by Suzanne Fox Sevel, photos by Mike Wells
Mothers are more than “just” moms; they are extraordinarily strong, intelligent, supportive, intuitive and nurturing. Mothers teach valuable life lessons, while encouraging independence. They give advice, advocate for their children and encourage new challenges with grace and wisdom. Breadwinner, homemaker, advice giver, protector, cook, tutor, volunteer – most of today’s moms are taking on all these roles and more. Motherhood is the world’s most demanding and rewarding of jobs. Great mothers encourage their children, instill values, attend sporting events or music recitals, kiss away pain, and manage fulfilling careers. In honor of Mother’s Day, SpaceCoast Living celebrates five extraordinary mothers on the Space Coast, who truly are “extra-mile moms.”
Betsy Farmer, co-founder of the Space Coast Early Intervention Center and co-founder, Executive Director of Promise in Brevard, credits her children for inspiring her life’s work. Mother to Josh, 30, and Luke, 29, and grandmother to Brady-Luke, Betsy’s role as mother naturally blossomed into the role of advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. Betsy began her important career change soon after her son Luke was born with Down syndrome. Realizing the lack of programs in the area for children with special needs, she was inspired to start a unique preschool. Tired of hearing the words, “he will never be able to do” something, she set out to prove the naysayers wrong. Today, the Space Coast Early Intervention Center offers an inclusive academic environment for children with and without disabilities.
Betsy later paved the way for children to be integrated within the school system and has now dedicated her life to ensure that young adults with special needs have a life full of opportunities and freedom they never thought possible. To this end, she and her son Luke co-founded Promise in Brevard. Promise will be a 39-acre housing development, located in West Melbourne, that will provide safe, affordable housing, vocational training, employment, as well as health, wellness and continuing education programs. Breaking ground in the summer of 2015, Promise in Brevard will be a place for adults with special needs to live, work and play.
Her advice to mothers? “Believe in your kids. Don’t set limits. Look to your children for what they can do. Let them reach their full potential. Each and every person is put on the earth for a reason,” she emphasized.
Dr. Katrina Davis, a urogynecologist at Central Florida UroGynecology in Rockledge, is mom to Jasmine, 16, and Jada, 15. Katrina was in her late 20’s, just finishing her residency and starting in a new practice, when she gave birth to her daughter Jasmine. A little over a year later her second daughter, Jada, was born. Today, after relocating from Arkansas to Cocoa Beach, Katrina and her husband, Dennis enjoy raising their two daughters on the Space Coast. The busy doctor and mother says that it is important for women to find time to take care of themselves. “Don’t try to be perfect. Sometimes we just have to step back, take a deep breath, get some exercise or relax,” she said.
“With my girls I listen, empathize and put myself in their shoes. I try to remember how I felt when I was their age,” she said. She loves watching her daughters grow and become independent. Her days are full with activities like track, cheerleading and basketball. “As teenagers, they’re finding their own voice. It’s my job as a mother to help them find balance, teach them a moral code, guide them and keep them safe without suppressing their personalities,” Katrina explained.
The Davises are active in the Bahá’í Faith, which teaches community building, spiritual values and service. Much of their free time is spent on community service and youth group activities. “The spiritual component is important,” Katrina says,
“It anchors us and keeps us centered. I want my children to know God, to serve God and make the world a better place.”
Cheryl McClendon, senior manager at Harris, is mother to Connor, 10, and Kylee, 5. The McClendons knew they wanted to be parents, but they were not able to have children on their own. In 2005, Cheryl and her husband, Greg, an engineer at Harris, decided to expand their family by adopting from China. “When we knew we were ready to adopt, the agency we worked with had an established, formalized process. We applied and about a year later we were parents,” she explained.
“When we held baby Connor for the first time, there was tremendous joy and tears of happiness. The emotions were overwhelming. The love there was automatic,” Cheryl said. Five years later, Kylee joined the family. “We took Connor, then 7, to Chongqing, China, the city where he was also born. When the agent called our name, Kylee smiled and toddled right up to Connor. They connected instantly.”
Cheryl emphasizes the role of God in their lives, the importance of Christian values and of having balance. God comes first for the McClendons, who go to Calvary Chapel in West Melbourne. “I’m trying to teach
our children to become good people. These days, the McClendons have a lot going on with school, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, piano lessons and all the activities. “Family time – dinners together, game nights, and camping – is a priority for us,” she said.
Jayashree Kumar, executive director for Wickham Dental Care, is mother to Nikhita, 5, and Jaimen, 2. She believes that mothers are a great influence on their children’s education. “It’s never too early to start educating your children,” said Jayashree, who began reading and singing to her children when she was pregnant. Now her daughter, a pre-schooler at Viera Children’s Academy, knows the medical names of bones and the complex working of an axel. “I’m taken aback by all they know at this age. My daughter can make a lava cake; my son gets ready for school by himself and holds the door open for his sister,” she smiled. “We give them a little responsibility which is good for them. It makes my day when I see my children expressing themselves in a way I taught them,” she said.
Jayashree and her husband Dr. Sadesh Kumar, DMD, dentist and owner of Wickham Dental Care, are originally from India. “We’ve always been taught to value education and to give back to the world,” she said. The Kumars are sponsors of Dentistry from the Heart (an annual event that includes one day of free dental services for the underprivileged.) They also sponsor Women of Excellence, as well as a number of charitable causes. When not volunteering and working at the office, Jayashree enjoys swimming, skiing, cooking, painting, and making pottery with her children.
It takes a lot more than good time management for Michelle Naberhaus to get through her week. It’s constantly checking and cross-referencing calendars. Mother to five children under 12, Michelle is also a litigation and guardianship attorney with her own practice. The lawyer, philanthropist and master juggler is mother to Bobbie, 11, Matthew, 9, Katie, 7, Christopher, 5, and Andrew, 4. “The kids are now involved in extracurricular activities, so we run around at a crazy pace. We have really learned to appreciate our quiet time at home,” she said. “We especially like to swim, grill out and just relax.” She and her husband, Rob, (attorney partner at Dean Mead), have learned how important it is to leave work at work and be present in the moment at home.
“With a big family, you have to understand, acknowledge your children’s differences and communicate with each one in a way that works with their personalities,” she said. Michelle feels it is important to give back to the community. She is a board member for the Brevard Cultural Alliance, the Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech, The Haven for Children and the Brevard County Bar Association. Last year, she was a recipient of LEAD Brevard’s “4 under 40,” award and she and her husband are presently serving as event chairs for the 2015 March of Dimes Signature Chef’s Auction.