Chef’s Gala Social Media Contest

April 15, 2015

2015 Chef’s Gala Social Media Contest Winner

Last month, we issued a social media challenge to our fans and followers. By posting a recap of their experience at the Chef’s Gala Media Preview with a photo and tagging Heart of Florida United Way, participants were entered into a drawing for a $75 Primo gift card.

We had dozens of entries, but the lucky winner is Lisa Wilk @WineChix. Lisa is a local food blogger at @TasteCookSip.


A special thank you to Primo at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes for hosting the event and to the chefs who previewed their creations:

Illy Crusted Beef Tenderloin, Roasted Bone Marrow Mousseline, Hog Island Oyster, Crispy Potato
blu on the avenue, Chef Anthony Krueger

Root Vegetable Gnocchi, Palmetto Creek Farms Pork Ragu, House Made Ricotta Cheese, Fried Garden Basil
K Restaurant, Chef Kevin Fonzo

Duck Confit, Foie Mouse, and Kumquat Sandwich
Primo by Melissa Kelly at Grande Lakes Orlando, Chef Mariano Vegel

Florida Rock Shrimp Escabeche, Creamed Parsnips, Chicharrones, Burnt Onion Jam

Urban Tide at Hyatt Regency Orlando, Chef Jared Gross

Ghanaian Chocolate and Passion Fruit Milk Tart
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Bakery, Pastry Chef Amanda Lauder

 For those who couldn’t attend the Media Preview but still want to taste all of the delicious dishes, Chef’s Gala is on May 16. For more information or to purchase your tickets, visit


Spring Cleaning for a Cause

April 3, 2015

B&G Poinciana Bank of America 6

Spring is here and with it comes the desire to freshen up your living space and reduce clutter. More than 70% of Americans participate in some kind of spring cleaning ritual. But once the cleaning is done and the clutter removed, many people battle with what to do with the leftover clothes, household items and books.

Heart of Florida United Way has an annual book drive to benefit children and can be a huge help to those looking for a new home for their unwanted, gently used books.

The Day of Action Book Drive was started to fulfill an unmet need in the Central Florida community. Summer reading loss is a real issue facing school-aged children. Students can lose up to 25% of their reading proficiency over the course of the summer.

Having access to and reading just 4 books can prevent the summer slide and even improve reading levels.

Income and the expense of books is the largest barrier to book access, and children are often unable to make it to a library due to their parent’s work schedules or transportation issues.

In middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books to children is 13 to 1. But in lower income neighborhoods, the ratio is a staggering 1 book for every 300 children.

This causes significant impact to classroom instruction, taking up 22% of classroom time and taking up to a month of instructional time to make up the reading proficiency lost.

By cleaning out your bookcases and donating your old favorites, you can help children improve their literacy and set them up on the path to success.

You can help by hosting a book drive or just bringing in your books to Heart of Florida United Way’s office May 25-29.For more information, visit the HFUW website.

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Whet Your Appetite for the 2015 Chef’s Gala

March 18, 2015


Chefs Gala Logo 2015 TWMD - BlueYear after year, thousands of Central Florida foodies and philanthropists gather to get a taste of the delectable creations of our region’s top chefs at United Way’s signature fundraiser, Chef’s Gala. With fine wines to accompany the beautiful dishes, live entertainment and a silent auction benefiting United Way’s community programs, Chef’s Gala is a “tasteful way to make a difference.” Thanks to our generous host & title sponsor Walt Disney World, presenting sponsor Florida Technical College and other sponsors, 95 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to help those in need.

To whet your appetite for the 2015 Chef’s Gala, we’re excited to share our 2015 participating establishments!

4 Rivers

Artist Point – Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Bice Ristorante – Loew’s Portofino Bay Hotel

blu on the avenue

California Grill – Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Citricos – Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Cress Restaurant

Emeril’s Tchoup Chop – Universal Orlando

Jiko -The Cooking Place – Disney’s Animal Kingdom

K Restaurant

La Luce by Donna Scala – Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Le Cellier Steakhouse – Epcot

Narcoossee’s – Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Primo by Melissa Kelly – Grande Lakes Orlando

Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant

Urban Tide – Hyatt Regency Orlando Hyatt Regency Orlando

The Hollywood Brown Derby – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Thornton Park Restaurant Group

Trattoria al Forno – Disney’s BoardWalk

Tony’s Town Square Restaurant – MAGIC KINGDOM Park

Tusker House Restaurant – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park


Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Bakery

Disney’s Contemporary Resort Bakery

Fatto in Casa


Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company


It’s never too early to get your tickets to Chef’s Gala. Individual tickets are $275 and a Couples Package is $500. Corporate packages and sponsorships are also available. To learn more or purchase your tickets, visit  


Sell-Out Crowd Goes “Wild” for Cheryl Strayed at Women’s Leadership Luncheon

March 3, 2015

It was perfectly suiting that a crowd of nearly 1,100 women attended the Women’s Leadership Luncheon.

“1,100… One for each mile of the Pacific Crest Trail that I walked…”said Cheryl Strayed, keynote speaker and New York Times best-selling author of “Wild.”IMG_3562

More than 1,000 prominent Central Florida community leaders joined Strayed on Feb. 26 for the 8th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon hosted by Heart of Florida United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council. Strayed shared how hitting rock bottom led to an inspirational journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie version of the book hit theaters in December and starred Reese Witherspoon as Strayed. The program highlighted the Women’s Leadership Council’s impact in local schools through videos (in case you missed it, click here to see the videos). Over the past year, 10 Title-I Orange County schools received an online reader program impacting more than 6,000 students. 163,000 books were opened and all schools made lexile gains.

“I was always poor growing up,” said Strayed. “I was one of those kids that United Way is helping.”

The event at the Hyatt Regency Orlando raised nearly $150,000, which will be invested in United Way’s local education and literacy initiatives. Luncheon supporters included gold sponsor Tupperware Brands Corporation and silver sponsors Fifth Third Bank, Lockheed Martin, Massey Services, Orlando Health, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Publix Super Markets, Sorensen Moving & Storing, University of Central Florida, Wells Fargo Financial, Florida Hospital, and media partners WFTV Family Connection, Orange Appeal and The Orlando Business Journal.IMG_3293

The Women’s Leadership Council strives to improve the Central Florida community, as well as expand educational opportunities. Chaired by retired banking executive Karen Dee and Vice Chair Pat Engfer, area vice president and general manager at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, the Council has more than 440 members who donate more than $830,000 annually.

“Each year, we’re grateful for esteemed speakers like Cheryl Strayed who advance our mission of supporting youth education,” Dee said. “We are also thankful that Heart of Florida United Way gives us a platform to raise awareness of critical issues impacting our community.”

Get a peek of all event photos on Facebook or Google+. Share using #WLL2015.IMG_3588


“Wild” author Cheryl Strayed to Speak at Women’s Leadership Luncheon

December 3, 2014

There’s no question the world is full of great stories. But sometimes we encounter a book that leaves us wanting to know more. Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” was that kind of book for thousands of people, including Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, who stars in the film adaptation being released December 5th. It may be one of the most dramatic examples of how a chance encounter with a book can change a life.

When Strayed was 22 years old, her mother died of lung cancer. It left her so devastated that she began questioning her marriage, turning to other men for comfort and using heroine. Her life was in a state of collapse for more than three years. Then one evening, while moving through a check-out line at a store, she spotted a book about hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. She bought the book, then made the radical decision to set out on the trail herself. Alone.

The Women’s Leadership Council is excited to announce author Cheryl Strayed as the keynote speaker for the 2015 Women’s Leadership Luncheon, February 26, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. It’s a unique opportunity to hear first-hand how powerfully motivating reading can be. Strayed’s decision to pick up a book led to a life-changing event and then authorship. This compelling story led fellow author George Saunders to note, “Cheryl Strayed reminds us in every line that if defeat and despair are part of human experience, so are kindness, patience, and transcendence.” Every day, United Way encounters people suffering defeat and despair, as well as those stepping forward with kindness and patience. By continuing to support the messages of literacy and reading, the Women’s Leadership Council can continue to help women and children better their lives through the kind of determination exhibited by Cheryl Strayed.

To purchase tickets, click here. To learn about sponsorship opportunities, email

Cheryl Strayed - Joni Kabana

New York Times best-selling author Cheryl Strayed.


Volunteers Make the Most of Day of Caring 2014

October 22, 2014


FedEx employees visit with Seniors First clients during United Way’s multi-company Day of Caring.

Volunteers Make the Most of Day of Caring 2014

Day of Caring starts with Heart of Florida United Way’s multi-company, multi-location volunteer effort that tackles dozens of projects across the community in a single day.  It happened again when 200 Publix volunteers pulled together for their Day of Caring, and again when 1,000 Lockheed Martin volunteers came together for theirs. Day of Caring is Central Florida’s largest community-based volunteer event.

On September 26, multiple companies rallied volunteers to take on projects across the entire community. In Osceola County, volunteers built vegetable gardens at a senior living facility. In Orange County, preschoolers were taught about how to be healthy, and in Seminole County, volunteers rose early to help feed the hungry.

Lockheed Day of Caring 2014 605

Volunteers spruce up Quest Camp Thunderbird during Lockheed Martin’s Day of Caring

Roughly two weeks later, Publix employees descended upon homes in the Winter Park neighborhood Winter Park Oaks to re-paint 10 homes and do some minor landscaping. On October 18, Lockheed Martin hosted its Day of Caring at Quest Camp Thunderbird in Apopka, completing numerous projects ranging from landscaping and painting to repairing screened porches.

In all, more than 2,000 volunteers from our region’s leading companies and organizations took part and showed our community once again what we can do when we LIVE UNITED. Thank you and congratulations to all for a successful Day of Caring ’14. Click here to see DOC volunteers in action


Publix volunteers gather to hear the plan of action for Day of Caring in the Winter Park Oaks neighborhood

Women’s Leadership Council Fights Summer Reading Loss and Provides 10 Title-I Orange County Elementary Schools with Online Reading Program

May 8, 2014

myon photo for blog- DSC_0194_cropped“School’s out for summer!” But, that doesn’t mean that Central Florida students should slack. Did you know that students can lose up to 25% of their reading level over the summer? But, reading just four books over that time can prevent the summer slide, and can actually increase reading levels.

Access to age-appropriate reading materials is a major barrier to reading, especially for low-income students. In fact, a recent study found that in middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio of age-appropriate books is 13 books for every child, while in low-income neighborhoods, it is 1 book for every 300 children.

United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council recently announced a partnership with Orange County Publicmyon photo for blog- DSC_0089 Schools to bring the myON® reading program to 10 Title-I schools. Funds raised by HFUW’s Women’s Leadership Council at the annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon were used to provide the one-year subscription to select schools. In addition to giving approximately 6,000 students 24/7 access to a digital library of more than 5,000 books in over 50 categories and genres, myON® provides metrics that assess reading progress and project reading growth.

Schools participating in the myON® program include:

  • Eccleston Elementary
  • Fern Creek Elementary
  • Grand Ave. Elementary
  • John Young Elementary
  • Lee Middle School
  • Lockhart Elementary
  • Tangelo Park Elementary
  • Winegard Elementary
  • Wyndham Lakes Elementary
  • Zellwood Elementary

myon photo for blog -DSC_0122Watch a video from the announcement held at Tangelo Park Elementary.

In addition, United Way will be distributing books on June 23 as part of Day of Action, a community-wide day of volunteerism focused on fighting summer reading loss. There are many ways to get involved! See a list of impact projects for individuals or groups.

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