Jan Manarite

Listen

What is the best business decision you ever made? Leaving a job I knew very well (restaurant manager) to pursue a job that felt very right instead (prostate cancer patient advocate).  Yes, I left my comfort zone, but I knew it was for the right reason.

What is the best life decision you ever made? Having my son (Mico). He is my inspiration for everything, including advocating for his dad (Captain Dominic Manarite, who died from prostate cancer in April 2013).

Why are you and Southwest Florida a good fit? Living on Sanibel and in Fort Myers for 30-plus years, I have some great roots here. Some of them were planted by me, but many of them were planted by my husband and my son. I believe I will become a “fit” wherever I am “called.” Right now I am called to be here.

What’s the most valuable tip you can give to a high school freshman today? Find a hobby or club that is doing something you love. Join in, however big or small the group is. The friends you surround yourself with will be your peers. Set yourself up for success with good peer pressure, not poor peer pressure.

What’s the most valuable tip you can give to a college freshman? As you choose and work on your major, remember, you can have more than one profession in your lifetime. Honestly, most people do. That’s because a healthy life is truly a growing process. Even a doctor may be a clinician, then a researcher, or even a writer and reporter. So give yourself the freedom and confidence to work your life and your profession(s) out as you go. Because you will.

What’s the most valuable tip you can give to a college senior? As you prepare yourself to step out into the world, be smart, be wise, have fun, but allow yourself to make mistakes. Every mistake comes with a lesson, whatever the cost. Don’t waste the cost by missing the lesson. Learn to recognize, listen to, and develop your own inner voice. Pray longer. It will serve you well in a noisy world.

Other than family members, who influenced you the most in your youth? I had a college professor, Betsy Kiebler, who was totally inspiring. She taught dance and gymnastics; I had never done either. But she believed in everyone, and taught them to bring the best out of themselves. And we did. The funny thing is, I couldn’t even do a cartwheel, but I left college and began to judge, then coach gymnastics. I was the first high school coach in Rochester, Mich., to take an entire team to regionals, and a team member to state competition. I also led a junior high team from a season of one win to an undefeated season the next year. I was never a gymnast, but if I watched it long enough, I could feel it, and see it. And I seemed to know how to organize and motivate people for a common cause. Later in life I coached one of my son’s soccer teams to an almost undefeated season, although I’ve never played soccer at all.

I never had prostate cancer, but I watched it long enough until I could hear it, and feel it, and I got to the place where I was able to teach, empower, advocate and motivate people for a common cause. One of my greatest memories is creating, organizing and leading a march on Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2007, called Raise A Voice. We were on ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson.