LaBelle, FL

"Hidden gem on the river"

Friends gather down by the Caloosahatchee River to play after a Mommie & Me class. (Credit: Megan Narehood)

In LaBelle, everyone treats you like family. Hurricane Irma impacted everyone, and we made sure our neighbors were cared for. Posts appeared in our local Facebook Group, What’s Happening in LaBelle Today, about families who needed clothing, shoes, toys, or other items because they lost everything in the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Irma. Pregnant women due late September or early October 2017 needed items for their babies. Adults needed clothes and shoes. Members of the community sorted through items and met people in parking lots to exchange items and make sure they were sent to the right people. We drove to meet them not knowing where our next tank of gas was coming from. We shared stories of survival in parking lots and checked in on our fellow neighbors.

Stories About LaBelle

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, the story of how I came to be a resident of LaBelle is a long and complicated one. To make it short, I’ll just say God blessed the broken road that led me straight to LaBelle. I’m so glad it did.

I reconnected with a friend from the childcare center in the middle of the school year, and decided to return to Florida to visit him on summer break. I was hired at a school in Cape Coral and decided to move back down to Florida after experiencing the worst winter I’d been through in a long time. That, combined with living in Florida for two years prior, made me realize snow wasn’t for me anymore. At least not in this season of life.

The LaBelle City Commission’s swamp buggy on some more manageable terrain. (Credit: Megan Narehood)

Thankfully, my return to Florida went much better than the first time I lived here, and I ended up marrying my friend from the child care center. I became a stay at home mom near the end of the 2012-2013 school year, and gave birth to my first daughter in July 2013. My husband returned to teaching the end of the summer, and I was alone at home with our daughter and unemployed for the first time in nearly 15 years. An extreme extrovert, I had a difficult time adjusting to life at home with a baby and nobody to talk to. The month after my daughter turned one, I knew I had to go to a doctor. I was worried I suffered from postpartum depression. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and began treatment. Now, four years later, I know I had both.

I kept hearing about Mommie & Me class in LaBelle, but no one could tell me where it was other than at the Baptist church. Still, relatively new to LaBelle at the time, I didn’t know that people meant First Baptist Church in downtown LaBelle. I began to frequent the Children’s Consignment Shop uptown and talked to the owner, also a mother with a baby about the same age as mine. Somehow, I found out about StoryTime at Barron Library and attended one in Spring 2014. Some of the mothers there invited me to visit the local playground that had just opened, and once there I finally found out where Mommie & Me after nearly two years of hearing about it.

I’ve been taking my daughter to StoryTime and Mommy & Me ever since. My Mommie & Me family held a baby shower when I was expecting my second daughter and I was so blessed. When my she was born in October 2016, she unexpectedly spent nine days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit due to breathing issues, feeding complications, and jaundice. My oldest daughter had hand, foot, and mouth disease at the same time. My Mommie & Me family followed our story on Facebook, offering prayers and words of encouragement when we needed them most

I am extremely grateful to Ms. Karen and Ms. Liz from Story Time at Barron Library and Ms. Vanita from Mommy and Me for all they have done for my daughters and the children in LaBelle. I truly believe my daughter did so well in pre-K because of her attendance at these programs.

Mommie & Me provides children a chance to meet and socialize with other children, and mothers a chance to meet and socialize with other mothers. As stay at home mothers, we are bursting at the seems to talk to another adult by the time Mommy and Me class comes. We pay attention to Ms. Vanita, while talking to other mothers in between songs and directions. Ms. Vanita and Ms. Wanda are patient with us, because they have been there, too.

The rising draw bridge is the perfect scenery for a car picnic. (Credit: Megan Narehood)

Barron Park is the best and nicest place in LaBelle, sitting on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. The park is in walking distance of the Barron Library, and I often frequent the park with my girls on breezy winter days. One of the moms who used to attend Mommy and Me taught me the importance of a car picnic. She saw my oldest daughter and I walking by the river one day after Mommy and Me, inviting us into her van to share pizza she picked up from a nearby Little Caesars. That’s the kind of nice thing people in LaBelle are always doing.

The Barron Park House Art Gallery partnered with Barron Park a little over a year ago to host a monthly food truck event, providing residents with food choices other than the restaurants in town. Part of the money raised from the food truck event helped the Barron Park House Art Gallery install ramps to make the building handicap accessible, and workshops are currently being held on how to revitalize Barron Park.

Place your bets! These armadillos are ready to roll at LaBelle’s famous Swamp Festival. (Credit: Megan Narehood)

The last weekend of February is devoted to Swamp Cabbage. Everyone in town gathers together for a parade featuring swamp buggies and cloggers, among other unique entries. Following the parade, everyone heads down to Barron Park to watch the live music and dancers. While eating swamp cabbage fritters or stew, you can take in the world-famous armadillo races hosted by the Rotary Club of LaBelle. Those who attend the race bet on a precariously named armadillo with a number on his back. Before the race, helpers pick up the armadillos and put them at their starting gates. The whistle is blown and the armadillo who stumbles haphazardly upon the finish line first wins the race.

I began attending a MOPS group in Lehigh Acres in January 2017, and just knew we needed something like it here in LaBelle.MOPS is a nondenominational Christian Ministry dedicated to providing mothers with opportunities to cultivate their leadership skills. I approached the Christian Women’s Fellowship at First Christian Church about the idea of chartering a MOPS group, and they liked the idea. The church board approved my request to charter a MOPS group only after I attended the church for four months. I wasn’t even a member of the church before they said yes.

For the past, year I’ve coordinated MOPS of LaBelle and have organized a diaper drive after Hurricane Irma, collected items to create and deliver 64 self-care packages to mothers with babies admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care unit at Golisano Children’s Hospital, and collected 106 pounds of peanut butter and jelly to donate to the Harry Chapin Food Bank by participating in WAY-FM’s PB&J Wars.

I wanted to be able to give back to the city of LaBelle for all they have done for my family, and MOPS is the perfect program to do so. I love that I can teach mothers the importance of self-care, and that they are so much more than just a mom. Putting emphasis on them as a woman before a mother and wife is so important. So many women lose themselves when them become a mother, but MOPS is here to let them know they can be an amazing woman, wife, and mother. They won’t have to give up on their dreams to raise a family.

My ministry MOPS of LaBelle wouldn’t be possible without Ms. Pat and Ms. Fran. They provide the childcare and mentorship for our program. They let us know that times are tough in this season of young motherhood, but it passes and moves on.