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Downtown Tampa : For Good

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ECHO of Brandon claims top prize in social entrepreneurship

ECHO of Brandon, a charity whose mission is to end hunger in southeastern Hillsborough County, took the $25,000 grand prize in Social Venture Partners’ first Shark Tank-styled competition for social entrepreneurship in the Tampa Bay Area.

Social entrepreneurship is the use by nonprofits of the techniques that enable startup companies and other entrepreneurs to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.

“The turnout was amazing. The energy was amazing. The teams were incredible,” says Jennifer Finney, a member of the SVP committee planning the Fast Pitch competition. “It surpassed everything that I could have imagined.”

ECHO, which provides emergency food, clothing, household items and career planning, was represented by Eleanor Saunders. Saunders explained how ECHO clients upcycle donations (clothes, curtains, leather items, etc.) into sellable products such as purses, jewelry and tablecloths. The work involved provides jobs for the clients, and sales proceeds go back into the organization's operating budget, making the nonprofit more independent financially and less dependent on government funding or charitable giving. The team was coached by Joan and George Lange.

The event attracted more than 400 to the University of Tampa on Friday, Dec. 1, to hear three-minute pitches from 13 nonprofits chosen to participate in SVP’s free, two-month accelerator and mentoring program. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and UT partnered in the event.

The $15,000 second place prize was awarded to Wheels of Success, represented by Susan Jacobs and coached by Anne Marie Campbell and Sam Giunta, and the $10,000 third place awarded was given to Girls Empowered Mentally for Success, represented by Crystal Bailes and coached by Sheryl Hunter.

Wheels of Success is dedicated to providing transportation solutions to the needy. GEMS helps at risk elementary, middle and high school girls discover their passion, and more easily transition into productive adults.

Attendees texted into a link to choose the Audience Choice Award, which went to Starting Right, Now, represented by Vicki Sokolik and coached by Lily Jin. It received $5,000. Starting Right, Now is working to end youth homelessness in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Another $5,000 prize was given to Accelerator Award winner Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative, represented by Marissa Davis and Carrie Hepburn and coached by Finney. The collaborative promotes health and wellness in vulnerable populations by addressing barriers to health and services.

“We decided to give an Accelerator Award for the team that showed up to the accelerator every time ready and eager to learn,” Finney explains.

The 13 local nonprofits were chosen from a pool of more than 50 applicants. Judging was done by Phillip E. Casey, Tom Wallace, Joe Hamilton, Rochelle Friedman-Walk and James Tully.

Other nonprofits who participated included:

  • University Area Community Development Corporation, which administers a Prodigy Cultural Arts Program to help at risk first through twelfth graders;
  • Directions for Living, which is dedicated to providing life-saving services to residents through its innovative Peanut Butter and Jelly run;
  • Bright Community Trust, whose mission is to create strong and vibrant neighborhoods;
  • Enactus at University of South Florida, an organization that helps students develop their talents and make a difference in the Tampa Bay community;
  • Just Learn, k-12 learning program that seeks to expose students to the planet’s biggest challenges like urbanization and food production;
  • Keep St. Pete Lit, an organization promoting the greater St. Petersburg literary community;
  • Inspiration Labs, the legal name for Tampa Hackerspace, where members have working space, training and tools to develop their creative projects; and
  • The Well, which runs the WellBuilt retail store that sells and repairs bicycles to fund community rides, safety workshops and sliding scale repairs.

SVP is based in Seattle; a Tampa chapter was formed in 2014.

SVP plans to make the competition an annual event, with initial work beginning in January as part of strategic planning.

“They all got incredible exposure,” Finney says. “It was really great to see everyone’s genuine interest and passion for each one of the teams.”


For Good: Fast Pitch seeks entries from Tampa Bay Area nonprofits

It’s like Shark Tank, nonprofit style. And it’s coming to Tampa November 9. Ten nonprofit organizations will be competing for some $40,000 in an event inspired by the popular TV show for businesses seeking funding.

Tampa will be the first Fast Pitch event with an accelerator program through the Seattle-based Social Venture Partners. It also is the first Fast Pitch event for the Tampa chapter started in 2014; nonprofits will be vying for funding from SVP partners.

We really want to give them an opportunity in Tampa to amplify their impact,” says Jennifer Finney, a partner for SVP and member of the team spearheading the effort. “It’s zero cost to the nonprofit and to the attendees.”

The program seeks to better equip nonprofits to “execute their mission and their vision, as well as have access to all the tools and the resources that we can provide,” Finney explains. “We want a build a space for them to really collaborate.”

Nonprofits must apply by August 14; finalists will be announced August 21. The pitch competition is slated for November 9, although the location has not been finalized.

Participating nonprofits will be able to prepare for the competition with five different workshop nights and an assigned mentor, she says. Those who complete the two-month program will have a business plan.

SVP, a group of philanthropists looking to give back to their community, has been partnering with Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the University of Tampa, where Finney is the first female to graduate from the Sykes College of Business with a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship.

“They [Community Foundation members] have a lot of experience in the nonprofit space. They have been very helpful to us,” Finney says. “They’ve been very generous with their time and their resources.”

Finney, 23, transferred to UT when her family relocated from Chicago to Tampa about three years ago. “I fell in love with it, especially their entrepreneurship program. I liked it so much I went for my master’s degree,” she says.

She competed on UT’s HULT Prize competition two years in a row.

Now Finney plans to take a job as an employee benefits advisor with Tampa’s Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners in the fall. “We all live in Tampa. We all want to see great success here in Tampa,” she says. “It’s not Chicago or New York by size, but there’s a lot of really passionate and talented people here making Tampa one of the greatest places to live. You really can’t beat the weather.”


For Good: Tampa Bay Builders make 1,000 PB&Js for homeless

Members of The Tampa Bay Builders Association will be rolling up their sleeves and donning gloves and hairnets this Wednesday to make 1,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless. 

The TBBA is contributing to the mission of GRAB Tomorrow, a nonprofit for young professionals who set a goal of providing 25,000 PB&Js this year to the homeless in the Tampa Bay area.  

Jennifer Doerfel, Executive VP of the TBBA, says that while the construction industry is already a very philanthropic industry, the majority of their works naturally involve building homes for the needy, or donating materials and labor. 

Still, they are always open to opportunities to help the community in more immediate ways. When their sales and marketing team found this simple and important cause to contribute to, members of the TBBA were all in.   

“When we heard about this opportunity -- it was easy, and it would serve many purposes,” says Doerfel. “It serves as a team building experience and it’s very social in nature. You’re doing something good for someone and you never know when it might be you.” 

About 60 volunteers will work in shifts for six hours in the TBBA’s small 1,000-square- foot office assembling the sandwiches, which will then be distributed to the homeless by GRAB Tomorrow members. 

“It goes back to the underlying philosophy of the construction industry regardless of where you fall into the construction industry, whether you’re a home builder yourself or an engineer, a roofer, a carpenter or a plumber, this industry is really a wide cross section of professionals that are hands-on in the community building the American dream of home ownership, so we are acutely aware of the needs in the community and whenever possible we take a proactive role in solving the problems that we face,” says Doerfel.  

The National Association of Home Builders has recognized the Tampa Bay Builders Association four times with the Silver Award for their exemplary efforts in philanthropy, education and professional development but this last year they received the Gold Award, the highest recognition from the NAHB for giving back to the community.

For Good: Pedal through downtown Tampa, along Bayshore Boulevard in Winter Wonder Ride

Downtown Tampa may be one of the warmest places to be during the wintertime, but Bay area bicyclists are prepared to "get frosty" when they hit the streets for a cool cause at the sixth annual Winter Wonder Ride taking place this weekend (Dec. 10).  

The Winter Wonder Ride is the largest event hosted by onbikes, a nonprofit organization that partners with corporate sponsors and local governments to throw bicycling events that support the organization's mission of providing bikes for at-risk youth and foster kids.

Onbikes Executive Director and co-Founder Julius Tobin says that what started as an idea among his friends to simply take a bike ride on a sunny Saturday in 2011 quickly grew in ways the group never expected.

"It occurred to us that none of us had been on bikes in a really long time, so we took a sort of random adventure -- and we realized how cool it was. It unleashed the kid in us, and from there we thought, 'let's try to do something good with this.' We realized there was probably a big audience who would love to participate in it. We just didn't realize how big it would become."

On Saturday, (December 10), onbikes invites riders to join them at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park as they embark on the Winter Wonder Ride along The Tampa Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard before returning to the park for a post-ride celebration. (Motorized traffic will be temporarily rerouted along South Tampa streets from approximately 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) Last year's Winter Wonder Ride had approximately 2,500 participants. Tobin says onbikes expects at least 3,000 people for this year's ride. 

There may not be snow on the ground, but this year's Winter Wonder Ride theme is "Get Frosty" -- giving Floridians an excuse to don their best snowman gear, including but not limited to: scarves, top hats and snowflake-themed attire. onbikes highly encourages participants in the Winter Wonder Ride to dress in costume to spread holiday cheer as they pedal the streets of downtown Tampa -- or risk being "the only one dressed like a normal person" among a pack of bicycling snowmen.

"It's a pretty unique opportunity to be on the road with such a big group of people in general -- but 3,000 people dressed up like snowmen, gingerbread people, Santa Claus and elves is incredible. It really lets you lose your facade and just enjoy being in the moment. Everyone gets to be a kid again," says Tobin.

Rapper Big Boi (best known for his role as half of the Grammy-winning hip hop duo Outkast) headlines this year's Winter Wonder Ride celebration, promising a jubilant post-ride dance party at the park, with food and beverages available for purchase from local vendors. This year's Winter Wonder Ride will include an overnight bike valet, ensuring that bicyclists can enjoy the post-ride celebration and libations without having to worry about their bikes -- as long as they are retrieved by 11 a.m. the following day (Sunday). 

Tickets to the Winter Wonder Ride start at $50, with all proceeds geared toward the purchase of new bikes for at-risk youth and foster kids in the Tampa Bay area this holiday season. 

The organization's other big holiday extravaganza, the 'Santa's Bike Shop' Bike Build took place on Dec. 4th at Amalie Arena, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Flying Fish Bikes. At Santa's Bike Shop, professional bike technicians from Flying Fish and approximately 600 volunteer helpers -- the bike workshop 'elves' -- teamed up to assemble 800 bikes in nine hours. 

Tobin says that 400 of the bikes will go to Eckerd College to distribute to foster kids in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Tampa Police Department's bike division will also receive 300 bikes to distribute to local kids. Metropolitan Ministries will receive the remaining 100 bikes to distribute for Heroes Day and to establish a fleet for a free bike share program on campus. 

To date, Tobin estimates that onbikes has provided bikes for approximately 3,000 kids in the Tampa Bay area with the help of the organization's sponsors, partners and volunteers from the local community who join the annual rides and bike builds. 

"We know that giving a bike to a kid isn't a unique or new idea. We just put a fun spin on it," says Tobin. 

Take a spin through downtown Tampa with onbikes for the most festive bicycle parade of the season. Visit the Onbikes website to purchase tickets to the Winter Wonder Ride.

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.”
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