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Bill Thomas Of Brightway Insurance Offers Quality Advice And Unique Expertise Concierge Service

Bill Thomas Of Brightway Insurance Offers Quality Advice And Unique Expertise Concierge Service

Bill Thomas of Brightway Insurance has come a long way since growing up in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Back then, his goal was to fly.

“I became a commercial pilot and was trying to fly for the airlines,” Thomas recalled. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, the airlines were furloughing pilots, so I went to school, to Queens College and St. John’s University Law School, became an attorney and worked as a real estate attorney in New York City.”

It wasn’t long before he felt the lure of Florida’s sunshine.

“Eventually, I started a factoring business, which I could run from anywhere, so I moved to Florida where my family and my wife’s family were living,” Thomas explained. “I found Wellington because I am a pilot and wanted to live at the Aero Club so I could fly my airplane.”

While living in Florida, Thomas took on some work as an attorney doing closings for business brokers and eventually opened his own business brokerage.

“It looked like more fun that working as an attorney,” he said. “I did so many sales as a business broker that I wrote and published a book, The Six-Figure Business Broker, which sells on Amazon. It is designed to teach new agents how to sell businesses.”

After years of helping others with their businesses, he found himself interested in the insurance industry.

“After selling businesses for 10 years, I started buying and selling them myself,” Thomas said. “After a year of researching insurance agencies to buy or to start, I decided that I would purchase a franchise.”

Through his research, he liked what he learned about Brightway Insurance.

“I chose the Brightway Insurance franchise because, after meeting with other agency owners and the principals of the company, I decided that they were a well-run organization, and they provided superior services to their customers,” Thomas said. “They are also fast-growing and financially strong. This is the type of company that I’d like to associate with.”

Thomas uses his experience and knowledge as an attorney to provide customers with quality advice and concierge service.

“I say concierge because I’m very much hands-on and would rather handle my customers myself than hire agents and hand customers off to them,” Thomas explained. “When you call my agency, you speak with me and get my background and experience. You get concierge service at regular prices.”

Insurance can be complicated, especially in the Wellington area. Thomas said that you can have estate-type homes, horse farms, homes with airplane hangars, agricultural businesses and homes that are so far away from a fire station that they are difficult to insure.

“I’ve developed relationships with different underwriters to be able to handle these homes,” he said. “The difference is that you can’t quote this business online in minutes, you have to research the house, fill out a paper application and then call the underwriter to explain the circumstances. You also have to have knowledge of insurance policy contracts and underwriting guidelines. At the end of the day, customers trust my advice and that I’m doing the best thing for them.”

If Thomas has a specialty other than an unswerving dedication to quality service, it would be horse farms and barns.

“I do a lot of commercial liability for horse barns and shows, too. I also enjoy handling commercial insurance because of the challenge,” Thomas said. “It’s similar to insuring houses in the western communities. You have to deal directly with an underwriter who will work with you to get the policy written correctly.”

Currently between planes, his most recent was a Beechcraft Baron for 15 years, Thomas has been married for 25 years to his wife Aleyka and has a daughter Kelly, who has graduated from the University of Central Florida and is starting a job as a flight attendant with United Airlines in January.

As a pilot, Thomas has traveled everywhere in America and hasn’t found many places that are as pleasant to live as Wellington.

“I love the horse shows, polo and being able to fly my plane to the Bahamas on weekends,” he said. “I also love the people. There is a wonderful sense of community here. You don’t find that in most places. It’s no wonder it’s such a sought-after winter destination.”

For additional information about Bill Thomas’ Brightway Insurance agency, call (561) 614-1122, e-mail or visit


The Village Of Wellington Offers A Growing List Of Programs For Senior Citizens Serving Seniors

The Village Of Wellington Offers A Growing List Of Programs For Senior Citizens Serving Seniors

For many senior citizens, getting older can mean a loss of independence, fewer relationships and less social interaction. In the eyes of Wellington Community Services Specialist Jenifer Brito, this is unacceptable. Her job is to help provide for those needs among the local senior community.

Having been around seniors since childhood, Brito has seen firsthand the challenges many face on a daily basis. Life continues its onward march, as their pace begins to slow, and their companions start to dwindle.

While it isn’t true of all seniors, Brito has found a general feeling of depression to be common among the elderly. This could be a result of the loss of loved ones, limited mobility and a lack of social interaction.

It is Brito’s mission to help the seniors in Wellington overcome these challenges and thrive as the valuable members of society she knows them to be.

“Many of them come in, and they are seeking help, and they don’t know what they’re looking for, but they know they’re looking for something,” Brito said. “When I meet with them, I try to gauge what that is, and I find out what their likes are, what their dislikes are, and how I can plug them into things.”

While working with — and for — seniors, Brito discovered that as people age, one of their crucial needs is to have sufficient social interaction. This, Brito explained, is a necessity of great importance.

“I don’t think at any age that’s different,” Brito said. “We all want to have that, whether you’re 90 or six.”

For this reason, Brito has taken on a number of projects to help initiate social opportunities for the senior population. The new Feel Good Fridays program is one such opportunity.

Partnering with Baptist Health South Florida, Wellington’s Community Services Department has been bringing in instructors for exercise classes catered to seniors — such as dance and chair yoga. They have also added an educational component — a lecture following the classes presented by a visiting doctor.

“This is a new initiative that we started on Fridays because we saw that Fridays were an open day where we were able to engage the seniors and get them into the Wellington Community Center with programing,” Brito said.

The best part? Participants are invited to attend Feel Good Fridays absolutely free. This goes for both Wellington residents and non-residents.

In order to offer classes to seniors at no cost, Wellington has partnered with a number of sponsors, such as Wellington Regional Medical Center, Florida Blue and Baptist Health South Florida.

Other activities available for the seniors are technology classes, bingo, Zumba, Aqua Zumba and more. Then there are the parties, such as an annual luau and the upcoming senior prom.

Brito has also planned health fairs and a volunteer fair, and she plans to see them both become an annual practice.

“We did that initiative because many seniors do want to volunteer, but it’s really difficult for them to call 10 different places and find out volunteer opportunities. So, we brought it to them,” Brito said of the volunteer fair.

Unless it is an outdoor-specific activity — such as Aqua Zumba, which is held in a heated pool at the Wellington Aquatics Complex — all events take place indoors to make it as easy on the seniors as possible.

The senior prom, for example, is scheduled to be held on April 7 in the Village Park gymnasium. Among other things, Brito is planning to have a live band playing nostalgic hits from bygone days.

“It’s going to be really pretty,” Brito said. “I’m very excited about the prom because it’s not only going to bring the seniors together, but it also might facilitate meeting new friends or companions, and that’s really important in our senior population.”

Recognizing the need not only for fun but an understanding community as well, Wellington offers a monthly support group for caretakers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. Taking place in the Wellington Community Center, this is open to seniors and non-seniors alike.

The Wellington Community Center also includes a Senior Lounge where individuals or groups are welcome to relax, play games, watch TV, enjoy snacks, drink coffee and just enjoy the atmosphere.

“It’s really looking at what the needs of the seniors are and how we can help with those needs,” Brito said.

Pat Keeler is a Wellington resident who frequents the Senior Lounge to borrow books, use the free Wi-Fi and socialize.

“I think it’s always important to be active in the community you live in,” Keeler said. “The seniors community are people your own age, so you have a connection with them, and I’ve made some good friends.”

According to Keeler, a member of the Wellington Seniors Club, having these services for the seniors is important for both their social and emotional health.

“Many seniors — their families don’t live around here and they’ve outlived some of their friends. I’ve been fortunate, but it’s easy for a senior to become isolated,” Keeler said. “And this helps them not to do that.”

It is Brito’s passion to help seniors who are searching for connection in their community, and she meets with them over the phone, in her office, in a public place or in their homes in order to do just that. There is no pressure to commit or get involved, but Brito wants to make sure seniors know their options.

“I just want them to know that I will continue to work hard to bring more programming to them, and more events,” Brito said. “And I feel that yes, we have a lot going on, but we’re always going to have more going on.”

To learn more about opportunities for senior citizens in Wellington, contact Brito at (561) 753-2476 or, or visit


Wellington’s Landscaping Team Works To Keep The Community Green Going Native

Wellington’s Landscaping Team Works To Keep The Community Green Going Native

One key to Wellington’s allure, both to residents and visitors, is its small-town feel. An important part of that atmosphere is the amount of green space and trees found in the community. Wellington’s landscaping team is key to setting the tone, from the moment one drives past the first Village of Wellington welcome sign.

Brian Hopper is the operations superintendent in charge of all landscaping and trees found on village property. Over the past seven years, he has taken his master’s degree in forest resources and conservation from the University of Florida to bring the vegetation in Wellington to a more natural state.

“Having a strong natural resources background gives me the tendency to use native species whenever I can. I’m always looking for ways to increase our tree canopy,” Hopper said. “My favorite thing is when I get an opportunity to be creative. By that I mean, do our own in-house designs for landscape enhancements, especially to plant trees in spaces that didn’t have any.”

This tendency to use native plants has long-term side effects for Wellington that are beyond just aesthetics.

“Native plants are more cost effective,” said Deputy Director of Public Works Bill Conerly, who is Hopper’s supervisor. “They require less treatment, too. You don’t get the exotic pests, and they don’t need the herbicides to take care of themselves. I’m a Florida guy. I’ve seen the changes, and the native species are low maintenance compared to exotic plants.”

Conerly and Hopper have worked together for years and share a passion for taking care of Wellington’s greenery. One such project they are both proud of is the Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat, located at 3491 Flying Cow Ranch Road.

“It started off as an old agricultural field that was nothing but Brazilian pepper, and they carved out the retention areas to attract birds,” Hopper recalled. “They did initial plantings, and we have added to it every single year just to make it better. Now, everything has started to grow and recruit native species. Not only do you get to see aquatic vegetation but upland habitats — all built from scratch.”

The 365-acre preserve has been a work in progress that began in 2007 and now has plants ranging from wildflowers to oak trees re-seeding and growing on their own. Originally designed to be a stormwater retention area, there is much more going on at the preserve now. “It’s amazing all the native species that you can see at any given time,” Conerly said. “We have migratory birds, bald eagles and ospreys. We put out osprey perches, and you can see them eating fish and interacting with each other.”

Hard work and consistency have paid off. Wellington has been awarded a Tree City USA designation for more than 20 years running. In addition, the village has also maintained a growth award for the past 10 years, proving there is an increased level of attention and commitment to the trees here.

“For the past five years, we have planted an average of approximately 500 trees a year, and about 1,500 seedlings each year at the Wellington Environmental Preserve,” Hopper said. “We also give away free seedlings to all the local schools in celebration of Earth Day, and we offer free trees at the Earth Day event held at the Wellington Amphitheater.”

For Hopper, the big projects are great, but he feels it is the little projects that add up to big things.

“We have high-profile projects — like the landscape berm over near Stribling Way and State Road 7 — but it’s the amalgamation of all the tiny little projects that make a difference,” he said. “It’s the small neighborhood entryways, like the median in front of a neighborhood that we overhauled even when no one asked for it, and it looks so much better. They may not be projects that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I know it has an effect on people’s daily lives.”

One example is an upcoming planting project to add more trees along pathways in the preserve to create better shaded stopping points for trail users. In the end, the purpose always comes back to the community and its residents.

“When you have a resident write on social media about how great something looks — when the public says that, it really makes you feel good,” Conerly said. “One good compliment goes a long way.”

Hopper and Conerly view their work in Wellington as more than just a day job. “I always like to say if you do what you love for a living, sometimes it doesn’t feel like work,” Hopper explained. “It’s nice to be able to enjoy what you do when you have a passion for it.”

He also shared a little advice for locals when deciding what to plant in their own spaces. “Stay away from the plants that you know are pest problems, or plants that you know are going to have to be treated,” Hopper said.

Conerly couldn’t agree more. “In my personal yard, if it doesn’t attract a butterfly, a bee or a bird, I try not to plant it,” he said.


Palm Beach Aquatics Is A Leader In Lake And Wetland Restoration Protecting Water

Palm Beach Aquatics Is A Leader In Lake And Wetland Restoration Protecting Water

Always interested in the idea of working to maintain a healthy environment, John Natale founded Palm Beach Aquatics in 1998 as a full-service environmental management company specializing in lake and wetland restoration.

With his business partner Mike Lehman, the firm has become a Florida leader in environmentally friendly green technology for lake management.

“Our services include algae and weed control, fountain sales and service, aquatic planting, fish stocking, bank restoration and beneficial bacteria programs,” said Natale, who moved to the Wellington area more than 30 years ago from Hartford, Conn.

Committed to working to improve the environmental well-being of Florida’s communities, Palm Beach Aquatics achieves its goal in two important ways. First, it restores wetlands, promoting natural methods and thereby reducing chemicals and nutrients in ground and service waters. The company also helps to prevent weathering and provides animal habitat by the introduction of native vegetation — plants, grasses and trees — to their appropriate communities.

“We are an authorized Aqua Control and Airmax fountain and aeration system dealer,” Natale said. “Placing a fountain or aerator in your waterway is one of the most beneficial things you can do for the ecosystem.”

He added that other beneficial actions include the addition of aquatic plants and fish stocking.

“We are a SePRO preferred applicator and stewards of the water. Our trained aquatic biologists have more than half a century of combined experience,” Natale said.

Working in both the private and public sector, the team is experienced with small and large bodies of water and in advanced freshwater fish management.

A new product being used by Palm Beach Aquatics is a weed control solution that is as effective as the chemical in Roundup, without the carcinogenic compounds.

The firm even offers an eco-friendly method for flying pest control.

“We offer a completely green approach for mosquito, midge fly and black fly control that is very important for horse stables and farms in Wellington,” Natale explained.

The green theme extends to the company itself, which conserves and limits overall energy consumption in its offices, facilities and vehicles. As an environmentally friendly company, Palm Beach Aquatics strives to protect natural environments, conserve resources and educate its clientele on environmental issues.

“We also strive for exceptional customer service and pride ourselves on using EPA-approved and environmentally safe products that are not harmful to horses and humans to treat the waters,” Natale said.

Palm Beach Aquatics offers its lake, fountain and aerator service throughout South Florida for lake and fish management. “We carry a full line of Aqua Control fountains and aerators to keep your lake in regulated circulation,” Natale said.

Incorporating the objective of sustainability for every decision in the business, the firm strives to play a positive role in conservation from global climate change to local issues, such as water scarcity and aquatic vegetation management.

In order to prioritize its environmental stewardship, the company focuses on the following areas: water, waste recycling, habitat restoration, exotic species control, energy conservation, phytoremediation (which includes processes mediated by plants that are useful in treating environmental problems), best management practices and transportation.

Using only EPA-approved herbicides and natural methods of nutrient reduction and algae prevention such as waterway aeration, using enzymes and bacteria to reduce sludge, and algae prevention rather than treatment, the company encourages the use of slow-release fertilizers and educates clients on the effects of nutrient loading in and around waterways.

As a longtime resident of the area, Natale enjoys the lifestyle of Wellington. He and his wife moved to the area in 1987. They have one daughter who works for Wellington Parks & Recreation. Natale’s hobbies include fundraising and polo.

For more information about Palm Beach Aquatics, call (561) 719-8900 or (888) 391-LAKE (5253) or visit The web site includes links for customer service, work order requests and a client-only log-in for comprehensive reports for each property.



Meet The Unsung Heroes Of Wellington’s Emergency Operations Team

Meet The Unsung Heroes Of Wellington’s Emergency Operations Team

When storms like Hurricane Dorian are on the horizon, the community prepares for the worst and hopes for the best. But preparedness is more than having bottles of water and canned food on hand. Wellington’s Emergency Operations Team of Eric Juckett, Bruce Wagner, Shannon LaRocque, Ed De La Vega and Mike O’Dell — led by Director of Emergency Management & Public Safety Nicole Coates — takes the concept of preparation far beyond the expected.

“Emergency Management is made up of all employees who work for the village. All public employees may be called upon to work during an emergency, such as a natural disaster,” Coates said. “The village has implemented the use of FEMA’s Incident Command Structure and applied it to all large-scale events. Employees train year-round on FEMA’s process in the event we needed to respond to an emergency.”

While the entire village is ready to help, there are key personnel who assist in the coordination of resources, response and recovery efforts during a disaster of any kind.

“We all wear multiple hats and are ready to serve when called upon,” Coates said. “My blue-sky role in the Parks & Recreation Department back in 2001 was as the community projects manager, in which I would coordinate and serve as the incident commander for large-scale community events such as the Fall Festival and the Fourth of July.”

As Coates rose over time to become community services director, she continuously found herself working and training in the field of emergency preparedness and response.

“It was during the hurricanes in 2004 that I had my first experience working in the village’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC),” Coates said. “I understood incident command, and it all started to make sense.”

In 2012, when John Bonde retired, Coates was promoted to her current role and is now a part of the Region 7 team consisting of professionals from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The team is deployable to any part of the state when the need arises.

“I was sent to [Hurricane] Michael. Knowing that here we deal with debris and flooding, seeing a Category 5 storm and what it can really do was eye opening,” Coates said. “It really helped me to see the massive coordination it takes to recover from a storm.”

One of the key personnel for the village is Director of Public Works Bruce Wagner. He serves as the Operations Section chief, who is responsible for coordinating a variety of staff during an active incident.

“We work to return the village to normal operations as soon as possible. Public Works is the first to respond and is always the last to leave to ensure the safety and welfare of all residents,” Wagner said. “During Hurricane Irma, Binks Forest Drive became blocked with a great deal of downed trees, vegetation and debris, which posed a potential flooding issue and driving hazard, including obstruction for emergency vehicles. Public Works spotted the situation, responded and addressed it before the public even knew or reported it.”

Coates explained that in addition to fire-rescue and law enforcement, Wellington’s Public Works and Utilities staff also serve as first responders, ensuring roads and critical facilities remain operational. “One of the largest parts of the recovery process is debris management. Removing debris quickly, before it becomes a safety concern, is a top priority,” Coates said. “On average, here in Wellington, we have seen storms generate more than 265,000 cubic yards of debris.”

Utilities Director Shannon LaRocque mirrors Wagner’s role in the Operations Section.

“Bruce handles Public Works, and I handle the Utilities side — water and wastewater,” LaRocque said. “The one thing everyone talks about is water, but even more important is the wastewater plan. Without it, we don’t have sanitary provisions, which is critical to public health. We can always truck in water.”

Because water and sewer service are critical infrastructure, LaRocque’s team plans for more than just natural disasters. They are ready for massive power outages and even to mobilize and assist public utilities elsewhere in Florida.

“We can deal with power loss. We have nearly 60 emergency generators. Emergency power management is huge for us,” LaRocque said. “In [Hurricane] Dorian, I was preparing everybody for the fact that we could have widespread water and sanitary sewer outages.”

With large infrastructure improvements in process, LaRocque’s department has about $50 million in construction projects underway, and all that equipment and unfinished work had to be secured.

“It was a huge coordination effort. Everybody on my team has a specific role, and they know what to do in preparation for a storm. So, I feel very confident that we are in a good position,” LaRocque said.

Assistant Planning & Zoning Director Michael O’Dell is another important piece of the Emergency Management team. His role in the Planning Section is important for the documentation of everything from broad assessments to individual events.

“The Planning Section assists with developing the incident action reports for each operational cycle,” he said. “They are also key to obtaining damage assessment and situational awareness throughout the incident.”

Supporting the staff as they care for village residents is also vital to keeping all responses and recovery efforts moving along smoothly.

“My Emergency Management role is Logistics Section chief. This includes ensuring all the staff in lockdown have the proper supplies, including food, water and safety supplies,” Parks & Recreation Director Eric Juckett said. “It is of the utmost importance that we get back up and running to the public as soon as possible. I can’t begin to explain how many compliments we receive from the residents for our efforts in this.”

Perhaps one of the least visible roles is that of Director of General Services Ed De La Vega, who also serves as the Finance Section chief during and after emergencies.

“The Finance Section is responsible for all financial, administrative and costs associated with the incident,” Coates said. “They play a critical role in the recovery process, from working with our insurance providers to seeking FEMA reimbursement for damage to public property and assets.”


Service Is Key to Successful Equine Waste Business JH Hauling

Service Is Key to Successful Equine Waste Business JH Hauling

With Wellington famous for its equestrian lifestyle and world-class events, it is easy to overlook the less glamorous end of the horse business. Justin Hickey of JH Hauling calls himself a “manure entrepreneur,” and his successful firm is one of the top manure haulers for the waste of Wellington’s equine residents.

Born in Ireland and raised in England and California, Hickey moved to Wellington when he was 15 years old and grew up in the community. “I loved watching polo and the lifestyle of Wellington,” Hickey recalled. “I immediately thought, ‘Wow, this is paradise to me!’ I’ve been here ever since.”

To this day, Hickey enjoys the majestic sport of polo.

“Polo season is the best time of year. I love Sunday polo, and I go to polo games during the week,” he said. “The lifestyle is for people who like fast cars and fast boats. I love the Sunshine State with its tiki bars, great restaurants and nice people. It is the land of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

During the equestrian season, some 12,000 horses are in Wellington. Each 1,000-pound animal produces about 50 pounds of waste each and every day. These horses are easily producing more than 600,000 pounds of waste per day, according to some estimates. Phosphorous runoff from the manure can create damaging situations for the fragile Everglades ecosystem. This provides a challenge for the village and an opportunity for businesses like JH Hauling.

Living in Wellington for the past three decades, Hickey first started his business as a part-time opportunity. “I attended school and became a private duty nurse, then I started my manure-hauling business as something on the side,” he explained.

From his childhood, Hickey had experience with horses and their waste products. “Being from Ireland, I knew what to do with horse manure,” Hickey said.

As a nurse, he came to meet a large sugarcane farmer as a client and took care of him. This provided the connection for a vast amount of land to the west of the village where he could legally and legitimately spread the waste material.

“I’m in charge of spreading between two farms. I have access to more than 129,000 acres of fields,” Hickey said.

With 90 percent of his business coming from Wellington, and the balance from all around Palm Beach County, JH Hauling enjoys a good reputation as a registered hauler because of Hickey’s attitude toward service.

“By being honest and kind, and answering my phone, I have built a successful business,” Hickey said. “It is not science; it isn’t that complicated. It’s all about service. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I answer my phone promptly, I treat people with respect, and I get the job done. It’s pretty plain and simple.”

Hickey now lives in Loxahatchee. He has a daughter and just became a grandfather. 

Intimately involved in the ongoing manure issues in Wellington, Hickey has spearheaded efforts to alleviate the challenges created by illegal waste removal and disposal. He said that he feels the situation could be better if everyone followed the rules and regulations and the village was more proactive in making all haulers follow the rules and regulations.

“When there’s illegal dumping, Wellington doesn’t do anything about it because it’s outside of Wellington. When you’re a hauler, you’re losing clients and customers because of illegal dumping and haulers unethically dumping,” Hickey said.

However, Hickey has seen improvements in this regard, and he sees more changes and improvements coming in the future. He said that equestrians are becoming more interested in using permitted haulers to help protect the environment, and they are concerned about knowing where the manure is going to go once it leaves their property.

For more information about JH Hauling, call (561) 248-3344.


Above And Beyond Party Décor Turns A Client’s Vision Into Reality

Above And Beyond Party Décor Turns A Client’s Vision Into Reality

With life comes milestones, many of which are celebrated as special and unique occasions. Andrea Plevin of Above and Beyond Party Décor has built her business around making clients happy by bringing their dream celebrations to life.

With life comes milestones, many of which are celebrated as special and unique occasions. Andrea Plevin of Above and Beyond Party Décor has built her business around making clients happy by bringing their dream celebrations to life.

Originally from Westchester County, N.Y., Andrea moved to Wellington to support her family. Her two oldest children stayed up north for college, and her youngest, Kylee Plevin, joined Andrea and her husband Roger in Florida as they cared for her in-laws. The entire family has since reunited in Florida.

Andrea has long been involved in the communities that she has lived in, which led to her career in party planning.

“I was very active and volunteered for any kind of function that involved decorating, and I really enjoyed it,” she recalled. “People kept saying, ‘You should do this for a living.’ I finally decided to do it.”

Planning parties keeps her busy, too. So far in 2019, Andrea has worked on more than 25 baby showers and first birthday parties alone. Many people don’t realize that doing everything for an event on their own can get expensive very quickly.

“Often, I have supplies here that they can use, and I just take them back, so it’s like a rental,” she explained. “That is going to be much less money than if they went out, bought everything themselves, and then after the party, they don’t know what to do with it.”

During her 23 years in the business of making magic, all three of the Plevin children have been involved in the company to some extent. Her daughter, Jordana Norring of Jupiter, and son, Andrew Plevin of Wellington, have both contributed many times over. “My son Andrew is the fastest at tying balloons that you will ever see,” Andrea said. “Recently, my youngest has become very involved in the business, too.”

Andrea is also now a grandmother of seven, including Dean and Brad Lamont; Grayson and Rayna Norring; and Celia, Hudson and Claire Plevin.

After growing up in Wellington, Kylee graduated from Florida Atlantic University with an emphasis on technical design. She worked in the healthcare field for years before deciding to follow in her mother’s footsteps and feed her creative side. “I’m like my mom, very creative, very hands on, very crafty,” Kylee said. “But I also balance out my mom in ways. I’m very logistic and structured.”

Above and Beyond Party Décor can handle any type of function, from a personal backyard birthday party for two, to a 500-guest event at an exclusive country club. Their unique specialty? Larger than life arches and sculptures made entirely of balloons.

“Organic arches are really in right now,” said Kylee, who explained the involvement of different shapes, sizes and layers of balloons. “To keep up with the trends, we have to adapt to what people are wanting. Sometimes that means we have to learn new and different techniques.”

For the best experience from start to finish, clients should always consider their timeline and realize that successful event planning takes time to execute.

“For large events, like a wedding or bar mitzvah, I suggest getting started at least six months in advance,” Andrea said. “Smaller events should start planning at least a month or two ahead.”

Because the schedule for party planning varies, Andrea is open to working with clientele in person or virtually. She and her daughter are quite tech savvy.

“If I have a picture, I can do it,” Andrea said. “I like talking to people, but I also text often, as more people have been contacting me that way. For people out of the state, we can literally do the entire party by text, and I don’t meet them in person until the event day.”

She explained that the planning portion is all about learning the client’s vision. The execution portion is where Andrea takes the reins and makes that vision real.

She knows the local venues and can draw many of them by memory, but that may not be the best way to translate a client’s vision.

“We work predominantly in Palm Beach County, but we have the capabilities to work outside of it, if that’s what the client needs,” Andrea said. “We also don’t put out packages because everything is tailored to the client. We are also very good at working within a budget.”

Andrea takes being a part of these important lifetime moments very seriously, and that is why clients return.

“One customer, I did all four kids’ [bar/bat] mitzvahs, and now I just did the first wedding for them, too,” she said. “It is fun, but my favorite thing is when it’s all done, and I’m really excited about how it looks. I can’t wait for my client to walk in and see the expression on their face. So many times, they say, ‘This looks even better than I pictured!’”

Above and Beyond Party Décor is located at 235 N. Jog Road in West Palm Beach, and meetings are available by appointment. To schedule an appointment, call (561) 707-6606 or e-mail aboveand To see product examples and check out the extensive photo gallery, visit


Not Just Playing With Numbers: Finance Team Keeps Wellington In The Black

Not Just Playing With Numbers: Finance Team Keeps Wellington In The Black

Wellington’s Office of Financial Management and Budget is setting the standard for practice and policy across the nation. More than just the purse strings for the village, OFMB is directly connected to every department — and every resident.

“We monitor all revenues and expenses for the village, and we provide services that the customers need, want and are willing to pay for,” said Controller Ana Acevedo, who has been with Wellington for five years. “In the finance department, we work very closely with all departments in the village, and I just enjoy seeing how our tax dollars are put to work.”

After 14 years on the job, Budget Director Christine Wadleigh knows the ins and outs of making things work for everyone.

“We give the financial support and guidance to all the other departments. We make the connection between what the residents see and the requirements that any government has to meet according to statutes and law,” Wadleigh explained. “We do the financial reporting, and then prepare and present a balanced budget. We make the translation between the fun stuff that everybody sees and the finances that make it happen.”

As a department centered around planning, OFMB is all about being prepared for the future.

“During the Great Recession, many local governments experienced debilitating hardships,” Acevedo said. “Wellington was able to continue to meet the needs of the residents during this difficult time by evaluating economic conditions and planning well for unforeseen events. I think that’s what finance is all about — planning ahead. We assisted with cost-cutting measures that kept the village running leanly while maintaining our excellent financial position.”

OFMB is not the largest department in Wellington’s government, but it touches every aspect. Between the purchasing, budget and accounting sections, approximately 20 people are tasked with crunching the numbers.

“We developed a priority-based budget model that every department completes, and it allows them to rank their budget requests,” Wadleigh said. “They do an awesome job of prioritizing, and I call them budgeteers.”

Another key step to this ranking system involves identifying all the core activities in Wellington and making sure those are funded.

“We implemented an annual budget survey, probably 10 years ago now, that really provides insight on the items that are important to the residents. That helps us to prepare our budget knowing that we are meeting the needs of our residents,” Wadleigh said. “We even identify the higher level, quality of life community add-on activities and make sure those are funded.”

Getting the community to participate in surveys is no easy task. Other government agencies throughout Florida have tried and failed, so crafting questions that people want to take the time to answer is an art form in itself.

“I gave a presentation on it to the Florida Government Finance Officers Association in June, and many others have had difficulties getting it off the ground. We’ve had great support here,” Wadleigh said.

The results have received not only attention, but awards.

“I am extremely proud of the awards that the finance department has received throughout the years,” Acevedo said. “In 2019, we received a certificate of excellence award for our investment policy. This is awarded for investment policies that have been reviewed and professionally accepted by the Association of Public Treasuries of the United States and Canada.”

OFMB has also earned many recognitions from the national Government Finance Officers Association, including a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 22 consecutive years.

The GFOA has also bestowed upon Wellington its Popular Annual Financial Reporting Award for eight straight years. This award specifically refers to the creation of reports that are easily accessible and understandable to the general public.

The department’s proficiency in everything from policy documentation and organization to financial planning has also earned them the GFOA’s Award for Distinguished Budget Presentation for the past 23 years.

Past successes support a strong track record, but the department is always looking ahead.

“Our future plans are to always continue to meet the future economic challenges. We update our forecasting every year and want to keep Wellington in its current excellent financial position,” Wadleigh said. “That also means being able to change with the times and being aware of what’s going on out there and making sure we recommend financial and policy changes to keep ourselves in a good position, no matter what happens.”

There is also an internal plan in place to keep the department running at peak efficiency.

“We want to continue to grow our department and promote from within like a succession plan,” Acevedo said. “In the finance office, it is critical to cross-train to make sure that if anyone is out, we always have someone to cover during their absence.”

Both Acevedo and Wadleigh give much of the credit for their success to Director of Administrative and Financial Services Tanya Quickel.

“Tanya Quickel really just brings a great and welcoming culture. We meet weekly to discuss everything that’s going on,” Acevedo said. “It’s just a family, a home away from home. Our leadership is just exceptional.”

Wadleigh said that Quickel allows everyone to leverage each other’s strengths.

“We all respect that everyone’s strengths come together as a great team,” Wadleigh said. “We’ve got super-talented, devoted people. Even at quitting time, they’re not going home. They stay until the job is done.”

The pieces of Wellington’s government strive to fit together, working toward a common goal for the community.

“Our goal continues to be a great hometown, and that’s our mission and our vision for the village,” Acevedo said.


Gwen Gottlieb Helps Clients Boost Their Brand’s Influence

Gwen Gottlieb Helps Clients Boost Their Brand’s Influence

Gwen Gottlieb has found a way to have it all in life by exploring her passion for creativity while helping others build their brands.

Several years ago, Gottlieb was looking for something to complement her day job as the marketing director at Florida Eye Microsurgical Institute. This led to her new business, known as Gwen Lives Well.

“I was looking for something I could do in my spare time — something that would let me express my creative nature,” Gottlieb explained.

So, she melded her interests in the current cultural, food and social media trends to find success as a lifestyle influencer. She uses a vast network of online connections to put her clients’ message directly in the path of potential consumers.

“I love the Instagram community of people I’ve ‘met.’ I’ve gotten to ‘know’ folks from all walks of life, and believe it or not, have had several real friendships develop as a result,” Gottlieb said.

This one-woman army is equipped with a valuable skill set in a global economy driven by social media outlets. She has a strong client list ranging from hotels and restaurants to other businesses, and Gottlieb thrives on opportunities to collaborate.

“Social media is an amazing way to reach additional potential customers. Add that element to your traditional advertising methods, and you’ve got a more well-rounded campaign,” Gottlieb said. “What sets me apart from other influencers is that I’ll always go the extra mile for my clients. I treat their brand with respect and consideration. I do my best to present and help meet the client’s goals, whether it’s brand awareness, more sales or growth on social media.”

Another reason that her clients find Gottlieb a perfect fit for their campaign strategy is her ability to stand apart in a field teeming with young internet influencers. She has a depth they often lack, and the capacity to connect with both younger and older crowds. In addition, Gottlieb enhances her work with a multi-strategy approach.

“Potential clients can contact me for information on branding campaigns, or anything else related to marketing, public relations and business development, including web site copy, brochures, press releases, blog posts and any other creative copy needs,” she said.

Since Florida Eye Microsurgical Institute has four locations, one of which is in Wellington, this gives Gottlieb frequent opportunities to spend time in an area she has come to enjoy.

“I just love being in Wellington any chance I get — terrific restaurants, people and the community as a whole,” she said. “I also enjoy working with the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. It’s one of the most dynamic and active chambers I’ve ever been involved with.”

Her reputation as a seasoned foodie and Florida lifestyle influencer have also given Gottlieb some fun and unique experiences.

“I was thrilled to be a judge at this past year’s Flavors of Wellington event,” she recalled. “I had a blast meeting other judges and sitting next to Mayor Anne Gerwig, a fellow judge.”

With experience in a variety of subjects, working on everything from Canada Dry to Wells Fargo projects, Gottlieb is always excited to see what potential clients want to pursue. She has also worked with businesses outside of Florida, including the Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn., and the Peabody in Memphis, Tenn.

“Currently, my particular strengths lie with Instagram, and I’m also trying to spend more time working on my blog, Gwen Lives Well. I would also like to work more on my Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter accounts,” Gottlieb said. “My business is a work in progress. I’m always evolving — looking for ways to grow my own brand while doing my best to deliver what my clients expect.”

Gottlieb is also on the lookout for travel information, great vacation spots and new product lines that she can share with her network of followers.

“I like to tell my clients, ‘Let’s grow together,’” Gottlieb said. “I’m available to brands, restaurants and really any business that wants assistance in getting the word out about what they do.”

She approaches every client and project with personal attention, tailoring individual quotes for any potential venture. “I am an award-winning newspaper creator and publisher, award-winning television documentary writer and an experienced corporate communications specialist,” Gottlieb said. “My social media persona is authentic.”

Outside of travel and managing her own Instagram account, @GwenLivesWell, she loves to cook for her family, do Pilates and yoga. Between herself and her husband Gary Gottlieb, a principal partner with the commercial real estate firm Avison Young, they have four children, two in New York and two in South Florida.

Contact Gwen Gottlieb through direct message on her Instagram account @GwenLivesWell, e-mail or visit her blog at


Technology Services Department Keeps The Village Of Wellington Working At The Speed Of Business

Technology Services Department Keeps The Village Of Wellington Working At The Speed Of Business

Technology stretches across every facet of modern life. There are always new and innovative ways to use digital tools, which is a perfect way to describe the Village of Wellington’s Technology Services Department — commonly referred to as the “IT” department, short for the industry term “information technology.”

“It’s the 21st century, and we are the least visible but one of the most important departments because every single department is using some facet of mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop system to monitor things, record things, make alerts or create reports,” Chief Information Officer William Silliman explained. “More and more of the work is going less and less analog, so everything is pretty much digital nowadays.”

As times change, the IT department continues to integrate and upgrade every section of the village’s operations to improve the flow of work. As businesses and the community continue to develop more tech-savvy habits, Silliman’s seven-person team is on high alert at all times.

“The most critical issue I tell my staff is if e-mail, internet or telecommunications goes down, drop everything and figure it out,” Silliman said. “Security is also a big concern. We are constantly monitoring and watching everything from phishing scams to ransomware. We try and watch every little piece — making sure everything is backed up in a way that is recoverable.”

Technology Services continues on a strong path forward as they roll out improvements during a special three-year plan. The five-phase project includes upgrading the entire system to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software that streamlines everything for staff and residents from paying utility bills to building codes.

“Every iteration of the web site gets better as we try to keep it simple, friendly and easy to use,” Silliman said. “We’ve got a really great department and very smart people, and there is always something to improve. I don’t want IT to be a hole into which you pour money. We shop around, and with each innovation are working to save Wellington time and money. The key is we don’t perpetuate the way things have always been done.”

Perhaps one of the most striking changes to IT over the years is the integration of a quality Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team to support the village as a whole.

GIS Manager Nicole McPherson, who first worked for Wellington in 2004, returned home in 2010 to run an innovative team that is making big strides in the field and winning honors for creativity.

“We just received the 2019 Florida Excellence in Technology Award from the Agency for State Technology for our Emergency Operations GIS Portal,” McPherson said. “We have mobile apps collecting damage assessments that is connected to the FPL map of their outages and the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).”

Essentially, this portal allows workers in the field after an emergency, like a hurricane or severe storm, to upload data including images and location information directly to the EOC. This allows senior staff to look at damage assessment information in as close to real time as possible, and decisions for dispatching repair teams and assistance is based on reality instead of speculation.

“Eventually, the idea is to have something publicly accessible so people can see real-time road closures and more after an emergency,” McPherson added. “Our team is awesome. I can’t do what I do without IT. They are so critical, and they don’t get the credit. I’ve had other people, including outside vendors, tell us our IT is amazing, and they are right.”

GIS is now a part of our everyday lives, whether we know it or not. Programs like Google Maps is one popular example of GIS in action, and IT is always finding new ways to use it.

“I used to challenge the team to think outside the box, and now I don’t have to — they just do it,” Silliman said. “I’ll play devil’s advocate and am always asking ‘what if’ so we can identify potential problems. Having redundancy means that the end users, both residents and village staff, don’t even know there was an issue.”

That’s all part of the department’s primary goal to always keep the machine running.

“Wellington uses a cloud-based system, so that it is not just reliant upon village hall being here. If it was gone to tomorrow, the data is still up and running, and you could go to a neighboring community and still function, pay bills and use the web site,” Silliman said. 

In the grand scheme of a growing Wellington, IT is striving to ensure the least amount of impact for residents, businesses and employees. Having layers and backup plans in place allow Technology Services to keep the entire community connected and running smoothly.

After working in the private sector, and now at the village for the past seven years, Silliman feels more connected to his work than ever.

“I like the public sector. Being a resident here, I know who I’m working for, while in the private sector, I didn’t get to see the end user,” he said. “Instead, I’ve got the entire environment of Wellington. When we use a road application for surveys, I actually see the roads being paved. It just keeps going and growing each year.”

Silliman likes the fact that Wellington does not have a fear of technology, which is one thing that brought him to his current position.

“It’s one of the reasons why I came to Wellington,” he said. “While getting my water bill information filled out, I looked around and thought, ‘Wow, they’ve got a lot of technology.’ I pulled out my iPad, found a position and started applying right then and there.”

That was in the past, and thanks to Technology Services, Wellington is ready for the future.