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  1. Life & Culture

On Mother’s Day, visit with families making a difference in Tampa Bay

Moms who support a mission, moms who give back to the community, moms who are best friends.
Miles Fetherston-Resch, 7, center, poses with his mothers Jess Fetherston-Resch, left, and Libby Fetherston-Resch, right, at their home in St. Petersburg, Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
Miles Fetherston-Resch, 7, center, poses with his mothers Jess Fetherston-Resch, left, and Libby Fetherston-Resch, right, at their home in St. Petersburg, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published May 10, 2020

Moms there to help him save the oceans

One day last year, Miles Fetherston-Resch was watching the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week when he decided he wanted to donate the money in his piggy bank — all $13 of it — to ocean conservancy.

He was 6 at the time. And as with all declarations by boys that age, his moms, Jess and Libby Fetherston-Resch, didn’t quite know how to react.

“It’s hard to know how serious to take a 6-year-old who changes what he wants to eat every five minutes,” Jess said. “So it was hard to go all-in on it.”

But go all-in they did. They helped Miles launch Kids Saving Oceans, a group that’s become a regular presence at St. Petersburg markets and festivals like the Indie Flea and Localtopia. Miles has spoken about the group’s mission everywhere from the St. Petersburg City Council to the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Washington, D.C.

To date, he’s raised more than $13,000 for sea life charities. His goal: $1 million by the time he turns 18.

While Libby also works in marine life conservation, she and Jess, who works for a health care technology company, wanted to keep Miles at the forefront of Kids Saving Oceans. They prefer to work behind the scenes, handling all the grownup stuff: filling out grant applications, building out his website, carting around tubs of T-shirts.

As they help Miles find his voice, they temper their support with caution for his well-being. They’re vigilant about making sure he still feels connected to his work, as well as protecting him from the sort of vitriol directed at teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“We ask him probably once a month, ‘Is this still something you want to do?’" Jess said. "We don’t want him to feel any pressure to continue with his endeavors. But it’s been really neat to see him grow and allow us to be a part of it.”

“As he grows and evolves and changes his advocacy interests, as he learns more, it will get more challenging,” Libby said. “Seven-year-old boys don’t always stay on message. And we’ll evolve as he evolves.”

That’s been the case lately, as they’ve had to halt Miles’ appearances with Kids Saving Oceans due to social distancing. Instead, Jess and Libby have helped him focus on being a kid. He just learned to ride a bike, and when all this is over, he wants to organize a bike rally for kids his age.

“Like, ‘If you were bored from social distancing, call this number, blah-blah-blah, whatever,’” he said, turning to Libby. “We could put posters around the neighborhood. They could say, If you know how to ride your bike, bring it.”

“This may give you some insight into how Kids Saving Oceans happened,” Jess said. “Just like that: ‘And then we do this, and then this, and then that ...’”

As long as their son wants to try it, they’ll help him.

— JAY CRIDLIN, Times Staff Writer

• • •
Shenita James Berrian, left, and her mother Bonnie James, the CEO of Kingdom Kids, both serve on the board of the children's advocacy charity.
Shenita James Berrian, left, and her mother Bonnie James, the CEO of Kingdom Kids, both serve on the board of the children's advocacy charity. [ BONNIE JAMES | Bonnie James ]

Mother-daughter use different talents to help children in need

“If Mother Nature had a form, she would be my mother, who definitely has been a mother to all,” said Shenita James Berrian, 36, a talented singer who is also the music teacher at Robles Elementary, one of Tampa’s lowest income schools.

Bonnie James, 67, is the president and CEO of Kingdom Kids, a children’s advocacy organization. She has more than 30 years of work experience in social services, counseling and fundraising. Her daughter is an award-winning educator and also a mezzo-soprano who has performed as a soloist with the Master Chorale and Opera Tampa, among many others.

Through the years, they have brought their separate talents together for the cause of children in need.

The James family has personally taken care of more than 100 children in foster care since Bonnie and her late husband, Michael, founded Kingdom Kids of Tampa Bay in 2004 as a licensed foster care program. They had great success getting children up to grade level performance, a problem that frequently plagues at-risk children.

Then they realized they could help even more children in area-wide educational programs.

So for the past decade, Kingdom Kids has partnered with Feeding America to help families in poverty, delivering more than 1 million pounds of food since 2010. They also worked with some of Hillsborough County’s most impoverished schools, such as Sulphur Springs Elementary, with educational programs and school improvement teams.

For kids at Robles Elementary northeast of Tampa, where 97 percent of students qualify for free or discounted lunches, breakfast by Bonnie James was one of the highlights of the Saturday Academy. That’s a state-funded program to boost students who are struggling with reading, writing and math.

Her daughter Berrian has been the music teacher at Robles since 2007 and when they started the Saturday Academy in 2012, James brought the kids waffles, sausage patties, scrambled eggs, juice and milk. She paid for the food with donations from Kingdom Kids.

Her reward, she said, was watching the children eat well.

The Jameses raised three daughters of their own in addition to dozens of foster kids in their care at any time. And James says one of them, Telia Thomas, 29, is really more like their fourth daughter at this point, having raised her since she was 5.

It was at the University of South Florida that Berrian, who was premed at the time, caught the attention of a music professor, Richard Zinlinski. He suggested she pursue choral and classical singing. That led her to switch to teaching.

“Through performance you just see a different child," Berrian said. “People ask me: ‘How did you get that kid on stage? He’s such a terror in the classroom.' And I say it’s the magic of music.”

Her mother agrees, "and I’m so glad we have Shenita to bring that out in them.”

Bonnie James admits having a hard time in quarantine because she’s usually all over the place setting up services and seeing that food gets delivered. But her daughter, who lives with her mother in Ruskin along with her own four children, ages 1 through 14, put her foot down until everything is cleared up.

As Mother’s Day arrives, Bonnie James feels for the many children who don’t have a mother, or the stepmothers who are trying to do their best and getting rejected. “And my heart really breaks for the foster mothers who do your best but the kids really don’t realize it’s for their own good and shut you out.”

James says she realizes now, looking back, that it was her grandmother, who raised her, that first showed her the motherly love that she didn’t get from her estranged mother.

“There is no perfect mother," Bonnie James said. "I think you just have to do your best and pray. And then it takes years before a mother’s value is realized.”

Her daughter agreed. “I always tell my kids don’t judge, people are doing the best they can with what they have," she said. “But I feel fortunate that she is such a beautiful person. I know what love means. I have seen that personified in my parents.”

— SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE, Times Staff Writer

• • •

Artpool’s Marina and Becky Williams are best friends

The bright and cheery vibe that pervades St. Petersburg’s Artpool Gallery comes from a deeper source than its racks of colorful vintage clothing, cases of whimsical jewelry, creatively campy window displays and unusual treasures at every turn.

It comes from the love of a tightly bonded family who work together in the business.

Marina Williams, the gallery’s owner, works in the shop every day with her mother, Becky. Her partner, Evan Williams, runs the vinyl record side of the shop. And their beloved schnauzer, Franklin, is always there, too.

The shop is closed to the public right now, but the family still works together putting the inventory on their social media pages.

Marina and Becky love spending time together. Marina said they have always been close.

“I don’t have siblings, so she’s been a mother and a sister,” she said. “A best girlfriend and extreme help to me in the shop and in our life as a family. She’s really the glue. Her level of joy every day is something that I really love and treasure.”

They have a history of blending family and work life.

When Becky became pregnant with Marina, she switched her career from nursing to selling real estate because she could bring her along. Marina’s dad traveled a lot for work.

Growing up, Marina would help out in Becky’s real estate office. She credits learning from her mother’s work ethic and motivation as the reason why she’s had a successful business for 12 years. She said that when Becky retired from a career in real estate, it was a natural step for her to join her at the shop.

She quickly became popular with their diverse customer base, which includes gay, trans and nonbinary people who affectionately refer to her as “Mama Becky.”

Becky said that Marina always loved art, fashion and being creative and is so happy that her daughter can pursue those passions at Artpool. She admires her determination to succeed.

“It is just so special as a parent to see your child weave all of their dreams together to create their life and legacy,” she said.

She said that she’s proud to be Marina’s mom and that her daughter has taught her how to have fun and be herself.

Marina is equally effusive about her mom, calling her a “rare and and beautiful gem who I am so lucky to have been born to.”

When they are working together in the store, it’s joyous. They break out in impromptu dance parties when no one is around. Typically on Mother’s Day, Marina decorates a shop window with “Happy Mother’s Day Mama Becky” written on the chalkboard sign and gives her mom gifts that she’s made.

“I like to surprise her by doing cute silly stuff around the shop that she least expects that makes her smile and know that I love and appreciate all of the time she spends with me,” Marina said.

This year for Mother’s Day, Marina plans to tackle some projects around her parents’ house, make them a homemade meal and give Becky flowers.

“Life is good and so much fun when you have a daughter to call your best friend,” Becky said.

— MAGGIE DUFFY, Times Staff Writer

• • •
Realtor Toni Everett and her daughter Henderson Everett Lee work together.
Realtor Toni Everett and her daughter Henderson Everett Lee work together. [ Courtesy of Henderson Everett Lee ]

Real estate is family business, led by ‘fearless’ mom

Henderson Everett Lee describes her mom, Toni Everett, as fearless.

That’s a great quality in life and business, but not always an easy one to emulate. Deciding to join her mother’s real estate business took careful consideration.

But Lee is glad she made the move and grateful for the opportunity to work alongside the “force of nature” that is her mother.

“It’s been a great experience. I am fortunate to have the proximity to be around her and to learn from her,” Lee said.

Toni Everett founded the Toni Everett Company in the late 1970s after being a stay-at-home mom until her two children, Lee and son Anthony, went to school. She got into the real estate business by accident after being asked by a friend to help with advertising and marketing for a Bayshore Boulevard condominium project. “I thought, I’ll try it out — and then it just boomeranged,” she said. “I did most of the buildings on Bayshore. I either converted or pre-sold them and then I also got into general real estate in the high end.”

Born and raised in a large Italian family in Tampa, Everett graduated from the Academy of the Holy Names and later attended Rollins College in Winter Park. That’s where she met her late husband, Horace “Sonny” Everett. She worked in New York City for a few years before returning to her hometown. As the condominiums rose along Bayshore, so did her sales. Today, her annual sales volume exceeds $80 million.

Her Bayshore firm has more than 20 associates, including her sister Patty Clark and Lee and Everett’s daughter-in-law, Julie Everett.

“It’s great because we all have fun together and I have learned to ebb and flow,” said Toni Everett.

Lee also attended Rollins and originally planned to enter the fashion industry. She returned to Tampa to serve as creative director at Deborah Kent Women’s Apparel until her family members persuaded her to get a real estate license.

“One of the reasons I was hesitant is my mother is a very strong personality and I just wanted to make sure I could come in on my own terms,” said Lee. “I learned from her how to be strong and not let the difficulties of a business deal affect you personally.”

Everett has been adjusting her real estate practice since the shutdown, doing many deals virtually.

One thing she and her family members are missing the most, though, is attending local fundraising events for the charities they support. They usually are each other’s dates at the luncheons and dinners.

“I’m worried for the charities because it really impacts them not having the functions. I think people are donating anyway,” Everett said.

Lee said she and her mom are particularly passionate about the organizations supporting children in the Tampa Bay area.

“Recently we have been sending money to Feeding Tampa Bay,” she said. “We really miss those events. They are part of supporting the community and the causes but it’s also our time for networking and seeing friends. That’s part of what our industry is about.”

Everett said part of her business strategy has always been learning to adapt.

“I have been through four recessions and now this,” she said. “Each one has a different flavor and you just have to find the button that makes it work.”

— KATHY SAUNDERS, Times Staff Writer