Empowered

Ultimate Medical Academy
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.

Nominees

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I started Bikes For Christ in 2016 after volunteering with multiple ministries that catered to those in need. As an avid cyclist, I had been searching for some time how to combine my love of cycling with something that had purpose. I knew that I could help those in need that truly wanted to improve their situation with the transportation they desperately needed. With just a few postings on Facebook garage and yard sale sites, the donations began to role in. Two and a half short years later, we have become the premier organization supplying bicycles to those in need around the Greater Tampa Bay area. Our main focus is underprivileged children, veterans who are trying to re-establish themselves, and anyone that has a need and is trying to improve their circumstances. How we do this is through organizations and agencies that work directly with clients and are able to vet them out and determine that the need is indeed real. We currently partner with close to 50 of these agencies across parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco counties. Just a small sampling of these partners include: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Homeless Initiative, Metropolitan Ministries, Catholic Charities, The Children’s Board Family Resource Centers, Tampa Crossroads, Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Mentors For Hillsborough County Veterans. Along with every bicycle we give out, a Bible or some other scriptural literature goes with it, as we want the recipient to know that we care about them and God cares about them as well. That no matter how dire their situation may seem, God will be there for them to help them along. Bikes For Christ is helping to empower people and give them the mobility that they so desperately need to thrive in our society. While a lot of agencies concentrate on meals for those in need around this time of year (and that is certainly worthy of praise), our bicycles enable those in need to find a job, get to work and back, and continue to put meals on their tables throughout the entire year! One of my favorite success stories I like to share is about “David.” I met David while volunteering at Amazing Love Ministries near Ybor. David is about the same age as I am and grew up in the area, but our lives have taken very different paths. He’s been an addict, alcoholic, homeless, etc… but he waited until he had sobered up, gotten a place to stay there at the ministry and had found a job to approach me to ask for a bicycle so he could get to work and back. I was able to present him with a bicycle the day after Christmas two years ago. It was like a well-earned Christmas present! Fast forward almost two years later, and I am happy to say that David is still sober, he’s still working and he has donated at least three bicycles back to Bikes For Christ!

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In response to the growing uninsured population in the East Tampa community, Mount Calvary SDA Church established the Calvary Community Clinic — a free clinic to address one of the most critical needs of the community which it serves. Within the 33604, 33610 and 33612 zip codes, 40% of the population has no health insurance coverage and 25% live below the poverty level. The Calvary Community Clinic provides quality, compassionate health care for the underprivileged, uninsured, unemployed and underserved segments of our community. Affordable healthcare is out of reach for a lot of people and patients receive free health care at Calvary Community Clinic in Tampa. They help patients control their blood pressure, help them stop smoking and sometimes reverse their diabetes with dietary changes . Marcellina Abonis, the Director of Calvary Community Clinic has mentioned that 35 percent of these residents in this community are uninsured and another 40 percent live below the poverty line, The clinic offers primary healthcare and vision exams. But more importantly, the clinic offers peace of mind. It brings hope, health, and healing to the East Tampa community where more than 900 people who can’t afford healthcare are served. That’s why I think they are deserving of this nomination.

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The Community Food Pantry continues to break through the glass ceiling of food pantries. What is commonly thought of as a “hand someone a bag of canned goods” operation couldn’t be further from the truth. As client choice pantry, the CFP offers fresh options and the ability to shop for family needs as one would do at their local market, adding dignity to the process. The offerings don’t stop there. Wednesdays include a nurse and social worker to answer health-related questions, take blood pressure readings and offer advice on local social services. On more than one occasion, this service alone has been instrumental in saving clients from having catastrophic health issues through early detection (as many clients have either no health insurance or cannot meet deductibles). Twice a year a health fair brings in BayCare for screenings and free flu shots while almost 20 local health, financial, insurance and agency providers such as the Florida Department of Health and the Crisis Center set up tables to answer questions and provide information on access to SNAP, WIC and counseling services. School-aged children to the tune of 330+ receive bags of school supplies to start the school year, and another 52 at-risk children receive weekend food backpacks through the pantry’s partnership with 4 local schools. Over 40 local schools are represented in the volunteer ranks, with more than 300 students volunteering during the summer months and Sundays throughout the year. These students help with event preparation, post social media, restock shelves, conduct grocery deliveries and mobile pantries, prepare the pantry for distributions and serve clients with grace. They not only receive service hours for their school requirements but understand why it is so important to give back to their community when they realize they are serving people just like them. An offshoot this year from the youth volunteer program was a group who developed the Bags of Hope initiative – a program to collect, create and distribute toiletry bags to the homeless and families or individuals at risk. 800 bags have been distributed through Meals on Wheels and several hundred others through Blanket Tampa Bay. Girl Scout Troops 360 and 409 and Academy of Holy Names were some of the first organizations to donate after social media requests for Bags of Hope Tampa went out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Carrollwood Area Business Association, Chosen Treasures at the Well women’s home, AmVets and Village Presbyterian congregation members have all distributed them locally and on the streets. The reach of the pantry extends to Joshua House, McClain, Inc., 1BodyGlobal and a homeless advocate by sharing food from grocery providers that exceeds the pantry’s capacity to hold. 20 local schools and businesses, including Breezin’ Entertainment and Joy FM, support the effort to distribute 400 Everything But the Turkey holiday dinner fixing bags and frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving! No matter the effort, big or small, the Community Food Pantry takes on the challenge to offer comfort and grace to the members of their community.

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Crescent of Hernando, Inc. dba Crescent Community Clinic mission is to improve the health and well-being of the uninsured, indigent and underserved non-elderly of Hernando County, to promote health literacy and to establish alliances that serve our community. To provide the best care for our patients regardless of their ability to pay. Licensed providers (35) volunteer either at the clinic or accept clinic patients at their private practices on a pro bono basis. General support staff (75) are volunteers who generously donate their skills and time and have the belief that patients come first. Last reporting period the clinic had 6,563 patient visits for chronic health care, palliative dental care and/or mental health services. Licensed providers donated 2,694 hours at a value of $1,640,750. Support volunteer staff contributed 24,336 hours of service at a value of $530,281. Total value of health care, including the prescription, medical equipment, dental procedures, food stamp applications was valued at $3,734,030. Our patients are enrolled in Participation in Pharmaceutical Prescription Assistance program which provides a year’s supply of free medication. Our AmeriCares medicine program also provides free medication for health and mental health patents. Our Boutique of Hope provides free wigs, hats, turbans, bras and cancer survivor volunteers offer cancer patients this compassionate service and a listening ear. Our Medical Equipment Exchange has a variety of medical equipment and supplies for anyone to borrow or purchase for a nominal donation. Our partnership with the Corporation for Public Service and the AmeriCorps VISTA program includes research, education and networking with the medical community and organizations about the Opioid Epidemic throughout Tampa Bay. A ‘Road to Recovery’ resource handbook of available rehabilitation centers was developed through their efforts and is available at the Tampa Opioid Research Network website https://tampaopioidresearch.net (TORN). VISTA members and students at USF have been instrumental in organizing activities to educate the public on the detrimental use of opioids. Additionally, education for the medical professionals and the residents at Oak Hill Hospital is an on-going project for the VISTA members. Our partnership with the Hernando Correctional Center provides our application for services for inmates before their release date and is fast-tracked through our Intake and Eligibility process. When an inmate is released from jail they are given a just a three-day prescription for medication. This is dangerous for individuals that are diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and especially a mental illness. The released inmate is contacted and provided with an appointment with a licensed provider within a reasonable time to prevent recidivism or having to rely on hospital emergency rooms for non-emergent care. Crescent Community Clinic has saved thousands of hospital charity dollars and Hernando County Human Services costs by offering access to health care for those whose health conditions would exacerbate greatly. Saving lives through access to health care is the primary goal of Crescent Community Clinic. I highly recommend the Crescent of Hernando, Inc. dba Crescent Community Clinic for the Ultimate Medical Academy Small Nonprofit Award

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Because every child deserves a home, a group of 15 volunteers incorporated in 2010 and opened to serve homeless families in 2014. The organization and countless volunteers have served over 60 families representing hundreds of children in just four years. When families enter the 13-week program, the adults are taught a financial literacy course and work with the case manager to secure a job and housing. A Day Center in Brandon allows families to receive mail and a place for school buses to pick-up children. In the evening, families are transported to one of 13 sites to enjoy a home-cooked dinner and restful sleep. After finding a home and jobs, the case manager coordinates their household needs through the community’s generosity. The program includes following-up with the families with extended case management during their first year. The second family to come into the program had a dad who worked at the airport, and a disabled retired military mom who had severe health issues. Their bright teenage daughter saw the struggle of her parents and felt helpless. The dad was forced to commute 5 hours to work one way riding his bike to the mall to wait for a bus that didn’t already have two bikes on it. After successfully graduating from the program, the dad was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t work. Family Promise paid for his medication. When he could no longer afford housing, he found a program that would take care of his wife and daughter, forcing him to return to the life of homelessness. A Family Promise volunteer stepped in and offered a mobile home to keep the family together during his illness. To repay his gratitude, the dad came out to help the next graduating family move into their forever home. Homeless families dream of having a forever home. Family Promise of Hillsborough County exists to make that happen.

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I have always been amazed at the local as well as global impact of this organization. Their ability to improve lives is truly humbling. The founder and leader, Dino Scanio’s is a real-life testament proclaiming goodness still exists in a world, which is so often shadowed with negativity. The FOOT Foundation has helped over 500 children and adults defy the odds through the network of their orthotic and prosthetic humanitarian clinics abroad. The local projects run by the FOOT Foundation remind so many that it takes very little effort to make a difference. This year they made beautiful spring baskets for children at a local community school. These children who live in poverty, have so many needs and their baskets had fun things like toys and candy, and also contained basic necessities like toothpaste, soap and water bottles. Over the last decade, the FOOT Foundation has assisted over 12 local charities that often go unrecognized. The magnitude of what this foundation has done for the Tampa Bay community is amazing. Lisa Scanio is the co-founder of the Foundation and is responsible for selecting the Florida charity seeking foundation’s assistance. Lisa’s passion for helping those in the local community is obvious through the FOOT Foundation. The FOOT Foundation also advocates for those with special needs and fights for equality of all levels. I have personally witnessed Dino and his foundation restore hope to so many and motivate others to make a difference. The FOOT Foundation supports Mitochondrial Disease Awareness and helps families who are struggling with this diagnosis. Dino and Lisa Scanio’s son, Gianluca, was diagnosed with Progressive Mitochondrial Myopathy in September, 2012 and with a deep understanding of the pain, these two kind souls decided to extend a helping hand in whichever way possible. The foundation is on a mission to host a camp in Florida for children facing this devastating disease. This is one charity that truly deserves to be recognized and Dino Scanio is in fact, a living angel to many of us! I encourage you to view their website www.footfoundation.org and take notice of what they have accomplished. The stories from families on their Facebook page will only echo these words in this nomination. The videos on their website reflect their earnest efforts in reaching out to help the others and reminds us that there are no borders to humanity. https://vimeo.com/180164886 The husband and wife team, with their Foundation deserves this nomination! I will close with this quote, “There is no joy equal to that of being able to work for all humanity and doing what you’re doing well.” The FOOT Foundation helps humanity well! http://www.baynews9.com/fl/tampa/news/2015/9/14/hero_couple_provides

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GiGi’s Playhouse is a network of Down Syndrome Achievement Centers with the mission to change the way the world views Down syndrome through community campaigns, educational programs, and by empowering individuals with Down syndrome and their families. GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa will make a lifetime commitment to support and empower families from prenatal diagnosis, birth and through to adulthood by offering no-cost therapeutic, educational and career development programs. Founded by a mother in Illinois 15 years ago, GiGi’s Playhouse has grown to 39 Playhouses in the U.S. and Mexico. Tampa will be the 3rd Florida location. GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa is fulfilling the dream of the Down syndrome community of having a location where individuals with Down syndrome of all ages will have a place to call their own, where they will feel safe and can explore their abilities through proven programs with support and celebration. Parents will no longer feel the anxiety of finding a place where their loved one will be unconditionally accepted and offered opportunity to become their best of all. Each participant will grow with the programs at their own pace and interact with their peers in an environment of celebration and achievement. No matter the age, individuals with Down syndrome will be offered the opportunity to grow their knowledge and skills. Families will experience support and learn that they are not alone and are part of an amazing community that appreciates the joys and highlights the positive. GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa will offer one-on-one math and literacy tutoring, handwriting classes, a daily schedule of signature and specialty programs for all ages.Therapeutic and fitness based programs will build self-esteem and strengthen low muscle tone, advance gross and fine motor skills and speech impairment while encouraging social skills. Career and life-skills programs for teens adults will empower generations of a trained workforce and the opportunity to pursue a more independent lifestyle. A culinary kitchen will give participants an opportunity to learn life and workplace skills expanding options for independence and employment The network of GiGi’s Playhouse is a volunteer-run organization who relies on the skill and dedication of volunteers of various levels of expertise to keep our programs vibrant, educational, purposeful, fun and free. Since the first Playhouse opened in 2003, GiGi’s Playhouse programs have always been free for families and participants. Parents, family members, clinicians, and individuals who believe in the GiGi’s Playhouse mission act as volunteers in GiGi’s Playhouse programs, events, administrative offices, and on our Board of Members. Volunteers are used for 99% of all opportunities including one-on-one tutoring programs, administrative needs, event planning and execution, committee positions in marketing, finance, fundraising, and strategic planning. Volunteer training is provided by GiGi’s Playhouse and volunteers of all ages are encouraged.

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Honor Flight of West Central Florida is a 501 (c)(3), 27-3701199. It was established in October, 2010 as an official regional hub of the Honor Flight Network. Our mission is to recognize American veterans for their sacrifice and service by flying veterans FREE OF CHARGE to Washington, D. C. to visit and reflect at the memorials dedicated in their honor. Many of the veterans never received the welcome home that they richly deserved for their sacrifices. Since our establishment in 2010 we have flown 2,583 veterans (many are WW II veterans) from the Tampa Bay area to Washington, D. C. Additionally, we have also recognized via an Honor Flight at Home program over 400 veterans who were not able to fly or unwilling to fly. We fly four missions a year with each veteran having an accompanying guardian. Each mission costs $58,000. Half of that cost is funded by the guardians who donate $400 each; however, the remaining cost must be raised by private and corporate donations and fund raisers.

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Inspire Equine Therapy Program is a marvelous, well kept facility that has a great heart for those with disabilities and those who need equine therapy to help their lives have value and success. They carefully choose their mounts for their individual qualities for assisting a person with special needs. They not only provide mounted therapy, but they also assist their clients in learning all aspects of horse care that they are capable of understanding and participating in for their situation. Inspire helps their students to excel at Special Olympics. Every student is given special attention to help them have a successful day at the program. The smiles are worth a fortune. Whether they have autism, cerebral palsy, chronic brain injury, a developmental disability or are one of our very special Wounded Warriors, Inspire is there to light their path to success and happiness.

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Mentors for Hillsborough County Veterans is a small organization that makes a huge impact in Tampa. The volunteers serve as mentors for veterans who are in the Veterans’ Treatment Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit of Hillsborough County Florida. Veterans who are arrested and charged with a variety of criminal charges, can seek admission to the Court. The Presiding Judge, the Honorable Michael Scionti, conducts interview with the veteran to make sure he or she meets the legal qualifications to participate in the Program, and the veteran signs a legally binding contract. Upon entry, the veteran is assigned a mentor, who is a veteran, who is their battle buddy. The mentor guides the veteran, serves as a shepherd, a sounding board, a best friend, and a resource. Concurrent with their mentorship, the veteran is required to assist in formulating a treatment plan for the physical and mental health issues they may face, such as PTSD, as well as tertiary issues that stem from their service such as domestic violence and anger management classes, substance abuse courses, legally required DUI sanctions, and counseling. In addition to their court mandated treatment plan, every veteran is required to accomplish a minimum of 50 hours of community service, as well as maintain sobriety during the program, which is a minimum of 270 days. What sets our program apart from other special courts in the 13th Circuit, such as Drug or Mental Health Courts, is the mentor. Mentors and veterans communicate at various frequencies, but at a minimum weekly. Some are daily communications, and some have been started at multiple times per day. Our mentors work hand in hand with our partners (The State Attorneys Office, the Office of the Public Defender, the Florida Department of Corrections, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office) and our various health care and substance abuse treatment providers (DACCO, ACTS, Riverside Recovery, Steps to Recovery) and the Veterans Administration. Using that team work, we provide the veteran with more than just appointments, we make sure they show up, or attend, and participate actively in their treatment, and make the appointments with the probation authority and drug testing providers. More importantly, when veterans have difficulty with the stresses of daily life and the legal system, they know that help is a call away, as conversely, when we learn a veteran doesn’t participate, or misses appointments, the mentors won’t tolerate half-stepping our program and we’ll intervene early. The results speak for themselves. With over 300 veterans in the VTC, 88% of those accepted complete the program, and graduate. We save taxpayers $800,000+/- per year in jail costs by preventing vets going back to jail, because we step in and make corrections before punishment is needed. Less than 10% of our veteran graduates don’t re-offend in the following 18 months, which ensures the program works as advertised. It ensures graduated veterans don’t have a conviction on their record and can return to being a productive citizen. Best of all, we do it for FREE.

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MEOW Now stands for Managing and Ending Overpopulation Wisely. Their practice is to humanely reduce the community cat population through education and targeted TNVR (Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return) efforts, focusing on one colony at a time. MEOW Now was formed to protect the welfare of community cats in Pinellas County, otherwise known as stray, feral and homeless cats. Longtime community cat advocates formed MEOW Now, making it the leading resource in the county for TNVR services and informational support. MEOW Now identified TNVR as the most effective, humane method of stabilizing and ending overpopulation of community cats and aided in amending the Pinellas County code legalizing the care of community cats. Since their inception in the fall of 2014, the small, volunteer-based non-profit has successfully provided TNVR to over 4,600 community cats, and has fostered for adoption, over 300 kittens trapped in the field. Their TNVR efforts are stabilizing colony populations by eliminating breeding and significantly reducing behavior issues and community complaints, not to mention the decrease in euthanasia. In the year ahead, MEOW Now seeks to spay, neuter and vaccinate another 1,000 community cats residing in the county’s most densely populated outdoor colonies. The number one cause of death for cats in America is being euthanized in shelters despite there being widespread support for lifesaving TNVR efforts. Cats are prolific breeders and in just one year a female cat can give birth to as many as 12 kittens. Over the course of a decade, these kittens can directly increase the community cat population by nearly 50,000 cats. MEOW Now is changing those statistic in Pinellas County with their TNVR efforts. MEOW Now believes that every community cat is worthy of the same basic care and dignity as their indoor counterparts. While they wish that every cat could have a loving home, the reality is that the significant free-roaming cat population requires engaged citizen support for proper management. MEOW Now alone cannot resolve the homeless cat population and they seek to engage the goodwill of the community to take ownership of their community cats by helping to facilitate county-wide TNVR. MEOW Now welcomes and provides training for volunteers interested in helping with their mission. Although they are a young, up-and-coming organization, they are making positive change in the public with community outreach, fundraisers and events. They hold fundraisers at many local businesses and just accomplished a large event bringing celebrity and humane animal activist, Kitten Lady, Hannah Shaw to Pinellas County for two public workshops designed to help educate and inspire the community with methods to save cat and kitten lives and promote TNVR. MEOW Now will continue being ever present in Pinellas County with their mission to reduce the community cat population, one colony at a time.

Mrbubblez exhibits strong management and leadership skills by building strong community partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and churches. In our commitment to providing homeless individuals with showers, hygiene, and clothing, we have worked with the community to involve them in our mission, and to provide opportunities for people to care for their homeless neighbors. Mrbubblez recruits and manages volunteers to support the program, and leverages business and individual donations to provide quality services to those in need. Our mobile shower program began as an idea- a desire to provide people experiencing homelessness with the dignity of a shower. Through the leadership of the Mrbubblez board, and the support of volunteers and community partners, this idea has come to fruition and has provided 400 people with showers since its’ conception. Mrbubblez is the only mobile shower provider in Hillsborough County and is providing a critical service to our vulnerable neighbors. Over the last 2 years, Mrbubblez has provided over 400 showers to people experiencing homelessness. Because our showers are mobile, we meet individuals where they are in the community and ensure that they have an opportunity to care for themselves in a way that many people take for granted. While there are a few other agencies in Tampa that offer showers, they are often in distant locations that homeless people cannot access. Providing mobile showers allows our clients the basic dignity of cleaning themselves, and also gives them the encouragement and care they need to make it one more day. Our volunteers create a safe space where clients can feel refreshed and restored, allowing them to feel loved and valued. Our motto is “I see you & I care.” We live out this motto by treating each person with respect and honoring their humanity by providing these basic services.

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SPIFFS is a membership organization consisting of over 36 ethnic cultural groups. Today’s America is an immigrant nation facing an identity crisis– but SPIFFS brings together the country. In this “us versus them” culture SPIFFS shows people a better way. SPIFSS is best known for its annual 4-day International Folk Fair, drawing over 10,000 residents each year. Lesser known is that the first 2 festival days are reserved exclusively for school groups. This year alone, thousands of students will be immersed in a local experience of food, dance and culture from 3 dozen nations at the 2018 festival in late October. SPIFFS has always been an important organization. In our current climate it has become indispensable. Recognition for its contributions to Tampa Bay is deserved and would contribute greatly to our region’s culture.

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KIDS FEEDING KIDS – EMPOWERING THE NEXT GENERATION OF VOLUNTEERS TO KINDLY AND QUIETLY FEED FOOD INSECURE AND CHRONICALLY HUNGRY CHILDREN IN PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA. Envision 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. Since our inception in 2011, The Kind Mouse has filled over 180,000 hungry tummies. 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. KIDS FEEDING KIDS empowers the next generation of volunteers to serve their community and peers in the best possible way. The Kind Mouse is grooming tomorrow’s future leaders through two outreach clubs (Mice In Training ages 5-12 and Mice Interns ages 13-18). These young volunteers are learning the ins and outs of running a nonprofit by conducting their own board meetings, raising awareness through public speaking and MouseVision video production, developing their leadership and communications skills, and cultivating empathy. Our ‘mice’ put together shopping lists and budgets, shop for the food, and pack Mouse Nibbles Weekend Pack Sacks for children who do not always have reliable access to food on the weekends. Our ‘mice’ plan, organize and manage food drives at their schools and with various businesses and civic organizations. Our ‘mice’ attend and speak at various fund-raising events. Our ‘mice’ produce public service announcements (PSAs) and YouTube videos to raise awareness of child hunger issues. Most importantly, they are feeding hungry children and giving hope to their peers.

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In 2015, two postpartum mothers struggling with the storms of motherhood decided they would no longer weather the storm alone. Knowing they couldn’t be the only ones seeking help, struggling to find answers and being repeatedly let down by the lack of education, awareness and resources for maternal mental health in Tampa Bat they began a journey. Along this voyage they picked up other mothers who had also climbed out of the darkness that is prenatal and postpartum depression and invited them to share this adventure. A small but strong project was formed. Quickly gaining strength and momentum thanks to social media, moms groups and the tenacity of mothers this project became a 501c3 organization, The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. named for the then 1 in 7 mothers who would be diagnosed with postpartum depression. At this time in 2015, few if any local obstetrical and midwifery care providers were even screening their patients for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in Tampa Bay. Even fewer were prepared to offer appropriate resources and referrals to patients once diagnosed. Many, too many mothers were suffering in silence, thinking they were alone in their madness, afraid to reach out for help. Using social media and direct contact with area health care providers the volunteers of The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. began a wide scale campaign to inform medical and lay professionals of the prevalence of maternal mood disorders. Through raw and honest sharing of their stories the volunteers, now 12 by 2016 let other mothers know that they were not alone, they were not to blame and it could get better. This small force grew to over 1000 social media and blog followers. Bringing a message of hope and encouragement to the families of Tampa Bay, over 75 women were connected to help for postpartum mood disorders with in the first year and the number keeps growing. Trained navigators assist women in finding Doctors, Counselors and Therapist who specialize in maternal mood disorders. New Motherhood Mentors provide emotional and informational support to other moms who are still struggling to climb out of the darkness. 20 volunteers who have taken the time to become trained in maternal mental health crisis support are out in the community speaking before women’s groups, leading peer to peer support groups, advocating for change at a political level, working with medical professionals to improve access to care and providing a bridge over the troubled water that is postpartum distress connecting mothers to education, support and much needed hope. In less than 4 years those first two mothers, Elizabeth Good and Rebecca Hartley-Woods have grown into over 30 mothers who are daily working to improve the state of maternal mental health in Tampa Bay with their motto “We can’t stop the rain, but we will help you weather the storm” and their name famous #holdtheumbrella all as volunteers with less than $20000 in four years. Imagine how lives will change if they are provided more so they can be more.

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I am nominating Urlinked Charities Inc because they are showing youth how to handle family issues and everyday struggles. Some of these girls are suicidal, suffering from depression and self inflicted wounds. Urlinked Charities builds confidence through mentorship and character building session. Their girls are from 8-17 and have suffered in silence for so long. The mission is on igniting change and equipping individuals with the tools necessary to grow on different levels of life. The goal was to establish a unique business model to effectively share the resources to serve, mentor, motivate and educate individuals, community partners, youth, elderly, and the homeless. The team is encompassed of a diverse group of individuals with the experience, knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of others. Urlinked has a program qnd movement called I am ME. ME meaning mature and empowered. Its a 9-week Character Building course. We have to be a society like Urlink Charities and say enough is enough.

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In response to learning about 3 fatal drownings and 1 nonfatal drowning that occurred on Mother’s Day weekend 2014, (https://www.tbo.com/news/breaking-news/tampa-boy-5-drowns-in-riverview-apartment-pool-20140512/ ), Kari Bahour, a long time water safety advocate and drowning prevention specialist, felt these startling statistics were unacceptable. Heartbroken by the news, which weighed heavily on her mind for several months, she decided to accept social responsibility and do more to become a part of the solution. In November of 2014, she founded Water Smart Tots, Inc. Water Smart Tots is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating pediatric drowning in the Tampa Bay Area by promoting water safety awareness through on-land education and by providing free or reduced scholarships for highly-specialized, one-on-one, aquatic survival skills to financially underprivileged children ages 12 months to 6 years or children with special needs. The founding board members, who also serve as volunteers to Water Smart Tots, are not only financially invested, but have contributed endless hours of their personal time promoting water safety awareness and education. The Board of Directors believe that every child deserves the opportunity to be equipped with specialized, self-rescue swimming skills to serve as an extra layer of protection. This selfless, personal contribution and unwavering dedication to Water Smart Tots has resulted in the organization’s success, which has positively impacted hundreds of families in the Tampa Bay area. Water Smart Tots was able to award aquatic survival scholarships to more than 70 children during our 2018 swim season. These individualized, one-on-one lessons are valued at over $18,000 and were paid out to independent swim schools in the Greater Tampa Bay area that specialize in the self-rescue methodology. In 2018, Water Smart Tots expanded from only Hillsborough County, to the Greater Tampa Bay area, expanding their partnership from 5 instructors, to now having 16 instructors who specialize in the aquatic self-rescue methodology, willing to accept a reduced rate for our scholarship recipients. Our complimentary, classroom water safety education program was provided to more than 780 preschoolers and school-aged children from March-July 2018. Water Smart Tots also participated in 28 community outreach events to date to promote and educate parents and the community about drowning prevention through distribution of water safety literature and Water Watcher Tags. Most recently, Water Smart Tots has joined forces with Go Bright For Isla (#GoBrightForIsla) to bring awareness to this very important cause. In 2018, Water Smart Tots, Inc. was nationally recognized by the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. In April of 2018, the board members and volunteers of Water Smart Tots served as Ambassadors during the NDPA’s week long, National Educational Conference that was held in Tampa. Kari Bahour was awarded the NDPA’s National Life Saver of the Year Award at the community level. She was also recognized by Spectrum’s Bay News 9 as a Community Hero and received the WEDU Be More MASON DIXON Volunteerism Award in 2018. Water Smart Tots work is not complete. Recent statistics show that Florida continues to lead the nation in pediatric drownings, with 74 drowning in 2018 alone.

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My name is Lilliana Rios. I served as a Social Work Intern for a year at the WRC. During my time at the Women’s Resource Center, I worked closely with the Program Manager, Joy Kruppa and the Executive Director, Cherie Simmers. From the volunteers to the staff the work they do is beyond amazing. They all worked so hard and not one of them ever complained about anything. They were professional and also caring. They provided so much professional guidance that they inspired me to open up this year my own nonprofit to help abused women in underserved communities receive free counseling. My nonprofit is called Love Equals Me. And it would not have been possible if it weren’t for the support of the Women’s Resource Center, its clinical supervisor, Brad Beatty and the wonderful Mrs. Simmers and Mrs. Kruppa. At the WRC they don’t only help clients, but motivate and inspire staff whether paid or unpaid. They’ve been around for over 40 years and even the clients would say, “My mom used to come here to get baby’s milk for me, and now I come to them for their programs and assistance.” The WRC inspires, guides, and it is headed, not by bosses, but rather, by leaders who take great pride in creating other leaders. They aspire to inspire. They help people from generation to generation not asking for publicity nor awards, but they do it because they care. And I plan on following their footsteps. We are so lucky to have them in the state of FL, Winter Haven. Hope you will consider this wonderful organization, that knows nothing about this submission, but they truly deserve all the merit they receive and don’t receive. They are exceptional. And I feel fortunate to have been part of their family… and start my own here in Tampa. Thank you so much for having this program of your own that awards nonprofits and let’s them know their work is valuable. As yours is as well. Kindly, Lilliana Rios, MA, MSW 973-873-1738

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YES! (Your Enrichment Services) of America United, an all volunteer not for profit with a $30,000 budget, was incorporated in 2002 and received not for profit status (501c3) in 2004. It was founded by Becki Forsell who became legally blind in 1996 and was driven by the desire for her and her community to be recognized for their abilities not their disabilities. Its mission is “To positively change what it means to have a disability with programs, training, and outreach that enrich, educate and empower people as they live, work, and play in their inclusive community”. YES! has grown into a community outreach organization promoting inclusion and disability awareness. YES!’s challenge is to encourage people with a disability to take the next step. We accomplish this by actively encouraging self-reliance, self-advocacy, and personal empowerment. To help reach our goals YES! develops and maintains strategic partnerships with local and state agencies and organizations to maximize our reach and range of services provided to the disabled community. YES! has established six signature events to reach its goals of advocacy, education, inclusion, enrichment and networking/communication. In addition to these events YES! sits on numerous Boards/Councils local and State wide, supports many partner events providing information on YES!’s initiatives as it supports the community. In October YES! puts on its F.A.I.R. (Family Abilities Information Rally) which connects the disabled and abled community with local vendors, community services, and government agencies. This year’s Annual FAIR, the 11th had over 2,500 participants and 200 vendors. In November YES! goes into the Hillsborough County Schools with its Disability Awareness Program. We believe the first step is to reach out to these children whose impressions and opinions have yet to be fully formed. In 2008 YES! sponsored a Florida Statute that requires all school districts to present disability awareness programs. This program continues throughout the year in schools, the community and even Corporate levels. During the Holiday Season YES! has its Holiday Smiles Program. This project provides food and gifts to the less fortunate in our community. The program provided food and gifts to over 650 individuals and families. The program focuses on those with a disability and our less fortunate veterans. This program continues throughout the year serving the less fortunate. In the beginning of each year YES! travels to Tallahassee to engage the Legislators in supporting legislation pertinent to people with disabilities. In the Spring YES! has its Spring Fling an event that focuses on a community outreach picnic encouraging individuals living with a disability to socialize, make new friends, learn communication skills, and build natural supports. In early Summer YES! has its annual Senior Event. It is an event that includes fun, food and education. Vendor’s specific to Senior needs set up at the outset of the event to provide participants with resources and referrals. . YES!’s vision is clear in its outreach – “Define me not by my disability, but engage me for my abilities and aspirations”

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