By: Andrew Warren, Attorney, United States Government
“Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie.” That was the title of the 2012 commencement address given by Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, to Princeton University, his alma mater. During the address, Lewis explained how researchers at Cal-Berkeley staged an experiment in which students were broken into teams of three and tasked with solving some complicated problem, with one member of the team having been arbitrarily assigned as team leader. Thirty minutes into the session, the researchers brought the team a plate containing four cookies. Four cookies for three teammates. Each member of the team ate one of the cookies, but with remarkable consistency, the person arbitrarily appointed leader ate the fourth cookie on the basis that he or she felt entitled to it as the team leader, despite not having earned the title or the cookie. Using this experiment as illustration, Lewis advised the graduating class to recognize that their own success in life results from not only their hard work but also luck in the form of their parents, upbringing and a variety of other factors. Lewis counseled, “With luck comes obligation. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”
That was my mindset on September 30 as I walked into the Children’s Board at 7 a.m. for Community Outreach Day, the first event for Leadership Tampa Class of 2016. And I was not alone. Even before the program began, I heard many classmates echo a similar sentiment.
The day began with an introduction by Stephanie Agliano (LT’09) of Aggie Enterprises, the chair of Leadership Tampa Class of 2016. Stephanie identified that it is no accident that Community Outreach Day is followed by Law Enforcement and Education because the intersection of those three issues forms the fabric of the community. Understanding that intersection is critical to a community’s progress. Interdependence was a theme that would be reinforced throughout the day.
Before Leadership Tampa, I knew there were many socially disadvantaged individuals in our community, but now I got a glimpse of the true extent of hardship and suffering. – Dana Rollison, Moffitt Cancer Center
As members enjoyed breakfast by Inside the Box, a social enterprise operated by Metropolitan Ministries, sponsor Fred Lay (LT’14), president of Construction Services, Inc., addressed the group. Lay told a moving story about his own experience with Community Outreach Day and how it inspired his commitment to sponsor the event and to continue his company’s commitment to public service. Fred cautioned us, as the top one percent of the community, to remember our luck as well as our efforts as having contributed to our success. His description of offering both hands to those who have fallen—not to pull them up, but so that they may pull themselves up—left the room in silent agreement.
The amount of need in our own area is staggering. However, just one person with a vision to help has made a difference. – Mary Layton, Walbridge Aldinger
Rolfe Arnhym (LT’13), chairman of Vistage, was the emcee for the day. Reiterating his guidance from LT’s orientation, Rolfe reminded the group that today was the day to “decide to decide” to get involved. He then moderated the impressive panel of local leaders: Suzanne McCormick, CEO of United Way Suncoast; Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries; Kelly Parrish, executive director of the Children’s Board; and Kris Rawson, vice president for Workforce Development at Goodwill Industries, Suncoast. As each panelist explained his/her respective organization’s mission, each echoed one another’s themes about the overwhelming demand for services, the amazing impact that one person can make, and the reward of doing so. When McCormick said that 45% of Hillsborough County lives below the “ALICE” standard (“Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed”), which demarcates working families who are financially unable to meet basic living standards, the group gave a collective gasp. When we heard that Hillsborough County ranks third worst in the nation for children to escape poverty, we prepared to roll up our sleeves to begin the day’s volunteer activities.
The opportunity exists for those of us that are most fortunate to give back to those who are not. Hopefully now we all understand that there are organizations in place that can help facilitate that giving. – Jeff Locker, Raymond James
The LT’16 class was split into 12 groups of four (one group had four people in spirit but only three in body), with each group venturing out to participate in a different social impact organization for the remainder of the morning. After the two-hour session, the class reconvened at the Lions Eye Institute for a box lunch provided by Goodwill Industries. I enjoyed a chicken caesar wrap along with my three teammates and, after witnessing Felicia Harvey of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce swap the objectively inferior Nacho Cheese Doritos for Cool Ranch Doritos, pondered whether I could do the same. We swapped stories of our morning’s educational adventures with the other team at our table. My teammates (Bob Bincarousky, TECO Energy; Scott Nolan, WUSF; and Ryan Sladek, PNC) and I talked about going to Meals on Wheels and being amazed at the logistics of an operation that brings a hot lunch to 700 homebound individuals every weekday: ten distribution centers and 70 volunteer drivers distribute nearly 175,000 meals a year, in addition to another 175,000 catered meals for hospice and similar groups. We listened to our lunch mates describe visiting the Tampa Lighthouse, an organization that provides rehabilitation training for the blind, and the impact of experiencing, if only for a few moments, the world through the eyes of the visually impaired.
Jason Woody (LT’13), president and CEO of the Lions Eye Institute, welcomed us to his organization’s historic building. As he described the Institute’s mission to restore eyesight through tissue transplantation, we thought of the Lighthouse team. One organization dedicated to helping the blind; another to eradicating blindness. Interdependence.
Awareness is the first step to sustainability. Being enlightened about the various organizations begins to set the stage for many of us to make a difference.– Ocea Lattimore, City of Tampa
During lunch, each team had three minutes—and only three, lest they risk the wrath of Rolfe’s pleasant scowl—to talk about the organization each visited. As iPhone stopwatches hummed to signal time was up, the class’s appetite to hear more about each organization was apparent. Three minutes was clearly not enough time to convey the two-hour experience and neither is this summary. So, in the interest of brevity, here are the organizations visited and the major takeaway from each group (noting the group’s spokesperson):
- Big Cat Rescue (Matt Michini, Michini Wealth Management): This is the rare problem with an obvious solution: banning privately owned big cats would eliminate the need to rescue them from mistreatment.
- Dress for Success (Melissa Silvest, Busch Gardens): They are giving women not just clothes but confidence.
- Feeding Tampa Bay (Angie Brown, The Florida Aquarium): Ninety percent of the people served have a job and a home but remain food insecure.
- Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (Gerri Kramer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections): The high percentage of female business owners and congresswomen who were Scouts is a testament to the group’s ability to develop leadership.
- Goodwill Industries (Todd O’Donnell, Wharton-Smith, Inc.): Helping the underprivileged achieve their full potential through the dignity and power of work.
- Humane Society (Ted Tamargo, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney): Giving homes to homeless animals shows that every life counts.
- Meals on Wheels (Bob Bincarousky, TECO Energy): Meals on Wheels gives its members the freedom to live without permanent assistance.
- Quantum Leap Farms (Yvette Segura, USAA): Because horses and humans have the same gait, riding horses provides mental and physical therapy to wounded vets, autistic children and others.
- Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind (Neil Anderson, CI Group): The simplest tasks become incredibly difficult with impaired vision.
- Trinity Café (Rich Marulanda, Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.): The number of children who come through their doors each day in search of a meal is tragic.
- YMCA, Tampa Metro (Rob Liddell, Saint Leo University): The charity that we all know develops youth and promotes health living and social responsibility throughout the community.
- YMCA Veggie Van (Dana Rollison, Moffitt Cancer Center): There are children who live in food deserts who have never seen the inside of a grocery store.
It was heart wrenching to learn about some of the horrors abused children experience but uplifting to know there are Tampa services available to make the healing process as comfortable as it could be. – Tiffany Morgan, U.S. Air Force
After lunch, the twelve teams again went to their own volunteer activities. As with the morning, the afternoon sessions were enlightening and impactful. And as with the morning, after another two hours spent trying to walk in the shoes of the less fortunate, we reconvened at the Children’s Board, greeted by a snack of pita, vegetables, and hummus. Throughout the day we heard about how many people live in so-called “food deserts” where fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy food is scarce and expensive. In the morning, one panelist told the story of how a large donation of hummus was received awkwardly by food insecure families who were unfamiliar with what they perceived to be a delicacy. Several class members commented on the tasty irony of our afternoon snack. We then, again, did our best to share our collective experiences in 180 seconds.
- Alpha House (Felicia Harvey, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce): Teaching life skills to homeless and pregnant mothers saves the community millions of dollars.
- Artista’s Cafe (Angie Brown, The Florida Aquarium): Artista’s strives to make autistic individuals feel unique and valuable.
- Big Brothers, Big Sisters (Larry Braue, USF): Helping a child reach his/her full potential impacts not just the child but the entire family.
- Crisis Center (Michelle Clapper, Ernst & Young): The Crisis Center is a safety net for children and families during the most desperate of times.
- Good Samaritan Inn (Maggie Fowler, Peak 10): They help the homeless, people who have fallen through the cracks and are the most vulnerable of society, after all the other agencies and programs have been unable to help.
- MacDonald Training Center (Brian Harris, Akerman): The Center immerses people with developmental disabilities in the community rather than isolating them from it.
- Mary Lee’s House (Tiffany Morgan, U.S. Air Force): Collaboration by five different agencies creates a supportive and loving environment to give abused children their childhood back through hope and love.
- Metropolitan Ministries (Kim Williams, Frameworks of Tampa Bay): Metropolitan Ministries has an outstanding success rate of instilling self-sufficiency.
- New Beginnings (Maggie Fowler, Peak 10): By demanding accountability from participants, New Beginnings is helping those who want to be helped: helping up, not handing out.
- Positive Spin (Time Ford, Hill Ward Henderson): A small organization that is thoughtful and strategic in the way it provides services, using metrics to measure progress and empowering families to create their own plans for bringing themselves out of crisis and into a place of strength.
- Team Red, White & Blue (Patrick Sharpton, Sharp 10 Group): We can support veterans by doing something active with them rather than for them.
- YMCA Reads! At Sulphur Springs Elementary (Andrew Warren, U.S. Government): There are many children who lack not only books in their homes but also someone to read to them.
All people want to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what their situation. Non-profits must keep that in the forefront of their mission in working with people in need to empower self-sufficiency. They don’t need just a handout, but need a hand up. – Kimberley Williams, Frameworks of Tampa Bay
As we concluded, the gravity of the day was palpable. Class members were tired but inspired, daunted but hopeful. The activities were fast and fleeting, but their impact would endure. An eight-year-old student struggling to count to 20. A working mother unable to put food on her children’s table. Tiny handprints of abused and neglected children.
The day freed us from our bubble. We drove through parts of town that we had never seen. We met people who we never would have known. And we experienced problems that we knew existed in concept but had never touched in reality. As class members lingered in the parking lot and moved on to The Bricks in Ybor for a drink, we continued to discuss, share, and learn. The ease with which Brian Yarborough (Skanska USA Building) sprang for $3 cans of Pabst tall-boys reminded us of how lucky we are. With luck comes obligation. As a class, we realized we owe a debt to the unlucky in our community. As a class, we decided to decide.