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Worthy, Wonderful, Whimsical, Witty, Warm, Wow stands for…Women!

A wonderful word! Every March, Old City Life pays homage to women who shape our community. As always, we’re honored to be able to introduce some of St. Augustine and St. Johns County’s finest, and to say a heartfelt “Thank you!” to all the women in our area who make this one of the best places in the world to live and love.

Ann Johnson
Director, St. Augustine Montessori School

Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson – Director, St. Augustine Montessori School

Teaching Individuality

When Ann Johnson first became a school principal, one of her former elementary Montessori school students, now a grown woman with children of her own, stood up in front of the entire school community and said “This is the reason why I am so successful, is because of my teacher.” Johnson remembers her as being “a little dickens with a mouth on her,” which Johnson wasn’t about to put up with.

One day, after the girl smarted off to her in class and challenged her to “do something about it,” Johnson did. When the girl walked in to her house that day after school, Johnson was sitting there with her grandmother, whom she lived with. From that day on, says the Minnesota-born Johnson, “she was the best student.”

“That’s where I learned to be not just a good teacher, but an effective teacher by getting down to why the child was behaving the way they were,” she admits. It’s knowing the child on a personal level and being able to reach out to them to help one-to-one. It’s that kind of individual attention that attracted Johnson to the Montessori philosophy of teaching in the first place. “I had to get to know them. I had to get to know the families.”

After getting her Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education from Clark Atlanta University (she also holds a Masters in Literacy Education from Hamline University), Johnson began her Montessori career in her home state of Minnesota. An interruption of that Montessori experience came when her husband was transferred to Atlanta and she became a teacher in the Fulton County School System. That stint in the conventional educational world quickly taught her that she fit better in an environment that was tailored more towards giving students the tools to progress at their own speed and learn at their own pace — the core of the Montessori philosophy of education.

“I didn’t like the focus on teaching to the test. The emphasis wasn’t on the child. It was all about teaching what need to be learned for standardized testing. I knew I had to get out of there.”

A family health issue demanded that the family to move back to Minnesota, this time to Minneapolis, and Johnson eventually became a director at Bright Water Montessori school. But when the mother of 8 (four biological children, one step child, and three adopted) experienced serious health issues herself, her doctor suggested a move to a warmer climate would be the best course of action. The dry frigid air of Minnesota winters was affecting her lungs and making her sick six months out of the year. When a position for the Director of the Montessori Schools of St. Augustine came across a recruiter’s desk and contacted her, she looked into it and as she says, “Here I am.”

Although she’s only been here since July of last year, Johnson says she and her family are here to stay. “I was accepted with such open arms by the children, and the adults and the families” she explained, saying that she immediately felt right at home. She has big hopes for a bigger facility than their current one on Williams Street…but not too big. “I’d like to have it top out at around 250 children because I want to know not just the kids but the families too. If it gets too big, I won’t be able to do that.” Plus, she’d like to help Montessori teaching practices be applied to the rest of the public school system throughout the county. Not a complete adoption of the method, she asserts, but she does see a lot of conventional public school teachers using Montessori materials in their classes these days and thinks that can be expanded. The philosophy is one she believes is valuable to students from all walks of life.

“I tell the kids, ‘This is our piece of the world. What can you do to change it and to make a difference?’ That’s what we teach in Montessori. From the small: how do we take care of the classroom and take care of each other in our classroom; to the large: how do we take care of our world and the people in that world? Respect for each other, respect for adults, respect in general. I’ve been in education for over 30 years now and that is what is most important to me as far as what we teach our kids. It’s not just teaching them the ABCs and 123s. It’s teaching them how to live. You can be the smartest person in the room but if you don’t know how to treat a person, how’s that going to help anybody, you know?”

Beth Lambert
Executive Director, Limelight Theatre

Beth Lambert

Beth Lambert
Executive Director Limelight Theatre

Perfect Scene

I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” marvels Beth Lambert, Executive Director at Limelight Theatre. She says her position fell into her lap and is a dream come true. It’s rare to get to do what you love in a small town.

Since ninth grade, Lambert has been involved with theater. Her parents and grandparents ran a theatre in Alabama where she helped out directing children’s programs. But it wasn’t until she was attending Auburn University that she realized she wanted a career in the field. Performing arts must run in her blood. Her two children are in the business too. Her son works for a New York costume designer, and her daughter is a certified stunt woman in Atlanta.

Lambert does it all in her role as Executive Director. She’s an actor, director, teacher, writer, and sometimes even a grunt worker helping to move sets. Her previous work experiences helped to prepare her for her current position. She even won an Addy Award while working on Oglethorpe Power’s internal video news magazine where she wrote, acted, and directed.

She wears the director’s hat for one show a year at Limelight, usually the opening musical of the season. It’s a priority for Lambert to get on stage, too. Her most recent role was as an alcoholic, drug-addicted movie star in the play “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Quite a glaring character in comparison to her friendly, helpful, and happy demeanor in everyday life.

Another role Lambert played was as a Jewish mother of a son who wanted to wear a dress. She says it was a “well-written, poignant piece.” After the performance, she received a thank-you letter from a woman who said the monologue changed her viewpoint on raising a child who doesn’t fit your original expectations. This wasn’t the first and probably won’t be the last time she’s received a letter like this. Lambert articulates that theater “should open up your mind to think in other ways that maybe you hadn’t thought before.”

When she’s not on stage or behind the scenes preparing for the next big show, you can find Lambert teaching an intro to acting class for adults. The class explains the audition process and helps attendees to shake their stage-related anxieties. Limelight Theatre offers programs for all ages. Beth started KidzfACTory about sixteen years ago to include kindergarteners through fifth graders.

Lambert says, “It’s very rewarding to see someone really grow. Someone who couldn’t even say their name in the beginning. And after [the class] they’re some great character who they never thought they could be.” She explains that getting involved in the theater doesn’t require a degree or lots of experience. All you actually need is a nice photograph and some form of performance-oriented experience you can list on the application.

The change of shows is exciting, and Lambert enjoys getting to work with “new people, new sets, new audiences, and new expectations every six weeks. It’s never boring.” It’s the little things that keep her going. “One of my favorite things is to sit in the theatre when it’s empty and dark, but all set up for the next show. It allows you to imagine how people might react, and how they might grow from watching the show.”

Caren Goldman
Founder/Executive Director, Compassionate St. Augustine

A Passion for Compassion

By Kara Pound
Photo by Kate Gardiner

The definition of compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” It’s a relatively easy concept: you see someone who needs help and you help him or her. Unfortunately, acts of compassion are not as widespread as you would wish.

Caren Goldman is a few minutes late for our interview. But if there’s anyone who deserves a bit of leniency (compassion, if you will) when it comes to scheduling, it’s Goldman. She’s just rushed across town from the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative breakfast at the Armory and has less than an hour before the annual MLK Day Remembrance March departs from St. Paul’s AME Church in Lincolnville.

Goldman is the Executive Director & Founder of Compassionate St. Augustine, a self-organizing grassroots group of residents in St. Augustine who uphold the Charter for Compassion and enliven the Golden Rule (a.k.a. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”).

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Goldman became a full-time resident of St. Augustine in 2007. She’s married to Rev. Ted Voorhees, a Vicar of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Lincolnville, and is an award-winning author and seasoned journalist, writing about the intersections of healing, spirituality, psychology, and religion.

“My career as a writer and investigative reporter has been based on writing about people who are on the cutting age of spiritual healing, and show why they’re making a difference,” Goldman explains as we sit down for a cup of coffee. “My husband and I are highly trained in conflict transformation for congregations and non-profits. We’re trained to look at a system that isn’t functioning as a whole and work to get that system healthy again.”

In September of 2013, with Goldman at the helm, St. Augustine became the first Compassionate City in Florida and the 20th in the world. The organization’s mission is rather simple: To influence, inspire and grow a culture of compassion through advocacy, awareness and action.

“To become an official Compassionate city, you have to do the necessary paperwork and build relationships,” Goldman explains. “We needed support from the City Commission and they voted unanimously in favor of St. Augustine becoming a Compassionate city. There are now something like 450 worldwide.”

Along with a core group of a few dozen volunteers, Goldman’s Compassionate St. Augustine group has been working on various projects throughout the community. Many residents probably remember the popular Obelisk Art 450, a public art project created in conjunction with the city’s 450th birthday.

Goldman’s current passion for compassion is the “Let Freedom Ring Chime Project;” a commemorative permanent public art installation to be built in Dr. Robert B. Hayling Freedom Park that will pay tribute to the city’s African-American storyline as well as the “roles freedom, human rights, democracy, tolerance and compassion have played and continue to play in creating the narrative.”

The project will cost approximately $150,000 and Goldman says they are more than half of the way there with a dedication slated for this April. As far as the future of compassion in St. Augustine, Goldman has high hopes.

“We all have empathy and at the right time and place our empathy is amplified,” says Goldman. “But it’s not until we take action and make compassion a verb that it becomes something more than empathy. I’d like St. Augustine to take compassion and action seriously towards ones self and relationships.”

To learn more about Compassionate St. Augustine, visit their website for more information.