Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Sweet Grace” will live in our hearts forever

Guest post by Sharia Brent, a mom of three who experienced the loss of her infant daughter. She received services from Capital Area Healthy Start, an organization available to help every mom and baby before and after birth for any situation. This post is presented in recognition of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month.

Sharia with Serena in the hospital

I was ecstatic the day I learned my husband and I were having a baby girl. I had always imagined having my son first and then my daughter, and on March 5, 2008, it seemed as if I had written my own life story.

All of those emotions came to a screeching halt when I learned soon after that my daughter would be born with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, a condition that allows organs from the abdomen to move into the chest.

Confused, afraid and disturbed had taken over being happy. How could this happen? I was taking my prenatal vitamins. I was drinking my eight to 10 glasses of water and even tried to eat my two to three servings of fruits and vegetables a day.


For the next four months my husband and I prayed and educated ourselves on her condition.  On June 28, 2008 our daughter, Serena Grace “Sweet Grace” Brent was born. Doctors immediately whisked her away, allowing me to see only a glimpse of her. I missed a kiss, her cry, her touch.

For 29 days I walked through the doors of Shands Hospital singing and reading to her, whispering “I love you” in her ear. My hopeful eyes looked into her brave soul, praying that she would get better.

On July 27, 2008, we lost our “Sweet Grace” to complications surrounding her condition.  She took her last breath in my arms, the arms that never had a chance to hold her until that moment.

Devastated, empty and heartbroken, I tried to fight off depression and grief. My husband and I had experienced a tragedy. Our lives were affected, our marriage was tested.  But we fought and prayed because we knew that Serena’s memories would live through our love.

We are thankful for the bereavement services we received through Capital Area Healthy Start. They really made a difference in keeping our family strong. I am also thankful for the relationship between Healthy Start and the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review (FIMR). Their monthly meetings that review every infant death case to try to address any contributing factors and prevent tragedies in the future are a blessing for families and the community.

Sharia with her husband and two children

Today we have two healthy children, but not a day goes by that we don’t think about Serena. She lives in our hearts forever.

Healthy Start offers prenatal help to all pregnant moms. Services include childbirth classes, in-home support services, breastfeeding classes, parenting support, bereavement counseling and much more. Healthy Start is for every mom and baby and there is no charge for services. Just say “Yes,” when asked if you want to give your baby a Healthy Start.

Roll up your sleeve to get the flu vaccine

Guest post by Florida Surgeon General John H. Armstrong, MD, FACS

Every day, I join 17,000 health professionals in the Department of Health by rolling up my sleeves to continue our work to improve the health of Floridians. On one of these days each fall, I roll up my sleeve to get vaccinated against the flu.

The flu is more than just an inconvenient cold. It’s a serious illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms and may even lead to death. The flu affects both children and adults of all ages, yet getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to safeguard yourself, your family, and your community from the consequences of flu. During this holiday season, you want to share happy moments with family and friends, not the flu.

The flu shot is one way to get the flu vaccine

The flu vaccination changes each year, so you need to get a new shot annually to be protected. Think of it as a holiday gift to yourself and your family!

If you still haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, no worries–if you get your vaccination now, you’ll still be protected during the holidays, as well as the peak flu months of January and February.

FluMist is another way to get the flu vaccine. It is inhaled through the nose.

As Floridians, the health of our state is in our own hands. Exercising healthy habits, such as regular and thorough hand washing, getting appropriately vaccinated and staying home when you’re sick can keep Florida’s communities flu-free throughout the holidays and year-round.

I encourage you and all Floridians, as soon as possible, to roll up your own sleeves, just for a brief moment, to get a flu shot and a full year of protection.

For more information, watch DOH’s ‘Flu Season is Here Again’ video and visit DOH’s ‘Fight the Flu’ page.

A Child Born from the Heart

Guest post by Mike Carroll, DCF SunCoast Regional Managing Director and father of one biological child and one adopted child.

Mike's biological daughter and adopted son

When our son Jason was younger, he described his adoption like this: “My sister Sami came from mommy’s belly, and I came from mommy’s heart.”

Last week in Tampa DCF’s SunCoast Region celebrated National Adoption Month with adoptions of more than 80 children. This was literally a life changing day for these children and their families with many smiles and even some tears shared by all. It’s also one of those days that you really appreciate working in child welfare.

This day also gave me pause to reflect on the life-altering experience my family went through when we finalized the adoption of our son Jason. To steal a line from Tom Cruise, my wife Debbie, my daughter Sami, and I would simply say that Jason “completed” us.  We wouldn’t be the same without him!

Another big time in our lives was the first time we had to sit Jason down and explain who his birth parents were. We were nervous wrecks wondering if he would still love us the same. When we were done with the family meeting, Jason had tears in his eyes and asked if this meant he had to go live with somebody else. Of course, we said that would never, ever happen. We would always be his mom and dad and sister. Jason stood up, smiled, and said, “Ok, can I go back outside to play with my friends?” Our hearts were full.

I believe that children are a gift and those who come to you through adoption are a very special gift indeed. It is a gift that will keep giving the rest of your life! I would like to personally congratulate all 80 children and their families who received this gift last Friday. If you have ever considered adoption, please visit Explore Adoption to learn more.

Giving and receiving

Guest post by Franklin Monjarrez, Executive Director of Neat Stuff Inc. This past year, more than 5,000 abused, neglected and at-risk children in Miami-Dade County visited Neat Stuff and received more than $1.3 million dollars worth of clothes and uniforms.

Early one afternoon a young boy, about 4 years old, came into our store for free clothes. He was in his PJs, his only possession. As I got closer to him I saw about 15 burns all over his small face. When he saw me he extended his arms for me to hold him.

The lady with him, his aunt who had just received temporary custody of the boy, told me I looked like his dad. The one who had caused those horrible burns on his face. The father was a crack addict and had burned the boy with a lighter.

Despite all the pain he had just gone through, this boy was just looking to give and receive love. I picked him up and played with him awhile. We gave him all the clothes and supplies he needed.

Stories like this happen all the time – the aunt bravely stepping forth to care for nephews and nieces. The grandma raising grandkids. The caring couple who takes in abused children and tenderly helps them heal. The holidays can be a hard time for these families, so we decided to make it just a little easier by organizing a turkey giveaway.

Turkeys ready for delivery to families

This past Saturday, Neat Stuff had the pleasure of sharing the joy of Thanksgiving with 111 foster care advocates and adopted families. Each family received a turkey and a grocery bag loaded with cranberry sauce, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, gravy, marshmallows and stuffing!

Our annual turkey giveway brings together the best and brightest of our Miami community.  The turkey and trimmings distribution effort was made possible by generous donations from Publix Super Market Charities, Sam’s Club and Neat Stuff’s Board of Directors.

At the store where at-risk kids can get free clothes (Franklin is in the blue Neat Stuff shirt)

Grandma Mary said it best, “For the past three years I have been coming to Neat Stuff to receive free clothes and uniforms for my grandkids. I’m so happy I was able to receive a turkey this year. This agency feels like a second home to us.”

We are so thankful for all the community partners who help us help families every day. We wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Delivering a turkey

Stuffing bags of food for families.

Neat Stuff volunteers (Franklin is in the blue Neat Stuff shirt, third from left)

The Importance of Family

Guest post by First Lady of Florida Ann Scott

First Lady Ann Scott holding her grandson shortly after his birth. Also pictured (left to right) son-in-law Pierre Guimard, daughter Allison Guimard and husband Gov. Rick Scott.

As families head into the holiday season, there are parents everywhere working to provide children with the blessings of the holidays. I know in our family the holidays mean more opportunities to enjoy time with each other, especially our 1-year-old grandson, Auguste. It is during the holiday season that we take time to truly appreciate the importance of family in our lives. While this season serves as a time for cheer, there are many children who are still waiting for the time when they can have a family of their own.

Our grandson is very blessed. He will always have a family to love him and ensure he is happy, safe and has opportunities to be successful. We know November is National Adoption Month and as it comes to a close, I am so happy to see children of all ages who will now have these same opportunities because they have been adopted into a family.

A grandmother exclaims ,"I'm going to be a new grandma!" at a recent adoption ceremony. Her son and daughter-in-law have two biological children and just finalized the adoption of two additional children.

The nearly 400 adoptions that will take place this month have brought joy and happiness into the lives of children and families across the state. I could not help but smile when I read about the excitement a mother felt when her child was adopting two children. She exclaimed, “I’m about to be a new grandma!” Moments like this make me proud to support such an amazing cause.

With just over a week left of National Adoption Month, I encourage everyone to visit and learn about the hundreds of children who still long for the love of a family. Share this information with your friends and social networks. You may have the opportunity to make a real difference in the life of a child this holiday season.