Be More

Be More Empowered

Small Nonprofit Award

This award honors 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. A short essay on the organization’s impact was necessary at the time of nomination and are listed below. The top candidates that achieve the most votes via the online poll during the voting period will be further researched by an impartial judging panel to decide the ultimate winner.


Read the essays for each nominee, then cast your vote for this category below.

NOTE: The essays below have not been edited and are presented as originally shared by the author. They may contain grammatical or spelling errors.


Bayou Outdoor Learning and Discovery, Inc.

Bayou Outdoor Learning and Discovery (BOLD), DBA Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center, is located in Ruskin, Florida, on the east side of Tampa Bay, about 7 miles upstream on the Little Manatee River. We are currently open to the public, Thursdays- Saturdays, from 9am to 2pm. We have been conducting environmental education programs for the public since 1999. Our non-profit has a private-public partnership with Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation. We utilize the 160 acres of the Camp Bayou Preserve, an ELAPP property owned and managed by Hillsborough County, for a variety of environmental education programs for youth, adults and families. We are entirely operated by volunteers, from folks who weed the garden to folks who manage the budget- often the same people! Our expenses are generally covered through nominal program fees ($5 per child for our nature programs for example) with some donations and grants rounding out the income portion of the budget. We currently have no formal fundraising event, although we do participate loosely in Giving Tuesday and opportunities like the Be More Awards. In addition to the children’s programs, we offer classes for adults through the Florida Master Naturalist Program. Our director is affiliated and has been past president of the League of Environmental Educators in Florida, a state-wide professional organization for environmental education in Florida- advancing environmental literacy and promoting stewardship.

BOLD provides a service, particularly for South County, that is certainly needed. Tampa and areas in the north of the County have more opportunities for this type of organization based on their higher population and the fact they are more centrally located. While it is a drawback in getting folks to make a special trip, it is one of the reasons we are so special. We are only 20 miles south of Tampa but it seems a world away, with the beauty of nature around every bend and many ways to visit the history of the location. Folks can view fossils, then explore native people’s culture, and relive the journey of more recent inhabitants such as those who would spend their winters at a fishing camp.

Land tours as well as paddle tours are offered, all with a focus on this marvelous place we call home in Florida’s unique environments. The preserve itself has several different ecosystems within its 160 acres. Hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods and pine scrub, as well as wetlands habitats along the river, offer a sampling of what makes Florida habitats so special. There are day tours, but some of the most intriguing events are the night hikes and night paddles that take place without flashlights. It gives folks the opportunity to experience using their senses in a way that is totally unlike the day. For those who do not need someone to lead them around, there are 4 trails, totaling about 4 miles. There are self-guided activities such as Geocaching and Letterboxing, as well as a Little Free Library to discover.

Hope to see you one day at the Bayou!


Bess the Book Bus

Bess the Book Bus is the result of one woman’s vision to dedicate her life’s work to helping ensure children have access to books and, in turn, education. Jenn gave up her career, cashed in her 401K and grew Bess from a ratty old VW Bus with books donated from friends to the efficient, effective program it is today.

Bess visits Title 1 schools in both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and is on track to give away over 19,000 books to pre-K and elementary school children in 2017. Bess also has a national tour that takes her outreach on the road to some of the most challenging cities in America. The bus is on track to distribute over 30,000 additional books to childeren throughout the deep south and northeast.

Jennifer Frances, the Founder and President of Bess the Book Bus, works tirelessly to generate book grants and donations (these in kind donations represent the majority of her annual budget). Her enthusiasm to engage children and show them the worlds that reading can show them, has never dimmed.

I had the unexpected, personal joy of watching Jenn meet a former book recipient at a used book store this spring. The young lady was the cashier and she asked Jenn if she owned the bus parked outside. When Jenn confirmed, the lady stated she remembered a similar bus that used to come to her school when she was a kid and this ‘nice lady’ gave away books. Yes, that nice lady was Jennifer. The young woman shared that she was working while going to community college part-time and she remembers the books she received as being so special and they gave her hope.

The books given to her by Bess empowered to her dream a bigger dream and set goals for herself. That is precisely what Jennifer Frances set out to do and her work has influenced thousands of children in our area, and beyond.

One Woman +One Bus + Books = Empowered children and future contributors to Hillsborough / St. Petersburg communities and beyond.


Boards for Bros

Boards for Bros is the official nonprofit of the Skatepark of Tampa. They are the most impactful nonprofit I have every worked with. With only one paid staff member, they manage to give skateboards and engage youth volunteers in Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Illinois and California. In 2017 alone, they will have distributed over 720 skateboards and engaged over 1,500 volunteers.

Boards for Bros empowers skateboarders to take on community service projects and they support them every step of the way – assisting with the identification of community needs, setting goals, arranging donation collection, fundraising coordination, skateboard builds and distributions. With only one staff member, they enable local chapters to do what they do efficiently, responsibly and sustainably making the Boards for Bros experience easy, fun and impactful.

They pursue partnerships between Boards for Bros chapters and youth-centered nonprofits as well as targeting underserved neighborhoods in the vicinities of skateparks. Volunteers are involved in all phases of our projects (donation, build and distribution) and are able to directly experience the impact their hard work has on their local community. This engagement often inspires further volunteerism. The magic of the gift of skateboarding is that it changes the lives of volunteers and the youth who could never experience skateboarding without their help.

Boards for Bros has distributed skateboards in the United States, Cuba and Honduras. They continue to expand their reach across all states and have a mobile Boards for Bros team that will bring the gift of skateboarding to communities that cannot support a full chapter. Because of them, skateboarding will spread into neighborhoods that might not even have a local skate shop and youth will benefit greatly from the positive recreational and social impact of skateboarding.


C Diff Foundation

Because the C Diff Foundation, is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, established in 2012, and comprised of 100% volunteering professionals dedicated at supporting public health through education and advocating for C. difficile infection (CDI) prevention, treatments, environmental safety, and support worldwide. The Foundation’s founder is a Nurse, a three time C. diff. Survivor, and after suffering through C. difficile infections herself and witnessing the loss of her Father, whose life was claimed by C. difficile involvement, the C Diff Foundation came to fruition. The C Diff Foundation Members, with their Volunteer Patient Advocates, successfully “Raise C. diff. Awareness” nationwide and in fifty-six (56) countries and host a U.S. Nationwide information Hot-Line (1-844-FOR-CDIF) to support health care providers, patients, and families manage through the difficulties of a C. diff. infection among many other programs.

“None of can do this alone – All of us can do this together.”


Community Food Pantry

There has been a lot of discussion lately about 1 in 7 people in the Tampa area being hungry or food insecure, and the Community Food Pantry (CFP) is on the front lines of curbing those trends by feeding 7,000+ families this year. But what of the discussion about the negative health effects on those food insecure families? The CFP is fighting those trends as well.

Of the 60+ families who are served on any given Wednesday, the CFP’s Faith Community Nurse and social worker see members from about half of them. The team offers blood pressure screenings, consultations for health issues from colds to diabetes, and referrals to social services as well as a pro-bono family counselor. About half of our clients are on government-based insurance or no insurance at all, and many who have insurance have no primary care provider. One client, a senior who lives alone, was urged to seek immediate attention for a medical condition. He recently returned to tell the nurse that he was thriving, but without the urging may not have sought help or survived the illness. It is these moments that make the outreach to seniors so important.

School-age children make up a third of the clients that the Community Food Pantry feeds. Can you remember what it was like to forget your lunch money and have to go all day without eating? Can you imagine not eating all weekend? The CFP provides 30 to 40 weekend food backpacks to three local elementary schools for those students who receive free or reduced lunches during the week. The Resource Officer who distributes the backpacks on Fridays says “their smiles say it all”. The pantry partnerships with Feeding Tampa Bay and local grocery providers Publix, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Sprouts and Target make it possible to provide shelf-stable foods along with fresh bread, fruits or veggies to each child. As it’s hard to think or learn or grow properly without adequate nutrition, the outreach to children is so important.

This spring the pantry conducted a Health Fair to encourage the community to engage with local healthcare providers. Agencies and businesses such as Florida Department of Health, WIC, AdvoCare, Molina Healthcare, and the YMCA offered nutritional supplementation and insurance consultations, while BayCare provided free flu shots, glucose and blood pressure screenings. Parents brought their small children; caregivers brought their parents; adults stopped by before work. Because it was free and easily accessible, participants said they took advantage of the offerings to safeguard their health where they would not have otherwise. As one can see, the outreach to families is so important.

The Community Food Pantry started 9 years ago just to put a meal on the table. Today they take steps to provide regular nutrition to children, encourage individuals to have regular screenings, and offer opportunities for the community to safeguard their health by taking preventative steps. Hunger and good health are mutually exclusive. For these reasons, the Community Food Pantry continues to reach out.


Crossroads For Florida Kids, Inc.

Founded in 2012, Crossroads For Florida Kids, Inc. (“Crossroads”) is a nonprofit that provides pro bono representation for children and young adults in foster care, and other poor youths in Hillsborough County. Florida is one of only ten states that do not provide attorneys for children in foster care….kids who were abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents or guardian. After advice and counsel, we represent the express interest (what they want) of our young clients, both in dependency court and out in the community. Our advocacy on behalf of our clients produces positive incomes for them; e.g., better placements, educational experiences, and medical and mental health services. In addition, we are able to provide mitigating evidence on behalf of our clients in their delinquency proceedings, and assist them in completion of their conditions of probation.

Some of our clients have mental health issues, have been trafficked, and/or have children of their own. Notwithstanding the challenges our clients face, the ranks of our pro bono attorneys have swelled to over 125. In 2016 alone, we represented 81 children in foster care. Our current caseload includes many complex representations. As a result, in 2016 our attorneys collectively contributed 5,556 pro bono hours representing poor children in our community.

Crossroads also manages an on call Attorney ad Litem program in Delinquency Division in Hillsborough County. When children who are not in foster care arrive at a courtroom for their delinquency hearing without a parent or guardian, a Crossroads attorney will come to court to represent the child (along with his/her defense counsel) to ensure their understanding of the proceeding that will take place. Since Crossroads took over this program in 2013, our pro bono attorneys have represented hundreds of children.

Crossroads attorneys who represent kids in their dependency proceedings attend their hearings, foster care case management staffings, and meetings. They co-counsel with another Crossroads attorney to ensure attendance at all these important events in their foster care client’s life, and are trained and mentored throughout their representations. Crossroads provides professional liability insurance for its attorneys.

Crossroads is honored to have received financial support from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, the Hillsborough Association of Women Lawyers, and the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation Trial Lawyers and Litigation Section. Crossroads was honored in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit for its Outstanding Pro Bono Service by an Organization in 2014. Crossroads pro bono attorneys Sara Alpert, Elizabeth Hapner, Wesley Timbals (now a Circuit Court Judge), Stephen Todd and Mamie Wise have also won awards for providing legal services to children in our community.

We may be a small nonprofit, but our positive impact on the lives of poor children in Hillsborough County is huge. I am very proud of the extraordinary contribution of time and talent our attorneys selflessly give year after year, and it is through their word of mouth in the legal community that more and more attorneys join our program. I enthusiastically nominate Crossroads for the Small Nonprofit Award. Thanks!



Families Raising, Inspiring, Educating, and Networking for Down Syndrome (FDSWF) is a non-profit, volunteer based organization which has been providing services to individuals with Down Syndrome and their families since 2007.

FDSWF Mission is to provide all encompassing educational and support services to families who have been impacted by Down Syndrome. We achieve this through our website, social media outlets, parent liaison programs and community gatherings where parents can receive up-to-date information related to Down Syndrome. We serve Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco County.

FDSWF PARENT LIASON PROGRAM – provides free FRIENDS Parent Packets and Down Syndrome resource materials for parents receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Each packet comes with the book “Babies with Down Syndrome, A New Parents Guide”. FRIENDS Parent Packets are distributed free of charge to twelve Bay Area hospitals. FDSWF Parent Liaisons program offers peer to peer counseling for families for support and information. Parent Liaisons visits are available upon request. Available in English/Spanish.

FDSWF SCHOLARSHIPS – FDSWF provides financial support to our members through our scholarships.
• Special Needs conferences – FDSWF will provide fund for a family to attend Special Needs Conferences and workshops.
• Recreational Programs – funds can be used for any type of recreational program.
• Educational programs – funds can be used for any type of education program.
• Medical Program – funds may be used for PT, OT, Speech.
• Hope Haven Clinic Evaluation – funds can be used for the Hope Have Clinic Evaluation.
• Hardship Fund – for families in need/crisis.
• Buddy Walk Registration – funds can be used to register for the Buddy Walk and obtain t-shirts for each immediate family member.

FDSWF MEMBER CONNECTIONS PROGRAMS – We understand that a strong support system can make a great impact in the lives of parents raising a special needs child. We provide connection and support through our monthly Playgroups and Social Clubs.
• “BABY FRIENDS” PROGRAM – for the birth to 5yr
TWEEN PROGRAM – for the 6-12yrs
• FDSWF “TEEN MEET” CLUB PROGRAM – for the 11-14yrs
• FRIENDS SOCIAL CLUB (FSC) PROGRAM – for our 15yrs plus and is available for all special needs young adults.
• “BEST FRIENDS” PROGRAM – is for our FDSWF Dads.

FDSWF NEWSLETTER – FDSWF Newsletter is published monthly and furnishes information on our programs, event’s and connections.

FDSWF FAMILY AWARENESS, CONNECTIONS, AND FUN – For Down Syndrome awareness, advocacy, family fun and friend connections FDSWF hosts these events each year:
• March – World Down Syndrome Day Picnic
• July – Temple Terrace 4th of July Parade
• July- Down Syndrome Awareness Picnic & Pool Party
• October- Buddy Walk at Raymond James Stadium
• October – Halloween Party in Pinellas
• December – Pinellas Christmas Parade
• December F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Holiday Party

All of these programs are provided to our Down Syndrome Community free of charge.


Family Promise of Hillsborough County Inc, formerly Family Promise of Greater Brandon Inc

Family Promise of Hillsborough County, Inc.(FPHC) supports homeless families by mobilizing congregations and partnering with social service agencies in order to help these families obtain an independent self-sustainable livelihood. The goal is to end homelessness, one family at a time.

FPHC exists to provide quality care allowing the guests to focus on the future in dignity while supported with love and compassion. It provides the faith community the opportunity to three or four times a year, lend their support for one week at a time to ensure the needs of our guests such as overnight lodging and meals are met between 5:30pm and 6:00am. Volunteers are trained to offer the level of assistance and support crucial to the effectiveness of the program within their place of worship providing. A typical host week equates to upwards $5000 of in-kind services, which shows the value of the partnerships.

FPHC creates capabilities. Each family has access to the Day Center where they spend their time when not working or looking for work, while the school aged children attend school. Here is where the adults receive case management, guidance and resources from qualified staff in the areas of Financial Literacy especially budgeting, job skills, resume creation, and job application completion. Also, at the day center the families store their very limited personal belongings allowing them to transition each evening without an excessive amount of baggage. The day center is equipped with computers enabling the guests to job search if necessary as well as search for affordable & safe housing. Each adult must meet a minimum of twice per week with the case manager working to complete goals & tasks which we believe will result in empowerment and self sustainability.

FPHC opened its doors on May 4th, 2014. Considering Family Promise can only serve 14 people at a time during an up to 90 day stay, since its inception, it has served 187 individuals; of which 112 were children 18 & under; out of the 112, 41 were five and under. 34 families have graduated to affordable housing. At the time of this writing, FPHC has provided 11, 421 bed nights. Family Promise of Hillsborough County, Inc has 13 host congregations providing overnight lodging and meals and 7 supporting congregations.

Family Promise relies on donations and volunteers to assist within Hillsborough County providing a sheltering program for families with children experiencing homelessness for up to 90 days. It is a local response to a national crisis, providing opportunity both to the faith community as well as the business community to be hands on in solving the problem of family homelessness.


Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

The Florida Museum of Photographic Art has had a tremendous impact on the community through adult and children outreach programs, bringing to life other cultures through the medium of photography and through their strategic partnerships with other organizations who strive to better the community. By providing photographs from around the world that allow individuals in the community to have an outside cultural experience without leaving their home and by portraying a photographic history of Tampa, the Florida Museum of Photographic Art truly enriches the community. Through intentional partnerships with other organizations, the museum has been able to touch the lives of almost everyone in the community. Recently, FMoPA has partnered with Metro Wellness to provide a unique and productive venue for a networking happy hour for the LGBT community of Tampa. FMoPA partners with the Tampa Library as well through loaning them artwork to display, allowing commun ity members to see photographic exhibits without having to pay admission, and by providing them a space for fundraising happy hours. In addition, FMoPA offers reciprocal museum partnerships with the Dali museum and the Tampa Theatre to enrich the community by providing affordable access to the arts. Moreover, FMoPA often provides members the unique opportunity to display their artwork inside of the museum, encouraging individuals in the community to follow their passion for the arts.

FMoPA also has programs focused on expanding young children and teen’s minds. It has empowered young girls through providing photography classes for local Girl Scout Troupes as well as provided a safe place for teens and pre-teens to socialize through a new program in collaboration with METRO Wellness called ‘Friday S.A.F.E. Nights: Tampa’. FMoPA also partners with the Tampa Museum of Art’s Youth Council program. The goal of the program is to enrich local youth’s lives with the arts and educate them on the importance of the arts. FMoPA accepts volunteers from the program to teach them about working in a museum and for them to learn about the artwork being displayed. The most original youth program of all however, is FMoPA’s Little Kids, Big Minds. This innovative program builds strong family bonds in the community by providing parents tools to educate their children on cultural experiences while empowering them to talk about the art they are seei ng. When families come to the museum, staff provides the parents with questions to prompt and engage their children while walking through the exhibits.


FOOT Foundation

Big things come in small packages is truly an understatement when describing the impact that the FOOT Foundation has on the Tampa Bay community. Dino Scanio is the clinic director and founder of the FOOT Foundation. Mr. Scanio was honored with the South Tampa Spotlight Award for recognizing unsung heroes and the Physicians for Peace Volunteer of the year award for non-physicians. Both awards were given based on a long history of helping humanity and local charity work.

Lisa Scanio is the co-founder and fundraising chair person. She is responsible for all aspects of fundraising and selecting the Florida charity seeking foundation assistance. The husband and wife team have a long history with donating/supporting organizations like Shriners Hospitals for Children, Friend of a Friend ALS Foundation, Clinic of Angles, H.O.P.E. Children’s Home and other non-profit organizations in Florida. Dino and Lisa are both Tampa natives and have been blessed with two sons. Their youngest son was diagnosed with Progressive Mitochondrial Disease in 2012. Therefore, they have also taken on the task of providing education and awareness about this disease through the Foundation. Despite this divesting diagnosis, Dino has committed a lifetime to helping humanity through is small foundation that was founded, long before his children were born.

Dino Scanio is also excited to launch Camp H.O.P.E. Camp H.O.P.E. is a three day camp held at an outdoor camping facility, May 2018. The initial goal is to provide a feeling of “Summer Camp” to children who may never be exposed to a rite of passage most children experience. 15 to 20 children with Mitochondrial Disease will attend camp with a parent(s) and their siblings. These children will be residents of Florida or Georgia. The main goal of Camp H.O.P.E. is to provide families with Mitochondrial Disease a respite weekend, while also supplying invaluable information to assist with common challenges they may face on a daily basis. Empowering families is the fastest way to creating a sense of hope to face the uncertain future.

This summary only provides a brief description of what the FOOT Foundation does locally and mentions nothing, about the 375 children FOOT Foundation has helped defy the odds. Dino’s humanitarian clinic in Guatemala has improved the lives of children for over 10 years. There is not better definition of “big things come in small packages” then the FOOT Foundation.


Freedom to Walk Foundation, Inc.

Freedom to Walk Foundation assists with the funding for the purchase of WalkAides® for children and adults diagnosed with Foot Drop due to Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Spinal Cord Injury, or Traumatic Brain Injury.

Foot Drop is a condition characterized by weakness or paralysis of the muscles involved in lifting the front part of the foot necessary for people to walk. It causes a person to either drag the foot and toes or engage in a high-stepping walk called steppage gait.

WalkAide® is an advanced Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) System when worn on the calf, utilizing a patented tilt sensor technology, the WalkAide stimulates the common peroneal nerve to lift the foot at the right time during the gait cycle, prompting a more natural, efficient, and safe walking pattern. WalkAide users have the freedom to walk with or without footwear, up and down the stairs, and even sidestep.

The WalkAide® is FDA approved, but most insurance companies are denying coverage for the device. With an out of pocket cost of $5,000 per unit, the cost is prohibitive for many who see the WalkAide® as an invaluable opportunity to improve their quality of life.

Daisy Vega, has been able to turn her own disability into her greatest asset. Since its inception, the Foundation has been able to award 10 WalkAides® ($40,000 value) to recipients. Daisy has been able to encourage many local businesses, foundations and individuals to participate, raising awareness about Foot Drop that affects approximately 70,000 Floridians and the technology available to help them.

It’s disheartening when the WalkAide® can improve your life and you do not have the funds. Daisy encourages and gives every person who contacts the Foundation, Hope. She gives them ideas on how to raise funds towards their WalkAide®. Through her efforts, Daisy graciously procures a $1,000 to $2,000 discount from Hanger Clinic and other Orthotic Clinics. Donation letters are created to help the individuals fundraise.

The Freedom to Walk Foundation is helping families find their footing in the world. The lack of funds is not a limitation, but an opportunity to strive for more to accomplish their goal to walk again with a WalkAide®. It takes a lot of strength, encouragement and a complete no-fear attitude to go as far as Daisy and the Freedom to Walk Foundation.

Freedom to Walk Foundation helps the disabled walk – some for the first time.


Haven of Hope of Hillsborough Co

Haven of Hope is a non profit faith based transition home for women released from prison. Although 3800 women are released from Florida prisons each year, very few beds are available for women generally with a structured program to help them become productive citizens. Statistics show that almost two thirds of released prisoners will be re-arrested within one year of release. They leave prison with no place to live and a bus ticket to their destination. They sometimes come from dysfunctional families and abusive backgrounds and need support to adjust successfully back into society so they do not return to prison. They need a place to live, clothes, personal hygiene items and we supply all of these things. We seek to help residents assimilate into society, to find jobs for them, and to provide emotional and spiritual support necessary for a successful transition. They are required to save money so they will be able to stand on their own upon graduation from the one year program. We hope to break the cycle of incarceration. By providing guidance and a means of a new life to ex-prisoners, Haven of Hope seeks to cut crime rates in Hillsborough County and thus reduce the number of persons who fall victim to crime. . The cost of housing an inmate in prison is approximately $30,000 per year. We provide them with all necessities and emotional and spiritual support for about $8,000 per year. This saves taxpayers money as well as keeps criminals off the streets. These ladies have never had the structure and loving support they need to be successful in life. Haven of Hope provides this atmosphere for them. The ladies share in the chores of the household such as cleaning, cooking, mowing grass etc. They learn to work out problems among themselves with the help of a House Leader who lives there also. They participate in service projects in the community and learn to give back to society. It is rewarding to see lives changed and self image improved as they start working and contributing their time and effort into the household and community.


Hillsborough House of Hope

Hillsborough House of Hope is an amazing organization. Since opening its doors in 2002 it has had a track record of proven success. Hillsborough House of Hope purpose is to give women incarcerated in the Hillsborough County Jail the opportunity to re-enter the community and become productive members of society. Hillsborough House of Hope offers women leaving jail a residence where they receive job placement and training assistance, life, health, parenting, and literacy skills training to become empowered as parents, worker, lifelong learners, and productive citizens. Over the years, as the program developed and grew, we saw the need to provide housing for some graduates. This led to the acquisition of another house, named after a loyal volunteer who was also a substance abuse counselor at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Pat Cook. Today, the Pat Cook House is home to three graduates, offering supportive yet independent living as they continue to transition to their new life, paying rent, holding down jobs and enjoying a clean lifestyle. Hillsborough House of Hope Program Director, Linda Walker has been with the company from the beginning and she is very involved in the day to day of the program. She was recently nominated for the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2015. The founder Margaret Palmer started visiting the jail system in 1985 and she saw a need. Many of the arrests were for repeated female drug offenses. Margaret Palmer decided that she had to do something to stop the “revolving door” for these repeat offenders. During her frequent visits, she met, Mrs. Walker while serving a term of incarceration at the county jail. Walker began to transform from her old ways of thinking, the two joined forces and the rest has been history. Hillsborough House of Hope has a very dynamic board of directors and that helps keep the program relevant in the community. The House of Hope is totally funded by private donors. With a sixty percent success rate, they are doing a great job at addressing the recidivism concerns of female drug offenders. Hillsborough House of Hope is truly making a difference in the lives of women, their families, and our community.


Hispanic Professional Woman Association

The Hispanic Professional Women’s Association (HPWA) promotes the vision to enhance the image of professional Hispanic women by empowering them through its unique mentoring and scholarship program

This mentoring program allows members of the organization to become mentors of local Hispanic college students.

These students are given the opportunity to become mentees during their academic year and allows the mentor to share their professional knowledge in the same field of study while also contributing their experiences living and working in a new cultural setting.

In addition to the mentoring, the mentees attend personal & professional development workshop and qualify to receive a $2,500 scholarship yearly

HPWA was founded in 1990 and a total of $19,500 in scholarships has been awarded to local Hispanic Female Students year to date


Home Makers of Hope

Home Makers of Hope began in 2008 after the discovery that families in our area were sleeping on the floor. It seemed hard to imagine that in a country as rich as ours, so many families didn’t have basic household necessities. We originally began as a ministry at St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Valrico helping farm families in the Dover area who had little or nothing and few ways of getting help. Some of them lived at the San Jose Mission and some were crammed into small trailers with multiple families on farm camps. But they all were given anything they needed if we had it. One time we even furnished a shed with a mom, dad and 7 children living inside.

Over the last 8 years Home Makers of Hope outgrew the limits of one church and has expanded to cover most of Hillsborough County. We are supported by Christ the King Catholic Church and generous private donors. We were also awarded a $5000 donation from “100 Women Who Care” in Ruskin. We help regardless of race, religion or country of origin. We receive hundreds of referrals from over 50 agencies, churches and school social workers across Hillsborough County each year. We help the formerly homeless, veteran, families in crisis from fires or floods, single moms, women with crisis pregnancies, domestic violence survivors and many more. We have 2 warehouses, one in Brandon and one in Tampa. We have 3 box trucks and approximately 30 volunteers each week to pick up donations, do home visits, decide on the interior design and muscle to pack up furnishings and deliver to families.

We furnish 2 to 6 homes per week, only taking off for major holidays. We are a 100 percent volunteer 501c3 organization. We fully furnish and decorate these homes. We provide living room furniture including couches, loveseats, coffee tables, end tables, lamps, decorative items and rugs. We give them bedroom furniture including a bed for each person, with sheets, comforters and dust ruffles, as well as dressers, nightstands, lamps and pictures. All beds are made. We provide dining room furniture to make sure families have a place to do homework and eat together. We set the tables to show them how it is done. We provide nursery furniture for families with babies including toys, books, linens and cribs. But we do not stop there. Dishes, pots, pans, shower curtains, bathroom rugs, towels, and curtains are provided. Appliances, and light fixtures are given if the family needs them. The family Liaisons go to great effort to make sure these dwellings are “homes” when we leave.

The goal of Home Makers of Hope is not only to provide the physical needs to the family but to let the families know that someone out there cares about them and their daily struggles. Sometimes just the hugs and prayer at the end of the delivery is what they really needed most. They just needed someone to say there is… hope.


Inspire Equine Therapy Program

Inspire does just that it inspires teens and adults with disabilities, disabled veterans, service members with PTSD, first responders and their families as well as the community that equine therapy really helps make a difference with ones mind, body and soul. It is truly amazing to see the excitement the clients have when they arrive at Inspire for their session with Melissa and their therapeutic riding or therapeutic carriage driving.

Melissa has such a passion for all that she does for and at Inspire. There is such peace and harmony that flows from the entire horse herd of seven geldings to the generous volunteer team members into the incredible clients and families all the way through the mear non paid dedicated staff to the helpful and supportive board of directors. You just know when a program like Inspire runs like a big train on a little track so smoothly everything is done the right way. Inspire has a great vision and mission statement. This program has been a dream for Melissa and she truly works hard at Inspire on her time off from her real full time job. Melissa has her MA in Special Education, BS in Animal Science, PATH International Registered Instructor, PATH International Level 2 Driving Instructor as these are just a few of her accomplishments and values she brings to Inspire.

Inspire opened just last November 2017 and has accomplished so much already. The Friday and Saturday client sessions are full and hoping to open another day(s) in the future, the number of volunteers has been abundant, won a free gypsy Vanner horse from LexLin Horse Ranch gift horse giveaway, interviewed by Fox 13’s Charley Belcher, abc action news by Nicole Grigg and Fox 13’s Walter Allen, two successful open houses and much more.

I have been to many other centers like Inspire that offer similar services, but non compare. The property Creek Under the Son that is leased for Inspire to reside is breath taking the moment the gate opens. Melissa has a commitment to ensure an excellent and safe therapeutic session for each client to making sure each horse is healthy, sound, fed, clean and loved. I tell everyone possible about Inspire and all it has to offer including volunteering needs. Love how Inspire wants to fill in opportunities for the teens and adults with disabilities who after graduation from high school seem to have little opportunities available to them. The agricultural program is a wonderful opportunity as well as the equine therapy as it offers socialization and physical therapy. Inspire is small but they have touched the lives of so many already in a short period of time. So honored to be a part of Inspire with Melissa and the entire team. Can think of a more deserving non profit as Inspire Equine Th erapy Program.

May you be Inspired!!


Jaylens Challenge Foundation, Inc.

Jaylens Challenge Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to promoting awareness and prevention of bullying through education and community service.

Jaylens Challenge Foundation is known as the leading National anti-bullying foundation as identified by ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, Nickelodeon, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, People Magazine, and HIGHLIGHTS Children’s Magazine. Jaylen has been a feature on a CNN documentary with Dr. Sanjay Gupta called the “Human Factor” and Discovery Health called “Tourette’s Uncovered”. Jaylen has also received the Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero Award. Recently, Jaylen was a feature on Nickelodeon’s HALO Effect. Jaylens Challenge Foundation, Inc. has received several prestigious awards, such as “The American Spirit Award” from Katie Couric, the highly esteemed World of Children Award and the Princess Diana Legacy Award.

Our school assemblies have been proven to be life changing for our most vulnerable youth. Suicides are prevented and students are enriched with respect rather than torment. Our program is not only for the victims, but also for the aggressors. Upon reaching adulthood, bullies are 75% more likely to spend time in jail. We are changing this behavior in schools and in the community.

Jaylens Challenge Foundation has been relentless with faculty and peer in-service presentations, youth advocacy training, and the “Bullying No Way!” advocacy campaign. Our strategic partnerships with school districts and law enforcement are proving to change lives. We are excited to continue the “No Bullies in School ~ Bullying No Way!” movement – encouraging all students to become educated and take a stand against bullying for themselves and others who face mistreatment because of their differences. A kind act goes a long way!

Child and teen bullying along with cyber-bullying are at an all-time high. Due to the usage of social media and “smart” phones, bullying no longer ends when the school day ends. Bullying continues 24/7.

To accomplish our mission, Jaylens Challenge Foundation harnesses face-to-face anti-bullying Assemblies and Intervention workshops to become a powerful resource to those in need. This is provided to schools, clubs, non-profit organizations, and businesses. Our website hosts many resources – such as educational information and videos for students, parents and schools. Our goal is to reach the emotional and suicidal students as well as the bullies in schools and communities.

As a result of having a curriculum which has received the National Parenting Seal of Approval, our foundation was able to create the Ambassadors Club. This has been a huge step that will position the organization for growth. One of our prior issues was there was only one Jaylen and hundreds of schools that wanting to receive assemblies. The Ambassadors Club fills this need. Jaylen has worked hard to ensure the curriculum distributed will be consistently offered to schools. The website continues to grow globally to bridge the gap of the bullies and the victims.


The Kind Mouse Productions, Inc.

Little children digging through the trash looking for food to bring home after school hours. This is the population The Kind Mouse serves – our local chronically hungry children and their families.

Our Mission is to assist families in transition and their chronically hungry children while developing the next generation of volunteers to carry on the mission of The Kind Mouse. No hardworking individual should ever feel despair due to economic hardships beyond their control. Everyone has a right to feel safe and secure in their own homes and no one should ever go hungry.

The Kind Mouse serves the hungriest of the hungry children in Pinellas County through their Mouse Nibbles Weekend Feeding Program where nonperishable snack size food goes home to 350 students each and every weekend. In the past 5 years 52,000 little tummies have been filled.

The Kind Mouse also provides confidential emergency meals to students who are homeless or are at the risk of being homeless through Pinellas County’s School Board’s Jane’s Pantry.

Families suddenly and unexpectedly fallen on hard times are fed through The Kind Mouse 90 Day Transitional Family Program. These hardworking families come once a week for 90 days for family and pet food. The beauty of this program is most families find some sort of employment within the first few weeks of knowing food is no longer a concern. Many do not stay the full 90 days.

The Kind Mouse is grooming tomorrow’s future leaders through their 2 outreach programs (Mice In Training ages 5-12 and Mice Interns ages 13-18) where these students are learning the ins and outs of running a nonprofit. Both conduct board meetings, raise awareness through public speaking and videos (MouseVision), run food drives, present at events, purchase and pack food for the less fortunate children The Kind Mouse serves. We believe these students will be the next generation of The Kind Mouse.

The Kind Mouse was founded after it’s founder, Gina Wilkins saw first hand the need in her community.



You’ve probably seen them on the streets, around stores and dumpsters, maybe even wandering your neighborhood: free-roaming cats. But what to do about them? Rather than simply look away, MEOW Now formed to address and answer that question.

“MEOW” stands for Managing and Ending Overpopulation Wisely. Free-roaming community cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated and returned to their outdoor homes, where a volunteer human caregiver provides food, water, and oversees the cats’ health. TNVR (trap-neuter-vaccinate-return) has long been practiced in communities across the country and around the world, but even with an estimated 100,000+ community cats roaming Pinellas County, it was illegal – until a small group of concerned citizens began lobbying for that to change.

It took nearly two years of negotiation, but in 2014, Pinellas County Commissioners agreed to a three-year trial run of TNVR. With one paid employee and a group of volunteers willing to brave the Florida heat, winds and rain to trap, transport, house, and feed community cats while they awaited and then recovered from surgery, several thousand have thus far been spayed and neutered – helping populations stabilize and then decline over time. Behaviors like spraying, hunting and fighting for food, territory, and mates are reduced or eliminated as the cats reside peacefully in their managed “colonies.”

Months before the trial run was scheduled to end, County Commissioners were impressed enough with MEOW Now’s results to unanimously approve TNVR as the codified method of community cat management. And this is just the beginning. There are tens of thousands of cats still needing services.

Partnering with the SPCA Tampa Bay, Humane Society Pinellas and working alongside Pinellas County Animal Services, MEOW Now has seen shelter intake of cats decline as TNVR increases. This means fewer unnecessary deaths for healthy cats, along with taxpayer savings. MEOW Now assists community cat caregivers in both residential and commercial locations, many of whom cannot afford the spay/neuter surgeries – so besides the legwork, MEOW Now provides most of the funds and is grateful to the low-cost, non-profit surgery providers in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties who help make that more affordable.

MEOW Now also runs a foster program for kittens found in the field who are too sick or small for immediate surgery. This has resulted in hundreds of kittens being socialized and placed in forever homes rather than returned to the outdoors.

TNVR plus fostering and adoption: good for the cats, their caregivers, and all citizens who appreciate healthier, fewer free-roaming cats in their communities. MEOW Now: an example of how a handful of determined and dedicated citizens can tackle a daunting task, change local law, and improve lives – just because they care.


Mothers of Minors Inc

As a small organization M.O.M has touched hundreds of lives since their start in 2014! Every year they host a community baby shower to help young mothers with the basic necessities. In 2015 with the help of the community they were able to assist over 200 children with Christmas gifts. When funds are available they asdist with utility bills as well as daycare. Even though small M.O.M has touched many lives and look forward to many years of helping those in need.


Music Sweet Music, Inc.

Founded by Ted Wagner in 2001, Music Sweet Music provides music therapy services and the specialized musical instruments used in Music Therapy to children with illnesses, diseases and disorders and adults with special needs in hospitals and various institutions and facilities across Pinellas and Hillsborough County. For the past 16 years Ted Wagner has volunteered endless hours to help realize his dream of providing Music as Medicine in the Tampa Bay area. Music Sweet Music currently serves PARC, Morning Star School, John’s Hopkins All Children’s Outpatient Centers, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Shriner’s Children’s Hospital and individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford this valuable therapy. Music Sweet Music in conjunction with FSU sponsors an intern program for individuals who want to pursue Music Therapy as a career. Currently Music Sweet Music contracts three board certified ( American Music The rapy Association ) music therapists and has over 1,500 interventions with hospitalized children annually. After sixteen years, Music Sweet Music has become a “go to” source for Tampa Bay individuals seeking this valuable therapy. Music Sweet Music is a non-profit 501 c3 foundation.


My Warrior’s Place

The Tampa Bay Community is home to Veterans, Military Services Members and their families originating from all over the country. Whether they are stationed at MacDill or relocate to the Tampa Bay area seeking employment, MWP welcomes them and provides them with a place to stay during their transitional housing needs. MWP also offers a quiet restorative retreat center, where those facing similar situations can meet and interact with other and/or participate in its amazing programs and the facilities can be accessed easily without reams of paperwork to be filled out or long waiting periods or lines. MWP also offers programs specifically designed for its population. PROJECT CORREGIDOR -Complicated Grief/Mentoring program for Veterans, Active Duty Personnel and First Responders who have endured the death of a Fallen Warrior; COUPLES RETREATS -important for couples who may be out of touch due to separation from long tours of duty; CODE FITNESS -offers holistic modalities such as yoga & acupuncture; FAVE BOATING EXPEDITIONS -providing boating and fishing trips led by volunteers and experienced captains; EVERYDAY HEROES USA -providing catastrophic relief from tragedy or disaster; and a new program, currently being developed, OPERATION TANGO YANKEE which will afford area businesses the opportunity to publicize support and services for our American Heroes. Additionally, it will provide employment for Veterans.

MWP also welcomes, those who they serve, use of the facilities for picnics and gatherings, boating and fishing opportunities along with contemplation in quiet spots throughout the property. Kelly Kowall, the founder, and volunteers are always available to help newcomers in the veteran and military community identify and access community resources. Since many Military Service Personnel and Veterans may be at or below the poverty level, MWP programs are essential and easy to access. MWP is also helping the Tampa Bay area become nationally known for its support of our American Heroes.

MWP has no paid staff. It operates and thrives with the assistance of volunteers. 2 full-time volunteers, over 1500 part-time volunteers and Kelly -available 24 hours a day keep MWP thriving. Area businesses volunteer time and employees to for its upkeep. In addition, local veteran and civic organizations donate time and money to its operations. MWP has become a one stop access point for its targeted population. So far, just this year, its facility and programs have directly impacted the lives of over 900 active military personnel and their families, 1800 veterans and their families, 250 first responders and their families and 350 civilians (non-military). Through its programs and services MWP creates a ripple effect that impacts the lives of over 5,000+ residents of the Tampa Bay area.

It is not unusual for Kelly to receive a phone call from one of our American Heroes to say “Thank you. You and My Warrior’s Place saved my life”.


Old McMicky’s Farm Foundation

Old McMicky’s Farm Foundation is Dedicated to Contributing to Kids, Families & our Community!

Each year, the farm’s “1000 Kids” Program has the goal of welcoming 1,000 kids who are facing serious mental, emotional or physical challenges to come out for a great day at the farm– no charge. Some very special groups who have participated in the “1000 Kids” Program include The Children’s Home, Children’s Cancer Center, Florida Autism Center of Excellence, Joshua House, Lighthouse of Pinellas, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Shrinner’s Hospital, Eckerd Community Alternatives and many more, all at no charge. The Farm has been honored to host over 3500 kids to date and is anticipating hosting over 2,000 kids facing challenges for a great day under the program in 2017.

“Mission I Do” provides Free Military Dream Weddings to our local active duty military and Veterans. In gratitude and appreciation for their service, we believe everyone who serves in our military helps to keep our families safe – so we feel one of the best ways to show appreciation is to help them start families of their own.

To date, the Farm has provided 7 “Mission I Do” free military weddings, with an 8th wedding set for December 2017 and has donated over $125,000 in free weddings to our Active Military Members & U.S Veterans through its “Mission I Do” program.

“Child Adoption Education Day” – The Farm has many programs in place to help support Child Adoption and Foster Care families. Old McMicky’s Farm brought together key agencies and organizations involved in Adoption to show prospective parents how easy it is to adopt, the amazing rewards of adoption and starting or growing your Family in a brief, easy to understand day. Over 600 people attended, making it one of the largest child adoption events in the Nation.

“Old McMicky’s Farm’s Foster Children Fun Day at the Farm” – The Farm was also proud to host in partnership with Eckerd Kids, the Foster & Adoptive Parent Associations and the Guardian Ad Litem Programs of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties, this fun-filled, FREE event with over 600 kids and their families to explore the Farm, interact with animals and many other activities to provide our local foster children a great day and great memories.

The Farm also hosts Adoption Match Days and Adoptive and Foster Care Family picnics to provide fun and support to the families and their children.

“Teachers Rock” A $20,000 Teacher Appreciation Dream Wedding Giveaway launches December 2017 and is Open to all Public & Private School Teachers of Grades PreK through 12th in the Tampa Bay Area. Teachers make such a huge difference in the lives of children and families in our Tampa Bay community, we thought a great way to show our appreciation was to help a teacher start a family of their own with this gift. We are accepting Applications December 5th to January 5th and voting starts January 15th


The Ryan Wells Foundation

Disney says “A dream is a wish your heart makes”. Ryan Wells had an enormous heart, possessing great dedication in all his endeavors, including the Boy Scouts, Scuba Scouts, and golf. It was during Ryan’s junior year at Tarpon Springs High School in 2004 after becoming involved in the culinary program, referred to as the Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy, when he discovered his biggest dream of all; becoming a chef at his own four star restaurant. In June of 2005, Ryan was one out of thirty students chosen to attend the ProStart Invitational hosted by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. God had dreams for Ryan too, and called upon him at 18 years old, leaving behind his dreams to be fulfilled by students with the same aspirations.

The Ryan Wells Foundation supports the education of Pinellas County students in the fields of culinary arts and hospitality. Established in 2005, it has awarded of $1 million in scholarships and local culinary program support. The foundation annual awards scholarships for post-secondary education and donates to local schools to fund the purchase of equipment, food, and other learning tools, and also attending cooking competitions. The foundation offers programs to all of the schools designed to give the students hands-on experience. For example, the Cooking for a Cause program uses schools to prepare large quantities of meals that are then donated to the Homeless Empowerment Program shelter in Clearwater. Its newest program, Slow Cooking for a Cause, utilizes the knowledge and skill set of students along with the host school’s resources to support the local community, teaching cooking and nutrition education to food insecure families. The foundation’s annual fundraisers also give students the opportunity to volunteer and partner with professional chefs around Pinellas County.

What started out as a father, mother, and sister honoring the passing of Ryan, has now grown into an extended family of educators, professional chefs, and individual and corporate partners to make Pinellas County students exemplary leaders in the culinary and hospitality industry. And while doing so, the foundation is not only paving a path to success for students, but encouraging them to adopt a life of giving to others in need.


South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging

The South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging is an all volunteer non profit 501 (c) (3) serving southern Hillsborough County. The Coalition has established partnerships with multiple organizations and funders to bring resources and services to the fastest growing area of the county. Recent partnerships include: The USF Byrd Institute (Free Memory Screenings and Screener Training Certification) National Parkinson’s Foundation (classes and support groups), WPHX Community Radio (production of monthly Healthy Aging radio show), and a Rock Steady Boxing Affiliated program. The Coalition’s support groups focus on specific needs: Grieving, Care-Giving, Depression, Memory Loss, Stresses of Aging, and Troubled Extended Family Relationships.

While going through a recent needs a assessment process the Coalition discovered the residence were not aware of all the resources available to them, as well as, the service providers were not aware of the other organizations providing similar services. Hence the South Shore Resource Guide was published in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times. The 3rd Edition will be coming out the end of October.

The Resource Guide is widely distributed to area residence and organizations providing services in the south county area. This has increased awareness and initiated collaboration between organizations and service providers resulting in better use of their resources. The Guide has also helped the Coalition to identify what resources are still lacking; thus providing a priority list for vendors, practitioners, and service providers seeking outreach in the community, along with identifing the needed areas for stronger advocacy.

The South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging has accomplished a great deal for an all volunteer organization!


Sun City Center Security Patrol, Inc.

Since 1981, the Sun City Center Security Patrol has been a valuable part of Sun City Center. Since our humble beginnings, we have grown to a force of over 800 volunteers who give a minimum of three hours monthly to keep our community safe. With our radio-equipped vehicles, we patrol about 125,000 miles and our volunteers contribute over 30,000 man-hours annually. Because of our involvement, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has referred to our community as the safest in Hillsborough County and one of the safest in the State of Florida.

But patrolling the streets of Sun City Center is not the only thing we do. We have a House Watch program where our seasonal residents and those on vacation can leave contact information should something adverse happen to their residence in their absence. We do a Wellness Check when an out-of-town family member cannot reach a loved ones. We partner with some of the animal lover groups in the community to use a pet chip scanner to try to reunite residents with their lost pets. We do golf cart inspections and registrations and maintain a golf cart database accessible by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office of Sun City Center and Kings Point golf carts as well as other golf cart communities in the South County. We are the community repository for lost and found articles. We provide after-hours transportation for ambulatory patients being released by South Bay Hospital. Just recently, we instituted a program to provide a Security Patrol vehicle for monitoring purposes when one of our residents is meeting a prospective buyer for a large article that the resident has offered for sale on the Internet or in the newspaper. Presently, we are putting together a team to do on-foot and golf cart searches when one of our residents who are afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s wanders away from their caregivers. It will be part of the state-wide Silver Alert program.

As you can surmise, we are always looking for ways to fill a need on our 55+ community. To accomplish all of these things with funding strictly from donations, grants, bequests, and fundraising projects can almost be overwhelming at times, but the volunteer spirit of our members is one of the things that makes Sun City Center a world-class retirement community.


Unity in the Community, Inc.

Unity in the Community has a tremendous impact in Eastern Hillsborough County and beyond! Unity in the Community is a 501(c)(3) organization funded exclusively by fundraising dollars. Each year Unity holds 3 fundraisers; clay shoot, golf tournament, and vehicle raffle. All of the proceeds go directly back into our community as our entire Board of Directors are volunteers. Unity provides financial support to other local charity organizations such as Meals on Wheels, United Food Bank, and Area 6 schools in Hillsborough County.

Unity in the Community was founded by Joyce Jordan Hooke to help the truly needy. Joyce, who continues to serve on the Board today, originally started fundraising by holding yard sales and providing car washes. In those early years fundraisers brought in $40-$50. Joyce would then go out into the community, find a need, and donate the small earnings. Through Joyce’s persistence and dedication, she eventually caught the attention of several business leaders in Plant City, Florida. One of those business leaders, Steve Hurley from Stingray Chevrolet, would ultimately change the fortunes of the entire organization.

Steve decided Stingray Chevrolet would donate a vehicle to Unity in the Community, and that vehicle would be raffled at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Through the tireless efforts of Unity’s Board, as well as partners like the Florida Strawberry Festival, the vehicle raffle has raised an astonishing amount of money that totals more than $1 million dollars since the inception of the vehicle raffle. The past two years Stingray Chevrolet has donated a red Corvette for the vehicle raffle. Those two years alone have raised more than $400,000 for Unity in the Community.

Here’s how the kindness of Unity in the Community and it’s Board of Directors reaches beyond Eastern Hillsborough County. The winner of the 2017 vehicle raffle, Mark Morgan from Spring Hill, was excited about winning a 2017 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport. That said, Mr. Morgan had a daughter in college and twin daughters in high school, and he had made them a promise that he would get them cars. Mr. Morgan and his wife came to Stingray Chevrolet to pick up his new Corvette, but he told Steve Hurley about his promise to his daughters. Up to this point his daughters didn’t know their dad had won a 2017 Chevy Corvette! Unfortunately, a Corvette can’t be cut into thirds nor shared by 3 girls living in 2 different states. So instead of Mr. Morgan leaving Stingray Chevrolet with that 2017 Grand Sport Corvette, he left with a Chevy Spark and 2 new Chevy Trax SUV’s. Unity in the Community’s good will allowed this father of 3 girls to keep his promise, and give everyone involved a wonderful feeling knowing a family was better off because of good will. These are a few examples of why I believe Unity in the Community should be nominated for the WEDU Be More Awards.


Water Smart Tots

Water Smart Tots, Inc. is a 501(C)3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to eliminating pediatric drowning in Hillsborough County by promoting awareness through (1) water safety education and by (2) providing access to survival swimming skills to infants and young children ages 12 months to 6 years who are financially underprivileged, or who have special needs.

Water Smart Tots was founded in 2014 with the belief that ALL children should have access to survival swim lessons, regardless of socioeconomic status or special needs. The average cost of survival swim lessons in Hillsborough County is $80 per week, and new students typically receive 6 weeks of lessons. This is simply unattainable for many families.

We began awarding lessons in 2015 and we were able to provide 30 students with life-saving lessons during that first swim season. In 2016, we provided 82 children lessons. To date for the 2017 swim season (ending November 30th), we have awarded 71 children over $23,000 in survival swim lesson. We have awarded children with special needs that include but are not limited to: Autism, low muscle tone, hearing loss, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and Down Syndrome.

Our funding is reliant on donations, grants and fundraising events. Water Smart Tots has had the good fortune to receive donations from many businesses in an effort to raise funds for our mission. Donors can be found here:

In addition to product donations, we have received grants/financial support from: The DeBartolo Family Foundation, The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, The Reginald & Angela Goins Charitable Fund, The Couch Family Foundation, The Florida Swimming Pool Association, The Swimming Pool Education & Safety Fund, ALDI, Publix, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners-St. Petersburg Chapter, MOM’s Club-Lithia/Bevis, 100 Women Who Care-Southshore as well as monetary donations from individuals. Without the support of our community, we would have a much smaller impact.

In addition to survival swimming lessons, we attend outreach events, and give water safety presentations in the community. Our “Preschool Water Safety Series” is presented each May for National Water Safety Month to Hillsborough County Preschools. Since we began this series, we have educated over 1,800 area preschoolers on the importance of water safety. Pictures of our outreach events are available on our website at:

Water Smart Tots is becoming more recognized within the community, which we hope will bring awareness to drowning prevention as well as more skilled swimmers. We have been featured in the news (including the Osprey Observer 3 times), which can be viewed from the links:

In addition to the above stories, Kari Bahour, the founder of Water Smart Tots will be featured on Bay News 9’s Everyday Heroes segment on November 13th.

We thank you for your time and consideration.




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