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

United Way at Work: Rad Dads Wanted

July 16, 2015


It’s a crowded party on a Thursday evening. It’s standing room only in the main area with streamers everywhere and a cake just waiting to be cut. Women, men and children of every age line the walls, crouch on the floor and huddle in every corner. It’s full of noise and smiles as songs fill the room, voices joining together.

A little girl in a tutu and a tiara begs her father to twirl her to the music. He does his best in the crowded space and she gleefully completes her ballerina spin. Father and daughter both burst into giggles as she stumbles but still finishes with a flourish and a bow.

It’s the one year anniversary of the United Way-funded Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative at the Children’s Home Society of Florida. As usual, tonight’s meeting starts off with singing with the children and playing games before the dads split off into their own group meeting in the specially designed “man cave” — a space complete with couches and television.

Designed originally as a program for expecting or new parents, the initiative helps parents learn about child development and parenting skills. Through emotional support and mentoring, the program gives new parents the foundation needed to bond with their children.

After several years of the occasional brave dad attending the predominantly female group, several got together and asked to form their own father’s section.

“Having a fathers-only peer group gives them a safe place to talk,” says Perinatal Initiative Director Jo Howard. “They can discuss issues they’re facing, questions they have and be a support network for each other.”

Topics discussed in the United Way-funded Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative often include appropriate discipline and effective techniques, communicating with a small child and common challenges new parents face as a couple. The sessions are relaxed and casual in nature, allowing for open discussion and honest exchanges.

“Our goal was maybe 15 dads for the first year,” said Howard. “But after one year, we have almost 30 dads who take part in this.”

First time parents until their first child reaches age 3 are welcome.  Many parents grew up in stressful or neglectful homes and want better for their own children. Others are simply overwhelmed and do not know what to do as parents. Either way, all parents are joined together by a common goal: To surround their children with love, safety and a nurturing environment.

United Way is focused on developing healthy children and families for the betterment of the community.  Through initiatives like the Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative, we foster supportive conditions at home, allowing all generations to thrive together and build a better life.

For more information about the Children’s Home Society of Florida, please visit

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.


Free Summer Resources & Activities

July 2, 2015


Summer is officially here. With school over, you may no longer deal with scrambling for last minute school supplies or homework assignments. Instead, you may face the dreaded, “Mom, I’m bored!”

Don’t panic! With some planning and creativity, you can come up with fun ideas your kids can do (and you can participate too!) to keep them interested and happy.

At-home Activities

  • Host a read-in party: Invite your child’s friends over for a book reading. Set out cushions, some snacks and encourage the kids to read their favorite books and talk with each other about why they like them.
  • Have your kids produce their own movie: Kids today are amazingly tech savvy and with free apps like Action Movie FX and Stop Motion Studio, your own cell phone can become a professional film camera. Let them take video running outside, playing with the dog or chronicle daily life in your household. Let them edit and add sound effects, then have a screening party for the family.
  • Have a box challenge: Pick up boxes from a grocery store or big-box retailer. Challenge your kids to come up with the most original creation. You’ll be amazed how much your kids will be entertained designing cars, houses and forts!
  • Prep the next generation of chefs: Encourage your child to pick an easy recipe that sounds appealing. Go the grocery store to pick out ingredients and then prepare it together.
  • Coach your mad scientist: Heart of Florida United Way’s Pinterest is full of great ideas for at-home science experiments for kids. From creating a lava lamp to watching butterflies, there are tons of ideas to keep your child entertained (and trick her into learning!)

Free Community Activities

  • Library: The library is a great resource not only for free books, movies and music, but also for great year-round activities. Area libraries often host author visits, sing-alongs, art classes and more! Check out the Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties library pages.
  • Parks: Check out local parks for playgrounds, events, hiking trails and splash pads for free fun.
  • Outdoor movies: Central Florida is full of free outdoor movies. Check out the listings for upcoming showings near you.

The Best Blogs for Activities and Ideas

There a vast amount of blogs out there that have fantastic ideas. Here are some of our favorites:

Heart of Florida United Way believes education, both in and out of the classroom, is a lifelong experience and the most influential factor in ensuring a child will grow up to succeed.  For more information about how Heart of Florida United Way invests in education, visit

Student Loan Repayment 101

June 22, 2015


With college graduation comes celebration and relief. But after the parties end, reality sets in. For 40 million Americans, student loans are a necessary evil in order to pursue higher education. Facing a large loan balance can be overwhelming and confusing, so it’s important to understand your loans and your repayment options.

When do I start paying the loans back?

For most federal loans, you have a grace period of about six months from the time you graduate until you need to start making payments. During that grace period, if you have an unsubsidized loan your account will still rack up interest charges; you just won’t be responsible for the principle (the amount you borrowed before interest). If you get a job after graduation and can afford to start making payments before the grace period is up, absolutely do so. It will help bring down how much interest you pay over the term of your loan.

Some loans do not have a grace period, so be sure to double check your lender agreement for your payment start date.

What do I actually owe?

It’s not uncommon for loans to change lenders over time. If you can’t find your lender or loan details, this site can be a huge help. This will help you locate your lender, figure out how much you owe and what your monthly payment will be.

I’m supposed to pay that?!

Your student loan payments may be hefty, and your starting salary may be too low for you to handle basic necessities and your full payment. Understand all of your options regarding repayment. Common options include:

  • Standard: You pay a set amount every month for up to 10 years. Under this plan, the payment amount never changes and you pay it off faster and with less interest than other plans.
  • Graduated Repayment: You’ll pay less on your loan every month at first, then it will gradually increase. This can give you some more wiggle room when you’re first starting out but you will pay more on your loan than if you did the standard repayment plan.
  • Extended Repayment: Rather than a 10 year term, your loan can be extended in certain circumstances to as long as 25 years. This can greatly reduce your monthly payment, which can be a huge help if your salary isn’t cutting it, but you will end up paying much more than on a standard or graduated repayment plan in the long run.

What if I can’t afford it?

If even on an alternate repayment schedule you can’t afford payments, it’s imperative to work with your lender. Student loans are one of the few kinds of debt that can’t go away with bankruptcy. If you don’t pay, your credit score can get wrecked and the lender can even garnish your wages. No matter how long it takes you, you have to pay back your loans.

But there are options to help you through a tough time, such as unemployment or a medical issue.  Carefully consider these options and work with your lender to find what works best for you. Call the number listed on your lender account website and explain to the representative that you cannot afford your payments. Make sure to say why that is—temporary job loss, disability, etc—since that will determine what your options are:

  • Deferment: During a deferment, your loan payments are delayed for a set period of time up to 3 years. You can be eligible for deferment if you are unemployed, are deployed in the military or are experiencing significant financial hardship. Deferments are not automatic and you are not guaranteed to be granted one. You’ll need to contact your lender to talk through the application process to have a deferment enacted.
  • Forbearance: If you don’t qualify for a deferment, you may qualify for a forbearance. Your payments can be stopped or reduced for up to 12 months. A temporary financial hardship or illness may get you qualified, but again, the process is not automatic and you have to work directly with your lender.

Completely overwhelmed? Lifehacker has a quick guide to help walk you through the process of talking options over with your lender.

I have a good job and can actually make my payments! Should I pay extra?

Congratulations! Paying even a little more each month can make a huge difference; Extra payments lessen the amount of interest you’ll pay off over the long-term and you’ll have your loans paid off early. The Student Loan Repayment Calculator is a great tool; enter your loan balance, how much longer you have to pay, and your interest rate, and it will show you how making extra payments will impact your loan. Even paying as little as $5 more a month can cut months off your loan terms and can save you hundreds of dollars in interest.

This article is meant as a general overview of the most common student loans, but as always, your situation and your loans may differ. Be sure to check your loan terms with your lender.

Heart of Florida United Way is focused on addressing the five major building blocks of financial stability in order to provide low-income working families the services and support necessary to succeed. For more information, visit or if you are in need of assistance, call 2-1-1, our 24-hour information and referral helpline.

United Way at Work: Ryan White Part B

June 16, 2015

Ryan White was an American teenager who became an advocate for AIDS research after contracting AIDS DSC_0010from a contaminated routine blood treatment for his hemophilia. Ryan’s case was a watershed moment for the HIV/AIDS community, shifting public perceptions, battling stigma and educating people about HIV/AIDS. Despite doctors’ predictions he would survive 6 months, Ryan White lived on for five years and served as a spokesperson for HIV/AIDS awareness, dying in 1990 just before his high school graduation.

The Ryan White bill was created in Ryan’s name to fund essential programs and support services for people with HIV/AIDS. As a lead agency, Heart of Florida United Way annually receives more than $2 million from the Florida Department of Health to fund patient care and support provided through a network of eight AIDS organizations and more than 200 service providers.

According to Enid Devine, Director of the Ryan White Part B/GR program with Heart of Florida United Way, the initiative plays a pivotal role in Central Florida.

“Florida is the highest nationally for newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases,” said Devine. “Particularly in people 50 years old and older, infection rates are growing at an alarming rate.”

That’s why the Ryan White program, beyond providing underserved people with medical care, case management, and food baskets, also supports awareness and prevention events like National HIV Testing Day on June 27.

Heart of Florida United Way – in partnership with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, Walgreens, Miracle of Love, The LGBT Center of Central Florida, Hope and Help, and the Community Food Outreach Center – is offering free and confidential testing at mobile sites throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. If the results are positive, event staffers will connect individuals with essential resources, including assistance with basic needs.

Heart of Florida United Way served more than 4,600 people last year through the Ryan White Part B/GR program. Working as part of the Central Florida Aids Planning Consortium, Heart of Florida United Way’s Ryan White Part B/GR program has worked to decrease the numbers of people contracting HIV/AIDS and increased public awareness about the disease.

“Being diagnosed doesn’t mean what it did 10 years ago,” said Devine. “With an early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, people with HIV/AIDS can still enjoy a rich and fulfilling life with their loved ones. But it’s so important to get tested so you can get the care you need.”

For more information about the Ryan White Part B/GR program, please visit our website or, if in need of assistance, please call our free Information & Referral Helpline 2-1-1.

For information about HIV Testing Day and testing site locations, please visit the Central Florida AIDS Planning Consortium website.

Heart of Florida United Way Launches Mission United

June 15, 2015

Veteran Kyle Evan shared his story

Veteran Kyle Evan shared his story

During a special event hosted by Lockheed Martin on June 11, Heart of Florida United Way announced the launch of Mission United, a program designed especially for veterans and their families. Over 110,000 veterans call Central Florida home and forty percent of returning veterans report difficulties finding employment, accessing and completing education and connecting with necessary legal assistance. Through United Way’s Information & Referral Helpline 2-1-1, United Way’s Mission United will create a one-stop location for veterans and their families to receive services that they need, including mentorship, healthcare and connecting with potential employers. Once involved in the program, returning veterans receive a personalized plan and one-on-one case management. 2-1-1 call specialists are available 24/7/365 to assist veterans by phone, chat, or text message (text MISSION to 898-211). United Way’s Mission United came to life with the support and leadership of co-chairs Tommy Boroughs and Major General Doug Metcalf (Ret.), veterans themselves, who lent their time and expertise to make Mission United a reality. Army Staff Sergeant Kyle Evans (Ret), a Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq, shared his own experiences returning to civilian life during this special event. “The system was so confusing, so complicated, it was too hard on my own,” said Evans. “A program like United Way’s Mission United is so important because it will get veterans what they need, faster and more easily.” United Way Board member and Lockheed Martin Vice President Frank St. John also presented a $10,000 donation to kick start the program. It’s through partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin and other neighborhood organizations, United Way’s Mission United will succeed and make a difference in Central Florida. To learn more about United Way’s Mission United, dial 2-1-1 or visit

Lockheed Martin donated $10,000 to kick start Mission United

Lockheed Martin donated $10,000 to kick start Mission United


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