Passing the torch: The Springtime Club receives award

CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Community Golfers hosted its 12th Annual Community Pre-Thanksgiving dinner in the North Clearwater at the home of O’Neal Larkin Sun., Nov. 23.  Over 500 families attended the annual celebration and partook in the meal that O’Neal credits to a host of the sponsors, volunteers and community leaders that support this event every year.

Senator Jack Latvala, U.S. Representatives David Jolly and Chris Latvala, Mayor George Cretekos, and City Manager Bill Horne were among the dignitaries in attendance. During the community event Clearwater’s Police Chief Daniel Slaughter presented The Springtime Club with The Community Golfers Cherry Harris NAACP Service Award in recognition of its crime prevention programs and community service initiatives.

The Springtime Club is best known for its anti-crime program aimed at reducing the impact of crime in the community. It works with homicide victim survivors, the families of cold cases, promotes victims’ rights and provides victim education and outreach.

Springtime Club Award, Political OfficialsIn addition to the club’s desire and commitment to improve the safety of our community, the organization also stays very visible in the community by participating in local events such as Paint Your Heart out Clearwater, planting community gardens, partnering with other local organizations such as the NAACP Community Coalition and donating supplies to teachers and prizes to senior bingo.

During the dinner and celebration each year, Larkin and the Community Golfers recognizes and honors individuals and organizations such as The Springtime Club for their service and contributions in the community. Larkin spent a couple of years observing the club’s involvement in the North Clearwater area.

He became more acquainted with the club after he recruited their help to plant a community garden for the students of Calvin A. Hunsinger School and attended the Club’s National Day of Remembrance for Murdered Victims. A program they host annually to honor homicide victims and the families of cold cases.

Cherry Harris, a lifelong member of the NAACP, fought to make Clearwater a better place for everyone; after she passed away the City of Clearwater renamed Marshall Park the Cherry Harris Park in her honor.

The Cherry Harris Community Service Award was an honor that added special meaning to the club’s founder, Yolanda Cowart, who had a personal relationship with the awards namesake and held her in high esteem with warm regards.

Harris was a local civil rights leader and an influential figure in Cowart’s community. She recalled Harris passion for her community and her work to protect individuals and groups from political repression and discrimination to ensure the ability of all members of society to participate fully in the social, civil and political forums of our society.

“As a member of the NAACP Youth Council, I often heard the organization’s leaders use the phrase ‘pass the torch’ to a new generation and I know that Mrs. Harris took on that responsibility faithfully,” said Cowart. “I was so honored when I learned that Mr. Larkin would be recognizing us with this award, because I admired and adored her. I can say with all sincerity that she helped fashioned my choices, fuel my passion, and shaped my dedication to our community as a youth.”

Community service validates a longstanding philosophy in Cowart’s family. A fourth generation civil rights activist, she recalls several conversions about social responsibility and civic duty with Harris while growing into a young adult as member of the NACCP youth Council.

Some of the most memorable conversations are from the hours she spent sitting near Harris on the NAACP annual bus trip to Mims, Fla., to honor Harry and Harriet T. Moore. The Moores were murdered for their involvement in the civil rights movement when a bomb exploded under their home on Christmas night in 1951.

Leon W. Russell, a Lifetime NAACP member and the current Vice Chairman of the NAACP National Board, has also mentored Cowart and watched her rise in the ranks of public service. He recalls her elevating in the civil rights arena in 1997 when she was hired as the Managing Diversity/Affirmative Action Specialist for the City of Fort Lauderdale.

He shared that Cowart was chosen for the position after a very competitive national search and selection process, which included an initial interview that included one-on-one meetings with key officials and a public presentation to several community stakeholders and leaders.

“Yolanda impressed hiring authorities early on with her skills and abilities” said Russell. “From the beginning of her appointment, she began to shape the city’s managing diversity initiatives and redefine its expectations of equal opportunity programs. Much in the way that she is challenging our community to redefine its role in addressing the crime in our community and protecting the rights of victims and victim survivors.”

In 2013, during National Women’s History Month, The Weekly Challenger featured Cowart, in its exposé on local unsung heroes. The story that represented the Community’s “Movers and Shakers” depicted her as “The Unsung Activist and Advocate” and showcased her passion for serving our community and helping others.

Cowart believes that her parents embed civic engagement into her daily routine by fusing culture and community into her everyday life experiences. She also attributes those service-learning occurrences to exposing her to great minds that allowed her to develop meaningful relationships with public figures like Russell and mentors such as Harris.

She says that she hopes Harris was looking down from heaven and was pleased with The Springtime Club being bestowed and award named after her. Cowart desires to complete Harris’ legacy by igniting a fire in another youth and passing the torch to the community’s next generation of emerging leaders.

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