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.

United Way At Work: Dental Care Access Foundation

April 9, 2015

IMG_0675 The Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish Project Offers Preventative Care to Local Students Michelle Lawton remembers vividly the moment she became a dental care advocate—she had been working as a dental assistant at a local practice when a patient found out she needed over $7,000 worth of dental care and started to cry.

“That was it for me,” Lawton recalls. This led to her to pursue volunteering with the Dental Care Access Foundation, helping uninsured and low income adults.  “I knew I needed to help. By the time adults are grown, the damage to their teeth is already done. We need to help kids early.”

It’s the focus on prevention instead of intervention, a key tenant of the United Way philosophy, which caused Lawton and her friend Julie Michael, Executive Director for the Dental Care Access Foundation, to work with Heart of Florida United Way to develop the Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish project which is funded through the United Way’s health focus area.

In its second year of operation, the Varnish project has served approximately 4,000 students; 1,100 which were funded by United Way. As a result, more of the students are getting appropriate dental care and are missing less school due to tooth-related problems or pain. As part of this initiative, Michelle and Julie have partnered with Valencia Dental Hygiene students and the UCF Pre-Dental Student Association to go directly to Orange County Public Schools. Through the program, they offer one-on-one dental education, where they teach proper dental hygiene, brushing tutorials, and nutrition information.Each child is also provided with an age-appropriate dental hygiene kit, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.

Afterwards, they then apply a topical fluoride varnish to help prevent cavities from developing. Michelle and Julie also help families navigate the healthcare system and explore their options. If during the consultations larger problems are discovered, they can refer families to low-cost clinics and community health centers for treatment. This program is a huge change for students. The varnish can be applied in a matter of seconds and the one-on-one sessions serve as a gentle introduction to the dentist.

With a laid-back approach and appearances from the UCF Pre-Dental program mascot Timmy the Tooth, the kids learn the dentist is not something to be scared of.

“For many,” Julie Michael says, “our dental hygiene kits give them the first opportunity to have their own toothbrush and not have to share one. It helps pave the way for a life-time habit of good dental hygiene and health.”

For more information about the Dental Care Access Foundation and how you or your company can support the Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish project, visit www.DentalCareAccess.org.

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 www.ChefsGala.org.  


Volunteer Spotlight – Ron Piccolo, Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College

March 16, 2015

2015-Newsletter-Windows_Piccolo-SpotlightRon Piccolo’s students at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College would probably agree that he’s a passionate guy. Listen to one of his enthusiastic lectures about processes or vehement dialog regarding organizational management and you’ll be a believer, too. United Way is fortunate that Ron brings equal passion to solving complex community issues.

How did you get involved with United Way?

I became meaningfully involved with United Way in 2010 when I began serving as the chair of the developing healthy children and families cabinet. All of these community leaders were around the table who are determined to make a difference. I knew this is where I wanted to be. I also serve on the board of directors for Heart of Florida United Way.

Sitting on the cabinet, you’re one of the subject matter experts who decide how the dollars United Way raises are allocated. How do you see the organization’s actions making an impact?

I see United Way as an important steward of community resources – the crystallizing organization for the nonprofit sector in Central Florida. United Way does provide direct services – like 2-1-1, case management, and more – but I see it as the place to steward resources, funneling time, dollars, talent into one place and distributed accordingly.

What was your “aha” moment as to why you’re involved in the community?

I visited one of United Way’s funded partner agencies, BETA Center. There, I saw 13-year-old girls with heavy backpacks on one shoulder filled with books they needed for the 8th or 9th grade. On the other shoulder, they carried diaper bags. These girls were living dual lives – mother and high school student. I remember thinking, “And they’re the lucky ones who have support from a program like this… How many others don’t?” There are so many other kids out there facing adult situations – parenthood to homelessness to abuse – who need our help. That’s what inspires me to continue to be involved.

Are you hopeful for what the next generation of business executives will bring to the table in terms of caring for the community they do business in?

At Rollins College, service-learning and social responsibility is built into the curriculum from undergraduate studies to my business classes. It’s our hope that all of our students go on to be responsible citizens and will recognize the importance of for-profits practices to address non-profit needs.

If you were to describe United Way in a couple of words, what would it be?

“Prudent steward”

In what area do you hope to see more from United Way in the future?

What United Way has been doing is what is needed most… creating meaningful collaboration between sectors to share resources and develop solutions together. It takes an entity like United Way to break down silos and encourage a more systematic approach to issues. There can be much more cross sector and inter-agency partnerships, so I hope United Way continues down that path.

Dress2Learn Delivers New School Clothes and Hope to 5,400 Local Homeless Students

March 12, 2015

The day that Jenny Gibson-Linkh, principal at Evans High School in Orange County, discovered a student washing her clothes in the bathroom sink after school was the day she realized that clothing was a significant need among her homeless students. It’s estimated that more than 10,000 students in Orange and Osceola counties are homeless and are faced with many challenges – both personally and academically.

Evans High Principl Unpacking“It’s not just about dressing to look good or feel good, although that is significant to a student’s self-esteem, but it’s also to improve attendance, to provide the opportunity to stay on track academically, to graduate and ultimately move on to that next step in life. We may not think of clothing as a significant need, until you’re the one without it.”

In October 2014, Heart of Florida United Way launched Dress2Learn, a clothing program for homeless students in Orange and Osceola counties. As a result of the program this year, more than 5,400 homeless students across 250 schools received new Levi’s brand apparel. Jeans, khakis, shorts, polo tops and graphic tees were distributed to K-12 children in need. Not only is it about attendance and performance in school, but it’s also about relieving the financial burden of purchasing clothing for growing kids.

“When parents are concerned about keeping a roof over their kids’ heads and putting food on the table, clothing is a need that gets pushed down the priority list,” said Robert H. (Bob) Brown, president & CEO of Heart of Florida United Way. “Through Dress2Learn, we hope to level the playing field for our homeless students and allow them and their familiesDSC_0285 to focus on next steps beyond their current situation – whether that’s graduating or regaining stability.”

Evans High senior Romicha Baker was one of the 5,400 recipients of the Dress2Learn program.

“I’m glad that I have the help because there are people who make jokes out of what you wear and pick on you,” Romicha said. “It makes it harder to be in an environment where you’re supposed to learn when people are laughing and then get the whole class laughing at you. I used to worry about that. I’d go into class quiet, sit in the back so I wouldn’t have anyone laughing at me.”

Not only did Dress2Learn provide Romicha with a new set of fitting clothes, but also a renewed sense of hope.

“When I heard about [Dress2Learn], I thought this would be a way for me to actually sit up front and not have to worry about what other people have to say and try to graduate like the others.”

It’s easy to see the interconnectedness of United Way’s focus areas – education, income, health and basic needs – through Dress2Learn. A balance must be achieved in all four of those areas for stability. Although, United Way believes that education is the change maker: get kids to focus in school, they may be able to break the cycle. And sometimes, it’s something as small as a new t-shirt to get them there.

“I think sometimes we forget that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in education,” said Gibson-Linkh. “We focus on test scores … we focus on curriculum … we focus on all the assessment, and sometimes we forget about the child. We forget about the basic necessities. We forget about them as a human. Dress2Learn brings it back to them and puts them first. I’m glad we’re doing this because our students should always be first.”

To learn more about ways you, your company or organization can get involved with Dress2Learn, visit UWDress2Learn.org. Just $50 can supply one homeless child with a full complement of school clothes. Fundraising for the program is year-round, so your help is always needed and welcomed. Thank you!

United Way Celebrates AmeriCorps Week March 9-13

March 9, 2015

ACWeekBanner-Feb2015-05-ProgramsAmeriCorps week is upon us and it’s a time to salute AmeriCorps members and alum for their service. Each year, more than 80,000 men and woman help tackle some of the nation’s most critical challenges in education, public safety, health and the environment through intensive community service.

I’m proud to be an AmeriCorps alum – one of the 900,000 who have dedicated a year (or more) of service since 1994. I’m even more proud now to be part of a United Way team that embraces the value of AmeriCorps and its impact on our work in education. From our AmeriCorps Pathways members who are tutoring high school students and helping them plan for college/careers, to our Together for Tomorrow VISTAs who are recruiting volunteers to serve as role models for students in all grade levels, our AmeriCorps team is “Getting Things Done.”

Here are just a few facts about HFUW’s AmeriCorps programs:

  • Seventy AmeriCorps VISTAs and Pathways to Success members have provided more than 87,000 hours of service to Title I schools.
  • AmeriCorps members have recruited more than 2,700 volunteers giving 22,000 hours of service.
  • Nearly 17,000 students have been impacted by the work of our AmeriCorps members.
  • AmeriCorps members have generated $270,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to support our schools.

These numbers speak to the impact our AmeriCorps members are having in our schools, but numbers alone don’t tell the story. Americorp Week March 9-13

This week, Heart of Florida United Way will be sharing a few stories from our AmeriCorps members currently in the field who are making a difference in our community. Follow along on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow the hashtag #ServeFL to see the impact being made across the country.

This blog post was written by Heath Wells, Director of AmeriCorps Programs, and proud AmeriCorps alum.


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