It’s a Big Year For 75th Anniversaries and We’re One Of Them!

July 1, 2014


It’s okay with us if you count Heart of Florida United Way’s 75th anniversary as one of the year’s more significant celebrations. We’re proud to share the stage with Batman, the Wizard of Oz and Little League Baseball. And if you think about it, we do all belong on the same stage because we all stand for the same thing- health, family and safe communities.

When Dorothy’s house was swept away by a tornado in 1939, Orlando Mayor Bob Carr was busy establishing the Community Chest, a non-profit organization that matched volunteers with community agencies in need of support. Sound familiar? That’s because the Community Chest eventually became United Way. That first effort gathered together 400 volunteers who launched a ten-day campaign that raised more than $40,000 dollars. It was so successful that they exceeded their goal by a whopping 18%. Community Chest adopted a name change in the mid-1950’s to become United Appeal. Its fundraising efforts showed continued growth, as did its membership.

By the 1960’s, Winter Park and Winter Garden had joined the effort and by 1969, United Appeal was working to better lives in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, just as United Way does today. The organization officially became United Way in 1974, and in 1988, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties merged into Heart of Florida United Way. There were multiple fundraising milestones along the way. The million dollar mark was reached for the first time in 1968. By 1974, campaigns were topping two million dollars. But it was in 1989, one year after the tri-county Heart of Florida United Way was formed, that supporters saw the single biggest percentage increase in funds for the organization. That year fundraising increased by 20.2% for a total of $9.8 million. The current annual Workplace Campaign is now $24.5 million dollars.

So when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man teamed up to help each other with their needs, they earned a Live United t-shirt. When volunteer superhero Batman first emerged from the shadows in 1939, he had a Live United t-shirt hidden under his supersuit. Little League Baseball has been sporting a Live United jersey since the first volunteers brought the organization together 75 years ago so that kids could enjoy the health benefits of sports in a community supported environment. And Central Florida can proudly say that it’s been showing the world how to Live United since 1939. Make our 75th year the best ever. Share your story. Tell us how you Live United. #75Days75Ways.

Taking Care of Ourselves

June 27, 2014

massage1At Heart of Florida United Way, most of our time and effort is focused on taking care of our community. So we put together a Live Healthy Wellness Committee to help remind us all to take care of ourselves. For its second year anniversary, the committee hosted an employee health fair.

There were chair massages from Foundation for Wellness Professionals. Ahhh. There were blood pressure checks, health related giveaways from Walgreens and oh, did we mention free lunch? Not only was lunch healthy, it included speakers from the YMCA and Hebni Nutrition Consultants who offered up some healthy eating tips. Our Resource Development’s Leland Rubin says he’s pretty good when it comes to nutrition, but Hebni was still able to show him something new.

“It was interesting, I had never seen a food pyramid structured around soul food. That was nice because I like some of that food,” he says.



United Way accountant Laurie Rolle was among the 31 people who participated in the health fair events. “It was good. I had a good time, lot’s of good information and I was happy because I could give blood,” she says. She was one of 15 people who stepped aboard One Blood’s Big Red Bus to donate, and that helped to make the health fair a success for all.


Are You Positive You’re Negative? Heart of Florida United Way Wants You To Know for Sure

June 17, 2014

HIVtestingdayKeep these facts in mind for National HIV Testing Day June 27th. Florida ranks third in the nation for the number of people living with AIDS. If you’re thinking that’s something only young single people need to consider, you might want to think again.  In Orlando alone, 78% of people people with HIV/AIDS are over the age of 45.

On June 27th, free HIV testing will be available from noon to 7:00 p.m. at the Walgreens at 2420 East Colonial Drive.  Walgreens is offering a 15 percent discount on all purchases to anyone getting tested that day.  Free BMI, glucose and blood pressure tests will also be available.  National HIV Testing Day is sponsored by Walgreens, Heart of Florida United Way, the Florida Department of Health in Orange County and the Central Florida Aids Planning Consortium.  Click here to find other places to get tested. #TestOrlando.  Because you need to know.


Volunteer Profile: Eddie Soler

June 17, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight - Eddie SolerHow long have you been involved with Heart of Florida United Way?

I’ve been a contributor for close to two decades, but as far as being a board member, it’s been the last two years.

What inspired you to get involved?

I’ve always been a fan of United Way since I was a little kid but not necessarily being aware of all it does. I loved to watch NFL games and there were always commercials with the football players and Untied Way. I was about nine or 10 years old and I remember thinking “this is pretty cool;” it made an impression, it’s always been an organization that I thought fondly of.

But two or three years ago, 60 Minutes did a story on homeless children in Central Florida. That was my backyard and I was embarrassed on a number of fronts. I was embarrassed that it was in my community and embarrassed that I didn’t know about it. That one issue gets to me more than it used to. In my mind, I had stereotyped who the homeless were. But we’re talking about kids, not the alcoholic or the drug addict. I just felt like there was more that could be done.

Florida Hospital has run successful workplace giving campaigns for several years. What’s the key to that?

In the past, our campaigns lacked any kind of passion. The 60 Minutes story changed my whole mindset. I went to all the (seven) campuses and showed the news report. Sometimes it’s a matter of telling people. These are our neighbors, this is happening in our backyard. We should be able to do more. I started with the executive group because I didn’t want to hit the employees too hard. Right now, I’m aiming for 100 percent leadership giving, there’s no reason 100 percent of us can’t be giving at the leadership level. My next target is middle management. My goal is to raise $600,000 a year. But when you have 18,000 full and part-time employees, if everyone gave just $2 a pay period, it just doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

What are your thoughts on collective impact?

It’s more powerful to have a group working on a problem than an individual. We need United Way to champion the cause and gather hundreds of thousands of individuals, organizations and businesses together. When people build homes, the more studs you put in that wall, the sturdier it’ll be. Individuals and organizations, if we all line up next to each other, it’s amazing how much we strengthen each other.

Where do you see a need right now?

Throughout Florida, there is very little funding for behavioral health programs. I have personal experience with that through my niece who needed several safety net services. She’s ok because she has a family with the resources she needed, but without that support, she’d be out on the street right now. There’s a link to chronic homelessness and lack of behavioral services.

How does United Way serve people needing behavioral services?

From my perspective, United Way creates options for that population. Through 211, you’ve got people who can provide counseling and put clients in touch with a variety of agencies that might be able to help. United Way is also raising awareness as to the many issues that need our attention here in Central Florida. I believe United Way has been a leader as far as bringing the community together to solve some of these issues instead of waiting on or relying on government to handle it.

What do people not know about United Way?

Unfortunately, too many people at Florida Hospital don’t know real stories of colleagues helped by United Way. Not enough of our managers know about specific individuals that they pass in the hallways every day and what United Way did for them.

Also, United Way isn’t an agency itself, it’s a collaborator, a coordinator and a distributor of funds. But there’s an accountability process. Agencies have to report and show that the money went to good use. Not enough people understand the rigor with which the money is distributed.

Children’s Summit Attendees Look for Ways to Implement What They’ve Learned

June 17, 2014

Dr. Helen Hadani listens in on a table discussion during Children's Summit 2.0.

Dr. Helen Hadani listens in on a table discussion during Children’s Summit 2.0.


Children’s Summit 2.0: Discover Together attendees are already looking for ways to make use of the tremendous wealth of research presented at the June 2nd gathering.  This follow up to the original Children’s Summit was presented in partnership by Heart of Florida United Way and Walt Disney World Resorts.  More than 250 representatives from Central Florida non-profits and community service groups came together for a sold out event at  Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, where they listened to guest speakers and then exchanged ideas on how to best serve our children.  Central to the research and the table discussions was the importance of strengthening families.  Dr. Helen Hadani, Lead Research Strategist for Center for Childhood Creativity, talked about her white paper and how language and play interaction affect brain development at different ages.  Her talk was followed by Dr. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute.  His white paper presentation looked at family characteristics that influence childhood well-being.  Additionally, United Way’s own Ray Larsen went over key findings from the first Children’s Summit, and used a real-time electronic poll to give attendees a snap shot of some misconceptions surrounding Central Florida families and their needs.

Children’s Summit clearly had an impact. Within days of the summit, 120 attendees had already agreed to continue working on the issues presented.  The plan now is for United Way to begin pulling those interested parties together over the next few months to help drive suggestions to implementable action. Additionally, Nemours and the University of Central Florida want further discussions on how they might collaborate on strengthening families.  And finally, Lift Orlando is looking at how to use the research presented for its efforts on the ground,  working  with families living around the Citrus Bowl. Information and data collected from attendees will eventually be used to develop a resource and asset directory so that those continuing to work on Children’s Summit issues will find it easier to collaborate going forward.

Are You Ready? Hurricane Season Begins June 1

May 14, 2014

hurricaneseasonJune 1st marks the beginning of hurricane season, but Florida has already had a FEMA disaster declaration just a few weeks ago due to severe storms and tornadoes, causing flooding and a gas explosion. At least 3 people died in Florida, hundreds were injured, and over 300 calls came in to officials from people who were stranded.

So if you don’t have a plan yet, now is a great time to make one. Don’t know where to start? Florida Disaster can help you create a plan to keep your family, including your pets, safe during a disaster. also has videos and step by step guides to make your home safer during a hurricane. Do you have a supply kit for your family?

Do you have a disability or know someone who does? Registering with the Department of Emergency Management before a disaster lets them know if they have sufficient equipment and shelters. It also benefits you with the services they provide during a disaster! You can visit this website to get information on your county and how to register for the special needs registry.

Any time there is a natural disaster, there is a powerful community response from people wanting to help. Volunteers are needed before, during and after an event to help in times of disaster. Agencies such as Departments of Emergency Management, American Red Cross and the Medical Reserve Corps always need volunteers. Post disaster, contact the United Way by simply dialing 2-1-1 to inquire about giving financial contributions to assist in community recovery.

Remember, 2-1-1 is available before, during and after a disaster to help 24 hours a day.

Volunteer Spotlight: David Ruiz

May 14, 2014

2014-Newsletter-Windows-Spotlight-David-RuizUnited Way board member David Ruiz loves logistics. So much, in fact, that as president for UPS, Florida District, he directs a workforce of nearly 13,000 employees known for their logistics expertise. He oversees all staff departments and operations, which includes a sophisticated transportation network across the state. He’s responsible for the successful transport of over 1 million packages daily to a service area that includes 40,000 customer sites.

David began his UPS career in 1978 as a loader/unloader in the Metro Chicago District and worked his way up. After 36 years, he shares his unique perspective on why he knows it’s important for businesses to give back.

How long have you been involved with United Way?

UPS is a huge advocate for United Way. I’ve been involved over 30 years. I joined the board of Heart of Florida United Way almost immediately upon my arrival to Orlando in 2010.

What inspired you to get involved?

As a company, UPS has always had a sincere interest in being involved with our customers and community. The fact that United Way does a lot of good and creates opportunities to help local residents is why I’m involved. Whether personal or professional, United Way helps to promote self-sufficiency, through housing stabilization, enhancing employability and other means.

Aside from that, my personal story is another reason. I grew up in a community that was receiving help from agencies like United Way. I participated in a boys club in Chicago, so I understand the value of these types of programs. I’m a product of one of those agencies. It provided an outlet for me to grow – in academics, athletics, and as a young man.

I’ve personally experienced the good things that can happen when the appropriate level of support is there and it’s run well.

What does it mean to you to LIVE UNITED?

Today, our community is so diverse – and it’s a really good thing. To “LIVE UNITED” to me means living and working towards the same goals. We still have many differences, but how we utilize all of those to make our community even better, is living united. Caring doesn’t have a culture. It’s universal.

How does United Way’s work in education impact your business?

Workforce development. Education, and specifically the ability to read, is extremely important for self-sufficiency. It’s a basic necessity to navigate life. Literacy is the key. A good education levels the playing field.

UPS has run many successful workforce giving campaign. Any pointers?

It starts at the top. Whether we’re talking about a family or a company, I’ve found that you’re most successful when you lead by example. If the leadership believes in community service and giving back, that resonates and people follow. Our organization has been a big believer in helping the community we live and serve in. Many employees, including myself, have come from humble beginnings and have been able to become productive and successful. We can’t forget where we came from.

What’s United Way’s greatest strength you’ve observed from being on “the inside” as a board member?

There is strength through openness to collaborate. It’s kind of like a hand. If you don’t have fingers working collaboratively, you don’t get a good grip. With two fingers, you can hold something, but it’s not very strong. With all five fingers working together, you get a very strong grasp. And, when it comes to improving lives in Central Florida, we’re all grasping for the same outcome.


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