Unity Awards 2018

Easter Seals CEO Tom Waters Follows His Passion for Philanthropy

“When money does good things, it’s amazing."

By Anu Varma January 23, 2018 Published in the February 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Tom Waters with young clients

Image: SRQ Headshots 

As a 19-year-old college student, Tom Waters volunteered at a dance marathon for muscular dystrophy. He was exhilarated by the passion that kept people dancing to help others. From his first job with the United Way to his role as CEO of Easter Seals of Southwest Florida, Waters has followed that passion for philanthropy.

Waters moved here from Denver, Colorado, 20 years ago to care for his ailing father, and found a job at Easter Seals, where he helped establish a foundation that grew to $15 million. He then served at the Community Foundation of Sarasota and Mote Marine Laboratory before returning to Easter Seals in 2014.

Decreases in government funding for disability services, especially involving autism, have created a critical need, says Waters, whose leadership style is both exuberant and pragmatic. He’s responded by partnering with 50 nonprofits to, as he says, “make our community disability strong.” He’s also increased donations tenfold, and the organization’s reach has risen from 500 to more than 800 families, ranging from 6-week-olds to senior citizens, with many still on a waiting list.

He’s particularly proud of Project Rainbow, a respite program that provides four-hour blocks of care at Easter Seals for medically fragile children whose families care for them around the clock.

Recently, a donor raised by a single mother came in to talk about helping single mothers attend community college. After they created an education fund for single mothers, the donor, tears running down his face, thanked Waters for the opportunity to give back.

“When money does good things, it’s amazing,” says Waters.

Come celebrate present and past Unity Award winners with us at a luncheon on February 8 at Michael’s On East. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.  

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