Space Coast Moms Demonstrate Compassion, Courage and Community Service

By Michelle Salyer

Browse any greeting card stand this month and praise for mothers is effusive—cards for moms, stepmothers, mother figures, and grandmothers. You’ll see cards from children, stepchildren, sons- and daughters-in-law, and even the family pet.  Funny cards, mushy cards, 3-D and musical cards—the assortment of sentiments and scenarios are endless. But a Hallmark card can’t describe the contributions these Space Coast moms are making, not only by stepping out into the community to make a difference, but also by raising their children to be compassionate and capable citizens of the world. Roses are red, violets are blue… Brevard moms, no one holds a candle to you…

Kathryn Varnes – Indialantic
Flight attendant for Delta
Mom of: Charlotte, 8; Robert, 6

Kathryn Varnes’ life story could well be the plot of a Hollywood movie: a studious, beautiful girl… a handsome, carefree surfer…  Although their photos appear beside each other in their high school yearbook, the two never cross paths until their 20year reunion, when mutual friends introduce them. On their first date, she tells him about her dashed hopes of becoming a station-wagon driving mom, and he soon makes that dream come true by sweeping her off her feet.

This fairy tale ending really happened for Kathryn Van Arsdall Varnes, who married her Satellite Beach High School classmate, Mitch Varnes, more than two decades after graduation. Today, the marathon-running couple has two children, Charlotte and Robert—and that much anticipated station wagon.

“Motherhood is the zenith of my life,” said the self-described “goofy” mom of two. “I waited 40 years to have children and nothing compares. I’ve always told my daughter, Charlotte, that I had a hole in my heart and when she was born, she filled it. And we loved her so much, we decided to have Robert.”

The child of a former Pan Am project engineer, Varnes, a Delta flight attendant for 26 years, believes that children should have “wings to fly”— both literally and figuratively. “Traveling changed my perspective on everything,” she said, “…I have always felt that traveling is an important part of children’s knowledge and development.”

Whether it’s karma, fate or faith that brought her family together, Varnes knows one thing for certain: “We’ve been blessed.”

Kerry Crawford – Melbourne
Physical Therapist, Health First
Mom of: Mack, 19; Chris, 16; Austin, 13; Kathryn, 10

It’s the unspoken dream of every mom: “the best part about motherhood is raising people you enjoy being with,” says Kerry Crawford, a mother of four, who works as a physical therapist for Health First. Crawford is the kind of mom who’s happiest when her house is filled with kids—her own and other people’s. “It’s not unusual for us to wake up and find five or six different kids who have spent the night… In fact, that’s the way I’d prefer it.”

While having fun as a family is a priority, Crawford and her husband, Charlie, an 18th Circuit Court Judge, also strive to instill a sense of service in their children. “I feel certain all my boys will serve their community in some capacity,” said Crawford. “They have grown up helping the special needs children in this area since their sister has Down Syndrome and have seen their dad work tirelessly with people who are in need.”

The family spends a great deal of time working with the Challenger division of Little League, which Charlie helped to create several years ago. The program pairs special needs children with a buddy on the field to help them play the game.

Watching the boys care for their younger sister has been tremendously touching for Kerry. “I love it. They do thoughtful, sweet things for her all the time.  It seems to come easy to all of them, we never had to force it.” When Kathryn learned to read this year, the boys’ response was “overwhelming,” said Kerry.

With her oldest son already off the college, Kerry is cherishing every moment with her kids. “The most important thing…is that they know they are loved for who they are and that family is the greatest blessing in life.”

Dr. Sheryll Bryan – Melbourne
Physiatrist or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Medicine Specialist
Mom to:  Megan, 16; Gillian, 11

While many people, even other physicians, may not know what a physiatrist does, Dr. Sheryll Bryan’s patients certainly know what a difference she makes in their lives. Working primarily in nursing homes, Bryan helps restore function and mobility to the elderly and those who have suffered from stroke or other disabilities.

Although her grandmother raised her in Jamaica until she was 14, Bryan learned the value of hard work from her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. to create a better life for their family. Both worked several jobs while pursuing medical degrees: Her father became a chiropractor and her mother a podiatrist. Their work ethic is ingrained in Bryan today, and is something she passes along to her two girls, Megan and Gillian. “These are the things that have shaped me and molded me over the years—knowing that with hard work, you can achieve anything.”

Bryan and her husband, Dr. Orville Foster, an anesthesiologist, moved to Brevard County five years ago from Virginia. With her own practice and part-time hours, she is now able to spend her more time with the girls, picking them up from school, hanging out in the yard, and taking weekend trips as a family. “We really appreciate when we have a weekend when everyone is home together.”

Although she now enjoys a good balance between career and home, Bryan’s work definitely influences the way she raises her children. “I come to work and see people with these devastating conditions, and they’re dealing with it, for the most part,” said Bryan.  “When I come home, I feel so thankful and so blessed. At home, I just don’t tolerate the pity party. It’s ok to get upset, to get frustrated, and to be sad. But you cry, you let it out, we talk about it. And after that, we move on.  After that, it’s time to be positive.”

Nina Gadodia – Indian Harbour Beach
Former Computer Programmer and Aesthetician, turned Full-Time Community Volunteer
Mom to: Daughter, Garima, 26; Son-in-Law ,Nikesh Shah, 26; Son, Gaurav, 21

Fifteen years ago, Nina Gadodia came up with an idea to celebrate and share her family’s Indian heritage with her friends, neighbors and their American born children. She presented the plan to leaders of Brevard’s Indian community, and today, her brainchild, Indiafest, is larger and more popular than ever. “Apart from playing a major role in our county’s cultural harmony,” said Gadodia, “Giving a sense of pride to our children of their heritage, and charity (are) also major goals.” This year, Indiafest raised more than $220,000 for Haiti relief.

Having been born and raised in India, Gadodia believes that “every culture has a lot to offer and it should be in everyone’s best interest to share their heritage while learning from others.” In addition to planning Indiafest each year, Gadodia was recently appointed to the Cultural Committee for Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism, has served on the board for Crosswinds Youth Services for 11 years, serves on the Board of Trustees for Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy and recently worked with children in the Boys and Girls Club to create a cultural presentation for the Taste of India fundraiser, among many other community projects.

Although working with children or “for the betterment of children” is what gives Gadodia her greatest pleasure, she views community service as critical to parenting as well. “I hope our generation can pass a better world to the citizens of tomorrow by giving them values which are not bound by the limitations of religion, culture, color and even nationality.”

Tammy Muzzy – Suntree
Manager, Medical Staff Services, Holmes Regional Medical Center
Mom of: Connor, 16; Brianna, 14

Tammy Muzzy learned how to take care of herself and others at an early age. After her father passed away from a sudden heart attack when she was nine, Tammy’s mom raised eight children on her own. As the oldest girl, Tammy frequently took care of the house and cared for her younger siblings. ”My mother’s influence was that (the harder) things get, the stronger a person you become. My mom was hardworking and she always put us first before herself. She taught us you can always overcome any obstacle or any challenge”

Today, Tammy and her husband, Stephen, the Assistant Superintendent/Educational Technology for Brevard County Schools, are passing those hard-earned life lessons on to their teenage children, Connor and Brianna. “I want them to be hardworking, respectful of others and believe in themselves,” said Muzzy. “I stress to them constantly that you are judged by the choices you make, so make good choices.”

Adjusting to the teenage years and her kids’ growing independence has been the most challenging aspect of motherhood. Muzzy admits that the loss of her father and her oldest brother, who died of Crohn’s disease, may have made her a little more overprotective than most parents. But the experience has also helped to remind her not take relationships with her family or her children for granted. “We’re a very close family because of it all.”

While her ideal Mother’s Day would be spent relaxing at a nice hotel with a spa, her favorite moments as a mom come every day.  “The best part of motherhood is enjoying the simple, day-to-day time with your children and watching them make good choices as they grow into young adults.”

Joi Robertson – Rockledge
Head of School, St. Mark’s Episcopal Academy in Cocoa Village
Mom of: Ashley, 23; Cadee, 17
Grandmother of: Chase, 21 months

When the sixth grade class at St. Mark’s Episcopal Academy graduates this May, their Head of School, Joi Robertson admits she will “shed more than a few tears.”

Robertson, who has led the small private school for three years and has taught for 14, isn’t afraid to admit that she loves her students. “Being attached goes with the territory and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

As a mom of two girls, Ashley, 23, and Cadee, 17, and grandmother to Chase, 21 months, Robertson says being a parent and grandparent has helped enormously in her profession.  “You can study all the theories in the world, but having children of your own adds another dimension in ‘experiential’ education.  My ability to relate and understand students is enhanced because I continue to be enrolled in the ‘University of Motherhood.’  I think of it as perpetual professional development”.

Being a mom helps Robertson to understand parents better as well. “It’s easier for me to relate to them because we have so much in common—primarily, wanting what is best for our children.”

Parenthood has changed greatly for Robertson this year with the loss of her husband, Eddie, who passed away in December. The couple had enjoyed a rare and special partnership in raising their girls. While Joi worked, Eddie, who was retired, played the role of Mr. Mom—chaperoning field trips, coaching Little League and shuttling the girls to and from activities. When the girls got boo-boos, they ran to Daddy for a Band-Aid, said Robertson.

“Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and sad at the prospect of doing it alone now. But my girls are amazing young women with a strong sense of purpose and faith.  They are determined to go on and make their father and me proud. “