By Brenden Chiaramonte, Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office
It was a typical September morning in Tampa Bay. The sun had not yet crested over the horizon, it was 81 degrees out, but with the humidity it felt more like a sauna. Members of Leadership Tampa’s class of 2017 – undeniably the Best Class Ever – were coming together for the first of many adventures in our community. Fresh from the opening retreat, and a moving experience with Dr. Rick Weinberg, the class was ready for whatever it was that would await us throughout the day. Dr. Weinberg showed us the importance of considering the circumstances of one’s life and how it can and will impact the outcome.
If you’re in Leadership Tampa, it’s likely you have experience working with non-profits organizations that strive to make a difference for some of our most vulnerable residents. Community Outreach Day is a call to action. It is about finding your passion and working hard to make a difference for those struggling with circumstances that have impacted their lives.
We gathered the class at the Children’s Board in Ybor City for opening remarks. The class knew they would likely be divided up and scattered throughout the area to engage with some of the non-profits. We had no idea what organizations we would be visiting or who would be on our team. Amanda Uliano and Axah McCalla worked with Lance Lansrud to plan out our day. The Tampa Bay Rays were the sponsor and Josh Bullock, LT ’12, had the opportunity to “tell the story of the team” and their focus on the community. Josh talked about the Rays’ mission to energize the community through Rays’ baseball. Every employee of the Rays’ organization is given one paid day off each month to volunteer in the community. That is the kind of culture they have worked hard to build – they’ve empowered their employees to go out and make a difference and to be a positive influence. Through programs like Reading with the Rays’, partnerships with YMCA’s teaching children how to swim, and providing over 10,000 hats and jerseys to Little League Baseball organizations, the Rays’ have made a lasting contribution to our community.
At this point in the morning it was time to head out on the smaller group adventures. My group was the first one called and we quickly grabbed our packet and were out the door. We went straight for the MacDonald Training Center (MTC) on Cypress Blvd. The organization focuses on empowering people with disabilities to lead the lives they choose. They accomplish this through a series of services including job and technical skill training, life skills, community skills, and transportation services. While waiting to meet with our tour guide, we had time to visit their onsite fine art gallery with works produced by members of the MTC family. All of the artwork is available for purchase at the center. The skill level demonstrated by these artists is on par with works you will find in any fine art gallery across the country. Our team would highly recommend you stop by and find a new piece for your home or office.
Did you know that every Sunpass sold in the state of Florida is packaged at MTC? On our tour we were able to see first-hand the packaging process, along with their electronics recycling business, and the space they have set aside to label all the garments sold by Cigar City Brewing. This facility provides the developmentally disabled opportunities that they would never have on their own. It is truly inspiring to have spent the morning with their staff. Their passion, respect, and dedication to their clients was obvious in every aspect of the business. Before we departed from MTC, we were part of a mock job interview process for the MTC clients. The mock interviews are used as part of the advanced job skills training the clients go through to prepare them for a real interview with a potential employer.
J. Clifford MacDonald’s commitment to developmentally disabled citizens is alive and well over 60 years after he founded the organization. One would be remiss to discuss Mr. MacDonald’s contributions to the community without mentioning that he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by John F. Kennedy in 1963. Sadly, both President Kennedy and J. Clifford MacDonald passed away before the award ceremony but Mr. MacDonald’s wife was there to accept the award from President Johnson during a ceremony late in 1963.
Upon leaving MTC, our orders directed us to head over to Metropolitan Ministries for a panel discussion, and lunch feast of Inside the Box Cafe. If you have yet to eat at Inside the Box, stop reading this article and go straight to one of the two locations in Tampa. There’s one on Westshore Blvd., and the other is located in Downtown Tampa. Not only do they serve excellent food, they are a social enterprise (Google it) that helps Metropolitan Ministries fund their operations. The cost of your meal goes “directly back to feeding a hungry and hurting Tampa Bay Neighbor.” Metropolitan Ministries was awarded an Innovative Business Plan Grant in 2010 for $25,000 to start Inside the Box Cafe. It has more than paid for itself over the years.
After lunch Jane Castor (LT’00) moderated a panel discussion that included Metropolitan Ministries President & CEO Tim Marks, Non-Profit Leadership Center CEO Emily Benham; Tampa Police Captain Yvette Flynn, and Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Director of Operations Buddy Davis. They shared some great lessons on how to truly engage with the needs in our community. We have to be champions for a cause. One of the panelists made this bold statement: “Don’t just buy a $50 ticket to an event, show up and have a few cocktails, and feel good about yourself. Do something more.” Events are great but look to other ways to be involved with the goal of leaving a lasting impact.
Speaking of deepening roots and relationships, Captain Yvette Flynn spoke of TPD’s efforts to reduce and solve crimes in unique ways – to engage the community to bring about real change. The RICH House in Sulphur Springs, is one of the ways TPD has collaborated with the community to enhance the lives in one of our most financially disadvantaged areas. Members of the LT ’17 Class visited the RICH House during the morning portion of the day to see first-hand the impact this organization has on the community. The house is administered by TPD and serves as a resource for children and their families in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood.
If you aren’t familiar with the role the Children’s Board plays in the community, it’s time for a quick lesson. A portion of ad-valorem (of value) property taxes are collected to fund the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. In turn, they take that money and invest in programs to promote the well-being of children and families in our community. They provide funds to organizations such as Alpha House of Tampa, Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay, Inc., YMCA, and The Spring of Tampa Bay just to name a few. Not all of these organizations receive the same funding amount. Funds are directed to specific programs within these organizations to benefit the children and their families.
After lunch, the class was again divided up into smaller groups for an afternoon adventure. My team was chosen to visit The Spring of Tampa Bay. The other groups would head out to learn about Drug Treatment, Food Deserts, Human Trafficking, Transgender Issues, and Foreign Refugees coming to America.
If you’ve ever been to The Spring of Tampa Bay you already know why they are very secretive about their location. In addition to the confidentiality agreement, location services had to be disabled on our phones and electronic devices. It became clear, after spending a few hours with CEO Mindy Murphy, that the security measures were more than necessary to protect the survivors – a term for the victims of abuse – that were seeking assistance at The Spring. They have a 128 bed emergency facility, 46 transitional housing options, along with an outreach location that serves survivors without them living onsite. With a Kindergarten through 5th grade accredited school onsite, the Spring is truly a safe haven for a family disrupted by abuse.
The debrief was held back at the Children’s Board in Ybor City. This was going to be a time for each team to share their experiences from the afternoon’s activities. Some of the discussions were more lively and passionate than others, but the take away is that everyone left the room with a better understanding of some of the real issues being tackled on a daily basis in our community. Though many of us are very involved in the community, we all left Community Outreach Day passionate about some aspect of the day. The chatter at our “debrief after the debrief” – you know what I mean – was lively to say the least.
This article was written solely from one person’s perspective of the day. It would have been great to bring all the non-profit stories to the reader but logistically it wasn’t possible. If you run into an LT ’17 class member, ask them about their experiences during Community Outreach Day. One thing is for sure, they’ll have a great story to tell you!