Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Friday, October 21, 2016

Debbie Goldberg, Tavernier

I moved to The Keys from Pennsylvania in January of this year. My husband and I have friends here and have been visiting them for about 12 years. We bought our house here 4 years ago with the intention of eventually moving down permanently. That dream has now finally come true. 

My husband and I just love it in The Keys. I always wanted to move to Florida. My mother, and my sister and her children all live in south Florida. My grandparents lived in Miami when I was little and my family came to south Florida on vacation all the time. I was born in Brooklyn, grew up on Long island, and then moved to Pennsylvania when I was about 21…but somehow, I always knew that sooner or later I was going to live in Florida.

I was a mental health/drug and alcohol counselor for 18 years in Pennsylvania. It was my intention to continue that practice here. But 2 years ago, I had a spiritual awakening and have been following my own personal spiritual path ever since. As I started to connect with the spirit inside of me, my professional career began to evolve along a more spiritual path as well.

This may sound shocking to some people, but as I journeyed deeper into my spiritual self, I discovered that I can hear God / Spriit talking to me. It’s really fascinating. While doing some work around the teachings of Margaret Paul, I was introduced to the technique of ‘Guided Imagery.’ Guided Imagery is a meditative practice that allows us to access and actually see or visualize the energy of love that is within each of us. In short, it empowers us to visually connect with our inner guidance, our intuition, our soul.

As I continued to work with that technique I began to get a clearer understanding of what our true purpose as human beings is here on earth. I came to realize that almost all of us go through our day-to-day lives in a state of spiritual unconsciousness. We’re simply not present in our own lives. We live our lives based on a spider’s web of falsehoods, half-truths and assumption that have been passed down to us by our culture, our society, and ‘family programming.’ We grow up with stories about our intelligence, our health, our appearance, even whether or not we are worthy of being loved, and we believe them. The truth is, none of it is true.

My goal is to remove all the blockages, all of the programming and get back to our original programming, our soul’s programming, the programming given to us by God / Spirit. In doing so, we find out who we really are, not who we think we are or who society or family has taught us we are. Removing these blockages takes patience, self-discipline, and hard work. It’s a journey, a journey of a lifetime.

During the last few months before I left Pennsylvania, I kept having this feeling inside me that I was going to write. I always felt that I’d like to write a book, but I never believed in my ability to do so. I didn’t really believe I had the skills to write a book. But somehow I knew that when I got to Florida I was going to write. I didn’t know what about, but I knew it was in me!

Then in February, I heard Jesus say, “OK, it’s time to write. Get your pen and paper and let’s write.” He dictated 3 books to me over the course of 6 weeks. The books are about the process I used to recognize and walk my own personal spiritual path. They are about how each of us is here to understand our True Purpose in life, what we’re here on this earth to do. They provide insights to learning about the ego and how our egos are blindly leading us to live unconscious lives filled with all our pre-programmed false beliefs about ourselves and all the unhealed wounds we suffered growing up. The books also show us how to reconnect with our soul, that soft voice of inner guidance that is inside all of us that shows us our true inner beauty, goodness, and power… the truth of who we really are.

As you might imagine, all of this has radically changed my whole way of doing therapy. I now believe that depression and drug and alcohol abuse are profound symptoms of something much more debilitating that is going on deep inside. When I worked as a traditional counselor I was trained to identify mental and emotional “illnesses” and attempt to cure them. As I've progressed on my own personal spiritual journey and have done battle with my own demons, I’ve learned that none of us are ill; we just believe we are. Our ego tells us there is something wrong with us. But the truth is, I don’t believe in the ego’s diagnosis anymore; I don’t think anybody is ill or broken, we just believe we are.

So, I no longer fit the role of a classic counselor. My career is changing. None of what I’m learning fits inside that box anymore. It has transformed me. What I’ve started to do is to use what I have learned in helping my clients along their own spiritual path, to reconnect them with their soul or intuition that will help them see their purpose in life and guide them to their own healing and personal truth. Nobody knows what is right for you except you.

I think a lot of people are searching for their spiritual path and don’t even realize it, so it manifests as anxiety or depression or feeling overwhelmed. This sometimes even gets to the point of questioning, “What is my purpose? Why am I even alive? Why is my heart not filled with joy and happiness even though I have a great life? Why is it a struggle every day to just be or stay happy?” These are all spiritual awakenings that people don’t even realize are happening to them. A therapist might think they’re just signs of depression, when there is actually so much more to it. I believe that that person is making a cry for help, their soul is pushing up issues for them to look at and examine in an effort to heal its wounds. People feel so alone and they don’t have to feel that way; it’s just that they carry deep emotional and spiritual wounds that need to be healed.

I grew up Jewish, but not in a religious family. You can imagine it was a bit shocking when Jesus came to me, but our guidance shows up in whatever form we need and are willing to accept. For some people that guidance may have a spiritual or religious connotation, for many it is more of a spirit of nature, a Mother Goddess figure or an animal totem of some sort. Religion really has nothing to do with it.

Some people tell me I must be crazy if I’m talking to Jesus. That’s one of the things I’ve had to overcome, especially within my own family. Most people don’t understand what a spiritual journey is. I’m teaching people how to return to the eternal love that each newborn baby somehow instinctively knows and feels. We all knew that love at one time, but most of us somehow lose it as we journey through life. All the fears that keep us from growing, from being who we really are, are wounds that need to be healed. As the wounds begin to heal, it allows our true purpose to emerge. Many of us wonder what our purpose is. Everybody has an individual purpose and a perfect way of expressing it that is unique to them. Once you open yourself up to it, it just starts to happen. It’s amazing.

I had an abusive childhood. As a result I had all these wounds that I was always seeking to heal, even though I didn’t realize that’s what I was trying to do. Trying to heal my own wounds is what led me to want to help others. Twenty-five years ago I actually had a dream at age 33 telling me to quit my focus on ownership of a jewelry store, enroll in college and become a therapist. That was my first spiritual awakening. That’s another aspect of all this… the Spirit awakens us and then we promptly go back to spiritual unconsciousness. Wake up, go back to sleep, wake up, go back to sleep, over and over again. It’s a cycle that we eventually have to break. Think about it, throughout your life you’ve probably gotten periodic glimpses that there has to be something more. Whenever you go through a trauma or a blessing, you get glimpses, but then it’s gone and you fall back into the spiritual unconsciousness of your day-to-day life.

My goal is to wake up as many people as I can to the love that is within them, to help them ‘Create a Life Worth Living’ and to be who they are supposed to be. We are here to be love; it just gets expressed differently in every one of us.

There is a huge movement out there of people who are starting to wake up and lift their own personal veil of consciousness. Happiness is a choice. All the answers are inside of you; all the validation, all the love that we are seeking outside is actually inside of us. Hopefully, the movement will help others transform and become who they are supposed to be and not just who they think they are. We need to start living from our heart and not our mind.

We are truly loved; we are actually divine but just can’t see it. There is so much goodness and love inside our own hearts that needs to be explored. Look at it like a treasure hunt. If we keep digging deeper and deeper we find more and more gifts…the gifts of wisdom and love are boundless. But, we have to dig. It’s intense, hard work, but it is so worth the effort. Our life is about growing our heart and consciousness and sharing the love and light.

To learn more about Debbie or to buy her books, go to:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Frankie St James, Key Largo

“I was born in Kentucky and my family moved to Homestead when I was seven years old. I graduated from South Dade High School and attended two years at Florida State University. I married a commercial fisherman, and thus the move to Key Largo. We were blessed with two beautiful children.
My friend and neighbor, Anne Cohan, convinced me to go back to school and finish my teaching degree at Florida International University. I had wanted to be a teacher since the third grade.
I began my education career in first grade at KLS (Key Largo School) and I taught in a ‘pod’ atmosphere; all the classrooms were in one big open room. They have since torn down that building to make way for the new campus.
I had a great team! My teaching team wanted to do a theme every year to get the kids excited about coming to school each day. The first theme was ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road.’ We made a yellow brick road throughout the pod and developed lessons around “The Wizard of Oz.” Anne Cohan, one of the first grade team, wrote a play from the Wizard of Oz theme and the children presented it to their parents. The following year the theme was ‘Circus’ and we hung parachutes from the ceiling to make it look like the classrooms were inside the circus tent. The principal at that time was Ed Caputo, who was a true inspiration to me as an educator. He had a true passion for education. He loved our theme idea and gave each grade $2,000 to develop a theme for their pod, a more permanent theme. We developed an ‘ Outer Space’ theme. . We created a space anomaly called a black hole. In the far right there was a mural of the earth rise and on the ceiling were lights representing the constellations. Another theme that made a big impact was ‘The Wild Kingdom’ developed by the third grade teachers. Every child was responsible for an animal including gerbils, mice, snakes, birds and Guinea pigs. When a student became proficient at caring for his/her animal, the child became a junior ranger and went to Pennekamp to be a ranger for the day. The teachers also had a token money system called Wild Kingdom Bucks The third grade team built 3 banks in the classroom. Each student had an account at the bank and served as a teller periodically. When a student became proficient dealing with the token money, they were selected to go to one of five banks in our community and work as, a teller for the day. The Wild Kingdom still exists at KLS in a smaller fashion. Such innovative programs teach students real world skills and makes learning fun.
While teaching first grade, I became a young widow. Since I was now a single Mom, I decided I needed to get my Master’s degree, so I could pursue a career in administration.
I moved to Assistant Principal serving with Dale Wolgast and then to Principal of KLS. I was at KLS for 26 years, 14 of which I was principal. There were some magical and creative things that happened while I was principal, but there was also some tragedy.
First, I have to say that none of the honors, awards, or great things that happened while I was principal could have happened without the amazing team I worked with; the Assistant Principals (AP’s), the teachers and staff. I had the best of the best. As an educational leader, I believe in surrounding
yourself with great people, and I was surrounded!! The culture of KLS was a family feeling. Kids came first and we supported one another as educators and friends!!
During my first year as principal, KLS received a Customer Focused School Grant from the State for $250,000. . Our mission to develop instructional technology in our school began with this grant. In those days the school principal handled the school budget and made critical choices of how the dollars were spent. Our priority was to become technology rich for our teachers and students!
In 1997 I had the opportunity to apply for KLS to be named a Florida Blue Ribbon School. We were one of 21 schools in Florida selected. It was such an honor to be selected, but we knew it t had not been possible without the support of our community. I decided to make big blue bows, and send one home with every child to put on their door or their mailbox; we put them on our cars and buses. I spoke at organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary to announce this honor and thank the businesses for their support. We gave each business partner a blue ribbon for the door of the business and hardy thanks from our staff. The police supported to; they tied little blue ribbons on the antennas of their police cars. It was such a great community effort! Our application then went to the U.S. Department of Education for possible recognition as a National School of Excellence. I received a phone call from the office of the President telling me we were selected as one of the 200 National Schools of Excellence; they also chose us as one of the top 3 technology schools in the nation. I was asked to speak at the conference! From that, I had “Technology and Learning Magazine” contact me for permission to write a story about our Alternative Education Programs I was asked to present at their conference in New York.
I applied for a Bell South Power to Learn Grant; it was only for schools in the southeastern U.S. The grant selected 4 schools and we were one of them. We received $250,000 and a team of experts came to our school periodically for 2.5 years to observe how technology affected student learning. . They loved our school. George Lucas was impressed by the many innovative programs at KLS and sent a team from his educational foundation to produce a video for his educational website. We were also one of the first schools in the State to become a Florida 5-Star School.
I am very passionate about education; I truly believe it is the strength of the nation. Students can succeed if schools create hands on, fun, real world activities that are academically challenging and stimulate global awareness. I do not believe state or national testing is the answer to improve schooling. I believe all kids can learn and my staff did too. We studied a book called ‘How People Learn’ and we taught the way people learn. We also studied student learning styles. I believe when you find a great school you will also find risk taking by the teachers, innovative and creative programs and culture where there is mutual respect between administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents.
We were very proud of the innovative programs at KLS. We had Alternative Education programs; for kids who have difficulty in school. These classrooms had fewer students and were themed based. Our first one was Community Connections. With the help of local businesses, the kids worked each week in a different business. They learned how to dress and what they needed in the business atmosphere, and then the kids and the businesses would rate each other. Community Connections also used a program called ‘Brain Gym’, where the kids were given exercises to access the less dominate part of their brain. The Alternative Program was so successful; we added additional theme-based alternative ed. classes to grades 4-8. One of the classes was WWKLS. The students ran a radio program in the school each day and also created PSA’s (public service announcements) for the community. A community member donated $35,000 to build a greenhouse on the campus. It was used in one of the alternative education classrooms to teach about agriculture, food preparation and selling of your goods. We had a Video Production classroom that produced a television program each morning, took some very educational and exciting field trips and competed in a District-wide video productions competition. In our synergistic lab kids built bridges and CO2 cars and learned about engineering, science and technology. We were so lucky to have school district, community and parental support!
One of traditions we started at KLS began way back, 30 years ago, when I was still a first grade teacher; on the last day of school, we would block traffic on the highway and let all the busses come out of the school at the same time. They still do that! We started a tradition still in existence, a Christmas breakfast for the teachers every year with a white elephant gift exchange. It was hilarious, we had so much fun! As principal, I started Faculty Follies, a staff talent show; not all of us have talent but we still did it. The teachers had such fun and the kids loved it.
I also believe kids need incentives. The AP’s and I brainstormed and told the kids if they reached the classroom Accelerated Reading goals, we would be on the roof in our pajamas for one hour. Needless to say, the incentive worked. We were on the roof all day! . Another year we sat in a kiddie pool and the students who reached the AR point’s goal could pour a bucket of spaghetti noodles on us. We had noodles everywhere!! The next year the students got to throw water balloons at us. I started a brag book; a teacher could send a student to me, for positive reinforcement, and the student could sign my brag book and select a prize. I still have those books.
I was a safety patrol sponsor along with KLS Media Specialist, Carter Hannah, for 30 years. We would raise money every year to take the kids to Washington DC. KLS continues the traditions of visiting our national monuments , laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, participating in the Twilight Tattoo and rolling down a grassy hill, to name a few. Other programs I established at KLS were after school activities such as middle school cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, football and a faculty daycare for staff. Daycare is expensive and we were able to keep the cost down so it was less of an impact on teachers and staff. Teacher absenteeism decreased because if a child was sick or had a problem, or if a mother wanted to nurse, she just had to go to the daycare to mother her child. The daycare was there for almost 30 years.
We had so many great things happen and so many honors bestowed on us, but we also had tragedies to get through. At the beginning of one school year, we had a teacher and her husband murdered, she was 8 months pregnant. I had to notify all the staff and hire a teacher that night. We had a support person killed by her husband in a murder/suicide. One of our teachers sheltered her 3 children for two weeks until relatives could come. As was always true of the KLS family, teachers brought food and did the laundry for the kind teacher. Another tragedy was Hurricane Andrew. My teachers were scattered. We couldn’t find 5 teachers when staff returned. We finally heard from them! We had a teacher and a custodian who were hit hard; we took our trucks and assisted them in moving their belongings to a new location. For 5 days we didn’t have any electricity but the teachers had to report; we all had survivors’ guilt. I told the staff to come to school and check in and then they could go volunteer and help; to the soup kitchen, take water to Homestead, whatever they wanted to do to aid those impacted. One mother from Dade County came into the front office. As soon as she saw me she burst into tears. She said she didn’t even have a piece of paper with her son’s name on it. I told her to just write down his name for me and he was registered. That was the beginning of the 300 new kids from the devastated area to register at KLS. It was September and I couldn’t get portable classrooms until January. We had classes everywhere! Due to the relocation and the psychological effects of Hurricane Andrew, I thought it was extremely important to welcome our students at the buses with a hug each morning and one before they headed home. They received a sticker that said “My Principal Loves Me”. This is how I became “The Hugging Principal”. After Miami recovered from Andrew, many parents decided to keep their students at KLS, because they were so pleased with the school. When Hurricane Georges slammed into Sugarloaf Key, KLS teachers organized a work crew and made food and rode a school bus to Sugarloaf School to help with the cleanup and to feed the teachers. The tragedy for everyone was 9/11. I was walking between buildings when the maintenance man came and got me. We got back just in time to see the second plane hit. I had to pull myself together and figure out what to do for the students and staff. We made it through that too.
I am very proud of my school and the team I had! I was a very, very lucky person having such wonderful people around me and I loved it very much. I think I received more back from it than I gave
I married Ken St. James and gained two beautiful step daughters.. We have 6 grandchildren, from 20 years old to 3 months. We are going to be attending graduations for a long time as grandparents!
I am most proud of a couple of things: First, my kids and my grandkids. I am also proud that KLS was a place that students wanted to come each day, teachers wanted to teach and parents wanted to volunteer. I am most proud that it was the kind of school a school should be. Those things are more important than any award or trophy. Key Largo School gave me so many wonderful memories and friendships that will last for a lifetime.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Jack Hudder, Tavernier

“We started vacationing in Islamorada in the mid 70’s. We had been to Hawaii and rented some snorkel gear. I was astounded by the fish. Jeannie is claustrophobic and I made her put on a mask and fins and come with me, she liked it too. Hawaii was too far to go for weekend trips! Jeannie did some research and we ended up down here; towed our boat down from Pennsylvania and spent 2 weeks here every year.

There was too much pressure and stress in the corporate structure; I had what they thought was a heart attack, but it wasn’t, it was an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. I decided then that I wasn’t going to let them kill me. We enjoyed the Keys so we started looking.

We had a realtor that was looking for a business for us. I came home one night from work and Jeannie said ‘Guess where we are going this weekend?’ She had made flight reservations for that Friday. We came down and met with the owners of the flower shop in Key Largo. We bought the business in May and took it over in July. It was 1980.

We grew that business from $10 and $15 days to one of the top 1000 florists in the country. Our secret? Good product, good service. Period. We got tired after 24 years and sold out.

We lived in PA and the University of PA had a floral class; we would drive the 45 minutes 2 times a week after working all day to learn about arranging and taking care of cut flowers. Once we moved down here we had a supplier that gave classes, and we took them.

I spent 15 years in uniform. I started as a young crazy kid in high school and joined the National Guard; when I graduated I became a commercial fisherman in Cape May, NJ. We would fish from New Jersey to Virginia and from 4 am sometimes until 1am the next morning. I would miss my National Guard meetings being on the water all the time and they didn’t like that; I had to make the meetings or get arrested. I couldn’t tell the boat owner to come back so I could make a meeting! I left the National Guard. After the fishing season, I joined the Navy and served 4 years in the Navy and then 2 years in the Naval Reserves. When I got out of the Navy I was a precision machinist.

I pumped gas for a while. I worked 2 full time jobs to support my family and I thought there had to be something better than that, so I went back to the National Guard. I took every school they would give me. I taught myself electronics and math up through calculus; I could assemble nuclear weapons and tear down a nuclear guidance unit. I went as far as I could with the Guard in 6 or 7 years and they wanted to transfer me; they wanted all positions to be by seniority so I was at the level to push a broom. I was out of there!

That is how I ended up in the corporate structure. I got hired as an office boy and ended up taking over the computer system, which I knew nothing about so I learned it all; from spreadsheets to reading punch cards, to designing the forms used within the company. I also learned that you will get fatigued sitting behind a desk all day. I changed the way things were ran in the company and helped the company run much more efficiently! By the time I left, I was Operational Vice President.

I have taught myself whatever I needed or wanted to learn. I have been an auto mechanic, a short order cook. The information is out there. I have no sympathy for people who say they can’t get a job. There are jobs out there and every job teaches you something. That has always been my motto. When someone came to me and told me they had a new job, I would congratulate them; every job teaches you something but when you plateau it is time to move on to keep learning.

I am most proud of my wife, Jeannie. She is a very smart lady, very successful. She is a great wife and a wonderful mother; a very good partner. We did everything together; we worked together, we parented together, we did all of our home projects together. We fished together, if Jeannie wasn’t on the boat I wouldn’t catch any fish! She also always caught the biggest fish. We will be married 60 years in March.

I met Jeannie on the Boardwalk in Cape May, New Jersey. My friend and I had just come from a beach party and were sitting on a bench when these 2 girls came walking down the Boardwalk. One girl we
knew so we started talking to the girls. Jeannie just blew my mind. I can’t remember what we talked about but when she walked away I said to my buddy “She’s mine.” I didn’t know where she lived or anything. I found out years later that she would ride her bike down the boardwalk to try to find me.

School started and she was in my study hall. I didn’t know what to do because she was so different than anyone I had ever known. My buddy took a piece of notebook paper and wrote her a note and asked her out for me. She said yes.

I went to take her out and meet her parents; her dad was really strict. I sat down across from her dad, he was reading the paper. He looked at me and said “I understand you want to take Jeannie to a football game.” I replied “Yes Sir.” “Uh huh”, and he went back to reading the paper. He put the paper down and looked at me again “How are you going to get there?” (it was an away game). “Car.” “Uh huh”, and he went back to reading the paper. He put the paper down again and asked, “Who’s car?” “Mine” I replied. “Nope.” He said and went back to reading the paper. What do I do now? I kept looking at the kitchen hoping Jeannie would come out; she was doing her after dinner chores. Finally, her dad looked up at me, “Do you really want to go to the game with her?” I said “Yes.” He said “We’ll meet you at the game and you can sit with us.”

I would walk 6 miles to Jeannie’s house; she lived about 3 blocks from the beach. We would walk to the beach and talk. We would talk about what we wanted from marriage and all the rules we wanted; you never leave without a kiss and you never return without a kiss, you never go to bed mad because tomorrow has enough problems of its own. We never let anybody come between us for any reason. We could have an argument but when we walked out the door you would never know; it wasn’t anyone’s business. I would defend her to the gates of hell if need be. That was one of my rules with family, nobody was allowed to interfere with our family. We have 3 kids. It worked out well, quite well!!

We have a photographer friend that loved to take pictures of Jeannie. He said she had Elizabeth Taylor beauty. I said no she doesn’t, I don’t like Elizabeth Taylor. Jeannie is much better than that!

We retired and we were going to do a lot of traveling. Mother nature had other ideas. Jeannie got the shingles and it turned into trigeminal neuralgia. There is a nerve center behind your ear; there are 3 nerves, one that goes to the top of your body, one that goes down the middle, and one that goes to the bottom. The Shingles hit the corner of her eye and it went down her face. She doesn’t talk or do too much anymore; she has chronic pain. Trigeminal neuralgia is considered to be one of the most painful afflictions known to medical practice.

It’s been a good ride, a good life. I can’t complain. Now I take care of the grounds, I paint, do stain glass, and I just built my first kayak and I am considering a second! And, I still have my Jeannie here with me.”