The Unity Awards 2011

Photography by Barbara Banks By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar and Susan Burns February 1, 2011

Newcomers from all over the globe are infusing our community and economy with fresh energy and perspectives. Their stories are often inspiring, and they are making Sarasota-Manatee a richer, more interesting place to live and work. This month, we’re teaming up with La Guia magazine to honor some of those who are leading the way in integrating diverse people and cultures into our region. Special thanks to our judges: Luis and Martha Baron of TV Net Media Group, Vicente Medina of BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company, and Jeff Maultsby, Sarasota County’s manager of business and economic development.Below is a short video from our Unity Awards on February 24 at Michael's On East; after, you can read all about our 2011 Award Winners.



James McCloud

In the ’90s, James McCloud was a Sarasota paralegal working with an HIV-positive client who required housing. He couldn’t find any place willing to accommodate the man. “I was angry,” McCloud remembers. “Then I thought, ‘This is something I can do.’”

That was the start of Genesis Health Services, Inc., a not-for-profit health clinic founded in 1996 and based in Newtown in Sarasota and staffed almost entirely by volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists and administrative assistants who have been recruited by McCloud. Initially a clinic for HIV-infected patients who had behavioral or substance abuse issues, Genesis has expanded in the last 16 years to offer care in family and internal medicine, gynecology, cardiology, ortho-pedics and behavioral health services. The dental clinic is in Venice.

Patients, most at the poverty level or a little above, are charged on a sliding scale based on income and family size. Patient visits now number 6,000 a year, and McCloud, 57, says the economy has created a whole new class of patients who used to have jobs and have lost their health insurance. He operates the entire nonprofit on a tiny $250,000 annual budget.

“It’s a mission, almost a ministry,” he says. “When women come into our dental clinic missing their two front teeth and we replace them and give them a mirror to show them the results, in every single instance they cry. It changes their lives. Your personal life, your job, depends on those two front teeth.”

Those experiences keep him going. His most pressing issue now is to recruit more doctors—and especially dentists—to his clinic. “That’s my dream—more volunteers,” he says.


Charles Clapsaddle

Charles Clapsaddle, the station manager of METV (Manatee Educational Television), brings his trademark smile, an armful of cables and an overflowing cache of goodwill wherever he sets up his cameras. And for Clapsaddle, that means anywhere there’s an event that has meaning for Manatee County residents—no matter their color, income level or background.

The 61-year-old Clapsaddle started with METV, a nonprofit, commercial-free station based in Manatee, in 2000 after a career as chief of production for the U.S. Army’s audiovisual television in Washington, D.C. He began with a small studio and immediately began to improve METV’s quality and programming. Last year, he moved into a new studio, which employs six people and produces about 30 original programs every month that are carried on Bright House, Comcast and Verizon, focusing on education, community and culture.

From the beginning, Clapsaddle has been dedicated to including the widest audience possible. He covered the challenges the migrant community in DeSoto County faced after Hurricane Charley in 2004, creates content about organizations and events that center around minority groups, and has created several programs in Spanish on METV. Last year, METV’s documentary, Through the Tunnel, which chronicled the experience of a football team at all-black Lincoln Memorial High School in Palmetto in 1969 at the onset of integration, won “Best Historical Documentary” at the DocMiami International Film Festival in Miami.

“Everybody’s story is important, but many of the things we cover are stories of people who don’t have a voice or an opportunity to express themselves,” Clapsaddle says. “We don’t do simple, 30-second sound bites. Our stories are thoughtful; they come from people’s hearts to reach out into the wider community.”



Rosalía Holmlund

Rosalía Holmlund grew up with 10 brothers and sisters in a poor family in Colombia. She somehow managed to study accounting at night; and by the age of 18, she became head of medical records for a complex of nine hospitals based out of her hometown of Cartago.

Nine years later she emigrated to the United States with her 22-month-old son. Holmlund scrubbed floors for 13 years in New Jersey and then in Sarasota and Manatee before opening El Mariachi Loco in south Manatee County. That was in 2000. Today she has two sons and stores in Palmetto and Wimauma, which are housed in buildings she owns.

What initially began with Holmlund selling clothes door to door on credit to migrants has grown to become a one-stop insurance agency, supermarket, car service, cashier, bill paying and remittance service and, most recently, a hair salon for Hispanics from all walks of life. Her Manatee store on 15th Street East is 35,000 square feet. Holmlund estimates she has 50,000 customer visits and cashes 6,000 checks every month. Many of her customers come in every day.

Financially successful by any yardstick, Holmlund, 59, still spends more than 84 hours a week in her stores, assisting every person who walks through the door. She is mother, friend and motivator to her customers. “My value is not my checkbook,” she says. “And this is not just a business; it’s a support,” she says, for newcomers looking for a helping hand.

The bad economy means she works harder than ever now to keep her business growing—“I don’t want to lose what I’ve built,” she says. Her next dream: putting healthcare clinics in her three stores.

“I’ve never thought about making money,” she says. “I just want to do my best and do right. I tell my sons that if you do that, everything will be good for you.”


Czaia and Gallagher

Personal injury and accident attorneys C.J. Czaia and Kevin Gallagher, partners in the Bradenton-based law firm Czaia and Gallagher, are known for their diverse styles. Czaia, who lived all over the world as a child, is the passionate extrovert; Gallagher, the tough, detail-oriented tactician. It’s a partnership that has worked since they formed their firm in 1995. Today Czaia and Gallagher has grown to include another office in Fort Myers and satellite offices in 12 locations around the state with 30 employees.

Much of this growth, says Czaia, is due to the firm’s commitment to community involvement. “We work hard for our clients and then reinvest in the community,” he says. “When you take care of your community, your community takes care of you.”

Czaia, 51, and Gallagher, 42, and their employees have participated in Martin Luther King Jr. day events, Healthy Start, Toys for Tots and have filled a truck with supplies for wounded soldiers. But much of their involvement centers around the Hispanic community. Nearly all of their employees are Spanish-speaking. Czaia, who ran for Congress in 2004 as a Democrat, is outspoken about the need for more Latino judges, teachers, law enforcement agents and elected officials.

Recently, Czaia started, a 501(c)3 that educates Hispanics and other citizens about the need for immigration reform. “This is a nation of all religions and races,” says Czaia. “I believe in this completely.”

Yet Czaia says he’s still a hard-nosed businessman. “We combine good things with business,” he says. “Instead of spending a lot of money on TV ads like other personal injury attorneys, we’d rather give it to the community. We make more money, and we can give back more that way.”




Tropicana Products Inc. has long been one of the region’s largest employers, and the community is proud that one of the nation’s most recognizable orange juices is manufactured here. But Manatee and Sarasota should be just as proud of the company’s commitment to diversity.

A PepsiCo company, Tropicana has six employee resource groups to promote inclusion and ethnic awareness among its 1,300 Bradenton employees, 37 percent of whom are people of color. At employee orientation, every new worker is given the opportunity to join one or more of these groups: Mosaic for African-Americans, Adelante for Hispanics, Pan Asian for Asians, Enable for the disabled, Equal for the transgender, bisexual and gay employees and the Women’s Network for female employees. These groups provide employee support inside the company and provide time and funds for employees to go out into the community to help others.

“It’s a business imperative to attract and retain employees but also to engage them,” says Karen Droz, Tropicana’s HR director. And making people of all races, ethnicities, genders, physical abilities and sexual orientations feel welcome and valued is a smart business decision, she says. When employees feel valued, they do their best work.

Lillian Elliott, director of supply chain quality at Tropicana in Bradenton, has been involved with Pepsico’s diversity program for decades, and is now co-chair of the company’s National Inclusion Council. She belongs to the Women’s Network and Mosaic. In 2010, she helped organize a national Mosaic initiative to get involved with Feed America, when employees all across the company on the same day prepared and served food at food banks. Mosaic members also mentor youth through the 13th Avenue Community Center in Bradenton. Adelante provides coats and school supplies for migrant farm workers, and members of the Women’s Network have focused on breast cancer.

“We all have a need for affiliation, to feel part of something,” Elliott says. “When you come into a large organization, it’s welcoming to have someone reach out to you. I was that young black college student coming into corporate America. Without people helping me, I would not be sitting here. We put our arms around people so they are successful.”


Esperanza Gamboa

Esperanza Gamboa, the coordinator of Manatee Technical Institute’s Farmworker Education Program, has a life made for the movies. Born in Cuba, Gamboa grew up in a family of poor farmworkers. Bright and studious, she won a scholarship to study in Russia. She eventually received a master’s in education in Russia and for a while taught Russian language and literature at a Cuban university. When Russian studies fell out of favor, Gamboa, now 50, went back to school for a degree in journalism.

While working at a newspaper, she met an American journalist working in Cuba, married and had a son. Viewed with suspicion by the Cuban authorities and yearning for life in a free country, she moved with her family in 1993 to Anna Maria Island.

In very little time, she published the first Spanish language newspaper in Sarasota and Manatee counties, El Mensaje Latino (The Latin Message).

Her understanding of the needs in the Hispanic community led her to the Farmworker Education Program. “It’s the lack of communication, information, education, even compassion that the Hispanic community suffers from, and that’s what we provide,” she says.

Gamboa’s support of farmworker families is not her job; it’s her life, say those who work with her at MTI. Her program helps more than 1,000 Hispanics in the region today. She hosts a TV show, Que Onda, on METV; and she’s organized student trips to Tallahassee to meet legislators to discuss farmworker issues, partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000 and 2010 and chaired the Regional Minorities Issues committee for the census.

“There’s nothing better than seeing the success of the people we’ve helped,” says Gamboa. And there’s been another success, just as important, she says. Her son, Isaiah, “has had the chance to grow up and develop in a free country.”

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