Employees Give Back to the Community

Fundraising art pieces

The Tampa Service Office held a recycled art contest to raise money to buy a modified bicycle for a disabled person.

District employees made a mark on the community during 2010, helping churches give away food and clothing, giving elementary students jackets and gifts, helping the disabled achieve mobility and sponsoring foster children.

Staff members reached out to the community through Districtwide benevolent events, service office auctions and personal initiative. Kristy Peterson, a District business process analyst, is the benevolent coordinator for the Employee Committee and helps organize many of the projects. Most of them happen around the holidays.

“We help a lot of people,” said Peterson. “Our goal is to help employees, their families and their friends and neighbors. We also try to support other community organizations.”

Last year, employee donations helped more than 60 employees, as well as their children, families and friends. The Employee Committee helped with food, clothing and other gifts. Community organizations that received help included Second Chance Restoration Ministries and its community “free day,” The Arc Nature Coast support agency for the developmentally disabled, the Ridge Manor Community United Methodist Church food pantry and Eastside Elementary School students living in shelter homes.

“It’s great being able to give back to the community,” said Peterson. “People who come to pick up donated food are so appreciative. It will bring tears to your eyes.”

Employees at the Tampa Service Office came up with a unique fundraiser this year: the Green Art Show.

“We got the idea from the Recycle Santa Fe Art Festival in New Mexico,” said Chaz Collins, a District environmental scientist. “People at the Tampa office created art pieces using at least 70 percent recycled material.”

The office put the pieces on display, had people vote for the winners and sold them in a silent auction. “We used the proceeds to buy a modified bicycle for a man who is disabled,” said Collins.

District employees volunteer personally as well. Michael Bench, an administrative assistant at the Tampa Regulation Department, is among the District’s more prolific volunteers, claiming 300 volunteer hours last year working 18 projects.

“I started looking into community service when I heard that you could earn tickets to Disney World with community service hours,” said Bench. “Once I got started, I got hooked.”

Bench spends most of his volunteer hours with United Way agencies that help at-risk families. He watches children while their parents attend classes to improve their parenting and financial skills. He also spent time doing landscaping, organizing donations, visiting the disabled in homes and the injured in hospitals, taking visitors through Lowry Park Zoo, cooking, cleaning and decorating. He even helped build modified off-road, hand-operated wheelchairs for people who live in foreign countries.

“I like to help in any way possible,” said Bench. “There are a lot of needs out there, and I’m glad that I’m able to do something that will help someone in the long run.

The Employee Committee just finished its sixteenth year of coordinated holiday season benevolent activities. Opportunities to serve will begin in earnest later in the year as the holidays approach, but fundraising events are often organized throughout the year to provide support for sudden emergencies. If you want to get involved, contact your Employee Committee representative or call Kristy Peterson at (352) 796-7211, ext. 4350.