In the Spirit

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2006

While major corporations in big cities have the edge when it comes to impacting communities through corporate philanthropy-pumping dollars into hospitals, parks and museums, and then putting their names on them-smaller companies have always been the real backbone of our community. We found dozens of examples of corporate generosity in our own back yard, and singled out four companies to showcase how their good deeds, often done quietly, have had a positive impact on the lives of our residents.

Housing the Needy

John Olliver, president of Precision Custom Homes in Venice, is "always up for a challenge," says his daughter, company vice president Kelly Olliver. And he found one last year in the Habitat for Humanity home he built in just five days. Olliver solicited volunteers and materials from 35 local builders, and he spent countless hours planning and scheduling them, to make the project happen on behalf of the Home Builders Association of Sarasota County. For his herculean efforts, he received the HBA's Builder of the Year award.

But that was just a test run for an even more ambitious project that will take place the week of June 5, when Olliver will lead a team of 10 contractors and their crews to build 10 Habitat homes-again in just five days. ("He's corralling them right now," said his daughter in early February.) It's part of a nationwide blitz sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders to construct 1,000 homes nationwide that week, in honor of Habitat's 30th anniversary.

Besides the three-bedroom, two-bath Habitat home, valued at $155,000, Precision Custom Homes completed 12 custom residences in south Sarasota County last year. Kelly Olliver says the project "completely opened our eyes to the organization and its needs." In fact, she is now on the board of Habitat for Humanity in south Sarasota County. "We really like giving back to the community; this is one area where we can make a difference," she says.

Her father echoes her sentiments. "Any time you can do anything to help anybody, it makes you feel good," he says. "It makes you energized to do it again, again and again."

Insuring the Future

David Dignam was born at Venice Hospital and grew up in Englewood. Except for college at the University of South Florida in Tampa and a couple of years working for then Gov. Bob Martinez in Tallahassee, he has spent his career here at Key Agency Insurance, carrying on the business that his grandfather, George, founded in 1952 and his father, Tom, ran before him.

Philanthropy is also a family tradition, Dignam says. "My grandfather, through a lot of hard work, created our company, and he forever instilled the notion of doing things for our community."

Dignam's corporate service primarily revolves around education, from sponsoring Little League teams and Girl Scout troops, to funding back-to-school breakfasts and teacher incentive luncheons at area schools, to serving on the community leadership council at USF Sarasota-Manatee, where he donates his time to seek permanent funding legislation for the USF south county campus at Manatee Community College. "We've always tried to help out where we could," he says. When the 40-employee agency opened a North Port branch five years ago, "we jumped right in with both feet," he says, and got involved with the Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the YMCA.

Dignam's parents, Tom and Annette, are major supporters of MCC, The Hermitage and the Englewood YMCA, and the Dignam Family Foundation, which is administered by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, funds scholarships for needy students.

Community service, says Dignam, is "another element in the quality of life. It's not just the sunshine. A community is a community because of all its assets: the natural environment, educational opportunities and the business climate."

Feeding the Hungry

Carl Cannova, president of Sysco Food Services West Coast FL, says his giant company gives of itself for one simple reason: "We are part of the community. My family lives here. Not only do they work here, they play here, they send their children to school here. If the community doesn't help support those charities," he asks, "then who will?"

The west coast division of Sysco, which has been based in Palmetto for 10 years and has 750 employees, supplies close to 6,000 institutional clients from Brooksville to Marco Island-hotels, restaurants, schools and hospitals-with food, food equipment and provisions. At the same time, it donates food, supplies and dollars to the United Way of Manatee County, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Florida Winefest & Auction, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Women's Resource Center, Lawton Chiles Foundation and both food banks in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Ellen Campbell, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Manatee County, which runs the Manatee food bank, says Sysco's role is indispensable. "The food bank supplies food to needy families, newborn babies and about 70 other nonprofit agencies," she says. "Their contribution helps the community in so many ways."

Banking on Community

When Tom Quale of LandMark Bank found out that the organizer of All Faiths Food Bank's biggest fund raiser, Taste of the Suncoast, was pulling out just three months before the event last year, he and his staff stepped up to the plate, literally.

LandMark didn't simply lend its good name and dollars to Taste of the Suncoast, it took it over completely-"Everything," says Quale, "coordinating more than 20 restaurants, finding beverages, getting wineries to deliver wine, marketing and media, ordering invitations, napkins, plates."

"All Faiths Food Bank was a customer," explains Quale, "and they asked us to organize the event. When I asked our employees the question, the overwhelming answer was yes." The bank formed a committee of 10, augmented the day of the event by another 30 employees, all of whom were volunteers. "It was a tremendous amount of time and commitment," says Quale. "This was one of the biggest fund raisers for All Faiths. We simply didn't want to see that disappear."

About 800 people attended last year's Taste of the Suncoast, and while Quale did not want to disclose revenues, the event more than doubled the prior year's profits. LandMark Bank repeated its commitment for this year's event, held in early March; the chairman was senior vice president and branch administrator Mario Pezzella.

And LandMark has taken its partnership with All Faiths Food Bank a step further: When one of its trademark yellow PT Cruisers was recently retired, the bank donated it to the food bank.

Why? "A simple answer. It's the right thing to do," says Quale. "We're lucky people, we need to give back and do the right thing."

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