Fear and division may be the news of the day, but not everyone is fanning the flames or glued to their screens watching the fires roar. The nine men and women you’ll meet on these pages are telling a different story—a story of compassion, hope and determination to embrace and empower their neighbors of every color, social class, sexual orientation and age.
Our winners are everyday people who did something extraordinary. They looked around, saw people who were ignored, suffering or trapped in dire circumstances, and decided to help. They invested their energy, talent and resources in helping strangers’ dreams come true—or, in many cases, convincing strangers they had the right to dream at all. Their combined impact has been enormous, changing thousands of lives here in Sarasota and Manatee and touching more than a million around the state. They are living proof of the truth of the late anthropologist Margaret Mead’s declaration: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”