Two young brothers make reading fun.
At the beginning of a Project Read Together session, some 50 young children shift in their seats in nervous anticipation. Then Aiden Hartman, 10, and his 12-year-old brother, Jacob, step to the front. Music starts, and the two boys exchange a few minutes of fun dialogue to introduce the day’s project. They’re good at it, and they should be—the brothers do this once a week, and they’ve been doing it for more than four years.
The students break into groups and begin sounding out words and working through the stories together. Aiden and Jacob, as Project Read Together’s most experienced student volunteers, each join a group to help. After 30 minutes, each group reads aloud its part of the story.
The boys also help gather books for the organization’s three free “little libraries” in Newtown, Phillippi Estate Park and Lemon Bay Park. But they say they most enjoy working with the kids. Says Aiden, who’s going into the fourth grade, “My favorite part is when we stand up in front of the kids. It helps them learn.”
Ensuring no cat is left uncuddled.
A retired Rhode Island salon owner, Fran Keough, 74, began volunteering at the Suncoast Humane Society in 2010, cleaning litter boxes, doing laundry and organizing paperwork. But she couldn’t stop there. To streamline adoptions and pair the right cat with the right home, Keough developed her own color-coded system to classify cats by age, medical history and personality. Another system she implemented ensures that, even through rotating shifts of staff and volunteers, no cat is left uncuddled. “The shy cats need the most attention,” she says.
After foot surgery, Keough showed up at the shelter in a wheelchair. The cats make her smile, she says, but the staff makes her feel like she’s part of the family.
At home, Keough sews a fleece blanket for every cat awaiting adoption. And when clients requested the blankets for pets at home, she made more to sell, donating the proceeds back to the humane society. “Any little way to help them support the animals,” she says. “It’s not what I give to them; it’s what they give to me.”
Planting an outdoor classroom.
Effa Beauette retired three years ago from a 37-year teaching career at Riverview High School, but she couldn’t say goodbye. Now Beauette has channeled her passion for Riverview and its students into creating the Eagle Native Plant Trail and shoreline restoration project along the school’s western border with Phillippi Creek.
Corralling student helpers, Beauette wrote the grants and solicited the $41,000 in donations from 40-plus partners that have funded the ambitious project. With student help, she planted the trail’s 2,500 plants in five different ecosystems that have become an outdoor classroom for students of all ages from all over Sarasota County. She even spent hours this summer watering and weeding alongside a group of special needs students.
The native plant trail, along with Riverview’s existing planetarium and Aquadome (an aquaculture greenhouse), enables Riverview to proudly call itself a Space, Earth and Sea Interactive Demonstration School—perhaps the first in the nation—“for which we hope the school is remembered,” Beauette says.
For her efforts, Beauette was named the school district’s 2016 Outstanding Senior Volunteer.
Backstage for the arts.
Betty and Bert Morris eschew the spotlight, but their 15-year dedication to the Sarasota arts scene has helped ensure that the show goes on throughout Southwest Florida.
The couple came to Sarasota from San Francisco in 2001 and quickly became involved in events like the Reading Festival and Arts Day. They’ve been a vital force behind the scenes of countless literary and arts events, organizing hundreds of volunteers, setting up tents and tables, and doing whatever else is needed. Betty is the organizer, while “Bert is logistics,” she says. “I come up with crazy ideas and he tries to do them.”
Lately, the two have been hard at work on the second annual InspireSarasota! event, a two-week, multi-venue celebration of local arts culminating in a day of performances on Nov. 5.
In their spare time, Betty and Bert volunteer as ushers for virtually every performing arts group in town. And they encourage a new generation to get involved. “You have to start somewhere,” says Bert of first-time volunteers. “Then they get the bug.”
Finding friends for the mentally ill.
You may have seen Ann Hartka sitting behind a pamphlet-laden table at Publix, or heard her cheerful spiel in your doctor’s office. At 98, Hartka is not just the co-founder of Compeer Sarasota; she’s also its leading volunteer recruiter.
For more than 70 years, Compeer offices throughout the country have paired volunteer companions with adults living with mental illness. Hartka, who moved to Sarasota in 1957 to operate the Miramar Hotel with her husband, helped initiate the local Compeer chapter in 2011. She was inspired by her cousin, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 17 and benefited from a Philadelphia-based Compeer program. “They encouraged him in so many ways,” Hartka says. “He graduated college and became a journalist and a public speaker. He’s so grateful.”
Now partnered with Coastal Behavioral Healthcare, Compeer Sarasota serves more than 40 clients. Hartka, who was honored as the 2015 Compeer board member of the year in the United States, assures her recruits, “It’s only an hour a week. But that seems to be enough to start a friendship.”