Recognizing Role Models in Central Florida: 2nd Annual Community Volunteer Excellence Awards

July 17, 2015


 Ed Timberlake (second from left) received the Champion of Service Award for his lifelong service as a volunteer, particularly with United Way. From left to right: Commissioner Sherry Wheelock, Ed Timberlake, Robert H. (Bob) Brown and Scott Maxwell

One of Central Florida’s most prestigious awards for volunteers, the Community Volunteer Excellence Awards pays tribute to individuals who selflessly dedicate their time and talents to the community. Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, known for his column “Taking Names”, hosted the ceremony. A sold out crowd gathered at the Rosen Centre Hotel to show their appreciation for the remarkable volunteers in Central Florida. This year, a staggering 167 nominees were recognized across ten categories from Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties. In addition, two special recognitions were presented by Heart of Florida United Way. Nominees and honorees of the Community Volunteer Excellence Awards are all advocates for improving the lives of those living in Central Florida. On behalf of Heart of Florida United Way, we thank these volunteers for their commitment to helping others reach their full potential. To view photos from the event, please visit our Facebook page. The honorees are as follows:


Adventist University | Community Food & Outreach Center


CaSandra Williams | Heart of Florida United Way: Schools & Communities Together For Tomorrow


Patrick Murdock | Community Food & Outreach Center


Volunteer UCF


Dr. Raza Ali | Shepherd’s Hope


Lincoln Salmon | Harbor House


Mark Perez | Community Food & Outreach Center


Jay Ryon, Jr. | Easter Seals Camp Challenge


Top Tech | Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida


Steve Kirby | Orlando Day Nursery


Katie Kochan & Jessica Schwendeman


Ed Timberlake


2015 Day of Action

July 7, 2015


“United Way is uniquely positioned to create community solutions that engage people, companies, faith communities, government, labor, nonprofits and more to create community solutions that drive lasting change and results in communities around the world”.

– Mei Cobb, Director, Volunteer & Employee Engagement at United Way Worldwide

On June 23 2015, the Volunteer Resource Center team at the Heart of Florida United Way strategically partnered with several local organizations and schools to host a day of reading and literacy for underserved students in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. This event entailed mobilizing volunteers to participate in fun, interactive literacy games in an effort to promote reading and foster literacy in children over the summer months. Additionally, we engaged nearly 50 corporate and community organizations who hosted their very own book drives in advance of Day of Action by collecting new & gently-used children’s books.

This focus on reading and literacy originates from the phenomenon called “Summer Reading Slide”—or the gradual decline of reading proficiency while children are away from the classroom. In fact, a recent study shows that while in middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of age-appropriate books per child is 13 to 1, in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 for every 300 children.

Over 400 volunteers contributed nearly 1,000 hours of volunteer service for our Day of Action initiatives. With the help of our community and corporate partners, we collected over 31,000 books, which was enough to provide at least six books to each participating student on Day of Action. Any additional books were distributed to other funded partner agencies. A few of the sites in which Day of Action activities took place included, but were not limited to:

• Numerous Boys and Girls Clubs

• Orlando Day Nursery

• Three Points Elementary School

The Heart of Florida United Way is overwhelmed by the generosity of those who participated in our Day of Action initiatives in the Central Florida community, and we cannot thank everyone enough for their support. We would also like to thank Depend for being a supporter of this initiative and helping make this possible. We are already looking forward to next year!

If you are interested in other ways you can get involved, visit our website at or feel free to email

Day of Action was sponsored by Depend.

Depend and United Way are coming together to promote healthy, active, and independent living throughout an individual’s life, with a focus on volunteering.


The Importance of Volunteering

April 20, 2015

IMG_6460From the time he first came to Orlando, Chad Wilson, District Manager at Publix,  has always been inspired by the dynamic community and was motivated to contribute any way he could. Dedicated to service, he volunteered with a local food bank, providing assistance to the homeless in the area. He first heard about Heart of Florida United Way from the leadership at Publix in 2000.  Chad saw leading United Way volunteer projects as a development opportunity.

“This was a chance for me to see how good of a leader I could be,” Wilson said. “It’s easy to motivate people when you’re the boss and have a say in someone’s job, but when it’s for the good of the community, it takes a special sort of leader to inspire them. My job is to be better, leave the world a little better, and utilize the skills Publix gave me.”

Volunteering and community service is very personal to Chad and he views it as an essential aspect of his family’s life.

“I have two boys, and our work with the United Way has been a big part of shaping them to be well-rounded and compassionate men,” Wilson shared. “It gives them a greater understanding of the community and made them understand they have a responsibility to do more.”

Over the years, Chad has been involved in endless volunteer projects and initiatives. His favorite though was last year’s Day of Caring, where Publix volunteers painted houses to improve a neighborhood. It was a daunting task, but Publix volunteers finished the entire community in record time. Even the professional painters, who had been skeptical the project could be completed in just one day, were impressed—Chad recalls, ‘They said ‘you Publix folks can work!’”

Volunteers make a huge difference, and Chad strongly encourages people to consider volunteering in their community, especially with the United Way.

“There is nothing better than giving back,” Wilson said. “Too often we focus on ourselves and forget the bigger picture. Volunteering focuses on larger issues and allows you to truly be part of the community.”

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteers are essential to what the United Way does. Our Volunteer Resource Center matches volunteers—both individuals and corporations—with hundreds of local nonprofit agencies to create exceptional volunteer experiences throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. If you are interested in volunteering, please visit the Volunteer Resource Center.

Target Helps Ventura Elementary

April 17, 2015


Since 1962, Target has supported communities with projects through the United Way. In 2014, Target team members nationwide volunteered nearly 250,000 hours as part of the annual United Way campaign.

Target looks to provide opportunities for team members to be involved in the community and make a difference, particularly in the area of education, a core focus area for the United Way as well.

Recently, 88 area representatives from 18 Target stores—including employees from as far away as Gainesville and Ocala—joined together to help Ventura Elementary in Kissimmee.

Ventura Elementary was chosen for Target’s Annual Wellness Day partly because of a recent incident at the school. In February, the school playground was set on fire, resulting in over $60,000 worth of damage to the grounds.

“We knew we had to do something,” said Target employee and volunteer Laisa Cotto. “We wanted to do something for both the kids and the teachers that was a real and visible change.”

Target’s Executive Leadership Team was motivated to help the school. They reached out to Danielle Wolfe, a United-Way funded Americorps VISTA and coordinator at Ventura Elementary to see what they could do.

“It was the perfect time for Target to reach out,” said Danielle. “The kids and teachers needed to know the community was thinking of them.”

With Danielle and the school management, Target identified several projects, including improving the school’s landscaping and repainting the teacher’s lounge.

“We’re constantly looking for how we can help,” said Target District Team Leader Mike Slaton. “Education is a key focus for us, and this was an opportunity to make an impact. I have three boys of my own in school, so this is near and dear to my heart.”

With donations of plants and mulch from Uncle Jutty’s Nursery in Kissimmee, Target volunteers were able to freshen and rejuvenate the school’s campus, making it a source of pride for the students and community.

Students and teachers alike now have a beautiful and revitalized campus and they know firsthand that the community cares deeply for them and for their continued success.

For information about how your business can take part in volunteer activities, visit the Volunteer Resource Center.

2nd Annual Heart of Florida United Way Community Volunteer Excellence Awards

April 16, 2015

quoteVolunteers are at the core of what we do each and every day. Without them, Central Florida non-profits would not be able to make an impact in the community and work for a better future. Our volunteers dedicate their time and talent to make a difference.

The 2nd Annual Heart of Florida United Way Community Volunteer Excellence Awards will take place on July 14, at 5:30pm at the Rosen Centre. At this reception and awards ceremony, outstanding volunteers who have gone above and beyond in the Central Florida community will be recognized.

We are now accepting nominations in the following categories via the below link. The deadline for submissions is May 15, 2015.

  • Outstanding Corporate Group
  • Outstanding Faith/Student Group
  • Outstanding Professional Volunteer
  • Outstanding Individual Volunteer
  • Outstanding Youth Volunteer
  • Outstanding National Service Volunteer
  • “Above and Beyond”
  • Outstanding Volunteer Manager

Click here to fill out the nomination form! 

Volunteers from any nonprofit, government, or educational organization serving Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties are considered eligible.  Winners will be chosen by a panel of independent judges.  All winners will receive a commemorative award and will be recognized at the award ceremony and reception on July 14.  All nominees and their nominators will be invited to the event and all attendees will receive a token of appreciation.  Refreshments will be served.

Volunteer Spotlight – Diana Bolivar

April 13, 2015

Diana Bolivar high resolutionDiana Bolivar is all business—she’s always thinking about how business impacts the community we live in. Diana, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, believes that partnerships and collaborations are what make Central Florida great. And she believes that’s true for non-profits as well, which is why she’s such a strong advocate for United Way. Collective impact is necessary to make real and lasting change.

Why were you inspired to become involved with United Way?

From a business perspective, I wanted to get involved because United Way is an organization that is community centric – its work is a reflection of community priorities. From a personal perspective, I decided to get involved after meeting Bob Brown. I fell in love with his leadership style and his passion for the cause. It’s inspiring to be around people like that.

What inspires your volunteerism?

I’ve been a giver for as long as I can remember. My vision for personal and professional giving is figuring out what you can give, not what you will receive. I frequently ask myself, “How can I make a difference?” I have to have a purpose… the place where I live, work, learn and play. I – we – need to take ownership of our community. Everyone needs to find a way to give back.

What do you see as the greatest community need?

We have many, but I think that the homelessness issue is pressing right now. As much as Florida and Central Florida is growing, we need to consider a social service system that is able to address needs for this growing population. Homelessness is a big piece of that.

What were your thoughts when you saw the United Way ALICE Report for the first time?

I wasn’t surprised… I was concerned. I’ve heard for a very long time that most people across the nation are one paycheck away from a financial emergency. But to see the true numbers right in our backyard made me worried for my neighbors. As a community, we need to think about all of the factors contributing to ALICE’s situation – affordable housing, access to healthcare, job growth potential, etc. – and do something about it.

What do you think the business community can do?

I think we have to take ownership of what’s happening. We have to educate ourselves and our employees. Show the statistics. We can start in our homes…the places where we work…in our business meetings. Every staff member has a story to tell about a family member or someone they know who had their world turned upside down by one little thing. Everyone can relate to the work United Way is doing.

What one word would you use to describe UW’s impact on Central Florida?

“Comunidad.” To me, United Way represents community. It represents everything that surrounds you and is what makes a home.

Volunteers Share the Love On Valentine’s Day to Fight Hunger & Homelessness

February 18, 2015

On any given night in the United States, approximately 643,067 people experience homelessness. One of Heart of Florida United Way’s focus areas is alleviating hunger and homelessness for residents in Orange, Osceola and Seminoles counties.

This Valentine’s Day, the Heart of Florida United Way’s Volunteer Resource Center called on volunteers to share the love to fight hunger and homelessness. The 2nd annual day of service allowed volunteers to fill hearts with gratitude and little bellies with food through a variety of projects including sorting food donations at Second Harvest Food Bank, serving a meal to homeless families with Salvation Army, putting together weekend snack packs for low-income elementary students to take home, and decorating for Orlando Day Nursery’s Sweet Tart Dance.

“Thanks to the volunteers from United Way, our children not only enjoyed the Valentine’s Day Sweet Tart Dance, but also learned about their body’s most important muscle, the heart. United Way volunteers help children listen and feel their heart beat, learn how it pumps blood, and learn about the four ventricles,” said Mata Dennis, executive director of Orlando Day Nursery.

We would like to thank our awesome volunteers for helping to make this event such a huge success! On behalf of our partner agencies who benefitted from your generosity, thanks for sharing the love!Share-the-Love---Logo

  • BETA Center
  • Christian HELP Foundation
  • Orlando Day Nursery
  • Orlando Salvation Army
  • Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Winter Park Day Nursery

Check out photos from the event on Facebook or Google+.

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