2015 WEDU Be More Empowered Award Voting

The 2015 WEDU Be More Awards Voting pages are sponsored by Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors

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Small Nonprofit Award  |  This award will recognize the small nonprofit that best demonstrates the truth in statement that “big things come in small packages.” This award will recognize an organization with a budget under $500,000 and despite its modest size, has a major positive impact on our community. The top five candidates that have achieved the most votes will be further researched by an impartial judging panel to decide the ultimate winner.

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Cookson Hills Toy Run

This organization has provided over 7,000 "Forgotten" Veterans, Seniors (single & raising grandchildren), children (newborn to 18 yrs.) Special Need Individuals (all ages – many abandoned by family) in their 20 year Legacy. The event is held the first Sunday of December since 1993. Each year 500 individuals receive a free BBQ, Merry Christmas Memories, entertainment and Christmas presents. It doesn’t stop there. After the event they are contacted by local schools and individuals who have discovered someone has been forgotten and those receive Christmas presents. Boxes set out at businesses are collected on Dec. 22nd, those "found" are given gifts. All left over gifts are donated to Cynthia Pinckney Ministries and I Am Hope Cafe in Seffner for the homeless and poor. Those participating by bringing gifts/gift certificates experience the true "spirit" of Christmas when they personally pass out the gifts and see the joy and happiness they created. For years those attending the Down Home Make You Feel Good All Over Cookson Hills Toy Run touch souls, make a difference and "Pay It Forward". In the 2013 a young special need boy wanted a guitar. His mental age was 10. A good guitar was purchased, Tim Weir Guitars of Brandon donated free lessons. Three months later the boy’s mother told Tim that her son’s medical conditions were improving and his seizures had almost stopped. 100% of all monetary donations are used to purchase toys, gift certificates, medical equipment/supplies, gift certificates, etc. Less than 15% is used for legal, permits, licenses, advertising, food & drinks and other items they are unable to get donated. Everyone associated with the event is a volunteer. No one receives a salary.

Dress for Success Tampa Bay

We nominate Dress for Success Tampa Bay’s Going Places Network by WalMart because of its great impact on the lives of disadvantaged women throughout Tampa Bay.

Going Places Network by WalMart is part of the Dress for Success portfolio of programs offered to women. It is a job readiness/training program. The program is specifically designed to help women who are re-entering the workforce fine-tune their job search abilities and improve their skills.
Through this program disadvantaged women have access to support and services for every phase of their professional lives, starting with the job search and leading to sustained employment and self-sufficiency.

Going Places Network has three 8 week program sessions each year. Classes meet one day per week for 3 hours. The class size is typically 18 – 25 women and by the end of the program approximately 75% of the class is employed.

The students must meet specific requirements in order to successfully complete and graduate the program; these requirements include but are not limited to:
• Arrive on time to class – the only excused absences would be court dates and interviews.
• Complete a Resume and Cover Letter
• Write, Practice and Deliver their elevator Speech
• Complete three mock interviews in preparation for actual job interviews
• Attend at least one Job Fair

To meet the requirements for graduation subject matter experts are invited to present their area of expertise to the class. Each week different speakers come before the class and present topics such as:
• Identifying Employment Objectives
• Job Interview Skills / Techniques
• Job Transferable Skill
• Managing Personal Finances
• Building an Effective Network
• Resume & Cover Letters

Going Places Network students are provided with all of the materials needed for class free of charge. At the beginning of the session, students are provided with several important handouts such as a list of job search sites, a list of upcoming local job fairs, a community resources contact list, and background information packets (how to answer questions regarding questionable backgrounds). Every student is assigned a mentor and a career coach to help them on their journey to success.

Prior to graduation a Career Panel made up of HR professionals, company representatives, and hiring managers from local companies in diverse industries (retail, hospitality, banking, healthcare, employment agencies and others) are invited to class. The Career Panel is a mini job fair. It is the job placement component of the Going Places Network Program. Some students have actually been hired on the spot or invited to a company for interviews.

Graduation luncheon is a very special event. Students are encouraged to invite their case managers, family members and friends. Each student receives a framed Certificate and where applicable perfect attendance certificate. Many gifts for professional use are also distributed to students and lunch is provided for all attendees.

When asked “how has GPN helped you to develop professionally?” One student answered “I am more confident and no longer afraid to interview”.

That’s why we nominate Dress for Success Tampa Bay’s Going Places Network!

ECHO of Brandon

ECHO’s mission is to provide emergency care to families in need and to help them toward self-sufficiency. ECHO, which stands for Emergency Care Help Organization, does this by providing immediate relief in the forms of food, clothing and basic social services. Since being established in 1987, ECHO, a community agency located in Brandon, has provided emergency food and clothing assistance to over 170,000 residents of Eastern Hillsborough County. Over half of those served are children under the age of 18. ECHO runs three main programs:

EMERGENCY FOOD BANK: ECHO is the leading food pantry that residents of Eastern Hillsborough County depend upon when an unexpected emergency or event occurs, such as house fire or loss of income.

CLOTHING ASSISTANCE: In addition to emergency food assistance, ECHO assists area residents with clothing, shoes, accessories, toiletries and small household goods.

CLIENT RESOURCE CENTER: ECHO offers a great many quality services including an ACCESS Station to apply for SNAP benefits and Medicaid; a Back To Work Program; A Career Transitions Program; two Healthy Living classes (one for the general population and one geared towards pregnant women and their families); Basic Financial Literacy classes; GED Prep classes; Ask-A-Lawyer sessions; and Basic Computer Literacy classes. All of these are offered for free.

Over the years, ECHO has experienced substantial growth in the number of residents seeking assistance. In response to this, ECHO has increased its outreach efforts by more than 43%. While the economy is on the rebound, many families in Eastern Hillsborough County still find themselves struggling. One in six in our area suffer from food insecurity which means that they do not know from where their next meal will come. ECHO believes that no parent or individual should ever have to make the difficult decision of whether to pay bills or provide healthy and nutritious foods as well as basic necessities for their family.

In 2013, ECHO provided immediate relief, in the forms of food, clothing and basic necessities such as toiletries, diapers and household goods, to over 16,000 area residents, half of whom are children. Everything that is provided to families and individuals at ECHO is given at no charge. In January 2014, ECHO added Thonotosassa (33592) to our service area. This is a large geographic area that has historically been underserved. ECHO now serves residents who live in a 15 zip code area of Eastern Hillsborough County.
In addition to the services provided directly at the ECHO facility, ECHO partakes in several community wide outreach events. Over 1,000 families are helped during Thanksgiving and the winter holidays with the Gift of Hope. Close to 1,400 children receive a new backpack and age appropriate school supplies in August.

ECHO does all of this with a small paid staff of just four and over 110 regular volunteers. ECHO has a hardworking and dedicated Board of Directors of just 15 area residents who come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. Over 93% of all funds received by ECHO are spent on programs.

Fostering Hope Florida

Gloria works tirelessly to keep siblings together as they go through the foster care system. Fosterning Hope Florida runs three Hope Houses. FHF contracts "Hope House Parents" for each house and the mission is to keep the houses filled with brothers and sisters that are in foster care. Kids in foster care come from broken homes, and many times get split up from their siblings as they go from foster home to foster home. The mission instilled by Gloria for FHF is to keep foster kids together with their siblings since they are often the only consistency in their lives. Gloria and her husband Jerry keep FHF afloat via their personal financial contributions and the countless hours spent working with foster kids.

Friends of the Selby Public Library

Friends of the Selby Library supports and helps fund a shining jewel in Sarasota, FL–the Selby Public Library.
The Selby Public Library provides a foundation for better lives in the community–via promoting literacy, education, the joy of reading, and the love of the written word. All individuals, no matter what age, can find enjoyment and entertainment in the dramatic splendor of Selby Library–an architectural wonder in itself.

The Friends of the Selby Public Library is proud to raise funds to present free inspiring programs throughout the year–for children to sharpen their knowledge and reading skills during their summer school vacation. Adults enjoy musical performances and programs and a variety of author events, films, historical discussions, and vibrant speakers. The Friends provides over $50,000 a year to the Library to make these programs possible.

The Friends Bookstore offers thousands of donated books and media at low prices to many satisfied patrons. The proceeds of this fundraiser provide the Library with the support they need. The generous Friends members contribute membership donations so that free Library programs may perpetually flourish to benefit the entire community.

Kenney DeCamp, President of the Friends of the Selby Public Library, has had more than five major fundraisers over the past four years-the unique LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL–a one-of-a-kind event held in January. It has earned proceeds of more than $55,000 alone for free programs and life-changing events at the Library.

The Friends of the Selby Library, its board, Kenney DeCamp and the Friends members continue to make Selby Library the Shining Star it is in the community.

Good Samaritan Mission

I am nominating food Samaritan Mission for the “Be more Inspiring” award because of the deep impact it has on its guests live. The Mission was founded over thirty years ago to provide food and clothing to the local migrant farm worker population. Observation over the decades led to the conclusion that this was not the way to affect change in the lives of those receiving services. A review of available community needs assessments that the community had become more diverse and the needs had changed accordingly. The population generally has other good sources of food and clothing but had other specific needs. These include health education including HIV/Aids, teen pregnancy prevention, and information on the effects of and how to prevent hypertension and diabetes.

On Tuesday mornings the Mission is a very busy place. The Mission is open for class. Adult students from throughout the community come to attend classes. They often bring their children. The classes are scheduled in six week sessions. After attending classes the students receive a token. That they can “spend” in the Mission store. The use of these tokens provides and incentive for attending class as well as giving guests some say in the type of assistance they receive. Outside agencies come to the mission to teach class.
Working in this way allows Good Samaritan Mission to leverage its resources. The food donations go to families who appreciate what they receive because they have choices. The guests receive vital information that helps them to better care for themselves and their families. Other agencies have a venue to get their message out.

Good Samaritan Mission has recently gone a step farther and begun to offer its facilities to other agencies for their use. This year’s Back to School Outreach event included fifteen agencies seeking to reach the families of school aged children in the local community. Suncoast Community Health Centers has scheduled two upcoming community health fairs on the Mission Grounds. New Directions for Living, a new to Hillsborough NFP is in negotiation to begin using the Mission as a base for its programing in Eastern Hillsborough County.
Good Samaritan Mission is all about empowering its guests and other agencies to be the best they can be. All of this on a limited budget with one full time and three part time employees.

High Risk Hope

High Risk Hope™ is a dynamic and innovative nonprofit organization formed in 2011 to provide support, encouragement, information and resources to women and families who are experiencing a high risk pregnancy resulting in hospital bed rest, potential premature birth and neonatal intensive care after delivery.

It is incredible what High Risk Hope has accomplished in 4 short years, reaching over 2,500 families in crisis. Each year High Risk Hope reaches 1,200 new families at Tampa General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, delivering Bed Rest Baskets™ to pregnant women on hospital bed rest and NICU Napsacks™ to premature infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. These programs directly support patients by providing items that will make their long-term hospital stay more comfortable and manageable. Both Bed Rest Baskets and NICU Napsacks provide personal items that are crucial to a long-term hospital stay and are not currently supplied by hospitals or any other non-profit organizations. The Baskets and Napsacks provide practical and emotional support to hospital patients and the hope that their family will leave the hospital with a healthy baby.

This collaborative effort is spearheaded by High Risk Hope’s working board members, advisory committee, donors, hospital staff and volunteers, who are dedicated to ending the premature birth epidemic that affects 30,000 babies in Florida ever year. As the only local or national non-profit serving women on long-term hospital bed rest helping to prolong their pregnancies and improve the outcomes for their babies, High Risk Hope has become the go-to resource for families in crisis across the country. High Risk Hope is a catalyst in the global fight to end premature birth,
winning a life-long victory with every baby helped.

The Kind Mouse Productions

"If you can dream it you can do it. Remember, It all began with a dream and a Mouse" … Walt Disney said that and it is also true of The Kind Mouse Productions. Gina Wilkins founded the organization in 2011 and received 501 c3 status the following year.

Starting with a few hundred dollars and the help of a dozen friends and neighbors a Christmas Food Drive was begun. The goal was to feed families who had been downsized due to the economy and were struggling to recover. These "Families in Transition" were too proud to ask for help and had little idea how to seek help from agencies and were in fact embarrassed to need help.

Gina’s small home was swamped with donated food. Full bins were in every room and her small group of volunteers spent hours over several days sorting and preparing the food for distribution.
Small food items suitable for a young child to open themselves were collected and donated to a program distributing the food in backpacks to "food insecure" school children whose only reliable meals came from school free meal programs.

Using only word of mouth and social media The Kind Mouse has attracted local businesses and corporations as well as individuals. The growth of The Mouse has been explosive. With over 24 award nominations and a litany of organizations creating their own events and food drives The Kind Mouse is feeding 200 local children weekly. Over 400 were fed weekly over the summer.

An annual competition between local hotels, monthly drives and packings by corporations, social groups packing food and organizing fund raisers, calls from strangers offering assistance, tearful conversations from professionals about having been in positions of need or raised in families suffering economic and food insecurity is what Gina put aside her Architectural Drafting business for. She works 24/7 on spreading the word, feeding children and giving families the knowledge that they are not forgotten.

Through persistence and passion The Kind Mouse has helped children and families to have hope in the future and belief in a new beginning for themselves.

As Gina puts it, " … just because, no one should ever go hungry."

OASIS Network

I nominate OASIS Network because the organization packs a punch for its size. OASIS has two part-time but very dedicated employees. OASIS provided clothes and basic necessities to 11,000 students in Hillsborough County Public Schools last year on a budget of less than $100,000.* OASIS has a loyal and dedicated group of volunteers that love the mission: providing students with the basic necessities they need to succeed in school.

OASIS Network started in 2001 and provided clothes for students while working out of a closet. Now, 13 years later, OASIS operates out of three sites strategically located throughout the county. The school district provides these sites for OASIS at no charge. In fact, OASIS is opening their fourth site in Seffner this fall. School Social Workers come to OASIS to select the items their students need. OASIS provides required uniform clothing, shoes, coats, hygiene items and backpacks/school supplies and is always seeking to meet the needs of students. School Social Workers report about what a difference OASIS makes for them. One said, “I think OASIS is an excellent organization. I had a child that was not attending school because his shoes were coming apart. I picked up some shoes from OASIS and he started coming to school. Students will not attend school if they don’t have clothing to wear, so OASIS is an excellent resource.”

When OASIS provides support for the students, the families feel grateful and more involved in their child’s school. It’s the little things. For many families, having clean clothes is a challenge. OASIS provides laundry detergent so that dirty clothes do not keep a child from school. Soap, shampoo and toothpaste are things people take for granted, but many do not have them. Students feel differences to an even more acute degree than adults, and the basic necessities OASIS provides make a lasting impact.

The need is great. Hillsborough County Public Schools educate 206,000 students and is the 8th largest school district in the country. Nearly 60% of students qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program, meaning they live at or below the poverty line. Fifty percent of the students are minorities and 3,500 are homeless.

From a School Social Worker: “OASIS in an INVALUABLE resource. We are a "helping" profession and we have to struggle to help families obtain resources. When a family comes to us and tells us they need clothes and shoes, we know immediately we can help without having to jump through hoops, without having to have the family run around the county to access services, without having the family look for documents they don’t usually have, and without making the family feel overloaded by adding more to their plate. We can simply look at them and say "what are your sizes?"

Having OASIS is a relief to us as School Social Workers and it is appreciated more than there are words to describe.”

Random Acts of Flowers

Random Acts of Flowers (RAF) is a small non profit charity that improves mental health through the power of giving flowers. RAF volunteers collect donated flowers from wedding, memorial services, florists, event planners and grocery stores. The flowers are repurposed into beautiful bouquets for delivery to patients in long term care centers, hospitals, and hospice centers. As a recycling green charity run almost entirely with volunteers, RAF is committed to nourishing the mental health of individuals and the health of our environment. RAF is located in Dunedin, FL but delivers in Pasco, Pinellas, and occasionally in Hillsborough Counties. RAF volunteers have created and delivered over 6,500 bouquets in seven hospitals and 50 long term care facilities. RAF transcends all ages, races, religions, and income levels. The nursing staff determines who receives the bouquets based on how long the patient has been in their care with no support from fami ly or visitors. Our goal is to serve a small part in the improvement of each patient’s mental health. Our secondary goal is to recycle flowers and vases that would be thrown away after a short time of use at an event. The volunteers that work at RAF Pinellas have the honor and privilege of creating the bouquets and delivering the bouquets that spread joy one bouquet at a time.


UnidosNow is a very small organization, but reaches hundreds of low income students in an attempt to prepare them for high education access. They teach students to dream big and imagine themselves reaching beyond their life perspectives allow them. Students say it all at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdzZYtuFsJ4&list=UUhuYr3GX23VLoJaO2A1wJAQ

Young Performing Artists (YPAs), Inc.

Established in 1998, Young Performing Artists (YPAs), Inc. is a 501 c) 3), not-for-profit, statewide focused, state recognized corporation whose mission is to identify and address the specialized needs of young (up to 22) performing and visual artists and to provide creative solutions to youth development. YPAs, Inc. continues to assist and serve Florida’s young people and/or artists, who will make the ‘Arts’ their life’s worth and work. YPAs, Inc. has awarded approx. $25,000+ in artistic scholarships and awards; identified approx. 400 of Florida’s most talented young artists and have provided approx. $300,000+ in cultural art educational local and statewide programming. YPAs, Inc. encourages the young artists of today who will keep the ‘Arts’ of tomorrow alive. ‘A Day of Stars’, allows young artists, statewide, to compete, perform, and acquire artistic scholarships. Past events featured Eric Darius, Recorded Jazz Artists with #1 hit songs, provided entertainment and career development onsite. In 1998, 1st event held at Walt Disney. Graffiti Art program entitled ‘Walls for Graffiti Art’ whose mission is to develop ‘Open Air Graffiti Art Galleries’ is listed with the Florida League of Cities as a best practice. Its headquarter offices are in Sumter County, FL, a Central Florida rural county with 12.9% persons below poverty and designated as an underserved art county by the State Div. of Cultural Affairs. In 2000, there was a tremendous lack of art studies in the local countywide school system, one had not offered art classes since the 1994 retirement of its teacher. YPAs, Inc. identified & referred a local artist who was hired thus reinstating art classes that continues today. In 2000, YPAs, Inc. revised its mission statement to include providing creative solutions to youth development to ensure that local children receive cultu ral and arts education & awareness. A collaboration towards this mission was a partnership with the City of Wildwood and the Boys & Girls Club of Sumter for their ‘Community Art’ and ‘Heart for the Art’ programs. For both programs, professional artists conducted workshops in dance, visual/ fine arts, vocals, photography and music disciplines for children and youth. Another, collaboration was with a community citizen based group, who were renewing its interest of renovating a community historic building, which served as the cafeteria to the community’s segregated school. This collaboration resulted in YPAs, Inc. accepting the donation of the historic Royal building which is renovated, designated a Governor Crist’s 2007 Point of Light Project and house the Royal Historical Enrichment & Art Program (RHEAP). In 2001 – 2013, YPAs, Inc. implemented its ‘School Cultural Art and Educational Program which travels across the coun ty serving approximately 5000 out of 8000 district students. In 2012, YPAs, Inc. was instrumental in helping a local School become part of the DOE & FAAE Arts Integration pilot program and collaborated with Very Special Arts (VSA) to bring ‘the arts’ to children with disabilities. YPAs, Inc. has proven that being headquartered in a small rural town has no effect on the size of a project.


Spelling and grammar have not been corrected. Essays have been included as submitted.

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