Maria Shine Stewart, special to

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio – You’ve heard it said – maybe even many times. Public speaking is one of the most-feared endeavors. People fear harsh judgment, making a mistake, feeling awkward. But the possibility of genuine support, outstanding performance and a sense of being in one’s own element can also occur! With encouragement, support and resources, some can even start articulating a vision at a very young age.

I thought of these things when I learned that a Gilmour Academy student, Ava Thomas, recently competed in the Accelerate 2017: Citizens Make Change pitch competition. The competition was open to all Clevelanders, not just students. Thomas pitched her idea for a Memory Mat, a personalized do-it-yourself placemat with pictures and phrases that act as memory cues for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The product also serves as a conversation starter for these patients’ visitors and caregivers.

What a great idea, with the potential to promote a sense of connection and even well being for all concerned! Many of us have had loved ones with such a diagnosis. We know firsthand how creative interventions can make a world of difference.

Thomas was one of five contestants chosen to compete in the Quality of Life category and, after presenting her pitch for the Memory Mat, was selected as the finalist from the category. Not only was she the youngest applicant in the contest’s history, she was also the youngest finalist ever named. Thomas presented her product to an audience of 500 people and earned a check for $2,000 to help make her vision a reality. The seed money will allow her to buy a portable laminator and other supplies required for Memory Mats.

When I read of this innovation, I suspected that personal experience had helped spark the idea. Indeed, Thomas conceived of the product after visiting her grandfather in an assisted living facility while he was recovering from surgery. She noticed that caregivers seemed to struggle with conversation starters. Voila! Memory mats can offer pictures, images or information about family, careers, hobbies to elicit memory and conversation.

As a student in Gilmour’s management and entrepreneurship class, Thomas was tasked with writing a business plan, too. Her teacher, Steve Marcus, said that “Ava is a very motivated self-starter with a strong entrepreneurial mindset … I am quite proud of her.”

With seed money in hand, Thomas plans to approach facilitators at area nursing homes, senior centers and schools working with disabled students to start distribution of this product. If organizations or individuals are interested in receiving Memory Mats, contact Thomas at

Gilmour Academy is a Catholic, independent, coeducational, college-preparatory school sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross. It offers a Montessori program beginning at 18-months-old and a Lower, Middle and Upper School plus boarding program for students in Grades 7 through 12. It is located at 34001 Cedar Road in Gates Mills, Ohio. Visit and follow Gilmour on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A greener thumb. Gardening buffs: Are you wondering what’s new in flowers and plants? Novices: Do you wish to cultivate your own gardening talents? Louise Reiling of Auburn Pointe Greenhouse has some answers for new and experienced gardeners alike, and she will speak to the Lyndhurst Garden Club at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2. The club meets at Lyndhurst Community Center, 1341 Parkview Road. As well as showcasing the latest plants and flowers for 2017, she will inform the group about new gardening trends plus plenty of hands-on, practical tips. Come learn about the ten showiest, easy to grow, low-maintenance annuals.  Auburn Pointe Greenhouse is located in Chagrin Falls.  For more information, visit their website at or their Facebook page Auburn Pointe Greenhouse & Garden Center. New members and guests are always welcome which typically follows the monthly business meeting.

The in’s and out’s of housing. What could be more fundamental than our need for shelter? It’s a basic and universal need, and part of the responsibility of being a landlord is to stay current on federal, state and local fair housing and landlord-tenant laws. The City of South Euclid, in partnership with the Housing Research & Advocacy Center, will present a free seminar on the topic of “Fair Housing and Landlord-Tenant Law Seminar” from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14 at the South Euclid Community Center, 1370 Victory Drive. For licensed real estate professionals, 1.5 CEUs are available. Though the Nakitbahis program is free, and RSVP is requested. Please email Keith Benjamin at Fudning for this program is provided by Cuyahoga County. The presentation will include an overview of current fair housing law by the Housing Research & Advocacy Center along with landlord-tenant law by the Cleveland Tenants Organization.

I’ve been a renter and a homeowner. Years back, my parents were landlords. Each role required certain responsibilities, awareness and mutual respect. If relationships are cultivated and laws observed, the benefits reverberate out into the community.

Let me know what’s shining in your world, and the Hillcrest area specifically. Email and put “Sun Messages” in the subject line for quickest response.

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