For years, our region has enjoyed a national reputation for individual philanthropy. Our Greater Good Awards were designed to recognize the equally impressive generosity of local businesses and the executives who lead them. Corporate philanthropists know that reaching out to help neighbors in need is not only the right thing to do; it also keeps the quality of life here exceptional, which is key to attracting and retaining employees—and the new residents and customers who fuel growth.
Our judges looked for nominees who show exceptional commitment to their community, develop innovative strategies for giving and achieve significant impact through their philanthropy. Our winners demonstrate all of that. To a person, they tell us that giving is good for their business. But many also say their support is first and foremost a personal value instilled by family and mentors who taught them—as Jaime DiDomenico of CoolToday told us—“When you get the opportunity, do what’s right and give back.”
Photography by Salvatore Brancifort
Thanks to judges Susie Bowie, executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, and Christopher Romine, senior vice president and managing director, Northern Trust. (Editor Susan Burns was also a judge.)
Building and Design Winner
Soon after Tom Shapiro, president of Sterling Manufacturing, moved here in 2002, homebuilder Lee Wetherington introduced him to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota (BGCS), an organization “so positive,” Shapiro says, “you’d have to be dead for it not to be heartwarming.” On any given afternoon, children may be shooting hoops, playing video games, finishing homework or baking cookies.
Shapiro, an Eagle Scout, grew up surrounded by adults who “imbued values and skills that have been useful throughout my life,” he says. Recognizing that not all kids start out so lucky, Shapiro has become a rainmaker for BGCS.
Shapiro, who runs one of Florida’s largest countertop fabricators, says his father taught him that a good business gives back. To that end, Shapiro has chaired the BGCS board for two terms and, along with his wife, Debbie, twice spearheaded the annual Dream Makers Ball, netting more than $440,000. In addition to Sterling Manufacturing’s in-kind donations of materials and labor, the Shapiros have given BGCS more than $80,000—as well as the occasional surprise pizza party.
Their gifts have seeded the BGCS’s new Tom and Debbie Shapiro Career Center on Fruitville Road. It complements after-school activities with support for young people writing college applications, practicing public speaking, learning trades and polishing resumes. BGCS guides them through “a socialization process, teaching them how to make decisions, have ambition, and succeed,” says Shapiro, turning “kids who might otherwise be out on the street” into “caring, contributing members of society.” —Sylvia Whitman
FINALIST: Jeff Charlotte, J.E. Charlotte Construction Corp. This past year, commercial construction company owner Jeff Charlotte donated time, talent, cash and materials to the Humane Society of Manatee County, the Loveland Center, Florida Gulf Coast University and the Kyle Jutras Scholarship Foundation.
Professional Services Winner
Jaime DiDomenico, owner and president of CoolToday, an air conditioning (and plumbing and electrical) company, loves to say, “I'm in the service business.” And he does mean service. DiDomenico, whose neon-green trucks are recognizable from Hillsborough to Charlotte County, has made service to the community as important to his company as service to customers.
“We take care of people in our business, so why don’t we make it part of our strategy for the community?” he says.
Last year, DiDomenico launched a Taking Care of People Today program that invites customers and employees to single out worthy individuals who need help themselves. One example: When a Habitat for Humanity volunteer couldn’t afford a new AC system, CoolToday gave her one at no cost.
DiDomenico says he grew up in humble circumstances and received support and encouragement that helped him succeed. “Nobody makes it on their own,” he says.
Last year, DiDomenico gave $250,000 in financial contributions, sponsorships and donated AC systems to many nonprofits. His contributions are also measured in time. He’s the chair of the Sarasota Boys & Girls Clubs and is a Goodwill Manasota Ambassador. He and his company recently won Goodwill’s Employment Impact Partner of the Year for training and hiring veterans.
Service means supporting his employees, too. His wellness program, KickStart Today, encourages—and rewards—his 190 employees to accomplish health goals like losing weight and quitting smoking. And that, he says, is good for business. “When you give back to the community, it gives back to you,” he says. —Susan Burns
FINALIST: Steve Hall, Alltrust. As market president of Alltrust Insurance in the region, Hall still finds the time to hold leadership positions on multiple nonprofit and civic boards and financially support many more.
Large Company Winner
With offices in Sarasota, Bradenton and Tampa, CS&L CPAs has a long history of corporate sponsorship for Goodwill Manasota, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and other big-name nonprofits. More than 25 percent of the company’s 52 employees serve on a nonprofit board. To involve even more staff, the firm instituted a CS&L Cares campaign on its 60th anniversary in 2014. It organized food drives, fielded 5K race teams and organized mini office fund raisers. That campaign so motivated and empowered employees that the firm created an ongoing calendar of opportunities for workplace philanthropy.
Any staffer can propose a beneficiary, and the teambuilding committee decides how CS&L can best aid the cause. A companywide email goes out describing the organization and mission, with a link to its website and often a personal message from the employee advocate. For instance, pension manager Betsy Oakey noted the need for toilet paper, even half bottles of shampoo, at Turning Points, a Bradenton nonprofit that serves the homeless. For the CS&L office fund raiser, anyone who contributed $5 or personal care items could wear jeans—making it a very denim day.
“In the last 12 months, CS&L employees donated 370 business hours to community service activities,” says marketing director Lesley Hatfield. That outreach benefits the firm as well as the community. CS&L’s staff turnover falls “well below” the accounting industry average, which Hatfield partly credits to workplace philanthropy. “Learning about each other’s passions and volunteering together strengthens the team,” she says. —Sylvia Whitman
FINALIST: PGT Industries. Custom window and door manufacturer PGT Industries donates materials and financial support to numerous nonprofits such as Mote Marine Laboratory, where recently, all the glass for the Otters & Their Waters exhibit was donated. CEO Rod Hershberger holds leadership positions on high-profile boards.
Real Estate Winner
Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate
Real estate agent Lynne Koy made headlines this summer when she sold three properties for a total $6.29 million in just one day. But a day doesn’t go by when she doesn’t think back with gratitude to a darker time.
In the early 1970s, as a mother of two young children in Chicago, Koy was a victim of domestic abuse. “I endured two years of physical abuse until, in the middle of one night, I took the kids and ran away to a kind neighbor who took me in,” she says. “She said: ‘You deserve better than this and one day I’m going to ask you to help someone who’s a victim.’ My passion and determination were formed then and there.”
When Koy moved to Sarasota, she linked with SPAARC (Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center), first as a hotline volunteer answering middle-of-the-night calls from frightened women, and now as a board member.
Every Friday morning for 10 years, she has delivered food to 15 home-bound seniors. “It’s not the food I deliver; it’s my smile and kind word and a hug,” she says.
Her business success has given her a platform to discuss such experiences and the means to make a difference. “It’s not about monetary success; it has to do with what it allows me to give back,” she says.
Koy appreciates the full-circle nature of life. Her daughter has been CEO of the largest women’s and children’s shelter in Sacramento for 15 years. “I’ve watched her inspire so many people,” Koy says. —Ilene Denton
Small Company Winner
Expanding access to solar power is a mission as well as a livelihood for Bill Johnson, president of the Sarasota solar contracting firm Brilliant Harvest, which he founded in 2009. “In the long run, solar is going to have as much impact on the planet as the internet,” he says. On the board of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy and the U.S. Green Building Council, Johnson advocates for renewable energy at sustainability conferences, Earth Day celebrations, Rotary Club meetings—anywhere he’s asked.
Fossil fuels require expensive drilling, pumping, shipping and delivering. But solar and other renewable sources represent “a democratizing force in the energy world,” Johnson says.
Locally, Johnson is vested in helping nonprofits save money while lowering their carbon footprint. Brilliant Harvest gave 53 solar panels to the Tampa Bay Watch education center in Tierra Verde; donated panels to Sarasota’s green demonstration nonprofit, The Florida House; and donated 10 cents per watt for every solar panel installed on the rooftop array at the Audubon Nature Center at the Celery Fields.
Along with money and materials, the six-employee company donates hundreds of hours of expertise every year, Johnson says. He consulted with Mote Marine researchers on a solar-powered snook-tracking device and with three Sarasota community gardens on solar-powered water-pumping systems. “They ended up paying us in vegetables,” he says with a laugh.
A Pine View School alumnus and dad, he also heads the Pine View Foundation, which is working on a replicable model for creating endowments for public schools. —Sylvia Whitman
First Security Investments
Financial adviser Jonna Keller, owner of First Security Investments, inhales deeply as she describes the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota (BGSC) holiday party. Staff places gifts at different tables, and one by one kids enter the room to choose a present, perhaps their only one of the season. Keller recalls walking hand in hand with a child who stopped and asked, “Can I get something for my brother instead?”
Keller partners with her clients to support many causes: All Faiths Food Bank, Sarasota Pops, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Florida Studio Theatre, Embracing Our Differences, Howard University. With one member, Keller created Tech Readers Enriching Kids (TREK), a program to put electronic readers in the hands of children without easy access to books. They started at the YMCA, introduced TREK to BGCS, and are working on a public school pilot. But BGCS is Keller’s soft spot, perhaps because of her own experience as a single working mother of two daughters, now in their late 20s.
Keller’s contribution is both high finance and high touch. As chair of the BGCS Women Ambassadors, she has helped raise $100,000, she says. She also contributes individually as expected of a board member, soon to be chair. It’s the mentoring that feeds her soul, though. She just sent a longtime club member who joined the Navy a plane ticket to fly home to Sarasota to visit her family.
“You see how much these kids want to do better once they’ve been exposed to things they never knew,” Keller says. —Sylvia Whitman
FINALISTS: Brian Mariash, Bart Lowther, Mariash Lowther Wealth Management. This wealth management team gives back in hundreds of volunteer hours and a percentage of their income to numerous nonprofits. Among their causes: Jewish Children and Family Services, Children’s Healthy Pantry, Circus Arts Conservatory, Sarasota Orchestra, Child Protection Center and Embracing our Differences.
Health Care Winner
Dr. Steven Tinsworth
“Open wide” is both an orthodontist’s buzz phrase and a description of Dr. Steven Tinsworth’s hands and heart. In the 1980s, this father of five brought water fluoridation to Manatee County and the City of Bradenton, which he considers his most significant accomplishment. Tinsworth earned the Manatee Community Foundation’s 2016 Leadership Spirit Award for wide-ranging civic engagement with organizations ranging from the American Cancer Society to the Sarasota Orchestra. He currently chairs the Bradenton Kiwanis Foundation and serves on the boards of Take Stock in Children and the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
Then there’s all his pro bono work on behalf of smiles. As dental coordinator for the Remote Area Medical USA free clinic that came to Bradenton in November 2015, Tinsworth screened 600 patients over two days.
“I saw some mouths of disaster I haven’t seen since dental school at the University of Kentucky,” he says. At the Kiwanis Club’s annual Christmas in August events, he orchestrates dental exams for homeless kids. The Manatee Chamber of Commerce named him a 2016 Champion of Healthcare.
Volunteer hours per year?
“I might be afraid to count up,” he says, but it could average an hour a day. He traces his commitment back to his roots: family, church, Boy Scouts, “that duty to God and country.” His father, a dentist, spent six weeks a year in retirement caring for Vietnamese boat people abroad.
“Everyone feels uplifted helping those who need that extra little boost,” Tinsworth says. “The hands of God are working through you.” —Sylvia Whitman
FINALIST: Dr. Robert Hillstrom, Hillstrom Facial Plastic Surgery. Hillstrom has been involved in many nonprofits over the years and sits on numerous boards. As a board member of Hope Family Services, he helps victims and children of domestic violence with time, financial assistance and pro bono medical services for those who have been injured.
Anna Maria Oyster Bars
Anna Maria Oyster Bars founder John Horne started his career as a busboy at the old Fast Eddie’s on Anna Maria. “The owner liked my work ethic and offered me a $1,000 college scholarship for two years,” says Horne. “He said, ‘I’m willing to commit to you if you commit to me.’ I stayed with him for 10 years.” That scholarship inspired Horne’s commitment to improving the lives of students.
Horne is a former chairman of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and winner of the Manatee and Sarasota chambers’ Small Business Awards, as well as former chair of the local Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association chapter and the state board. He is a major financial supporter of PACE Center for Girls, a “last-chance” alternative school; and, with his wife, Amanda, is co-chairing a multimillion-dollar capital campaign to expand the campus. “I give because PACE makes a difference in these girls’ lives,” he says.
The Hornes and friends Stewart and Trudy Moon of Air & Energy also provide scholarships to nontraditional college students who are also working through their annual Horne & Moon Scholarship Social, which in just two years has raised $275,000. “I’m looking for people who need a boost,” he says.
Next summer, Horne hopes to establish a third grade reading level summer program at his Landside restaurant. In collaboration with the Manatee County school system, he’ll invite incoming third graders for an hour or two in the morning, give them a meal and a tutoring session from volunteer customers. “We want to make it work,” he says. —Ilene Denton
Cynthia and Tim Holliday
Cynthia and Tim Holliday bought Children’s World, a toy and uniform store, in 2001, and since then have expanded into new space and intensified their support for kid-centric nonprofits: Suncoast Charities for Children, Children First, Manasota BUDS, Easter Seals of SWFL, Hope Kids—and more. “Who’s going to do it if we don’t?” asks Tim.
Their customers usually shop for well-loved and nurtured kids. The Hollidays make sure the less fortunate don’t get overlooked. The largest Toys for Tots site in Sarasota, Children’s World offers a 50 percent match when customers buy a holiday gift to donate. They give goods and childcare to the Healthy Start Coalition’s annual “community baby shower” for pregnant women and new parents. Tim serves on the Child Protection Center’s advancement committee. In April, Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Hollidays decorate their store in blue to raise awareness.
Kids thrive when their community is thriving, so the Hollidays sponsor a “give back to Goodwill day,” donating a portion of receipts. Their daughter, Faith, a 13-year-old Girl Scout, serves as a Goodwill Community Ambassador. When a position for an embroiderer opened on their small staff, they filled it through Goodwill’s Veteran Services. No surprise: Children’s World won Goodwill Manasota’s 2016 Community Partner Award.
The Hollidays estimate that they donate six figures worth of toys and uniforms in a year, as well as staff time. “As long as we have customers, we need to pass it along,” says Tim. “There’s so much more that’s got to be done.” —Sylvia Whitman