We live in a remarkably philanthropic region. We knew that, but we were still surprised by the avalanche of nominations—255 in all—that we received when we launched our first ever Greater Goods Awards this summer. Our judges were both impressed and inspired by the many ways that business contributes to our community—thousands of volunteer hours, millions of donated dollars, and immeasurable talent, energy and love. On these pages, you’ll meet the winners—and finalists—in 11 different categories. They represent a variety of companies and industries, but they share some common convictions. They believe they have an obligation to help the community that helped them succeed; and they not only believe this—they embrace it. And they also believe that the more they give, the more they prosper.
Philanthropy, it turns out, not only enriches the soul, it also boosts employee morale, productivity and the bottom line.
Congratulations to all our winners and finalists, and thanks to our judges, who included nonprofit consultant Sophia LaRusso and Wells Fargo business banking manager Kevin Stencik, as well as editors Ilene Denton and Susan Burns.
KIM BLEACH, U.S. TRUST, BANK OF AMERICA
Vivacious and persuasive, Kim Bleach, a wealth manager at U.S. Trust, Bank of America, stepped forward three years ago to champion equal rights for the LGBT community. As an Asolo Repertory Theatre board member she took charge of OUT, the Asolo Rep’s subscription series for the LGBT community and their friends. Bleach secured U.S. Trust’s sponsorship and grew this small program into a large, successful series for the theater and the Sarasota-Manatee community.
“My focus on the local LGBT community began when a family member came out later in life,” she says. “I wanted to show my support and to help make change happen.”
Bleach also serves on the advisory board of Equality Means Business for the state of Florida and encouraged U.S. Trust to join this coalition of businesses, which supports LGBT inclusion programs. Her passionate chairmanship and countless hours of volunteer time of the Sarasota Equality Florida annual celebration last year brought in new energy and new donors, and she’s planning for the same success this year.
“I’ve always been involved,” she says. “My natural optimism comes from deep inside, and my company gives me the ability to practice my passions, believing we are better when we’re connected.” —Susan Burns
ELISA GRABER, IBERIA BANK
STEPHEN FANCHER, BART LOWTHER, and BRIAN MARIASH, MARIASH LOWTHER WEALTH MANAGEMENT MERRILL LYNCH
Marking his 40th year with the law firm of Williams Parker, land use and local government attorney Dan Bailey serves with humility and good humor as a champion of the community he’s called home since 1957. Bailey has been president of more than a half-dozen local civic organizations, including Tiger Bay, the Sarasota County Bar Association, Red Cross, Civic League, Kiwanis and United Way (where he followed in the footsteps of his father, a prominent local banker).
“My father taught me that if there’s a need for something to be done, be willing to do it,” he says.
Bailey helped form the Sarasota Military Academy and the Education Foundation; and he and a small group of civic leaders developed the “Pledge of Public Conduct”—which gained national media attention and is still used today by local governments—that led to the formation of SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence).
He counts serving on the Selby Foundation board for 12 years and granting several million dollars a year to worthy nonprofits as a highlight of his civic service. It should be noted most of these grants were for capital projects—literally building our community. – Ilene Denton
BENJAMIN HANAN, SHUMAKER LOOP & KENDRICK LLP
ROBERT ROBINSON, KIRK-PINKERTON P.A.
As a young man putting himself through the University of Florida, David Sessions worked four different jobs, and relied on financial aid for the difference. Now president and CEO of Willis A. Smith Construction, Sessions has returned the favor for Ringling College of Art and Design students. In 1998, his firm created the Willis Smith Scholarship endowment, which has given more than $500,000 for scholarships and capital projects. In all, Willis Smith has donated $636,000 to Ringling. This figure does not include the volunteer hours the company and Sessions have invested.
Sessions has also contributed to more than 25 other regional nonprofits, whether through board service, volunteering or writing checks.
Committed to sustainability, Session built the company’s new headquarters in 2008 as an experiment in energy efficiency, and Willis Smith donated 126 photovoltaic panels, worth $115,000 to Mote Marine Laboratory; they’ll save on Mote’s power costs for the next 20 years. In July, the Keating Center at Ringling College also received its own set of the panels at an estimated cost of $100,000.
“Any successful business has a social responsibility to the nonprofits around them,” Sessions says. –Anu Varma Panchal
JACK COX, HALFACRE CONSTRUCTION
JON SWIF, JON SWIFT INC.
RITA B. SMITH, COLDWELL BANKER
Rita B. Smith credits her Christian upbringing—her mother taught Sunday school and founded Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, and her father was a Baptist minister—with inspiring her devotion to helping others.
Today, when Smith isn’t showing homes (she’s a Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate realtor with a soft spot for first-time homebuyers), she’s serving on three nonprofit boards and doing hands-on volunteer work, too—including stuffing 30,000 bags of food for the needy of Manatee County with Bradenton’s Kiwanis and 50,000 bags with the Florida Association of Realtors Leadership Academy (yes, that’s 80,000 bags in all!).
Through the Florida Association of Realtors Leadership Committee, Smith became active in Lifelink, an organ and tissue donation organization, and was named Rookie of the Year. She also received the Community Service Award from the Manatee Association of Realtors.
And she continues to support her mother’s Mount Carmel Resource Center, which serves growing numbers of the hungry and needy. Her sister is executive director, and Smith makes time to pitch in. “[Helping others] is our mission on earth, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to do that,” she says. –Anu Varma Panchal
TOM AND CHARLOTTE HEDGE, PREMIER SOTHEBY’S INTERNATIONAL REALTY
PAT NEAL, NEAL COMMUNITIES
AL PURMORT JR., AL PURMORT INSURANCE
Al Purmort Jr., president of Al Purmort Insurance Agency, is so serious about community giving that he has an employee whose major function is organizing the company’s nonprofit support. “She’ll announce that we’re donating to an organization which would like 25 hours of volunteer time in the next three months. We give paid time off to our employees to volunteer,” Purmort says.
The insurance agency, with a staff of 25, has donated nearly $100,000 to about 100 area nonprofits over the past three years, while also donating hundreds of volunteer hours and underwriting services to 60 community nonprofits.
The “all in” philosophy dates back to Purmort’s father, Al Purmort, who headed up the agency for decades, and his mother, whose nonprofit board service and volunteerism inspired her husband to underwrite many local charities. The younger Purmort took up the mantle.
“Management has to push this,” he says—and it’s also good for the bottom line. “When we invest in a client’s interests, the next time he goes looking for insurance [our support] will be a factor. In a community-based business, those things matter,” he says. –Anu Varma Panchal
STEVE HALL, ALLTRUST INSURANCE
TARA WILLIAMS, BB&T INSURANCE SERVICES
DR. DAVID SHOEMAKER, CENTER FOR SIGHT
[caption id="attachment_9646" align="alignnone" width="488"]
[Photo courtesy of Dr. Shoemaker's office][/caption]Over the past two decades, Dr. David Shoemaker, the founder of Center for Sight, has given hundreds of people suffering from cataracts the ability to see clearly again. “If you’re fortunate enough to be successful, that carries with it the responsibility to give something back,” he says. “You can’t solve everything, but you do what you can.”
Shoemaker launched Mission Cataract to help area residents who can no longer see because of cataracts and lack the income or insurance for the procedure. Funds from the Center for Sight Foundation (a donor-advised fund of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation) help defray expenses, and all Center for Sight surgeons who participate donate their time and skills to Mission Cataract. Since its inception, the program has performed 700 surgeries in Sarasota, although prospective patients apply from all around the United States.
Those surgeries are valued at $2.8 million, but Shoemaker—who likes to describe the moment when a man whose cataracts had completely destroyed his vision opened his eyes after surgery and saw his partner for the first time—says giving the gift of sight is priceless. –Anu Varma Panchal
SAMANTHA HOBBS, CANADA MED SERVICES/DISCOUNT PRESCRIPTION SERVICES
MICHAEL JUCEAM, RIGHT AT HOME
SALLY SCHULE, SAKS FIFTH AVENUE
Friends and colleagues affectionately—and appropriately—call Saks Fifth Avenue marketing manager Sally Schule “Sallysota.” Since Saks opened here in 1996, Schule has guided its support of more than 50 local organizations and overseen 175-plus in-store events, including Saks’ signature Key to the Cure celebration supporting breast cancer research. For 10 years this event has benefited Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation. Last year, it hit the million-dollar donation mark.
Schule—who’s always impeccably dressed, with a megawatt smile—says her people skills help make her events successful. “I have a talent for positioning people with the right cause,” she says. “You’re successful when you surround yourself with great people; I think I help charities do that.” Her legendary organizational skills and energy probably also play a role.
And she says that while Saks Fifth Avenue is philanthropic in all its markets, Sarasota has something special. “There’s such a hot event circuit and people want to give and help others,” she says. “And you really can teach people how to help others—and that’s a rewarding experience.” –Megan McDonald
MOLLY AND DAVID JACKSON, NEW BALANCE SARASOTA
JESSE WHITE, SARASOTA ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE
MIKE QUILLEN AND MIKE GOWAN, GECKO’S HOSPITALITY GROUP
Mike Quillen and Mike Gowan have been providing hospitality and goodwill services in Sarasota and Manatee through Gecko’s Charitable Giving Program since their first restaurant opened in 1992. They’ve supported Sarasota 4-H, the YMCA Youth Shelter, Share Our Strength’s No Kids Hungry campaign, the veterans of Operation Second Chance and area schools.
Last year, Gecko’s received the Barry Jones Business Partner Empowerment Award from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and Manatee School Board for its free meal cards, encouraging students' good grades and attendance. Gecko’s employees often wear T-shirts that say, "Help one person at a time and always start with the person next to you.” And just this year, Quillen helped to found and is chair of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit that provides funds for SCSO employees facing personal catastrophe.
“These people put on a bulletproof vest every day, “ says Quillen, who adds that he and Gowan feel a debt of gratitude and responsibility to the officers and community that have supported Gecko’s restaurants for 24 years. “The better we do, the more we can do. We seldom say no,” he says. —Chelsey Lucas
ED CHILES, CHILES RESTAURANT GROUP
JOHN HORNE, ANNA MARIA OYSTER BAR
Angela Massaro-Fain remembers the day she committed Grapevine Communications, the marketing firm she owns with husband John Fain, to corporate giving on a large scale. After listening to grant recipients speak at the Florida Winefest & Auction in 2002, she was moved to tears by the immense need welling under the surface of such an affluent community.
Since then, Grapevine Communications has given $1.7 million to more than 70 area nonprofits, serving on their boards or volunteering time, expertise and services. For the 2014 Modern Pentathlon, Grapevine Inc. ended up donating more than 700 hours over six months at a value of $95,000.
While they started with a focus on children’s charities, today Grapevine chooses projects with potential to impact entire families and future generations. This year, the company formally supports eight groups, but Massaro-Fain admits she can’t resist creating the occasional ad for a nonprofit supported by a client (or founding a giving circle, the Sisterhood for Good, or the Massaro Kozak Art Scholarship Fund at the Out-of-Door Academy).
“If we can do something, we should do it,” she says. “It’s a part of our commitment to being in such a great community.” —Anu Varma Panchal
EUPHEMIA HAYE RESTAURANT
MAULDIN & JENKINS LLC
MICHAEL’S ON EAST AND MICHAEL’S WINE CELLAR
Michael Klauber and Phil Mancini have been at the center of Sarasota’s culinary, hospitality and nonprofit scene since they opened Michael’s On East in 1987. (The two also own Michael’s Wine Cellar and Michael’s Events and Catering.) Giving back “has always been the heart of our operation,” says Klauber. “There's something contagious about working with the philanthropic leaders and supporters in our community. The shared desire to help make great things happen creates a momentum for good.”
About 500 nonprofits have benefited from more than $1 million in donations, time, energy and services from Michael’s On East since it opened. During the financial crisis, the duo decided to take home less money so they could support the agencies that had come to rely on their generosity. Klauber—who also helps raise funds for many causes as a high-energy volunteer auctioneer at black-tie galas—is also spearheading Bayfront 20:20, a community initiative to create a world-class destination on 75 acres of downtown Sarasota bayfront.
“We’re all part of the same family,” says Mancini. “Every year, we ask our accountant: ‘Are we OK?’ If we’re OK, we just keep on doing things the same way.” –Anu Varma Panchal
NUOVO SALON GROUP
N & M COOL TODAY
FCCI INSURANCE GROUP
Every new hire at Lakewood Ranch-based FCCI Insurance Group gets a welcome card with the message, “FCCI takes great pride in giving back to the community.” That is not empty corporate rhetoric. Each one of its 730 employees in 18 states receives four paid hours to give to the nonprofit of their choice. In 2014, employees donated 2,000 hours (almost $80,000 in employee-related time).
The HR department provides plenty of suggestions in case an employee isn’t sure about which causes to support and arranges opportunities such as food-sorting days for a local pantry. Twice a year the company recognizes FCCI Heroes in a ceremony that leaves many employees in tears. The company has been a major sponsor of United Way, Habitat for Humanity, All Faiths Food Bank, Children First, Step Up for Students, Suncoast Charities for Children and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
CEO Craig Johnson, who was inspired by the company’s values when he was hired in 2003, says FCCI’s community involvement helps retain employees. “They feel committed to a purpose other than profitability,” he says. “I tell other CEOs, ‘Don’t look at this as an expense. It’s an investment.’”—Susan Burns