My Experience at Leadership Tampa’s Social Services Day

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Brian Cummings
Attorney – Greenspoon Marder, P.A.
Leadership Tampa Class of 2014

After a hiatus of many years, Social Services Day returned to the line-up of Leadership Tampa’s program days for the Class of 2014, plainly a testament to LT-14’s distinction as “Best Class Ever.” The first program day of LT-14, Social Services Day was packed with assignments, discussions, and experiences that gave us an appreciation for the needs of the disadvantaged members of our community and the remarkable organizations and volunteers serving them.

We began our day in the dark, literally. After breakfast at the Lions Eye Institute in Ybor City, the meeting room was darkened for effect as Robert Perez described his life before receiving a cornea transplant. He invited us to imagine his various challenges growing up visually impaired and then, later in life, not being able to read a simple bedtime story to his daughter. Perez is one of 40,000 persons to have received the gift of sight through a cornea transplant provided by the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research, the largest eye bank in the world.

After sharing his story, Perez participated in a panel discussion on non-profit organizations moderated by Rolfe Arnhym with Dr. Martin Silbiger, a volunteer with the University Diagnostic Institute, and Grace Armstrong, CEO of Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay. We discussed the challenges and needs of the 5,000-plus non-profit organizations in Tampa Bay, and learned about the broader impact of non-profits on our local economy: the 200 largest non-profit organizations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties collectively employ 86,057 workers, or 9.3 percent of the total work force in those two counties. We also learned that these 200 organizations have combined revenues of $8.8 billion, which after expenses for serving their constituents are reinvested in our community.

After a tour of the Lions Eye Institute facility, class members fanned out in small groups to serve as volunteers at 12 of the 2,012 non-profit organizations operating in Hillsborough County. We rolled up our shirtsleeves and pitched in as volunteers for Dress for Success; Crisis Center of Tampa Bay; DACCO; Feeding America, Tampa Bay; Habitat for Humanity, Hillsborough; Meals on Wheels; Metropolitan Ministries; The Spring of Tampa Bay; Alpha House of Tampa, Inc.; Goodwill Industries-Suncoast, Inc.; McDonald’s Training Center; and the Salvation Army. Upon completing our volunteer assignments, LT-14 re-grouped at Metropolitan Ministries to enjoy lunch and share our volunteer experiences. All appeared to be impressed and inspired by the extensive network of non-profits and volunteers that feed, shelter, clothe, and comfort the disadvantaged members of our community and give them support and opportunities to become independent and prosper.

During the afternoon, we stepped out of our roles as volunteers and into the shoes of the needy in an interactive team activity designed to immerse ourselves in the process of seeking social services from a government agency or nonprofit organization. Our class was divided into small groups and each group was assigned to be a different person in need – a teen-age girl kicked out of her family home seeking housing and employment, a single mother applying for food stamps, a homeless family in need of shelter, etc. We were then sent out in the real world to seek those services. The experience was challenging and eye-opening, and at times frustrating, as the groups reported back at Metropolitan Ministries during a final Q & A panel discussion with Tim Marks, President of Metropolitan Ministries, Major James Hall, Area Commander of the Salvation Army, and Debbie Passerini, President/CEO of Goodwill Industries-Suncoast. Among the lessons learned were that vital social services is available to those in need, but obtaining those services can at times require perseverance and a lot of patience

All in all, Social Services Day provided LT-14 with a deeper understanding of the needs and challenges facing the disadvantaged residents of Tampa, which has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, and the extensive network of great non-profits organizations like Metropolitan Ministries, the Salvation Army, and Goodwill-Industries Suncoast that serve their needs. We were also enlightened as to multiple volunteer opportunities for us as future leaders of Tampa. Of course, LT-14 didn’t wait to help out: thanks to the leadership of Classmate Susan Maurer, class members arrived at Social Services Day with food donations and collectively donated 170 pounds of food to Metropolitan Ministries.

The Sponsor for Social Services Day was Lowry Baldwin, and our Day Chairs were Kelley Sims of the Lions Eye Institute, Mandelyn Cloninger of Metropolitan Ministries, Melody Marrs of Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc., and Rolfe Arnhym of Vistage Florida. Social Services Day clearly had a lot of moving parts, and each of our Day Chairs and our Sponsor, as well as LT-14 Chair Renee Vaughn and Vice Chair Jim Porter, and a great number of other individuals, contributed to make it a great success and memorable experience.

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About Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit business membership organization that helps promote the businesses and business interests of our members. We come from diverse backgrounds: from small businesses, big corporations, government bodies and the military. United, we become a single, unifying force with the power to shape the future of Tampa Bay.

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