Promoting the Virtue of Meaningful Work

The Freedom & Virtue Institute focuses on breaking the cycle of dependency

by Don Long

Twelve years ago, Ismael Hernandez returned to his birthplace in Puerto Rico for his father’s funeral. Draped over the casket was a red flag, the flag of Puerto Rico’s communist party, representing his father’s lifelong philosophy and a set of values he had passed to his son.

Under the influence of his father, young Ismael had accepted his parent’s views – that American and its capitalistic ways were the source of all evil – and he, too, joined the communist party.

But as his life developed, Hernandez took a different route, one that brought him first to America and then to new ways of thinking about human motivation, failure and success. That led him in 2009 to founding the Freedom & Virtue Institute in Fort Myers, a center focused on ideas far different than his father’s.

“One day I simply woke up realizing that I had become what I had always hated, a lover of freedom and a believer in ‘the American way,’” Hernandez recalls.

As a teen, a mentor had encouraged Hernandez to travel to America to attend the University of Southern Mississippi. At first, he assumed he could undermine America’s “evil empire” with his father’s ideas. But that belief was quickly undercut by the encouragement he received in his classes and the attention he received as a successful student.

He began, he says, “to inhale the fresh air of true freedom.”

In his book “Not Tragically Colored,” which is part memoir and part economic analysis, Hernandez describes his journey. At the university, “experience after experience and book after book shattered the preconceived notions about America and capitalism that formed the basis of my worldview,” he writes.

After earning a master’s degree in political science, his journey to new ideas continued. He was hired as executive director of the African Caribbean American Catholic Center (ACACC) in Fort Myers, an organization focused on assistance to the impoverished.

There, over time, Hernandez became disillusioned by the organization’s model of aid – “handing out stuff” to families and then, only a few years later, seeing their children return for the very same handouts. It was, he says, “the same-old, same-old” type of help that didn’t generate long-term improvement in people’s lives.

Despite resistance, even criticism of his ideas, he worked to change the organization’s approach. Finally, he decided to move on, establishing the Freedom & Virtue Institute “for the purpose of mobilizing people” and to instill in them the importance of personal incentive and fulfilling work.

As explanation of the institute’s name, Hernandez notes that in the Greek, “virtue” is not a term of morality but means “excellence of all kinds.” And he argues that for a person to be successful and to contribute to society, freedom and excellence are inextricable.

The poor and jobless can find neither of these if they are dependent on government or other standard models of help, he says. Those methods too often rely on repeated handouts, creating the assumption that assistance ought to continue and eroding individual initiative, he adds.

“There’s a role for government of course,” Hernandez says, “but that role has to be limited.”

Hernandez is not subtle about describing the cycle of dependency, especially in young people. It means being “enslaved to government,” creating a sense of “entitlement” and (most bluntly of all) putting the young in “shackles.”

In simplest terms, he adheres to the maxim that teaching a person how to fish is far better than day after day providing a fish. Such assistance destroys self-sufficiency and destroys the virtue – or excellence – achieved through meaningful work.

The institute’s purpose is to reverse this trend, promoting the “art of fishing” by emphasizing the importance of work and producing something beyond oneself. The goal is to create an entrepreneurial spirit that leads to success and creates wealth.

The institute pursues its goal with three programs: the Dignity of Work Initiative and Effective Compassion Training, both church-based, and Self-Reliance Clubs in schools. Each program has specific strategies to break the cycle of dependency through fulfilling work.

The Dignity of Work Initiative

This program is for churches already targeting the problem of joblessness. It focuses on teaching the basics skills needed for finding a job, utilizing an existing national workforce-training program called Jobs for Life.

In addition to offering a curriculum, Jobs for Life calls on a network of volunteers that use biblically based training and mentoring relationships. The emphasis is on helping the jobless find not just any job, but “meaningful employment.”

Effective Compassion Training

Effective Compassion Training is also based in churches, but seems to beg the question, “Why should a church need training in compassion?”

The answer, Hernandez says, is that churches usually replicate the government’s model for assistance, providing money and other resources but not the tools that can lift the poor out of dependency.

This program emphasizes communication and connection with the individual as a unique person, not just a statistic in a general population of the unemployed. It stresses the importance of finding a job or, at the very least, an active role as a volunteer.

Hernandez trains church members in this strategy, sometimes just improving or just “tweaking” a program they already have. His training visits outside Florida include trips to Indianapolis, Indiana and Austin, Texas.

Self-Reliance Clubs

Self-Reliance Clubs focus on developing a job-like situation at a school. The students must put in at least 40 hours of effort to receive payment for their work, thereby making the connection between work and compensation. Students also sign up for a savings account, and visit a bank at the end of the year.

Beyond just earning money, the clubs emphasize how the work a person does can also benefit others.

Valerie Halley-Moore, a teacher advising the Self-Reliance Club at Bonita Springs Charter School, says that her students created a vegetable garden on a small plot of available school property. The project is not only educational but also gives the students a sense of ownership and an understanding of how the garden can benefit others. The project also validates a school-wide emphasis on leadership, she says.

With a great deal of land available to them in Cape Coral for a large garden, students in the Trafalgar Middle School club worked on expanding it – really expanding it. At the end of this past school year they harvested more than 8,600 pounds of vegetables and donated them to the school and food kitchens.

Al Piotter, club advisor at Trafalgar, says that paying students for their work was initially a “tough sell” for him, so he structured the program as an entirely volunteer effort. But students who put in 40 hours received payment at year-end as a special surprise.

Barbara Scarnato, advisor for the Self-Reliance Club at the Sanibel School, is concerned about dependency not just among the needy, but also among who have much given to them. She fears that young people in affluent homes may not develop the initiative needed for the future or grasp the importance of service to others.

Sanibel School students are very much “nature oriented,” she says, and so they built a butterfly garden including benches and pavers, emphasizing enjoyment for the students and visitors and demonstrating how similar efforts could benefit other areas of the island.

Dr. Mark Wardell, program director for the Self-Reliance Clubs, says that at the end of the year members of the clubs go on a field trip to a bank, where they receive a tour and an introduction to a variety of basic economic principles. Those include budgeting, the importance of spending choices, and the difference between “wants and needs.”

He says the students are introduced to three priorities in the use of money: spending, saving and philanthropy. The goal is to build good character and to instill “a selflessness component.” Club members, he hopes, will carry this training into the future to help their fellow humans to flourish.

The Institute has established Self-Reliance Clubs in eight area schools to date. Networking puts Wardell in touch with principals and teachers interested in the program, and he projects having at least 20 clubs in the next school year.

Hernandez says that the Self-Reliance Clubs are intended to be “engines of wealth creation” by showing kids that they can change their lives through work. He hopes these clubs – in a franchise model – will be replicated in other areas around the country.

In his book, Hernandez states that dependence on government has become a substitute for “the strenuous effort that once led toward virtue.” Battling the path to dependence is the central work of the Freedom & Virtue Institute.

“In a country of taken-for-granted wealth, there is need to cultivate our spirit, exercise the virtue of gratitude, mobilize ourselves toward productive effort, and refuse the strong pull of victimization,” he says.

The institute is always looking for volunteers to assist with its programing. If interested, visit the website at or call 239-993-7785.

Sign of a Growing District

by Christie Knudsen, Public Education Specialist South Trail Fire Department

Residents of Gateway may have noticed the new sign on Gateway Boulevard and Fairway Lakes Drive announcing the future home of South Trail Fire & Rescue Station #65. The 6 in Station #65 is an identifier used for all South Trail fire stations and apparatus, and delineates South Trail from other fire departments in Lee County. Once Station #65 is built, South Trail Fire & Rescue will have five fire stations strategically located throughout the District’s 55 square mile service area to serve approximately 62,000 residents, 24-hours a day, and 365 days a year.

It will be 4-5 years before Station #65 is actually built. Long-range planning is essential in providing emergency services to a growing, changing community. The South Trail Board of Commissioners identified the growth in the northeastern portion of the Gateway community, and knew that the emergency response time to that area from Station #64 in southwest Gateway would increase as well. As communities build-out, finding affordable and available land for a fire station can be a difficult task, so when the parcel on Gateway Boulevard became available, the Fire Commissioners purchased it for the future fire station. Paying for a fire station that can cost $2-3 million also requires long-range planning. The South Trail Fire Commissioners will pay for the construction of the station with funds saved for that purpose, i.e., with no financing.

Although South Trail began providing emergency services as a volunteer fire department in 1965, and then as an independent fire control district in 1976, it wasn’t until 1995 that the South Trail Fire & Rescue District started providing services to the Gateway community. Previously, the Lee County Port Authority had provided emergency services in Gateway. In 1996, the residents of Gateway voted to be officially annexed into the District, and in 2001, South Trail Fire Station #64 opened on Commonwealth Drive in Gateway.

The entire South Trail Fire District has grown dramatically over the years—responding to 1,319 emergency calls in 1984, 4,585 calls in 1998 and to 8,697 calls in 2016. New, permitted construction throughout the District includes numerous senior living facilities, medical buildings and hospital expansion, shopping centers with new restaurants and a Whole Foods Market. The South Trail Fire District continues to be a wonderful place to live, visit, and work, and the South Trail personnel are committed to providing the highest quality fire and rescue services to a growing, changing community.

For more information on the South Trail Fire & Rescue District visit The monthly meeting of the South Trail Fire and Rescue District Board of Commissioners will be held at 5:30 p.m. on July 17, at Station #63, 5531 Halifax Avenue. The public is invited.


Community Shred Day

Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co., P.A. (MNMW) will partner with Secure Shredding, Inc. to host a Community Shred Day event on Friday, July 28 from 9 a.m. to noon. The Secure Shredding, Inc. truck will be on site at 8961 Conference Drive, Fort Myers. There will be a two box maximum per person for shredding.

This is a free event, however, MNMW encourages participants to consider a donation to the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Counties when dropping off shred items. This can be in monetary form, or canned goods/new or gently used clothing. A United Way representative will be on site to receive the donations and answer questions.

Items that can be shredded are limited to paperwork such as statements, tax records, contracts, blank checks, etc. A good rule to determine if an item can be shredded is “if it tears, it can be destroyed.” Items NOT suitable for shredding include hard drives, cell phones, batteries, etc. All shredded material will be recycled to support an eco-friendly environment. A shred drop box will be in the MNMW lobby during business hours the week before and the week following the event for those who cannot participate in Community Shred Day activities on July 28. A two box maximum per person will be applied during this two-week period as well.

Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co., P.A. is a certified public accounting and consulting firm with offices in both Fort Myers and Naples. For more information, call 239-433-5554.

It’s All About the Food

by Susan Barnett

Patriotic Dessert

This colorful sweet-satisfying dish is fun to make and simple enough to assemble for anyone ages 2 to 92. All you need is cake, whip cream or pudding, blueberries and either raspberries or strawberries. These ingredients can make mini cake flags, a parfait, or a trifle. You really can’t make a mistake so get creative!


1 Angel food, pound or any light-colored loaf cake

1 Cup blueberries

1 Cup raspberries or strawberries cut in half or fourths.

Whip cream, nondairy whip cream, vanilla ice cream, or pudding.


Have fun! Assemble in layers, make mini flags, or just place in a bowl and layer the ingredients. Or create a dessert assembly station and let your guests make their own creations!


Ranch Chicken Kabobs

This is a 4th of July alternative to hamburgers and hotdogs, especially for friends who do not eat red meat.


½ Cup ranch dressing

½ Cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 Teaspoon lemon juice

1 Teaspoon white vinegar

¼ Teaspoon black pepper (to taste)

1 Teaspoon salt (to taste)

4-5 Skinless boneless chicken breasts cut in 1-inch cubes


In a medium bowl mix well all the ingredients except for chicken. Add chicken and coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer (can be made earlier in the day). Thread chicken onto skewers. Discard marinade. Grill in or outdoors for 8-12 minutes until chicken is no longer pink. Serve with grilled or kabob vegetables.

Susan Barnett is a food industry veteran who graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics. A self-proclaimed “foodie”, Susan’s philosophy is: “It’s all about the food!” Contact her with your food questions at


DIG IN | Sunflowers


by Adrienne Diaz

I’ve had a very tough month full of loss. I lost a son, a very dear family cat (20 years old), a couple of beloved chickens (to a raccoon), and several plants to an overabundance of catch-up rain. It has been a struggle every day, but fortunately my garden has been a daily source of support, encouragement and hope to me during this time. In particular, one plant that has lifted my spirits and brightened my days is the sunflower!

Everyone loves sunflowers, and for good reason – they are a cheery plant to grow. The giant single-headed yellow sunflower is the most popular, however sunflowers come in a wide assortment of sizes and a variety of colors. From one foot to 15 feet, yellow, orange or multicolored, single-headed or multi-headed – whatever you choose, sunflowers will definitely brighten up your garden. And the good news is, here in Southwest Florida we can grow them almost all year long!

Sunflowers can be planted almost anywhere in your yard as long as they get full sun. Sunflowers aren’t fussy about soil as long as it drains. They do not like pooling water, but they do like to be watered, so if it hasn’t rained in a couple days do give them a drink. To preserve moisture, you can mulch them if you like. Sunflowers are also forgiving; if you forget to water them it’s okay as they are a bit drought tolerant as well.

When deciding on their place in your garden, know that sunflowers always point to the direction that the sun rises, so consider this when planting. They can be planted south of smaller plants to help create some shade, or north of plants that you do not want to shade.

In regards to pests, sunflowers are remarkably trouble-free. However, as your flower matures you may find wild birds and squirrels are as eager as you are to sample the seeds. If you are trying to harvest your seeds, you can cover flowers with mesh bags, cheesecloth, old pantyhose, or perforated plastic bags to protect them.

Bees and other pollinators like butterflies love sunflowers. I plant them close to my fruiting plants and vegetables for this reason. Sunflowers also help your veggie patch by doubling as windbreaks, privacy screens, or living supports for pole beans.

Sunflowers make great cut flowers because they are hardy and long lasting. To enjoy the flowers in a vase, cut the stalk at an angle in the morning before the flower fully opens. Change the water in the vase every other day to keep the flowers looking fresh.

If you are growing sunflowers as edibles, you will know it is time to harvest your sunflower seeds as soon as seeds start to turn brown or the backs of the seed heads turn yellow. The heads usually droop at this time. Cut them along with enough stem to hang upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place, such as a garage or covered part of your patio, until fully dry; store in plastic bags for bird food, or if you would like to use the harvest for yourself, soak overnight in water (add salt to the water, if a salty flavor is desired), drain, spread on a shallow baking sheet, and roast for 3 hours at 200°F or until crisp. Not only do they taste great, but sunflower seeds are a good source of protein too.

Adrienne Diaz is a Certified Square Foot Garden Instructor, a Lee County Master Gardener and the Project Director of the Six Mile Charter Academy School Garden. She grows numerous fruits, vegetables and herbs year round. She offers free workshops & classes monthly, gives garden tours and can speak to your group. Contact her on Facebook at Miss Potters Place,, or 239-464-5754.


School Board Seeks Community Members for Advisory Committees

The School Board of Lee County is soliciting qualified members of the community to serve on the following School Board Advisory Committees, whose purpose will be to provide input, advice and support to the School Board on topics identified:

Continuous Systemic Improvement Advisory Committee – Systematically review components of the District’s strategic plan for the purpose of providing input to the School Board concerning the content and implementation of the plan. The committee shall determine which component of the plan to review after receiving a recommendation from the Board member liaison and chair.

Construction Advisory Committee – Provides input, advice and support to the five-year capital plan; the committee shall also review proposed new construction and renovation projects and review plans for compliance and safety.

Curriculum Advisory Committee – Provides input, advice and support to: curriculum content; materials and assessment instruments; school improvement process; District-wide technology issues and promote the integration of technology into the home and school learning environments.

Finance Advisory Committee – Provides input, advice and support in the preparation of the operating and capital budget for the school district.

Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee – To monitor the District’s maintenance of a unitary school system and adherence to policies concerning equity and diversity. Review and provide input concerning revisions to the student assignment plan and any proposal to acquire a school site, construct or abandon a school facility.

For consideration of new members for this year’s September appointments, online application needs to be completed by 4 p.m. on July 24. Online applications will be taken continually for vacancies that occur throughout the appointment year(s). In appointing members, the Board shall make every effort to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the community population whenever possible. All meetings are open to the public. Citizens may be appointed to serve additional terms on the same committee.

Applicants must provide information to the School Board concerning any business he/she is doing with the School Board, or has a contractual or employment relationship with any entity which is doing business with the School Board, in advance of being appointed to membership on an advisory committee. “Doing business” with the District does not include being employed by the District. Members of Advisory Committees will abstain from voting as a committee member on any matter that may personally benefit the committee member, his/her employer, or any entity he/she presently has a contract with.

Applications are online at Call 239-337-8303 with any questions.

Students invited to explore Lee County with LeeTran this summer and be eligible for prizes


LeeTran invites students, age 18 and younger, to explore Lee County with a Summer Bus Bash Scavenger Hunt. Students are encouraged to ride the bus from July 10 through Aug. 6 to visit select businesses and be entered to win great prizes.

During Summer Bus Bash students can pick up a scavenger hunt map on any LeeTran bus or at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center, 2250 Widman Way, Fort Myers. After visiting five businesses listed on the map, and getting signatures at each business, students can turn in completed maps to any comments box on LeeTran buses. All completed maps will be included in a random drawing for great prizes including: AMC Merchants Crossing 16 movie passes; annual family membership to IMAG History & Science Center; beach day for two at Lovers Key State Park; Miromar Outlet gift certificates; an annual Lee County Parks & Recreation pool pass; Sanibel Outlets gift certificate; Sun Splash Family Water Park tickets; and Pure Florida tickets.

Participating locations include: AMC Merchants Crossing 16; Bell Tower Shops; Bonita Springs Public Library; IMAG History & Science Center; Lakes Regional Library; LeeTran headquarters; Lovers Key Adventures; Miromar Outlets; North Fort Myers Public Library; North Fort Myers Recreation Center; Riverdale Branch Library; Sanibel Outlets; South County Library; South Trail Fire & Rescue Station 62; Sun Splash Family Waterpark; and Yogurt Mountain Coconut Point.

Students can ride LeeTran for half-price all year with a LeeTran Student ID, available at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center in downtown Fort Myers. Proof of student status and a photo ID, social security card, birth certificate or a parent or legal guardian are needed to obtain a LeeTran Student ID for $1. To learn more, visit



LIVING WELL | The Anatomy of Joint Pain

by Darin Stokke, DC

Joint pain is one of the most common symptoms people experience. Remedies and treatments are as varied as the sources that promote them. Most common treatments only address the symptoms of pain without addressing the actual cause of the joint pain. We are conditioned to believe that all pain is something to be avoided at all costs rather than something to be valued. As a result, we look to control the pain by ingesting prescription pain killers so that we can continue our normal activities without any disruptions rather than take the time to correct the issue altogether.

Joints are connections between bones in the body that link the entire skeletal system into a functional whole and are constructed to allow for different types and degrees movement to occur. Some joints such as the knee, elbow, and shoulder, are self-lubricating, almost frictionless, and are able to withstand compression and maintain heavy loads while still executing smooth and precise movements. Other joints are constructed to permit only very limited movement. When a disruption in the connection of the joint occurs due to trauma, bad posture or repetitive dysfunctional stresses, the tissues connecting the joint such as muscles and ligaments as well as the bones and cartilage can become injured. If a joint is injured, the body automatically shifts our weight or distributes stresses to other joints to protect the injured joint from further trauma. Pain is an important part of that protective feedback system that indicates that something is wrong. Without pain signals we risk the possibility of causing permanent damage to the unstable injured joint. Repetitive muscle and ligament injuries eventually lead to adhesions or scar tissue formation, which further restricts motion and causes more pain. This injury cycle continues with each new injury until the body can no longer adapt or compensate properly.

When we stand or move our muscles absorb most of the shock of weight bearing. After an injury to a joint, the body compensates by inhibiting supporting muscles to cause a sort of splinting to occur to restrict movement. This inhibition of muscle activity is necessary and helpful in the short term. However, when muscles become inhibited, they lose the important shock absorbing quality. When enough muscles in a given area are inhibited, connective tissues, such as ligaments, bursa, adipose tissue and cartilage are forced to take on a larger supportive role. This in turn causes joint inflammation, which is a necessary attempt to promote healing and aid in cushioning and protecting the joint. Eventually this process of stabilizing an injured, unstable and dysfunctional joint causes a break down to occur in the tissues including arthritic changes, degeneration and bony spur formations. All of this also causes chronic pain to occur in the joint.

To remain pain-free and to maintain joint health three things are necessary. First, the joints need to be aligned so they can move smoothly through a full range of motion. Second, joints are made for movement so strength of the joint stabilizing muscles are necessary for healthy movement to occur. And third, the joints need an optimal amount of specific micro-nutrients to support the bone and soft tissues. Following an injury to any joint, all three areas must be addressed for optimal joint healing to occur, to prevent further damage of the joint, and to decrease the chances of re-injuring the joint. Treatment must start with the joint alignment to ensure the joint aligned in a biomechanically sound way to move functionally. Next, it is absolutely necessary to determine which muscles are involved by performing a full body functional movement screen so that a proper rehabilitation program can be prescribed to re-train the muscles and full-body movement patterns. Without re-training the muscles, the body will not hold the re-aligned joint and will continue to cause a problem that will keep coming back. In our office we will often hear a new patient who has received care before tell us it’s the “same thing” as always and they need an adjustment. If the same problem keeps coming back year after year, something in the treatment is most likely not working. Problems don’t need to keep coming back.

As always, make the choice today to correct the problem rather than simply covering up the symptoms, and get back to enjoying life again!

Dr. Stokke is a Chiropractic Physician at Lifestyles Chiropractic located on Lindbergh Avenue just off Daniels. To reach him, visit, or call 239-334-9355.

Summer Diaper and Toy Drive

Donation drive to raise awareness and items for child victims of abuse in Southwest Florida

Erickson’s Drying Systems invites the community to join their inaugural “Summer Diaper and Toy Drive” to benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida (CAC), as well as Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc. (ACT). Through August, Erickson’s Drying Systems will collect diapers, new stuffed animals, and monetary donations to provide both practical and compassionate resources to child victims of neglect and abuse in Southwest Florida. You are invited to participate by dropping off donations at Erickson’s corporate office at 12651 Metro Parkway, Fort Myers.

CAC and ACT are nonprofit social service agencies focused on providing meaningful services to victims and survivors of the worst types of crimes imaginable, including rape, domestic violence, and in ACT’s case – human trafficking. According to both nonprofits selected as beneficiaries for the donation drive, the summer months tend to be their most needy.

“Last summer, we were so full of residents at our three safe shelters between Lee, Hendry, and Glades Counties, that we had to buy cots to accommodate women and children in desperate need of escaping their abusive situations,” shared Jennifer Benton, chief executive officer of ACT. “Our greatest needs include diapers, sizes 4, 5, and 6, and financial donations to help support programs for victims to heal from the violence in their homes.”