To say that Jenna Sleeman understands flowers is an understatement. To her, everyone is a gift, and she feels lucky to be an architect of floral art in all its beautiful forms.
But although she’s set to compete on the national stage and represent Miami and Florida among the top 10 floral finalists at the 2022 FTD America’s Cup in Las Vegas in July, she found her passion through trauma.
“The day before my 40th birthday, I jumped to hide a key on a windowsill and the ring I was wearing got caught on a nail,” Sleeman said. “When my feet hit the ground, I realized there was only one bone. I had lost a finger on my dominant right hand.
“I was in shock, but I was thinking clearly. I knew I was responsible for my three small children and a friend of theirs, so I couldn’t pass out. I knew if I called the 911, the ambulance would not take us all to Jackson Trauma where my husband was coincidentally on call as a trauma surgeon that evening.The ambulances will only take you to the nearest emergency room.
“Bleeding profusely and in shock, I had to think quickly, so I tied a tourniquet with my other hand, put the four children in my car and drove to my husband during a trauma in Jackson with my elbows,” she said.
Her surgeon husband, Danny, is a professor at the University of Miami and director of the surgery program.
After the accident, as a form of mental and physical therapy, she said she dove into taking as many flower classes as possible.
“I looked for perfection in the imperfections of the flower petals. I used the wabi-sabi which is the acceptance of imperfection, to help me understand that it is normal that my hands are no longer like everyone else. I was lucky enough to still be able to use them to create floral art.
Although she has a prosthesis, she said she could not wear it when she competed because it interfered with the flower arrangement.
Sleeman is also an educator at The Palace in Coral Gables where she volunteers her time to provide flower therapy. She has lived in Miami for 24 years since graduating from Emory University Business School. Before stopping to raise her three children, she was a senior executive at a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company.
“I was elected president of the PTA and found myself doing centerpieces for school events that were so rewarding,” she said.
“I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life working without being able to express my artistic self through flowers. When my three children were arguing, I always told them “let’s pick flowers, not fights”. Nature, flowers and the association of flowers in a floral arrangement obsessed me.
Today, Sleeman holds America’s highest accreditation for floral design, the AIFD. “There are only four florists in Miami who hold this prestigious credential and the expertise and skills that go with that certification. I became a Certified Floral Designer and just completed my European Master Certification. I sit on the board of the FSFA as secretary of the Florida State Florists Association,” she said.
She also founded Infinite Gift, a flower arrangement company, in 2008. Her first awards, national and international, are numerous.
“I have always been a very expressive, outgoing person. Every time I greeted and shook hands, I was met with awkward, uncomfortable stares from others when they realized I was missing a finger. The flowers and the wabi -sabi helped me overcome this fear and gave me strength,” she said.
“Science proves that flowers make people happy. My goal is to help spread happiness around the world, one petal at a time.
The winner of the Las Vegas event will represent the United States at the Interflora World Cup, which is held once every four years in different host countries. It will be in Manchester, England, September 7-9, 2023.
New alliance seeks mental health writers
At a time when so many of us are struggling to understand, a group of authors have come together to help normalize the conversation about mental health. They encourage other authors to join them.
The group, called #SameHere Author’s Alliance, was started in December 2021 by South Florida author Jason Shapiro.
“These published authors believe that through literature we can connect society through the commonalities of life’s challenges we all face. We are building a digital library of mental health-themed books that people visiting our site can use as a real resource,” he said.
Shapiro published his first book, “The Magic of Mayfair,” a coming-of-age memoir that helps readers deal with their own life challenges, in 2019. In it, he writes about navigating through his own emotions after discovering his brother’s schizophrenia. diagnosis and the suicide of his childhood best friend.
Today, he volunteers his time with the nonprofit #SameHere – The Global Mental Health Movement and works directly with the organization’s founder and CEO, Eric Kussin.
He said he founded the #SameHere Authors Alliance with the partnership of Kussin and Florida-based psychiatrist Andrew Pleener. Notable Alliance authors include former NFL running back Leroy Collins, lawyer and motivational speaker Brian Cuban, neuroscientist Alex Korb, and NHL great Theoren Fleury.
“We have something special here,” he said. “We are creating an ecosystem of authors who are helping to normalize society’s perception of mental health and bring it into our daily conversation. This is how we can save lives.
Visit www.treemouthbooks.com or email [email protected]
This story was originally published March 31, 2022 12:28 p.m.