Armed With a Book, a Spade and a Shovel, You Can Set Out to Change the World

September 15, 2014

DOC 2013 picImagine what could happen if two dozen volunteers armed with spades, hoes and hammers descended upon a preschool’s yard. In a day’s time, that school could have a learning garden, the perfect vehicle for teaching nutrition, environmental awareness and a sense of responsibility. It’s not just a vision. It will happen on Day of Caring, September 26th.

Day of Caring is Central Florida’s largest community-based volunteer event. Businesses throughout the area send out teams of volunteers to work on specific projects aimed at bettering our community. Project needs fit some broad areas of interest. Gardening and landscaping projects are a great chance to spend a day outdoors. Creative thinkers can promote literacy through arts and crafts, while those who simply want to show they care can help serve the homeless. With dozens of projects to choose from, Central Florida corporations can easily put 2,000 volunteers out in the community September 26th. There are even projects available for individuals who want to participate.

To learn more about Day of Caring and to sign up for a company project, visit the Day of Caring page at You can also contact the Volunteer Resource Center by calling (407) 429-2136 or emailing us at

3 Years Later, a Call to Say Thanks for “Saving My Life”

September 10, 2014

Heart of Florida United Way Specialists are always prepared for a spike in calls when the nation learns of a celebrity suicide. But comedian Robin William’s suicide in August triggnote-padd-2-1-1ered an unexpected call to 211. A former client named Tom* called to say thank you.

He reached out just a few days after William’s suicide to say that three years ago a 2-1-1 specialist “saved my life.” Tom said if he had not received that needed support, he knows he would have killed himself that evening.

“The 2-1-1 Specialist really heard and understood my pain and why I wanted to die,” he said. He went on to say he is thankful to be alive, is doing great and takes every possible opportunity to educate others about the support he received from United Way’s 211 Crisis Helpline.

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Use it as an opportunity to remind someone you know that help is available. 2-1-1 answers over 1,000 crisis contacts per month and of those, almost 200 require suicide prevention services. Specialists are available 24/7/365 by phone, chat ( or by texting their zip code to 898-211. Tom said dialing 211 made the difference for him. It can make a difference for someone else too.


*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Central Florida Welcomes Interim DCF Secretary

September 1, 2014


Heart of Florida United Way President and CEO Robert “Bob” H. Brown and Department of Children and Families Interim Secretary Mike Carroll.

Heart of Florida United Way and community leaders are looking forward to a new promised collaboration between Central Florida and the Department of Children and Families (DCF). That’s the result of a meeting facilitated by United Way in which area child advocates had a chance to meet DCF interim secretary Mike Carroll. Carroll, a 24-year DCF veteran, was appointed as interim secretary last April by Governor Rick Scott. Prior to his appointment, he was DCF Suncoast regional director.

In his meeting with leaders here, Carroll stressed that the department was a partner with the local community and that he looked forward to working with Central Florida to promote child safety and well-being. They agreed to a new alliance to benefit children and families, and discussed ways to overcome barriers they may confront. The visit provided an opportunity for Carroll to learn about key innovative community initiatives, including United Way’s recent Children’s Summits. He took special note on the Summit discussions, asked to be kept informed about upcoming Summits and suggested that they could develop into a model for other Florida communities.

Carrol’s DCF record includes implementing a new program called Rapid Safety Feedback, which was created to better flag potential child safety threats in his previous district. Additionally, he has said DCF needs to find ways to lighten investigator workloads so that they can do a better job of protecting the state’s children.

Collective Impact Brought to Life by Day of Caring

August 15, 2014


Heart of Florida United Way loves to talk about collective impact. Simply put, collective impact is when groups from different sectors come together to affect change. Our annual fundraising campaign is an example of our collective impact. So are our recent Children’s Summits. But perhaps the best living, breathing example of collective impact is Day of Caring.

The 23rd annual Day of Caring is September 26th. It’s an amazing effort in which dozens of Central Florida companies mobilize hundreds of their employees to work on a specific volunteer project. United Way works in three counties, so Day of Caring will include impact projects throughout Central Florida. For instance, a $15,000 housing repair grant means over 100 volunteers will join together at a Winter Park neighborhood and work toward safety and security improvements for 10 homes belonging to people who are either seniors, disabled or living with a limited income. By adding hurricane shutters, planting thorny bushes in strategic spots, adding security bars to sliding glass doors and doing a bit of sprucing up, volunteers can improve things for the people living in those homes as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

In Osceola County, United Way is working with the Osceola Council on Aging on senior housing projects for Day of Caring that will really add to quality of life. Volunteers will paint and landscape Tracey Manor, an apartment complex for low-income seniors, but a community garden for residents is also on the agenda. As part of that, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Science’s Osceola County Extension office is planning to do a nutrition program.

Corporate groups can get involved by contacting the Volunteer Resource Center at 407-429-2136 or email Projects will be posted the first week of September.

Back to School for Central Florida… and United Way, too!

August 14, 2014


Insight Credit Union’s Ryan Paris, Donnie Adamczyk and Eileen Young with Heart of Florida United Way’s Traci Blue (second from right)

The annual back to school migration is in motion, with 65,000 Seminole county students already reporting to class and an additional 350,000 Orange, Osceola, Lake and Volusia county students scheduled to return the third week in August. School start times may differ, but one statistic remains consistent statewide – 1 in 4 Florida children live in poverty. These kids need additional support throughout the school year. Fortunately, a number of companies and nonprofits stepped up help them make the grade.

“We received pens, pencils, really, a little bit of everything,” said Insight Credit Union Community Outreach Executive Donnie Adamcyk. They actually received more than “a little bit.” This year, Insight Credit Union launched a month-long school supply drive in a first-time partnership with Heart of Florida United Way. The seven branches located throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties served as drop-off sites and the response was good. Insight successfully filled between eight to ten boxes with all kinds of back to school items. “We’re thrilled with the opportunity to be part of this partnership,” said Adamcyk.

In addition to supplies, other resources like tutors, mentors and volunteers make a big impact. This school year, United Way is placing 20 AmeriCorps members at Oak Ridge and Evans High Schools (10 members each) to provide academic support in English and math for 10th – 12th grade students. They will provide one-on-one mentoring to help juniors and seniors develop a written post-secondary education action plan.

This is in addition to the 14 VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) serving in 12 Title I schools in the tri-county area to recruit volunteers.

If you’re interested in helping Central Florida students get this school year started right by donating supplies or keeping it on track by volunteering as a reader, tutor or mentor, we encourage you to get involved. Most needed items include loose-leaf paper, 24 count boxes of crayons and spiral notebooks. For additional information, contact our Volunteer Resource Center at


Volunteer Spotlight: Jane Garrard, Vice President, CFO Tupperware North America

August 13, 2014

Jane Garrard0704Jane Garrard, Vice President, CFO Tupperware North America

It takes only a short conversation with Jane Garrard to recognize that she thinks in numbers. It’s understandable, given that she’s an accounting major who went on to become a C.P.A. and now a CFO. Managing the books isn’t something people usually associate with philanthropy, but that accounting perspective is one of the things that led to Garrard’s support of Heart of Florida United Way.

How long have you been involved with Heart of Florida United Way?
I moved to Florida from Dallas in 2002, so I’ve been a donor since then. But when you say personally involved, I was asked to co-chair Tupperware’s workplace campaign about six years ago. Tupperware encourages that as both a way to bring out leadership skills that can influence people and to help others understand the importance of giving.

What inspired you to get involved?
Part of Tupperware’s corporate culture is for all its officers to serve on nonprofit boards. I’ve been a member at large of the Women’s Leadership Council since 2008. I joined the board of United Way in 2010, and in 2011 I joined the finance committee. I also joined the host committee for the 2011 Chef’s Gala and served as the behind-the-scenes vice chair of the 2012 and 2013 Chef’s Gala.

What has that progression been like?
It’s been great, I’ve interacted with a lot of smart people who are as interested in building the community as I am. Joining the board also gave me a better understanding of the Investing in Results campaign. Because I’m a financial person, it’s been a pleasure to learn about and then share that United Way has really strong operating controls and financial controls. They manage administrative expenses as a percentage of giving and that’s impressive.

How does United Way fit into Tupperware’s philanthropy?
I can say that the United Way workplace campaign is the only one of its magnitude within our corporate culture. Everyone knows it’s happening and everyone knows we put dollars behind it. When it comes to charitable giving, it’s the second largest effort we have on campus.

What are your personal thoughts on donating versus volunteering?
Right now, I’m a better money giver than time giver, and that’s due to a busy schedule. But as I approach retirement I think about volunteering and I hope to give more time when I retire because I think you get more personal satisfaction from volunteering time, and that’s why I would like more time to do it.

Are you finding a lot of differences between Orlando and Dallas when it comes to the community and its level of involvement?
Orlando is very different from Dallas, but for me, in a very positive way. I spent five years in Dallas and I found it to be a big concrete city. Tupperware acquired the company I worked for in Dallas and transferred me here. I didn’t have near the number of opportunities to be involved in the community or organizations in Dallas that I have here, I think the size of Orlando is part of that. I find that the smaller size provides more opportunity. But I also think that more doors have opened as I have grown professionally because when you’re a CEO or a CFO, you’re more attractive as a board member.

If you met someone who didn’t understand what United Way is about, what would you say to get them on board?
Not only are they good stewards of the money, the whole Investing in Results strategic focus makes sure people understand where the money is going and that it is being carefully measured for impact. I find that unique and exciting. I also think they have a high quality management team.

Budgeting with Nothing

August 4, 2014


Nathelie Scarlett enjoys the pizza break during the budgeting class.

Attending a budgeting class might seem kind of pointless if you’re not even making the bills, but when given a chance, people discover they can find tools for maximizing even the tightest of budgets.

“I’m kind of stunned to see exactly how broke I am, but this is helpful,” says Al Vermette. He was one of several folks who turned out for Heart of Florida United Way’s Emergency & Homelessness Services Division budgeting class. Different circumstances led them to United Way for help… a veteran attending college was hit with an illness requiring a hospital stay; that stopped his cash flow forcing him to reach out to United Way for help. The class also included a woman who was just getting on her feet when she lost her job. She has since secured a new job through United Way’s help. Vermette, who recently returned to Florida, needed rent assistance.

“When I was here in 1993, life was good.,” he says, “there was plenty of work, rents were low, I didn’t know it would be such a struggle.” He says he’s a writer now working as a day laborer. He reported to work at 4:00 a.m. that morning, then turned out for the four hour budgeting class that ran until 9:00 p.m. It’s a long day for sure, but things were kept lively with pizza, give-a-ways and lots of fellowship.

crockpot giveaway

Cooking appliances that can help stretch food budgets were given away as door prizes and raffle items.

“This is the second one I’ve been to,” says Veronica Jordan, “it’s good. It’s a learning experience, you get to meet people, and they listen. I appreciate that they listen.”

The class went over things like the importance of making grocery lists and even menus before shopping, the value of using coupons, where to find them and which stores let you get the most mileage out of them. There were discussions about credit, and the hazards of pre-paid credit cards, rent-to-own stores and buy-here-pay-here operations. But what participants may have found most revealing was an online exercise in which they worked as a group to stay within a $1,000 a month budget. For the most part, the group made very sound budgeting decisions, even after being hit with unexpected circumstances like an illness or a pay cut. But ultimately, the group ended up being short for the month after being confronted with choices that involved emotional decisions, like whether to treat a child to new shoes or take a sick animal to the vet.

“This is where many of our families struggle,” says Emergency and Homelessness Services Division Director Sarai Cabrera. “Making the choice between basic needs and immediate gratification. For many individuals who come from generational poverty, any time it appears that some funds may be available, they want to overcompensate for lost moments. This is also very common among families who have had legal and substance abuse issues – they try to make up for the times that they may have failed as a parent or simply failed to be there for their children either financially or emotionally.”

Money management can be really vexing when there’s seemingly no money to manage, and ultimately the whole class fell victim to the same pitfalls they’re wrestling with in their real lives. But they all said the class was helpful and worthwhile. “Definitely,” says Ivory King, “I’m going to look into secured credit cards to help improve my credit score and I’m going to check my report with all three credit bureaus. Also, I learned what to do if I find a discrepancy. I didn’t know that before.”


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