“Watching our children grow up into amazing adults is truly a blessing and we are thrilled to be here enjoying every second of it!”
Four kids, two careers, endless extracurricular activities, midnight shifts, breakfast, lunch, dinner, etcetera infinity…that was The Peñas 11 years ago! Fast-forward to today and a lot has changed, but much has remained the same. Barbara still works at the Emergency Department at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, and Tino continues at Baptist specializing in interventional radiology, roles that have become increasingly essential during the pandemic. “Working through COVID-19 has been tough, but fulfilling,” they say. “Being frontline workers during a pandemic has been something new for us.”
Isabella (19), the eldest, is a second year in a dual degree program at Harvard University and Berklee School of Music. She is double majoring in government and theatre at Harvard and in music performance at Berklee. She was recently a finalist on American Idol. “It was an awesome experience,” she says. “I had a great time meeting judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan!” Olivia (17) is a senior at Gulliver looking at colleges and thinking of following in her parents’ footsteps and going into medicine. Alessandra (15) is a high school sophomore at Gulliver with an interest in computer science and engineering. The youngest sibling, Tino (12), is in middle school and plays almost every sport possible! His parents say he wants to be a Major League Baseball player.
Growing up taking gymnastics, Chinese lessons and playing the piano, cello and violin, all three sisters are part of a program called ITP (Inclusion Theatre Project) at Area Stage Company. ITP is a program that teaches singing, acting and dancing to kids and adults with mental and physical disabilities. They produce 2 full length musicals per year. The girls have all volunteered there and Isabella has been a Director for several shows. Olivia and Alessandra are Assistant Choreographers and have been teaching classes 2 hours each day via Zoom during the safer-at-home orders. All those years of participating in Key Biscayne’s Broadway Musical Theatre Program really paid off. Tino once famously played “The Beast” in a Beauty And The Beast production; and Barbara played Ursula in The Little Mermaid. She was pregnant at the time so they didn’t have to put any stuffing on her costume. “We haven’t done anything theatrically recently, but we would definitely be up for it if the show is right!”
The Peñas can’t imagine living anywhere else in the world! “Our little island is a blessing,” they say. “Key Biscayne is just small enough that we know many of the residents — we are all like one big extended family. It truly takes a village to raise a child!” Tino, a true Key Rat, is proud that their kids were also raised on The Key. “The sense of camaraderie, community and safety you feel living here is second to none,” he says. “It’s like you belong to a group of people who all share similar interests and a love of island life!”
“Our little island is a blessing— Key Biscayne is just small enough that we know many of the residents and we are all like one big extended family! It truly takes a village to raise a child!”
Among the family’s favorite activities is going to the beach, paddle boarding, strolling through nature, being outdoors, giving back and interacting with different cultures and nationalities. “We love that we can walk, bike or take a golf cart everywhere,” says Barbara. “Just being in a golf cart with the island breezes and sunshine brings your blood pressure down!” During the pandemic, The Peñas started a special tradition on Sundays where all 4 grandparents come over for dinner. “We all sit outside, masked-up and socially distanced, but together,” they say. “It’s the only time the grandparents get out of the house so they love it!”
So what’s next for this dynamic and talented family? What exciting news do they have on the horizon? “I’m proud to share that Isabella just got cast alongside Audra McDonald and Javier Muñoz in Sticks and Stones, a musical benefitting Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation,” says Barbara. “All the kids are settling into their new realities at school and adapting as best they can. Watching them grow up to be amazing adults is truly a blessing — we’re thrilled to be here enjoying every second of it!”