March 3, 2024

Friends & Neighbors Edition

In this Edition

This week we give you our take on Brightline coming to Stuart and why it won’t be as seamless as some believe. We also explore affordable housing and why some think that Stuart should take-on the brunt of the problem while the county skirts by. In another vein, Stuart continues to subsidize organizations and individuals to the detriment of the majority.

We have all our columnists as usual. And we once again are running statements from the Sewall’s Point candidates for the March 19th election.

Are you visiting our Facebook page to read what is going on between issues. We also publish all our Medium pieces there. And I hope you take a look at the articles we assemble and curate for you where you can also find our Medium stories.

Lastly don’t forget to make sure your friends and neighbors are receiving their very own copy of Friends & Neighbors. Have a good Sunday morning!

Cultural Catholicism

Though I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for many years, the old habits of my youth are still ingrained.

I am what is called a cultural Catholic. It is very similar to being a non-practicing Jew, but still culturally Jewish. There is more to religion than just belief. For those of us who grew up in big cities in mid-twentieth century America, the Church was a comforting, though at times, omnipresent institution.

When the Mass was said in Latin, it was mysterious and magical. Only those in the know could fathom what the priest was mumbling. I could decipher it because of my “Maryknoll Missal” and when I was older a separate Breviary. Later as I went to the occasional Jewish service, I felt the same way because of the Hebrew.

Priests, Brothers, and Sisters were part of my life. They were never quite like Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley or Ingrid Bergman’s Sister Benedict. They were seen as they walked the neighborhood visiting parishioners. The good sisters (sometimes called penguins because of their habits) always travelled in pairs.

In many respects it was still an immigrant church. A church where our grandparents went for guidance. Many of us had uncles and aunts that were priests and nuns. It was the dream of many a mother to have one son be a priest. Sacrificing a child to God was looked at as almost having purchased an indulgence when the roll was called up yonder.

A person’s economic status and ethnicity could be discerned by the parish where they were a parishioner. That of course changed with subsequent waves of immigration and the falling away of so many. In my youth, there were nearly a dozen Masses said on Sunday to packed churches. I sang in the choir of the High Mass and the Children’s Mass.

For many years, there was no breakfast allowed on Sunday mornings before receiving Communion. There was a prohibition on food which began at midnight on Saturday night. Saturday afternoons were reserved for confession. First confessions were made at the age of seven right before your First Holy Communion. Even I didn’t have much to confess that first time around.

Photo By Freepick

With all the allegations and proof of abuse by clergy on children, I never witnessed any. I will say that corporal punishment was far from sparingly used. I and my classmates received it right until high school graduation. One of my Franciscan Brothers had an expression, “I will punch holes in your chest.” He then did so.

Even though I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I find myself saying a “Hail Mary,” an occasional “Angelus,” and even performing the “Sign of the Cross” while reciting the words in Latin. No matter how many years pass, my cultural affinity is always going to be wrapped in Catholicism.  

Sometimes What Seems Like An Edorsement...

I was reading the highly anticipated Storie Magazine. And a slicker publication there never was.

What really caught my eye was the photos of Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch and Brian Mast and their blurbs underneath. It seemed to suggest that both were endorsing the project. I assume that Congressman Mast isn’t given his position as a federal elected official.

I reached out to Jacqui, and she gave me the following statement: "I was surprised to see my name and photograph integrated into the advertising for Storie. I was first made aware by the Guardians of Martin County. I explained to them that as the ad was attached to my connection as a public official on the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District, this was legal, if not a bit misleading because I had never endorsed the project. It is true, that as a community leader I fight every day for clean water and specifically against the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee that are occurring right now. Perhaps Storie should integrate more directly that fight into their very clever marketing campaign as discharges impact property values, surrounding fish and wildlife, health, and quality of life. The exact thing they are trying to sell…" 

I am not going to comment on whether Storie in this most recent incarnation is a good or bad project. I haven’t seen any of the particulars yet to form an opinion. I have heard people compare it to Newfield but that could be more hype than actual substance.

That is the problem with this approach of selling a project that is still in the pre-approval process. It can be all hype but as the famous commercial once claimed “where’s the beef?” Storie, once called Harmony, might be a great addition to Martin County but so far it seems more smoke than real.

I tried to get some information on this months ago from the owner’s consultant, and I called the PR firm that is responsible for this hype. The owner’s rep was away, and Cotton & Company never returned my calls. So, I am left to wonder if a real examination of it will truly reveal something revolutionary or more homes built on top of each other.

In the meantime, look for yourself and see what you think. Is it the next Newfield or just a developer trying to win over what they believe is a gullible public. Without the plans there is no way to know.

You can see the magazine here 

K.C. Massacre

The “Kansas City Massacre of 1933” occurred at Union Station. “Pretty Boy” Floyd led a gang that killed four lawmen and a prisoner they were trying to free. It became a crime so notorious that it is still legendary 91 years later.

The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl this year. Customarily, the winner’s home city holds a party and parade. Usually, it is a place of joy and happiness. Fans and players celebrate the win and look forward to next season.

Instead, the “Kansas City Massacre of 2024” at Union Station resulted in two kids or men (still unclear as of this time) having a beef, shooting at each other, killing a young mother of two and wounding nearly 2 dozen more many children. Both massacres were perpetrated by criminals... one trying to rescue a gang member from prison, and we don’t even know, really, the reason for the other.

How many of us go to a parade or an outdoor celebration? In the past few years, doing so could result in your life being forfeited. There were more than 800 police officers at this event. Missouri allows guns to be carried by anyone 18 years or older at events such as this, no permit required. There are few other gun restrictions in the state either.

For years we have heard the refrain that the more people who lawfully carry guns the less crime there would be. We know the 800 cops at Union Station had weapons, and we must assume that there were plenty of civilians who were armed. Yet two thugs were left to have their shootout without interference.

According to CNN, this is the 48th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2024. There have been a couple more since this one. I am very leery about being at a public celebration, and you should be too. In a country that has more guns than people, we now can say we live in a war zone and anybody could be the shooter or the victim.

Pet Peeves

One of my pet peeves is businesses that charge credit card fees.

I have written about it several times. Today paying by credit card is not some luxury but rather a necessity. Paying in cash or by check can also present certain challenges to merchants and customers in trying to hang on to that additional 3%.

I can understand that when the amounts charged are in the thousands of dollars, the merchant may be being gouged by his processor. 3% of a $1000 is thirty bucks. But when the amount is $100, the three dollars the merchant pays is a reasonable business expense. I hate being nickeled and dimed to death by anyone.

There needs to be some happy middle for businesses and customers. That may require government intervention. And while I am loath to have government interfere, there needs to be some regulation.

When a credit card is charged, there is an electronic fund transfer of money from the credit card issuer to the merchant. Whether the amount transferred is $10 or $10,000, it is the same action. If the customer does not have the credit available on the card, the transaction is immediately declined. There is no extra work.

The question should be how much is a fair fee for the servicer to charge. Percentages of the total bill are not fair because the work to process a charge is the same regardless of price. Therefore, a different way of charging the merchant is needed.

That is why the government needs to regulate this. The market can’t unless the incentive is to go back to cash payments with all the problems, they entail in an economy like ours. Why should merchants and customers be at odds because of a third-party processor’s excessive charges?

VanRiper's Views

Darlene VanRiper

If St. Lucie County sneezes does Martin County catch a cold?   

I was at a Technical Advisory Committee meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization when I heard an interesting conversation regarding a new development up for approval in St. Lucie County. It is called Oak Ridge Ranches, and its literature claims it will be the “largest project in St. Lucie County’s history.”  Now that is quite a claim. 

It is more than 3,000 acres and it will ‘incorporate two school sites and 650,000 square feet of commercial space along with 7,690 single family homes and 2,000 multifamily units.’  It got me thinking and inquiring about the effect on us of our behemoth to the north.  No good news here.

Everyone has remarked on the traffic we are experiencing.  They are blaming “all the development” going on in our county. But that is not the answer.  The Pt. St. Lucie metro area is projected to be among the nation’s 10 fastest growing to a population of 920,600 by 2060. Martin County will continue to have a traffic problem with no obvious solution. 

Afterall, the easiest and best beach access for residents of St. Lucie County is Stuart or Jensen Beach.  Thousands of St. Lucie County residents cut through Palm City on Murphy, Becker, and Citrus roads or come down US 1 to get to our beaches and boat ramps.  The concept of charging them for access comes up for discussion from time to time. 

The reality is that we are prohibited because the dollars to buy the beaches and build the ramps was taken from Federal grants.  The Fed rules state that we cannot discriminate when allowing access.  (We take a lot of grant money for a number of different things.  Are we considering the consequences?)  Stuart and Jensen Beach’s parking lots are filled with St. Lucie County license plates. 

The causeways are known to clog on the weekends.  US 1 cannot be expanded even if we wanted to because there isn’t enough right of way, leaving the County to have to purchase privately owned land and relocate utilities.  An exorbitantly expensive undertaking. 

You might not be aware that every morning 37,514 cars leave Martin County to work in other counties.  Likewise, 27,000 leave St. Lucie County to work in Martin County.  That’s where the traffic is coming from.  It’s not going to get better unfortunately.  I naively thought the worse thing about this is that there is no conversation between counties regarding such consequences.  Why should they care, I guess.  Some things are simply cold, hard facts.

Darlene VanRiper’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Nicki's Place

Nicki van Vonno
van Vonno Consulting, Owner

Artfully February

What a fine month, the shortest month has been this year.

One Sunday comic had a strip where February had already stretched to 46 days. Yeah, I have felt that way too in February.

When I was a kid February was so bleak. The ashen skies of the mountains took on an even more oppressive air. We didn’t know about SAD or seasonal affective disorder back then. I survived by  fanaticizing about tv or movie actors.

Kirk Russell was my main crush. He was one of the Disney kid stars. I don’t remember the name of his series, but I do remember that Mickey Dolenz, another crush who grew up to be a Monkee, was Disney’s Circus boy. Guess he didn’t fall too far from the tree. Thank you both for getting me through those long-ago bleak days.

We had two fabulous art shows in February. Arts Fest served up a cornucopia of all types of art, a wonderful joyous event. Then another art show decked the streets of downtown Stuart this past weekend.  There was so many wonderful artists of every strip and color and genre. Coupled with the Stuart Mainstreet Market on Sunday, I had a fine weekend of people watching, smoothie drinking, and shopping!

Hey, it is my patriotic duty to buy local and enjoy our good nature! 

February may be almost gone, but its sunny loving winds are bringing us March!


Nicki van Vonno’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Hafner's Corner

David Hafner
UF/IFAS, 4-H Youth Development Agent

The time to support farmers and ranchers is now, not when selling their land is their only remaining option.

I love watching the public comments during Martin County Board of County Commissioners meetings. It gives me the pulse of the community. When a development approval is coming before the commissioners what I most commonly hear from the public is we need to save our farmland. I agree! But we need to have that energy long before the land in question is being considered for development.

On the agenda of the recent county commissioners meeting was a discussion to add a referendum on the ballot this fall to levy a half-cent sales tax for 10 years with the proceeds dedicated to conserving land in Martin County.

I am not here to talk about how you should vote. What I am here to talk about is the citizen oversight proposed in the item. Martin County Forever, the sponsor of the referendum, listed the following groups as the members of the citizen oversight committee: Martin County Taxpayers Association, Martin County Realtors Association, Martin County Tourist Development Council, Conservation, Environmental, and Martin County Forever.

As I watched the meeting and read the agenda packet, I noticed an important group was missing from the oversight committee. There was no agriculture representative. Much of the land that will be targeted for acquisition is agricultural land. Having a farmer’s perspective and support will be crucial when selecting and purchasing lands, especially since some of these lands could be put into agricultural easements.

Commissioner Doug Smith also recognized an agriculture representative was missing. He said, “…A group that has not been mentioned and has not been discussed but it is clearly the target, I would imagine, of most of the acquisition is rural ag Martin County. If you don’t have somebody on there from ag. Somebody from ranching. Some of us, I don’t know if all of us, toured a couple ranches a couple weeks ago. I would venture to guess 90%...99% of the people in this room, have no idea agriculturally what is going on out west. And it is spectacular what they are doing…”

I am sure what Commissioner Smith saw when he toured those ranches is water captured and cleaned, aquifer recharge, carbon sequestration, native habitat restored and preserved, and all done through the initiative of the rancher because being a good steward of the land is what farmers and ranchers do. What if, instead of excluding farmers and ranchers from the conversation, they are invited to be partners in it all, because they are already doing what this tax is trying to accomplish.

If you want to save agricultural land you need to support farmers and ranchers now. Do it with your purchases. Look at the label, buy as local as you can, shop the farmers markets, support legislation that removes burdensome regulations, and educate yourself on what it takes to grow and raise your food and fiber. If you do this, it will help make the farms more profitable and it will slow so much land being sold for development.

My final thought: If agricultural lands are purchased through this initiative but they are not put into agricultural easements, then the agricultural lands are not saved. If this referendum passes, bring that same energy to save our farmland and push for agricultural easements.

David Hafner’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Carl's Conclusions

Carl Frost
Kai Kai Farms, Owner

I’m a vegetable grower; I know a thing or two about soil and its relationship with plants and our environment.

Flatwoods soils typical of Martin County have some deficiencies. Drainage is often poor, so we have runoff attributed to low water holding capacity. Organic matter content (OMC) in sand is typically below one percent and we see samples at one-half percent. There are areas of dark topsoil in Martin County, but these are often poorly drained and typically depressional where runoff gathers, and the OMC settles out of the water profile to gather over the centuries. You can witness this process on driveways with a swale. Mined black topsoil is available at times but it is an unreliable resource for grower operational purposes. The third OMC option is biochar, a manufactured albeit expensive product, remarkably like charcoal. Who needs OMC?

About everybody can use OMC in their soil. Golf courses, all farms and nurseries are typical customers. Compost is not manufactured in Martin County but for a hefty fee it can be delivered from commercial producers found in Palm Beach and Saint Lucie Counties. This may sound funny but there is a ‘food chain’ when it comes to the compost industry. Golf courses are the apex predator. The private ones often have large budgets for soil amendments and can easily out-compete a vegetable farm.  The second problem is trucking which is running over $4 a mile. That may not sound like much but when you are talking about hundreds of loads the transportation plus materials costs make no economic sense.  A typical load is about 18 cubic yards. Some walking floor trucks can haul at best 3x that much.

Vegetables love compost. It’s hard to have too much so let’s start with a conservative 3-inches or 0.25 feet equivalent. We will mix this into the soil. For every 100 square feet, that’s 25 cubic feet let’s call it 27 cubic feet equal to 1 cubic yard. Thus, a typical dump truck can cover 1,800 square feet or the size of a small house. A small vegetable field would be 10 acres, or 435,600 square feet divided by 1,800 and you get 242 loads. At $450 per load, that soil amendment delivery alone will cost $108,900!

Martin County has another problem: food waste. It emits huge quantities of methane and consumes landfill space. Anyway its a valuable resource and should not be wasted.  Food waste must be recycled someday but it’s crickets from county government. They outsource our waste disposal to private companies which focus on the highly profitable trash hauling business.  We all need cost-effective high-quality compost. But why?

Compost is great for improving the water holding capacity of sand. It also has the molecules necessary to hold on to nitrogen and phosphorus which plants need for growth; compost improves OMC which reduces the runoff of these undesirables into our waters. We have a long way to go before there is too much compost. Martin County has a second waste stream that needs attention.

Yard waste is ubiquitous. Next door to Kai-Kai Farm is a yard waste burning facility. Now that’s a real waste. Imagine burning up this resource! More greenhouse gas emissions and a lost resource. Yard waste combined with food waste under a blanket with forced air equal compost.

As a sustainable country we have a long way to go. County Commissioners let’s have some leadership on this please.

Carl Frost’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Non-Profit Perspective

Carol Houwaart-Diez
United Way of Martin County, President & CEO

Have you ever wanted to spend a million dollars?

Do you know how United Way of Martin County receives funds and where those funds are invested in our community? Allow me to walk you through the process.

United Way raises dollars through workplace campaigns, where companies allow their employees to give through payroll deduction, and through generous individual donors, corporations and organizations that support our mission. Through our fundraising efforts, United Way of Martin County brings together local resources and works with volunteers to ensure those dollars have the maximum return on investment.

I am often astounded that individuals in our community think that we receive money from United Way Corporate or from the state or federal government. While we can apply for grants through the government, nearly 100% (we receive a small admin fee to be the coordinators of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program) the money we invest in Martin County comes from the generosity of this community.

Annually, these dollars are invested in the community, supporting programs that directly benefit individuals right here in Martin County. These investments are made through the Citizens Review Process where volunteers decide how the money raised will have the maximum impact. Awarded programs must demonstrate clear outcomes and measurable results.

With so many nonprofits in Martin County, identifying which programs align with our focus areas of Education, Financial Stability and Health is not easy. Rest assured; United Way staff do not decide who receives grants funding. Instead, we rely on the contributions of local community representatives who volunteer to evaluate proposals submitted to us. This inclusive Citizen Review Process ensures transparency and community involvement in the allocation of funds.

Stay tuned as this year’s process is just getting started. If you are interested in learning how United Way invests in local programs, we invite you to visit our website and register as a Citizens Review Process volunteer. For the 2024-2025 grant cycle, there were 50 programs from 34 different agencies that have applied. Keep in mind, not all programs that apply will receive a grant, and we can’t fund a program that does not apply.

For more information or to register to be a volunteer on the Citizens Review Process, please go to our website As always, if you have any questions on the process, please reach out to me at or call me at 772-283-4800. 

Carol Houwaart-Diez’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Contemplative Christian

Chad Fair
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Pastor

Relationship Over Wealth      

In Mark’s Gospel a rich man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. 

Jesus responds by rattling off some of the Ten Commandments to which the rich man says he has kept them since his youth.  Jesus then instructs him to sell everything he owns and give the money to the poor.  Upon hearing this command most people scoff or claim they aren’t rich.  I’m not here to tell everyone to sell off everything they own and give the money to the poor. 

The rich man went away grieving, and you will likely stop reading and scroll to the next.  What intrigues me about this biblical text are the commandments that Jesus lists in his conversation with the rich man or rather what he doesn’t list.          

You see of the commandments he doesn’t mention, keeping the Sabbath or anything about his relationship with God.  I like to summarize the commandments as Jesus does, “love God and love your neighbor.”  Jesus doesn’t mention any of the love God commandments to the rich man.  Why?  Does Jesus suddenly not think they are important?  Does He no longer care about people’s relationship to God?  Doubtful right?          

I think Jesus is doing two things.  One I think He is highlighting the importance of our relationships with each other.  How we are intertwined because how we treat each other, how we interact with each other are a reflection of our faith and therefore our relationship with God and impacts the world we live in. 

We simply can’t have hate for the world and be in the right relationship with God.  Even if we don’t agree with lifestyles, choices, behaviors, status, or political affiliation.  Jesus consistently went to the margins, to those cast away by society and religious authorities and restored them and returned them to society.

Secondly, Jesus knew the power money holds over people.  It was powerful then and it certainly is today.  Money in itself isn’t evil.  Wealthy people aren’t evil.  A theologian once said of societies relationship with money, “We print ‘In God we trust’ on the god we trust.”  Jesus’ instruction to the rich man was meant to reorder his priorities, placing God ahead of money and possessions.  When we get that relationship in the wrong order the repercussions trickle down to the determent of those on the margins barely hanging on.  


I don’t suspect that this week Martin County will be filled with yard sales, or donations at thrift stores will suddenly go through the roof.  But maybe we can all think about how our relationship with money and our stuff affects others.  If we over consume, who is left without?  Do I need a new (fill in the blank)?  Do I need another (fill in the blank)?  If we, as a society, challenged ourselves with these questions, what would be different?  Would we reduce or eliminate homelessness?  Violence?  Hunger or food insecurity.  On a global scale, would we change trends in immigration?          

I’m sure y’all are thinking this is just flat our ridiculous and unrealistic…well…I’ll just call it The Kingdom of God.

Chad Fair's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Walter's Corner

Walter Deemer
Martin County League of Women Voters, Co-Chair

This month’s Rivers Coalition meeting was held just five days after the Army Corps of Engineers started discharging water from Lake Okeechobee down the St. Lucie Canal and into our estuary. A standing room-only audience came to the Stuart City Hall to find out “Why?”

Col. James Booth from the ACE explained that the Corps has several missions with regard to managing the lake. Until earlier this month, they had been prioritizing their Environmental Protection mission. However, the lake level failed to go down during the “dry season” and, in fact, has been slowly rising since mid-December. This put the lake level several feet higher than it should be at this stage, which in turn suggested it was very likely to be dangerously-high in June when the “wet season” begin. The Corps thus felt it necessary to prioritize another of their missions – Flood Prevention and Human Safety – which meant they had to start discharging water from the lake.

The specific numbers: The lake level is currently 16.4 feet. It should be no higher than 14.5 feet at this time of year. The Corps has therefore scheduled a series of discharges down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Canals and through outlets to the south that should bring the level down to 14.5 feet by April 1.

Several critical points emerged during the presentation:

1) ALL the water that flows south – which is where we want it to go -- MUST go through a Storm Treatment Area. 90% of the water in the STA’s, though, comes from the Everglades Agricultural Area – Big Sugar – and only 10% from the lake. The EAA – Big Sugar – is thus not bearing their fair share of the adverse impacts of the discharges.

2) A multi-billion dollar project of reinforcing the dike around Lake Okeechobee has now been completed. Before that, the “limited risk” lake level was 18.5 feet and the critical level was 21 feet.  Congressman Mast pointed out that obviously those levels were now higher than that and asked just how much higher they were. Col. Booth could not provide the answer. (Obviously, higher risk levels would reduce, perhaps greatly, or even eliminate the Corps’ need to do discharges.)

The bottom line, though, is that discharges down the St. Lucie Canal and into our estuary have begun. Hopefully, the environmental damage will be minimal, but that is something we will know only in the fullness of time.
To end on a positive note: Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, our local environmental heroine, pointed out that Col. Booth and SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett both attended the Rivers Coalition meeting in person to listen to and address our concerns. Their willingness to reach out to us is a big and much-appreciated change from the way it was several years ago. As long as there is dialogue there is hope…

Walter Deemer's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Fletch's Perspective

Keith Fletcher
Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County, President & CEO

Considering just how profound the widely shared fear of public speaking is, I bet you remember the first time the teacher called on you to read something in front of the class.

Linger on the memory long enough and traces of the embarrassment from those judgmental glares—heighted at every stumble over a multisyllable word—slowly return. Looking back, it seemed only the kids who excelled in theater or student government shined in such situations.

The confidence that originates from learning early on to comfortably read aloud translates into many applications. Cleveland Clinic Martin Health recognizes the power of this skillset and recently entrusted us with a generous grant that equips our members to experience its benefits through a pioneering integration with the arts. We’re in the early phases of piloting the new program at our Hobe Sound club.

Designed for club members in kindergarten through third grade, this new program incorporates creative materials from Reader’s Theater. This remarkable organization makes reading interactive and fun. Its literary scripts draw from history, fiction, myth and legend and bring well-known figures to life with background materials and screenplays that invite participants to absorb lessons and expand their vocabulary and oratory skills through performance.

We’ve already witnessed significant improvements in reading skills among local elementary and middle school students who’ve worked with our AmeriCorps mentors. This opportunity takes things to another level.

The club members in our pilot program will follow the materials, design set pieces, create costumes, and practice lines—refining their reading and comprehension abilities along the way—before their new skills culminate on stage in a play.

Bringing the entire experience full spectrum, the subject material will also align with what subjects our members are studying in school. This is made possible thanks to our program integration systems already in place with the Martin County School District. This longstanding partnership enables our members to go into the homework Power Hour after school and receive one-on-one instructions from our certified teachers that match their daily lessons.  

The redundancy of the system especially resonates with younger children. It also provides some hedge against the short-attention spans that are so prevalent in our screen-centered era.

To further inspire our members to draw on their imaginations, we’ll retain working artists to lead the art lesson plans. This comprehension combination of artistic expressions such as drawing, painting and acting creatively conceals the ulterior agenda—cultivating a sense of literary appreciation and love of reading.

You don’t have to read into it (pardon the pun) to see the side benefits of also shaping the next student leaders or discovering more theater kids in the process.   

Keitch Fletcher's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Helping Hand

Suzy Hutcheson
Helping People Succeed, CEO


April Showers Bring May Flowers!

Who doesn’t love buying a gift for a baby? Well, here is your chance! During the month of April – Helping People Succeed will be collecting much-needed baby items to support our Healthy Families Program.

Healthy Families offers expectant parents and families with newborns parenting education and support through voluntary participation in fun personalized home visits. Services focus on supporting and enhancing the parent-child relationship through providing information and guidance on child development, discipline, safety, goal-setting and links to other community resources.

Many families we serve face challenges in meeting their everyday needs. Providing items such as diapers and clothing eases the financial burden of the family. We are currently serving close to 400 families! 

Several businesses throughout Martin County host a “shower box” the entire month of April. Dr. Kim Dettori of Stuart Endodontics shares with us, “I LOVE April Showers!  It is such a great feeling to be able to help the littlest of our community get a nice start in the world.  Our patients and our fellow dental offices love to shop and make handmade blankets for the babies. I’m so happy to be a part of this awesome event every year.” The Clerk of the Court’s office offers incentives to their employees when they bring in a shower gift such as Casual Friday. 

We will wrap up April Showers on April 27 with an actual baby shower hosted by Thrivent. This event is open to the community.  We are thankful for all of the businesses who support us through this amazing time of giving. 

So how can you help? If you own a business, make it a fun April Shower campaign with your staff. Do you have a lot of patrons who visit your office? Post a sign or host a shower box. Are you an individual who just wants to shop for a newborn?  You are just a few clicks away from making your contribution! Check out our Wish List on Amazon! You can even have it delivered right to our door! Just scan the QR Code below. Our address: 1601 NE Braille Place, Jensen Beach, FL 34957. Questions? You can contact Glenna Parris at 772.320.0778.

The saying is “April Showers Bring May Flowers”. Thank you for being the drops of rain that will help our flowers grow! 

Suzy Hutcheson's opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Keep Martin Beautiful

Tiffany Kincaid
Keep Martin Beautiful, Executive Director

Keep Martin Beautiful Urges You to Get Smarter about Water

At Keep Martin Beautiful, we like to get our hands dirty working on projects that have tangible results for the environment – much of which is on land. But Keep Martin Beautiful also focuses on the health of our waterways through removal of marine debris and the many coastal cleanups we coordinate – both large and small. 

Central to our mission, however, is education. Given the recent releases from Lake Okeechobee and the harmful effects of too much of this water moving into our rivers, lagoon and ocean, we thought it was a good time to share with you some learning opportunities. We all know that water is the lifeblood of our community.  But readers may not be aware of the many organizations working to shine light on these issues.

Several educational programs available to the public for free are described below. It’s important to have facts, and a scientifically-based understanding of our water issues so we can all be better informed and know what to do – and not to do – to help improve the health of our rivers, waterways and coastal resources.

Here are some upcoming programs this spring to make you smarter about water!

Florida Oceanographic Coastal Lecture Series. Florida Oceanographic holds free lectures on Tuesday evenings through March 12 at the Blake Library. Upcoming topics include the archeological history of the Everglades, progress in Everglades restoration, and seashells and the fate of the oceans. You can also watch from the comfort of your home by registering through the website Coastal Lecture Series | Florida Oceanographic Society.

Water Ambassador Lunch and Learn Webinars. Every third Tuesday in June at noon, you have a chance to learn about timely topics like shoreline restoration and stormwater management in a series of free virtual webinars hosted by the University of Florida’s IFAS extension service and Sea Grant.

Ocean Science Lecture Series. The John & Barbara Ferrera Ocean Science Lecture Series at FAU/Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute provides a forum for the community to learn about their most recent discoveries directly from the scientists and engineers who make them. Upcoming topics include ongoing anti-cancer drug discoveries from the ocean. The free lectures are on Wednesdays at 4pm at the beautiful FAU Harbor Branch Johnson Marine Education Center Auditorium. Advance registration is required through their website here: Ocean Science Lecture Series | Florida Atlantic University (

We all care deeply about the health of our waterways and the first step in making a difference is becoming more informed. Please let us know if you have an environmentally focused educational program coming up and we’re happy to share the information through our own communication channels.  

For more information, contact Keep Martin Beautiful at 772-781-1222 or

Tiffany Kincaid's opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Art of Business

Chriss David
Founder, Chriss David and Associates

I was just speaking at a local conference for business owners, and the over-arching question was, “How can I get more clients to know about me so I can maintain and grow my business?”

While this is a concerning question for business in today's economy, it is easy to answer.

I would like to share something I've discovered to be incredibly powerful in the business world: video content. Who doesn't love a good video, right? But it's not just about entertainment; video is a game-changer for attracting new clients and growing your business. Let me share with you why and how it works wonders.

First, videos have this unique ability to educate people about your products or services in a way that's engaging and easy to digest. Remember the last time you had to assemble something and turned to a video tutorial for help? It's like that. A well-crafted video can walk your potential clients through your offer, highlighting the features and benefits without making it feel like a lecture or sales pitch.

Then there's the whole FAQ thing. You know, those questions everyone seems to ask over and over? A video can tackle these in a friendly and approachable manner. It's like sitting down for a coffee with your clients and answering their questions face-to-face. This not only saves time for both you and your clients but also adds a personal touch that text on a screen just can't match.

Now, let's talk about local news. Sharing your insights and point of view on what's happening around you through video can really resonate with your audience. It shows that you're not just a business owner; you're a part of the community. People love connecting with someone who's relatable and informed, and video is the perfect medium for that.

But here's the best part: once you've created a video, the possibilities are endless. That same video can be repurposed across various platforms, maximizing your visibility and engagement. Think about it - a clip from your video can spruce up your Google Business Profile, catch eyes on social media, provide valuable content on YouTube, enhance your blog posts, and even be transformed into a podcast episode or an infographic. It's like the gift that keeps on giving!

YouTube is like your digital stage, perfect for showcasing your business's offerings and expertise. By creating a channel, you open up to a world of potential followers. Plus, Google loves videos, often giving them prime spots in search results. So, posting your content on YouTube doesn't just attract viewers; it also grabs Google's attention, giving your visibility a nice little boost.

By strategically using video content, you're not just telling the world what you offer; you're showing them. In today's fast-paced digital world, that's the kind of communication that cuts through the noise and truly connects with people. So, if you haven't already, it's time to embrace the power of video. Trust me, your future clients are out there, just waiting to watch what you have to share… and “Action!” Part Two will be coming soon.

Chriss David’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

President of the Martin County Education Association

Matt Theobold
President of the Martin County Teachers Association

On March 19th, the School Board of Martin County will vote on a medical insurance renewal for approximately 1900 employees and retirees of the school district and their families.

This is not a vote on whether to renew with the current carrier, Florida Blue, but rather a vote on how much that renewal is going to cost. You see, the School Board is in the middle of a three-year contract with Florida Blue, which leaves very little wiggle room to negotiate.

As part of the existing agreement, Florida Blue promised an offer not to exceed 10.9% this year. That increase is the worst-case scenario, but even a proposed increase of 5.9% would still have a catastrophic effect on our teachers, administrators, and other district employees, because much of that increase is born by the employees themselves. The School Board’s contribution to insurance is fixed at $6500, an amount that has remained unchanged since it was set ten years ago, and in that time, healthcare costs in the U.S. have increased by over 20%, while teacher salaries and the Board’s contribution have stagnated, requiring teachers to shoulder more of the load with less.

Should our premiums increase by 5.9%, the employee contribution for an individual enrolled in the HMO would increase from the current $45.98 per paycheck to $66.26 per paycheck. That’s a 44% increase! An increase of 10.9% would translate to a 79% increase, which would cost our teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, and all other district employees close to $1000 a year. Meanwhile, the Board’s contribution remains the same. The good news is that employees with dependents would only see an increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-17%, but even that would be a tough pill to swallow given that Pay for Performance raises proposed by the district for veteran teachers with 20 years of experience only equate to 1.6%.

When the School Board votes on the 19th, chances are the actual increase will fall somewhere between 5.9% and 10.9%, depending on plan design changes that could impact employees’ out-of-pocket expenses. Since Covid, the Board has done a nice job trying to minimize the effect of the pandemic on the pocketbooks of their employees, and it is our hope that they will come through again for those employees and their families one more time. Whether that be through tougher negotiations with the carrier, changes to employer contributions, or increases to teacher salaries, the School Board has the power to provide real, meaningful help to those who do so much to help our students. The assistance they provide might just be enough to ease the burden of healthcare costs or it might be powerful enough to save a life.

Matt Theobald's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Humane Society of the Treasure Coast

Frank Valente
Humane Society of the Treasure Coast, President & CEO

Martin County’s No Kill, Open Access Shelter

Thank you for your continuing support and goodwill toward the animals in our care.  We are very grateful and could not accomplish our daily mission without your generosity.

Every day there can be between 200 and 300 animals receiving lifesaving, loving care at our humane society.  Over 2,000 animals are adopted to loving homes each year and over 7,800 receive care through our services.

Many are abandoned, lost, or abused.  Most of them we can save and provide a pathway to a loving forever home.  We have a live release rate of over 95% of our animals and have been recognized by Best Friends Animal Society for our lifesaving worth.

But one of the things we try to do is figure out how to keep animals out of the shelter. We provide many services including behavioral assistance, pet food pantry, low cost spay and neuter, and many more important services.

Here at the shelter our dogs and cats are part of enrichment programs that enhance their time at the shelter.  The dogs are walked constantly with trained staff and volunteers, can participate in activities like noseworks, run the agility course, or have fun outdoors in the Frank and Millie Savastano Dog Play Area.

Our cats, rabbits and small animals are loved by our volunteers and staff, cats can roam in the open cat room, and we are always looking to provide them with living space that is safe and comfortable, with places to hide, climb and be cats!

Our shelter renovation project is in full swing. We are going to be improving the temporary homes for the animals we love. The adoption areas and intake areas will be improved and upgraded.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help support this major effort, please feel free to reach out to me whenever convenient.  You can email, or call 772-600-3201 and leave a message and I promise I will get back with you!

The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast never turns away any animal from Martin County for any reason, and is your only local no kill, open access community shelter.  We are constantly striving to provide the best care today, and plan for the future, so the thousands of animals that come to us every year will have the best experience they can until we place them in their forever homes.  Thank you for your role in making this happen.

Frank Valente's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Cleveland Clinic Reports

Dr. Rishi P. Singh
Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, President

Lung Cancer Early Detection Means More Than Survival

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. It affects smokers and non-smokers; about 20% of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers. 

Lung nodules are common and often benign. Respiratory illnesses and infections can cause nodules to grow inside the lungs. On x-rays, they look like a shadow or a spot. However, even when benign they can grow and obstruct the airway. In rare cases, they can become cancerous

That’s where Cleveland Clinic’s multi-specialty approach makes a difference. Doctors from various specialties get together daily to accurately diagnose and treat lung nodules. A lung nodule clinic brings pulmonologists, interventional radiologists, oncologists and thoracic surgeons to the patient’s corner.   

With the team in place, new technology aids in performing biopsies in difficult-to-reach parts of the lungs. Advances such as robotic bronchoscopy make diagnosis easier and more accurate – without going through open surgery.

Here at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, Dr. Michael Marsh and a team of lung specialists are helping patients get answers and stay one step ahead of cancer.

Through robotic bronchoscopy, patients benefit from early detection and treatment that restores their health and helps them not only survive but live healthy and thriving lives. 

A robotic bronchoscopy sidesteps open biopsies and offers better precision, better control in the airway, better anatomical alignment for the physician driving the scope, and better vision via optics displayed on a high-resolution monitor.  

Combined with ultrasound and other tools, this can help patients get diagnosed earlier and get treatment when lung cancer is curable. 

That was the case for Debra Haberstroh, who found out something was amiss because she was hospitalized with pneumonia at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health. A CT scan showed a spot in her right lung.

A traditional bronchoscopy could not reach the spot. At Martin North Hospital, she met Cleveland Clinic specialist Michael Marsh. He performed a robotic bronchoscopy and he and his team were able to diagnose a neuro-endocrine tumor in her lung. 

Cleveland Clinic cardiothoracic surgeon Ronald Cossman removed the tumor last May and she did not need chemo or radiation. She has gone back to enjoying her daily activities

Decades ago, bronchoscopy was used for minor procedures such as culturing the lungs from infections and to visualize and examine the inside of your bronchial tubes. But as science has progressed and the prevalence of lung cancer increased, technology started advancing towards a diagnostic approach of bronchoscopy. We are now using bronchoscopy to reach those lung spots or lung nodules to determine if they are cancerous.

Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy continues to evolve, offering patients a safe, streamlined, timely diagnosis and more effective treatment.

See the full patient story here:

Rishi P. Sing's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Tykes & Teens

By: Dr. Brooke Hall, Trauma Informed Care Specialist

In every community, children are the heartbeat of its future. They embody the hopes and dreams of tomorrow, yet many face adversities that can profoundly impact their development and well-being. Trauma, in its various forms, casts a long shadow over countless young lives, affecting their emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. In such a landscape, the concept of trauma-informed care emerges as a beacon of hope and healing, essential for nurturing resilient and thriving communities.

Trauma-informed care operates on the foundational understanding that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can significantly shape a child's behavior and worldview. Whether it stems from abuse, neglect, loss, or violence, trauma disrupts a child's sense of safety and security. Without adequate support and intervention, these experiences can manifest in various ways, from challenging behaviors to academic struggles and even physical health issues.

In the context of community services, such as schools, healthcare facilities, and social welfare organizations, embracing trauma-informed approaches is not merely beneficial but imperative. It transcends mere awareness of trauma to encompass a holistic understanding of its impact and the implementation of practices that promote healing and resilience.

One of the fundamental principles of trauma-informed care is fostering an environment of safety and trust. For children who have endured trauma, feeling secure in their surroundings and relationships is paramount. By creating spaces where they feel valued, respected, and understood, caregivers and service providers lay the groundwork for healing and growth.

Thanks to local funders, Tykes and Teens can offer free trauma-informed trainings throughout the Treasure Coast to assure anyone working with vulnerable populations in our community is prepared navigate care through a trauma-informed lens, providing optimal opportunities for resilience and growth. To learn more about trauma-informed trainings for your organization please contact us at (772) 220-3439. 

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2024 SECRET GARDENS TOUR: From the Tropics to the Trails

Presented by: The Garden Club of Stuart

On Saturday, March 23, 2024, from 10am – 5pm, The Garden Club of Stuart is hosting their biennial Secret Gardens Tour: From the Tropics to the Trails

This popular event occurs only every other year, and the garden club uses the money raised to award college scholarships every year to Martin County students.

Tickets are $35, $45 day of the tour, & are available online at:

& on the garden club’s website:

Tickets are also available at the following businesses, payment by check or cash only:

1. Big Pine Nursery - 800 SE Salerno Rd., Stuart

2. Cove Gardens - 4968 SE Dixie Hwy., Stuart

3. Stuart Art Supply and Studio - 43 SE Kindred St., Stuart

4. Kilwin's Chocolates - 41 A SW Osceola St., Downtown Stuart

5. Palm City Palms - 7390 Martin Hwy., Palm City

6. The Gate - Harbour Bay Plaza 3742 SE Ocean Blvd., Stuart

7. Hobe Sound Beach Shop - 9128B Bridge Rd Hobe Sound

8. Pinder’s Nursery - 5500 SW Martin Hwy Palm City

On the day of the tour, patrons will exchange their ticket for a TOUR BOOK at one of the following locations in Martin County: Colab Kitchen-downtown Stuart, Blake Library, Cummings Library in Palm City, or the Hobe Sound Library. Tour Books include garden addresses, maps, descriptions, and garden photos. The Garden Tour begins at 10am.

Once you exchange your ticket for a Tour Book, you will be entered into a raffle drawing to win 1 of 3 prizes:

An original work of art donated by renowned local artist and author, Julia Kelly. For more information about Julia Kelly, please visit her website at:

Additionally, two rare, exotic palms, graciously donated by Patrick and Cynthis Blancher, will be raffled off: A Finger Palm and a Giant Yarey Palm.

Buy your ticket today before this popular event sells out, and enjoy a day outside in BEAUTIFUL gardens while supporting The Garden Club of Stuart’s Scholarship Program.

 Please visit  for additional details and updates. 

About The Garden Club of Stuart, Inc.

The Garden Club of Stuart, Inc. (GCS) was organized in 1936 and federated in 1937 as a member of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. affiliated with the National Garden Clubs, Inc. GSC is a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization with a mission: to further the education of members and the public in the fields of horticulture, floral design, botany, landscape design, conservation of natural resources, and civic beautification.

GCS maintains several gardens throughout the community, including Audubon-Possum Long Nature Center, Blue Star Memorial By-Way Marker Garden at Memorial Park, Butterfly Garden at Sewall’s Point Park, House of Refuge, and Mary’s House. In 2023, more than $12,000 in scholarships were distributed to Martin County students. Membership is open to all who have interests consistent with the mission of the Club.


Healthy Start Celebrates Black Maternal Health Week at April 13 “Sprinkle”

Stuart, Fla. -Martin County Healthy Start Coalition is celebrating Black Maternal Health Week  2024 with a free, fun, family event at the 10th Street Community Center in Stuart.

Not quite a baby shower, the event is being described as a “Baby Sprinkle.” There will be music, snacks, face painting, fairy hair, music, and raffles for baby-related items. Community organizations that provide a wide range of resources to expectant women and families will be on hand to offer advice and a guide to their services.

 Black women are three times as likely to die during childbirth as White women. This is a startling national statistic.

Jill Taylor (right), Community Engagement Manager for Martin County Healthy Start Coalition, 

Martin County has not had a maternal death since 2009, an important achievement, but Martin County Healthy Start Coalition CEO Samantha Suffich reminds the community that there is still a disparity between the experiences of Black and White women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Even in Martin County, women of color are three to four times more likely to suffer from birth-related injuries than their White counterparts. The Healthy Start Coalition is working to reduce those disparities through increased awareness.

“Healthy Start is committed to ensuring that every baby is born healthy, every mother is supported, and every father is involved, regardless of race or income. We are reaching out to the Black community especially during Black Maternal Health Week,” Suffich says, “so they know how to find us and what resources we can offer.”

The Baby Sprinkle runs from 10 AM to 11:30 AM on Saturday, April 13. Community organizations that want to participate or anyone with questions can contact Healthy Start’s Community Engagement Manager Jill Taylor at

About Martin County Healthy Start

Martin County Healthy Start is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that every baby is born healthy. It provides educational and health services to pregnant women, new mothers and their families at no cost, particularly expectant mothers who are at risk for late or no prenatal care.

Part of a statewide coalition, Healthy Start connects pregnant women and young mothers with essential services including prenatal care, home visitations by a nurse or social worker, breastfeeding support, parenting education, car seat and sleeping safety, a free diaper pantry, and access to other community partner agencies through the Betty Moore Prenatal Outreach Center. The David Cardno Father and Child Resource Center, also part of the Martin County Healthy Start Coalition, helps fathers to become more involved in parenting and offers legal assistance to fathers who are separated from their children.

The programs of Martin County Healthy Start Coalition are voluntary and available to all Florida residents at no cost.

For more information about Martin County Healthy Start Coalition and its ongoing programs, visit, call 772-463-2888 or follow the organization on Facebook.

comprehensive range of no-cost educational and health services to pregnant women and their families, particularly those who are at risk for late or no prenatal care.



Catch the Wave of Hope Adds Two Board Members

By Jackie Holfelder

Catch the Wave of Hope (CTWH) recently announced the appointment of two additions to its board of directors.

Galean Stewart is assistant news director of WPTV NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach. She is a native of Jackson, Mississippi and a graduate of Bellhaven University in Jackson, where she received a B.A. in Communication and a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

Galean Stewart

Stewart was elected to the board of directors for region 13 of RTNDA (Radio Television Digital News Association). She is also an active member of NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists).

This is Stewart’s first time serving on the board of a nonprofit. She says, "I learned about CTWH and its commitment to educating and spreading awareness about the dangers of child exploitation and trafficking at an event in Martin County.  The statistics about these crimes in South Florida and across the country are alarming and I want to be part of a mission to help saving lives."

In her leisure time, Stewart enjoys traveling, dancing and photography, and attending comedy shows and concerts.

Lisa Patricelli

 moved to Florida in 2018, coming from Bellevue, Washington where she had an impressive career in law enforcement. She held such positions as a patrol officer, motor officer, school resource officer, lieutenant, and supervisor of fraud, crime prevention, and vice detectives.

While holding the supervisory job, she got involved in fighting the growing issue of human trafficking. She advanced to the position of captain of investigations, leading a team of 33 detectives.

Patricelli concurrently served 20 years as a Coast Guard reserve officer during her law enforcement career.

Now a happy Florida resident, she enjoys reading, boating with her husband and three English Bulldogs, or exploring new places in their RV.

Patricelli says, “I am honored to join the Board of Catch the Wave of Hope and am drawn to its mission of education, awareness, and victim advocacy for human trafficking victims.”


Council on Aging of Martin County Celebrates 50th Anniversary with

 New Look and New Slogan

The Council on Aging of Martin County knows that the secret to successful aging is to keep growing and changing. The organization is taking its own advice. As it celebrates its 50th anniversary of serving seniors and their families, the Council on Aging has unveiled its new brand identity.

“We have an incredible legacy in Martin County,” said Council on Aging President and CEO Karen Ripper. “From a small nonprofit founded in 1974 by concerned community members, we’ve become a comprehensive hub of resources for seniors. We’re celebrating 50 years of service with a visual makeover that better reflects what we’ve become over the decades. 

The Council on Aging’s modern new logo swirls with bright, cheerful colors and includes the tag line - Your Hub for Senior Resources.

“Because we offer so many programs and services to seniors, it has been a challenge to explain them all in a way that was easy for the community to understand,” Ripper said. “Now, with our new branding, we have a compelling and engaging way to communicate all that we do.”

Each of the organization’s key program and service areas take an identifying color from the logo: green for health, gold for nutrition, red for social activities, and blue for programs that offer help in areas like adult day care and case management. Four short phrases, keyed to the service area colors, sum up the program offerings and are easy to remember while offering great advice for successful aging: Stay Healthy, Be Active, Eat Well, and Get Help.”

Past confusion about the Kane Center being the place where services and activities take place, and the Council on Aging being the nonprofit organization that runs the Kane Center and other facilities in Martin County has also been addressed through the rebranding process. 

A new logo has also been created for the Kane Center on Salerno Road in Stuart, headquarters to the Council on Aging.

Throughout 2024, the Council on Aging of Martin County will recognize those who created and sustained the organization over 50 years along with a busy and dynamic calendar of activities for seniors and community members. The next major event, the much-loved Sage Awards, honoring Martin County residents who continue to give back to their community well after retirement age, will be held on March 27 at Piper’s Landing Yacht & Country Club.

Board Member Jim Simoneau, (standing) Dave Schoonover, County Commissioner Ed Ciampi and City of Stuart Mayor Becky Bruner helped the Council on Aging of Martin County to celebrate its 50th year of service to seniors and their families.

“The Council on Aging Board of Directors is proud of the last half-century of accomplishments our predecessors achieved, delighted with our new branding efforts and excited about our forward-looking vision of how to serve our community in the future,” added Board Chair Nicki Schoonover said. “Our look is new but our unwavering commitment to serve as a hub for senior resources remains the same.”

About the Council on Aging of Martin County

The Council on Aging of Martin County is the community’s hub for senior resources and the county’s Lead Agency on Aging. Founded in 1974, the organization offers expertise, programming and support for older adults and their families to help seniors maintain lives of quality and purpose. Services include: Day Primary Care Center, Memory Enhancement Center, Adult Day Club, Meals on Wheels, care management, caregiver support, and a robust offering of educational, cultural, fitness and wellness programs.

The Kane Center located at 900 SE Salerno Road in Stuart is the Council on Aging of Martin County’s headquarters and is also an event venue available to the public. It serves as a special needs hurricane shelter when necessary.  Council on Aging of Martin County also operates senior outreach facilities in Hobe Sound, Jensen Beach, East Stuart and Indiantown.  A  501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Council on Aging receives funding from state and federal agencies and relies on philanthropic support from the community, including other agencies, private foundations and individual donors. For more information, visit


Treasure Coast Hospice Names John Crouch, D.O., VP of Medical Services

(STUART, Fla. Feb. 26, 2024) – Treasure Coast Hospice is pleased to announce that John Crouch, D.O., has been promoted to Vice President of Medical Services, effective February 19, 2024.

Board-certified in family practice, Dr. Crouch joined Treasure Coast Hospice in 2016 as a home care and assisted living facilities physician. In his new role, Dr. Crouch will provide overall strategic direction and oversight of medical services, ensuring compliance with regulations and fostering compassionate care within the organization. He will be responsible for supervising medical staff, evaluating patient eligibility for hospice care, and facilitating the growth and operations of palliative care services.

“Dr. Crouch’s promotion is a testament to his dedication to our mission and commitment to patient care,” said Treasure Coast Hospice CEO Jackie Kendrick, CHPCA. “His clinical expertise, compassion, and leadership abilities will be invaluable in guiding our clinical teams so that Treasure Coast Hospice can continue to build upon its legacy of providing comfort and quality end-of-life care to our community.”

"I am honored to take on this role and look forward to working with the leadership team and our dedicated hospice and palliative staff so that together we can deliver the highest level of care to patients and families facing serious illness,” said John Crouch, D.O.

John Crouch, D.O.

Dr. Crouch’s experience includes more than 30 years of healthcare leadership along the Treasure Coast and surrounding areas. Prior to joining Treasure Coast Hospice, he practiced family medicine at Cleveland Clinic/Martin Health, Gateway Medical and Jupiter Medical Center. During his career, he also served as medical director for Life Care Center in Port St. Lucie, Parkway Health and Rehabilitation Center in Stuart, and the Manors at Hobe Sound.

Dr. Crouch earned his medical degree from Kansas City University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri. He completed internships at Osteopathic General Hospital in North Miami and at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Dr. Crouch is board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Practice Physicians and a member of the American Osteopathic Association.

He succeeds Rose Guilbe, M.D., who retired from the full-time position and will instead serve as a contracted physician for the organization.

Dr. Crouch joins a leadership team that successfully guided the nonprofit hospice provider through a global pandemic, earned the Gold Seal of Approval for hospice accreditation from the Joint Commission, and has grown to care for more than 550 hospice patients daily in Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.

About Treasure Coast Hospice

Treasure Coast Hospice is a non-profit community organization of skilled professionals and dedicated volunteers whose mission is to provide access to compassionate, caring, expert and professional hospice and grief support services to patients and families at the end of life. Founded in 1982, Treasure Coast Hospice has grown to serve more than 4,000 patients annually in Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. Thanks to the generous support of our community, the Treasure Coast Hospice Foundation is able to fund comprehensive hospice and grief support programs for Treasure Coast Hospice, including three Inpatient Units for those who need a higher level of care, the specialized pediatric program Little Treasures, music therapy, massage therapy, virtual reality experiences, individual and group bereavement services, and Camp Good Grief for children who have experienced the loss of a loved one



Star of Service: United Way Foundation Honors Betsy Herold with Frances Langford Humanitarian Award

STUART, FL – The United Way of Martin County Foundation was proud to announce Elizabeth (Betsy) Herold as the 2024 Frances Langford Humanitarian Award recipient on Thursday, February 8, at Sailfish Point Country Club. This prestigious award recognizes community philanthropists who demonstrate care, compassion and commitment in support of United Way of Martin County and the non-profit sector.

Betsy Herold's dedication to giving back has left an indelible mark on the community. Her philanthropic journey was inspired by her late husband, David, who instilled in her the direct impact of charitable giving. After his passing in 2008, Betsy continued their shared path of philanthropy.

Betsy Herold, Frances Langford Award Recipient, and family. (Phil Cadorette, Karen Cadorette, Betsy Herold, Nancy Peavy, Bob Peavy)

Introduced to the transformative work of United Way by fellow Sailfish Point resident and former Chair of United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society, Bob Croce, Betsy became a devoted supporter in 2010. Her involvement deepened over the years, and she became a member of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society in 2014. In 2022, she further solidified her commitment by joining the Tocqueville Legacy Circle.

"It was Bob who first opened my eyes to the power of United Way,” Betsy Said. “He spoke about their impact on our community, the breadth of their programs, and how every dollar they raised stayed local. His passion was contagious, and I knew I had to be involved."


The award was named in honor of the famed singer, actress and long-time resident of Martin County, Frances Langford who trusted United Way with the dual mandate of transforming lives and fortifying community bonds. Langford also served as the pioneering chair of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, igniting a legacy of leadership. Her dedication and commitment to community advancement has played an integral role in shaping the organization into the agent of change it is today.

Frances Langford Humanitarian Award recipients include:

  • 2011 – Robert & Carol Weissman
  • 2013 – Barbara Briggs Trimble
  • 2014 – Prestley & Helen Blake
  • 2015 – Douglass & Patricia Stewart
  • 2016 – John & Susan Sullivan
  • 2017 – H. William Lichtenberger
  • 2018 – Bob & Jan Crandall and Bill & Audrey Crandall
  • 2019 – Joe & Margaret Richebourg Temple
  • 2020 - John & Linda Loewenberg
  • 2021 – Fred & Betty Kopf
  • 2022 – Bob & Karen Croce
  • 2024 – Betsy Herold

The Frances Langford Humanitarian Award sculpture, a signature piece by Geoffrey C. Smith created especially for the United Way of Martin County Foundation, symbolizes the generosity of game-changers in our community. As an independent public charity, the Foundation is uniquely positioned to accept legacy gifts and build an endowment fund.

Rip Fisher; Noreen Fisher, United Way of Martin County Tocqueville Society Co-Chair; Kathryn (Muffin) Adamiak, United Way of Martin County Tocqueville Society Co-Chair; John Adamiak.

During the reception, the Foundation revealed significant progress toward its goal of reaching a $13 million endowment fund. This milestone achievement will enable the organization to generate an additional $500,000 annually, empowering United Way to further enhance its community impact through vital initiatives now and years from now.

Thank you to our Reception Sponsors Bill and Audrey Crandall and Bob Crandall; and to our additional sponsors who helped make this event possible: Bill Lichtenberger, Seacoast Wealth Management, Bob Weissman, Wilmington Trust, HBK CPAs & Consultants and HBKS Wealth Advisors, Northern Trust, SouthState, Bank of America Private Bank, Carol Webb, Melanie Fenner, Keane Thomas & Pinnacoli, and Sandhill Cove


About United Way of Martin County

United Way of Martin County’s mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of our community. United Way continues to create long-term social change and provide support to Martin County residents by investing in programs that strive to: enhance healthy living, improve education, and support financial stability. For more information about United Way of Martin County or its Foundation, please visit:


Sandhill Cove Residents Support Family Promise of MC

By Jackie Holfelder

Sandhill Cove Retirement Living in Palm City – and those who live there - have a long tradition of supporting individuals and nonprofits in Martin County.

A resident who has been involved with Family Promise of Martin County hosted a series of educational lunches of groups of six which spanned a two-year period during which other residents learned about an exciting program in which Family Promise is partnering with Project LIFT.

Family Promise is a nonprofit, interfaith hospitality network that provides temporary assistance, shelter, transitional housing, and case management for families in Martin County experiencing homelessness. It provides counseling in a variety of different areas to ensure that families are ready to own their own or rent homes when they have completed the nonprofit’s Almost Home Program.

However, due to the shortage of affordable housing plaguing the Treasure Coast, there was no place for the families to go when they were ready to move towards successful independence.

Family Promise embarked on a partnership with another Treasure Coast nonprofit, Project LIFT, to build tiny homes which are then placed on real estate that Family Promise provides.

Project LIFT is an award-winning nonprofit that teaches skilled trades to youth in a non-traditional school setting.

Madeleine Bozone, executive director of Family Promise and Bob Zaccheo, CEO of Project LIFT, attended the Sandhill Cove resident luncheons to explain their partnership and the logistics of the program

The cost of each tiny home is $63,000 for the home, $9,000 to transport it to the designated location, up to $20,000 for infrastructure including water, sewer and electric, and $8,000 for furnishings, including appliances.

After each luncheon, every invitee wrote a check and Sandhill Cove Retirement Living residents are now in the process of underwriting their second tiny home! They anticipate continuing with this mission in the future and look forward to learning about the families who will be living there.

Sandhill Cove leadership supports many nonprofits in Martin County and works cohesively with residents on mutual charitable projects.

Photo provided by Sandhill Cove

(Front) Jean Matheson, Fran Andre, Karen Edds, Audrey Cox, Bobbie Spillman, Jane Coutts, Jane Fitzgerald, Marie Terry, Phyllis Kordick, Ellyn Capper, Jean Eldridge, Barbara Bretas, Andrea Lutz, (middle row) Shawn Perrigo, Genie Buchanan, Eileen Vergoz, Fran Atwood, Barbara Grimmer, Jenny James, Jane Shoaf, Jane Reynolds, Elaine Treweek, Shirley Kelley, Jane Funston, Kathy Garlington, Pat Morgan, Chuck Morgan, Isa Von Hessert, Laurie Bohlke, Sandy Chapin, (back) Paul Freud and Madeleine Bozone, executive director of Family Promise


Mary’s Home celebrates a milestone with Annual Fashion Show & Luncheon

STUART, Fla. — Mary’s Home brought together almost 300 of its supporters at its 13th Annual Fashion Show & Luncheon on February 12 at the Willoughby Golf Club. Together, they raised $100,000. Executive Director Alean Timm surprised the sold-out audience by calling the nonprofit organization’s first resident mother, Kayley Meyer and her baby, Weatherly, now 13 years old, to the stage to speak about their journey.

The event also was highlighted by featuring Cairo Sampson, the 100th baby born while under the care of Mary’s Home, and his mother, Kimberly Kasey. She delivered a touching presentation about how she has been helped by Mary’s Home.

Joe Ann Fletcher, executive director of Dress for Success Palm Beaches, delivered an inspirational address that ended with an education appeal for donors. The event also featured a silent auction filled with unique and eclectic items, ticket raffle and boutiques with a Valentine’s theme, a living champagne wall, and a fashion show coordinated by Lynda Hartley-Urban.

Board of Directors President Gina Thompson and Executive Director Alean Timm

Luncheon co-chairs Timm and Kim Gaudet, operations manager, worked with committee members Denise Freihofer, Cheryl Lott-Lampard, Patty Murty and Kelly Harrison to organize and present the event.

“This year's Annual Fashion Show and Luncheon, our most successful yet, united 290 compassionate hearts, raising $100,000 to help nurture dreams and transform lives,” said Timm.

Kayley Meyer, Mary’s Home’s first resident mother (right), and the first baby, Weatherly, who is 13 years old.

Riverview Cosmetic & Implant Dentistry: Dr. Mark Fedele and Dr. Matthew Hooks generously sponsored the event.

Founded by Jan Lindsay in 2010, Mary’s Home is a faith based-transitional maternity home that provides residential and non-residential programs for pregnant women who lack suitable housing or favorable family relationships. Mary’s Home provides a pathway leading woman to a life of self-sufficiency and dignity for themselves and their babies. The goal is to break the cycle of poverty for themselves, their baby and generations to follow. To learn more, visit



Treasure Coast, FL ---   Hibiscus Children’s Center, a nonprofit organization supporting children and families in our community, is facing a significant setback after the theft of its thrift store delivery truck. The incident occurred on the evening of November 30th , leaving the organization unable to make crucial deliveries and pickups.  This has resulted in a direct impact on income that supports programs for children and families. 

Hibiscus has been working with local law enforcement.  The truck was recently recovered and sustained severe damage during the theft.  Insurance will cover a portion of repairs but not enough to completely cover what is needed.

The theft has not only affected the day-to-day operations of the thrift store but has also hindered Hibiscus’ ability to generate income from sales.  The proceeds from the thrift store support programs aimed at improving the lives of children living in Hibiscus Shelter and Village, and families in our community.  The thrift store also provides necessities such as clothing, beds and household items to families in our outreach programs.

Neil Poirier, Thrift Store Manager, said, “The theft of our truck has caused significant challenges with our daily thrift store operations.  We rely solely on the community’s generosity for donations to sell and many items such as furniture require pickup.   We receive requests for quick pickups when people are moving or need to get rid of large items and we simply cannot afford to rent a truck each time one is requested.  We also cannot deliver any large items that we sell from the store to the buyer. The Hibiscus Thrift Store is located in Stuart, but the truck also made weekly runs to Vero Beach to pick up donated items.” 

For now, Hibiscus has to rent a U-Haul for each trip that requires a truck for delivery and/or pickups. This is costing almost $250 per trip.  These unexpected costs and the loss of the truck use are greatly affecting our already tight budget.   If you would like to help Hibiscus recover costs like these, please contact Michelle King, CDO, at or 561.452.5791, or visit

Letters From Readers

I urge those who are reading this newsletter to send an email expressing their opinions on subjects. When a reader sends one, it will be included if I find it relevant and I have adequate space. I may edit the letter because of length and clarity. You don’t have to agree with me to have your letter in Friends & Neighbors. All you must do is send it to TOM CAMPENNI or fill out the form on the website.

From Alan Morris

Hi Tom,
Just a quick inquiry:  Any word on the downtown Rio project?  Grand plans were laid out long ago and rumored to begin, yet beyond the demolition of a boat basin, we haven't seen a shovel really hit the ground.  Great job with this forum. I always look forward to 
its arrival.

My best to you and Polly,

Answer: All It takes is money. 


Brandon Tucker/Executive Director, Florida Landowners Association



Every state across the nation collects property taxes, in most cases to fund local governments, water, and school districts. Florida is no different.

However, Florida lawmakers are now looking at possibly eliminating property taxes altogether. HB 1371 sponsored by Rep. Ryan Chamberlin, R-Marion, calls for a study to investigate the issue. The Senate is considering a comparable bill.

According to the Florida constitution, only local governments can charge ad valorem or property taxes based on the value of the property as of Jan. 1 each year. So, homeowners never really own their property outright if they must pay an annual tax on it.

Florida property taxes generated $25 billion for local governments and schools last year alone. The burning question is how to replace those funds. A consumption tax or increased sales tax would be a logical consideration.

The idea of eliminating property taxes altogether is definitely an innovative one but many important questions first need to be answered:

  • The sales tax idea is a good one but how much is needed, how will it be distributed to local governments and who will decide how it will be allocated?
  • How do you replace any losses in funding to line-item ad valorem like local school districts, water management districts, etc.
  • How would eliminating property tax be equitably offset county by county, city by city?
  • How would non-homestead and commercial property tax rates be affected locally? Will more burden be passed on to local small business owners?

If HB1371 passes, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability would conduct the study, to be completed by February 2025.

As a property owner and real estate broker, I appreciate that our lawmakers are considering new ways to improve the lives of Floridians and make our state run more efficiently. 

The affordable housing and homeowners’ insurance crises would benefit from the same approach.


Mona Leonard

Thanks Tom,

What a comprehensive newsletter. It has grown so much. 

Thanks for all you do,

Martin County


This was the big day when the commission got to weigh in on the ½ cent sales tax to buy lands in designated ecologically sensitive areas.

Speaker after speaker from a wide swath of organizations and the public spoke in favor of placing the referendum on the November ballot. (I was one of the residents who spoke in favor.) The group known as Martin County Forever, spearheaded by Jim Snedeker and Merritt Matheson, has done a superb job of gathering support among such diverse organizations as the Everglades Coalition and the Martin County Taxpayers Association. That is no easy feat.

Jim Snedeker Martin County Forever

Regardless of whether a citizen would vote for or against the sales tax, I don’t know too many people who can’t agree on the concept of letting the people choose. Today was not an endorsement of the idea either way but it is a fundamental democratic right to have the people decide on this type of tax for this type of project.

As Matheson said, “today is Phase 1.” Once on the ballot, then having it passed kicks in. Michael Syrkus, who is a candidate for the district 5 seat, was one negative voice. He wanted to use the FPL franchise fee to buy the land... if at all. The fee already is dedicated to roads and stormwater infrastructure projects.

Smith was fully in support of the concept. He mentioned Allapattah and C-44 as things the county did earlier. He then said something about falling on his sword to support this. Smith believes the people should decide. Then for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned how people should also decide how long commissioners should stay in office and not have Tallahassee mandate it.

Ciampi was also in support of allowing the voters to decide about the sales tax. When asking for funds to purchase land, Tallahassee always wants to know how much Martin is contributing. He welcomes the audit and strong citizen input on an advisory committee. Ciampi motioned to have the referendum.

Heard said they needed to buy the land and the money can be leveraged. She seconded.

Jenkins, who was absent, hoped that it would pass. Administrator Donaldson read his remarks.

Next came a discussion about the ordinance that would implement the sales tax if passed. You could see the joy go out of the room. The ordinance contained names of organizations that would be on the citizens’ committee. Smith wanted to strike the names of the organizations.

Sarah Woods said she did not want to name the organizations in the ordinance because the ordinance would need to go before the public to be changed if any member organizations of the oversight board changed. Both Heard and Smith agreed. Heard stated that she didn’t want to tie the hands of the commission.

Smith went on to say that there is a lack of trust toward the commission. And that is because people think that the commission broke the law when they voted for other sales tax proceeds to build things like the water park.

The commission did not break the law when they used those funds in ways the public thought were wrong. The public believed they were voting to improve things like parks. Not create a new thing like a water park. Commissioner Smith, the citizens do not trust the commission to use the proceeds as intended. That is why there is such a stringent safeguard of naming the various groups that would be members of the oversight board.

Smith had mentioned letting the voters decide about whether a commissioner should be reelected not the legislature. His remarks were in response to the legislature having a term limits bill of eight years for county commissioners moving through committees now. I believe it will pass.

I was not a big term limits fan until the last few years. And Smith is the reason.

The August election is really a primary. If no Democrat is in the race, then every registered voter votes and the winner is elected. However, if a no name write-in candidate files, then the race is considered contested in November. Only Republicans can vote in August. The Democrats and NPAs do not get to vote then. So, any other Republican running against Doug is deprived of any nonparty supporters. Doug has put up the no name candidate in the past to do just that.

Is it legal? Sure is. But with more than half the voters not having a voice, it isn’t what small “d” democracy is all about. That is why I want term limits. And that is why we need to tie the hands of the commission with respect to the sales tax.

Ciampi got it right here. He said he would have no problem with an oversight board with people other than commissioners’ appointees. In fact, he welcomes the scrutiny. It legitimizes the committee. He understands the mistrust whether warranted or not.

It passed 4-0 without the language of the resolution that enumerated certain groups as being members of the committee.

The Sand Box

As you have probably heard by now, Brightline has selected the Stuart/Martin County proposal to build a station in Stuart.

But before the service can begin, the county and city still must work out more of the details. It seems Martin County has taken a back seat regarding funding and perhaps even being accommodating to ensure success of the project. This is a minimum $60 million project, and it looks as though the county commissioners, and their staff are stuck and fixated on their maximum contribution being $15 million. What happened to the wonderful cooperation we were led to believe the two had?

Apparently from the inception of putting the RFP together, the county insisted on basing their financial contribution and what they would be responsible for on the outdated settlement agreement they signed to end the lawsuit with Brightline. In that document, the county pledged to spend up to $15 million on a station that was in Martin County. Perhaps at the time, locating the station in Martin County was a smart move, but it is no longer relevant because of the RFP that was created and sent to Brightline.

That leaves $45 million at minimum for the City of Stuart to pick up? $45 million is almost the total amount of the Stuart budget for the year. That is nothing to sneeze at. The county budget minus the Enterprise Fund is almost $500 million.

Both those budget figures are immaterial. It was always portrayed to the public that both governments were partners. This is far from a partnership. In truth much of the cost will come from grants (at least that was what we were told). But it seems the county may not even be so interested in grants except for those allocated to the physical station where they say their responsibility ends. That means Stuart would be the one searching out these monies for most of the project.

The county will benefit much more financially than the city. The projected increase in hotel tax revenue due to increased occupancy goes 100% to the county. They will receive 90% of any increases in the sales taxes. And I will assume once the station is up and running, their ad valorum tax revenue will also increase to a greater extent than Stuart.

This attitude goes back to the bad old days when the two entities were caught up in the annexation wars of the 1980s and 1990s. I thought we had gotten over that but apparently not really. And that is too bad.

Both the county and city should truly be partners and pay equally for everything. Then as the grants come in, they are also paid back the same way. The City of Stuart commissioners are not as sophisticated and worldly as the county commissioners. City Manager Mortell is up to a fight, if necessary, but his bosses need to be behind him 100%.

This deal can still be salvaged and be fair. But both parties must want to play nicely in the sandbox. They must both want the station and the benefits that will come with it equally.

Trust But Verified

At the discussion and ultimate commission passage to have the ½ cent sales tax on the November ballot for buying sensitive lands, the commission may have doomed the referendum to defeat.

In their effort to stack the composition of the members of the “oversight committee” to be their choices and their choices only, Commissioners Smith and Heard made sure that the enabling ordinance for implementing the referendum had the community organizations removed. The very civic organizations which would have held the commissioners accountable to follow the spirit of the ordinance not the dictates of the commissioners within the language of the referendum. Heard said as much when she repeated twice that they did not want to have their hands tied.

But the point is that the voters want to tie their hands. Smith said there is distrust that is unjustified. I and most other residents believe that our skepticism is more than justified.

Smith continued that the rumors about the commissioners spending the money from the last infrastructure sales tax illegally had fed into it. In fact, the commission did nothing illegal. What they did do with projects such as Sailfish Splash Park is use the money for what the voters never intended.

When politicians say they have done nothing illegal, it really means, “I may have done something unethical and misleading, but I can’t be prosecuted for that.” And they are right. The question is...should illegality alone be the standard?  

Commissioner Ciampi said at least twice during the meeting that he welcomes the scrutiny. The committee should be large and varied. Those stakeholders’ groups like the Martin County Taxpayers Association and Martin County Forever should have a seat at the table. Ciampi has always been inclusive. During this debate, he continued to be.

In fairness to the point made by the county attorney during the discussion, the naming of individual groups in an ordinance with a ten-year life span can be problematic. It is difficult to change an ordinance that is part of a referendum. And groups do come and go. However, that can be addressed by the passing of a resolution which fleshes out how the committee will be organized and operate.

The resolution can be passed at the same time as the ordinance. This action will give the public the confidence they need to vote yes for a very important referendum. There would be no doubt in my mind that I could then confidently vote for a sales tax.

e sales tax will buy environmentally sensitive lands that are now under threat of being developed. Many people get up at meetings and demand that landowners who are legally pursuing efforts to maximize their investment be stopped by the government. It is plainly unconstitutional to do so without fair compensation.

It doesn’t mean the citizens of Martin County can’t own the land, especially the parcels in the areas outlined in the referendum. This sales tax will give them the means to do so. Now it is up to the commissioners and their staff to give the citizens the confidence to monitor their decision to tax themselves for that privilege.

Without the inclusion of such a resolution, I cannot support the referendum and I believe others will not either. As President Reagan was fond of saying about Russia, “trust but verify.” That statement sums up how I feel about the BOCC and the sales tax. 

City of Stuart


During her remarks, Commissioner Clarke made a motion for the city to purchase two tables for the NAACP Freedom Fund Gala. Each commissioner will receive two free tickets to attend, and staff will receive the other table. I was happy to see the commission this week only doled out $2400 of taxpayer dollars to a private organization.

When I was a commissioner, the city never bought my tickets to attend the banquet. I would have found it highly unethical if they had. This is a fundraiser for a private organization. Is the city going to buy tickets for Pinot & Picasso, the Helping People Succeed event? How about other nonprofits?


The motion was seconded by Commissioner McDonald. The vote was 5-0. Vice-Mayor Rich said he was purchasing his own tickets so that his two could be given to staff. It is a slightly more ethical stand but even Rich voted to give away tax dollars. The only difference between him and the other four was that he wouldn’t have a direct benefit.

By giving themselves the money to attend a private affair, they are indirectly raising their salary by the cost of the two tickets. Is this a gift that should be reported? Whatever it is, it isn’t ethical or proper and it should be remembered by the citizens.

A resident of East Stuart complained that he had to pay a fee to move ahead with the abandonment of a right of way. Commissioner Collins jumped all over it and said the owner didn’t have to pay the fee even though the amount is stated in the code that Collins had voted for.

I was told by staff that this owner had received the lot in exchange for a different vacant parcel over 30 years ago so that pipes could be laid. In fact, he not only received the lot, but the city also built his house for free. Why did Collins feel compelled to waive a fee that others have paid?


Last week, I paid a fee to the city for a new water tap for the meter on my property. Should it be waived for me? Fees cannot be waived for some and not for others. So much for this commission being good shepherds of the people’s tax dollars. Services cost money even if it is just the paperwork involved in staff time.

If a commissioner needs a ticket to go to a dance, let the tax dollars of the guy from Cleveland Avenue pay for it. If my friend on Lake Street asks, we waive the fee that is in the code. Yet the guy on another block gets to pay for it. In the past few weeks, this commission has really shown that they are not very good at governance and being fair in their dealings with all their constituents.

Though there still isn’t any formal announcement, Brightline has made it known that they have picked Stuart for their first Treasure Coast stop. It should come as no surprise to those who read this publication as I believed that it would be located here.

The Stuart/Martin County RFP submission may have looked as if the two entities had worked together. The funding piece is still far from settled between the county and the city. In fact, the county looks as if they are fighting the wars of the 1990s again. That is the time they looked upon the city as an enemy. Look for our story in this edition about what comes next.

Green Mills Group made an unsolicited offer to the city to build what they are calling affordable housing on the 3.5 acres where the city garage on MLK is currently. Building affordable housing is all that Green Mills does. They have 11 completed communities and 5 others now underway.

Vice-Mayor Rich has spearheaded the effort to bring them here. From the very beginning of his election, he has expressed interest in having this type of housing in Stuart. Now he has found a company that could pull it off if the city becomes a willing financial partner in the endeavor.

The preliminary plan is to build 130 mostly one-bedroom units of 600 sq feet each. It will be four stories but with only three stories facing Martin Luther King Blvd with 142 surface parking spaces. By using subsidies, they are trying to have units rent for 80% of the AMI (Average Median Income) but residents will pay according to their income. They are committing to marketing to locals at first. Larger units can be made available if Stuart subsidizes them.

They will make a lease payment to the city at groundbreaking of around $6,000 per unit with a lease term to obtain financing. The city will waive impact fees and utility connection fees plus other possible waivers. The city will also give other tax abatements. There will be a local (the city) financial match of $340,000 to $460,000 per phase. Depending on the tenant AMI, rent for a one-bedroom unit can go from $476 to $1271 per month.

McDonald said the city has not yet decided to move the garage. Rich stated the city is preparing plans for a new garage site by the new water plant. Both have a point. While the city has not made the final determination, it is likely they will be moving. To remain on site, they will need to spend several million dollars on a new facility.

Clarke made a motion for City Manager Mortell to do an analysis and come back with an evaluation of the offer to place on the agenda for a vote. Rich seconded. It passed 3-2 with Collins and McDonald voting in opposition.

You can see the full proposal here 

Can the city use affordable housing…sure it can. Yet there are several problems with this proposal. The City of Stuart is a town of 17,000 people. Many homeowners pay no taxes except for the fire fee. This is a valuable piece of property, especially now that the Brightline station will be across the street. McDonald was correct when he said that this site could be suitable for an office building or a corporate headquarters at some point. Can Stuart afford to take advantage of this offer?


While the offer states that they will market the property locally at first, after an initial period it will go on to a much larger market. Stuart will end up with people from Miami to Orlando. How does it help Stuart residents to take a multimillion-dollar property off the tax rolls, spend several million dollars in hard and soft costs, and fill it with those who don’t currently live here.

I saw Martin County Commissioner Ed Ciampi in the audience. I didn’t hear him speak or pledge any county money. Martin County has had an Affordable Housing Committee for years. They have built no housing. That is in spite of a budget that is more than ten times the city.

There is a more suitable site for housing in the city. The old Taylor property on East 10th Street is more than appropriate. The city has many thousands of dollars of liens on the property now and it is sitting there accruing more by the day. That would be a great place for the Green Mills Group to build two story garden apartments.

The city could foreclose and then give the property to Green Mills. No other funding would be necessary from the city except perhaps some waiving of fees. Green Mills would have to pay no ground rent. The project would be much more in keeping with the neighborhood instead of 4 story buildings which Rich ran against developing any more of such projects. There could even be a carveout for a grocery store again on the property.

So why is this property lying essentially abandoned? Because the commission does not have the foresight or the moxie to foreclose on a property that is blighted. The city garage property site is isolated since it will have as its neighbors the Boys and Girls Club, the Brightline Station, Stuart Middle School and the ball fields. It is not a real neighborhood.

On East 10th Street, there is a community center next door and all of the East Stuart neighborhood which is primarily residential and low density surrounding the site. It will act as a stabilizing force in the neighborhood. I can even see the city running a tram to the site. It is a win across the board.


I am puzzled by Stuart Main Street….why does it still exist?

We often hear of their accomplishments in the past tense. How the organization was essential in bringing back the downtown in the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t believe there is any dispute about that. But that was now 25 years ago.

It seems their main activity is holding fund raising events to perpetuate themselves. Sure, fundraising is important, but it isn’t the most important reason to exist. Unfortunately, when a political organism is fighting for survival, it will continue to perpetuate its existence well after the reasons they came into being are no longer relevant.

Most other Main Street programs draw their membership from the businesses that make up the downtown. In Stuart’s case, the merchants have their own separate organization, the Downtown Business Association. The two groups often work together for promotions. The downtown businesses are usually the backbone of a downtown and the Main Street Organization since they have such a stake in having a vibrant area. In Stuart’s case, only a handful of businesses are members.

Stuart Main Street has recently received grants to list the historic buildings within the district. And they are pursuing more grants to name additional historic buildings and perhaps have a plaque program on a voluntary basis. But number one in importance to the group is to raise funds to continue to pay its own staff.

None of that would be a concern to me as a taxpayer until the commission’s recent action which makes Stuart Main Street’s stipend of permanent annual funding as part of the city budget. That is tax dollars to pay for a private organization’s existence.

Commissioners both new and old seem unable to stop themselves from cutting the organization from the dole.  A speaker asked how large the city budget was when trying to justify Main Street’s stipend of $70,000. The answer is $44.3 million. Was the speaker trying to say that it was a pittance and that no one should care about the cost?

How many residents of Stuart make $70,000 a year? How far would that amount go to fix a pothole or pay another maintenance employee? Our commissioners are so busy making “deals” and promises, they forget it isn’t their money. All five voted to pay the amount in perpetuity…no end date.

Don’t let any of them claim to be fiscal conservatives because none are. They are too busy making deals and promises with your money. It seems their main concern may be helping their friends. And the taxpayers may not be one of their friends.   

Martin County School Board


In a little more than 10 minutes, the board opened the district to what is known as controlled open enrollment. That means a child can go to any school in Martin County regardless of where they live.

There are a few parameters around the plan. To attend a Martin County high school, the student must be full time. If there are openings after all zoned students are accommodated, students will be taken in this order:

  1. children of school employees, military, court ordered, or in foster care
  2. children of Martin County residents
  3. non-resident children of military, court ordered, or in foster care
  4. nonresident children

High School students may only play sports at the school they attend. Determination will be made by lottery. Open enrollment can be applied for through March for the following year. Once applied and there is no space presently available in the school of choice, the child can go onto a waiting list.

The vote was unanimous.

Are we moving away from the neighborhood school concept? It looks like the district is to some limited extent. Once accepted into a school, the child remains a student for all subsequent grades in that school. If the kid is from St. Lucie County, Martin County would receive the child’s allotted funding from the state.

In some respect for intra-district students, this is a form of competition. It is far from charters but probably a step in the right direction.

The district just spent $65 million for two new elementary schools. Does that mean we didn’t need to replace those two schools that were in poor physical condition? Could the district have just expanded existing school boundaries to accommodate the need?

Because of other factors like maximum class sizes, long range planning is hard. The district felt that with the number of new homes, there would be a need for more seats. Instead, fewer children moved into the homes. Is that the new normal?

Several years must go by before we can know the answers to any of these questions. In the meantime, open enrollment will help fill the seats that would go empty otherwise.

Town of Sewalls Point


Mayor Tompeck asked why Kloee Ciuperger from Gallo Pavo was not at the meeting to present to the commission. Gallo Pavo is the town’s grant consultant and lobbyist in Tallahassee. All that Manager Daniels could say was that he urged her to be there.

In all fairness to Ciuperger, if she had abandoned her post in Tallahassee to do a dog and pony show, she should be fired. In the last two weeks of the session, the last thing you want is your lobbyist leaving Tallahassee. Her job during this crucial time is to pigeonhole legislative and agency staff to get the money the town needs to do and complete projects.

The commission hired a very small firm to do grant writing and lobbying. Unfortunately, the mayor does not understand the dynamics and the commission offered no defense for their choice. Daniels also should have piped up and said to the commission, “she can be here or there where the money is. What is more important.”

A list of the grants can be found here 

There was a brief discussion regarding maintenance of the stormwater improvements where the town is spending millions (mostly grants) to build. In the past, no maintenance was done, and because of its outfalls and weirs were not well maintained. Without a dedicated funding source, it would not make much sense to build and improve stormwater capacity. It would make even less sense for the state and Feds to fund it.

There was talk of a stormwater enterprise fund being created or spending from the general fund to handle maintainence. It would be almost ecological and governmental malfeasance to do nothing. Daniels was asked to come back with suggestions.

Sewall's Point Candidates


Sewall’s Point is having a special election on March 19th for the seat left vacant by the resignation of James Campo. There statements ran in an earlier edition. We are publishing them again in case you missed them.

Friends & Neighbors does not endorse candidates, but we do ask the candidates to write an essay. We don’t present a set of canned questions and then try to elicit responses. When someone is writing in their own voice it tells the reader things they may not have even known to ask.

This is the end of the process but the beginning. The candidates are easy enough to find and speak to. We encourage that dialogue.

We believe by candidates having the freedom to spell out what they think is important, the voters can have an insight into their personality.

Here are their unedited essays.

Vinny Barile

My name is Vinny Barile and I am running for the vacant seat on the Sewall’s Point Commission.

I am a Navy Veteran - 4 years active duty and 2 years inactive in Naval Aviation. I have been a resident of Sewall’s Point for 23 years. I believe I have the leadership skills and experience to fill that vacant seat.

During the 8 years (2012-2020) as a Sewall’s Point Commissioner

  • I was Mayor for 1 year; Vice Mayor for 1 year
  • As Mayor, I was instrumental in raising funds which helped purchase playground equipment for our Town Park. I also sponsored a Kickoff event which helped secure more dollars towards our park.
  • I was appointed by the Town Commission to the Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2015 serving a total of 5 years.  Of those 5 years, I was elected Chairman for 2 years. This allowed me to work with the Florida Dept. of Transportation on many issues - one was securing the green bike lane in Sewall’s Point at no cost to the Town.
  • Instrumental in securing a grant to reduce the cost of sewer conversion on A1A and North Sewall’s Point Road
  • Helped secure reliable fire, EMT and paramedic service thru 2030
  • President of the Treasure Coast Regional League of Cities
  • Vice Chair of the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments
  • Appointed to Legislative Committee for the Florida League of Cities and a Voting Delegate
  • Served on the Municipal Administration Committee for the Florida League of Cities
  • Part of the Advocacy Team for the Treasure Coast Regional League of Cities, which fought for issues affecting our Cities and Towns
  • Selected as Home Rule Hero 4 years in a row by the Florida League of Cities

These are some of the reasons I believe I would be an asset to the Town as your Commissioner. EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

As in the past, some of my goals are

  • Protect our quality of life
  • Maintain a strong Police Dept.
  • Work to be fiscally responsible with our budget
  • Not to raise taxes and avoid any mandatory assessments
  • Only take on projects the Town can afford
  • Remain transparent on issues facing the Town
  • Be available to our residents to listen to their concerns and issues

As your commissioner, I would be representing you, the residents of Sewall’s Point.

I am humbly asking for your vote on March 19, 2024.

Thank you,

Vinny Barile

772- 288- 4080


Diane Kimes

Diane Kimes built a career as a problem solver, bridge builder and change agent. Diane is the opposite of a career politician and she embodies the path forward towards preserving and protecting Sewall’s Point. Diane has been a resident of Sewall’s Point (SP) since 1994 and a life-long resident of South Florida. Kimes resigned from her three-year tenure on the Board of Zoning Adjustment to run for the vacancy on the Commission. Her priorities include:

● Communications in Town operations & construction projects and most importantly to involve residents in strategic planning to shape long-term goals

● Develop and implement strategies for long-term resiliency

● Continue to prioritize public safety and enforce town codes with a watchful eye on taxpayer costs and public expenditures  

● Ensure clean waterways that define our vistas and support initiatives for  homeowners to convert impermeable driveways for greater water storage 

● Encourage tree planting to maintain hammocks, pocket parks and shaded space 

● Secure safe, walkable, bikeable streets and promote traffic calming 

● Create a more adaptive community when considering projects throughout the town that account for the 17% of residents that have a form of impairment-sight, hearing, mobility, or cognition compared to the state average 15% (2020 US Census); 

Diane has a long list of past & current volunteer board affiliations including governance in the sunshine. One of her proudest accomplishments, was being part of a cadre of volunteers creating Friends of High School Lacrosse for Martin County in 2009, a 501c3, introducing lacrosse programs for girls and boys in MC public high schools.

Educated at Florida Atlantic University, with a BBA in General Management, her career spans forty years primarily in university and health system development beginning with Diabetes Research Institute Foundation’s (University of Miami) expansion into Broward and Palm Beach County. Ms. Kimes led several campaigns at Broward Health, Lee Health System, and at Jupiter Medical Center Foundation. Elliott Museum’s Capital Campaign-A Defining Moment.

Kimes is a certified Master Gardener and a member of Stuart Garden Club-Satin Leaf Circle (SP).

Diane and husband Tim raised son Alex (and Scottish terriers) in Sewall’s Point. “I care about the same challenges facing my neighbors, rising liability coverage and property taxes. Progress in our town as evidenced with $15,719,525 awarded in resiliency grants is outstanding! Finding ways for that momentum to continue efficiently is my goal. “Representing the Town is not about having all the answers but knowing how to ask the right questions. I look forward to listening and working to advance the town’s priorities in a fiscally responsible way,” stated Kimes. “I respectfully ask for your vote on March 19.”

Village of Indiantown


Susan Gibbs-Thomas, who is running for county commissioner, asked staff to bring back information regarding term limits. At present, there are no term limits in Indiantown’s charter. Could this be an act of “good government” on her part since in all probability she will not be there?

There was a special event permit request for the Good Friday procession from Holy Cross. Since the organization did not file for the permit within the 60-day time period, the council must grant any exception. The council must also approve any street closures.

The church stated that they have been doing it for 35 years, and they have always had a permit. However, village staff did not find anything in their records. According to Council Member Hernandez, who recused herself since she is a church employee, the staff always “knew” about the event and the sheriff’s department always provided deputies. Council Member Dipaolo said he was quite familiar with the event since he “worked it” when he was a deputy.

This is not the first time that an organization has said they had permission in the past, yet nothing is in the records. Apparently, Sheriff Snyder’s men are very aware of this event. Did they agree to close roads and provide a detail without a valid event permit? Village Manager Kryzda was at the village last year and said nothing when the Parks Director Resos couldn’t find any records.

The village was a bit disorganized before Kryzda’s arrival. Either there are records or not?

A month ago, the council refused to give permission to a group for a MLK celebration because they had not applied on time. As both Gibbs-Thomas and Dipaolo said if they denied one group, they need to do so for every group that hasn’t followed the rules.   

And that is where it was left.

Final Thoughts



Each year Martin County government holds a gathering at New Hope Community Church in Palm City celebrating the accomplishments of the past year.

The real event takes place before the official presentations when it’s all about mingling with those who keep Martin humming during the year. Almost every elected official is there along with the senior staff of most of our local governments.

If you include the heads of Martin’s nonprofits, businesses, and community leaders, you can find out many tidbits about what is going on in the county. And that is what I do...find out about things that are going on. Almost everything I learn from these meetings is for context. It adds to my understanding of the story, but it never becomes the story.

The conversations I have with these people are off “the record.” There is nothing they say that is going anywhere except to me. It is important for us to be on that footing. For the most part, I like and respect our elected officials and the public employees. I do not want to betray their confidences.

Yet it doesn’t stop me telling you the news story. I am better at doing so because of these relationships. And anything said or done by these same officials in public is fair game to be reported upon.

When I write an opinion or tell a story, it comes with much background. I don’t need to go out and get the information from scratch...I just need to write the story containing it at the right time.



Friends and Neighbors of Martin County is your eyes and ears so that you know what is going on in Martin County’s municipal and county governments. I attempt to be informative and timely so that you may understand how your tax money is being spent. Though I go to the meetings and report back, I am no substitute for your attending meetings. Your elected officials should know what is on your mind.

Tom Campenni 772-341-7455 (c) Email:


Tom’s Articles

From Medium

"Why Haley Should Stay In The Race"


"The Ying & Yang Of U.S. Immigration"


From Martin County Moments

"Would We Take The Train"


Other Articles

The New York Times: "The East Coast Is Sinking" (An Interactive Map)


The Capitolist: "Homeowner Policies Exceeding 50% To Be Considered"


The Washington Post: "Has  the decision to honor a Trump ally tore apart a Hall of Fame"


The New York Times: "The Great Compression"


The New York Times: "A Family Ranch Swallowed Up In The Madness Of The Border


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