TAMPA – Every metropolitan area wants to be associated with recognizing the good works of caring people. The Tampa Bay area certainly fit that description thanks to the second annual National FAM Awards.
This Academy Awards for kindness was staged by For the Family, Inc. to honor the Parent, Son/ Daughter, Sister/Brother and Family Volunteer of the Year. The awards ceremony took place at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in Tampa.
Administrator W. Ward Cox said it’s time we remembered that our community is built on the fact that we’re all in this together: “This world has a lot more good than evil. So much of what we see, hear, and read is about people behaving badly, but that doesn’t define who we really are.”
More than 30 people were nominated from as far away as Michigan. While their kindness was just as diverse, the Family Volunteer of the Year candidates were especially noteworthy.
Family Flame Award winner Marcia Minutello and her husband raised nine foster children in New York (some with special needs), before opening a photography business in Florida. They then adopted three other special needs children. For the past several years, she has implemented a service that helps strengthen the bond between adoptive parents and their children by giving a set of free professional photos to these families.
However, that is only one aspect of what made Minutello the Family Volunteer of the Year. She helped present a strategic plan for improving services for adoptive families to former Governor Lawton Chiles as a charter member of the Family Council.
She is also a co-founder of the Night of 1000 Stars, which centers on a special dinner and dance for people with disabilities. In addition, Marcia is an outspoken advocate for increasing assistance to children with handicaps that result from being born to mothers addicted to drugs and serves on the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council.
She contrasts the challenges of being a foster parent in Florida compared to New York: “Here, you have to fight for services that people in New York receive without question. Their dedication is even more amazing under the circumstances.”
William Hazellief of the Thomas “Jet” Jackson Recreation Center was selected as the second prize winner, in part because of his commitment to helping youths who could really use a break in south St. Pete.
He earned a framed FAM certificate along with a $50 gift card. His dedication goes far beyond the scope of his job, for he has been involved in various youth development programs for well over a decade, and his passion is to encourage good grades, school attendance and other life-changing actions.
Hazellief also secures donations from the community to help the homeless. He and his wife were on hand at the ceremony said, “I never expected to be honored for what I love to do.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Hogsdon of St. Petersburg earned honorable mention in the same category for volunteering to help The Kind Mouse in its efforts to ease the burden of vulnerable families. A teenager who presides over the agency’s Mice Interns, she has helped feed more than 55,000 people since joining the organization. Executive Director Gina Wilkins praised her ability to mentor fellow interns, as well as her personal growth.
Tyron Walker and his wife Michelle exemplify dedication of a different sort. They took in Crystal Vallery after her father died when she was 14. She had nowhere else to turn because group homes do not normally accept human trafficking survivors. More than 900 trafficking victims and foster children have been helped since that first intervention. The couple now operates four group homes that currently serve nearly two dozen youth.
He was chosen as Parent of The Year after Crystal and Godlynn Profitt (another girl helped by the Walkers) submitted a one-minute nomination video. As a result, he earned the Family Flame Award and a $100 gift card but had no idea what was about to happen: “I thought we were just going shopping.”
The giving spirit of Quinton Roles earned him Brother of the Year honors. Quinton stepped up heroically in the wake of his sister’s death at age 26 from Type 1 diabetes. She left behind a two-year-old son that Quinton adopted as a single father. Otherwise, Calvin would have ended up in foster care with all the uncertainties that go with it.
Roles humbly accepted the Family Flame Award by saying: “There’s no question about what to do when it comes to family,” Calvin then grabbed the microphone and entertained as only a two year old can.
Jayden Preston has dealt with many more health problems than a child of nine deserves. After overcoming childhood diabetes, he was diagnosed with an even more serious kidney condition called Nephodic Syndrome. He then was hospitalized with a large blood clot in his heart.
Felicia Bevel is his mother and has risen to the challenge in her own right.
“Jayden never cried or complained,” said Bevel, who informed that he’s now back in school after a two year absence.
After receiving his Family Flame Award, Jayden shyly said that “I’m really excited to be back with my friends.”
One heartwarming fact is that the actions of each nominee warranted a Family Flame Award. For instance, Larry and Cathy Coker adopted their grandchildren when their daughter died with little warning. The Cokers especially impressed case manager Daphne Choute of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services by their ability to focus on what their grandchildren needed even as they grieved.
In addition to having adopted three children along with her husband Fred, Lisa Jimenez regularly takes care of other adopted children so that their parents can get a much-deserved break. Her experience is also tremendously beneficial in guiding adoptive parents past their specific challenges.
She serves as both a mentor and tutor to students and is actively involved in PTA. In addition, Jimenez volunteers in a wide assortment of special events at the Sylvia Thomas Center as serves as Board Treasurer for the agency.
Chris Dingle takes time off from work to run errands for two disabled cousins while also taking them to doctor’s appointments and helping them with housework. She also travels to South Carolina to assist her disabled aunt.
While many wonderful people were nominated to receive a National FAM Award, Tiana Jackson’s example is particularly inspiring. The Full Service Center (FSC) at Just Elementary School provided both resources and emotional support to help make it possible for her to graduate from Jefferson High School.
Jackson has effectively channeled her gratitude to benefit several FSC endeavors, but most notably has taken the initiative in obtaining essential items so that the center’s Basic Needs Boutique can assist families through their own challenges.
It’s not too early to nominate someone to be honored at the third annual National FAM Awards. Just send your one-minute cell phone video to ForTheFamilyTampa@gmail.com. All nominees will be eligible to win the Family Flame Award and a $100 Gift Card.
“The biggest winners will be those who gain from the kindness that keeps us on track. It’s way more powerful than the evil that some people want to shove down our throats,” said Cox.
Please visit www.StrongerCommunity.com to learn how For The Family mentors parents to find their own solutions when times get tough and enables people who are suffering in silence to speak up and be heard.