2017-05-18 / Top News

Ms. Kent: Key West’s very own Superwoman

Florida Weekly Correspondent

Stephen Sunday, Aaron Huntsman, Susan Kent and Lee Williams with a section of the Key West sea-to-sea rainbow flag in Washington D.C. at SCOTUS 2015. 
COURTESY PHOTO Stephen Sunday, Aaron Huntsman, Susan Kent and Lee Williams with a section of the Key West sea-to-sea rainbow flag in Washington D.C. at SCOTUS 2015. COURTESY PHOTO Keeping up with Susan Kent is exhausting. She technically works full-time for Habitat for Humanity, but she has her own business consulting company (Key West Susan) and is involved with the Key West Business Guild, Womenfest, Pride Week and the Sister Season Fund. Her boundless passion for everything she does is tangible. You can see it in her eyes when she talks about causes she cares about, hear it in her voice and honestly you can feel it in the air when you’re around her. Her love for Key West is magnetic.

Ms. Kent is originally from the suburbs of Cleveland, but moved to Lancaster, S.C., when she was still in elementary school, after her father’s company opened a factory there. She lived in the Carolinas until 1991, when she was transferred to Key West. She was working for AA/American Eagle and transferred here as the general manager at Key West Airport. It was love at first flight.

Susan Kent Susan Kent “I loved the fact that people were not hung up on what kind of car you drove or how big your bank account was. They cared about what kind of person you were,” Ms. Kent reflects. “I initially planned on staying for a couple of years, but I was hooked right away. I can’t imagine living anywhere else!”

In her 26 years in Key West, Ms. Kent has been involved with many nonprofit organizations on the island. “I have enjoyed working with non-profits in Key West over the years in various capacities from volunteer to board member to paid staff,” she says. Since February, 2016, Ms. Kent has been the program service coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys, but she has worked with the organization for far longer than 15 months.

“I did some freelance work for Habitat and got to know the staff and learn more about what they were doing in Key West and the Lower Keys,” she recounts. “Everyone knows that affordable housing is a critical issue in the Keys, and I was impressed with the work that Habitat was doing to help provide our hard-working families with affordable homes. In 2016, I accepted a part-time position that soon morphed into a full-time position. I get to use skills I’ve acquired over the years as a state-certified property appraiser, business manager, event planner and marketing rep, and I get to work with a fantastic board, hard-working staff and wonderful volunteers. I’m really lucky.”

Though her team is incredibly accomplished, working in the Florida Keys still presents unique challenges. “Our challenges are different than other Habitat affiliates because of the extremely high cost of real estate combined with the limits on development in the Keys,” Ms. Kent explains. “Another unique feature of our chapter is that in addition to building homes that we sell with affordable mortgages, we have affordable rental properties, which is very unusual for a Habitat affiliate.”

Ms. Kent and her Habitat colleagues make a profound impact on housing affordability in the Florida Keys.

Ms. Kent was also a huge part of the effort to stretch the PRIDE rainbow flag down Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. “I was friends with local businessman and president of the Gay and Lesbian Community

Center, Gregg McGrady, who came up with the idea of a rainbow flag that would go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. I worked on the project for a couple of years with a tremendous team of people, including the GLCC executive director, Scott Fraser, PrideFest co-chairs Heather Carruthers and Tom Wheaton, the GLCC board and the PrideFest committee. Gilbert Baker, the creator of the original rainbow flag, came here and worked with a large group of volunteers who sewed the flag together in a building on Duval Street.

“I will never forget the day that we unfurled the flag in June of 2003,” Ms. Kent reminisces. I was at the front of the procession along with my beautiful wife, Teri (who passed away in 2010), Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley and Monroe County Mayor Dixie Spehar. We reached the beach at the end of Duval Street and waited for a signal from the folks on the other side of the island and then we dipped the flag into the water. We were very lucky to have so many images taken from the air and from the street that day. We never realized that Key West would still be using those images for marketing 14 years later. There was even a documentary about the sea-to-sea rainbow flag. I absolutely love the fact that close to 3,000 people took part in that event in some way, and most of those folks mark it as one of the most significant events in their lives.”

Over a decade later, a section of the flag even made its way to Washington, D.C. Ms. Kent was an integral member of the marriage equality advocacy team that worked with same-sex couples to advance their legal battle with the state.

“I was involved in event planning and fundraising with the small local team that was supporting Aaron Huntsman and Lee Jones’ legal battle for marriage equality in Florida,” she says. “I was invited to accompany the group to D.C. to join other advocates in a demonstration at the Supreme Court during the hearings on federal marriage equality.

“We took a section of the Key West sea-to-sea rainbow flag with us,” she continues. “Our media liaison, Mark Ebenhoch, helped organize a meet-and-greet for marriage equality plaintiffs and their teams from all over the country while we were there, and it was a wonderful experience to meet so many of the folks who had been working towards the same goal for so long. In fact, I’m heading back to D.C. this June with a section of the flag to participate in the Pride March.”

Aside from her tireless work for Habitat for Humanity and gay rights, Ms. Kent serves as the vice president of The Sister Season Fund, a small local 501(c) (3) that assists locals who work in the tourism industry when they suffer an accident or illness that creates a temporary loss of income while they are out of work. “The fund pays rent and or utility bills directly to the landlord or vendor for qualified applicants,” she explains. “Because there is no office and no paid staff, all donations are utilized for program costs. We rely on multiple fundraisers throughout the year in order to fulfill our mission of ‘Locals Helping Locals.’”

Ms. Kent has also been involved with the Key West Business Guild for 26 years and is currently co-producing “Key West Pride Follies” with Peter Arnow. “The show is going to be at the beautifully renovated Key West Theater on Saturday, June 3, and director Rick Dery promises a variety of acts with some fun surprises,” she exclaims. Tickets for Pride Follies are available at www.thekeywesttheater.com.

And when Ms. Kent isn’t out saving the day and serving her community?

“I’m an avid reader, so a perfect day is lounging at home with a good book and my dog,” she says. “I also enjoy hanging out with friends and listening to live music at one of our many great venues in Key West. There is always something to do, and folks can really get involved in the community. I love the fact that we have so many fundraisers and people never get tired of giving. And of course, the weather is the icing on the cake.” ¦

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