Ponce were just the guys to do it through their “Super Fridays” program.

Super Fridays began about three years ago as a way for Wellington to connect with youth by bringing activities to kids in their own neighborhoods.

“When Ian and Gus show up, it’s time to come out of the house, put the electronics down and have fun,” Garvey said.

For Let’s Move, it was a way to be sure all kids had access to the campaign and to continue opening doors to create relationships.

This lets them understand youth needs that the village could fulfill, such as tutoring, mentorships and scholarships to participate in programming.

“We make an impact on the kids, and the kids make an impact on us,” Williams said. “Some of the youth we reach are caring for younger siblings and just need to know we’re there for them. That’s what it’s all about, giving them something to look forward to every day.”

Another way the village cares for the community contributed to the Let’s Move championship. Every Tuesday during the month of March, 25 volunteers gathered at the Mall at Wellington Green to give away food to those in need, working with Feeding South Florida. The activity required quite a bit of physical activity, with volunteers running bags of groceries to more than 800 cars for the food distribution drive-through each week. “Between athletic programs and community service, we try our best to deliver on our health and wellness goals for village residents,” Garvey said.

Giving the credit to residents for bringing home the Let’s Move trophy, Williams added, “We really want to thank the community for being so willing.”

The 2021 Let’s Move campaign was sponsored by the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Health Specialty Center, Valley Bank, Wisehaupt, Bray Asset Management and the Quantum Foundation. For more info., visit www.letsmovepbc.org.

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EVERY SECOND COUNTS Wellington Regional’s Emergency Department Stands Ready To React At A Moment’s Notice

EVERY SECOND COUNTS
Wellington Regional’s Emergency Department
Stands Ready To React At A Moment’s Notice

Dr. Adam Bromberg, medical director of the Wellington Regional Medical Center Emergency Department, stood outside of the hospital’s emergency room and watched as an emergency medical services (EMS) truck approached with its siren blaring and its lights rapidly flashing in an effort to clear the road and shave a few more precious seconds from the hospital arrival time of a critical patient.

Like a red blur, the truck pulled into the ambulance bay as first responders spilled out of the truck and shuttled the patient through the doors to the waiting ER team inside. The hospital is full of specialized equipment and staff to provide emergent care for nearly any patient who arrives at the ER, but that is often the key word… arrives.

Emergency care extends to the site of the patient, and EMS crews are seen as an extension of a hospital’s ER by extending lifesaving care from the doors and hallways of Wellington Regional Medical Center to the actual location of a critically sick or injured patient. These emergency providers walk into potentially dangerous situations with a singular mission in mind — quickly find the patient, start lifesaving treatments and swiftly transfer the patient to the ER.

Time. In an emergency, it is perhaps the most critical element. There is an ER expression, “time is brain.” The shorter the time from incident to medical intervention, the better the chance of a positive outcome. According to the American Heart Association, 1.9 million neurons can die per minute when a patient is having a stroke. That is 32,000 brain cells per second.

Irreversible damage to heart muscle can start as quickly as 30 minutes from the blockage of blood flow. Cells and tissue lost due to stroke can’t be replaced and do not recover.

“Wellington Regional cares for emergency patients with a team approach,” Bromberg said. “It begins with the EMS team notifying the hospital of a life-threatening emergency patient en route, so our multidisciplinary team can assemble and be ready from the moment the patient enters the ER. Working collaboratively allows our medical team to be prepared for any circumstance and react rapidly to provide appropriate care for the patient. The faster we can begin appropriate treatment, the better the outcome for patients.”

The announcement blares three times over the internal public address system: “Stroke Alert Emergency Room Via Rescue.” Translation? There is an ambulance on its way with a suspected stoke patient. When the announcement goes out, staff from multiple specialties inside Wellington Regional, which was recently named a Comprehensive Stroke Center, immediately rush to the ER and await the patient. Since time can be so critical, the goal is to confirm the diagnosis as quickly as possible and transfer the patient to the appropriate unit inside the hospital for specialized care.

“Our goal is to verify the stroke through a medical assessment, CT scan and an evaluation by neurology with the objective of beginning treatment as fast as possible,” Bromberg said. “It is critical to have the team waiting for the patient’s arrival, so we can begin the evaluation immediately and time is not lost.”

One of the last thoughts Lucille Arcano remembered is moving to return a serve in one of her standing Thursday doubles tennis matches. Suddenly, it felt like the racket was pulled from her hand, and then blackness as she crashed down on the court. She vaguely remembers one of her playing partners asking if she was OK, but she could not respond. Still unable to see her friends, she recalls one of them saying, “I think she had a stroke.”

But Arcano remained silent. She had not been feeling very well for several days leading up to the doubles match. In fact, just the day before, her vision was a little impaired and she was dizzy, but she blamed it on something else.

“I had been experiencing double vision the day before and was dizzy,” Arcano said. “I thought something was wrong with my sunglasses and that was causing the vision problems. I thought the dizziness was caused by my paroxysmal vertigo.”

Arcano, who recently turned 74, said she still felt a little off on the day of her tennis match, but her vision had returned to normal. Because she was no longer seeing double, she decided to keep the tennis appointment with her friends. The avid athlete warmed up with no issues and then set up in her part of the court. The first ball of the match headed her way toward her forehand.

Her memory is spotty after that… the brown color of her friend’s tennis outfit… an EMT asking her name… the Wellington Regional Interventional Radiology (IR) team getting her ready for her procedure… someone taking off her earrings in preparation for surgery.

“The next thing I remember was when I woke up and saw that beautiful Dr. [Emilio] Lopez with his mask on and his twinkling eyes looking down on me,” Arcano said through tears. “I will never forget that face and those eyes.”

Arcano had suffered a stroke. Specifically, she had a blockage of the left middle cerebral artery, the vessel that is primarily responsible for delivering blood to the left side of the brain. A clot in this area of the brain is potentially devastating. After the blockage was confirmed, she was sent to IR, where she had the clot removed by Lopez through a minimally invasive procedure. She was discharged from the hospital a few days later.

“Her exceptional response has been remarkable,” Lopez said. “To go from a possibly debilitating stroke to playing tennis is phenomenal. It was a team effort, from the ER, IR, post-op and her care on the floor — everyone played a part in her outcome.”

Since going home, Arcano has completed a few weeks of rehab to strengthen her right arm and leg and to work on her balance. After a loop recorder was installed to monitor her heart activity for atrial fibrillation, she was released with no restrictions. In fact, she returned to the tennis court about two months after her stroke and is actively playing tennis again, as well as playing golf, walking and working out in the gym.

Arcano admits that she was a little nervous in her first tennis match after her stroke, but that is to be expected. She lost that match, but honestly, the outcome was irrelevant. Her return to the courts was enough of a victory for a woman who not that long before had lost her vision and could not respond to questions while lying on those very same courts. Her life is almost totally back to normal with the exception some difficulty writing, but she is practicing it every day, and her handwriting is getting better.

As a former dialysis nurse in Brooklyn, N.Y., Arcano has had quite the life — a life that was saved by the multi-disciplinary team at Wellington Regional and the EMS crew who worked frantically to deliver her from the tennis court to the ER. Once she arrived at the hospital, her care team was made up of several medical specialties working together with the singular goal of saving Arcano’s life.

“Dr. [Christopher] Hawk, one of the doctors involved in implanting the loop recorder, said, ‘My hat’s off to Dr. Lopez. I can save a heart, but he saved your soul,’” Arcano added.

Learn more about emergency services available at Wellington Regional Medical Center by visiting www.wellingtonregional.com/er.

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Cancer Care In Palm Beach County JUST GOT BETTER

Cancer Care In Palm Beach County
JUST GOT BETTER

The Lynn Cancer Institute and the Miami Cancer Institute are integrating programs as the key element of a further expansion of Baptist Health South Florida’s cancer care services. Joining forces, the combined program creates one of the largest cancer programs in South Florida.

Together, both organizations make a powerful team, offering patients personalized treatment options with a multidisciplinary approach based on physicians’ clinical expertise, advanced technology and innovative clinical trials.

The Lynn Cancer Institute is the largest provider of cancer care in Palm Beach County and one of the largest in Florida. The Miami Cancer Institute is Baptist Health’s cancer care anchor, offering a full array of services, and is Florida’s only member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance — an alliance that encompasses collaboration in clinical trials and standards of care.

The integration of the Lynn Cancer Institute and the Miami Cancer Institute will also allow for greater support of the planned expansion of the Lynn Cancer Institute, including new technology and the recent addition of cancer services at Bethesda Health City in Boynton Beach.

With this expansion of services, Baptist Health is paving the way for new and better treatments that can help even more patients conquer and survive cancer. Cancer does not stop for COVID-19, and for that reason, the Lynn Cancer Institute and the Miami Cancer Institute encourage patients to stay up to date with their cancer screenings.

The new integrated programing is just one of Baptist Health South Florida’s recent expansions in services for cancer patients.

The Lynn Cancer Institute also recently announced the opening of its newest outpatient radiation oncology location in Bethesda Health City. From the moment a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, Baptist Health South Florida experts are by your side, treating you with compassionate, individualized care. The team of physicians at Lynn Cancer Institute Radiation Oncology at Health City have more than 54 years of collective experience and will develop a targeted treatment plan that is best for you.

The Boynton Beach location now offers many of the same radiation oncology services and treatments found at other Baptist Health South Florida cancer care locations, including: IMRT/IGRT, 3D conformational therapy with RapidArc, CT stimulation, diagnostic imaging including PET and CT scans, electron therapy, high-dose rate brachytherapy, lung screening, nutrition and psychosocial services, and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT).

The Lynn Cancer Institute has several conveniently located radiation oncology centers, including at the Sandler Pavilion in Boca Raton at 701 NW 13th Street, Boca Raton (561-955-5966); Radiation Oncology at Delray Beach at 16313 S. Military Trail, Delray Beach (561-955-7200); and the new Lynn Cancer Institute Radiation Oncology at Health City in Boynton Beach at 10301 Hagen Ranch Road, Suite A-960, Boynton Beach (561-374-5440).

Learn more about the Lynn Cancer Institute at www.brrh.com.

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PROTECTING YOUR DIGESTION Cleveland Clinic Florida Offers Specialized Care For Your Digestive System’s Health

PROTECTING YOUR DIGESTION
Cleveland Clinic Florida Offers
Specialized Care For Your Digestive System’s Health

Digestive health relies on a large, complex system of organs, including the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, to turn the food we eat into the nutrients and energy our bodies need to survive.

“When any one element of this intricate system fails, it can have major health consequences,” explained Dr. Conrad H. Simpfendorfer, director of liver and pancreas surgery at Cleveland Clinic Florida.

These three organs are key accessories to digestive health. The liver, gallbladder and pancreas do not move food through our bodies, yet their role in digestion is vital.

The liver takes the raw materials absorbed by the intestine to make chemicals the body needs to function and detoxify potentially harmful chemicals that are ingested.

The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver and then releases it through bile ducts into the small intestine to help process fats.

The pancreas secretes juices used to break down protein, fats and carbohydrates, as well as hormones to regulate blood sugar.

Some of the most common digestive disorders involve this organ trio.

More than four million Americans are diagnosed each year with liver disease, including cirrhosis and viral hepatitis. Another 20 million are affected by gallstones and other biliary diseases.

Meanwhile, pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, will claim an estimated 47,000 lives in the United States this year.

“Because of their tremendous impact on overall health, liver, biliary and pancreatic diseases require immediate and expert medical care,” Simpfendorfer cautioned.

This is where the experts at Cleveland Clinic Florida come in.

The digestive health specialists at Cleveland Clinic Florida are highly skilled in treating a full range of common to complex liver, pancreatic and biliary diseases. This expertise recently earned Cleveland Clinic Florida the Center of Excellence designation from the National Pancreas Foundation for the care of patients with pancreatic cancer, a high standard of care met by only four centers statewide.

“We have a multidisciplinary team of specialists at Cleveland Clinic focused on treating the whole patient,” said Dr. Mayank Roy, a board-certified general surgeon specializing in liver and pancreas surgery. “Our tumor board, for example, brings together experts from a number of specialties to collaborate on treatment plans for patients with cancer designed to achieve the best outcomes.”

As a high-volume center for minimally invasive hepato-pancreato-biliary surgeries, the fellowship-trained surgeons at Cleveland Clinic Florida have tremendous experience in advanced surgical techniques.

“Today we can perform many challenging surgeries laparoscopically, using small incisions instead of traditional open surgery, which greatly benefits our patients,” explained Roy, who works closely with colleagues at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital to offer Treasure Coast patients access to this innovative care. “And we are one of the few centers in the state using robotic-assisted surgery to treat digestive diseases.”

Cleveland Clinic is a leader in fluorescence-guided surgery, using a fluorescent dye during procedures to better see anatomic structures.

“This advanced imaging technique allows surgeons to remove diseased tissue more precisely and preserve healthy tissue,” Simpfendorfer said. “It can dramatically reduce the risk of complications associated with minimally invasive gallbladder removal, one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States.”

Cleveland Clinic Florida has an office in Wellington at 2789 S. State Road 7. To schedule an appointment with a digestive health specialist at Cleveland Clinic Florida, including Dr. Mayank Roy, who sees patients in Palm Beach County, call (877) 463-2010 or visit www.clevelandclinicflorida.org/digestive.

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JUST KEEP SWIMMING Wellington Master’s Swim Team Provides Opportunity For Adults To Gather And Thrive

JUST KEEP SWIMMING
Wellington Master’s Swim Team Provides
Opportunity For Adults To Gather And Thrive

by Lenore Phillips

One of the perks of living in Florida is the ability to be outside and active all 12 months of the year. Activities range from lounging at the beach to being an athlete at any age. Many residents of Wellington are members of a local running club, cycling club, softball teams and volleyball teams. Another team that is lesser known, but equally thriving for adult participants is the Wellington Swim Club (WSC), home of the Wellington Marlins Master’s Swim Team. This team of swimmers of varying abilities and goals is representative of the power of fitness to create a strong community with outstanding opportunities.

The Wellington Master’s Swim team has been a part of the Wellington Aquatics Complex since 2015. The program was established as an affiliate of the United States Masters Swimming Association and is geared toward the adult swimmer. The Wellington Marlins are just one of hundreds of such programs across the United States, with two teams in Palm Beach County alone.

While the word “masters” may sound intimidating, it should not. Many of these groups, WSC included, offer introductory programs for adults who are learning to swim for the first time, as well as swimmers who have been competing at a high level from childhood. The program offers coached workouts six days a week from head coach Lina Bot, and an array of assistant coaches.

Over the years, the Wellington Swim Club has gone through several iterations. The Marlins team was organized in 2019 by coach Patrick Billingsley. With the motto “Show Up, Swim, Have Fun,” WSC built its community with a strong mixture of top competitive swimmers, triathletes, open water swimmers and non-swimmers looking for a way to expand their fitness horizons.

“I had been a swim and triathlon coach for the better part of a decade when I decided to start a master’s team in Wellington,” said Billingsley, now the team’s former head coach. “I knew that we had some very competitive swimmers in the area, and we had a top-notch facility at the Wellington Aquatics Complex, so I decided to establish a team and see what would happen.”

Almost immediately, it became a vibrant program. The team would practice from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and eventually added a weekend practice day, as well as lunchtime practices for those not interested in being up before the sun. The team continued its steady growth and morphed into a recognizable player in the local athletic community, as well as a force to be reckoned with on the state and national competitive scenes.

During the COVD-19 pandemic, the program was forced to hit the pause button. The swimmers stayed in touch with one another on a private Facebook group dedicated to the team and even shared exercise plans so that collectively, they could stay in shape until the pool could safely re-open.

Through hard work by the coaching staff and the strict safety measures put in place by the Village of Wellington and the management of the aquatics complex, swimmers were able to return to the pool deck in May 2020.

The strength of the return came as a surprise to many on the team as new faces emerged in their community. After the forced confinement due to the pandemic, many people were looking for a safe, outdoor activity that also allowed them to be around other people.

“Swimming is a unique sport because you are always competing against yourself first and your teammates second, but you also act as a team because you are working out closely with people who are similar in speed and stamina to you,” Billingsley said. “The camaraderie that emerges in a swim team is so special because everyone feels like they are struggling in training and succeeding in improving their fitness together. It creates a completely unique and very tight bond. The pandemic only strengthened that in our team. It was really uplifting, considering the stress everyone was experiencing at the time.”

Besides the changes as a result of the new normal created by the pandemic, there were also changes in the coaching staff. Billingsley decided to step back from the program so that he could focus more time on his growing family, and Bot took over the role as head coach. She has spent the better part of the last 16 years teaching the fundamentals of swimming to age group swimmers as part of the Wellington Aquatics Complex staff and has been teaching competitive swimming for the last two years. Assuming the role of head coach of the master’s program was a change of pace for her professionally but one that she was eager to grow into.

“I love being a part of the swimmers’ progress and helping them to reach their individual goals,” Bot said. “What drew me to working with the master’s team is how inclusive it is. The team acts as a family, and everyone is so positive in how they push one another. This support system is especially meaningful during COVID-19 times. It also makes coming to the pool deck every day very positive and inspiring.”

In 2021, the team is focused on expanding its membership to include more swimmers and returning to competition. Through Bot’s directive, the team has expanded the number of coached workouts and opportunities for competition in Florida. There is hope that with Olympic competition coverage set to begin this month, the triumphs in the pool on the international stage will inspire even more new swimmers to follow the team’s guiding principles of “Show Up, Swim, Have Fun!”

If you are interested in becoming involved with the Wellington Marlins Master’s Swim Team, visit www.wellingtonswimclub.com.

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