Volunteer Spotlight: Marie Martinez

July 23, 2015

MARTINEZ Marie007Interviewing Marie Martinez is like interviewing a force of nature—she is filled with vivacity and overflowing with passion. When asked about her work and volunteerism, she stops abruptly.

“It’s hard to sum up what it means to me,” she said. “So let me tell you a story. There was a parent here who had a child named Mike who was 18 months old. He wasn’t making eye contact. He would spin and spin if she didn’t stop him. And during a busy party, he never stopped looking at the ceiling fan in the room rather than look at his mom or anyone who came to celebrate.  Everyone kept telling her she was paranoid. That it was cute, a phase or that he’d grow out of it.

The mother was referred to our Developmental Center program and he was diagnosed with autism. She was afraid and had that moment of panic, thinking ‘I’ll never dance with my son at his wedding.’

But we have a wide range of programs and services that can help. And she took advantage of those—and we made a difference. He’s six now, and he crawls into her bed every morning to cuddle and tells her how much he loves her. He’s succeeding at school. He has great friends and he rides his bike. And unless services like ours existed, that wouldn’t have been possible. Helping children like Mike makes it all worth it.”

As the Operations Manager of the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, Marie is dedicated to helping children. It’s a lifelong focus for her, spending the past 20 years working as an advocate for children in the community.

With Marie at the helm of the Howard Phillips Center, the focus has always been on prevention instead of intervention for children’s welfare. That makes her a natural fit as a supporter and volunteer with Heart of Florida United Way.

Why is child welfare so important to you?

In Orange County alone, there were 14,000 cases of abuse among children and families last year. That’s the second highest in Florida. And that has to change.

By providing a safe place for children, a place where kids feel comfortable, we help kids recover and help prevent abuse from ever happening in the first place. The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families has six programs available that served over 15,000 families last year. From the Healthy Families Program, which helps prevent abuse before it starts, to the United Way-funded Teen Xpress Mobile Healthcare Clinic, we ensure children are healthy, cared for and prepared to take on the world.

Why is United Way important to you?

Quite frankly, the United Way is important to me because it has been a great supporter of the Howard Phillips Center. The United Way’s dedication and focus on prevention is evidence of a community leader that is willing to stand up and make a difference in our community. The impact of what we will accomplish together continues to be measured, but we already know that we are moving the needle and making sustainable change. It’s easy to support the United Way—they support change.

What is one word you would use to describe United Way?

I can’t pick just one! Support. Uplifting. Partner. Network. It all comes together because of the United Way’s work; we succeed with the United Way and identify new ways to help families.

What motivates you to volunteer?

It’s important to me to give back to the community, to make a difference and to live with purpose. I gain great meaning and fulfillment from helping children and families. By helping out, we can impact the community for the long-term.

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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.


Depression vs. the Blues

May 18, 2015

DepressionMay is Mental Health Month. As part of Heart of Florida United Way’s focus on health, we are featuring mental health articles and information on all of our social media platforms. To follow the conversation around mental health, follow us on Twitter & Facebook.

Just about everyone has had a point in their lives when they felt down or sad. But this is vastly different than the 25% of Americans who have been diagnosed with clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder. How can you tell the difference between just feeling blue and true depression? Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose you, so you should consult a doctor if you don’t feel like yourself. Differences between depression and just feeling down may include:

  • Symptoms: If you’re feeling blue, symptoms will include feelings of sadness, lack of sleep, or loss of appetite. Depression has these symptoms and more, including prolonged insomnia, significant weight loss or gain, and extreme fatigue or disinterest in regular activities.
  • Intensity: Depression is more intense than just feeling blue. If you’re feeling down, you may be sad but are still able to perform daily functions, like going to work or school and caring for your family. Those with depression may find themselves unable to function, having difficulty getting out of bed, missing school or work and doing normal chores. They also experience feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of suicide. If these feelings or thoughts occur, get help right away. Contact Heart of Florida United Way’s 2-1-1 Crisis Helpline by simply dialing 2-1-1. Staffed by trained multilingual operators 24/7, 2-1-1 is your connection to mental health services, crisis and suicide counseling and many other resources.
  • Length of Symptoms: With depression, the individual will experience depression for a prolonged period of time. People who are just feeling blue may feel sad or down for just a few days and are able to “go back to normal” afterwards. Depression can last for months or even years.
  • Cause: Feeling down is often related to life stresses or events, such as an overwhelming workload or the death of a loved one. Depression, while it can be triggered by life events, seems to instead be a result of genetics or biochemical factors, occurring without life traumas or influence.

If you experience prolonged feelings of sadness and just don’t feel like yourself, it’s important to get treatment right away. Getting appropriate care for depression can make a huge impact on quality of life.

If you are facing a mental health crisis situation or know someone in need of help, call 2-1-1, United Way’s free information and referral helpline. For more information, visit the 2-1-1 page on the Heart of Florida United Way website.


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.


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