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Higher Education : 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: USF partners with custom T-shirt company to raise funds for Moffitt

A local custom T-shirt company is partnering with USF to raise funds for cancer research.

Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More, a garment decorating franchise based out of Dunedin, has announced its exclusive sponsorship with the USF’s Athletics Department. The custom T-shirt company will provide USF’s ‘Bulls Against Cancer’ campaign shirts. These shirts support Moffitt Cancer Center, raising cancer awareness and funds for research.

The president of Big Frog, Dr. Tina Bacon-DeFrence, an alumna of USF, wants to help those battling cancer.

“All of us here at Big Frog, from the Dunedin headquarters to our individual franchises, and store employees across the country, have been affected by cancer in some form,” she says. “We might have battled through it ourselves, fought through it with a close friend or family member, or have shed tears over the loss of folks close to us.”

As part of the partnership, there will be several game-day promotions and giveaways during both USF’s football and basketball season. Big Frog will be introducing a T-shirt launcher, which will propel 3,000 shirts out to USF fans during men and women’s basketball home games.

In addition, the official kick off of the partnership between Big Frog and USF will take place at the USF’s home football game against UCONN on October 15th. During tailgating gatherings, flyers will be passed out with information on the partnership, and where people can order their T-shirts.

For those who are interested in getting one of the ‘Bulls Against Cancer’ shirts, Bacon-DeFrence says you can order them through Big Frog’s website.

For Good: Free Welcoming Tampa event celebrates cultural diversity of refugees, immigrants

No need to bring your passport to travel on a virtual tour around the world during a free event coming soon to USF.

Among the offerings at the second Welcoming Tampa celebration: Get a henna tattoo, take a Latin dance lesson, watch a culture fashion show, listen to live international music, visit cultural educational tables and test your patriotic knowledge by taking a mock citizenship test.

Along the way, it’s an opportunity to meet new neighbors -- resettled refugees and immigrants who now call this area home.

It takes place on Saturday, Sept. 17,  from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida. The collaborative effort is sponsored by the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force, the USF’s Honors College and the Department of Global Health, and the local refugee and immigrant community. Campus organizations, volunteer outreach programs and social-service agencies take part as well.

This is just one event like this celebrated all over the country in September. The initiative is coordinated nationwide by Welcoming America, a Georgia-based nonprofit. The mission is to recognize and celebrate the contributions made by refugees and immigrants in local communities.

“It helps all who participate with a localized understanding of the refugee experience and encourage true connections across cultures,” says Natalie Harrell, spokesperson for the Suncoast Region of the Florida Department of Children and Families. “Every year we hear of new friendships formed and gatherings held after the event, so we know there is an ongoing impact.”

And for the refugee families, she says, it’s a day of fun where they get to see their culture celebrated and “feel fully included in their new community.” 

Service providers will also be on hand, as well as information on volunteer opportunities to encouragement more engagement.

This year’s theme is “Small Shoes, Big Journey,” and will focus on the experiences of refugee children and youth as they begin a new chapter of their lives here in the Tampa Bay area. Ten-year-old Rachel Ackey, whose father was once a refugee, is coordinating a shoe drive for these youngsters. To donate a new pair of shoes or a gift card for a refugee youth, email Florence and Rachel Ackey or call (813) 732-4190 or contact Elizabeth Dunn at (361) 510-7935.

Dena Gross Leavengood, a member of the Tampa Bay Refugee Advisory Group, an independent advocacy volunteer effort, says giving refugees a support system is the first step toward establishing normalcy in their new lives.

An event like this can be a first step in building new relationships, she says. It also can set in motion more dialogue so there is less duplication of services.

“The more coordination we have between agencies and volunteer groups, the better,” she says. “There are so many issues refugees face when the first arrive -- cultural divides, the language, transportation, housing, jobs. As a community, we need to collectively understand these challenges and how to address them.

“In the end, we all will benefit as they work toward becoming contributing citizens.”

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: 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: Donate online during Give Day Tampa Bay

Can Give Day Tampa Bay top $1 million in donations in 2015?

The inaugural Give Day Tampa Bay brought in just over $1 million for local nonprofits in 2014, and sponsors of the upcoming Give Day Tampa Bay on May 5, 2015, hope to see even more generosity spread throughout the local community during the second annual “24 hours of giving.”

Led by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Florida Next Foundation, Give Day Tampa Bay challenges locals to participate in a 24-hour online giving event. In 2014, more than 5,000 individuals donated to the inaugural Give Day Tampa Bay campaign to bring awareness to more than 350 nonprofits who do work in the local community. This year, more than 500 nonprofits are participating.

Debra Campbell, an educator and serial entrepreneur with a background in economic development, founded Tampa-based Forward Thinking Initiatives in 2004 with the aim of bridging education and workforce development. The nonprofit’s entrepreneurship programs for middle- and high-school teens aim to create a more competitive emerging workforce through a focus on creative thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

One of the reasons Campbell chose to get involved with Give Day Tampa Bay is to help raise community awareness about local nonprofits. ““It’s a wonderful concept to promote all the good work that's going on in Tampa Bay,” she says. “I think the community is not aware of the vast number of services and programs available.”

There are dozens of nonprofits available to choose for a donation, including Big Cat Rescue, Tampa Bay Conservancy, Carrollwood Players Theatre, Lights On Tampa, Stageworks Theatre, the Straz Center, and All Children’s Hospital, to name a few. Find the complete list of 543 participating nonprofits at the Give Day Tampa Bay online donation site

Goals of the annual event include enlisting new donors and helping nonprofits learn new online giving and outreach skills. Funds raised can help nonprofits access resources and training that they can then use year-round to promote their work and engage their supporters.

“It’s always difficult for nonprofits to raise dollars, especially unrestricted dollars,” Campbell says. “This is an opportunity for each organization to benefit from a joint marketing program that is so well organized by Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Florida Next Foundation.”

Give Day Tampa Bay starts at midnight on May 4 and runs for 24 hours. Donations can be completed from any smartphone, tablet or computer using a credit or debit card, with a minimum donation is $25. 
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