By Kayla Davis & Douglas Markowitz
Chad Weeks started beekeeping as a way to remember his friend John, who passed away five years ago from Leukemia. To him, each day spent with the bees is like another day spent with his friend, keeping his memory alive.
“Every time I go out and do it, just walking by the beehives, I think about him,” says Weeks. “Laughing with him, watching him get stung getting the honey out, you know.”
While Weeks was unable to learn much about the way of beekeeping from his late friend, he has learned a lot about what it takes to keep his hive healthy by turning to books, as well as a Clay County beekeeping legend.
“A lot of what I learned came from books,” he recalls. “I bought books on Amazon, then I went on YouTube and watched videos.”
Becoming a backyard beekeeper is a task that Weeks believes more people should decide to pursue. He feels it brings something different to the table that big industry-style beekeepers don’t.
And unlike Weeks, if you don’t live in an area with a beekeeping expert
If you want to turn an unkempt backyard or garden into a beekeeping wonderland, but don’t have the same expert resources as Weeks, the beekeeper has a few pointers. According to him, starting a backyard hive is not difficult, and doesn’t even require a huge amount of land.
“You could just know somebody that has a piece of property and just say ‘Hey, could I keep my bees out there?’ and offer to give them honey,” he says.
In order to produce that honey, a key tip for beginners is starting out with not one, but two hives.
“It’s easier if you have two,” he says, “because you can take those two hives and compare them, and it’s a lot easier to learn when you have two to compare to, and you can take honey out of one hive and give it to the other that’s maybe not as strong, things like that. They can help each other.”
Another must is that familiar white beekeeping suit, because when it comes to protecting their honey, bees can be pretty territorial – especially when you’re trying to take it.
“The bees aren’t going to be happy when you do it,” Weeks warns. “They’re going to be all over. So I wear a suit. You will get stung when you take the honey, so I recommend having a suit for that.”
Armed with five years of experience in the ins-and-outs of beekeeping, Weeks still believes that timing is one of the trickiest parts of being a beekeeper. But he wouldn’t trade what he’s learned for anything, and he hopes to continue keeping bees for a very long time.
“Long term, just to be able to be the old guy that’s just like, 80 or 90 years old, that old dude that knows about beekeeping – I want to be that guy one day.”
Local Man Opens His Own Gym
by Alexandra Torres-Perez, Ryan Hennessy & Joy Kader
Many people want to get in shape, but most people have certain types of foods that they still love to eat. 25-year-old Zach Rocheleau found the perfect balance and is sharing his health habits with his clients.
As a college basketball athlete who got a unique leg injury his sophomore year, Zach wanted to help his clients prevent incidences like the one that happened to him. When Zach came back to Jacksonville after his college career, he starting helping locals get into shape.
Zach would train at first in the backyard of his parents’ house, before moving into a local public facility. His connection to his clients was key to him. He made a connection with one client, who wanted to help him open up his own private gym.
In January of 2017, Zach opened up Genetic Potential Academy (GPA). Where he trains clients around Jacksonville. His method of getting in shape is a little different then the normal trainer.
Zach understands that people have their cravings, so he made his own cookbook with a flexible diet so people can enjoy what they eat. His cookbook is sold online and is becoming extremely popular.
Another way Zach likes to connect to his clients is through social media. He takes around 4 hours a day to use social media to cook and give health advice on sites like Instagram. With 74 thousand followers and counting, his audience is all over the world.
On social media, he uses teasers to show his different recipes and how good his food looks. This is how he also gets his message out.
From hitting a low point of a college injury, to picking himself back up and helping others, Zach Rocheleau has been a help to thousands of people. His reason? A priest asked him “What would be your eulogy?” Zach explained that in college he didn’t like that so he set out to help others live a healthy and happy life every day.
Rock Steady Boxing
by Lauren Ericksen & Julie Petrosky
One million people, to some that number might mean nothing but for those living with Parkinson’s disease- those included in that number – it means the world. Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder that may include symptoms such as muscle rigidity, tremors, and changes in speech and gait. Those living with this condition are also living with the fact that there is no cure, however Rock Steady Boxing has made their mission to empower people with PD to fight back.
Rock Steady Boxing was founded in Indianapolis in 2006 and has grown rapidly. With 325 affiliate locations operating in 45 states, and 20 programs operating in six countries including, Italy, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland and Sweden, Rock Steady aims to serve victims of Parkinson’s around the world.
Kristen Gray, a victim of PD, moved to Jacksonville from Atlanta only to discover there wasn’t a training camp available. With the help of local boxer, Nate Campbell, Premier Physical Therapy and Giles Wiley, she was able to create a site at Jacksonville Muay Thai.
“This is our 7th week and we’ve got about 16 fighters and we’ve got three trainers and were adding fighters every week as the word gets out. It’s a wonderful program the family is growing,” Gray explained.
Studies at Cleveland Clinic focus on the idea that intense-forced exercise is neuro-protective, meaning it has the potential to slow down disease progression. Rock Steady has based their routines off this idea in hopes to help reduce or decrease the symptoms in Parkinson’s victims. Campbell, the head trainer for Rock Steady, has the members doing just about everything that a pro-boxer would do in order to train.
“For me I want them to have a better quality of life, I want them to be more mobile and be more cognitive,” Campbell said.
by Caitlin Kitchens & Celise Blackman
According to the Family Support Services of North Florida there are close to a thousand children in foster care just in Duval and Nassau County. Unfortunately, for many of these kids they’re not exactly kids. The most desired age group is typically that of infants and toddlers. Making it harder and harder for the older children to get adopted. Michelle W who is the director of adoptions at the FSS says “Older children still need love too, and they still have love to give. Fortunately, the FSS has programs that were created to help these older kids with life after they age out of the program if they don’t ever get adopted. They aim to help these older “kids” with housing, jobs, and getting signed up for higher education if they so desire.
James Bullard entered foster care at the age of 3. His parents were drug addicts and were unable to raise him. James was in and out of different foster families for 9 year. He wouldn’t exactly call this a positive experience “It was awful, some of those foster parents don’t care about you at all.” While in foster care James was struggling in school making low grades. James also felt very alone, while in foster care it was mostly women who raised him “I never really had a male figure to look up to.”
While attending a Christian concert Darlene Bullard heard about adoption and it light a fire inside of her. She started looking at the FSS website at children. When she got to the 5th picture she didn’t look any further. The picture was of James holding a little airplane. Darlene called her husband Rick Bullard and told him to look at James. They decided after some discussion between themselves and their 3 kids that James was to become one of the family. Unfortunately, by the time Darlene had finally gotten a hold of someone who knew where James was they were informed that he had been placed with another family. They were heartbroken, but they weren’t willing to give up.
Rick and Darlene continued to take their adoption classes. While on a trip to Dallas Rick decided to give the FSS a call just to see the most recent news on James. They were thrilled to hear the James was still available. “We felt like our prayers had been answered” said Rick. James was finally going to have a house to call a home and a family full of love
“It was really awkward at first having someone younger around” said Lillie the youngest Bullard. James however through some ups and downs has learned to fit right in to the family. He now attends Trinity Christian Academy where he is thriving in school and enjoys being in the choir with Lillie. The family is now complete and couldn’t be any happier to have each other. “I couldn’t imagine my life without him now” said his big sister Lillie.
By Will Weber and Karrah Johnson
Amid the giants on a Division 1 basketball court, Romelo Banks looks down. Standing nearly seven-feet-tall, the muscular center’s body is a coach’s dream, leading to over 30 college offers and a full scholarship to play at the University of North Florida.
But growing up, life proved much harder, forcing Banks to become the man he is today.
An A/B student, Banks grew up with a love of Harry Potter and dreams of becoming a lawyer. Despite working long hours and playing the role of both parents, Bank’s mother instilled in him the value of education.
It was 10th grade when stomach cancer took Nadine Banks from the world, leaving her son lost.
In the time immediately after his mother’s death Banks felt lost. He started missing classes, his grades fell and he lost hope on a lot of what he worked for.
It was during this time of mourning and loss that Banks found a new love – basketball. Afternoon practices became therapeutic, forcing Banks to attend class or risk not playing. He released his anger, frustration and resentment on the court dominating opponents and attracting the attention of college coaches.
Of the many suitors, Banks chose UNF after meeting Dallas Moore, another recruit, at an AAU tournament.
“Just talking with him about basketball and everything, [we] connected right away,” Moore said. “It’s one of the reasons he said he came here.”
When Banks arrived on UNF’s campus, the challenges didn’t stop. Banks still harbored resentment and anger from the past which reared its ugly head on the court.
“He would actually rip down the rim; he was as violent as you could possibly be when he got mad,” Head Coach Matthew Driscoll said.
Despite the coaching problems, Banks’ had a stellar first year, culminating with a freshman single-season block record. Still, the adversity continued. While at school, the house his family lived in down south was foreclosed on, leaving his brother searching for a home. Before the start of his junior season, an ankle injury forced multiple surgeries which led him sidelines for the entire season.
Any one of these incidents could have discouraged Banks and set him away, but this time, they changed him for the better.
“A couple things happened, number one got older, number two he got hurt and it was taken away from him,” Driscoll said.
“It really just made me understand that anything can be taken away from you, whether its academics, sports, relationships, anything,” Banks said.
Romelo learned to change his mind set and attack each problem with a positive mindset. He made a pact with Coach Driscoll to work on his temper, and he found a sense of maturity that matched his enormous size.
Armed with a newfound maturity and outlook on life, Banks then added yet another resource to his arsenal – religion.
Aaron Austin, a pastor at Southpoint Community Church, met Banks has a freshman and encouraged him to come to church. Hesitant at first, Banks went periodically, believing his busy schedule didn’t allot him the time each week.
Then, while at a typical service, Banks was saved. A pastor called him to the front of the church and began telling him things about himself he never imagined. He knew Banks’ struggles and past without asking. The moment was so inspiring, Banks not only began attending services weekly, but now co-hosts a weekly bible study with members of the basketball team.
Despite the progress and improvements he made in his life, Banks soon faced the biggest adversity of his life.
He was eating breakfast with his girlfriend Yani, when he learned she was carrying his child.
Four years ago, as a 17-year-old freshman, Banks may have reacted with anger and depression, but because of his past and his growth, Banks took the news in stride.
“The first thing that came to our minds was how can we be the best parents possible when the time comes,” Banks said.
Having grown up without a father and losing a mother, Banks vowed to be a positive influence and role model for his baby girl.
“It makes you want to become a better parent,” Banks said. “You want to take care of them the best way possible.”
The couple plans on having the child at Florida Hospital Celebration Health, the same place where Banks’ mother passed away. It’s there way of honoring a fallen angel while bringing a new one into the world.
Operation New Hope
By Serena Summerfield and Al Huffman
People often feel like they don’t stop serving time even after they’ve been released from the prison system. But one program in downtown Jacksonville is looking to change that.
Operation New Hope is encouraging non-violent offenders to re-enter the real world. They provide programs integrating felons into a work environment and offer advice on keeping their family life intact.
Kevin Gay, CEO of ONH, created the program in 1999 to help those like Jarvis Guthrie, a convicted felon. He said Guthrie went through some bumps along the way after being released in 2014, but that he is everything the program ever wanted.
“[Guthrie is] the perfect candidate, the perfect student, and now has done such a great job we have ended up hiring him to help us work on a program we have now called Fresh Start,” Gay said.
Guthrie spent two years in prison for breaking into a police officer’s home during a party. He then struggled to maintain the job he found as a dishwasher and take care of his family for a few months before finding ONH.
He has two boys, James and Josiah. He wants to take care of them as a single-father and make sure he can give them the best. But he said each day has it’s challenges.
“Being a convicted felon is like having a weight. I’m carrying this weight of my past each and everyday. Some days it’s heavy where I feel like I’m not excelling. I’m getting rejected finding places to stay with my kids. Some days it feels like I’m flying where people can see where I’m able to come from,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie takes his sons to church every week on the westside. They usually stay in the day care section, but they always do bible studies as a family. They also frequently go fishing and visit nature trails near his home.
Guthrie said he continues to be a part of ONH because one second can change a life forever. He doesn’t feel one choice should ruin your whole life and determine your future and hopes programs like this can help people just like him.
“You can’t put a dollar sign on improving someone’s life,” Guthrie said.
Ready4Work has helped nearly 2500 ex-offenders find employment, according to ONH.
According to ONH, more than 7200 children have been indirectly helped through this program, reducing the probability of children falling into the cycle by 70 percent. They recently added a new program called Breaking the Cycle specifically for children of offenders. Its goal is to bring families together with counseling, financial and emotional support.
ONH also helps provide housing and offers tax incentives to employers for hiring ex-offenders.
By Brenda Zelaya and Jordan Bebout
Habitat for Humanity is a well-established international nonprofit that builds homes for families in difficult situations. Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville, known as Habijax, has been helping families on the path to homeownership since 1998.
HabiJax is currently building homes in the Newtown area, which is close to the urban core of downtown Jacksonville. Typically their houses have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, but they can build up to five bedrooms for larger families.
Clients must meet certain requirements to even be considered for the program. Applicants must have a minimum 600 credit score, no delinquent debt and a willingness to work for a home. They also must show they are either living in substandard conditions or spending more than 40% of their income on housing costs.( Ideally, people should spend 30% or less of their income on housing.)
Once accepted into the program, homebuyers must complete 300 volunteer hours and attend educational workshops on topics like budgeting, credit and home maintenance.
During the homebuying process, a local bank does the underwriting for the loan and facilitates the mortgage process. HabiJax offers mortgages at a 0% interest rate along with affordable monthly payments.
“On average, our families make less than $28,000 a year,” said HabiJax Chief Administrative Officer Angie Leatherbury. “The average median household income for Jacksonville is 60k… meaning we serve people between 35-80% area median income for Jacksonville.”
A permanent home provides not just physical stability, but emotional and mental stability as well. By spending a smaller percent of their income on housing, they’re freed up to spend more on healthcare, education, or other expenses.
“Families are at the core of what we do here,” said Leatherbury. “Keeping them together, making a home for them and allowing them to flourish…is our goal.”