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For Good

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For Good: Humana seeks nonprofits for wellness grant

Tampa Bay nonprofits that promote wellness may be eligible for a grant being awarded by the Humana Foundation, which is currently seeking applications from organizations for their yearly grant.
 
“We are looking for organizations that promote healthy behaviors, health education and access to health services in the community,” says Dr. Theo Sai, Humana regional medical director for central Florida. “It is part of Humana’s larger commitment to improve health in the community by 20 percent by the year 2020.”
 
Beginning December 1st, local nonprofits can submit a letter of intent outlining their organization’s proposed initiative. Upon evaluation, those selected will be invited to submit an online application, with a winner being announced March 2016.  
 
Last year, Tampa Palms-based charity, Starting Right Now, was the recipient of the Humana Communities Benefit Grant, receiving $350,000. Starting Right Now (SRN) helps homeless teenagers with resources including housing, mentoring, employment and education. The money was used to expand the nonprofit’s Hillsborough housing, making rooms for 24 more youth, and is restoring a school in Pinellas County that will be used to house an additional 50 teens.
 
Giving back to the community is a priority for the large health insurance company.
 
“Humana encourages all people, including our own employees, to volunteer and contribute to their communities,” Sai says. “When people give and volunteer, it leads to a better community overall.”
 
For additional information on the Humana Foundation or how to apply for the grant, visit the Humana Foundation's website.

For Good: Scavenger hunt to benefit St. Pete animal shelter on Nov. 14

A local nonprofit animal shelter is hoping to raise some funds through a scavenger hunt that will take place in downtown St. Petersburg on November 14.

The Quest for the Emerald Paw will start at 11 a.m. at the Friends of Strays Animal Shelter, 2911 47th Ave. N. Teams will wind through downtown St. Pete toward Grand Central, stopping at stores, murals, statues and other destinations to collect clues along the way. The quest will end in DTSP, with an awards ceremony at 4 p.m. and a victory party to follow.

Mo Eppley, president of the Board of Directors for Friends of Strays, anticipates around 50 teams participating in the event. The cost to enter: $100 per teams of four.

Team names will be selected from the names of animals currently available for adoption at the shelter. Each team member will receive a T-shirt to wear during the quest, and a drink ticket for the celebration party.

The "emerald paw" prize is actually a 3D printed Emerald Paw trophy from FreeFab 3D, LLC, one of the event's sponsors, says Eppley, owner of St. Pete-based MityMo Design and co-founder of FreeFab

Local Tampa Bay social media personality and reporter Meredyth Censullo will be the MC for the victory party after the scavenger hunt, Eppley says. The location is TBA. 
 
The Quest for the Emerald Paw "is really for anyone," Eppley says. "This is a great way for someone who supports animals causes, but doesn’t want to go to the shelter."

By making the event something distinctive from a "typical fundraiser," Epply says, "we really hope this brings awareness to our organization. This makes it fun and helps the animals!"  

Interested in participating in the Quest for the Emerald Paw scavenger hunt? The deadline to sign up is November 11; register online here.

Volunteers are wanted; to sign up, email the organizing team here.

Friends of Strays performs vaccinations and checkups, and cares for cats and dogs until they are adopted. The nonprofit organization, located in St. Pete, works to care for and adopt out homeless pets from the animal shelter, which can house up to 100 cats and dogs at a given time.

For Good: Going to the mat for 1Voice Foundation

More than 20 million Americans do it.

And it’s a number that is on the upswing. According to the Yoga Journal, this Eastern practice that bends the muscles, soothes the soul and reduces stress gains more participants every year.

So when Mary Ann Massolio, executive director of the Tampa-based 1Voice Foundation, decided to add another event to raise funds for pediatric cancer research, she turned to yoga.

“It’s the perfect fit,” says Massolio. “We’re a family-centered nonprofit, and yoga is for all ages. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”

On Sunday, Oct. 19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the first-ever It’s Just Yoga Health and Fitness Festival comes to Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, 601 Old Water St., on the Tampa Riverwalk near the Tampa Bay History Center. It’s yogi heaven, with classes for beginners to experts, and an interactive wellness marketplace to sample and explore new fitness trends, eco-friendly products and healthy food.

Six local yoga studios will be donating their expertise for free, offering sessions on the mat geared toward weight loss, stress reduction, children, roga (yoga for runners) and restorative yoga. And for a creative spin, there are demonstrations of Acro Yoga, Paddleboard Yoga and Aerial Yoga.

There’s no cost for the festival. Instead, all classes are donation-based, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to 1Voice Foundation. Donations can be made in advance at www.ItsJustYogaFest.com or on the day of the festival. A $20 donation (limited to the first 100 people) will include a chocolate, cheese and wine tasting after the festival at Whole Foods,1548 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa.

Massolio founded the nonprofit after her son, Jay, died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma at age 9. Its mission is to support children with cancer and their families by connecting them with financial, emotional and educational care while funding research for a cure.

Currently, the group is helping fund research conducted by Dr. Cameron Tebbi at University of South Florida to create a vaccine that would prevent childhood leukemia – a project he’s been working on for nearly 40 years.

And in January, 1Voice Foundation, in collaboration with Hillsborough County Schools, will open the country’s first satellite school dedicated to children with cancer.

“It was Jay’s dream to be able to attend school. But when kids are going through treatment, their immune systems are compromised,” says Massolio. “The academy will be in a sterile environment, giving them a safe place to learn.”

1Voice hosts several fundraisers through the year, such as a fishing contest, lunch on a cruise ship, a wine-tasting event and a golf tournament with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Massolio got enthused about adding the yoga festival after meeting with event coordinator Colette Ferrell, who organized a similar yogafest in Orlando that drew about 2,000 people.

Given the practice’s popularity, Ferrell is confident Sunday’s festival will draw a big crowd. 

“Whether you’re new to the mat or you’re an experienced yogi, we’ve got something for everyone,” she says. “You got to feel good about this event. It’s all about healthy living, and it’s for a good local cause. It’s a win-win for all.”

For Good: Play Day in the Park teaches Tampa Bay Area kids about philanthropy

Sylvia Campbell believes it’s never too early to begin teaching children about their role in the local and global community.

“Allow them in their own way to help others,” say the Tampa surgeon, “and you develop a culture of love and compassion for others in need, as well as an awareness of a world outside the one you inhabit.”

That’s the premise behind Play Day in the Park, set for 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Kate Jackson Park, 821 S. Rome Ave., Tampa. Think of it as crash course in philanthropy for pint-sized participants.

The interactive event is sponsored by Village Partners International,  the nonprofit Campbell founded and serves as President of the board. The mission organization partners with villages in Haiti and Uganda to create independent, self-sustaining projects, and locally works with Beth-El Farmworker Ministry in Wimauma. Its focus: Health, education, housing and entrepreneurship.

For Campbell, working with VPI has allowed her to be part of a “community of giving in the most amazing way.”

“It’s restored my faith not only in myself, but in humanity,” she says. “People truly do want to help, if only they knew the way.”

This first-ever interactive Play in the Park is designed to show children that they don’t have to wait until they grow up to get involved, and to celebrate the cultures of Haiti and Uganda.

The event will include activities, crafts, games, snacks, music and face-painting. Though admission is free, donations will be accepted at some of the displays to go toward VPI’s work. Also, children are encouraged to bring their favorite Band-Aids or vitamins to give to one of the medical clinics run by the nonprofit.

Campbell acknowledges that it’s not an easy task to teach kids from comfortable homes about poverty – especially the kind of poverty that VPI volunteers experience on their mission trips. Parents can play a big role in teaching their children how their seemingly small, insignificant actions, such as bringing vitamins, collecting pennies or sending cards, can be significant when added together and “truly change the world.”

“Children in this community have been given so much,” she says. “It’s part of our responsibility about adults to instill in them the desire to help others, and to understand that with privilege, comes responsibility to others.”

To learn more about the event, go to Facebook and search: “Kids Helping Kids! Presented by Village Partners International.”

For Good: Growing Jesuit High School in Tampa gets $35M in donations to renovate, expand

Generous graduates and community donors open their wallets for Jesuit High School, giving more than $35 million dollars, which will go toward the school’s fundraising campaign and campus remodel.
 
The historic school on Himes Avenue has been a fixture in the community since it was built in 1956. Since then, while there have been improvements and upgrades over the years, the school set out on a fundraising campaign to update the 40-acre campus, adding four new buildings and renovating others.
 
“The refurbishment of the campus will begin with a full renovation of the chapel, which is the heart of the school,” says Pete Young of Jesuit High School. “The students gather every morning for Convocation, and we are maxed out on the number of students we can fit in the sanctuary, there is just no room for growth, so we need a larger chapel so we can accommodate more students.”
 
Young goes on to say that St. Anthony’s Chapel, where Convocation and Mass is held, does not have any kneelers so students have to kneel on the floor. In the renovation, kneelers will be put into the chapel.
 
The fundraising campaign and campus remodel plans were made public at an event held at the Renaissance Hotel in Tampa, where Jesuit High School president and Father Richard C. Hermes announced that $27.5 million had been raised. At the same event, it was also announced that a $2.5 million gift was given by Marty and Ted Couch. Ted Couch, an alumni and commercial real estate developer, was president of the former Northside Bank of Tampa. He was also one of the founders and a former board chairman of Moffitt Cancer Center and former chair of Florida Hospital in Tampa. Couch’s gift is the largest single gift ever received by the school.
 
While there are many plans for physical transformation of the campus, funds from the campaign will go to other worthy causes within the school.
 
“It’s not all about the physical campus,” Young says. “We have a longstanding commitment to provide financial aid to students in need of assistance, so a good portion of the money will go toward our financial aid endowment program. We never want to hold a student back from getting an education with us due to financial reasons.”
 
Young goes on to say that funds will also go toward staff retention and extracurricular activities.
 
“We are committed to educating as many boys as possible, and forming young men in the Tampa Bay area,” Young says. “In our tagline is the Latin word 'magis,' which roughly translated means more, or striving for more. It is something we instill in our students to always be striving for more, to be better. So for the leaders of the school to be doing what they can and strive to make the school the best it can be in every way really shows students we practice what we preach.”

For Good: Saint Leo University president gives up inauguration celebration for student scholarships

When Saint Leo University president Dr. William J. Lennox Jr. took over the reins of the school earlier this year, he was asked what kind of celebration he wanted as part of his inauguration. With several options from which to choose, including galas, private dinners or weeklong affairs, the president chose an unanticipated option. He chose not to celebrate at all.

“When I had the conversation with him about his inauguration celebration, he had a lot of questions,” says Denny Moller, VP for university advancement at Saint Leo University. “One of his biggest concerns was the cost of the celebration. He finally just said he would rather see that money go back to the students.”

Instead of a presidential inauguration, university leaders decided to award $2,500 scholarships to 20 deserving students. The scholarships will be divided among students at the university campus, those who take courses online exclusively and graduate students.

“These are one-time scholarships funded by a donor to the university,” Moller says. “We are expecting to get hundreds of submissions.”

Moller says that students have to submit applications by October 30th to be eligible, and will receive funding for the spring semester. He also says funds will be given to those who are expected to graduate next year.

“These scholarships are to help those who are close to graduating,” he says. “We will only be looking at applicants who are scheduled to graduate in the spring.”

The application process includes submitting an application online and writing an essay that illustrates the student’s financial need.

“It is our hope that the president’s gesture sends a positive message, not only to our students,  but to the rest of the education community and leadership, that it should always be about the students.”  

For Good: Beverage association offers grant money to nonprofits

In an effort to promote health and wellness in the community, the Florida Beverage Association (FBA) is launching a grant program that will help fund nonprofits that encourage nutrition, physical activity, health and wellness, as well as environmental sustainability programs.
 
The FBA is made up of several beverage companies including Dr. Pepper, Snapple, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co. and Nestle Water. 
 
“We want people to know that we care about the communities we serve, and where our employees live, work and play and ensure they are healthy and environmentally sustainable,” says Liz Castro-DeWitt, executive director of the Florida Beverage Association.
 
To be considered for the grant, nonprofits must be a 501(c)(3) charitable organization or a state or local governmental entity and meet the requirements the FBA has listed on their website.
 
Castro-DeWitt says FBA grants may also be eligible for consideration for matching grants from the American Foundation for a Healthy America.
 
As far as who should apply, Castro-DeWitt says accredited nonprofits that meet the requirements are welcome.
 
“We are looking for people with innovative ideas from how an individual or group introduced recycling to their community, to fitness camps in community parks to something we have never even thought of or heard of before,” she says. “This is the first year we are doing the grant program, so we are very excited about it, and excited to see what people come up with.”
 
Grant applications need to be submitted by October 15, 2015. All applications will be reviewed by the FBA grant subcommittee. Grant recipients will be selected and notified by the FBA Board of Directors by December 31, 2015. To learn more about how to apply, or to get an application visit the FBA website.

For Good: Temple Terrrace nonprofit offers innovative after-school mentoring program

While many parents are investing in school supplies and preparing to send their children back to school for another year, remember the students who are underserved and often overlooked, says Tia Dixon, President and CEO of Posimoto, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth through an after-school mentoring program.

Dixon, was one of the lucky ones at first, being able to attend after-school programs that enriched her life. Then in high school, family difficulties left Dixon feeling uncertain about her own future. Around that time, a complete stranger came into Dixon’s life and helped her turn it around by taking her under her wing and showing Dixon that she had a bright future.

“I wanted to give back, and that is how Posimoto got started in 2012,” says Dixon. “I really wanted to show kids that they can succeed no matter what is going on in their life at the time, and to not let what is going on in their life get in the way of that success.”

So where does the name Posimoto come from? Dixon says it is a pronoun she came up with to name someone who gives positive motivation to help others be successful in life.

Dixon goes on to explain that Posimoto is not your typical after-school program in which children play all afternoon.

“We have a curriculum that we follow, and every week we have a core value that we focus on,” she says. “We also have trade and career mentors that come throughout the week and work with the kids, a reading program and a sports mentoring program every Saturday.”

The program’s location in Temple Terrace was strategically chosen given the population and surrounding schools.

“Sulpher Springs, which is nearby, the park and surrounding areas we are in are disadvantaged areas,” Dixon says. “The schools in this area are average ‘C’s, and if you look closer into the ratings you will find that the students here are really struggling with reading scores, which is why we offer the reading program.”

Since opening its doors in 2012, Dixon and her team have served 250 children. She expects nearly 60 students to be involved in the program this school year, which is nearly double the number she had last year.

While the after-school program is not free, it is quite reasonable compared to most after-school programs, and some families can get assistance through government funding. Dixon says the Saturday sports program is free, and all children between the ages of five and 12 years old are welcome regardless of whether they attend the after-school program.

With Dixon’s program expanding, donations from the community are needed. Last year it cost $50,000 to run the nonprofit and chances are those costs will increase.

“Our biggest need right now is another van,” Dixon says. “We only have one van right now, however with more students coming in, we need another van to pick them up from school or home and bring them here. We don’t want kids being left out because they didn’t have transportation.”

For those interested in donating to Posimoto, there is a wish list on their website.

For Good: Social Venture Partners selects finalists for charitable investment

Social Venture Partners (SVP) Tampa Chapter, which helps individuals and nonprofits looking to give back to the community, is in the process of selecting which charity they will fund.

After a speaker series earlier this year and discussions among its members, the SVP decided to focus on one specific issue.

“The five finalists we have chosen fit into the focus areas that we had set, which is homelessness and foster care,” says Rebekah Heppner, Executive Director and Founding Partner of SVP. “In particular, these groups were doing things that were more preventative so that less people are in the foster care system or end up homeless.”

The five finalists selected are Adoption Related Services of Pinellas, Alpha House of Tampa, Bright Community Trust, Positive Spin and Ready for Life.

Heppner says the final application and selection process requires that finalists submit additional information, SVP members conduct site visits in September. On November 12th, remaining finalists and ultimately funding recipients will be announced.

She goes on to say that there has been a heavy interest from those wanting to invest and become a part of SVP. The deadline to become a member and become part of this year's effort is October 31st.

What is SVP’s goal in all this? To help these charities by combining financial and human capital to strengthen their infrastructure in order to fulfill their missions.

“Ultimately we are looking for groups that are at the right point in the development where our partners can really make a difference,” Heppner says. “This means they already have a good business foundation that works, and have ideas that they have shared in their application where we can help them even more.”

For more information, visit the Social Venture Partners website.

For Good: Safety Harbor merchants offer loyalty card discounts, donate to local nonprofits

The businesses of Safety Harbor have found an innovative way to give back to the community through a fundraising challenge. The Safety Harbor Downtown Business Alliance, Inc. (SHDBA) has launched a campaign to raise money for charities using a loyalty card.
 
“The campaign was designed to encourage excitement in the philanthropic community about supporting charities while saving money for their families at small businesses in Safety Harbor for a year,” says Karena Morrison, SHDBA charity challenge manager. “We began with 18 merchants and have added 9 more since the launch of the promotion of the challenge on May 1st. We are inviting more merchants in Safety Harbor to join our efforts.”  

The loyalty card can be purchased online via the SHDBA website, and buyers can then use the card to save at participating merchants.
 
Merchants include Live Fit Academy, Paradise Restaurant, Boutique 238, Practically Pikasso, Brady’s BBQ, Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club, Safety Harbor Chevron and Cold Stone Creamery.
 
In addition to the savings loyalty card members receive, they will also be doing some good.
 
“The merchants who were participating in the loyalty card program as of May 1st are also competing for votes, and the top three merchants will be offered the opportunity to select and donate a bonus to one of the approved charities in the challenge,” Morrison says. “100-percent of the proceeds from the loyalty card sales will be donated to approved charities and the SHDBA, Inc.”
 
Approved charities include My Hope Chest, Stop Bullying Now Foundation, Florida Autism Center of Excellence, RCS Food Bank, Suncoast Animal League, Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center and the Safety Harbor Museum & Cultural Center.
 
For more information, or to purchase a loyalty card, visit the SHDBA website.

For Good: Clearwater art events help local causes

Art lovers in Clearwater can enjoy their craft, buy pieces and give back to the community, as the city of Clearwater hosts its new Arts in the Park event. The event takes place July 18th from 10 a.m. To 3 p.m.

“Arts in the Park is a new event. When I arrived seven years ago, I started working with the city on putting events downtown,” says Shelley Jaffe, president of the Clearwater Center for the Arts “My husband and I started to produce a poetry walk, which we had about 100 people coming to, and we did a book and wine festival, but the one thing we noticed is that we put on these great art events, but people didn't have anything to come back to until we put on another event.”

That is when Jaffe decided to open the Clearwater Center for the Arts.

“Although we do have gallery space and put on events, we also offer classes and seminars for the public.”

Jaffe says coming in the fall, the center will host monthly events for local charities to raise awareness to causes from human trafficking to breast cancer, poverty and hunger.

“What we do is ask artists to submit work that is relevant to the subject. So if it's about homelessness, then the artwork should have something to do with the subject of being homeless. Or if its about human rights, then it should communicate something about human rights. Then we put on a show and the artwork is displayed, we have a speaker from the organization speak on the topic. The art will be sold either by silent auction or by price tag.”

With any artwork sold, Jaffe says 50-percent goes to the artist and 50-percent goes to the center, a nonprofit itself. All of the proceeds from the silent auction go to the charity being spotlighted that particular month.

Soon after the opening of the center, the city suggested to Jaffe that she host a monthly outdoor event in the park across the street, soon Arts in the Park was born. The event runs year-round, and is the third Saturday of each month.

The Arts in the Park event is planning to take place July 18th outside at Station Square park located at 612 Cleveland Street in Clearwater. Should there be inclement weather, the event will still go across the street inside the Clearwater Center for the Arts.

For information on charity event nights coming this fall, visit the center's website.

For Good: Electrical contractor takes on distracted driving with national campaign

Each time you text while driving, your eyes stray from the road for around five seconds – enough time for an accident to occur. According to the National Safety Council, one in four car crashes involves cell phone use. 

At any given moment, more than 660,000 people across the United States are using cell phones or other electronic devices. Texting and driving can be especially dangerous for teens on the road.

One local company is taking a proactive approach to reducing distracted driving through a new safe driving campaign. St. Petersburg-based electrical contractor Power Design, Inc, launched “Decide to Drive” to encourage employees and fellow community members to practice safe driving.

“Join me in making the one decision not to text while driving, the one decision not to email while driving, and the one decision not to drink and drive,” Power Design CEO Mitch Permuy explains in a news release.

The “Decide to Drive” campaign is centered on the Power of One pledge, or the notion that one safe driver can save lives.

“Power of One is about how the decisions we make every day impact us as individuals, impact our families, our friends and the communities we belong to,” Permuy says.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman praises the local business for “doing their part to create a safer St. Petersburg.”

"As mayor, my first and most important job is public safety,” Kriseman says. “Too many people across our nation have lost their lives in the brief moment they or another driver used a cell phone or electronic device.

Kriseman called for drivers in St. Pete and across the country to “work together and help save lives.”

Power Design has partnered with EndDD, a website dedicated to safer driving, to promote the “Decide to Drive” campaign.

“We are always grateful to spread the message at workplaces, and we anticipate that employees will bring the safe driving message to their families and to those they care about,” website creator Joel Feldman explains in a news release. 

Other efforts to promote the “Decide to Drive” campaign will include establishing a Power Design corporate transportation program, supporting People Against Distracted Driving, providing information on safe driving apps to employees, and informing the community about the campaign through social media.

To view the Power of One pledge and learn more, visit the “Decide to Drive” campaign website

For Good: Walmart Foundation gives $100K to Pinellas charity

The Walmart Foundation gave $100,000 in June to Religious Community Services in Pinellas County as part of its $1 million Statewide Giving Tour. The grant was the only one given in the Tampa Bay area by the foundation, and the single largest one among 21 state recipients for 2015.

“We’re so appreciative of this,” says Caitlin Higgins Joy, RCS president and CEO. “It comes at a crucial time. We focus on the hungry, and summer can be an additional burden especially on families.”

Joy says the grant money will fund two “gently used” refrigerated food trucks that are needed for the nonprofit’s food distribution efforts through Pinellas County. They will replace aging vehicles in the current fleet.

“This is a vital part of our operation,” she says. “But it’s a costly investment. The grant gives us peace of mind that we will be able to upgrade our ability to deliver food.”

The RCS, founded in 1967 by 15 congregations, runs four programs that serve people struggling with hunger, homelessness and domestic violence. 

To meet its mission to help the hungry, the nonprofit delivers donated and federally subsidized food to more than 60 sites from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs five days a week. It also serves upwards of 5,500 people a month at its food bank in a Clearwater warehouse. Most clients are elderly people on a fixed income, struggling families or the underemployed.

RCS provides emergency shelter for families on the brink of homelessness for up to eight weeks at its Grace House apartments, and gives shelter and outreach services to victims of domestic violence at The Haven. 

In addition, it also operates a thrift store in Largo. Every sale benefits RSC programs, and all donated items, from clothing to furniture, are tax-deductible.

The charity now has 160 member affiliates, representing all different faiths. It depends on a wide variety of funding, from federal, state and local grants, private foundations and individual donors.

In the last fiscal year, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have given more than $82 million in cash and in-kind contributions to charitable organizations throughout Florida.

Its State Giving Program aims to support organizations that create opportunities so people can live better. RCS met those requirements with its programs.

This is the first time the retailer has gone on a statewide tour to roll out the grants to recipients.

Other winners so far include:
  • The Boys & Girls Clubs of Lake & Sumter Counties, Inc., Leesburg ($50,000);
  • Catholic Charities of Central Florida Inc., Orlando ($75,000);
  • Coalition for the Homes of Central Florida, Orlando ($50,000);
  • Community Food Bank of Citrus County, Crystal River ($50,000);
  • Promise Inc., West Melbourne ($25,000);
  • The Society of Saint Andrew, Inc., Orlando ($30,000); and
  • We Care Food Pantry, Inc., Homosassa ($85,000). 
Charities can apply for a grant by filling out an online application through the foundation’s website. Applicants must have a current  501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in order to meet the program’s minimum funding criteria.

For Good: Private school for underprivileged to open in Tampa in 2016

Lower income, inner city youth in the Tampa Bay region will have another option for private education as Cristo Rey High School gets ready to open in 2016. The private school, whose model exists in several other cities around the country, will open its doors to students grades 9 through 12, in an effort to give them the best education possible.

“The Cristo Rey model offers a rigorous academic program,” says Jim Madden, feasibility study coordinator for Cristo Rey. “We also see a high graduation rate among our students, but more importantly seniors who graduate from the program have over a 97-percent college acceptance rate.”

In order to qualify for the program, Madden explains that students and their families must be at or below the federal poverty definition, and the student must be at least two years behind in school.

In addition to the scrupulous academic program, Cristo Rey also offers students an opportunity to get a taste of the job world.

“Five days a month the students will go out and work in a white-collar job at a number of companies in the area,” Madden says. “The money that gets earned by the student gets put towards their tuition.”

As for tuition, Cristo Rey is funded through fundraising campaigns and private donors. Richard Gonzmart, president and CEO of Columbia Restaurant Corporation, donated $10,000 back in April to help get the program started, and has pledged a total of $100,000 to the program.

“Cristo Rey requires that you fundraise or have pledges in the amount of $2.5 million dollars, plus whatever it costs to renovate the facility in order to get approval,” Madden says.

Just this past week, Cristo Rey Tampa received that approval.

A total of 27 corporate work partners have pledged jobs, including Columbia Restaurant Corporation. Madden says families are also expected to pay $500 a month in tuition in order to help fund their child’s education.

“I spent 36 years in the Pinellas County school system, and one of the things that is so important is to increase the graduation rate,” Madden says. “If you look at the graduation rate of certain demographics compared to those in Cristo Rey, you will see that the model works.”

Cristo Rey Tampa will open its doors August 2016, and will be located at the campus of Mary Help of Christians Center situated at 6400 East Chelsea Street in Tampa.

For more information, or to donate to the cause, visit the Cristo Rey website

For Good: Nonprofit teaches art to adults with disabilities

Imagine a place where adults with developmental disabilities can express themselves through the arts with no judgment while making money doing it. This innovative concept is a reality at Pyramid Inc., a Florida nonprofit organization that engages its students in a unique art program.

Pyramid Inc., which has five locations around the state including the one in Tampa, serves adults with severe disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome and spina bifida.

“Pyramid in Tampa serves 150 students a day,” says Andrea Ames, Director of Pyramid Inc. “We don’t focus on their disabilities, we focus on their abilities.''

From singing and dancing to pottery and painting, the organization teaches the adult students a number of crafts that allow them to express themselves, and even make money.

“We do a lot of fundraising to support our program, including two major shows a year, which are performances where our students sing and dance, as well as an art show,” Ames says.  Students get paid for their performances, and any artwork that is sold, the student gets half of the proceeds.”

The next Pyramid show is July 26th at the University Community Area Center situated at 14013 N. 22nd St. in Tampa. The art show starts at 2 p.m. and curtain call is at 3 p.m. Admission is free, however, donations are welcome.

Another fundraiser for the organization is a monthly art walk.

“Every month we are a part of the Seminole Heights First Friday Gallery Walk, which runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” Ames says. “It gives people an opportunity to see what our students are working on, and again whatever artwork sells, the student who made it gets half the proceeds.”

Pyramid serves adults with developmental disabilities who are at least 22-years-old, and Ames says most students get funding through the Medicaid waiver program, which is specific to people with developmental disabilities.

For those interested in helping this cause, Ames says there is plenty the community can do to help.

“We are always looking for volunteers, right now people who know about animation and digital art, as that is an area where we would like to expand the program. Also, donations of art and office supplies are needed. Donations are always welcome too. We have students who would just love to have a friend, so a volunteer who is willing to just help and be there would be great.”
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