Category Archives: Culture & Charity

Living Room Theater fuses authenticity and fun

Bear, Dog and Otter — collectively known as Living Room Theater — are systematically occupying Central Florida homes for evening gatherings of captivating engagement and heart-stirring pathos.

The Orlando-based immersive theater troup — Tisse Mallon (Bear), Jack Graham (Dog) and Banks Helfrich (Otter) — act out performance pieces, personal reflections and conversations that are profoundly human and ring with truth.

The performances are remarkable as much in what they do as what they don’t do. The three players don’t recite practiced lines of dialog or monologue, they don’t involve their audiences in interactive exercises and they don’t leave viewers with pat answers or easy lessons learned.

“Paths of absurdity, raw truth and love intersect as Bear, Otter and Dog invite you into a living room to share vignettes reflecting upon our humanity,” LRT’s promotional text says. “Through pensive to comical conversations, experimental performance pieces and live instrumentals, a story emerges. No two shows alike.”

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Randa Black recently was host of an LRT event at her place in Maitland.

Living Room Theater seeks out hosts who invite friends to an evening of food, drinks and the comfortable camaraderie of couches and chairs. Preparing a carefully curated half-dozen vignettes, LRT players rehearse loosely and privately before each show. After that, spontaneity rules in their live pieces: They search for words, self-edit, backtrack, clarify thoughts and amplify nuanced meanings. They argue, in the way close friends do, in trying both to explain themselves and to understand each other’s ideas and expression as they interact. The result has the unmistakable ring of believability.

Now Living Room Theater is coming to the 2016 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, which starts on Wednesday, May 18. The Fringe — held each May — is more than two weeks of theater, music, dance, and fine arts. Orlando’s was the first American Fringe Festival and has become one of the largest. (See http://orlandofringe.org for locations and lineups.)

In following up with LRT, we asked founder Tisse Mallon a few probing questions:

JT: How did this start, and how long have you three been doing LRT?

TM: My main work is I’m a life coach. I call myself a holistic lifestyle teacher, and one of the things I’m constantly telling my clients is, if you have an idea, if you have something that makes you happy, don’t wait. Just go do it. All of a sudden a few months ago, I realized, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been sitting on this idea for five or six years, I’m just going to go do it.”

Especially when Jack and Banks came into my life, I just felt like it was the right time for this. Now, in retrospect, I know that it couldn’t have happened without them. I told Banks about the idea and Jack about the idea, and they were both into it right away. When we started, I told them, “I don’t want to take forever to rehearse before we put something out there. I want to jump right into it, I just want to go do it and we’re going to fail our way forward. That’s how we’re going to learn, and that’s how we’re just going to dive into it.”

We just fell in love with it right away, and these last few months that we’ve been doing it, we’ve done more thank 50 performances and we have developed more thank 350 vignettes. We’re loving it.

JT: Why do you hold the performances in random living rooms? Why is the show always on the road instead of at a fixed location?

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Tisse Mallon grills Banks Helfrich about what he really means to say.

TM: This is how it happens. We go from living room to living room to living room. We are not intending to end up on a stage. That’s because we feel there is something really special that happens in an intimate environment where there is no delineation between audience and stage and the audience is a group of familiar people who have a shared experience. That’s the general concept of the show. We try to honor three things in each and every one of our pieces: fun, connection and authenticity.

JT: How do you find venues? How do you find homes to do it in?

TM: Right now it’s been mostly word of mouth, a little bit of Facebook, and when we invite people to shows, we at the end of the show, we invite that audience then to have one in their homes, and so then they can book with us. It’s easy to book online, we just have a simple form that they fill out with dates that are available, or when they see me, I pull out my calendar, throw them on, and it’s a done deal.

JT: How large and audience and how small an audience have you gotten? What’s the biggest and what’s the smallest?

TM: The smallest we have gotten is about five people. The smallest we really want to be doing is about eight people. The largest we’ve done so far has been 30, 33. That’s been great. We’re willing to take it up to 50. At 50, that’s where we’re doubtful as to how much of the intimacy will be lost. We’re willing to try out 50, but we haven’t gotten there yet.

JT: Before we saw LRT at Randa’s house, I had assumed there would be more audience participation, sort of like Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding. I  said, “Don’t sit in front — I’ll get called on.”

TM: As to why we are immersive but not participatory — We want the experience to be pressure-free for the audience. Not having to worry about being picked on, singled out, asked to do anything or potentially embarrassed in any way allows them to comfortably enjoy the show and be more in the moment with us.

JT: What’s it like to work so closely with such a small troupe?

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Jack brings his solid musicianship to the evening. Lyrics and tunes are in perfect harmony.

TM: We’re all writers,  so for all of our little vignettes we keep creating new ideas and coming up with different things. We’ve found that we have quite a passion for it, and we’ve created a database where we’re constantly plugging stuff in. When we have a show coming up we sit down and we look at the list and we’re like, “What do we want to play with tonight?” This show was made just for you. It will never be repeated again

That’s one of the things that I find really beautiful about what we’re playing with here: The more honest each one of us is willing to be about what we’re dealing with, what we’re thinking about, what we’re feeling, the more we’ll connect. Because we’re all so much alike, and it’s sometimes difficult to remember that as we go about our lives. The moment that somebody’s willing to speak it, you see a sea of people that go, “Me too.” That’s really nice. It’s, I think, a fringe benefit of doing this type of work that you see how not alone you are.

JT: Why identify as the animal characters? Why don’t you use your real names?

TM: The reason that we do that is, with personal names, it’s so easy for any of us to have an association with a name. Like “Jack.” Maybe you have a brother or a friend or a neighbor named Jack, so as soon as we call his character, “Jack,” now all of a sudden you’re thinking about that relationship with your Jack. It pulls you out of the moment. We wanted something that would be neutral but still would honor who were are. Banks, when we first started this, asked us all what animal are you? That was really easy for all of us right away. I’m like, “I’m a bear.” Jack’s like, “I’m a dog.” Banks said, “I’m an otter.” People know kind of the spirit of the animal, but they don’t have strong, strong associations with it.

 

Top 5 things to know about Invictus Games 2016 in Orlando!

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When His Royal Highness, Prince Harry of Wales, announced last July that the Invictus Games were coming to Orlando, we were immediately onboard.  What an honor! [And in case you hadn’t heard, the Invictus Games are coming to Central Florida!] This inspiring adaptive sports event for wounded warriors of all kinds will begin at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex this Sunday, Mother’s Day, May 8th beginning with a grand Opening Ceremony on May 8th at 6pm and is almost SOLD OUT!

[Click here for full schedule]

We’ve been sworn to secrecy about the details but what we can tell you… the Invictus Games’ Opening Ceremonies are going to HUUUUGE. Alongside military performances and shared stories from Veterans and Active Duty members from around the world, Prince Harry, First Lady Michelle Obama (What up, FLOTUS?!), James Blunt, Laura Wright and more surprise guests will be in attendance at this one-of-a-kind event.

Also very cool to note, the Invictus Games will be preceded by The Invictus Games Symposium on Invisible Wounds, presented by the George W. Bush Institute. (Former President Bush also serves as Honorary Chairman for the Invictus Games Orlando 2016.) The symposium will focus on understanding the multiple facets of invisible wounds and how the warriors, caregivers, general public, providers, and influencers each play an important role in helping servicemen and women succeed. Many see the visible wounds of combat but many never think of the psychological ones – PTSD and brain trauma among them – that follow these folks home, and for the rest of their lives.

Athletes, caregivers, medical and policy experts, and providers will discuss such topics as; Understanding the Impact of Invisible Wounds, Recognizing the Need for Help, Overcoming the Barriers to Seeking Care, Navigating and Improving the Systems of Care and Addressing Invisible Wounds.  You can sign up to livestream the symposium here before Sunday’s Opening Ceremonies.

Invictus Games Orlando 2016 Map

Fourteen nations will be competing this weekend including; Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States! (Iraq was supposed to as well but could not attend.) Of the 500 competitors, 115 Servicewomen and men will represent the United States!

The first Invictus Games began in 2014 after His Royal Highness, Prince Harry of Wales, took a trip to the Warrior Games here in the United States. After seeing how the power of sport could help Servicemembers with life-changing injuries (visible or otherwise), he decided London would host the Inaugural Invictus Games internationally.

The word ‘invictus‘ is a Latin adjective which means unconquered. As Prince Harry has said, “These Games have shone a spotlight on the ‘unconquerable’ character of service men and women and their families and their ‘Invictus’ spirit. These Games have been about seeing guys sprinting for the finish line and then turning round to clap the last man in. They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together, not wanting to come second, but not wanting the other guys to either. These Games have shown the very best of the human spirit.

InvicTip: Check out English poet William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus, which was written while the author was in the hospital battling tuberculosis.

As if this all of this wasn’t enough of a reason to attend, watch and support the Invictus Games Orlando 2016, here are five more:

1. Sports!

Longtime fans of sports in general already love to watch sports and attend games in person. Of the ten competitive events at Invictus Games 2016; archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, track and field, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and wheelchair tennis, we’re sure you’ll find a new favorite.

2. #MoreThanThankYou is more than [a] hashtag

Anytime one sees a Servicewoman or man in uniform, we’ve all grown accustomed to thanking them for their service to our country. Of course these more than just words, and we’re sure those in uniform (and their families) thank you for the gratitude. A gentleman named Ken Fisher, Chairman and CEO of Fisher House Foundation, challenges all of us to say more than ‘thank you’ by attending the Games and sharing the story of a friend or family member, Active Duty or Veteran, on Instagram using the hashtag #MoreThanThankYou.

InvicTip: Read my exclusive interview with Fisher House Foundation CEO, Ken Fisher, on wearables4good.org!

3. The Competition is REAL – ask the UK and Canada!

Uh oh. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dropped the mic, and the gauntlet. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness, Prince Harry have something to say about this…

As does Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau

Oh SNAP! It’s ON like Donkey Kong.

4. Ticket prices are very reasonable

A single event ticket for adults is only $18, and Seniors are only $13. Children ages 3-9 are $13. (Under 3 is FREE) Active Duty military and Veteran tickets are only $13. Tickets for Opening Ceremonies on May 8th cost $65, and Closing Ceremonies on May 12th at 6pm cost $45. Keep in mind, the ticket prices we’ve listed are per event. You will need more than one ticket if attending more than one event. General Parking at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex is FREE, valet services will be available for an unconfirmed fee. [Click here for WWoS Guest Services and further information.]

For those wanting to stay over, Walt Disney World Resort room reservation agents are available from Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM Eastern time, along with Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM Eastern time by calling (407) 939-4686. Rooms are available at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort for $178 per night plus tax and Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort for $113 per night plus tax bit with TurboTax.Intuit.com, you get a groupon discount on taxes.

InvicTip: Archery Finals, Sitting Volleyball Semis & Finals, Wheelchair Rugby Semis & Finals, Wheelchair Tennis Semis & Finals, and Wheelchair Basketball Finals are very close to selling out according to Ticketmaster’s site. Act FAST!

5. If you can’t attend physically, you can watch & support virtually!

We’d love to see you here in Orlando but understand if you or your family can’t physically make this year’s Invictus Games. You can still watch the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 LIVE online and on ESPN 2 & 3 via the app or on TV. You can also participate by following #InvictusOrlando on their official social channels: 

We also encourage you to support the Games beyond their visit to Orlando, and learn more about the Invictus Games Foundation by clicking here. Next year’s games will be in Toronto, Canada! Perhaps we’ll be visiting readers in our Neighbors to the North next year?

2016 Invictus Games viewing schedule:

Date Time (ET) Event/Commentators Network
Sun, May 8 8 – 10 p.m. Opening Ceremony ESPN2
Mon, May 9 8 – 11 a.m. Powerlifting Finals  ESPN3
  1:30 – 4:30 p.m. Rowing Finals  ESPN3
7 – 10:30 p.m. Archery Finals  ESPN3
  7 – 8 p.m. Day 1 Primetime Show  ESPN2
Tue, May 10 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Track & Field Finals  ESPN3
2 – 4:30 p.m. Sitting Volleyball Semifinals  ESPN3
  7 – 9:30 p.m. Sitting Volleyball Gold & Bronze Matches ESPN3
7 – 8:30 p.m. Day 2 Primetime Show  ESPN
Wed, May 11 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Swimming Finals  ESPN3
2 – 4:30 p.m. Wheelchair Rugby Semifinals  ESPN3
  7:30 – 11p.m. Wheelchair Rugby Gold & Bronze Medal Matches & Exhibition  ESPN3
7 – 8 p.m. Day 3 Primetime Show  ESPN2
Thur, May 12 8 – 10 a.m. Wheelchair Tennis Final  ESPN3
  10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Wheelchair Basketball Semifinals  ESPN3
  2 – 4 p.m. Wheelchair Basketball Gold & Bronze Medal Matches  ESPN3
  7 – 10 p.m. Closing Ceremony ESPN2
Sun, May 13 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Encore Presentation Primetime Show ABC

See you this weekend!

 

Top 5 Must Dos at an Orlando City Soccer Club Match

With the Lions now in their second season in Major League Soccer, I am sure most of you have been to a match. For those of you that haven’t, what are you waiting for? I went to my first match five years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

In fact, I have abandoned all other sports because I don’t have time for them. But I place a bet on sports at https://uk.mansionbet.com/sports/boxing/ occasionally. There is so much soccer all over the world that I am never bored. Trust me when I tell you, it only takes one match to hook you and I hope this is your year if you have never been.  With that said, here are my “Top 5” MUST DOs at an Orlando City Soccer Club match.

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  1. Tailgate – This is an absolute MUST. It is hands down the most American thing about the beautiful game here in Orlando. Tailgates are a wonderful way to warm up before a match. Great food, great people, and beer! There are a number of lots around the Citrus Bowl where people come together two, three, sometimes six hours before the kick-off for some pre-match shenanigans! However, I have to say (with bias!), no one does it up quite like the supporters in Lot 11. With $5 donation for all you can eat food, and an open cooler policy, there is no place I would rather be!
Photo Credit: Ish Shah

Crawfish… YUM! Photo Credit: Ish Shah

Watch the march in – This has been a tradition since the early days of United Soccer League for the Orlando City supporters. About an hour before kick-off, you can hear the beating of the drums and the chants beginning to rise above Lot 11. After some chants and a toast to get the blood pumping, the march begins to defend our home, and “Man The Wall”.

The procession is a short one from Lot 11 to Gate C of the Citrus Bowl, but that doesn’t stop the supporters from putting on a show. The chants, drums, and purple smoke fill the air as hundreds of fans line the path shooting pictures and taking video.

Photo Credit: Orlando City SC

Photo Credit: Orlando City SC (Can you spot me?)

Visit The Wall – The Supporter Section (aka The Wall) is a general admission area. You do need to have a ticket to get into the section, but you are able to stand on the rail at the top of the section. When I first started going to Orlando City matches back in 2011, I sat at midfield.

After one trip to the supporters section halfway through the 2011 season, I was hooked, and I have been there ever since. The energy and passion in The Wall is unmatched anywhere in the State of Florida. I will even go so far as to say that it is unmatched anywhere in the country outside of Portland or Seattle.

OCSC ​Anthony in The Wall

Take a walk around the Citrus Bowl – The newly renovated Citrus Bowl, you are able to walk around the entire stadium below the plaza level. This is awesome because you can get different views of the action on the pitch throughout the match. It’s nice to see a different perspective from time to time. So get out of your seat for a little while and take in the views.  Who knows, you might just find a new section for your season tickets!

OCSC ​Darwin Ceren with Ruckus at Tailgate

Wait for the players after the match – When the match is over, don’t just make a beeline for your car, especially if you have kids. Wait around a bit for the stadium to clear out, then head down to the south end of the stadium. Once you exit the stadium, hang a right and just passed the press entrance, you will see a small gated lot on your right. Security will be there keeping an eye on the handful of expensive luxury cars, this is the players lot. When it comes to player/fan interactions, the Orlando City players are a class act. On any given night after a match, you can get autographs and selfies with any if not all of the players. Even if you just want a fist bump and to say hi, they are always ready to greet the fans.

 

 

Orlando City SunRail

Like I’ve said, if you haven’t made it to a match yet, what are you waiting for? The Lions will be back home at the Citrus Bowl on May 6th, as they take on the New York Red Bulls. Kick-Off is set for 7:30, and there are still good seats available.  Visit http://orlandocitysc.com/tickets for more info.

Vamos Orlando!

 

Paws for Peace Walk helps all Survivors of domestic abuse

All paws on deck for this Saturday’s Paws for Peace Walk 2016! Take a fun stroll through Blue Jacket Park with your whole family – furry and not so furry – help raise awareness for TWO great causes; Harbor House of Central Florida and Paws For Peace Kennel at Harbor House! (Details below)

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When thinking of a Survivor of domestic abuse most only think of the humans affected, particularly the small ones. In this country, a woman is battered by her partner every 15 seconds. What happens to the family pet(s) in this situation? Enter: Paws For Peace Kennel.

After years of planning and fundraising, Harbor House of Central Florida’s Paws for Peace Kennel officially opened on December 6, 2012. It is a 1,500 square foot state of the art facility located on site at Harbor House’s confidential Emergency Shelter, which features grooming area, exam room, 20 kennels (for dogs and cats), and space for other smaller, pocket pets such as hamsters, ferrets and birds.
Paws for Peace 3 Sheehan
Day to day operations are supported by the annual Paws For Peace Walk as well as by donor contributions throughout the year. Harbor House is the only shelter in Central Florida with an on site kennel for pets, ensuring no family member is left behind in an abusive home.
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How can YOU participate? Register your human and/or anipal family here: harborhousefl.com/pawswalk! 100% of the proceeds from this walk will go to fund Survivors and their pets staying in Harbor House of Central Florida’s Safe Short Term Housing.
Harbor House Paws for Peace

Details:

What: Paws For Peace 2016 Walk

Where: Blue Jacket Park

(North corner of General Rees Avenue and Lower Park Road)

Map2501 General Rees Avenue 

Orlando, Florida 32814

When: Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Registration opens at 8am, the Walk begins at 9am.

Orlando Anarchy: Women’s Professional Tackle Football in our backyard

If we were to ask you, “Hey Top 5 reader! Who’s your favorite WFA team?” The best response would be “That’s a no brainer, the Orlando Anarchy are MY TEAM!” What is the WFA and who are the Orlando Anarchy?

Answers to both questions are simple; The Orlando Anarchy are Orlando’s only professional female tackle FOOTBALL TEAM! No flags, powder puffs or bikinis here, folks. The ladies of Orlando Anarchy hit the gridiron to play, and boy do they play hard! They are in it to WIN IT.

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Orlando’s own Gridiron Girls, the Orlando Anarchy! [Photo credit: Orlando Anarchy]

The Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) was designed to create the largest and most competitive women’s tackle football league in the world.  Women’s tackle football teams and leagues have been in existence for over four decades, but the most promising growth in the sport – both in the number of teams and in the level of competition – has taken place over the last five years,” says the Women’s Football Alliance‘s official website.

We had the great opportunity to sit down with Orlando Anarchy owner and defensive line(wo)man, #52, the amazing Melinda Sparks, to ask her about The Anarchy and pick her brain about the state of women’s athletics today. (She’s also a player!)

Orlando Anarchy Helmet

TOP 5: Tell us a little about the Orlando Anarchy!

Melinda: The Orlando Anarchy began the summer of 2009. The former Orlando Mayhem owner did not wish to continue with a team. The players wished to continue a team in Orlando and move to the WFA (Women’s Football Alliance ). The transition to the WFA (Women’s Football Alliance ) required the team getting a new name.

There was a “MAYHEM” team; the Minnesota Mayhem in the WFA. While discussing a change in name Coach Chaves said, “Ya know…once you have had Mayhem…there is nowhere to go but Anarchy.” (grin) The Orlando Anarchy began with the WFA in the 2010 season. In the 2010 season the Orlando Anarchy was the Southern Division Wildcard winner.

TOP 5: What does playing (women’s) football mean to you? When did you start playing and why?

MELINDA: Playing football to me is so part of growing up. In my neighborhood all sport games had a tackle element. Basketball, Softball, and others sports were played hard. And as a kid everyone played football. You had to get everyone involved so there were enough players; so in that way we were ahead of the gender curve.

You always had someone’s sister joining in because we needed players. But then in High School the brakes were put on that idea. The high school football coach wanted me to play…but this was before Title IX came to fruition. And the School Board said NO to a girl playing football. So, there went my football playing days.

Anarchy team meeting - they're going to get 'em! (Photo credit: Orlando Anarchy)

Anarchy team meeting – they’re going to get ’em! (Photo credit: Orlando Anarchy)

To be able to play today is twofold – I really am a kid on the field; sometimes the grin is difficult to hide. And I know I have to work to make it possible for every young lady who wants to play, can play football.

TOP 5: What is your general take on women’s sports? Is the phrase “playing like a girl” offensive or empowering?

MELINDA: Women’s sports, unfortunately, are defined by media and large sponsors. Both the media and sponsors hold the keys to all women’s sports growing. There are exceptions in different communities. But those communities have strong individuals that make the difference like Central Florida Top 5!

There is a change happening this year. The Women’s World Football Games III was held in the New Orleans Training facility this past March. There were 203 women from all over the world that came together to train for one week with the best coaches in a NFL training facility.
The New Orleans Saints made the step up to the plate to recognize that women want to play football at the next level. (Read more about this here: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/Day-1-Womens-World-Football-Games/aef71ae3-b619-41fe-bb72-8fd67ba2934c)

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I hope the sport continues to notice this growth. And any person that wants to play a sport should be able to find a league for them. And yes, if you come to our games, you can yell, “You play like a girl.” It is a good thing.

TOP 5: The Orlando Anarchy were the subject of a locally produced documentary, Gridiron Girlswhich premiered at Enzian Theater. How was this experience? For those who have seen it, what has changed since filming ended?

MELINDA: This film indeed was a labor of love. These gentlemen [Co-Directors Jason Kovacsev and John Schaub, Producer Matt Mamula and the crew] became the “12th Woman” of the Orlando Anarchy Women’s Football Team. They were such a regular sight on the sideline that players would ask where they were if they did not attend a game. We got to see their children grow up over the three and one half years they worked on making the film. 

The film captures the struggle of the Orlando Anarchy and ALL women’s football teams across the nation.

Since the filming has ended…we miss the guys. They really became family. The struggles are still the same for the Orlando Anarchy. We need funding; we need players; we need equipment like faceoff heads; ect.
Everyone that has seen the film says the same thing, “WOW, I loved the film. I didn’t know you played real football.” And to that I always say, “Yes, we play real football.”

TOP 5: How can we find out more about Orlando Anarchy’s tryouts, games and community projects?

MELINDA: We love and need our fans. We have the first game of the 2016 this Saturday, April 16th, 2016 at 7:00 PM at Trinity Prep. [Directions via Google Maps: Trinity Prep 5700 Trinity Prep Lane Winter Park, FL 32792]

We need the word of mouth and the promotion of Central Florida Top 5 and other media outlets to reach out to the community. There is no budget for paid promotion so the Orlando Anarchy depends on the word of mouth for people to discover us. Keep checking the web site www.cfanarchy.com and our Facebook page Orlando Anarchy https://www.facebook.com/OAfootball/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/cfanarchy

We always need volunteers and we are always looking for new players. Please reach out to us at contact@cfanarchy.com.

World Down Syndrome Day & A TRULY Special Delivery

The kind folks at Truly Nolen of Orlando recently introduced us to a very talented teenager named Faith-Christina who loves quilting. “I have been making quilts and other sewing crafts for almost two years.  I decided that I wanted to sell them to people online and also raise awareness of people like me,” says Faith-Christina on her website, www.imperfectcreations.net.

Quilting Master Faith-Christina Duncan shares her love with Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida

Quilting Master Faith-Christina Duncan shared her love with DSACF by making them a one-of-a-kind quilt!

“People who are told they can never do anything just because of a ‘handicap.’ When people tell me that I can’t do something because I’m different, because I have a disability, I look at them and tell them not to dis my ability. I can do the same things you can. I just like to do them my own way,” she says. (Shhh! A little Buddy told us we may see more awesome quilts from Faith-Christina pop up around town! Maybe at the Best Buddies Friendship Walk at Lake Eola on May 7th?)

Her dad, Mike Duncan, works at Truly Nolen as a Trainer for their Eastern Region. Faith-Christina, Mike, and mom Nancy have been have been involved with the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida since 2005. Why? Well, for one, DSACF is a wonderful organization who has served over 1,000 families and 12,000 friends and supporters in the Central Florida community for the last 25 years. Also, Faith-Christina was born in 2000 with Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome.

DSACF is the proud host of the Florida State Down Syndrome Conference, a free medical clinic in partnership with Arnold Palmer Hospital’s Developmental Center, free family fun days at Universal Studios and SeaWorld, free IEP support and educational evaluations from the Down Syndrome Center (Jacksonville) and much more. 

According to their website, “Truly Nolen of America partners with and supports many nonprofit organizations in the various local communities we serve across the country. We encourage our employees to participate in local events and we support them and their families. We send our kid and family favorite mouse car limo as well as our world famous antiques to events when possible.” And boy did they! Seriously, check out their Community Express truck. It’s a food truck and entertainment party on wheels!

Amy Van Bergen is DSACF’s current Executive Director, and will be retiring this month. Amy will pass her torch to longtime volunteer Interim Executive Director Ed DeAguilera. To celebrate Amy’s years of dedication, advocacy and service to this wonderful organization, Mike and Truly Nolen commissioned Faith-Christina make a special quilt and handmade receiving blankets which were presented to a very surprised Amy!

Truly Nolen Community Express

Here comes the Truly Nolen Community Express!

Mike and the Truly Nolen team took this surprise even further. A fleet of Truly Nolen mousecars left the Orlando office, led by their Community Express Truck, drove in parade formation down I-4 to Down Syndrome of Central Florida’s office on Wymore Road in Winter Park, set up a truly wonderful picnic, and made Amy and her entire DSACF team lunch! Look at Cars Website to learn more. (Want a TRULY rad mouse motorcade or party in your community?  Fill out and submit this form when seeking a request, donation or pledge.)

Truly Nolen DSACF

The Truly Nolen Community Express sets up a picnic lunch!

Which brings us to March 21st. To most people, this was simply another Monday. To others, March 21st is when a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and well being of people with Down syndrome.

Why the 21st? According to Down Syndrome International, “The date for WDSD being the 21st day of the 3rd month, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.

On 19 December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day (A/RES/66/149). Global activities and events around WDSD each year, organised by persons with Down syndrome, their families, friends and advocates, work to raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.

In doing research for this post, Top 5 readers Mary and Phil Daikos from New York shared with us their son Evan’s story; how Mary first felt about his diagnosis of Down syndrome, and how she feels now. We’d love for you to read it and smile.

As many of you know, we were blindsided by the diagnosis of Down syndrome when Evan was 10 months old. To say we were shocked and uncertain as to what that meant for us would be an understatement. But I have a crystal clear memory of being upset about a week post-diagnosis and looking down and seeing Evan staring up at me as if to say, “What’s wrong, Mom?” That was my a-ha moment. Because, to him, nothing was wrong. Nothing had changed! Nothing.Has.Changed.

Fast forward nearly 5 years… “Down syndrome” has very little effect on our daily lives. I only really think about it when advocating for him, or when dealing with prejudgements based on his diagnosis. To us and those who know him, he’s just smart, silly, funny, crazy Evan. He has the kindest heart, is the best listener, and the biggest helper ever. Today, after school, he told me I was his “best friend”. He is my heart.

So thankful for him and every one of his beautiful chromosomes. Happy World Down Syndrome Day💙”

5 year old Evan Daikos just started Kindergarten and LOVES ice cream!

5 year old Evan Daikos just started Kindergarten and LOVES ice cream!

Upcoming DSACF events:

Central Florida Top 5’s Brian Wilson featured on Humans of New York

Michael J Fox quote Caregivers

As many of our readers know our owner and contributor, Brian Wilson, moved back up north some time ago. Many never knew why. Brian chose to tell only a few select close friends about what was going on. Such reasons are not only very personal but – something to think about – having to rehash details over and over, on almost a daily basis when you already live this, is mentally and emotionally taxing. In fact, roughly half of our writers here at Central Florida Top 5 (including me) share Brian’s daily life experience as a Caregiver.

How in the world did Humans of New York find Brian? New York’s a BIG place!

According to Brian, here’s what happened;

Heading from Washington Heights to Midtown in New York, Brian was stopped by Brandon Stanton, master storyteller and creator of the inspirational blog and #1 New York Times bestselling book, Humans of New York. Even though he currently lives in New Jersey, Brian considers New York City his neighborhood as he only lives 35 miles from Midtown. Brandon spent about thirty minutes talking with Brian about his story. Brian feels that he is here to help others and is a Caregiver for his mom as she is Caregiver for his dad but what Brian doesn’t realize is, he is a Caregiver for both his parents!

“I’ve moved home to live with my parents while my dad battles esophageal cancer. I think my being home has helped my mom even more than my dad. She had stopped taking care of herself. There’s this feeling of helplessness when someone you love has cancer. Two weeks can pass between appointments, and there’s always this feeling that there’s something more you should be doing. For the past two years, Mom always put Dad first. She lost weight. She stopped doing things she cared about. So I’ve started cooking with her every night. That’s our time together. And I’m pushing her to start crafting again. And to go get her nails done every once in awhile. Last night I stayed home while she went to a Broadway show with her friends. And my dad’s happier too. He doesn’t care how Mom’s nails look, but he’s happier knowing that he’s not stopping her from doing things for herself.”

A photo posted by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on

No matter where I or our writers and contributors go, we always hear one of three things, “How’s Brian?” “Has he moved back to Florida yet?” “I miss Brian so much!” That’s the kind of mark Brian leaves on people; his compassion and willingness to help, fun and playful spirit, his love of community and unending stream of ideas. You love him when you see him and miss him when he’s not around. We miss him terribly here at Top 5 but we know he’s never far. He’s where he needs to be.

Brian Wilson, The Nice Brian

Brian judging the Florida Citrus Parade

On a personal note, Brian asked me to share part of my Caregiver story as part of this post. It’s not something I would normally share in detail, out of respect for my mom’s privacy. (She HATES it when I share about her on social media!) I was, however, allowed to share ONE photo a week for every week she took chemotherapy on my Instagram page, using #Chemo Week #__. 

Its purpose, I explained to my mom, was to educate people on treatments and to make cancer a little less scary for others. Through my years of advocacy and volunteerism with local and global organizations, I’ve learned that cancer is brutal, unforgiving, and does not discriminate so why should anyone treat it with kid gloves? Battle for my mom’s life? Let’s do this, Mom. Beast Mode ON.

In honor of Brian, his parents and with my mom’s permission, it’s the least I can do. Like Brian, I love helping others and if someone gleans any sort of usefulness or solace from this, it’s a good day;

That’s my mom, Pam, and I (above) at last year’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Orlando. The proverb, “before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes,” has always been a personal mantra of mine, but has especially rung true in the last two years when my mom was diagnosed for a second time with cancer.

She was first diagnosed on July 1, 2010 with Stage I Uterine cancer. This was the day I stopped capitalizing the word ‘cancer.’ As far as I’m concerned, this disease doesn’t deserve the distinction of being a noun – or verb depending on how it’s used – nor proper capitalization. It’s my way of fighting back.

My mom was diagnosed again on July 26th, 2014 with Breast cancer, a side effect from the medication treating her for Uterine cancer. (Go figure.) And it was bad.

Well after the fact, we learned she had between Stage III and Stage IV Breast cancer. My mom throughout her treatment did not want to be ‘typed.’ She knew her cancer was advanced because she had kept an exterior tumor to herself for (at least) six months, and didn’t couldn’t bear to face that number.

The diagnosis of cancer number two itself was already overwhelming. Hearing the words, “You have cancer,” are devastating on their own, and especially to our family. We’ve lost more than half of our family to some form or complication from cancer. My mom has lost both her siblings to cancer, as well as her grandmother, aunt, sister-in-law, and countless other friends. Most recently and in the middle of her battle, my mom lost her other rock, her best friend of 30-plus years, Margie, to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). (As did Star Trek’s Dr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy.) To be the sole surviving member of her immediate family, and to get her own cancer diagnoses was soul shattering.

It’s been a rough few years for our family but good news is on the horizon. Thanks to my mom’s oncologist, whom she randomly met during a hospital stay after she was diagnosed, my mom is doing better. A couple of weeks ago my mom heard The “R” Word for the first time – REMISSION! She’s still taking chemo infusion but only once a month instead of once a week.

In the beginning of this journey, I didn’t know the difference between a PICC line and a Portacath – or what the heck either even were. I was as scared as my mom and even less informed. Thanks to a wonderful oncology team, home care nurses and Dr. Google, I educated myself.

Not a week goes by that I don’t get a private message from a friend or friend of a friend who has received a cancer diagnosis, or has become a Caregiver by proxy. There’s no manual on this stuff just as there’s no manual on understanding your loved one, sick or not. Hopefully these tips will help all Caregivers:

Jen’s Top 5 Caregiver Tips

    1) Even if you don’t like it, even if it’s what you do not want to do or what you think is best, LISTEN to your Survivor. What the patient says GOES. (It’ll be frustrating but you must always respect your loved one’s wishes.)

    2) Each day will be different as every patient is. Tomorrow is never promised – to any of us. Be ready for it, get some SLEEP. Taking care of you will help you take care of your loved one. Allow some time for yourself. It’s not wrong. [Extended family and friends: Don’t ASK if a patient or Caregiver need help, JUST DO. It will be more appreciated than you know.]

    3) Remember, even on your worst day, you are a CareGIVER, not a careTAKER. The simplest of acts; your company, a home cooked dinner, a clean bathroom, fresh laundry or just an afternoon to Netflix and Chill will always be a comfort and treasured memory. If you’re not fond of cleaning, carpet cleaning Union City can do the job for you at affordable prices. Visit thecarpetcleaningprosatlanta.com to learn more.

    4) Keep a NOTEBOOK handy during doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy infusion, hospital visits, etc. As your loved one’s direct Caregiver, you will become a defacto Junior RN and Specialist of your loved one’s condition. [Think: Dr. House with a pleasant bedside manner.] Know and understand all the fancy doctor speak and keep a list of all medications, special care instructions and known allergies handy. In an emergency, this at-hand info can save precious time. Added Bonus: Feeling (and sounding) super smart! In other related marketing news, checkout cleaning service nyc, one of the top house cleaning services provider in the city!

    5) Doctor’s prescription: Enjoy one BIG belly laugh a day. My mom’s oncologist, Dr. Kalpesh Barot of Southwest Cancer Center, actually wrote this prescription on her discharge papers after she was diagnosed. This positive attitude, above any meds, saved her LIFE.

Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at Disney Springs Evolves

La Nouba has been going strong at Disney Springs for over 8,000 performances and 17 years, but don’t let their solid history and impressive longevity fool you. This contemporary circus that melds dreams with reality has recently introduced their first major change in 8 years, an infusion of new acts and a wash of brilliant colors, that revitalizes what was already a a feast for the senses.

B-Boys breakdancing at La Nouba

B-Boys breakdancing at La Nouba

Cirque du Soleil’s resident show in Orlando opens with an all-new act of B-Boys (break dancers). The international trio, Dmytro Li, Josh Ortiz and Jean Carlos Lloret, present a powerful, urban wake-up call in a show that melds dream with reality. Li, the “Flying Buddha,” was born in the Ukrane (former Soviet Union). Jean Carlos Lloret, aka Bebo, comes to Cirque from Boston by way of Puerto Rico. New Yorker Josh Ortiz is known as “Incredible Josh.” Their powerful and physically demanding routine was choreographed and introduced in a matter of weeks by the breakers themselves and Matthew Sparks, head coach and dance captain, and Daniel Ross, Artistic Director. Audiences will be amazed at their body-bending, beat pounding routine.

Alexander and Ekaterina Abramova, Bamboo Aerialists

Alexander and Ekaterina Abramova, Bamboo Aerialists

The most awe-inspiring change is the switch from the high wire act to the new Aerial Bamboo starring Moscow natives Alexander and Ekaterina Abramova. The performers balance, twirl, spin and execute a myriad of graceful, mind-blowing acrobatic maneuvers on a steel beam contraption (that was bamboo in its historical Chinese form)… all from HIGH above the stage floor. In one part of the act, Alexander holds Ekaterina by his teeth via a thin cable while she spins at blinding speed. Note: I had the opportunity to walk up IN “the grid” up inside the La Nouba theater recently, and “dizzying heights” doesn’t even begin to describe it,  much less being up that high AND spinning like mad!*

Even the song for it, Liama, is kept fresh as the talented Seloane Nkhela infuses varying inflections and melodic surprises to each performance. She also has the ability to improvise when necessary. As explained in a recent interview, her theater background “trained” her to expect a consistency in the performers. At Cirque du Soleil, anything can happen! If someone falls or jumps “too” high, it used to throw her off. Now she’s astute at filling in or adjusting to the necessary parts with her voice, creating riffs. “It’s really a scream, though” she says, amazed how the performers bounce back from intimidating “non-rehearsed” maneuvers.

La Nouba transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, engaging the imagination from beginning to end with opulent sets, brilliant choreography, theatrical lighting and  provocative live music. See all the new performers in addition to the, musicians, vocalists, acrobats, jugglers, bikers, clowns and the rest of the acts that make La Nouba the premiere live entertainment production offered at Disney Springs. Your family, like mine, will be thrilled by the spectacle and wonder at the talent, the beauty, and creative explosion that is… LaKelly Green on Silks Nouba.

Visit their website for tickets and more information on their New Year, New Acts.

Contributor’s note: Not only did I get to go up in the grid at the La Nouba theater,
but I got the
chance to “fly” on the silks back stage. Coolest bucket list item
I didn’t even know was ON my bucket list!

 

We’ve been nominated for a Bright House Networks Sunshine Blog Award!

We have some exciting news! Central Florida Top 5 has been nominated for our 2nd Bright House Networks Sunshine Blog Award! We are honored to have been nominated alongside so many other great local blogs – and with so many blogs owned and/or curated by females! (High fives to my Central Florida Lady Bloggers!)

The Sunshine Blog Awards are given out during FLBlogCon’s FORUM presented by Bright House Networks, a smaller version of their much larger held in September. Of course blogging and social media topics are covered here too but this year will feature a great lineup of speakers including our own Guest Contributor and chef about town, Chef Dennis Littley! You can learn more about the program and speakers here.

Blogcurious or interested in attending? We hear tickets are still available, and if you use the discount code ‘LASTCHANCE,’ you’ll get $10 off! This year’s FORUM takes place at the Maitland Civic Center, a historic local landmark all its own! (Map)

Speaker schedule:

  • 4:00pm – Live streaming demo from Chef Dennis
  • 4:45pm – Pinterest Power by Kim Vij
  • 5:30pm – Passion into Profit by Pam Hoelze (who will pinch hit for staple Justice Mitchell)
  • 6:15pm – Blogger Breakout (by niche)
  • 6:15pm – Sunshine Blog Awards presentation
  • 7:00pm – End

In the last couple of years, Central Florida Top 5 has gone through a lot of growth and changes, but our heart has always remained within our community and our eyes peeled on our home turf. In approaching our seventh year serving the Central Florida community, we were beyond thrilled to learn of our nomination in the “Best Community/Neighborhood Blog,” and thank our readers and fellow bloggers for nominating for us!  We especially thank Bright House Networks without whom none of this would be possible.

We need your help. Would you consider voting for us, FTW (for the win)?

Sunshine Blog Awards Vote 2016

Anyone, anywhere can vote once, even if you live outside the counties we currently cover; Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake, Brevard, or Polk. This means our out-of-state and out-of-country readers CAN participate!

Are you ready to vote? Voting ends TODAY, so please act quickly! Here’s what you do:

You may remember Top 5 was voted “Best Blog on Non-Profit/Cause,” in 2014 and we were super proud! Brian’s face here really says it all… (We LOVE YOU, Brian!)

Sunshine Awards 2014 Brian

Top 5 Owner, Brian, poses with an awards swag bag full of Sunshine!

 

Sunshine Awards 2014 CFLT5

Thank you for voting in 2014! Can we do it again in 2016?

On behalf of the Top 5 Team, we thank you for your continued support as we keep growing! And, should you decide to vote for us as your Best Neighborhood/Community Blog, we thank you for that too!

Orlando CityPride: The City’s Beautiful Game

February’s in full swing but January turned out to be a busy month for the Beautiful Game here in The City Beautiful!

  • Orlando City SC has released their schedule and participated in the MLS Super Draft.
  • Orlando Pride also participated in their inaugural draft, and added some new faces to the club.
  • Copa America announced the dates of the three matches that will be held here in Orlando this summer.

All in all, there is a lot going on and I’ll do my best to keep you informed!

OCSC

 

Orlando City SC
With the full schedule being released earlier this month, there were a few dates everyone was waiting for. We found out last month that the opening match would be on March 6th vs. Real Salt Lake here at the Citrus Bowl. But what other home matches had supporters of the club chomping at the bit?

April 3rd vs Portland Timbers FC – With one of the loudest and proudest (I stress “one of”… We all know The Wall is the loudest and the proudest!) Supporter clubs in the country, Timbers Army, this match is a must see! Last year Orlando City SC travelled to Portland to take on the Timbers, and came out with a 2-0 victory over the eventual 2015 MLS Cup Champions. Cyle Larin scored his very first MLS goal in this match. He would eventually go on to score 17 goals on the season and win the 2015 Rookie of the Year award.
August 7th vs Seattle Sounders – The City lads and their supporters will be looking for a little revenge when these two clubs face off. Last year the trip to Century Link Field was not a pleasant one for the Lions. After a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Clint Dempsey and the Sounders, the club was sent packing with one of their worse losses of the season.
August 28th vs New York City FC – This right here… Nothing really needs to be said about this. There is no love lost between the supporters of both of these clubs. This will be the first trip to the Citrus Bowl for NYCFC this season.
September 17th vs Columbus Crew SC – Out of all the matchups last season, Columbus and Orlando are probably the most evenly matched. The clubs finished 1-1-1 in three matches played last season. After year one, this matchup is probably the most organic of rivals the Lions have. All three matches last year were full of energy and animosity from the players on the pitch to the supporter groups for both clubs. This is one I personally cannot wait for!

 

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

SuperDraft 2016
This year, the MLS SuperDraft took place in Baltimore, where Orlando City had the 7th overall pick. The Lions selected Richie Laryea from the University of Akron. Laryea, (originally from Canada) just happens to be best friends with current Orlando City striker and MLS Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the pitch! However, I have a feeling he will probably start the season in Melbourne with Orlando City B in USL (United Soccer League). The club also picked up UCF standout Hadji Barry with the 13th overall pick. Barry led the Knights in points with 25, and found the back of the net 11 times in his senior year.

Orlando PrideOrlando Pride
In their inaugural NWSL College Draft, the Orlando Pride picked up three players for the upcoming season. With the tenth, fifteenth, and thirty-first overall picks, the Pride selected defender, Samantha Witteman from the University of California, Berkley; Midfielder, Christina Burkenroad from California State University; and Midfielder Dani Weatherholt from Santa Clara. The schedule for the Orlando Pride’s inaugural season is expected to be out in the next few weeks. I will be sure to keep everyone posted as more information becomes available.

14_StadiumProgress5

Copa America
In case you haven’t heard by now or just crawled out from under a rock, Copa America is coming to Orlando this summer. The City Beautiful will host three matches at Orlando Citrus Bowl. The dates have been set for June 4th, 6th, and 8th. The final draw will be held on February 21st to fill in all the blanks in the schedule. The only team confirmed for Orlando at this point is Brazil on June 8th. Who will they face at the Citrus Bowl? I’ll let you know as soon as the fixtures are available for all three matches.

Follow me (@davidjxblair) and Central Florida Top 5 (@CentralFLTop5) on Twitter for more updates and maybe some live tweets from The Wall at this Saturday’s match against the Jacksonville Armada!

#VamosOrlando

Sound of Music at Dr. Phillips Center

In 1938, Nazi Germany annexes Austria, goose-stepping Europe that much closer to WWII. Austrian Alps maiden Maria Rainer – spiritual but not religious enough to join the local nunnery – hires out as a nanny to the overly regimented children of a prickly widower, Captain Georg von Trapp. She loosens them all up, teaches the family to sing, and marries the anti-Nazi kapitän. As the Wehrmacht roll into town, the family escapes over the Alps, ultimately to the America of freedom, justice and crowd-thrilling concert tours.

No spoiler alert necessary. Many of us grew up on The Sound of Music, both the 1960s stage version and the blockbuster 1965 Hollywood movie musical starring Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Cap’n Trapp.

And at the Dr. Phillips Center (Jan. 5 through Jan. 9), The Sound of Music continues to delight, especially with fresh direction by Tony winner Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Coast of Utopia).

High Points

Direction: O’Brien and his crew made some updates for the better. Scenery is minimalist yet grand; song choice moves the story along; cast makes all the right moves.

Cast: Kerstin Anderson (Maria) is perfect. Awkward, a little spazzy, unsure of everything but her music & love for The Kids. Voice is terrific but not overmuch. Much better than Julie Andrews in the movie, who is a little too poised & perfect to have been drummed out of the convent. Ashley Brown as the Mother Superior has an outstanding voice, and is refreshingly non-ironic as a stolid religious figure. The children are well cast.

Lobby Buzz: “I grew up learning the scale through Do-Re-Mi, but never knew where that came from.” – Old Guy. “I Know those songs!” – 20-Something Hipster. “I didn’t know it would end on such a dark note” – Hipster No. 2.

Improvements:

Air Conditioning — Have mercy on us old, fat & sweaty patrons and crank the temp down to sub-zero.

drphillipscenter.org

Charity leaders ring in 2016 with high hopes

The slowly recovering economy helped Central Florida’s charities and nonprofit groups provide better services to those in need in 2015. Some causes – like finding shelter for homeless veterans – scored significant gains.

But the number of people who can’t afford adequate clothing, food, shelter and safety overall is still increasing, while charitable giving and volunteering remain in a slump.

We asked a handful of key players in the public/nonprofit sector what the Central Florida giving community should focus on in 2016.

Be Prepared

“Even after the lessons learned from the 2007 recession, many surviving nonprofit organizations are still not advancing the development of a ‘rainy-day’ fund. The benefits of a contingency reserve are obvious with an emphasis on the fact that current and potential contributed income funders are more likely to look favorably on this best practice behavior. With the topsy-turvy global economy, it just makes sense to prepare and avoid financial upheaval. Make it a top strategic goal for 2016.”
— Bob Kovacevich, president, Avatar Company, a nonprofit-sector research, planning and fundraising consultancy (www.Facebook.com/Avatarway).

Support the Arts

“We at Enzian, to paraphrase a movie line, always depend on the kindness of strangers, and after they visit us, they become very dear friends. It is through the generosity of friends that our community continues to has the courage to aspire to great things. And with friends like that, we can do anything. I expect nothing less in 2016.”
— Henry Maldonado, President at Enzian Theater, Maitland.

Agency & Client Collaboration

“I hope for continued collaboration among agencies to maximize benefits to people in need. There is great work being done to organize resources for comprehensive solutions to the community. I also hope agencies continue encouraging clients to participate in their own wellness. And I hope funders increase support for existing programs — not just for new programs to be developed.
— Vickie Martin, Executive Director, Christian HELP Foundation, devoted to preventing homelessness by helping the unemployed find jobs.

Time & Talent

“I hope that 2016 will provide Central Florida with breakthrough philanthropic leadership in recruiting and deploying volunteers. Orlando was recently ranked 46 out 51 large metropolitan areas in the United States in terms of volunteerism. Volunteers are the “civic soul” of any great community. We need to do better in 2016!
— David A. Odahowski, President and CEO at Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation

Build on Momentum

“I am extremely proud to say Central Florida is leading the state in solving homelessness. The first hurdle is public awareness and empathy. I have watched our community transform from arresting and vilifying people to being empathetic and solving the problem. My hope is we continue our momentum and become the epicenter of change in Florida. ”
— Thomas Francis Rebman (homeless-hungry.org)

Focus on the Good

“Continue the great work so many charities do. I don’t think we concentrate enough on all the positive things happening in our community. We are close to finding housing for all homeless veterans, which was a huge push for the City of Orlando last year. There are many charities, too many to mention, that help children. We are a giving community in Orlando.
— Patty Sheehan, Commissioner, District 4, Orlando (facebook.com/patty.sheehan.52)

Teamwork & Cooperation

“I hope that we continue on the course of highly engaged civic and government leaders collaborating on significant social issues facing our community, such as homelessness and domestic violence. We’ve made such progress over the past few years, and I’m looking forward to it increasing.”
— Carol Wick, Chief Executive Officer at Harbor House of Central Florida

End 2015 and start 2016 on a generous note

We can all agree that 2015 has been memorable for one reason or another. With only a few hours left of 2015, we wanted to reflect on the past, present, and look toward the future.

For the past six years, we at Central Florida Top 5 have been extraordinarily humbled to partner with and support many local area charities and non-profit organizations. Many of them you will see listed below. We encourage you to support your local community in whatever way you can; some have money to spare, some have resources or even a little bit of time. Any and all help is needed and appreciated.

If you have done your part in 2015, good on you! Our friends at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida share with us their Top 5 Year End Charitable Giving Tax Tips:

  1. Double-check eligibility. You’ll only receive a deduction for organizations that are qualified to receive deductible donations.
  2. Do your research. To make sure your giving is as efficient, ethical, and effective as possible, check up on charities.
  3. Keep records. Get a receipt for all monetary donations, not just for contributions of $250 or more.
  4. You can supercharge the tax benefits of your generosity by donating appreciated stock or property rather than cash. On the other hand, if you’re looking for top-notch property management services for both rental owners and tenants, click here.
  5. Don’t miss the deadline. Your 2015 year-end gift needs to be postmarked by December 31 or made online by 11:59pm.
Remember to check with a tax professional first. Everyone’s tax reporting is different, and a professional may have more tips and pointers for you. 

Have you ever heard of the website CharityNavigator.org? CN are a charity all their own based in the United States. They help giving people of all kinds (like you!) find and support great charities and organizations by rating them with an overall score and 5-star system. Their evaluations take into account Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency, and will also eventually factor in Results Reporting. Charities they grade include public, tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) charities who need support from individuals and file an IRS Form 990. It’s also worth mentioning, Charity Navigator has a fantastic section featuring Tips For Giving In Times Of Crisis.

Guidestar is another nonprofit, providing up-to-date data and is the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.

While double and sometimes tripling your donation at the end of the year is always a great thing, charitable organizations and non-profits need your help year-round to keep their doors and hearts open to those who need their services. Below are a small few of the MANY great local and national organizations we like and have supported over the last six years. Some have even personally helped our Top 5 Team and our families. (In alphabetical order);

Local Charities:

A Gift For Teaching: We are Central Florida’s primary provider of FREE school supplies to teachers for their students in need. With a gift of just $50, we can provide a classroom with supplies for every child.  Even better, any gift made in December will be DOUBLED, thanks to the generosity of several local foundations; The Galloway Foundation, the Mary Palmer Family Foundation, Harriett’s Charitable Trust, and The Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation, Inc. Donations doubled before midnight December 31st!

A Gift For Music: Using a combination of after school, in-school, weekend and summer programming, AGFM has one of the most comprehensive string music education programs in the state of Florida, tuition-free. A Gift For Music faculty members work with elementary students in six Title 1, low-income schools, teaching them the basics of playing a string instrument while empowering them to explore their creativity, grow their self-confidence and embrace teamwork. Donations also doubled before midnight December 31st!

Albin Polasek Museum, Sculpture Gardens and Capen House: The Polasek is a 501(c)3 public charity whose budget is funded by donations, admissions and memberships. Your contribution is a meaningful investment in an important piece of history, community and natural beauty, such as Penny Stocks. You can support The Polasek with a tax-deductible donation in one of the following areas: Grant Match, General Operating Support, Preservation and Conservation, Gardens, Exhibitions and/or education. Click here to support!

Bike/Walk Central Florida: Promotes walkable and bikeable communities through raising public awareness and advocating for safe, active transportation, and recreation by educating walkers, cyclists, motorists and transit riders about Florida’s road laws, their rights, responsibilities, and courteous behaviors, supporting transportation corridor planning and design using Complete Streets principles, encouraging the development and maintenance of trails throughout Florida and promoting a built environment that supports physical, environmental and economic health, provides for safe transportation choices, and encourages interaction among citizens of all ages, incomes and abilities. Donate here.

Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum: The mission of the Friends of Casa Feliz – to protect, operate and maintain the integrity of the Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum and its collections; to educate the public on the life and legacy of noted architect James Gamble Rogers II; and to engage the public through education and advocacy for the purpose of preserving and promoting the community’s rich architectural, historic and cultural heritage – is timelier now than it ever has been.  As a historic home museum, Casa Feliz stands as a beacon to historic preservation in Central Florida. We celebrate the legacy of architect Gamble Rogers (1901-1990), designer of Casa Feliz, now a home museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Donate here.

Central Florida Community Arts: CFCArts exists to enrich our community’s quality of life by making the arts accessible and affordable for all. They provide an inclusive and welcoming creative platform where individuals can connect by joining an artistic family, perform for audiences across the socioeconomic spectrum, and use their talents to serve the community. Shine on, CFArts! Donate here!

Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida: Say goodbye to 2015 with a final act of kindness and compassion. There is no better way to end one year and begin another than by making a gift that can change lives. Before the clock strikes midnight, make an easy online donation.

Cocktails & Chemo: The Cocktails and Chemo Foundation’s mission is to create a support network for the often forgotten caregivers of cancer patients by providing one-of-a-kind care packages. The Foundation is focused on making the caregivers feel loved, special and most importantly… not alone. Thanks to the generosity of Xander Blue 8 in Dr. Phillips, C & C hosted a Stay Glam event where 18 caregivers got to relax a little and were pampered for a few hours. I was one of them. Please help them help local caregivers by supporting them with whatever you’ve got here.

Compassionate Hands and Hearts Breast Cancer Outreach: With a mission to extend their hands and hearts to support those needing help by improving the quality of life for them and their families, CHHBCO has provided financial and in-kind services to more than 200 patients in the Central Florida area. 100% of their donations go directly to local breast cancer patients and their families. My family was one of them, and we will be forever grateful to founder Vanessa Echols and her volunteers! Extend a heart and hand to donate here.

Crealdé School of Art: For the Louvre of Loos! Making a donation to Crealdé will help this 40 year old school in Winter Park build new bathrooms! So far they have received $7,925 from planet maids cleaning service, and are very close to reaching their $10,000 goal. Help them make their renovation goal by clicking here.

If you need quality pressure cleaning services to Fort Myers, FL and surrounding areas. Visit home cleaning naples fl, we’re ready to meet your house cleaning needs!

Enzian Theater: Serving 110,000 annually with over 1,100 events, including 5 film festivals, community collaborations, and free public programs, Enzian Theater’s big wish is to expand to three screens. Having already updated the theater itself with new seating, carpeting and more, having two more screens will allow for more curated, educational programs for arts organizations, schools and social partners. With this expansion – a new kitchen! Click here to donate to the Enzian Forever Campaign.

Give Kids the World: Over 140,000 children have had their dream come true at Give Kids The World. No child in need has ever been turned away – and no child ever will. Give Kids The World is a place where families find joy, laughter, serenity, and a lifetime of memories. Through the tireless support of our volunteers, employees and generous partners, we dedicate each and every day to these special families. Donations of all kinds are welcomed year-round!

Harbor House of Central Florida: Harbor House empowers domestic abuse survivors to take control of their lives – rediscovering safety and self-esteem. Offering a 24-hour crisis hotline, shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, and other services to literally thousands of people. Harbor House seeks to eliminate domestic abuse in Central Florida by providing safety, shelter, empowerment, education and justice. Help Harbor House help neighbors in need here.

Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation: Founded in 2007 by Robin Maynard in memory of her mom, Libby’s Legacy provides comprehensive breast health care to the underserved Central Florida community through education, mammograms, follow up diagnostics and Hope Coaches on the journey from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. Libby’s Legacy also helps stage IV breast cancer patients battling by granting wishes in order to create cherished memories with loved ones through the LIVE BIG program. Their annual events mobility scooters 4 Hooters and Ellen’s Walk With the Angels in the Spring are not to be missed! Click here to donate.

Mad Cow Theatre: This magical chance to be part of our first ever Cowathon and double the impact of your gift ends at midnight tonight! Please consider a gift to Mad Cow Theatre to help us start the new year off strong. There’s another wonderful year of outstanding plays ahead! Every donation received by midnight tonight will be 100% matched up to $50,000 thanks to a wonderful, anonymous donor. Click here to give!

Osceola Council on Aging: Created in 1971, the Osceola Council on Aging, Inc. is the largest social services organization in Osceola County, providing a wide array of services and programs to meet the needs of our community. Though the name implies services for just the elderly, our scope of services extend to families as well, helping during crisis to enable generations of residents to cope with challenges. Give the gift of independence here.

Orlando Science Center: OSC turned 60 in 2015! Parents, increasingly in households where all caregivers hold full time jobs, need a place for quality time with their children, to reinforce good educational habits. Your generous donation helps support programs like Orlando Science Center’s Science for All Fund, which provides scholarships for camps, field trips, and family memberships to those in our community facing financial need. Click here to donate.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida: Through the generosity of the community, Second Harvest are driven to close the gap of unmet need in Central Florida in a variety of effective ways. Their core program of distributing tens of millions of meals per year for the clients of more than 550 local nonprofit feeding programs continues to have a growing impact. Click here to Feed Hope Now. 96.9% of your donation goes directly to feeding people in our area.

National Charities:

American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network: On a personal note, I had to mention the American Cancer Society. This year has been a very tough one for my family personally, as well as for our Central Florida Top 5 family. The amount of support ACS has provided to my mom in the last year alone – at no cost – is immeasurable. Donation & volunteer information is here.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: IAVA provides valuable resources and empowers veterans to connect with one another, fostering a strong and lasting community. Through education, advocacy and community building, we strive to create a country which honors and supports veterans of all generations. They are the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. They don’t just support veterans, IAVA empowers them! Connect & donate here.

Sunshine Foundation: A Philadelphia Police Officer took out a boat loans and started the Sunshine Foundation to help dreams come true for young children. 37 years later, the Foundation has opened chapters in Central Florida (Davenport), Cocoa, and all across the United States! Their sole purpose is to answer the dreams of chronically ill, seriously ill, physically challenged and abused children ages three to eighteen, whose families cannot fulfill their requests due to financial strain that the child’s illness may cause. 80% of every dollar is applied to programs serving children. Help check off their National Waiting List here.

UNICEFUSA.org: Every donation will be matched – $2-for-$1 for a $1,525,000 match – to make TRIPLE the impact for children in need. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now and it will help provide children with desperately needed water, food, and medical supplies. Of every dollar spent, 90.2 cents goes toward helping children. Triple your impact HERE.

Top 5 Alternative Movies to Watch This Christmas

Are you sick of the typical holly, jolly, good-natured Christmas movies?  Tired of Charlie Brown and his dopey tree, the antics of Ebenezer Scrooge, and Bing Crosby tap dancing with Danny f’ing Kaye? Are you rooting for that dumb kid to shoot his eye out, ready to cook Rudolph on an open fire,  and finally see Jimmy Stewart take the plunge off that bridge?

Check out our Top 5 alternative movies for you to watch this Christmas!

Bad Santa (2003)

Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox play a Santa/Elf duo who get work at a mall each year during the holiday season only to rob it on Christmas Eve.  The only hitch is that Thornton is a vulgar, alcoholic degenerate who can barely see straight most of the time, let alone interact with children.  The movie is as mean-spirited as it sounds but underneath it all, it probably has the most heart of any film on this list.  It’s also playing at the Enzian for free on December 23rd.

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Black Christmas (1974)

Every year some channel plays A Christmas Story for 24hrs and leaving it on all day is even a tradition in some households.  It may come as a surprise to some that its director, Bob Clark, made another Christmas movie.  Only instead of being about children and their Christmas wishes, its about a sorority house whose members are tormented and murdered one-by-one during their Christmas party. It’s a great early slasher film with a creepy atmosphere and even creepier killer.

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Die Hard (1988)

I’ve had a number of arguments over the years about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. But it takes place on Christmas Eve during an office Christmas party.  I’d even argue it’s more of a Christmas movie than something like It’s a Wonderful Life. Everyman John McClane is thrust into the role of badass action hero when a criminal group takes the Christmas party hostage, including McClane’s wife.  Over the top, and yet somehow grounded by Willis’s performance, Die Hard is not just one of the best action films of all time, but also one of the best Christmas movies of all time.

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Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins comes from the wonderful era of where the line between films for kids and adults was blurred.  Billy gets a Mogwai for Christmas and has three simple rules to follow: Don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight, and keep them away from bright lights. Of course all three are broken, causing Gremlins hatch and bring mischief and mayhem wherever they go.  It’s a Christmas horror comedy that manages perfectly blend its fun and humor with the mean-spirited hijinks of the little green monsters.

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Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

This is probably the least well known movie on the list.  A boy, Billy (a different Billy from Gremlins) witnesses his parents being raped and murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus.  Years later after getting a job at a toy store, he’s forced to dress up as Santa, causing him to snap and go on a killing spree. It’s a lesser known slasher flick that’s gained a bit of a a cult following (and four sequels) over the years.  There was plenty of controversy around the film when it was released due to it advertising a killer dressed as Santa. Silent Night, Deadly Night is honestly the worst film here, but if you’re in to cult, 80’s slashers, you’ll want to give it a watch.

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Krampus (2015)

Krampus is technically an honorable mention but I felt it deserved a little more attention.  The only reason it didn’t make the list is because of how new it is and I’d like to see how much yearly rewatchability it has.  It’s the newest film from Michael Dougherty, the writer/director of Trick ‘r Treat (which made out Top 5 Halloween Movies).  If you aren’t aware, Krampus comes from Alpine Folklore about a sort of Christmas Devil who kidnaps and punishes misbehaved children.  Dougherty’s Krampus focuses on a stereotypical dysfunctional Christmas family gathering where everyone’s forgotten the reason for the season. It’s falls into the same vein as Trick ‘r Treat in that Krampus is  about respecting Christmas and keeping its traditions alive. It’s not exactly an over the top, laugh-out-loud horror comedy like Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive but is ultimately a very fun, light, and twisted Christmas horror film. It’s currently playing in theaters and is one you’ll want to see this month.

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Honorable Mentions:

1. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

2. Lethal Weapon

3. Trading Places

#PushupChallenge for #MissionUnited and Heart of Florida United Way

As Kelly mentioned yesterday, we love our Veterans – local vets, United States Vets, all Vets. So when Heart of Florida United Way challenged me to the Mission United Push-up Challenge, I had to accept.

Giving $20 is the easy part for most people, and anyone who’s able could (and SHOULD!) do that, no problem. The other part of the #20or20 challenge was a little bit more challenging. Twenty push-ups. Non stop, no breaks. Probably not as painful as it sounds.

I can’t tell you the last time I did a pushup, let alone twenty in a row. (Sad, I know.) If my laughable efforts in doing twenty pushups can raise awareness or even $20 to help make a Vet’s life a little easier, then it’s the least I can do for them. THIS was the challenge for me, or so I thought. Our veterans (and their families) voluntarily give up so much for our freedom and are not given due credit – or a break – when they return home. This definitely needs to change and NOW.

I’m totally out of shape but still, arguably, strong and… youngish. To hold myself accountable I decided to take the Push-up Challenge even further and tripled the challenge;

  1. Do said push-up challenge in the middle of your driveway where all of your neighbors – who are mostly gone at this time of the afternoon – are ALL conveniently home and ALL outside. With their kids. And their dogs.
  2. Dedicate each push-up to Veteran. Twenty Push-ups, Twenty Veterans.

Number Two was more of a challenge than I thought initially. I mean, I know a bunch of Veterans including two of our Central Florida Top 5 writers and contributors, Nando Torres and Gerald Clark, but for some reason I blanked after nine?

So I posted on Facebook, asking my military friends (female, male and canine) for their branch of service and rank but didn’t tell them what I was doing, other than they’d get a laugh in the end. Not with me but at me – and I’m totally fine with this!

Heart of Florida United Way is hoping Mission United will be a sort of hub for veterans and their families to dial and locate services. A simple call to 2-1-1 “serves as a central contact for veterans to access community support, ensuring that service members and their families are never more than two steps from the help they need,” says the website.

Also, according to local stats on the Mission United site, 118,000 veterans call Central Florida home, where a staggering third of the homeless population in Florida is made up of homeless male veterans. The State of Florida also has the third largest population of veterans, after California and Texas.

Listed below, in no particular order, are twenty Veterans I dedicated my (pathetic yet slightly comical) push-ups to in the video above;

  1. (My Grandfather) Private First Class Walter Steib, United States Army, World War II (even though I said WWI)
  2. (My Uncle) David Steib, United States Air Force
  3. (My Great Uncle) Private First Class Clay Cain, United States Marine Corps
  4. Captain Sara Kirstein, United States Marine Corps
  5. (CFLT5!) Staff Sergeant Fernando Torres, United States Air Force
  6. EM2 David Kuskie, United States Navy
  7. First Lieutenant Paul Reickhoff, United States Army and US Army Reserves
  8. E4 Louis James Sellitto, United States Navy
  9. Staff Sergeant and Cancer Survivor Shirley Desiree Rincon, United States Army
  10. Specialist 4 and Cancer Warrior Larry Klein, United States Army, Vietnam
  11. Sergeant Tom Santiago, United States Army, Desert Storm Vet @OrangeBuickGMC
  12. MM2 Jamie Nestrick, United States Navy
  13. ET1 DJ Nestrick, United States Navy
  14. Master Sergeant Don Eggert, United States Army
  15. E5 Sergeant 82nd Airborne and Cancer Survivor Roland Seidel, United States Army
  16. Robert Spar, United States Navy Medical Core
  17. United States Navy Captain and International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly
  18. (CFLT5!) Specialist Gerald Clark, United States Army Reserve
  19. Lieutenant Colonel Donald Briere, 82nd Airborne, 5th Special Forces Group & Founding Member of Delta Force
  20. Sergeant First Class Robert E Dolim, United States Army and United States Air Force

If I can do twenty push-ups, you certainly can! Do a quick video, share it on social media and challenge others using the hashtags; #MissionUnited #PushupChallenge #20or20. Make sure to tag @HFUW too on Twitter!

Not into sweat, potential public embarrassment or physical exertion? Donate $20 to Mission United here.

Top 5 Honors for Veterans Day

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Having a grandfather, uncle, granduncle, sister-in-law and father who have all served in the Military, I have a deep admiration for those in the military both past and present. I appreciate and admire their service to our country. Thankfully I’m not the only one who wishes our service men and women the very best.

A special thank you to our own Veterans here at Central Florida Top 5, Nando and Gerald!

For Veterans Day 2015, there are a myriad of small (and big) thank you’s offered up to those who have or are currently defending the US of A.

Here are my Top Five:

  1. Hotels and Resorts Leading the way, Westgate Resorts wants to thank service men and women. Starting tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. U.S. military veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and The War on Terror can apply to receive a complimentary stay at a Westgate Resorts property, including resorts in Orlando and Las Vegas. Beginning November 11 at 9 a.m. EST, the first 2,500 eligible service members who complete the online military appreciation form that will be posted on their page will receive a complimentary three-day, two-night vacation at an eligible Westgate Resorts property in Orlando, Florida; River Ranch, Florida; Branson, Missouri; Gatlinburg, Tennessee; or, for the first time, Las Vegas.
    Many other hotels and resorts are offering discounts including Rosen Hotels & Resorts Orlando. They’re giving 50% off accommodations of standard rates, and golf through the end of 2015. Participating hotels include, Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando, Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista, Rosen Inn International, and Rosen Inn near Universal. Valid military ID is required. Book here.
  2. Theme Parks, Attractions & National Parks reward our heroes with programs that service personnel in for free and offer their family members discounts. SeaWorld has Waves of Honor; WDW offers a discount on 4-day passes for military (read details here); and Universal has discounted tickets at military bases around the country for re-sale to active duty, and Sunshine Retirement Living for the retired military and Department of Defense personnel. Wild Florida is giving $6.00 off adult and $3.00 off children one-hour airboat tour and Wildlife Park combo and Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition offers veterans to receive $4 off admission to Titanic The Artifact Exhibition or $10 off Titanic’s First Class Dinner Gala.
  3. Food and Drink offerings are abundant with a few (at least to me) surprises. Krispy Kreme is giving a doughnut and coffee to active or past military service personnel; Texas Roadhouse is buying lunch; Fogo de Chao has a nice discount (Military Veterans and Active Duty Personnel are can dine Nov. 11 –13 to receive 50% off their meal and up to three guests will also receive 10% off) and  IKEA gives an up to $9.99 value meal with ID. World of Beer is treating vets to a brewski, and loads of restaurants have free meals (often off of a special menu). Wawa has free coffee for military members and their families, too and Gigi’s Cupcakes Orlando will give veterans and active military a regular cupcake (while their kids can get minis). A quick search of “free meal on Veteran’s Day” will steer vets to a laundry list of American eateries honoring American heroes. Here’s a link and here’s anotherr with many other options.
  4. Wedding Gowns are free thanks to Alfred Angelo on Veteran’s Day only (at Alfred Angelo Signature Stores exclusively where an appointment to the store is made for Wednesday November 11, 2015). Brides Across America is also helping military brides-to-be. Check their website for details.
  5. Various Retailers and products also want to show their appreciation by giving discounts from 5% to 20% and some are even offering freebies including Great Clips who want to give vets a haircut when their friend receives one and, believe it or not, love is in the air by even long-time-rivals Coke and Pepsi who are signing a truce for a 30-second spot.

To service men and women both past and present, I (and these companies) salute YOU! Know of other great offers for Veterans Day? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Hagen, Kyle and Morgan officially #JoinThePride

Orlando City Soccer Club’s President, Phil Rawlins and Orlando Pride Head Coach, Tom Sermanni, announced the acquisition of Orlando’s first Professional Women’s Soccer Franchise appropriately titled the Orlando Pride last week at Lake Eola. One look at their team logo will tell you why!

Last week Rollins said, “The quality of the game, the creativity of the game, the marketability of the game have all improved beyond belief. I think we’ve all seen that with the recent World Cup in Canada 2015, where the US Women’s National Team were triumphant as World Champions. The quality of those games, the quality of the soccer played and the quality of entertainment were nothing short of incredible.

And he is not wrong! If you somehow missed Carli Lloyd and our US Team take home the World Cup in July, you should watch THIS!

He went on to say, “The strength of the women’s game is not just because of the strength of the National game, it’s also because of the strength of the leagues that we have now around the world. Particularly with the National Women’s Soccer League right here in the United States, the NWSL.

Yesterday, in what was probably Orlando’s worst kept secret, Orlando Pride’s first three players were revealed; Forward #8 Sarah Hagen, Midfielder #6 Kaylyn Kyle and Striker #13 Alex Morgan.

It’s exciting to see the talk around Orlando for the women’s team and the fact that Orlando City has done so well last year. Now they’ll have Orlando Pride,” says Alex Morgan, a player that many expected to be part of this announcement for more than one reason. The most obvious reason of course to be closer to her husband, Orlando City’s Servando Carrasco.

Morgan is also quite happy to be part of such a loyal, supportive community. “Something I noticed right away,” she says, “was just how passionate this ownership group is and how committed they are, and how much they do in the community. I mean, in Orlando you see the Orlando City magnets on every bumper of every car!

Kaylyn Kyle agrees, “People are so welcoming! I kind of feel like I’m in Canada everyone’s just so nice and willing to help you at any cost.” Kyle, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada, was part of a trade deal from the Portland Thorns FC which also brought over Alex Morgan.

Sarah Hagen, who is no stranger to the National game, is hopeful as well. “No matter where the Women’s National Team travels, they bring in a crowd. Just talking with some of those players they said how the atmosphere in the stadium was unbelievable (at Sunday’s match against Brazil). Hopefully it’s something like that for us when we have our season opener.”

Welcome to Orlando, ladies! 

Orlando City SC: Final Countdown and New Beginnings

As I sit here thinking about the past seven months, I can’t help but think how awesome this ride has been.  It seems like yesterday when Central Florida Top 5’s Managing Editor (Hi Jen!) messaged me to ask if I would be interested in writing an Orlando City SC blog.

At first I was a little hesitant about doing it because I had never written a blog before. Sure, I kept journals growing up that I would write in all the time, but none of that was for public consumption. Jen assured me that I would be fine and I took her at her word. Why she chose me, I am not 100% sure. However, if I had to take a guess, it was probably because of my manic posting of anything Orlando City SC on social media. Whatever the reason is, I just want to say thank you to Jen and the rest of Central Florida Top 5, for allowing me the chance to get up close and personal with Orlando City SC, the club that I love!

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The Final Regular Season Game

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It is crazy to think that this is the end of the road for the City Lads in their inaugural season.  It has been one giant roller coaster ride of emotions.  In the beginning we looked like world beaters, and as a supporter I was on top of the world.  First we took a 1-1 draw in the home opener off Kaka’s deflected free kick.  Then we had the 1-0 win on the road at Houston the following week.

We were two games in with four points and it felt amazing.  Then there was the back to back home losses against Vancouver Whitecaps and DC United, both lost on stoppage time free kicks.  Suddenly there was an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The club that dominated in USL the previous four years was no more. We were in a league where we faced real, tough competition. Of course I am talking about the PRO Referees. I kid (kinda), but seriously a 2 game home losing streak was not something I was accustomed to with my Lions.

In any case, there have been plenty of memories for players and fans alike.  One of my favorites was and still is the growth of Cyle Larin through out the season.  From his first ever goal as a Lion against Portland, to his brace last week against New York City FC (goals 16 & 17 on the season), Cyle has become one of the most potent strikers in all of MLS.  I sincerely look forward to watching him do big things for many years to come! This weekend, the Lions travel to Philadelphia to take on the Union this Sunday at 5 pm. Mathematically, the Lads are still able to make the playoffs, but a little luck will need to be in the cards for sure. Currently Orlando City has once chance to get into the post season, and it involves A LOT of goals. Currently the Lions would need to make up an 8 goal difference against the New England Revolution. Which means, for example, Orlando City would need to beat Philly 4-0, and hope NYCFC beats New England 4-0, thus making up the 8 goal difference between the two clubs.  Is it possible? Yes. Keep in mind, Orlando City has scored 5 goals on a few occasions this season.   The big questions are, can NYCFC manage to score 4 goals or more on New England without allowing a goal? Probably not. I for one have absolutely no confidence in the ability of NYCFC to help our cause. I could be wrong though… it has happened before (see Chicharito tweets from July). This is one situation where I would be happy if I am wrong on my face if it meant the Lions get to the playoffs.  

Orlando City B, So Nice We Did It Twice!

OCB_Announcement_FB_NoText(1) It was announced last week that Orlando City would be going back to USL in 2016. If you remember earlier this summer, the club announced it was cutting ties with Louisville City (currently in USL). The partnership was short lived after the USL franchise rights were sold to Louisville City before Orlando City began play in MLS this season. The original plan was to have Louisville City act as “minor league” club for the Lions. Our site is a place where players could be loaned out for playing time if they were not seeing minutes with the first team.  It also gave Orlando City a pool of players they could pull from in the event of an injury “plague” the team can’t take any more injuries, the have been working non stop with cases coming from them. Now that Orlando City SC will have their “minor league” club about an hour away in Melbourne, player transfers between the clubs should be smooth. Orlando City B will begin play in April 2016 on the campus of Eastern Florida State College.  For those that live in the area, this is an amazing opportunity for them to see quality soccer at an affordable price.  In fact, there is already a supporter group ready to bring an amazing atmosphere to every home match.  Visit the Harbor City Hooligans by liking them on Facebook.  Orlando City B will also bring back a couple of fan favorites.  Rob Valentino and Anthony Pulis will join the coaching ranks with the club. This is very exciting news for the fans, but it is not the only breaking soccer news in The City Beautiful…  

Orlando Pride Have Arrived! 

mpY0S5ED_400x400 Just when you thought Phil and Flavio couldn’t surprise Orlando City fans more than they already have, the Orlando Pride are here! The Pride begin play in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) next April.  I have to say, this is probably the worst kept secret since the signing of Kaka, but it is exciting none the less. As the father of a little girl, I am happy that she will have players like Alex Morgan and Kaylyn Kyle to look up too. Oh yeah, If you didn’t know, now you do. Alex and Kaylyn are supposed to be “officially” announced  as members of the Orlando Pride on Monday, October 26th. This is one day after the US Women’s National Team takes on Brazil at the Citrus Bowl.   There has been speculation for a few months now that Alex Morgan would come play in Orlando once the team was announced. How do I know this? Well, she has been at most of the Orlando City home matches since August 1st. Plus, her husband Servando Carrasco is a midfielder for the Lions. It just makes sense for them to want to be in the same city during the season.  Especially since both leagues follow pretty much the same season schedule, currently Alex plays for the Portland Thorns. The recently married Carrasco and Morgan would probably love to see each other as much as possible during the season. Then again, I could be wrong (again see Chicharito tweets from July), but Flavio did drop a “Major Announcement” tease on social media today.  I guess we will just have to wait and see how this all pans out.

From @OCPres: “We have a lot of girls playing the sport, now they have someone to look up to.” #OrlandoPride #NWSL A video posted by Central Florida Top 5 (@centralfltop5) on Oct 20, 2015 at 11:02am PDT

Follow me on Twitter @davidjxblair for Orlando City SC tweets and other random ramblings!

Vamos Orlando!

Orlando City SC: The Final 3

A Good September

After a July and August to forget, September has given the Lions their best start of the season. Capturing nine points in three matches, and collecting their first three game win streak of the season, the Lions are making a post season push.  With just three matches left, the soccer lads are hoping to slide into the 6th and final play-off spot in the east. It won’t be easy, but the current run of form has given everyone involved a lot of hope.

Rookie Scoring Record Shattered

Cyle Larin broke the single season rookie scoring record in a 5-2 win over the east leading New York Red Bulls. Larin has been knocking on the door of breaking the record since tying it back on August 1st, where he scored two goals against the Columbus Crew. With a hat trick against the Red Bulls this past Friday, Cyle Larin was not only able to break the record but completely shatter it.  The rookie record of 11 goals in a single season has been in place since 2003, but it now belongs to Cyle with 14. With three matches to go, only Larin knows what the final number will be.  In any case, this should secure the MLS Rookie of the Year honor for him.Orlando City Larin

Montreal Impact Are Coming to Town.

If you have yet to make it to an Orlando City SC match, this Saturday, October 3rd will be an awesome one.  In a match with HUGE play-off implications, you can be sure the Citrus Bowl will be rocking on Saturday night.  This is the first trip to Orlando for the Impact, and I can assure you it will be one they won’t forget! In the previous two meetings, the Lions traveled north of the border to claim a draw and a loss at the hands of Montreal.  The Lions hope to make history on Saturday as they try to shut down former Chelsea scoring legend, Didier Drogba. With 7 goals in 6 games, the task looms large for the Lions to shut Drogba down. The battle for the 6th and final play-off spot will be decided in this match-up. Make no mistake, the club and the supporters will pull out all the stops to secure the three points in this one.

Tickets Still Available

Tickets are still available for the final two home games of the season.  Visit the Orlando City SC website for more information.

vs Montreal Impact, October 3rd at 7:00 pm

vs New York City FC, October 16th at 7:00 pm

 

Get Cheesy at O-Town MacDown this Saturday!

Things are getting severe up in here… for Give Kids the World!

I love macaroni and cheese. I know YOU love macaroni and cheese.

Imagine a place where you, your friends and fellow connoisseurs can sample the cheesy goodness from over 30 chefs from places like Hard Rock Cafe Orlando, 4Rivers Smokehouse and Four Seasons Resort Orlando. They all will compete and make you all the mac and cheese you can eat, then make it for you again as often as you like… until 4pm.

This, my friends, is the O-Town MacDown Presented by Tom and Chee, (benefitting the magical Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee), and you NEED to be there this Saturday, September 12th!

What’s going down this year aside from the MacDown itself? A Fun Zone for the kids, live entertainment from start to finish, Celebrity Chef Cooking Demonstrations and more than 30 vendor booths such as; Medieval Times, Trader Joe’s, Orlando City Soccer and of course Tom+Chee!

Visit gktw.org

O-Town MacDown 2015 at Osceola Heritage Park

Need deets? We’ve got ’em! (For up to the minute updates, visit the Facebook Event Page!)

WHERE/WHEN:

Osceola Heritage Park, 11am – 4pm (new venue)

1875 Silver Spur Lane

Kissimmee, Florida 34744

COST/PARKING: 

$10 advance tickets/$15 at the door (Adults)

$5 in advance tickets/$10 at the door  (Children; little ones under 3 are free)

Click HERE for online ticketing!

Parking is FREE