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Lake Mary, Florida: a place to lay down roots

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A Place to Put Down Roots

Lake MaryCommunity: Lake Mary is a place to put down roots

By Penny Dickerson
December 27, 2015

Sound prestigious? Tanya and Allan Coffin thought so.

Last year, the British couple left London and relocated to Lake Mary to stake claim on the American dream. Eight months ago they opened Royals English Tea Room, known for its exotic dried tea, crumpets and scones shipped from abroad, and Her Majesty’s Favorite, a strawberries-and-cream dessert.

“We used to visit Orlando for holiday and asked about the area,” says Tanya Coffin. “While dining, a server told us about Lake Mary and described it as heaven on earth. After a few visits, we knew this was the place for us.” The couple were impressed by the town’s cleanliness and inviting people. And then, they found the ideal business location on Country Club Road.

Versini’s Italian Ice was opened in 2010 by a Portuguese family who also found the neighborhood and real estate ideal. “Lake Mary has great people and my business has thrived,” says owner F. Versini, whose sons attended Lake Mary High School, chosen by Versini because it boasts one of Florida’s highest graduation rates. A place like Versini’s, serving gelati and ice cream topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, was a great addition to the neighborhood.

Early Years

Over the years, Lake Mary has emerged as the destination of choice for a global mosaic of ethnicities, working-class residents, entrepreneurs and native townsfolk. Together, they harmoniously mesh as a laid-back, family-oriented community that is the hallmark of Lake Mary. Impressive commentary for a legacy that began as secluded swampland infinitely surrounded by sabal palms and mammoth oaks swathed in Spanish moss.

According to archived legend, Lake Mary is the town that Frank Evans built, shaping it from an old-fashioned cliché into a prosperous civilization. Dusty dirt trails were paved into roads for transportation on Schwinn bicycles long before bikes with banana seats were cool. The paths were shared with the exhaust and raucous horn honks of Ford Model-T automobiles.

Homes were humble and the lone general store likely sold crisp pickles in barrels. A pharmacy, railroad station, one-room schoolhouse and civic government emerged along with cultural offerings that included an orchestra.

Gas was one gallon for a quarter, and a nickel bought a bumpy train ride. A single dime admitted Charlie Chaplin fans into cinemas for nine cents, and the spare penny was enough for a sack of salty popcorn.

Sound nostalgic? Sure, but that was so yesterday. Take a quantum leap into the 21st century.

Moving Forward

An urban infrastructure created the heavily traveled Interstate-4 exchange that exits directly onto Lake Mary Boulevard. The thriving, wide four-lane thoroughfare winds through miles of breathtaking, green scenery with blades of grass that vertically salute the sun. And save for the steady hum of engines in the luxury cars that steadily zoom by, it can be surprisingly quiet.

One stretch of the boulevard is happily saturated with retail and marquee signs that beckon middle-class and affluent residents to shop and solicit services such as cosmetic dentistry and exclusive real estate.

Alcoves at outdoor plazas are complemented by eateries that boast free Wi-Fi and tempt insatiable appetites. Among the offerings are Keller’s smoked barbe-cue ribs and menus featuring grilled burgers topped with crumbled bleu cheese and loaded with sautéed onions and mushrooms.

Sound enticing? Indeed, and most locals would concur.

Lake Mary is both a neighborhood and an experience that invites you to start your day with an all-American breakfast at Appleton’s Café — a 30-year tradition where native New Yorker Tricia Rodriguez delivers quick service to some 500 patrons on Saturdays. Omelets are fluffed from cracked eggs and ingredients are chopped daily. African-American “Chef T” will slay your palate with her homemade buttermilk biscuits, and breakfast is served all day, but you’ll want to come for lunch before the chicken salad sells out.

“We love the friendly people, and the portions are worth the price,” says the regular customer Sam Bellamy, a first vice president for USB Financial Services who visits frequently with his wife Krista and their two daughters.

“The girls love the themed holiday decorations and, of course, the pancakes,” he says with a smile that concurs.

Travel the boulevard south and visit the Saturday Farmers Market surrounded by eclectic shops, children playing and groomed pets on leashes. Free Zumba is taught to a Latin beat, and shoppers pick up local honey and gourmet popcorn sold in rainbow flavors including tutti-frutti.

“I started selling family pasta and pickle recipes at the market a year ago following my husband’s stroke,” shares Shelly Mottram, a Sicilian whose Backyard Blends products include jars of various green salsas, including a candied jalapeño version. “We’ve met so many friendly people here and love this market atmosphere.”

From the Lake Mary Heathrow Festival of the Arts to Dexter’s Sunday jazz brunch, the overarching Lake Mary theme is that everyone is welcome, accepted and encouraged to stay.


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Disney Dreamers: Movers, Shakers, Dreamers

(Bonus Florida Courier event coverage)



The Disney Dreamers Academy class of 2019 includes 12 Florida high school students selected among 100 nationwide. The program was held March 21-24 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista.


Meet Generation Z, the newest installment of innovative young adults to populate the earth. They were born in 1995 and onward, and unlike their Gen X and Y predecessors, who were reputed to be narcissistic and less concerned about civic engagement, Gen Z’ers are characterized as technology savants who insatiate online research.

They are dynamic entrepreneurs labeled culture creators and they are high achievers who dream. The latter is personified by 12 Florida students who attended the Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence held March 21-24 in Lake Buena Vista.

The program focuses on career immersion and inspired 100 students nationwide to discover new opportunities.

Here are some Floridian stories that demonstrate how Generation Z is changing the world.

Florida Dreamer Julia Shepherd of Apopka (left) engages in an Imagineering/engineering career immersion session.


Julia Shepherd has never earned a grade of B. The 16-year-old is a straight A, Apopka High School student who takes advanced placement (AP) courses at Valencia Community College.

Boasting a 5.4-grade point average, she is on target to graduate as valedictorian of her class. Admittedly ambitious, Shepherd aspires to earn the Gold Award in Girl Scouts, an organization she’s been actively involved since age 10 and sees Eagle Scout within reach now that girls too can be scouts. But most impressive is her selfless contributions to the Lupus Foundation of America.

“My aunt Laura passed away from lupus when I was 5,” shared Shepherd. “I was too young to understand everything but committed myself to being involved when I got older.”

Shepherd founded Lupus Outloud, a nonprofit organization that has raised $1,000 annually for the past six years to benefit “Walk to End Lupus Now” held in Tampa. She also is writing a children’s book about lupus.

“I have a passion to help people and want a career where I can do that,’’ Shepherd said.

The cast from ABC’s “grown’ish” inspire Disney Dreamers during a session titled “Be 100 Conversations With.”


Anthony Taylor is a Miami-based servant leader who volunteers for area homeless events and foster care.

The latter can be deemed lightweight for a young man whose leadership spectrum further includes being senior class president, teen president of the Miami chapter of Jack and Jill of America, National Honor Society, Key Club, debate team and a pre-college STEAM program. Impressed yet?

“Leadership is not always about giving direction,” Taylor said. “You have to be able to understand, listen, and give objective advice so that everyone accomplishes goals.”

Taylor is a 17-year-old, dual-enrolled student at Young Men’s Preparatory Academy and Miami-Dade Community College (Wolfson campus).

Angela Taylor attributes the following to her only child’s success: “Being consistent and parentally involved has made a difference,” she said. “I followed through when required and exposed him to the world including a trip to Spain. He also attended private school grades 6 through 9 at Miami Country Day.’’

A student-athlete who plays on the varsity basketball team, the teen said he’s glad his mother both believes in and encourages him.

“I know that I will attend an HBCU, major in engineering and fulfill my dreams,” said Taylor. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Florida Dreamer Bransyl Boston from Middleburg (far right) enjoys a day with her peers at Toy Story Land (Hollywood Studios).


Gabrielle Wright is African-American. She’s also Native American, White, Greek and claims a hint of German. With a 4.5 GPA, her dream to attend New York University and become an actress will likely come true.

A freshman at Circle Christian in Orlando, Wright enjoys pageantry, dance, acting, singing and karate. She’s an ordinary girl who just happens to be executive director of her own charitable nonprofit organization – A Birthday Party Wish.

“Imagine if you were 8 years old, homeless, and never had a birthday party,” posed Wright. “I started my nonprofit with my brother Johnny to change that.”

According to the organization’s website, “a Birthday Party wish allows a child to pick a party location, cake theme and flavor, choose their birthday gifts, and invite friends and family.”

“My passion in life is to bring happiness to others,” said Wright.


With ease and a smile, Jalen Sanders wakes up thankful every morning and ventures to Madison High School and North Florida Community College where the 17-year-old senior is dual-enrolled. When classes end, Sanders’ day doesn’t. He heads to either Taco Bell where he works part-time or a community center to mentor elementary students. Sanders is no stranger to hard work.

“My mom died when I was 4 years old and me and my twin sister were raised with love by our father and relatives,” explained Sanders, who said his father and grandfather are loggers who deliver pine trees to the local mill.

Sanders experienced Disney World for the first time this year at the Disney Dreamers Academy and previously enjoyed his first plane ride as a select student attendee to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in Washington, D.C.

More travel is on Sanders’ radar along with attending Florida A&M University in the fall where he will major in education.

“I strive to do my best every day so that my future will be bright,” Sanders noted.


One day she hopes to be called Dr. Grace Allen, but for now, the 17-year-old high school senior remains busy as director of photography for Orlando’s Lake Highland Preparatory School where she is also captain of the nationally ranked varsity volleyball team.

Allen has been accepted to Harvard University and will also play on the Ivy League’s Division I team.

“I hope to pursue a career in neurology and help facilitate the introduction of technology into modern medicine,” said Allen, who plans to work at both Barnes and Noble Bookstore and Starbucks this summer to earn extra cash.

“I believe success comes to those who chase it, and I am not one to shy away from challenges,” Allen shared.


One Disney Dreamer was gifted a unique name by her native West Africa, Sierra Leone parents. Her mother is Mina Sylvia and Brian is her father. The merging of the names belongs to Bransyl Boston, a 17-year-old senior attending Middleburg High School. She’s a math fanatic who has been accepted to the University of South Florida.

“I chose USF because they have a great med school and offered me an excellent financial aide package,” said Boston, who added that she loves math because it is easy to comprehend and has one final answer.”

Boston is immersed in extracurricular activities, including Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Spanish club, and her senior class committee. Despite an aptitude for math, her dream is to become a physical therapist.

“I want to help people who’ve had surgery on the road to recovery,” said Boston.

She added, “I’d like to become an international travel physical therapist, so I can help people around the world.”

Interview with Steve Harvey’s Personal Chef

‘Architect of flavor’ whips up Harvey’s healthy dishes

March 14, 2013 Filed under ENTERTAINMENT, FOOD Posted by




Judson Allen died of a heart attack earlier this year ( May 2018). May he rest in peace.


Judson Todd Allen is a winner who loves to lose.

He has won a battle with weight, losing more than 135 pounds. next food network starHe auditioned for the “Next Food Network Star’’ four times before joining the 2012 cast. He again, lost but recalibrated. Continue Reading »

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Angela Robinson “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”

Arbus NovDec 2013 FKudos to Angela Robinson for serving as a master-example of how a girl with a dream can become a woman boasting stardom.  She is a Jacksonville-native and graduate of William M. Raines High School who has journeyed a route to be admired and an apt lesson for all who dare to dream and are confronted with the “fear of failure.” Angela looking beautiful

What knows Angela Robinson of failure? Nothing. Disappointments? Yes, but she has persevered and shares with readers how they, too, can do the same.

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”


Beyond her natural beauty is an admirable narrative that takes readers from the halls of her high school years to the Broadway stage.  Now, she’s a leading television actress on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network in Tyler Perry’s first scripted drama, “The Haves and The Have Nots.”

Angela Robinson over Jacksonville

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”





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Habitat for Humanity builds a Thanksgiving home

Daytona Times



Giving thanks for a brand-new house


Habitat for Humanity helps hard-working mom realize dream  of home ownership


The Thanksgiving holiday has taken on a heightened sense of gratefulness for New Smyrna resident Angela Marshall. The single mother of five is on the path to home ownership thanks to Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit Christian housing organization founded on the conviction that everyone should have a decent, safe, affordable place to live.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers congratulate Angela Marshall as she enters her new home.(PHOTOS BY DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

Habitat for Humanity volunteers congratulate Angela Marshall as she enters her new home.

On Nov. 17, Marshall and two of her children, Arkeem Glass, 15, and Alicia Smiley, 5, moved into their new three-bedroom, two-bath spacious home surrounded by beautiful landscaping that Marshall herself helped lay sod to complete. On Nov. 12, an official community dedication was held. Continue Reading »

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A Felon’s “Fair Chance”

Daytona Times

A felon’s fair chance


A Daytona Beach resident tells of his plight for gainful employment and the impact the city’s new ‘Ban the Box’ policy will have on others looking for work.


The sun, sand and surf brought convicted felon Edward W. Barnes to Daytona Beach 20 years ago and he now calls Volusia County home. A native of Memphis, Tenn., he has served three separate sentences in the Florida Department of Corrections – all for burglary charges – connected to a crack cocaine addiction that plagued his adult life for more than a decade.

Edward Barnes, far left, is shown earlier this month at a “Ban the Box’’ celebration in Daytona Beach.(DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

He paid his debt to society, said he has been successfully rehabilitated from substance abuse and helped champion the Fair Chance/Ban the Box policy passed July 1 by the  City of Daytona Beach. But for Barnes, the new policy that eliminates applicant requirements to disclose criminal backgrounds during the preliminary phase of job applications is bittersweet. Continue Reading »

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