SEBRING -The past year of Brenda Heston's life has been filled with tragedies, memories she will always cherish, and most of all, change.
On Dec. 9, 2012, her high school sweet heart and husband of 21 years, Dennis, died from stage-four cancer. She felt loss again this summer, when her mother, Caroline Collier, passed away.
"Recent years have been very hard. It feels like a dream sometimes. I can't believe he is not here," said Heston.
But there have also been moments of joy.
Her daughter Alaina was married to Jeremiah "JJ" Pattillo on March 30.
In May, her youngest son, Daniel, graduated with honors from Sebring High School.
Her oldest son, Zach, became a counselor with Youth for Christ. And, she accepted a position with the Champion for Children Foundation of Highlands County Inc.
"God's timing is always perfect. I think He knew I needed this," said Heston of her involvement with the non-profit foundation, first as a volunteer and then as director of special projects and the manager of the newly-renovated Circle Theatre in downtown Sebring.
The elegant, 90- year-old historical facility held IT grand opening on July 18, complete with a red carpet gala, 1920s period costumes, five caterers and more than 300 people in attendance.
"It was glamorous and fun," said the Sebring native. "I've always been an event planner, so this is very natural to me."
Heston is in charge of renting out the multi-purpose venue, oversee the kindergarten-to-eight-grade after-school children's program, help with plays like "The Big Bad Musical," which start Jan. 3, and coordinate volunteers for classes and the adjacent Sweet Shoppe.
"This is about giving back to the community," said Heston. "This place is my lifeline, and these are such great people."
Heston was introduced to Kevin Roberts, the CEO of the Champion for Children, by Debbie Lees, a Youth for Christ volunteer who retired from a career in law enforcement.
"It's been an amazing friendship. (Brenda) loves the Lord first and foremost. She is loyal, honest, full of love. She is fiercely supportive of her children and her extended family," said Lees. "I love her like a sister."
The two women met two years ago while working on a series of Chad Varga motivational seminars sponsored by Youth for Christ called Teenagers Transformed.
Lees was in charge of disseminating information for the event. Heston, who was administrator of her husband's computer networking and repair business, Your Data Inc., was the contact for Crossroads Community Church in Avon Park and offered to help Lees.
"I just really connected with her, Dennis, and their daughter and two sons," remarked Lees.
She said that after the discovery of Dennis' cancer on June 1, 2012, it was like "a horrible snowball began to roll over the family."
Unable to work and his health deteriorating, the community pulled together to offer support in the form of prayer vigils, a Facebook page titled "Friends of Dennis" and fundraisers, including a barbecue in mid-July and later a golf tournament.
"Dennis was so well-liked. It was very humbling and heartwarming to see the turnout. People rallied around us. Their prayers and encouragement meant so much," said Heston.
With a gentle demeanor, Heston spoke about the strength she has derived from her faith, her work and the quarterly prayer vigils she helps plan.
"I'm attending Grace Bible Church now. Zach has been leading worship there on Saturday nights, and I sing with him," said Heston, who use to perform with the group "Out of Ashes" and has been a praise and worship leader at different churches over the past 10 years.
One of the memories of her husband she deeply cherishes is a video, a father-daughter dance to the song "My Girl" filmed at the Kenilworth just one month and a day before he died.
"When it was played at the reception, there wasn't a dry eye in the place," recalled Heston.
The video has touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands of online viewers on Godvine.com. "We've had letters from all over the world."
In May, a brick bearing her husband's name was installed in the garden at Somers Hospice House.
In August, Heston was once again able to honor the "love of her life" when she placed a blue commemorative star that reads, "In memory of Dennis Heston 1960-2012" on the Champion for Children tree painted on the lobby wall of the Circle Theatre.
Gazing out from her office, Heston smiled and said, "I do love my job. This is a magical place."