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Updated: 06/07/2012 08:00:07AM

United Way honors community leaders

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United Way of Central Florida hosted its Annual Meeting on May 30 at the Polk Theatre. The organization honored a number of individuals and organizations who helped make 2011 a successful year, the organization said.

The evening kicked off with a rousing rendition of “Ribbons in the Sky” by American Idol Season 11 finalist Jeremy Rosado. The Girls Inc. of Lakeland Order My Step Dance Ministry performed along with Rosado. Rosado, a resident of Valrico, also sang “Celebration.”

United Way Board Chairman James Horton, State Farm Insurance, gave the welcome and acknowledged the accomplishments of the volunteers and partners that make the United Way an organization that builds better lives and stronger communities.

Next, Cindy Alexander, 2011 Campaign chairwoman, announced that the
“I’M IN!” campaign had surpassed its $8.7 million goal by raising $8.76 million. Alexander said that this success was made possible by the employees of hundreds of public, private and non-profit sector companies that join one another each year in a unified community-wide United Way Campaign.

Four awards were presented to recognize exemplary corporate citizenship of companies that support the United Way of Central Florida. The Best New Campaign and three Summit Award recipients were selected through an objective analysis of their campaign best practices, measurable results, in-kind, and volunteer support. Through this analysis, the United Way established these awards three years ago and selected the winners.

The Summit Award is given each year to small, medium and large companies that meet objective criteria during their campaign. The small company Summit Award was given to a company with fewer than 100 employees.

Alexander presented the Small Business Campaign of the Year Award to Allen & Company. With 100 percent donor participation and a $510 per capita gift Allen & Company increased its campaign by 14.5 percent in 2011. Ralph Allen, CEO of Allen & Company, accepted the award.

The second Summit Award was presented to an organization with more than 100, but less than 300 employees. SunTrust Bank accepted the award for medium company. The company increased leadership giving from 15 to 29 members, a 93 percent increase. SunTrust participated in Day of Caring, numerous fund raising events and had an 11 percent increase in participation. Bonnie Parker accepted the award.

The third Summit Award went to an organization with more than 300 employees. Watson Clinic was presented with the Summit award for a large company. Watson Clinic has raised more than $100,000 each of the last seven years.

The Best New Campaign was presented to Mid-State Machine & Fabricating. Mid-State Machine & Fabricating completed its campaign with a contribution of $48,856, coming into United Way’s “Top 50” at number 18. Lauren Jones accepted the award.

Next, Alexander introduced incoming 2012 Campaign Chairwoman Dr. Eileen Holden, president of Polk State College and United Way board member. Holden thanked Alexander and recognized her for her work as the 2011 Campaign Chair.

Holden announced that the 2012 Campaign theme would be “Invest Today. Impact Tomorrow.” She then introduced Dr. Sherrie Nickell, Polk County Public Schools superintendent, to discuss the United Way of Central Florida’s new Early Literacy Initiative. This initiative, sponsored by Carol and Barney Barnett, focuses on engaging, training and deploying volunteer tutors to increase the number of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Tutors are asked to volunteer for one hour, one day a week using a curriculum that complements the core competencies students are required to master. Under the supervision of classroom teachers and initiative trainers, volunteers will be asked to provide two 30-minute tutoring sessions each week throughout the school year. For information on volunteering, visit

Next, Rich Shapiro, retired Ledger Media Group executive and United Way 2010 Citizen of the Year recipient, announced Rick Tillis as the 2011 United Way Citizen of the Year. Rick, an employee at Mosaic’s New Wales facility, has served as an employee coordinator, as chairman of his Community Investment Team and chaired the 2011 Day of Caring Committee. He has been a member of the United Way’s Leadership Giving Association for six years and currently serves on the 2012 Campaign Cabinet.

Tillis also serves the community where he lives through his church and community events. He volunteers at the Mulberry Community Service Center by assisting with financial classes.

United Way of Central Florida staff members nominate candidates for Citizen of the Year. Ideal candidates are contributors and volunteers involved in United Way in a primary or leadership role over a continuous period of time. Board members are not eligible. The UWCF staff makes the selection.

John Fitzwater, a retired Ledger Media Group executive and 2010 George W. Jenkins Volunteer of the Year recipient, introduced Ron Clark as the 2011 George W. Jenkins Volunteer of the Year. Clark is the chairman of Clark, Campbell and Lancaster.

He has been in volunteer leadership roles with Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Vision, Lakeland Yacht and Country Club, Rotary, Polk County Legal Aid and Polk Vision.

Clark previously served as both campaign chairman and board chairman for the United Way of Central Florida Campaign. He has also been the recipient of the Jere Annis Award as well as the Virgil Hawkins Award.

To be considered for this award, candidates must be nominated by past recipients. The candidate’s United Way involvement, as well as other community involvement is a major consideration. The winner must serve as a long-term volunteer for UWCF in a leadership role. Employees of United Way supported agencies are not eligible. The past five recipients of the George W. Jenkins United Way Volunteer of the Year award assume the responsibility of choosing the Volunteer of the Year.

Horton introduced the 2011 loaned executives. These 10 individuals worked for three-and-a-half months alongside resource development staff to ensure the success of the campaign. The 2011 loaned executives were: Tom Costello, sponsored by Watson Clinic; Monica Dandridge,CCC Group, Inc.; Tami Cullens, The Mosaic Company; Candy Hamlin, State Farm Insurance; Joel Vogel, CF Industries; Sheila Rewis, sponsored by Winter Haven Hospital; Amber Earnest and Nita Baxter, Publix Super Markets, Inc.; Angela Aulisio, GEICO; and Bill Cook, Jr., ArrMaz Custom Chemicals.

Rosado returned to perform “We Are Family,” followed by United Way President Terry Worthington presenting the Spirit of Central Florida Award, which recognizes an organization that elevates corporate citizenship and community service as a core value of its company mission. The 2011 award was presented to Publix Super Markets. Publix raised “an incredible” $43,428,197 company-wide, including $3.7 million in Polk County, Worthington said.

Publix associates provided 900,000 volunteer services throughout the Southeast. Publix was also recognized on a national level at the United Way Community Leaders Conference in Nashville on May 3. As the third largest contributor to the United Way worldwide, the awards “were more than deserved,” Worthington said. Ed Crenshaw and Todd Jones accepted the award on behalf of Publix.

United Way of Central Florida, with administrative offices in Highland City, has been serving the local community for more than 30 years. For more information, visit the website,