Be More Involved
Outspoken Volunteer Award
One person can make an extraordinary difference. These award nominees were culled from an online poll driven by votes from the general public in the WEDU PBS viewing area. This honor will be bestowed upon the individual, family or group that has lent a unique voice to bring awareness, credence, support, or action to an issue or cause faced by our citizens and thus making a tremendous impact within an organization in our community. Local media personality, Mason Dixon, will ultimately choose and present the award to the most deserving recipient from top nominees that receive the most online support during the voting period.
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.
Water Smart Tots
Kari Bahour became a survival swim instructor over 15 years ago after her son experienced a near drowning. Over the years, she would have parents contact her, desperate for the life-saving lessons she offered, but unable to afford them. Kari would work with them to be able to pay what they could , her goal to never turn a family away.
In 2014, she founded Water Smart Tots on the belief that ALL children should have survival swim lessons. Water Smart Tots, Inc. is a 501(C)3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to eliminating pediatric drowning in Hillsborough County by promoting awareness through water safety education and by providing access to survival swimming skills to young children ages 12 months to 6 years who are financially underprivileged, or who have special needs.
In Hillsborough County, pediatric drowning and near drowning is a tragic epidemic. News headlines are often about children who have needlessly drowned. However, no one is required to report on the near drownings which outcomes can be almost as devastating as an actual drowning resulting in death. Kari hopes that through Water Smart Tots and the support from the community, pediatric drownings in Hillsborough County will come to an end.
In 2015, Water Smart Tots graduated their first survival swim scholarship students, 30 of them. In 2016, they graduated 81 children who otherwise would have been without these skills. Currently in 2017, Water Smart Tots has awarded over $23,000 in survival swim lessons.
In addition to providing survival swim lessons, Water Smart Tots does Community Outreach in the form of Water Safety Presentations and booths at events. From 2015-2017, Water Smart Tots has done Preschool Water Safety Day presentations at Hillsborough County Preschools, educating over 500 children each year on the importance of Water Safety.
American Stage Theatre Company
Taylor McKee, American Stage’s House Manager, describes the impact Joseph Ciccolini has had on our organization.
Joseph Ciccolini has been one of the most engaged and dedicated volunteers I’ve had the joy of working with in my role as House Manager. Typically, Joseph is the first volunteer to arrive, and the last to leave, going above and beyond what I ask of him in setting up and helping before, and cleaning up after a show. Mr. Ciccolini has an avid interest in the craftsmanship and artistic process that goes in to each American Stage production, and is always complementary to our artistic staff when assisting with Front-of-House duties. Joseph has been so generous with his time, often dedicating a whole Saturday to helping out American Stage, ushering in the theatre for the Matinee show and helping our bar manager for the evening performance.
Being an enormous fan of Shakespeare, Joseph was thrilled to find out that “MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING” would be part of American Stage’s 2017-2018 season. He initially inquired about sponsoring the show, but with the threat of Hurricane Irma causing widespread destruction locally, wanted to hold off until he knew his home would be okay. The next time he volunteered after the storm, he wrote a check to become the show’s Opening Night Host. Having always been so impressed by the shows American Stage has put on in his time as a volunteer, I believe he wanted to provide the ultimate show of support by donating to our theatre.
I respect and admire Mr. Ciccolini’s level of effort and care he showcases each and every time he volunteers. He is a kind and honest individual, and on behalf of everyone at American Stage, we extend our sincere gratitude for his efforts and generosity.
The Kind Mouse Productions, Inc.
Tonya is a very giving, unique individual who just with her humble presence makes the world a better place.
Tonya spends her days chairing and volunteering for may worthy nonprofits in the Tampa Bay Area. She is the Volunteer Chair of The Kind Mouse Advisory Board, where she tirelessly runs events and organizes activities for us.
Tonya is a true team player. Not only does she spend hours a month volunteering for The Kind Mouse, she also volunteers at PARC as their event chair, Alpha House, Celma Mastry’s Ovarian Cancer Run and many worthwhile agencies in the area.
Tonya is also a conduit between the nonprofits. She is always trying to figure out ways for the agencies to team up and shine. She is a think outside of the box type of person and is able to energize volunteer groups. She is always there with a smile and a helping hand.
Tonya is the type of person if she says she is going to do something – she does. She is poised, professional, loving and understanding.
Our nonprofit world is a much better place because of Tonya Corder. We are all blessed to have her in our lives.
Pasco Kids First
Paul Friedlander is the ultimate advocate for kids in our community. He is an active board member of Pasco Kids First, Trinity Rotary and Morton Plant North Bay Community Advisory Council. Paul not only talks the talk but he walks the walk in making sure he plays an important role in our community by connecting businesses with non-profits to create mutually beneficial partnerships. He ran for Honorary Governor of West Pasco (a fundraising event by the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce) to raise awareness of the issue of child abuse and neglect and the services Pasco Kids First provides to keep kids safe and strengthen families. Paul created a full campaign “Pasco Kids R 1st with Paul” including a website, banners, parade floats, t-shirts and several events to promote and raise funds for Pasco Kids First. He also wanted to really share the story and chose to go on home visits with staff members to families who have young children, attend Mommies, Daddies & Me Groups, graduations, take tours of the Children’s Advocacy Center and interview therapists and the medical director which he then posted on social media. Paul goes above and beyond when it comes to volunteering in the community. He and his wife are often seen at events to assist with take down and cleaning up well after everyone else is gone. Paul is a tremendous role model to his grandchildren as well who are following in his footsteps. His granddaughter recently was recognized by Congressman Bilirakis for her donations and volunteer work in the community and was nominated for a Youth in Philanthropy award.
Family Promise of Hillsborough County Inc
Family Promise of Hillsborough County is blessed to have Melonie Hall as Volunteer Host Coordinator at St Andrew’s United Methodist Church. Melonie was there each host week to welcome the new families and lead her team in preparing their rooms for the week to truly resemble home. During her tenure, Family Promise has graduated 34 families. Melonie’s unique voice comes to life in her daily emails, normally sent prior to 6 AM. She captures the heart and soul of why Family Promise exists. Through the imagery in her emails, we feel like we were there as she describes the evening of hosting, serving a delicious dinner to the families in a room full of love and safety, watching all the children play together. It inspires us to serve in this organization.
Melonie has led and participated in numerous causes around Tampa Bay. She has served on the board for the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce; on the board a member for the Medical Outreach Clinic in Brandon; as a Stephen Minister; and on the Brandon Foundation
Melonie keeps relationships strong with all which she has served with over the years. Her scope of influence continues to grow while she motivates and challenges more and more people to volunteer alongside her.
As a Digital Media Consultant, Melonie knows how to stay connected. But her connections go much deeper than social media. If you’ve had the pleasure of serving with Melonie, you’ve seen her gifts at work creating an inspiring experience. Her servant heart is evident in everything she does.
Melonie is very universally respected and admired. Everyone who volunteers with her marvels at how organized and devoted she is. Our guest families never doubt her support. It’s a pleasure and honor to watch her serve God according to her many talents
Mary Lynne Hawkins
The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation
Passion is the first requirement for a nominee in the “Be More Involved” category and it is an evident trait in Mary Lynne Hawkins. Mary Lynne gives her whole heart, time, talent, and treasures to better the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities served by The Arc Tampa Bay. Mary Lynne’s niece, Tracy, who is among the 300 served by The Arc locally, is who inspired and catapulted her journey of volunteering and advocating for this population.
To quote Mary Lynne, “These consumers are the most vulnerable of society. We all need to stand up and support these people so we can give them the quality of life they so deserve.” Her words only begin to convey the true calling she feels to give those less fortunate the same opportunities for happiness the rest of us strive for.
During her 25 years of involvement, Mary Lynne has served on The Arc Tampa Bay and Foundation Boards. She has chaired one of the Foundation’s signature fundraisers, leading to record donations. Serving on countless committees, she demonstrates devotion, creativity, reliability, and flexibility. It is with a glowing, beautiful smile as she heartily is first to volunteer for a new task or project.
With lack of ego, she is currently chairing a humble program, The Giving Tree (securing holiday gifts for each participant at The Arc Tampa Bay). On a larger scale, Mary Lynne spearheaded campus renovations and the retirement of two mortgages for The Arc’s day programs, by making a challenge grant/matching donation.
Although her niece Tracy was her introduction to this population, Mary Lynne has a place in her heart for every participant with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Every organization deserves a “Mary Lynne” . . . But, we are not willing to share her!
Safety Zone Advocacy, Inc.
Mr. Hayman has been a member of Safety Zone/Predator Patrol for 6 years, he has been an outstanding volunteer and advocate to the community. He is self employed as a contractor, working 60+ hours a week but still has time to give his every extra minute to help keep children educated on how to be safe and to assist law enforcement in making the neighborhoods safe from sex offenders.
Mr. Hayman was recently admitted to ICU at Tampa General for a life threatening illness and still while in the hospital he educated from his hospital bed to the doctors and nurses on internet safety, bus stop safety and his concern with sex offender issues.
My. Hayman has made a huge impact in the Tampa Bay community, he goes over and beyond to make sure that most people he talks to he shares his knowledge and passion on how to make life safer for children.
Due to Mr. Hayman’s passion and dedication, we look up to him for guidance in many areas of the organization. He plays a role in the organization as security and does not take his position lightly.
Mr. Hayman deserves to be recognized by the community as a leader, an advocate and educator. He would be honored and happy to know he is appreciated and deserves the Outspoken Volunteer Award.
Hillsborough Organization for Progress & Equality (HOPE)
“HOPE is a multi-issue, grassroots, community organization consisting of 25 multicultural and interfaith member congregations throughout Hillsborough County. HOPE’s mission is to promote justice, fairness, and the dignity of people by engaging and training community members to effectively act together to achieve long term resolution to serious community problems.
HOPE has been instrumental in addressing and meeting its social action goals to bring attention to and bring about positive change related to Juvenile Justice: Civil Citations, Affordable Housing Trust Fund & Improving Access to Elder Care.”
Annually, Hope brings together over 1000 residents of different religions, races, genders, ages and economic status to meet and have meaningful dialogue with elected officials to set goals to resolve targeted community issues. HOPE is on the right path of bringing about positive change in a pro-active way for our community.
My Warrior’s Place
If there is one attribute that has served Kelly’s mission and vision it is her ability to ask the question, to ask for help, and to be a gracious recipient of the boundless generosity of others. Since the death of her son, Specialist Corey Kowall in September, 2009, Kelly has transformed a Gold-Star Mother’s grief into making her vision for a Warrior retreat a reality.
Barely into her own grief, Kelly embarked on a mission to build a memorial for her son. She formed a non-profit, assembled a board, and found the ideal property on the Ruskin River.
My Warriors Place is a Retreat Center where Veterans, Military Service Members, First-Responders, Gold Star, Blue Star, and Silver Star Families can now go to find quiet solace, connect with other grieving warriors, and to tell stories of their grief journeys.
Kelly built upon a site that was found in a direst state of repair. She drummed up the courage to be outspoken and to ask the question: “Will you help us build this special place?” Merchants business owners, corporations, and even Pet Food Suppliers responded with donations of building supplies, services, and even free food for veterans’ dogs. Many volunteers have since given their time keeping the maintaining the grounds while other incidental needs somehow always seem to get met. Well done, Kelly
Kelly did not achieve this dream because she was quiet. She became an advocate for Veterans and Service Members as a keynote speaker addressing organizations and advocacy groups on behalf of My Warrior’s Place.
And finally, Kelly, herself, became a certified grief counselor and has reached out to countless numbers combining her experience and training to serve so many. It must be stated that My Warrior’s Place would not be here if Kelly did not ask the question.
General Federation of Women’s Clubs
In 2014 the General Federation of Women’s Club (GFWC) in Florida selected Canine Companions for Independence and its Wounded Veterans Initiative as their president’s project. During the two-year project, GFWC Florida raised $320,000 to support the organization. But after learning about the mission of Canine Companions many members continued to give back.
Edwina Kramer, the District 8 chair ( Lutz-Land O’Lakes ) for GFWC, is one of those members.
When she first learned about Canine Companions she was amazed at how these highly trained assistance dogs transform the lives of adults and children with disabilities. She decided to devote even more of her volunteer time to Canine Companions and chaired the inaugural DogFest Walk ‘n Roll Tampa in 2016.
DogFest Walk ‘n Roll is Canine Companions national signature event and helps raise important funds so that the organization can continue to provide their services free of charge. The event was a huge success and raised more than $45,000 and Edwina was so amazed at the event turnout and the enthusiasm of the people she met, she decided to chair the successful 2017 event and is currently helping with the 2018 event.
Edwina has the time, energy and desire to help others and her passion for service is strong. “There is nothing like seeing our caring community come together to benefit humanity and I am honored to have had the privilege to chair the inaugural DogFest Tampa. I plan for this to be an ongoing commitment to Canine Companions,” said Edwina.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of Canine Companions and we are honored to have Edwina Kraemer and GFWC supporting our organization and mission. Thank you!
Pinellas Education Foundation
Alex McKenna has truly made an impact on Pinellas County. An advocate for bringing career education and hands-on learning opportunities to students, Alex led efforts to strengthen connections between the education sector and business community across Pinellas County Schools (PCS). Alex volunteers his time as part of the Pinellas Education Foundation’s Stavros Career Education Board. In this capacity, Alex personally led 300+ site visits to PCS middle and high schools over the past five years. As a result of these bi-annual visits, principals, administrators, teachers, business, and organizational leaders united to develop best practices for hands-on student learning using an academy model. Since 2011, when Alex volunteered as the Community Coordinator to develop the “Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL) Master Plan for Career Education: 2011- 2017,” PCS student enrollment and achievement in academy programs has skyrocketed. In 2011, 17% of students were enrolled in academy programs; 318 earned industry certifications; and 65% graduated on time. By 2017, enrollment reached 51%; industry certification achievement totaled 13,000, and the graduation rate reached 95%. A pivotal factor in the district’s embrace of academy methodology has been the passion, enthusiasm, and tenacity of Alex McKenna. Alex has donated hundreds of hours of time because he firmly believes that students benefit from a practical education that provides pathways to post-secondary opportunities and high wage, high demand careers. Ford NGL named Pinellas a model community and Innovation Center in recognition of its efforts on behalf of students. These honors are closely aligned to Alex’s involvement and volunteerism. With the global economy changing so quickly, schools must become responsive places where students engage in real-world problem solving and learn to think flexibly, strategically, and innovatively. Thanks to the diligent leadership of Alex McKenna, students in Pinellas County are better prepared for life after high school and beyond.
Diego Duran Medina
The Kind Mouse Productions
Diego is deeply connected to the St. Petersburg non-profit community, especially as a member of the Board of Directors at The Kind Mouse Productions and as the Director of Service Learning at Shorecrest Preparatory School. Diego also serves by example to the students on how to be an engaged community member. I believe Diego is quite talented in helping young people define and execute their civic mission. He is a passionate teacher, talking about the work done by his students constantly and showing his pride for their progress on community ventures. Diego serves on the Kind Mouse Board of Directors. At The Kind Mouse, he has worked with my daughter to help her develop her service impact, and think about her civic engagement and how best she can serve her community.
Diego is also a dedicated educator at Shorecrest Preparatory School, teaching a high school course called LeadServe, where our students can explore what it means to be a citizen and the different ways of leading from a civic engagement perspective. I am very grateful that Shorecrest offers this unique course and hope that my daughter chooses to enroll next year.
He also serves as a community liaison representing Shorecrest to the local community, and works with over 25 different non-profits. He is constantly working to develop new partnerships for our school. Additionally, Diego also manages our school’s Service Week, an annual event where he places every member of our Upper School, over 360 individuals, (students and faculty) in service sites locally, nationally and internationally.
Diego brings a special talent and energy to helping our children and young adults learn how to become citizens who will make a difference in the lives of others. I highly recommend him for the WEDU Be More Award.
Mothers of Minors Inc
Karena has been a driving force for M.O.M as well as coe many other worthy organizations in the community! She goes above and beyond to enrich the lives of others! She has soear headed various fundraising and community events. She dedicates her time ansd limited resources to help those in need.
Community Action Stops Abuse, Inc. (CASA)
CASA provides residential and non-residential services to ensure the safety and sanctuary of victims of domestic violence and their children. We are one of 42 certified domestic violence centers in the state of Florida. Our services include a 100-bed emergency shelter, support outreach groups, legal advocacy, and prevention training. Eddie Pearson volunteers for CASA during many projects, in an organization that does not have a lot of male volunteers! He typically attends our fundraising events, and contributes to our bottom line regularly. He has helped to stuff backpacks during our Back to School give-away event, and when he found that our supplies did not have many school items for teens in families of survivors of domestic violence, he immediately donated supplies that were appropriate for that age group. He also helped get donations of money and food for our annual food drive, Soup-er Bowl. When there are no events happening, he volunteers at our reception area, manning the phone and screening persons who want inside our secure site. Last April, during our Good Night’s Sleep luncheon, he presented his story as our key speaker to raise awareness of audience members. You see, his cousin was murdered because of domestic violence, and it affected Eddie deeply. So deeply that he became involved in the White Ribbon Campaign, a global movement for men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls. Eddie doesn’t ask what we need; he makes himself available to help however he can. He doesn’t make suggestions about how to do our business, but supports our business in multiple ways. He is always available for us, always gives his time and money, and is well respected because he always has a cheerful demeanor and a can-do attitude. Eddie is definitely one of our most valuable assets!
The Dysautonomia Project
Beyond any realm of extraordinary volunteerism she works to save lives. She’s an outspoken voice, a compassionate heart, a relentless support and a wealth of information shedding light in the dark, misunderstood world of dysautonomia. She’s Lisa Rooker, proudly nominated by The Dysautonomia Project for the Outspoken Volunteer Award.
Notoriously available at any hour, for six years Lisa’s shepherded dozens of dysautonomia patients and families – spending an average five hours DAILY as their advocate and resource. She’s accompanied patients to specialists out of state at her expense, many times providing for their travel also. She’s creative and determined in connecting patients to doctors that don’t exist in Florida – once borrowing a camper to transport someone too sick to fly. In the midst of frightening hospital stays, she steps in knowledgeably instructing doctors and comforting strangers with hope and validation.
She’ll do ANYTHING so patients can find the elusive answers she’d pursued alone for eleven years to help her three ill daughters. That arduous journey yielded her unsurpassed knowledge with ties to specialists across the country, a time-saving gift to others.
“I cannot estimate her investment in me. Since we met two years ago she’s been involved in my care entirely. She’s the reason I’m diagnosed, she saved my life,” patient Mila Anne.
“She bulldozes the brick walls we face with information not even Florida’s best hospitals have. She’s a gift, setting herself aside so much I didn’t know she was chronically ill herself!” patient mom, Karina Evans.
“Sometimes I think it’s worth being sick because God connected us. She’s my best friend; she’s my family,” patient Kelcie Owens.
“No matter what – she will be there,” patient mom, Jennifer Boykin
When asked about her extraordinary mission Lisa simply answers: “I’m just doing what any good, compassionate human does.”
Good Living Magazine
This nominee doesn’t fit neatly into your category, but she is the epitome of what can be accomplished by one person with good intentions and a willingness to lead. In 2010, Pamela Settle founded a media company to self publish a free magazine that celebrates the “good.” After years of non-profit work, she knew she could create a hybrid publication that brings in private advertising to support the important messages coming from non-profit and government agencies. This her creation, and she has devoted her time and talents to lifting up our community, all on her own. In seven years, she has made a huge difference by giving free editorial space to numerous causes, and donating unsold ad space to charities. Some stories highlight volunteers to inspire others to be kind, to mentor or to donate. Some share lifesaving information about teen dating, sexual abuse, teen drug use and domestic violence. Some share educational information about physical and mental health. She lists charity events for free and encourages community engagement. All of this because she cares so deeply for the well being of others, especially families with children. She has become an advocate, willing to step up and speak out for the well being of kids. She is passionate about helping nonprofits tell their story. They know she will help them if they ask, and she has helped so many they can’t be listed here. She is also a friend to those in education, law enforcement, recreation, voter education and environmental work. In each issue, she expertly weaves this all together to tell the story of good — to give hope, to inspire caring and to create a feeling of pride in those who live here. It is a gift to our entire community and she deserves recognition for her work.
Angel Snugs, Inc.
Jen Smith has been instrumental in recruiting several groups of hundreds of volunteers for our Angel Snugs program, as well as raising thousands of dollars to cover expenses in getting our snugs to children fighting cancer. She is also responsible for organizing volunteers to ship the inventory to our recipient list of over 70 hospitals across the country and in British Columibia.
Through her efforts, we have received television and publication coverage, a 2015 Sumter County’s Philanthropic Excellence Award, and the 2017 “Be More Empowered” Award. We have been able to show our appreciation by awarding her our prestigious Princess Lilly Valentine Award for all of her hard work. Lilly Valentine is our program’s Child Ambassador that we lost at 6 years of age, after a brave 10-month fight against neuroblastoma. Please assist us in thanking Jen even more for all that she has done in helping us with our mission to provide warmth and comfort to thousands of children fighting cancer with our snugs.
Thank you for your your time and consideration.
Julie Weintraub’s Hands Across the Bay
Julie Weintraub founded Hands Across the Bay in 2010 for the purpose of providing stabilization to families in crisis to no fault of their own. She takes each individual under her “mama bear” wings and guides them back on the road to success and independence, emotionally and financially. Julie’s volunteer work doesn’t stop there. Many of the families she takes under her wings have fallen victim to domestic violence or horrific assault. Julie stands next to these survivors in court as they fight for life sentences for their abusers. She spends many days and nights encouraging these families and giving them the guidance and support needed to courageously face their abusers in court. If she is not advocating along side domestic violence survivors in court, she is trying to change laws as how our society views violence as a whole. She is passionate and won’t back down until our world has a different view on violence, especially against women. Another passion of Julie’s is her Random Acts of Kindness Program where Hands Across the Bay “Kindness Warriors” spread love, kindness, and positivity back into our community. She loves to bring smiles to perfect strangers’ faces to remind them that someone, somewhere in this world cares about them and their ability to overcome any obstacles. She goes out of her way to pay for someone’s coffee or hand out supplies during hurricane preparation. Her goal is to bring positivity back into everyday. Julie is able to do all of this volunteer work because of her and her husband, Steve’s kind and charitable hearts. Together they own Gold & Diamond Source, which donates Hands Across The Bay’s office space and two employee salaries! All of Julie’s time dedicated assisting the families touched by Hands Across the Bay is 100% volunteered.
The Sterling Society is a volunteer organization of the Dunedin Fine Art Center. Their mission is to inspire, connect, educate, and entertain in an effort to promote and support the Dunedin Fine Art Center (DFAC). The group is celebrating their thirteenth anniversary this year boasting over 250 members. They volunteer their time, ideas, and fundraising efforts to support DFAC, raising over $125,000 toward equipment, events, and exhibitions. Their signature Coffee & Conversation program promotes DFAC instructors, providing an overview of their artwork for the Tampa Bay community.
The mission of the Dunedin Fine Art Center is to offer creative educational experiences in the visual arts. DFAC’s ultimate goal is to stimulate both awareness and appreciation of the arts through changing exhibitions, lectures, studio classes and workshops that can strengthen interpretive ability and interactive creativity for both children and adults.
In 2015, as relations with Cuba began to thaw, the Sterlings had the idea to bring to Tampa Bay a greater understanding of the Cuban people through their art. The Sterlings and DFAC collaborated to offer an eight-day people-to-people trip to Cuba focused on learning about the breadth of the rich Cuban art scene. The Sterling Society sponsored the trip for Catherine Bergmann, DFAC’s curator; the goal was to identify Cuban artists, both established and emerging, who would participate in a future DFAC exhibition.
The resulting January-March 2017 exhibition, spanning two galleries, was a vibrant sampling of the vital and creative culture in Cuba today, representing a cross-section of contemporary Cuban artists, educators and visionaries.
In February 2017, the Sterling Society followed up by volunteering to present Viva Cuba, a cultural event held at DFAC celebrating the exhibition and the strengthening ties between our cultures. The event was also successful in raising $7500 for DFAC to defer costs of the exhibit.
The 2018 WEDU Be More Awards are made possible by: