Angels Among Us

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008


A Portrait in Caring

As an artist, Debbie Dannheiser is always evolving. Her colorful, vibrant paintings hang in homes and galleries, but her work has always been more than a business to her—it’s a means of expression and self-discovery. But now Dannheiser has found something equally fulfilling—and “It’s the main reason I paint these days.” Her new passion? A group of teenaged girls at the YMCA’s Bowman Ranch.

The ranch—which recently began caring for boys as well—offers a home-like atmosphere for teens who have a history of abuse and issues that prevent them from being placed in foster homes.

Dannheiser learned about the ranch after her attorney husband, Dan, got involved in the Y’s social service programs. Now she’s a board member of the YMCA Foundation and donates a generous portion of proceeds from the sale of her artworks to the foundation. But she does more than that. She and friends she’s recruited—her “Ranch Angels”—do everything they can to enrich the girls’ lives and make each one feel special.

“They’ve seen horrific things, but these are also normal teen-agers who want to be loved,” she emphasizes. For example, when they asked each girl what kind of bedding she wanted, these often tough and confrontational teens wanted comforters themed to childhood stories—Tinkerbell, Winnie the Pooh. “They missed out on their childhood,” she explains.

At first some were suspicious, but as she continued to return, week after week, their reserve melted. “Now they run out to the car when I drive up,” she says, “and I am crazy about them. It has totally shifted my life and helped me grow”—including as an artist, she says.

The Angels—an attorney, a realtor, a restaurateur and other professional women—celebrate every teen’s birthday with a special cake, fancy tablecloth, gifts and personalized posters Debbie creates. If an iPod is on the girl’s gift wish list, she even programs it with her favorite songs. In addition to monthly events, they create Christmas for every child. They all donate supplies and funds, and they encourage others to donate to the Ranch Angel Fund.

“I have no expectations,” Dannheiser stresses; she recognizes the real hurdles these teens face. But she hopes caring relationships with successful women “may encourage them to make better choices than their parents and live normal lives.”


Prepare to Share

Every time publisher Tim Cole saw the photos and videos of people trying to piece their lives together after a hurricane, he was left with the feeling that “this could be me.” He rattles off the list of recent hurricanes—Katrina, Rita, Ike, Fay, Omar—and let’s not forget Charley, which hit Charlotte County in 2004. “We know all about life in the hurricane belt,” he says. That’s why he came up with the idea of harnessing the collective power of Rotary International to get people ready for future hurricane seasons.

Using input from FEMA and the Salvation Army, materials purchased at a discount from local businesses, and the sweat equity of fellow Rotarians Wayne Dictor, Keith Millard and Donna Clarke, he created the Prepare-to-Share project—affordable hurricane safety kits stored in weather-resistant, 18-gallon Rubbermaid containers. Each contains food, water, blankets, an emergency first-aid kit, ground cloth, work gloves to clear debris and a dust mask, costs $100 and weighs a manageable 50 pounds. 

Cole, who heads the Sarasota office of Norwalk, Conn.-based Belvoir Publishing, a publisher of 35 specialty newsletters and magazines, ranging from Antiques Roadshow Insider to the Cleveland Clinic’s Arthritis Advisor, is a member of the Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay. He says Rotary is the ideal organization to grow Prepare-to-Share; it’s global, with 1.2 million members in 170 countries, and it is already devoted to clean water and hygiene projects and a polio eradication program. 

The aim, says Cole, is for Rotarians and other service club members up and down the west coast of Florida to purchase and store the kits in their homes. “Then, if another area is hit and needs it more than you do, you bring your kit back to Rotary and we ship it out,” he says. “We’re talking about getting them over to Texas, Haiti—we’re working on a mechanism now to get them shared.”

In its initial year, 53 Rotarians have purchased kits containing 3,800 pounds of food and water. Publix has donated bottled water, Wal-Mart gave them preferred pricing on items, and locally owned Environeers sold them emergency blankets, sheeting and small sterno stoves at a discount. The Rotary club is in conversation with Goodwill Industries to use its trucking capabilities, and has contacted FPL “to haul boxes to the point of impact, so Rotarians can pick them up at the other end,” says Cole.

I think we have an obligation to help if we can, an obligation that triples every time we get spared,” he says. “It’s so easy to prepare ourselves and then give it all away to those who need it more—especially people who may not have access to shelters. Service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis are perfectly positioned to do the heavy lifting and distribution—they can be a natural resource in moments of intense trial.”


Cooking up a Cure

Restaurateurs Ray and D’Arcy Arpke so believe in working for a cure for juvenile diabetes that they’ve made snow fall in Naples and worked security at a ZZ Top concert.

The Arpkes, owners for 29 years of the award-winning Longboat Key restaurant, Euphemia Haye, have a very personal interest in the cause: their daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a month before she graduated from college seven years ago, and Ray’s father, brother and nephew all are afflicted with it. “It’s growing epidemically; people of all ages are getting it,” says Ray.

Last summer, the couple was honored by the Florida Suncoast Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for raising more than $20,000 at this year’s Walk to Cure Diabetes in Sarasota County. Twenty-five friends participate on Team Euphemia Haye. “The carrot, if you will,” says D’Arcy, “is we bring our motor home and Ray makes a champagne breakfast for our walkers.” 

For the separate Manatee walk in April, friends from all over Florida who RV with the Arpkes through the American Coach Association “camp” for four nights at the Ellenton Outlet Mall. “We go out one or two nights, and Ray cooks the rest of the time,” says D’Arcy. They also host—and donate the cocktail buffet—for the annual Manatee corporate kickoff reception at Euphemia Haye.

Plus, “I do a big letter-writing campaign asking everybody for money—family, friends, vendors, patrons,” says D’Arcy. They say they’re comfortable asking friends to pitch in because 94 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to research.

And, as for that ZZ Top concert and the snow—D’Arcy actually checked bracelets and lanyards for entrance to the VIP section at the concert in Fort Myers last year in exchange for a donation from the promoter, and Ray operated a snow-making machine on the roof of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, in January for the Hope Gala, where a remarkable $900,000 was raised.

A restaurateur’s days are long enough anyway (on the day of this interview, Ray had been at work since 3:15 a.m. preparing for teaching a cooking class), but the Arpkes say they’ll continue to volunteer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as long as they’re able. “We feel hopeful,” says D’Arcy. “We feel a cure is on the horizon.”


Hail from the Chief

It’s not everyone who can say they’ve volunteered more than 4,000 hours to a nonprofit organization, but Bradenton attorney Tom Moseley has the letter from President George W. Bush to prove it.

Moseley received the President’s Service Award—a personally signed letter, a plaque and a pin—last fall to recognize his 25 years of service to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County. A volunteer there since he graduated from Stetson Law School in 1982 (he started as a baseball coach and “that’s what got me hooked,” he says), he now chairs the Florida Area Council of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which represents 42 organizations across the state that together serve 185,000 children. 

A sole practitioner who is board certified in wills, trusts and estates, and who also practices real estate law, Moseley took over the state reins in 2007 and led the group through its first-ever strategic plan. He’s re-upped his chairmanship through 2009 in order to follow through on some ambitious initiatives, the biggest of which is forming a statewide 501(c)3 charity to attract funding from corporations and foundations that prefer to donate on a statewide basis rather than club by club. So far, Tennessee is the only other state to make this move. 

Awards are nice, especially from the top, but Moseley says his biggest reward is “being able to see the difference [Boys & Girls Clubs] makes in kids’ lives.” A recent study that compares club members to their peers across Florida shows they have much higher graduation rates, fewer disciplinary problems in school and fewer problems with law enforcement. “That’s objective proof of what we’ve known all along,” Moseley says, “that it makes a difference not only for the kids but for the whole community.

“A lot of the kids we serve don’t have the same opportunities my three children had,” he says. “Boys & Girls Clubs gives them the support and encouragement they might not be getting at home. I really think it changes lives.”

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