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Alumna creates coloring books celebrating everyone’s abilities, contributions.

Cynthia Cordero ’16 lives without limits. When a sudden medical issue—similar to a stroke—affected her cognitive function, speech, and ability to write, Cordero thought she would never draw again. Instead, the U.S. Navy officer found that her lifelong passion of drawing became therapy for her and others.

Cynthia coloring with a disabled child

“Disability limits you from being able to do one thing, but it doesn’t limit you from everything,” Cordero said. Inspired, she began creating coloring books to share with children who have disabilities.  

For more than two years, Cordero has volunteered at children’s hospitals. She always takes paper with her on visits, and she uses drawing and coloring to connect with the young patients, who have disabilities and/or may be terminally ill. Drawing allows them to dream about what they can do despite their disability. “As a kid you can dream up anything that you want, and creativity allows kids to bring those dreams to life,” Cordero said.

In turn, the children inspired Cordero to create a series of coloring books. The featured characters are based on children and people she meets. The message of the Don’t Let a Disability Disable You coloring book series is that a disability may limit a person, but it can’t stop them from contributing to their community and world.

Children holding up Cynthia's coloring books

“I’m hoping that through seeing themselves in a creative way, it can inspire them to know they can do anything,” Cordero said.

The series follows the children as they grow. The first coloring book, created for 2- to 8-year-olds, depicts children with disabilities dreaming about themselves as adults in various careers. The characters include a teacher with autism, a motivational speaker who is an amputee, and a doctor who must use an oxygen tank.

Volume 2 of Cynthia's "Don't Let a Disability Disable You" coloring bookThe characters are depicted with Cordero’s positive and playful style: diverse children in fun, colorful outfits with large, emotion-filled eyes. Book two, for children ages 8 to 11, features the characters as superheroes who use their disability to cure and help others.

Cordero, 33, is working on a third book, which is aimed at teens. The characters, also now teens, will be volunteers, who give back to their community.

Growing up in Long Island, NY, and Puerto Rico, Cordero dreamed of seeing the world. She joined the Navy in 2005 in order to travel and was deployed to Bahrain, Portugal, Italy, Michigan, and Florida. Now, she is based in Virginia Beach, VA, where she serves as a personnel specialist. She lives with her wife, Lauren McNulty, a mental health rehabilitation therapist.

Cynthia Cordero in uniform

Her love of children drew her to pursuing a degree in criminal justice. “It is a field that allows us as professionals to help those in need,” Cordero said. An internship in juvenile detention made her realize she wanted to assist children.

A friend recommended she enroll in Saint Leo University’s Center for Online Learning because of the program’s flexibility. Online education worked for her schedule and for her frequent deployments. The university’s core values also attracted her to Saint Leo. “You don’t find a lot of schools that take pride in and emphasize their values,” she said.

Cordero recommends Saint Leo’s online program to her fellow sailors because it offers individual attention and flexibility. Saint Leo “opened doors for me,” she said, both in the Navy and in her work with children. “This school is a great part of my story.”

Her service to the Navy and to children was recognized by her peers and community, and she was named the 2019 Samuel T. Northern Military Citizen of the Year by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. For Cordero, the honor meant her work is recognized and valued, and the recognition will bring more awareness about empowering those with disabilities and will allow her to help more people.

Cordero also wants adults to hear her message and to recognize their own superpowers, much like the characters in her second coloring book. The fourth offering in the Don’t Let Disability Disable You series will feature adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues. When her own medical issue occurred more than two years ago, she knew that a disability would not “stop me from wanting to serve my country anymore.” Cordero wants her fellow sailors with disabilities to recognize that, “everyone has something to contribute to the team.”

Child coloring a coloring bookThe coloring books are self-produced at this time, and Cordero founded a nonprofit organization, Cyn’s Vision, to help with production and other efforts. Money raised from purchases go back to the project so that the books may be donated to children’s hospitals and individuals, she said.

Cordero continues to dream. She plans on retiring from the Navy in five years and building Cyn’s Vision. She envisions creating an art therapy center to expand her outreach.

Her advice: “Take time to do what you have to do to achieve the goal. You may have to find variations from the normal ways, but don’t let a disability disable you.”


For More Information

Follow Cyn’s Vision at Cyn’s Vision Art on Facebook and Instagram @cynsvision. To request a coloring book, email cynthiacv30@yahoo.com or call (616) 773-9596.

 

Photos provided by Cynthia Cordero

 

Alumnus finds value and application in a popular Saint Leo University course on terrorism in Israel.

Charlie Bird ’05 ’11 ’14 followed a time-honored path over the course of three decades to emerge as the head of law enforcement  in his Central Florida hometown. He started as an outdoorsy, active young man who was introduced to the career through a friend who was a police dispatcher, and found the work suited him. He earned his degrees near home and advanced through the ranks. 

Now, as the director of public safety for the same small city, Winter Haven, FL (population: 43,000), Bird is a proponent of providing police and other emergency professionals with an international educational perspective. Even in smaller-population cities such as his, the threats to public safety and well-being are real, he said. Parkland, the Florida city victimized by the infamous Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, estimates its current population at 32,000, he pointed out.

Through his experiences at Saint Leo, Bird came to the conclusion that approaches to keeping the public safe now have to be researched worldwide, and not just within our country’s framework.

Bird earned an associate degree from Saint Leo in 2005 and later earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the university, studying part time, while working and raising a family. Then he followed that degree with a master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in critical incident management.

That was all sound training, he says, but what made him a more forward-leaning leader was his participation in an eight-day group trip to Israel. The tour is a learning experience that is organized periodically by Saint Leo’s departments of public safety administration and criminal justice in partnership with a respected security training company for law and safety students and professionals. The group learned about Israel’s approach to counterterrorism through its public infrastructure, various protective agencies, and planning capabilities.

“It was one of the best things I ever did,” Bird said of his 2014 experience. While many fellow travelers on the trip were from large-city police forces, Bird encountered many lessons that he applies in directing safety operations for Winter Haven, and that he thinks could work for other smaller municipalities.

New perspectives

What meant the most to Bird was the emphasis placed on the prevention of attacks and cooperative measures, along with strong tactical response capabilities. For instance, he realized in Israel, police and firefighters may coordinate and act immediately at a mass casualty, rather than in a sequence with police first, then firefighters. “You’re looking at it from a different perspective,” he said.

Charlie Bird, left, with Saint Leo faculty member Dr. Robert Sullivan on a tour during a study trip in May 2014 to Israel.

The Israeli thinking about keeping schools safe from intruders and active shooters also intrigued Bird. “Their security layers for schools are not just on campus,” he said. “They are outside that. They patrol the perimeters outside the school property.” His department could examine and adjust patrol routes, he immediately realized.

When he returned to Florida, the ideas stayed, and advancement opportunities followed. Bird became Winter Haven’s police chief early in 2015 after the previous chief, a mentor, left for another position in the region. After another few years, the city’s fire chief retired.

The local city manager in 2018 proposed a new organization bringing the fire and police departments, along with code enforcement, under one city department overseen by Bird. Bird agreed and was appointed the director of public safety, a new position. He now oversees 91 police employees and a force of 71 firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

One of Bird’s current initiatives involves taking police, fire, and code enforcement officers on team walks through neighborhoods where some of the homes and yards are out of code compliance or are about to be because of overgrown grass, debris, or other deficits. Team members walk and knock on doors to talk to residents, Bird said, taking an informative approach first, and asking what the public servants can do to help the residents bring the property into code compliance.

Community members who help agency personnel may come along, too, Bird said, and sometimes identify easy solutions. Firefighters look for features of buildings that might be fire hazards and add to their knowledge of the properties under their protective watch.

Cross-functional teams

The police presence also reassures residents the department is serious about keeping the area safe from personal and property crime and fighting drug dealing. This cooperative venture is also a data-driven exercise that will track results, including numbers of code citations and calls to police for help, Bird said.

He has his eye on the longer term, too. Now that some safety department managers have been working more holistically for more than a year, he would like to send six of them on the next Israel trip that Saint Leo is able to arrange. (A May 2020 date has been rescheduled for November 2020 in hopes of better travel conditions domestically and internationally, in light of the coronavirus outbreak.)

Bird wants the group to be able to see for themselves the kinds of things he did and develop more ideas for improving the safety and well-being of the residents of Winter Haven. An anonymous foundation board has come forward to fund most of this training so that taxpayers will not have to foot any costs. The donating board—unknown even to Bird—considers the donation a way to help the 53-year-old public safety director have strong successors in place when he eventually retires. Bird said he is “extremely appreciative.” The foundation’s board is “making a heck of an investment into the future of this department and into the future of this community.”


For More Information

If you are interested in learning more about the course and trip, please contact Dr. Robert Sullivan, faculty member with Saint Leo University’s Department of Public Safety Administration and Department of Criminal Justice, at robert.sullivan02@saintleo.edu.

Photos courtesy of Charlie Bird

Michele Naughton ’10 ’13 ’18 uses her Saint Leo education to invest in her community through her work with the Norfolk Police Department.

Michele Naughton is a survivor who overcame being homeless, raising children as a single mother, suffering a serious injury, and fighting cancer on her journey to becoming a police captain with the Norfolk (VA) Police Department.

A triple Saint Leo graduate, Naughton studied at education centers in Virginia, and earned an associate degree in 2010, a bachelor’s degree in business administration-management in 2013, and a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2018. She also is a graduate of Saint Leo’s Command Officer Management program.

A self-proclaimed “Army brat,” Naughton lived in Oklahoma, Germany, Texas, California, and New York prior to moving to Virginia. “I lived in the Louis Armstrong projects in Bedford Stuyvesant,” she said. “My parents had six kids, and when I was 15, my mom decided to move from Sacramento to Brooklyn to reunite with my dad. He was an Army veteran and an alcoholic. His addiction forced my mother to leave. With six kids in tow, we walked the streets of Brooklyn. We were homeless at times.”

But the strength of her mother encouraged her. “She loved us and ensured that our education was a top priority,” Naughton said. However, her educational journey stalled when she became pregnant at 19. She became pregnant again with twin sons and soon followed her mother to Norfolk so she could have her support.

“I originally became a police officer because my mom told me to!” Naughton said. “It was that simple. But once I became an officer, and I realized that every day is different and there are many opportunities, I really enjoyed it.”

She faced more challenges as she tore her meniscus after entering the police academy, delaying graduation for two years until 2002. In 2005, while pregnant, she was diagnosed with cancer. She has been in remission since 2006.

Naughton said, “I have dealt with adversity throughout my career and this accomplishment [being named captain] answered the questions I posed to God such as why I survived cancer, but my 3-year-old nephew did not, why did I get injured in the academy so completion took almost two years, why did my mom get shot and survive, and why did I meet Officer Sheila Herring in the academy, who was killed in the line of duty in 2003? I finally realized that God had a purpose for me. I believe I can inspire others to achieve their goals and to keep going even when the going gets tough.”

Norfolk Police Department Captain Michele Naughton receives a Community Heroes award from the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce
Saint Leo alumna, Norfolk Police Department Captain Michele Naughton, center, receives a Community Heroes award from the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

In 2007, she became a community resource officer assigned to the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. “I could relate to the concerns of the community as I had been a resident of the New York Housing Authority. I wanted to truly help make a safe community for the families, especially the children. I saw myself in the women in that community. I am a single mother, and I faced a lot of the same challenges as the residents. I was able to connect with them.”

Prior to being promoted to captain, she served in the patrol, detective, training, and vice-narcotics divisions throughout her career with the NPD.

Learning Curve

Naughton learned about Saint Leo University from other Norfolk police officers. “I was drawn to Saint Leo primarily because of the flexible schedule, affordable cost, and numerous degree programs,” she said. “I was a single mother of three, and when I started my educational journey, all my children were in elementary school.”

She completed most of her undergraduate degree at the South Hampton Roads Education Center at JEB-Little Creek, and also took classes online and at the Norfolk and Oceana offices. Her graduate degree program and Command Officer Management program were completed at the Chesapeake Education Center. “I enjoyed blended classes because I was able to manage the amount of time away from work and family and still able to receive classroom instruction,” she said.

Through Saint Leo, she learned skills to assist her as she moved into a command position. “Certain classes like accounting, budgeting, management, and policy courses provided the knowledge to understand the business and legal aspect of policing and the administrative side of law enforcement. I believe that, coupled with my experience, has made me a better officer today.”

Empowering Women

Captain Michele Naughton at Richard Bowling Elementary School's Black History Month presentation on March 5, 2020
Captain Michele Naughton at Richard Bowling Elementary School’s Black History Month presentation

Law enforcement needs more women, Naughton said. Women possess many special characteristics such as emotional intelligence, she said. “My advice would be that sometimes we [women and women of color] may doubt ourselves because we don’t see people who look like us in positions of authority in law enforcement, but there is a place for you. I would say, ‘you are smart enough, you are strong enough, and you are good enough. You are enough!”

While she said law enforcement is not an easy career path, it is rewarding. “Whoever made the glass ceiling wanted it to be broken—if not, it would have been made of concrete or steel.”

Naughton is motivated by the sense that she can change people’s perception of police officers. “I can truly be part of the solution,” she said. “I am motivated by knowing that I am a part of an organization that believes in fostering positive relationships and inclusivity. I am motivated because I see the example of leadership through authentic community engagement that results in crime reduction and building trust set by Chief Larry Boone.”

In turn, the Norfolk chief has great things to say about Naughton. “Not only is she an inspiration to young women, she is also an outstanding model for leadership,” Boone said. “Having overcome personal, professional, and health challenges during her career, Captain Naughton’s background authentically resonates with citizens, as she is an example of endurance and fortitude for anyone facing difficulties in their life. I am certain her legacy will impact/influence the future of recruitment for women and minorities in law enforcement by her example and mentorship.”

The Gig

In her position as captain, Naughton is the commanding officer of the Office of PRIME Affairs. PRIME is public relations, information, marketing, and engagement. She oversees the Public Information Office, Community Affairs Sections, and Community Outreach.

Naughton attributes her success and ability to move up the ranks within the police department to “the support and love of the community, co-workers, and family,” she said.

She volunteers weekly as a literacy tutor, co-hosts the bi-weekly radio talk show We Are One – NPD and You, and serves on the Cops & Curls Committee and the Fair and Impartial Policing work group. “I make time as it is important to me,” she said. “One encounter can change the path of a person’s life.”

And Naughton knows she does not do it alone. The support of her family, the Norfolk Police Department, the community, and God have encouraged her on this journey.

Photos by RGB Imaging

Learning is a lifetime endeavor. And at 81, Lottie Boone is a great example of someone who doesn’t let the years get in the way of her education. 

Boone is a student at Saint Leo University’s South Hampton Roads Education Center. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. 

“Sitting around doing nothing is when you get old,” Boone said. “Take the time and study. Your brain is still working.”

Her grandson Nicholas Franklin graduated from Saint Leo in 2015 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. “Then he went back and got his master’s [graduating in 2017 with a master’s in criminal justice-legal studies],” Boone said. “I told him, ‘I’m going back to school.’ And he said, ‘Baba, you’ve got to go to Saint Leo.’ ” Baba is what Franklin calls his grandmother.

“I had such a wonderful experience—finishing my bachelor’s and getting my master’s at Saint Leo,” Franklin said. “I knew that if I could do it, she could do it. She’s smarter than me; she has to be because she’s the one I always go to for advice—her and my mom, who I am working on getting her degree next! But everything I have done in life has aimed to make Baba proud.” 

Franklin said he will be waiting when she someday crosses the commencement stage with flowers and a big, proud hug. 

Boone’s higher education was delayed by life—a life that started on July 12, 1937, in Mobile, AL. Born at 2½ pounds and delivered at home by a midwife, Boone said she was so tiny, her mother placed her in a shoe box. “She fed me with a medicine dropper,” Boone said. “I must have been strong enough to say, ‘I’m not going to die. I’m going to stay here.’ ”

Following high school graduation, she enrolled at Alabama State University-Mobile and then transferred to Alabama State University in Montgomery to pursue a degree in home economics with a minor in sociology. She studied there for a year and a half and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. 

“Then I got married,” she said. “My husband promised that we were not going to have children right away.” But along came a daughter, Pamela. As her husband was in the U.S. Navy, they traveled, and his last assignment was at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach.

“I have three daughters,” Boone said with pride. “Pamela Franklin, Lottie Smith, and Jada Lee.”

Her love of home economics served her well as she worked as a manager for Sewing Circle Fabrics and a department store for several years. She also would go to schools and teach children how to sew. 

“Then my husband became deathly ill and passed away,” Boone said. “I had three little girls to take care of.  I had to work more than one or two jobs, and I still was taking in sewing [jobs].”

She started her own business, The Finishing Touches, creating crafts to sell. Then in 1978, she started working at the Virginia Beach Police Department, as a precinct desk officer. She retired after 28 years with the department. 

“I did entering into the computer, searching women when the officers brought them in, fingerprinting, and taking photo IDs of the people who were arrested,” she said. “I did quite a bit to keep the people calm when they were brought in. They are not in the best temper. I spent a lot of time just talking to them and explaining ‘this isn’t the end of your world.’ ” 

After she retired, “I became a wedding planner,” she said. “I make clothes, and I do flower arrangements. I’m quitting all of that so I can concentrate on all my classes.”

As for her girls, “Pamela went in the Army. Lottie got a scholarship to Virginia Tech, and Jada graduated from high school and now works in 911 communications,” Boone said. “I did not allow my girls to say ‘I can’t.’ They said, ‘I’ll try.’ ”

She said her daughters were not in favor of her returning to school at first as they thought it was too much for her to tackle. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It wasn’t what I had planned to do,” Boone said. “I had to go through chemo, radiation, the whole works. I am now cancer free.”

Lottie Boone and her criminal justice instructor Johnny Gandy, a captain with the Virginia Beach Police Department.

She wanted to get that bachelor’s degree. “I wanted to go back; I enjoyed it,” she said. “It was so hard. But being my age at the time, I needed more help.”

Mathematics faculty member Edmond Frost assisted her by arranging for a math tutor. She had to take last semester off, but is back at her studies with some help from faculty and staff. 

“I’m not too old,” Boone said. “I work out. I take care of me. But I can’t stay away from chocolate. I grab a Tootsie Roll in the morning.”

Her dream is to encourage other older people to become students. “I want to talk to seniors and let them know it’s never too late. I trust God. God is my source. I was a chaplain at Unity Church of Tidewater. Even when I go to church, people say, ‘I heard you were going back to school.’ You’ve got that right!”

What she may do with her degree remains unknown, but she does enjoy mentoring young people. One thing is for sure for Boone: “I am going to put my diploma on the wall by my family’s pictures and thank God every day that I finished.”  

Some people are known for bringing work home, but Wayn MacKay instead brings his work to the classroom at Saint Leo University’s Fort Eustis (VA) office.

MacKay earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice with a specialization in homeland security in 2012 (at Fort Eustis and online) and his master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in critical incident management in 2013 (at the Newport News office and online). He now teaches criminal justice at Fort Eustis.

“The degree I got my undergrad in has a lot to do with what I do in my day job,” MacKay explains. “I work for a police department within the federal government. I write local policies, conduct risk assessments, identify threats, develop plans to mitigate those threats, and also do some intel [intelligence work], as well as a long list of other things.”

And that’s just what he teaches current Saint Leo students. In the fall, he taught Local Response to Terrorism. He now is teaching Terrorism and is scheduled to teach Exploitable Weaknesses in Terrorism and Intro to Homeland Defense in upcoming semesters. “I’m loving it,” he says. “The students are engaged and want to learn, and I’m very proud of them.

“Saint Leo has given me the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge, and I find that to be very rewarding,” MacKay says. “I’m engaged in it during the day and then when I teach at night; I’m among a crowd of people who want to be engaged in law enforcement and terrorism issues.”

Being at Saint Leo allows MacKay to be around “likeminded folks,” he said. He enjoys teaching students who want to excel in life and often want to start a new career.

MacKay practices what he preaches and plans to make the security industry a lifelong career. He served 20 years in the Navy and in such positions as patrolman, watch commander, career counselor, military customs agent, criminal investigator, protective service supervisor, antiterrorism officer, and physical security officer.

During his tenure as a protective service agent, he provided protection for many celebrities, high-ranking military officials, members of the U.S. House and Senate, and presidential cabinet members.

He enjoys using the critical-thinking skills necessary for intelligence, anti-terrorism, and homeland defense training. “You have to develop and maintain those skills. That’s what employers look for—critical thinkers.”

MacKay uses real-life situations students may encounter to teach them proper responses. “I give them a scenario, and then we talk about how they would deal with it,” he said. “The scenarios are challenging and require the students to think about how their particular strategy may affect or not affect operational planning and execution. It’s important to be able to identify and manage multiple challenges simultaneously.”

He retired in 2009, and the following year, he enrolled at Saint Leo using benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Thinking back on his years of studying at Saint Leo, MacKay says, “There have been many professors throughout my undergrad and graduate programs who have helped to shape me as the professional I am today. I like to think of life as a buffet . . . take a little of everything you like. Almost everyone has some quality to emulate and taking a little here and there can be of great value.

“Saint Leo is an institution that provides the foundation for personal growth through the core values coupled with many different professions. For me, it’s about the core values combined with law enforcement and homeland security.”