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Friday, August 02 2019

July 5, 2019

By: Staff Writer

Haines City - We had the opportunity to interview Sway’s mom, Melody, and this is what she had to say about her little boy and his best friend Kona.

NEPG: Can you tell us a little bit about Sway and Kona’s personalities?

Melody: Sway and Kona are very similar in their playful and active personalities, but mainly their mischievousness. They love being little trouble makers, especially when they are together. They have so much energy. Kona is a playful and loving black lab and pointer mix puppy. She is almost 7 months old, so she is definitely in her toddler phase. Sway is about to be 2 years old, but when he is around Kona, he definitely channels his puppy years.

NEPG: Tell me a funny story about something that happened to them.

Melody: While Ryan (Kona’s dad) was trying to potty-train Kona, there would be times when she would have accidents inside the house. If I was over at Ryan’s house with Sway, he would feel bad when Kona got in trouble for peeing in the house. So sometimes we would be sitting on the couch and they would be playing around and, all of a sudden, there would be two puddles. One for Kona and one for Sway, even though Sway was already potty-trained. So, Sway probably felt bad for his friend and so she wouldn't feel bad, he would pee too, even though he knew he was supposed to go outside.

NEPG: What are their favorite things to do as friends?

Melody: Their favorite thing to do is run around in circles after each other. Sway is tiny in comparison to Kona, but he is fast and agile. Kona is a lot bigger, but since she is a puppy, she can be clumsy at times, therefore she struggles to catch Sway. She is slowly catching up to him though. They also love to share their toys. Kona loves all of Sway’s toys and always picks one up and brings it to Sway, so he can join in on the fun. Sway tends to get jealous and tries to steal the toys from Kona. But he also doesn’t mind sharing. He just prefers to have her chase after him since he loves being faster than her.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 07:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Luke Nussmeier

Winter Haven - Nala, our household dog, is so special and unique, and she has many quirks and traits that make her uniquely and especially loved. Nala hates the water; anytime you ask her to “swim” or “bath,” or we run the bathwater, she instantly shrinks, folds her ears down, and gives those famous puppy dog eyes. Nala can be quite the rebel.

   For instance, she is not allowed to get on the sofa without being invited, and will not comfy up on it when we are around. However, whenever we return from leaving the house, we will often catch her asleep on the couch, or jumping off and looking guilty.

   Since she is allowed on it when invited, she will always put her head on our lap when we sit on the sofa and look at us with her pleading eyes, which are particularly hard to refuse.

   Nala communicates very well with her body language, and you can always tell by the way she holds her ears how she is feeling, whether they droop, are pushed forward, or laid back. Nala is such a unique and loveable animal and it’s impossible not to smile whenever she is smiling.

 About the Author: Luke Nussmeier is Nala's boy and an accounting major student at UCF.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 07:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief

Davenport - What do you do when the pain is so intense that it barely allows you to breathe? You take care of it, right? Well, that's what I did with the pain I had in my neck caused by a motor vehicle accident back in September 2018. After multiple visits to my doctor, he decided that it was time for me to seek more aggressive treatment for the pain and to improve the quality of my life, and that's when it was decided that I needed to get three cervical epidural spinal injections.

   Located in 40100 US-27, Davenport, FL 33837 is the Heart of Florida Surgical Center, the place I was sent to get these injections. I have to be honest, I was extremely concerned about getting these injections, but the moment I entered the clinic, all my concerns went away and I gave myself the opportunity to receive the treatment without having to worry or think about anything other than getting better.

   From the receptionist all the way to the recovery nurses, everyone in the clinic treated me with respect and compassion, especially when my blood pressure kept getting higher due to my anxiety. They all made sure I was comfortable enough before and after the procedure, which helped me a lot.

   If you need to get a surgical procedure done, I invite you to give them a try. You will not be disappointed. Kudos to the Heart of Florida Surgical Center team. You guys ROCK!


Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 07:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief

Kissimmee - Paradise... oh, paradise. Who wouldn't like to have the opportunity to visit paradise one day? I know, I would love to do that. But, what if I told you that you don't have to go too far to find your taste of paradise? Or, that you won't even have to "be" in paradise to feel like you are "in" paradise? Well, let me introduce to you the best thing after the microwave invention... here is the paradise fruit cup from Bahama Bucks at Sunset Walk at Margaritaville.

   This refreshing and insanely tasty treat is made from fresh cut fruits, your choice of strawberry, vanilla, or chocolate ice cream and various different sauces to top it all off. And if that isn't enough to make your mouth water, you can also choose from different choices of shakers like sprinkles, cinnamon sugar, chili salt, and sour sand. Ummmmm! Delicious, delicious! Believe me when I say that this treat is a taste of paradise nicely placed in a cup.

   If you guys want to find your place in paradise, I invite you to take a short trip to the recently opened Bahama Bucks at Sunset Walk in Margaritaville. In there, you will not only find the delicious paradise fruit cup and the best shaved-ice in the whole area, but you will also have the opportunity to meet the most amazing crew ever. I know this because I just met them and I can tell you that they are the best of the best.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 06:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief

Davenport - Some people think that once you try the New York-style pizzas, you will never go back to eating ordinary pizza. Well, I have to admit that, although I am not a pizza lover, I do love a good calzone, and when they are prepared New York style, I am even more tempted to give them a try. And that's exactly what Luke's Legendary Pizza in Davenport has to offer. When you visit Luke's Legendary Pizza, you won't be just visiting a "down to earth" restaurant; you will also be getting a taste of New York-style food right in the middle of Davenport.

   From their delicious calzones to their tasty and mouth-watering mozzarella sticks, Luke's Legendary Pizza has a great variety of dishes that will make you feel like you are in the middle of New York. And don't get me started on their customer service; this cozy in size but big in personality eatery offers some of the best customer services I have yet to experience in Northeast Polk. They may not be the fanciest restaurant in town, but they surely have the best calzones in the area... and I am very picky with my calzones, so take my word for it.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 06:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Liz Nussmeier

Winter Haven - The UPS Store located at 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd quickly became one of my favorite small businesses in Winter Haven. And yes, I did say small business. You may think, as I once did, that UPS is a mega-chain corporation that only delivers packages but, in reality, each store is an independently owned and operated franchise, and they offer more than just pickup and delivery services. UPS also offers the following: Copy, Notary, Shredding, Mailbox, Packing, and even Fingerprinting Services, as well as Office, Moving, and Packaging Supplies. Shortly after moving to this area a year ago, I was in need of someplace to make quality color copies for my own small business Paint Party. As a small business owner, I realize the struggle of the common people to make a living in the midst of a “large chain- store-mail-order-online” society. Then I found this gem and have been going there ever since. The employees at this store are always extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and quick to meet their customer’s needs. Check them out!

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 06:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Mike Ferguson

   In an era where major media outlets aren’t very trusted, local news sometimes gets a bad rap as it relates to media bias.

   Terms like “fake news” are often flung around when mentioning modern media. I would venture to say that most use that term with national cable news in mind or well-known national publications.

   While it’s impossible to completely irradiate bias from reporting, my experience in local news leads me to believe that it is pretty rare in local reporting. Unfortunately, it is often assumed that local reporters intentionally slant their coverage. In many cases, these opinions are formed from misconceptions.

   Look at the comment section on local news websites or social media pages and you’re sure to see accusations of political bias. Often times, you’ll see commenters arguing in the comment section about where the biases exist.

   One big misconception people have is that national news stories are written in local newsrooms. Although the stories appear in local papers, they’re most likely syndicated from the Associated Press, a major publication like the New York Times, Washington Post, or outlets affiliated through the same corporate owner.

   It is not uncommon for editorials to be written with a political bias, but in most cases, editorial or opinion sections are entirely separate from the newsroom. Editorial departments do weigh in on local issues and will use excerpts from previous news stories, but the conclusions drawn by the editorial section are not done in conjunction with the reporter.

   Another misnomer is that letters to the editor can show a media bias, but letters to the editor can be written by anyone and submitted to the newspaper. On any given date, one may see contrasting views on the same issue. On other days, you may even see letters to the editor written in response to previous letters.

   When it comes to newspapers, there is often variance between daily and weekly or monthly publications. The weekly or monthly publications will sometimes force reporters to wear multiple hats as a reporter and a columnist, but in most of those cases, columns pertain to local issues.

   As for local issues themselves, very few are partisan along the Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative paradigm. In most cases, local reporters do a good job of getting both sides of the issue or at least attempting to do so. With local newsrooms being slashed across the country, reporters in many cases, are having to take on more responsibility than ever before.

   Regardless of one's opinion on what is referred to often as the “mainstream media,” local journalism is still the best, most accurate way to stay informed on what’s happening in your backyard. If one takes exception to their reporting, reporters are usually willing to listen. More often than not, local journalists do their due diligence, work to get both sides of the issue and bring to light happenings -- both good and bad -- that a large segment of the public would otherwise know nothing about. They do so on modest salaries and while working odd hours.

About the Author: Mike Ferguson currently serves as the public information officer at the Haines City Police Department. A native of Polk County, Mike previously spent nearly five years as a full-time reporter at The Ledger. Mike contributes to a number of outlets and has work appearing in the Associated Press, Yahoo,, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated online among other publications. Mike earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University in 2009. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Davenport, Florida with their two children.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 06:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Aida Betancourt, Member of Editorial Board

   "Thank you for your service"... an expression often heard when anyone says they have served in the armed forces. A common response, which sometimes it almost feels like it comes out of people’s mouths automatically without understanding the meaning of service. While we truly appreciate the gesture and thought, we often wonder if people really know the problems and challenges soldiers face, not only while serving but, most importantly, once we come back home. It is imperative that we, as society members, begin to understand what our soldiers go through.

 When we sign on the dotted line, there are many unknowns, but the sense of adventure, pride, and thrill to join something bigger than ourselves is so satisfactorily overwhelming, that the unknowns and possible danger fall all the way to the bottom of the list of things to be worried or concerned about.

   Believe us when we say that, once we ship out and we step onto service grounds, the reprogramming begins, we start being wired to do as told and follow rules... we do not even own our thoughts, they now belong to Uncle Sam. The service does not care about who we are, what family we came from, our family values or lack of, our skin color, nothing... for that rewiring process to take place, nothing matters to them. Now, the majority of us who enlist are joining upon high school graduation, around 18 years old, meaning not even an adult yet. Since the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, and considering that teenagers are more emotional than rational, what do you think will happen?

   The armed forces do not allow us to develop that emotional side, we are not allowed to be in touch with our emotions, in fact, even if we wanted to, there is no time for emotions, they train us to quickly start thinking rationally. While as a soldier, this definitely helps the mission, as a human being, the emotional link is a very important piece in becoming an independent and productive person in society. This is a problem—one that is not spoken of.

   There are many steps in place to help ease the transition back into the civilian world, established health care services and other benefits that Veterans can take advantage of that have been put in place to help throughout that transition and even as a "thank you for your service." However, rarely addressed is what happens to the mind when we are forced to be rational and have been forced to suppress feelings and emotions. It’s almost as if we are expected to continue to think like a robot instead of a human being. A perfect example is what is portrayed in the Rambo movies, but the reality is we cannot go through life with suppressed feelings. Sooner or later, it will catch up to us. Sadly, this is one of the main reasons for Veteran suicides. Soldiers are coming back home to a world that never stopped in our absence, and once we are back, we are expected to jump onto its moving train like nothing ever happened.

   Now, let us throw into that package some traumatic experiences, war experiences, death of fellow soldiers, and the constant demand to be part of the world that was different than when we left. Add into that mix family expecting us to be 'the same' after all we have been through. Mix all of these ingredients together, and you have a recipe for disaster. Upon our return, people expect us to readjust as if nothing ever happened.

   The fact is no one understands what is going in our minds, mainly because not even we understand it. For God's sake, some people cannot even shed a tear when they come out of the armed forces. Can you imagine a person not able to just cry, something that is so innate, something we do as soon as we are born into this world? The truth is that our soldiers are not robots, we are human beings, completely capable of defending our country, but sometimes unable to cope with social demands. Inevitably, there are missing links—not everyone comes back the same, as everyone that goes in is at different levels of maturity... some are able to cope and canalize situations more than others. Our point here is that, the younger you are the higher, the chance of not being able to close that gap.

   Sadly, we join the armed forces wanting to belong to something greater, and then we leave it and run back to our society, our people, our family, and everything is so different that we feel lost, lonely, no defined direction, and most importantly those brothers and sisters in arms that we depended on are not there anymore; at this point, these service members ask themselves… where do I go now? Who do I turn to if I need help? What do I do with all these feelings that I don’t even know how to manage myself?

   It is very difficult to reach in for someone that does not even know their purpose, their meaning, who they are, that have lost their way... imagine how difficult it is for him/her to reach out for help. Keep in mind, we are trained to take care of others not to focus on ourselves. Remember, rational vs emotional?

   As a society, we need to create awareness of this. We need to understand more. We need to care more. We need to do more. More importantly, we also need to understand that while many come home just fine, this is not the case for all. It is not a matter of one being able to handle things better than the others, it is a matter of how one processes the change compared to the other.

   Chances are you either have a family member who served, a neighbor who served, friends who have served... chances are you know someone. Can you think of someone right now? The best way to honor those who have served is by taking action, talk to them, invite them to share some quality time with you. This will give you the opportunity to see how this person is... to see if the person seems ok, most especially, if they recently left the service and need a support system to be able to cope. Create awareness amongst the surrounding friends and family. The next thing to do is learn about the agencies that can help... we, this society, need to take more of an active role in this issue, we need to pay more attention. Granted, while this is not the ultimate solution, it can certainly help.

   The bottom line is… next time you tell someone "Thank you for your service" make sure you mean it, make sure they are not just automatic words to check that box, make sure you remember that person may not be as mentally healthy as they look. Please, keep in mind that you never know what battles that person may be going through.

   Truthfully, we need to be more compassionate, because that person that you have right in front of you may be the next Veteran at the brink of suicide, and what you say or do to actually honor their service could be the key for a better life for them and for

those around them.

Some great organizations out there where you can learn more about helping our soldiers:

* Wounded Warrior Project

* Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)

* Make the Connection

* K-9 for Warriors

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 06:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Liz Nussmeier

Lakeland - Academy of Arts, Taylors South Carolina. Never heard of it? Not surprised. Not many have around these parts, but recently Gibsonia Baptist Church in Lakeland right here in Polk County Florida hosted a group of young people for a memorable performance those of us in attendance will not soon forget.

   Marked for Greatness is a one-hour presentation about Adoniram Judson, an early American missionary to Burma. The story of his life as portrayed by the troupe was very riveting with moments of both humorous and poignant events throughout, but what I found most amazing was the caliber of the production, this group delivered, from the sound and lighting to the costumes, sets, and props.

   The cast and crew are comprised of eleven young folks ages 16-23; they are all volunteers and certainly aren’t getting paid. Despite this, they deliver a professional quality production each putting their whole heart and soul into every show, approximately 40 over a seven-week period, with only two weeks of preparation in Training Camp. Each member was hand-selected and dedicated their entire summer to be a part of this Drama Ministry, which has traveled in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, to share the Good News and encourage others in the Christian faith.

   The Academy of Arts in conjunction with the Logos Theatre, founded in 1971 by Dr. Nicky Chavers, is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to make the Bible come alive, and to this, I say, "Mission accomplished!" If you are interested in learning more about the Academy of Arts and their phenomenal theatrical performances, I invite you to visit their website at, perhaps even get on the schedule for next summer’s Drama Ministry to come to your location with Team South, a traveling theatre group with a mission!

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 05:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief

Orlando - What do Oprah Winfrey, Justin Bieber, and President Donald Trump have in common? Nothing you may say... but, I have a secret to tell you. They do have something in common... and that is that all three of them are featured in the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Orlando.

   A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit this museum for the first time, and I have to say that I enjoyed every single minute of it. I am not going to lie... at first, I felt a little uncomfortable looking around at the wax statues of all the celebrities that they have there, not because they were creepy or anything, but because they look way too similar to what these celebrities look in real life, which is scary in a sense. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time at the museum, but looking at the statues' eyes and feeling as if they were looking back at me is a feeling I wasn't too fond of.

   I have to say that visiting the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum was an experience on its own and even though I have been in other wax museums before, this particular one featured a greater variety of celebrities. I am not going to tell you who else I saw there because I don't want to spoil your visit, but one thing I do want to say is... make sure you take your camera because you will have the opportunity to be photographed with some very important people... people that, unfortunately, are no longer with us physically, but that thanks to the great work of the Madame Tussauds Museum, will live in our memory for years to come.

   If you want to know more about the museum, you can visit their website at Again, the experience is a little intimidating, but totally worth it at the same time.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 05:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Staff Writer

Davenport - This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Debra Fernandez-Martinez, Ed.S from Horizons Elementary School and this is what she shared with us:

NEPG : What's your position at the school?

Debra : I am the Dean of students at Horizons Elementary School, in Davenport, Fl.

NEPG : What are your main responsibilities?

Debra : I am responsible for processing referrals, expulsions and supervising buses. I have also implemented a Restorative Practices program at the school. This initiative encourages kids to take responsibility for their actions. Restorative discipline empowers students by helping them to learn from their mistakes in a school environment that is caring and responsive. Restorative discipline focuses on relationships and community, rather than on punishment (often isolation) for breaking rules. The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm, and restore relationships. Conflict resolution provides students with problem-solving and self-control skills. My goal is to teach young people how to manage potential conflict, diffuse situations, assuage hurt feelings and reduce any inclination to retaliate after a conflict.

NEPG : How do you manage the different personalities among your students to make an impact on their lives?

Debra : To manage the different personalities, I encourage teachers and school staff to mentor students. These students oftentimes can make a personal connection with the mentor that assists in ensuring the success of that student.

NEPG : Tell me a story about a time in which your leadership approach made an impact on a kid's life.

Debra : I began mentoring multiple siblings that came to our school after losing both of their parents. They came to us with behavior problems. The youngest was a runner, he would run out of his classroom, lunchroom etc. The middle and oldest were ready to curse out and fight anyone including adults in authority. I realized that conventional discipline was not going to work with these students, such as time-out or detention. Instead, we began to meet with them individually, paired them up with a mentor and, in some cases, more than one. I encouraged several teachers to assist me in trying to ‘reach’ these boys. Make them care about their education. I modified their schedules, allowing them to spend time in another classroom helping younger students. During their lunch, I would meet with them. I allowed them to have lunch with me and assist me with other students. When they did break the rules, I held them accountable for their actions and we discussed the infraction and the reason it occurred, then we came up with a solution or consequence that fit the infraction. This way, they took responsibility for their actions. Two of the three boys are doing very well in school. One of them has moved on to middle school. The two boys have become model students and now have very good grades.

NEPG : Tell me a little bit about your family and how you manage your professional and personal lives without allowing one to affect the other?

Debra : I began teaching in 1998 in New York City. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Special Studies (with a major in English Education). I later moved with my family to Broward County, FL. I continued teaching elementary school then middle school. I earned my master’s from Nova Southeastern University in ESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) in 2006. I later earned a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration in 2016. I am married and a mother to a 17-year-old female High School Athlete. I have always balanced career and motherhood simultaneously.

NEPG : What are your plans for the next school year as a leader in your school/community?

Debra : Next school year, I plan to continue working closely with students and their mentors. I am currently working on formalizing a mentoring program at Horizons Elementary. I also plan to expand the program to include inviting parents and community members to take part in workshops throughout the school year that will enrich the experience for our students.

NEPG : What message would you like to share with your students to help them achieve their goals?

Debra : I would like for my students to have confidence and believe that a setback can be a set up for a comeback. My goal is for students to become successful not just in school but in society and make positive contributions to the community in which they live.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 05:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019

August 2, 2019

By: Staff Writer

Davenport - This month, on The Student Leader of the Month,  we want to feature a brilliant student from Horizon's Elementary School in Davenport. Meet Roodny Jeanty.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Roodny, and this is what he shared with us:

NEPG : Which grade are you attending right now?

Roodny:  I am currently in the 5th grade. I will be attending Boone Middle School next school year.

NEPG :What leadership position are you responsible for?

Roodny : I am currently a student mentor. I also assist with students in the cafeteria and during dismissal.

NEPG : Tell me about how your leadership approach has influenced others around you.

Roodny : I model positive behavior by being respectful and confident. Students tend to want to help others by the way I treat them. This has motivated them to emulate my positive behavior as well as improve their grades. I have influenced other students to do the right thing. I read to the kindergarteners and assist them with their sight words. I conference with students that are having a hard time in class or at school.

NEPG : What are your plans for the rest of the summer?

Roodny : My plans for the summer include babysitting my younger brother, as well as my older sister's kids.

NEPG : What would be your message for younger kids who are planning on taking a leader's role within their school/community?

Roodny : My message for younger kids is for them not to be afraid of taking chances and focus on their school work. Students should not be afraid of bullies and, as a bystander, always tell an adult. My personal motto is to always treat others the way you would like to be treated. That is the golden rule and that rule goes a long way when it is time for others to help you.

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 05:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 02 2019


By: Staff Writer

Lakeland - In October 1960, only a couple of months after graduating from high school, John Hillery, one of the most highly decorated soldiers who is currently living in Polk County, joined the military. After completing his training, he was sent to Ft. Carlson, CO and, shortly after, was shipped to Auburg Germany, where he met his first wife. At that time, John was a K-9 handler for the U.S. Army.

   After completing his assignment in Germany, John came back to the United States and was sent to Ft. Ord, California where he was assigned to a unit that was scheduled to deploy to Vietnam. And that was where John's real taste of the military began.

   Shortly after arriving in Vietnam in 1965, John lost his K-9 in a minefield. According to John, the minefield was said to be cleared, but his dog found one, which killed him instantly.

   Not long after losing his K-9, John was injured, for the first time, and was sent back to Ft. Gordon, GA to attend his injuries. He spent close to nine months at the Eisenhower Army Medical Center attending his injuries and getting ready to be reassigned to a new unit. After getting better, John was reassigned to a base in Alaska to a unit that was, again, getting ready to deploy… and in 1968, John found himself on his way back to Vietnam, just to find himself getting wounded, again.

   After recovering from his injuries at a hospital in Japan, John decided that it was time to take himself out of the field, and asked to be reassigned to a base stateside. “I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I asked to be taken out of the field,” said John with tears in his eyes.

   In 1982, John was sent to Ft. Benning, GA where he met his second wife, Karin, and where he started his retirement process, which was finalized in January 1984.

   After retiring, John and his new wife moved to his hometown in Polk County, where he tried to work in different jobs, just to find himself struggling with the transition from military to civilian life. “When I came back home, I struggled so much with the transition. I had a hard time getting used to going from a soldier to a 'nobody.' It was tough and it took me a while to get used to it, but with the help of my wife, I was able to do it,” said John looking straight at his wife, and again, with tears in his eyes. There is common knowledge that behind every strong man, there is an even stronger woman, and in this case, Karin was that strong woman that helped John find his way back into society.

 John’s injuries in combat made him a recipient of the Purple Heart award, which is considered the 5th highest award in the military and one that is only awarded to men and women who have been either injured or killed in combat. But it was John’s experience in the military that made him the man he is today… a man with a strong sense of patriotism and with a superb commitment to his community. This commitment has pushed him to join many great organizations in the area; one of them being The Military Order Purple Heart Chapter 535-FL-4.

   The Military Order Purple Heart Chapter 535-FL-4 was originally chartered on May 1st, 1992, and was re-named, the Harry R. Alexander Memorial Chapter 535- FL-4, on November 4th. 2017, in honor of World II U.S. Navy Veteran, Chapter Junior Vice Commander, Patriot Harry R. Alexander. For many years, John has served his community as the Junior Vice Commander for this chapter, which is located in Lakeland, FL.

   The Military Order of the Purple Heart is a congressionally chartered United States War Veterans organization. Headquartered just outside Washington, D.C., it has a membership of approximately 45,300 Veterans.

   One of John’s major accomplishments within his community is the creation of a leadership recognition award for Junior ROTC cadets, whose main purpose is to recognize top students among high schools in the area by bringing awareness on the importance of patriotism among our youth.

   The truth is that speaking with John was a very rewarding experience. As a Purple Heart recipient, John represents what a hero truly is, but it’s his commitment to his country, to his fellow Veterans, and mostly, to the youth that makes him one of the most remarkable residents in our community.

   When asked about what he would tell a child who would like to join the military when he/she grows up, John didn’t hesitate to give us his opinion…. “If a young man or woman asks me if he/she should join the military, I would say go for it, because the people you will meet and the people you will serve with will become your family during your entire military career.” He proceeded to say… “We became a country by fighting together, and we will remain a country by continuing fighting together.”

And before he concluded the interview, John had a message for parents… “If you want your sons or daughters to turn into a man or a woman in less than eight weeks, tell them to join the military.”

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 04:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 01 2019


By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief

Haines City – Great news! On August 1st, at the City Commission meeting, in the presence of community leaders, city employees and community Veterans, the City of Haines City was designated as a Purple Heart City. A representative from The Northeast Gazette was present during the meeting and witnessed how representatives from the Harry R. Alexander Memorial Chapter 535-FL-4, a local chapter for the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A., Commander Stewart (Steve) H. Hillman and Jr. Vice Commander John L. Hillery proudly and honorably received the proclamation from the hands of Haines City Mayor Morris L. West.

   The proclamation reads as follow: “The State of Florida has been designated by the Florida State Legislature, a Purple Heart State, honoring the service and sacrifices of our nation’s men and women in uniform who were wounded or killed by the enemy while serving to protect the freedom enjoyed by all Americans. Therefore, be it proclaimed, by the city of Haines City, Florida that honor and gratitude be bestowed upon the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Harry R. Alexander Memorial Chapter 535-FL-4, recognizing the City of Haines City as a Purple Heart City in the State of Florida.”

  During the meeting, Mayor West made an emphasis on how proud he was of handling the proclamation. “The State of Florida is now a purple heart city and that’s thanks to the soldiers and the sacrifices they made. Some of them came back injured and some of them never made it back home. Thank you all for the honor you brought back to this great country so, we thank you for your sacrifices and your service,” said Mayor West while handling the proclamation to the MOPH representatives.

   After receiving the plaque and thanking Mayor West, Jr. Vice Commander Hillery took the stand to say a few words. "I am very honored to stand here to receive this document that you and your commissioners have written for us. We are very humbled by your support in relation to the job that you are doing for this community and we are very grateful for the wording of this proclamation that acknowledges the sacrifices of our combat wounded veterans here in Haines City and in the surrounding areas. I feel personally honored to be in this ceremony. I am sure all the Veterans of Haines City and its surrounding areas are proud to know that Haines City FL supports the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Thank you very much.” 

   As a Veteran Owned Business, we want to congratulate the community of Haines City and its veterans for this recognition. From the bottom of our hearts, we want to say… Thank You For Your Service and Thank You for Your Sacrifices.

   We honor you and we will never forget. 

Posted by: Content Coordinator AT 08:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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