Our Better Selves

Edited by Nick Steele | Photography by Jeff Roach

When we set out to salute Marion County’s top volunteers, we knew we’d never be able acknowledge all of the organizations and individuals doing such important work in our community. A truly comprehensive guide like that would surely fill a book. Our goal was, and continues to be, to highlight some of the amazing work being done and the everyday people who give so generously of themselves. We also wanted to offer you, some insight into each organization and ways that you can help. To all the organizations and volunteers that are not included on this list, please know we see you, we salute you and we offer our sincere thanks. It’s often said that the secret to happiness is found in doing for others. But as we learned in putting this feature together, the powerful motivations behind volunteerism rarely begin with the notion of personal gain. Many of the volunteers we contacted for this story, in fact, told us some version of, “I don’t do it for the recognition.” So we asked each volunteer to share something personal about why they give of themselves for the benefit of others. We are honored to be able to share their responses with you and grateful for their contributions to our community.

Rhoda Walkup, Lydia Kuttas, Karen Cyr, and Dawn Mitchell.

 

 

 

 

 

MIKE BAKER, ADVENTHEALTH OCALA “HEALTHY HOME” PROJECT, adventhealth.com

“I have always believed that giving back to your community is good for your soul and overall well-being. Volunteering at AdventHealth Ocala has given me the opportunity to help others, in their greatest time of need, in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I can’t think of anything more satisfying or uplifting than providing an understanding compassionate heart, along with spiritual support for patients, families, and staff. Witnessing the positive impact that volunteering has made on so many lives continues to give me hope, that together, we can make an everlasting difference in the lives of those who are in the greatest need of our support. I feel truly blessed to be a part of the ‘Healthy Home’ program at AdventHealth Ocala.”  

Impact of volunteers: “Healthy Home” is a free service to patients over 65, who discharge to their home and need a little TLC to heal at home after a hospital stay. The Auxiliary partners with Habitat for Humanity to provide safe home modifications to prevent slips and falls in the home and CF nursing program to provide BSN students as program volunteers. Mike coordinates 28 “Healthy Home” volunteers and College of Central Florida’s RN’s providing over 1,132 home visits in the past 3 years. The volunteers deliver fresh food and frozen meals, provide safe home checks, install smoke alarms, arrange medical transportation, along with a host of other non-clinical comfort care services. All services are free of charge and funded by the hospital Auxiliary, a not for profit charitable organization.

Number of active volunteers: We are proud to partner with 556 Active Volunteers. The figure expands in the spring, when we host over 125 teen volunteers to our summer volunteer program.

Volunteer opportunities: Call AdventHealth Volunteer & Senior Services at 352-671-2153 to learn about volunteer opportunities.

Patricia Gutman and Cathie Colella

 

PATRICIA GUTMAN, APPLETON MUSEUM, appletonmuseum.org/give/volunteer

“The reason I volunteer at the Museum is because I enjoy meeting people. I like helping the Appleton, love the artwork, and the people I work with.”

Number of active volunteers: 53 – most of our volunteers are Docents (about 30). A majority of them are weekly volunteers, who work in the museum’s Education, Curatorial, Membership, and Trips ‘n’ Tours Departments.

Volunteer opportunities: We are always looking for dedicated volunteers who love art and will help us meet our mission to inspire and engage present and future generations. We are seeking volunteers primarily for our Education program. The opportunities include teaching assistants (18 years and older) to help during the summer art camps or participate in our Docent training program. Docents learn about the museum’s collection during the training and then are able to lead group tours. For questions, contact Griselle Gonzalez-Vazquez at gonzaleg@cf.edu.

 

BRENDA CROSKEY VEREEN, THE BLACK HISTORY MUSEUM & ARCHIVES OF MARION COUNTY

“I chose to volunteer for The Black History Museum & Archives of Marion County after retiring from the Marion County Schools. Originally, the archive only displayed photographs. Restructuring for a museum, in order to display artifacts, collections, provide tours, and to share African American history with others, was the most rewarding experience.”

Impact of volunteers: The museum is a vital and rich part of the history of Ocala and we must keep it alive. Our volunteers not only help keep it alive, they help bring us together as a community, enrich our society and keep the organization afloat.

Number of active volunteers: Currently, we have six volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities: We are seeking volunteers for the museum. Being able to get passionate volunteers to help keep the museum afloat is huge help. For more information, email Laresa.Scott@marion.k12.fl.us

 

Jokisha King

JOKISHA KING, BLACK NURSES ROCK, OCALA CHAPTER (BNR), bnrocalafl.com

“BNR is full of like-minded professionals that want to inspire the change that we want to see. I’m fully committed to our mission which is to assist driven, determined, and dedicated nurses in Ocala to grow professionally—while addressing healthcare disparities within the Ocala/Marion County area. We are committed to making a difference, because our chapter members are empowered, engaged, and ready to embrace the needs of the community. My passion has always been to serve my community, in any capacity. While my volunteering may be seen as an ‘act of giving,’ it would be ‘robbery’ not to mention the wonderful benefits that are offered to the members, as well as future nurses. I’m currently a nursing student, I was awarded one of the many scholarships that BNR Ocala offer. BNR is also a great networking tool, ensuring every member is well connected with different colleges for continuing education, agencies for employment opportunities and/or program development.”

 

Impact of volunteers: Our volunteers are vital to our organization, because without them we couldn’t educate our community to live healthier. Our diverse group of healthcare providers go above and beyond, by coming out from the behind their employment facility walls to share their knowledge and expertise, as well as raising awareness.

 

Number of active volunteers: We have 44 volunteer-members, made up of advance practice nurses, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, CNA’s, student nurses and ambassadors.

Volunteer opportunities: Our mission is to assist dedicated driven and determined nurses to grow professionally while addressing healthcare disparities in the Ocala/ Marion county area. We seek volunteers that have a passion to educate vulnerable communities about diseases that plague them. If you are knowledgeable and passionate about creating a healthier community than contact us and join us as we help to make the city healthier. We are seeking nurses and nursing students to apply for membership. There are no restrictions on race or ethnicity; we only ask that members respect and align with the mission of BNR.

 

KAREN CYR, BROTHER’S KEEPER, btbrotherskeeper.org

“I volunteer because it makes my heart smile and to keep the good in the world outweighing the bad.”

Impact of volunteers: Brother’s Keeper has only three paid staff members. We rely on many dedicated volunteers.

Number of active volunteers: Each week more than 100 volunteers show their love for the poor by serving in our Soup Kitchen, Office, Retail Store, and Emergency Assistance Program.

Volunteer opportunities: We love our volunteers and are always looking for dedicated men and women with a heart for service. Those interested in volunteering in the Thrift Store or Emergency Assistance Program, should contact Karen at (352) 622-3846.

 

DAVID KINGSLEY, FINE ARTS FOR OCALA (FAFO), fafo.org

“The reason I volunteered with FAFO originally was for college. I am an art major going for game design, so I thought it would be a good experience for me and my career. I love the social interaction and giving smiles to people, which is rewarding to me. Little things, like helping the artists set up and assisting around the event is satisfying…like I’m creating a positive difference.”

Impact of volunteers: Volunteers help with all aspects of set up, staffing and breakdown for events.

Number of active volunteers: 22 active volunteers from the community.

Volunteer opportunities: Adult and student volunteers are needed beginning early April, for the Symphony Under the Stars/Mother’s Day event and in early August/September for the Art Festival in October.

 

CATHIE COLELLA, GUARDIAN ANGELS MEDICAL SERVICE DOGS, INC., medicalservicedogs.org

“I first heard of the puppies from my local woman’s club. Carol and Chris visited with one of their recipients and his dog. Carol explained what her mission was for the dogs and recipients. She also told us of the different things at the farm that we could help out with. She explained about ‘puppy hugging’ and I was hooked. I was just getting myself back on track, after having lung cancer. They had started a puppy hugging class on Saturdays. We were taught how to train and love on the puppies. To see the dogs go to their recipient is so sweet and tugs at your heart strings, but to see what they do for their recipient is so wonderful. It just makes you so happy to be a small part of their world. If you are looking for me on Tuesday or Saturday morning, I will be at the Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs—loving on some puppies”

Impact of volunteers: Whether you love calling for donations, hugging puppies, hosting fundraisers, or are an expert event planner, the contributions of our volunteers is invaluable. One of the most important roles at Guardian Angels is that of our Foster Training Families. These amazing families allow Guardian Angels to train more dogs for those in need, by enlisting volunteers to foster and train these amazing dogs, and helping prepare them for their recipients. If you want to be apart of a life-saving program, and have the time to work with, train and attend weekly classes with a foster service dog in-training, this program is for you.

Number of active volunteers: We have close to 550 volunteers in a given year.

Volunteer opportunities: We have lots of volunteer opportunities available. Puppy Hugger Saturdays (helping to socialize our future service dogs), Foster Family training opportunities, and more.

 

Sadie Fitzpatrick, David Kingsley, and Jill Adams

JILL ADAMS, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY OF MARION COUNTY, INC., habitatocala.org

“Why did I choose to volunteer at Habitat For Humanity? I knew they did good work. I had a friend that was already in a Habitat Home. I was in the office as an “office angel” and was responsible for hours-volunteered data entry. It really gave me the office experience I needed. I loved it and was treated like one of the staff. I also helped out with events that were done to raise money for the organization. I did house

blessings and wall-raisings. It has been seven years now. I have a disability and they always accommodate me when I volunteer. I feel like part of the family. What have I found most rewarding about being a volunteer? I love going to the wall-raisings, which is done at the start of the building.”

Impact of volunteers: Without volunteers there would be no Habitat. Volunteers are our lifeblood!

Number of active volunteers: We average about 3,000 volunteers annually.

Volunteer opportunities: We have much more construction going on in the 2019 and will need more volunteers going forward Including construction, volunteers in our ReStore locations and event volunteers (for events like our annual Strawberry Festival). Volunteers can visit our website at Habitatocala.org, email BFish@habitatocala.org or call (352) 351-4663.

 

MOLLY & HUGH LAPENOTIERE, HORSE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION OF FLORIDA, hpaf.org

“Molly and her husband Hugh have gone above and beyond volunteering to help the horses. They come to the farm to clean stalls and scrub buckets, even on holiday mornings. Horse Protection wishes we had fifty more like Molly and Hugh to help the horses. Unfortunately, Molly and Hugh are both one of a kind!” —Morgan Silver, Executive Director

Impact of volunteers: Volunteers are an essential part of the daily operations at Horse Protection. Volunteers are vital to the organization

Number of active volunteers: Horse Protection has 35 volunteers who help care for the horses and raise money to make sure the horses have the best of care and the highest quality feed and hay.

Volunteer opportunities: Volunteers are always needed. Volunteers help with grooming the horses, with daily chores and cleaning, with repairs and maintenance of the farm, with fundraising and as board members.   

 

Brenda Croskey Vereen and Bob Levenson

BOB LEVENSON, HOSPICE OF MARION COUNTY (HMC), hospiceofmarion.com

“I am proud to be a volunteer for Hospice of Marion County, where I started volunteering three weeks after my wife Jeanine, passed away December 13, 2014, following a 13 month battle with pancreatic cancer, which was not diagnosed until April 2014 (self referral) at UF Health. I saw and lived with HMC’s medical team, Dr. Lossada, Lisa Smith, RN Ann Friar-Jones, LCSW, Accent Medical Staff, HMC Pharmacy, the LPN’s, the CNA’s—all provided the most loving, caring, compassionate end-of-life care for five weeks at our home and the final 8 hours at Sylvia’s Hospice House under Michelle Lee, CNA. The most rewarding aspect of being a HMC Volunteer is assisting our friends, neighbors and veterans, in their time of medical crisis, to connect them with our incredible admissions team and to help them get the answers they need to care

for their, spouse, neighbor, friend or co-worker. My final reward came on March 31, 2017, Rebecca Rogers, Philanthropy Director, set up a lunch for us to interview Grace Dunlevy, an HMC Volunteer, to join our Philanthropy Board. We were engaged on July 7, 2017 and married on October 1, 2017. Grace and I are always together for all our HMC volunteer programs, and others, in our wonderful Marion County community.”

Impact of volunteers: Volunteers are extremely important to us here at Hospice of Marion County.  We couldn’t do everything we do without them in executing our mission to deliver exceptional, compassionate end-of-life care to our community. Our volunteers have and continue to make a huge impact not only in the services they provide, but in the positive financial impact they have on our bottom line as well as helping us with fundraising.

Number of active volunteers: We have over 700 volunteers assisting us execute our mission. Our volunteers serve in many different areas including patient support, our Transitions program that provides respite for clients and caregivers, hospice pet programs, community outreach, fundraising events and health fairs, ambassadors’ program, Camp Mariposa events for children, administrative/office support, greeters at our hospice houses, assisting at our thrift stores, and with our veteran-to-veteran support programs and veteran recognition ceremonies.  In 2018, our volunteers provided more than 85,000 hours across all these areas of support.

Volunteer opportunities: We currently have an urgent need for volunteers to assist us with our Transitions program in providing respite for clients and caregivers, helping us out in our hospice thrift stores, as well as administrative/office support, across various departments.

 

RHODA WALKUP, HEARTFELT, UNCONDITIONAL, GIVING (HUGS), hugscharities.org

“As the Director of Community Relations for RBOI, I quickly became aware that cancer affects our community in many more ways than simply being a health concern. A cancer diagnosis affects every area of a patient’s life, as well as their loved ones. Ideally, seeking treatment and getting well should be of top priority. Unfortunately, many patients are unable to do so due to the strains that treatment places on them financially, on their employment, their loved ones, etc. This not only affects their wellness, but our community’s wellness as well. I was immediately drawn to volunteer with HUGS when I saw how simple acts of generosity could change a patient’s and their loved ones lives forever—even playing a role in keeping them alive. When a patient is able to put gas in the car, miss work, get to treatment, have a home, pay bills, and still buy groceries, that can make all the difference. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was just 2 years old, and I am told that both the healthcare and Ocala community at large went above and beyond to ensure that she was comfortable and with her family the last weeks of her life—even though it meant many were sacrificing time away from their families over Christmas. That is what makes Marion County so uniquely special and why I consider it a very personal, and a very great privilege, to work in this wonderful community helping families who are facing cancer. What a gift to all of Marion County to know that no one has to fight cancer alone—there is HUGS for all.”

Impact of volunteers: HUGS encourages Heartfelt Unconditional Giving to benefit cancer patients and the fight against cancer through the creation of the Cancer Alliance of Marion County and H.U.G.S. for Heroes initiative. Without our volunteers and the support of the donors/community, HUGS could not be effective in reaching its goal to support cancer patients in Marion County.

Number of active volunteers: 37 volunteers, which includes 15 volunteers of Cancer Alliance of Marion County. We are a fully volunteer run nonprofit organization .

Volunteer opportunities: We are always looking for volunteers to apply their talents, especially when coming up with new ideas on how to share our vision. Currently, we need help with our allocations committee, marketing, and grant writing. We always want help spreading our mission.

 

CRYSTAL HAWKINS, INTERFAITH EMERGENCY SERVICES (IES), iesmarion.org

“We all are such a good team. I get to meet new people from all walks of life and different cultures. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago and coming to volunteer at IES makes me feel better—to interact with the clients and help them with shopping or just spend silent moments in prayer. When I am here, I feel my presence in the community as an individual and also in the greater picture. I also love to shop! But more importantly, volunteering at the store is like being with family. We spend so much quality time together in fellowship, from the customers to the staff that—it feels like home.”

Impact of volunteers: Our volunteers are the best. They pour out their hearts, time and talent and we are beyond grateful. We have volunteers that do maintenance work, office work, sorting donations and food, teach parenting classes, yoga classes, GED classes, bible study, and cook dinner for the residents every night off the week. They help put on neighborhood breakfasts and greet our clients. Without our volunteers our ministry would not work.

Number of active volunteers: Currently we have over 230 volunteers and only have 27 paid staff.

Volunteer opportunities: We are always seeking new volunteers. There are so many different ways and opportunities to get involved. Call Tina, our volunteer coordinator, to find out how you can get involved (352) 629-8868 ext 210

 

MARY NISBET, KIDS CENTRAL, INC, kidscentralinc.org

“I chose to volunteer with Kids Central because I am passionate about children, families, and helping those who are less fortunate. The most rewarding part of my job is to see families, who are in crisis, be able to get what they need. The families are often lost and need someone to listen to them. I try to offer a helping hand and just listen to them. I believe that others lives can be changed by me giving my time, my talent, my treasure to them and just caring for them.”

Impact of volunteers: Volunteers play a vital role in supporting the mission of Kids Central: protecting children, supporting families, and engaging communities.  Volunteers are viewed as extremely valuable members of the Kids Central team, as they assist with services that ultimately have a positive impact upon the communities and families that we serve.  

Number of active volunteers: 31

Volunteer opportunities: Kids Central serves five counties (Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando). Our corporate office is located in Wildwood, Florida.  Our current volunteer opportunities include: neighborhood projects at our Family Resource Center’s located in Ocala, Wildwood and Leesburg. Volunteers can assist with clerical work (answering phones, faxing/coping), adult mentoring, event assistance, sorting incoming donations, and working in our clothing closets. Volunteers are also needed for our Dreams Education Program. Opportunities in the Education Program include attending ESI staffings, case research, and case file organization. Volunteer opportunities are available in community affairs and may include updating the website, writing for the blog or newsletter, creating flier/print materials, assisting with event planning, donor research, and fundraising. Volunteer opportunities in Kinship Care include filing assistance applications, assisting the support group facilitator, and childcare. Volunteer opportunities in IT include fingerprinting people, replacing printer toners, restocking paper products, computer and email troubleshooting, software demonstrations, and work station setup. For our Baby Sleep Basics, volunteer needs include teaching caregivers the basics of infant safe sleeping, SIDS, and SUIDS (training will be provided to the volunteer). For more information on volunteer opportunities please contact volunteer@kidscentralinc.org

 

DAWN MITCHELL, KIMBERLY’S CENTER FOR CHILD PROTECTION, kimberlyscenter.org

“I chose to volunteer at Kimberly’s Center because I love kids and it hurts my heart to hear of children that are being abused or neglected. I have been blessed in the last several years to leave the workforce and stay home to help with our grandchildren. I had some time and I felt the need to volunteer somewhere. Dawn and Niki from Kimberly’s Center spoke of their mission, at our church. I felt God was leading me there. I just wanted to help kids in anyway I could. I find it very rewarding to know that my volunteering is helping the staff do what they need to do to help the smallest victims of crime in our community. What the staff does is nothing short of amazing! They are so nice, caring and committed to helping these children. I admire the staff for working so hard to improve the lives of these children and their families. And I feel so blessed to be a part of it.”

Impact of volunteers: The work our volunteers do is vital to our mission because it enables us to respond, protect and restore abused children, so they can get the help, hope and healing they deserve.

Number of active volunteers: We currently have 10 active volunteers that assist us in a wide range of services including building maintenance, administrative duties, fundraising efforts and  prevention and awareness. Most recently we added the opportunity to assist in caring for the children being served in our Trauma Intervention Advocacy program.

Volunteer opportunities: We have several volunteer opportunities available which include: spending time with children who are waiting for foster care placement, volunteering in our fund development department and assisting with various administrative and operation needs at the center. We can always use volunteers and our currently taking applications. We encourage anyone who is interested to come in for a tour to learn more about our charity’s needs. These are hosted on the first Friday of each month at 11 a.m. The tour is transformative and provides a clear understanding of how we serve the most vulnerable children in Marion County.

 

SHELLEY SIZEMORE, KIWANIS CLUB OF OCALA, ocalakiwanis.org

“Our motto is, Improving the world, one child and one community at a time. My chosen career, as an elementary educator, made Kiwanis a perfect fit! Through Kiwanis, I can help build a stronger world for tomorrow, by building stronger kids today. We focus on health, safety, education and citizenship. I have loved serving through Kiwanis for 31 years.”

Impact of volunteers: Our members are active in many areas. Camp Kiwanis has been our signature project since 1948. Volunteers support the camp by attending one or more clean up/fix up days a year and by fundraising to support the camp. Our fundraisers include: our annual pancake breakfast, where almost every member helps out by selling tickets, securing sponsors and working at the event. We also have many other fundraising events that we need member support to put on. Volunteers also coordinate our programs in several public schools, including Reading is Fundamental, Terrific Kids citizenship program, and Bring up Grades. We sponsor Key Clubs in 4 schools. Our Club Satellite assembles hygiene kits which are used by homeless children in the public schools. We have three primary community Service projects: we man one Salvation Army Bell Ringing post at during the holidays, we assist Habitat for Humanity with their annual Strawberry Festival and we collect gently used books for our Reach Out and Read. We give these and an annual gift of $1000 for books to Heart of Florida, to encourage reading to infants.

Number of active volunteers: Approximately100 (all members).

Volunteer opportunities: We would love to have more member volunteers to assist in these and other areas, as we try to improve the lives of children and thereby improve the future of Marion County. We do not normally solicit non-member volunteers. Persons who who would like to volunteer with us may apply to join our noon time club, which meets every Friday at Noon, by calling Phillip Olstein 352-351-3770. Those with less time available, may apply for membership in our Club Satellite, which meets once a month on the second Monday at 6 p.m. For information, call Shelley Sizemore at (352) 875-4880.

 

MICHELLE MALSCH, MARCH OF DIMES, CENTRAL FLORIDA TERRITORY, MARION COUNTY

“Imagine the joy of finding out I would be a grandmother for the first time. Then finding out my daughter was having twins sent me to the moon! My daughter, who has Graves disease, went into premature labor at 24 weeks. She would be hospitalized for the next six weeks, on strict bed rest. In the 30th week of her pregnancy, in the middle of a horrific thunderstorm, she underwent an emergency c-section and the identical twin girls were born. Weighing just about 3 lbs each, their tiny little bodies were whisked away in the incubators to the neonatal unit. By daybreak, the storm had subsided, but the worst was yet to come. The doctor came into my daughter’s room and told her that the babies were not doing well and Patricia Gutman and Cathie Colella Sadie Fitzpatrick, David Kingsley, and Jill Adams were going to be taken by Lifeflight helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Both of the girls were suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension. It was one of the happiest days of my life and the saddest all rolled into one. We spent day and night at that hospital for the first few days, praying and hoping for a miracle. One of the twins looked so tiny and frail, while the other was so swollen she looked twice her size. After nine days, the doctor in charge of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit approached my daughter and told her there was nothing more that could be done for one of the twins, as she was showing no signs of improvement, while the other was still clinging on to life. That night, they removed Michaela from the respirator and she slowly passed, as I watched my daughter hold her in her arms. My heart was broken. One of the nurses in the unit, tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Prepare yourself, Grandma. The other twin is not going to make it either.’ My daughter could not bear the thought of losing the other twin. She went home and got on the computer and looked up everything she could about pulmonary hypertension. She found a doctor who was a pulmonary hypertension specialist at Columbia in New York City, who was doing an experimental treatment on infants with a drug called Iloprost. She contacted him, As Bunco is such a fun game played by many here, I thought why not have a “Bunco for Babies” luncheon fundraiser? I continue to do the “Bake Sale for Babies” once a year, and “Bunco for Babies” is now in its 4th year and has raised thousands of dollars for the March of Dimes, March for Babies. I want every baby born prematurely to have a fighting chance. With fundraising to help research, maybe someday prematurity will become a thing of the past, and all babies will be born healthy. I have raised more than nineteen-thousand dollars.”

Volunteer opportunities: For information on volunteering, call (352) 502-5752

 

R.J. JENKINS, MARION COUNTY LITERACY COUNCIL, marionliteracy.org

“I chose to volunteer at the Marion County Literacy Council because I couldn’t think of a more powerful way to effect lasting change in my community than by helping people learn to read, write, and speak English. Improving literacy grows the economy, combats poverty, reduces crime, improves health outcomes, promotes civic engagement, makes people happier and more productive. The idea that I can help make that kind of change in our community is exhilarating. Working with students is hands down the most rewarding part of my work at the Literacy Council. It takes real bravery and humility for women and men to walk through our door and seek our help. What that means, is that every single student I work with has already proven that they are tough, aspiring, and hungry to better their lives and the lives of their children. I’m telling you, what goes on in these classrooms is extraordinary. I have so much respect and admiration for our students, who have decided to enrich themselves through education. What they’re doing takes more than just hard work; it takes tremendous courage. Our students are superheroes. Who doesn’t want to spend their time in the company of superheroes?”

Impact of volunteers: Our volunteers are the reason we are so successful in helping improve the literacy skills of Marion County adults. Although we have two staff members, it’s the volunteers who give us life. They are the reason we exist.

Number of active volunteers: We have over 75 active tutors and volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities: We are looking for volunteer tutors. They are the heartbeat of our organization. Without them, we cannot help the people we help. We are in desperate need of more tutors, as our services are being called on to expand. We need tutors in the areas of the GED (language, math, social studies, and science), reading and writing, English as a second language and to help our students prepare for the citizenship test. We will train you and give you all the materials. I can promise you that becoming a tutor is as life changing for the student as it is for the tutor. We are also always looking for volunteers for the following committees: marketing, fundraising and finances. If you would like to find out more please call Yamila at (352) 690-READ (7323) or email yamila@marionliteracy.org

 

David Knotts deceased

DAVID KNOTTS (DECEASED), MARION SENIOR SERVICES, marionseniorservices.org

“In 2018, eight months prior to the holidays, a very frail, 100-pound, 74-year-old man came to our office seeking help. David had been let go and was seeking employment and any volunteer opportunities to keep himself busy. His mother was spending her final days on earth in the hospital, where he slept by her bedside all day, knowing the end was coming soon. Hungry and not knowing where to go for help—Marion Senior Services welcomed him with open arms to our congregate café, providing breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. We bagged some groceries from the agency’s humble pantry for the weekends. With everything else he was facing, he had a personal challenge, one that had him fighting for his life—Colon cancer. Despite his diagnosis, David religiously showed up for “work”, volunteering his time in any capacity for the agency. He always shared his smile and some encouraging words for our staff. He helped wherever he could—in the office shredding papers, joining the seniors to play games in the congregate café, cleaning the parking lot and much more. He did so until one week prior to his heart attack, when his physical body was unable to carry him any further. He passed away on Thursday, March 7th, 2019. Marion Senior Services will always remember David with a big smile on his face, always willing to do more for others. May we all learn and be better for knowing him.” —Jennifer Martinez, Executive Director

Impact of volunteers: Our volunteers are the mainstay of our organization. They deliver Meal on Wheels, call clients to check up on them, help with shopping, provide companionship, and other services.

Number of active volunteers: We currently have 250+ volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities: Assist with activities at our seven congregate dining clubs (i.e. Guest speakers, exercise classes, card games, etc), assist seniors with daily activities (i.e. Preparing meals, grocery shopping, runnung errands, and other activities (volunteer and paid mileage), assist impaired seniors or disabled adults maintain a clean and safe home environment, which includes light cleaning, laundry, meal preparation, and other light chores, assist senior with social interaction, relieve loneliness – activities include reading, playing games, writing letters, watching TV and more, assist with our commodities program packing & distributing non-perishable groceries once a month (for clients and pets), lead a group or business to coordinate donations of non-perishable items, holiday presents, dollars and more, and serve Meal on Wheels (paid and volunteer opportunities). Call Amy Brault at (352) 620-3501 ext. 111 to volunteer or Amanda Palmer ext. 140 for Meals on Wheels drivers. For more information, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Mary Jury at (352) 620-3501.

Sally Ann Lyle and Patrica Lepak

 

SALLY ANN LYLE, MARION THERAPEUTIC RIDING ASSOCIATION (MTRA), mtraocala.org

“Having been involved with horses most my life, I know firsthand the joys of working with these wonderful animals. It just seemed like a perfect fit to join the MTRA team and help to bring those same physical and emotional benefits to people with disabilities. After volunteering at MTRA for more than 20 years, without a doubt, the most rewarding part of being there has been the small and big transformations we see every day—a wheelchair bound person able to move freely, a nonverbal child speaking to their horse, an autistic person bond with a horse. It truly is a wonderful experience every day.”

Impact of volunteers: The volunteers are extremely impactful to the participants, caregivers and horses in our program they make a difference in the lives of so many.

Number of active volunteers: We have 110 active volunteers logging in 1252.75 hours per month. We are 99 % volunteer run with 2 full-time and 2 part-time staff. Without the volunteers we would not be able to operate.

Volunteer opportunities: We always need volunteers. The opportunities are many, work in the sessions, work with the horses, barn chores, facilities maintenance, community outreach, office work and fundraising events. For more information, email execdirector@mtraocala.org or call (352) 732-7300.

 

LYDIA KUTTAS, OCALA ROYAL DAMES FOR CANCER RESEARCH, INC (ORD), ocalaroyaldames.org

“I have volunteered for the Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research since 1994, because my husband, my youngest sister and I have all been battling cancer for some time. Many other loved ones have been taken by cancer, different types—same outcome. I needed to do something, and hence as a Royal Dame, I help raise money for cancer research and education for Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and UF/Shands in Gainesville. The seed money we provided Dr. Shari Pilon-Thomas at Moffitt, contributed to the development of Keytruda®, which is now the standard treatment for advanced melanoma. The drug has been approved as first line therapy in lung cancer. Last fall at the Royal Dames funded “Shop Talk” seminar, held at the college, we learned Keytruda® is also used for some breast cancers. That’s the reason that I, as a proud Royal Dame, will continue to raise those necessary research funds.”

Impact of member volunteers: Our volunteers have raised over $3 million to support educational programs and activities that promote, enhance and further cancer research and education on a local and regional level.

Number of active members: 100% volunteer based organization with 190 volunteers

Member opportunities: As a living endowment to cancer research and education, ORD is a membership-based organization that requires members to pledge $2,500 for life membership, payable over a period of 10 years ($250 per year). Community participation at fundraisers is also warmly welcomed and very much needed. For more information, email ocalaroyaldames@gmail.com.

 

JAN MCDONALD, PROJECT PUP, INC. (PETS UPLIFTING PEOPLE), projectpupinc.org

“Project Pup started in 1987 as a pet visitation program to area nursing homes and assisted living facilities and added the PMOW (Pet Meals on Wheels) program after realizing the need to help seniors feed their pets. My husband, Jerry and I work with PMOW (Pet Meals On Wheels). We do this because we recognize the significant difference pets make to the seniors. Both of our older parents had pets during their later years and it greatly improved the quality of their lives. Many seniors live with one faithful friend—their pet—and in many cases this pet is the most important thing in their life. Oftentimes their pet is the only person they see and interact with daily. We have all heard stories of older adults feeding their pets instead of eating themselves. This program eliminates that need and therefore gives both the adults and pets the nutrition they need. Project Pup of Ocala along with SPCA provides individually packaged food for either a small dog, big dog or cat, on a weekly, basis for Meals on Wheels, which is distributed by the Marion Senior Center. We currently distribute pet food, along with treats, to between 150 and 160 pets weekly.”

Impact of member volunteers: The primary mission of Project PUP Inc. is pet visitation to health care facilities in Marion County and the impact of that is the big smiles and  joy that we bring to the patients and staff of the facilities visited by members. We feed about 150 animals belonging to people who receive Meals on Wheels and for the last three years we have given educational grants to individuals going into the animal care field. For the last three years we have also given educational grants for persons going into animal care field.

Number of active members: We are an accredited charity of 32 years. Membership changes each year, but our members range from between 15 to 40 members visiting rest homes with their pets.

Member opportunities: Opportunities for members are unlimited, with so many healthcare facilities asking for more pet visitation. To become a member, first your pet has to have all of their medical records in order and must be checked out by our Pet Evaluator to make sure they have the right temperament and are well behaved. Membership is just $20.00 per year. For more information on volunteering, please contact Therapy Dog Evaluator Louise Cannatella at (352) 615-9277  or email vol@projectpupinc.org

 

EMMETT COYNE, RAMAL EDUCATIONAL AND SOCIAL SERVICES, INC., ramalservices.org

“RAMAL seeks to intervene and assist those who ‘fall through the cracks,’ whose needs are not easily helped elsewhere. Like providing non-traditional scholarships for older students and summer school program assistance for students who need help in areas like math, etc. For 24-years, I raised funds for organizations whose mission it was to help the poor. Administration and staff took care of themselves first, with larger and larger salaries. They did ‘good,’ but at what cost? No one has a salary at RAMAL—pure volunteerism and maximum financial benefits for persons with real needs.”

Impact of volunteers: RAMAL is fully volunteer-run and could not operate without our volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities: Opportunities exist to be a mentor, tutor, for those with computer skills and to help with special events.

 

Dr. Franco Diaz, Dr. Manal Fakhoury, and Emmett Coyne

MANAL FAKHOURY, SAGE PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM, Facebook.com/SAGE-Lessons

Impact of volunteers: Our volunteers impact the recidivism of the men and women in our correctional facilities. Sharing the opportunity to leave better than when they entered the facility. SAGE – Lessons of Experience is a personal development program at Marion Correctional Institution, that was created in 2017, to fill a need to help the inmate population to reset their lives and enjoy learning for self-betterment and community contribution. The group recognizes that learning is not passive but an active process. Every semester they offer new classes, that range from real estate, soft skills, business networking, advanced public speaking, re-entry, investments and more. SAGE instructors are volunteers and share the value of life-long learning.

Number of active volunteers: Between 5 to 10 volunteers, at a time, given needs of group and their availability.

Volunteer opportunities: We are seeking volunteers in the men’s and women’s facilities for Gavel Club and the SAGE program. Email manal.llc@gmail.com, for more information on volunteering.

 

STEVE FARRELL, SAVING MERCY, savingmercy.org

“I think it is apparent to most people that Marion County has a homeless issue. My wife Fran and I felt compelled to do something to help this population. God has blessed us many times over and this was an opportunity to thank God for these blessings by helping others. After speaking with city representatives, a conversation with Father Pat Sheedy of Blessed Trinity Church, and lots of research about homelessness across the country—Saving Mercy and the Housing First concept for Marion County was initiated. Housing First is the only program that has shown to be effective throughout the country. In ten short months, we helped four people [transition] into rental apartments and one into their own home. It is very rewarding to help people who are struggling, to better their lives and the community we live in. With the help of the city, county and residents, we can succeed with this endeavor.”

Number of active volunteers: We have a few dedicated volunteers, but anticipate the need for many more in the future.

Volunteer opportunities: We are currently looking for volunteers to help us with program development, site development, fundraising, maintenance, and office/clerical work. If you’re interested in volunteering or learning more, please contact Tatiana at Tatiana@Savingmercy.org  

 

Michelle Malsch, Shelley Sizemore, and Pamela Schutte

PAMELA SCHUTTE, SHELTERING HANDS, INC., shelteringhands.org

“I started volunteering with Adopt A Stray (a cat rescue in South Florida) in 2004. When I moved to Ocala I was looking for animal rescue organizations. I chose to explore Sheltering Hands because of their Seniors for Seniors program. This program matches senior cats that may spend the remainder of their life in a shelter with senior citizens. The cat and medical care remain the responsibility of Sheltering Hands, but the cat gets to live in a home and the senior person gets to have a wonderful companion. Once I reached out to Sheltering Hands, I found there were a myriad of volunteer opportunities. I choose to learn new skills by volunteering in the surgical center, where they offer low cost spay/neuter services and with foster cats and kittens who need a temporary home, until they are ready for adoption. It’s rewarding to know that I have played a small part in preventing cats from reproducing and adding to the overpopulation problem. Because Sheltering Hands is a smaller organization, the volunteers get to know the cats and their personalities, so it is incredibly rewarding when one of the kitties is adopted into their forever home. Personally, I have had the opportunity to meet and become friends with others who share my passion for helping cats. My favorite volunteer quote is by Edmund Burke, ‘No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing, because he could do only a little.’”

Impact of volunteers: Volunteers allow us to find loving homes for cats and kittens, provide support for our surgical team during low cost spay/neuter surgery, help with our community cats program, foster cats, feed and care for cats at our main facility, work as adoption counselors, help with fundraising, maintain our website, manage our facebook and other social media, create our newsletter, deliver cats to their forever homes, and much more.  Without them, we would not be able to find loving homes for over 250 cats and kittens a year or perform about 1000 spay/neuter surgeries a year. Our volunteers are the heart and soul of our organization.

Number of active volunteers: We currently have 40 volunteers. Sheltering Hands operates with one full time employee and two part time employees.

Volunteer opportunities: We need help in all areas, but the biggest need right now is volunteers for “Cat Care” at PetSmart (College Road) on Mondays and Tuesdays in Ocala, and also on Tuesdays and Thursdays at our main facility in Fellowship. Both opportunities primarily clean litterboxes, provide food and water for the cats. Other opportunities include: adoption outreach, cat socialization, public relations, landscaping, facility maintenance, working in our gift shop, working in the Surgical Center, data entry and working special events. Visit our webpage shelteringhands.org for more information.

 

Patricia Lepak

PATRICIA LEPAK

Remarkably, when we asked for organizations to choose their top volunteer, the name of one special individual came up twice. Lepak not only is a top volunteer for these two organizations, but generously gives her time to other worthy causes in our community.

 

“I am very honored and excited to be nominated by both Special Olympics Florida, Marion County and Stirrups ’n Strides Therapeutic Riding Center, as one of Marion County’s Top Volunteers. 50 years ago Eunice Kennedy Shriver began a movement in this country to ‘accept and include all people, with and without disabilities, alike.’ This movement strikes a deep chord within me and is an inspiration that drives me to give back to these communities. Special Olympics Florida, Marion County works diligently to make that inclusion happen every single day. I am supportive and grateful for all that Special Olympics Florida stands for and the opportunities that are provided to all people, volunteers and athletes alike. My second family on earth, Stirrups ’n Strides Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc., not only provides therapy for riders, but for volunteers and all involved. Our rider’s accomplishments, happiness and dedication is such an inspiration. Our therapy horses—such gentle, kind and loving creatures—bring a special joy to my heart each day. There is a true sense of family at Stirrups ‘n Strides, that is priceless.”

 

 

 

SPECIAL OLYMPICS FLORIDA, specialolympicsflorida.org/marion

Impact of volunteers: Volunteers are truly the backbone of Special Olympics Florida, and their dedication ultimately allows us to fulfill our mission of providing year-round sports training and athletic competition.

Number of active volunteers: 264

Volunteer opportunities: Whether you are a group or an individual, there is an opportunity available to volunteer. There are several types of volunteer opportunities, from one-on-one coaching and mentoring, to fundraising and day-of-event volunteers.

 

MARION COUNTY & STIRRUPS ‘N STRIDES THERAPEUTIC RIDING CENTER, INC., stirrupsnstrides.com

Impact of volunteers: Stirrups ‘n Strides Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc. is a volunteer-based program, with a board of directors and 3 employees. The impact our volunteers have on those with disabilities, behavioral challenges, and emotional trauma, who come to us for therapeutic riding and equine therapy, is immeasurable. Our volunteers are the heart and soul of what makes these programs successful. They truly make a lasting difference people’s lives through this unique combination of horses and people helping people.

Number of active volunteers: We have approximately 88 active volunteers of varying time commitments and growing.

Volunteer opportunities: We depend on volunteers, from caring for our horses, helping with events and horseshows, farm clean up days, and help in the office, to cutting up carrots—no task is too large or small. We are also currently looking for help with data input and grant research and writing.

 

RITA GONZALEZ,  SOUP KITCHEN (Brother’s Keeper), btbrotherskeeper.org/soup-kitchen

Number of active volunteers: We are staffed by volunteers, who work from 8 a.m until 1:30 p.m., to prepare and serve our daily meal. We have dozens of volunteers who help us each week.

Volunteer opportunities: If you would like to volunteer, we would welcome you for a day or as a regular, committed volunteer. We welcome students who are doing community service hours. If you’re interested in volunteering, please show up at 8 a.m. and check in with our Soup Kitchen Director, Sr. Concepta or call ahead at (352) 789-8139.

 

Jokisha King, Jennifer Martinez, and Barbara Bigby

BARBARA BIGBY, PUBLIC EDUCATION FOUNDATION OF MARION COUNTY/TAKE STOCK IN CHILDREN PROGRAM (TSIC), pefmc.org/programs/take-stock-in-children

“I initially volunteered in the TSIC program because I was concerned about the percentage of minorities in college. However, as I got more involved with my students, watching them progress through their academic journey, I got an even deeper sense of satisfaction—similar to watching my own children. It is especially satisfying seeing them successfully graduate from college and take their place as productive citizens.”

Impact of volunteers: The TSIC scholarship and mentoring program changes students lives. The success of the program is a result of a comprehensive approach with the key factor being the volunteer mentor, who works one on one with the students.

Number of active volunteers: 171 active volunteer mentors

Volunteer opportunities: Volunteer mentors donate 30-60 minutes per week, meeting with their assigned student on their high school campus to help them build establish goals, improve their academic and life skills, while developing their self-esteem and confidence. TSIC is currently looking for volunteer mentors at each Marion County Public High School to meet with mentees for approximately 30 minutes per week.

 

DR FRANCO DIAZ, MD (MEDICAL DIRECTOR), THREE ANGELS CLINIC, threeangelsclinic.org

“After my retirement, following 46-years in private medical practice in the state of New Jersey, I moved to Ocala. I looked for a place that I could volunteer and provide my services to the needy residents of Marion County. We physicians are invested in providing charity services in hospitals and clinics. I feel that volunteering is a part of America’s commitment to support ongoing social change. I enjoy participating with Three Angels Clinic and get great satisfaction from helping people.”

Impact of volunteers: Our volunteer team members are truly “compassionate” caregivers and medical providers to our patients, who are deemed the “working poor” and/ or are uninsured and are eligible for free primary care. Three Angels Clinic is a Christian or “Faith based” 501c3 non-profit medical clinic serving Ocala since being established in 2012. Our volunteers love serving and giving back to the community. Without our “angel” volunteers there would be no Three Angels Clinic, providing free primary care.

Number of active volunteers: We have 12 volunteers. Our clinic is operated 100% by volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities:  We are looking for non-medical /volunteers for office support, plus medical doctors (ie orthopedic, podiatry, nephrology, psychiatry, cardiac and pulmonary) and also nurse practitioners/ physician’s assistant. Please email patientcare@threeangelsclinic.org for more information.

 

SADIE FITZPATRICK, UNITED WAY OF MARION COUNTY, uwmc.org

“Growing up, I was taught ‘To whom much has been given, much is expected.’ So I believe it’s my responsibility to use my time, talents, and treasure to give back to my community through volunteering. I love the teamwork aspect of volunteering, knowing that we are all working together to raise funds and awareness for so many amazing causes in Marion County. United Way truly strives to impact as many organizations and individuals as they can and I’m so happy to be a small part of their mission!”

Impact of volunteers: United Way of Marion County’s volunteers are instrumental for the success of day-to-day operations, internal programs/initiatives and workplace campaigns that support the health, education and financial stability efforts in our community. As a non-profit, we must keep our overhead expenses as low as possible to make the biggest impact in our community. Volunteers allow us to do that and are vital to our ability to combat the largest issues facing our community.  

Number of active volunteers: The number of volunteers for the 2017/18 fiscal year was 1,259.

Volunteer opportunities: Currently seeking: annual fundraising volunteers, community impact volunteers for internal programs/Initiatives such as ReadingPals, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), and Strong Families Skill Building presenters and mentors, Vision Council members to review funded partner grant proposals and interview agencies, oversee funded partner progress, and make funding decisions for community grants, Day of Caring volunteers, Affinity Group volunteers (i.e. Women United and Youth United Way), and internal committees for public relations, major gifts, new accounts, governance, and endowment/planned giving.

 

LOUIS HUGHES, VETERANS HELPING VETERANS (VHV), USA, INC., vhvusa.org

“I am a disabled vet myself and I feel we all need to give back. The vets we help, and all the big hearted people I volunteer with, make it worthwhile.”

Impact of volunteers: Veterans Helping Veterans has a diverse group of volunteers that play an integral role in our success. These selfless individuals donate their time and endless energy to serving our veteran population. Their contributions make it possible for Vets Helping Vets to realize our mission while maintaining low administrative costs ensuring more of every dollar goes directly to services for our clients.

Number of active volunteers: 49

Volunteer opportunities: We are currently accepting volunteer applications in the following areas: Veteran Court mentor, reception and clerical, office and administrative support, information technology assistantance, program assistant, maintenance and custodial assistantance, food pantry and inventory assistantance. For more information, call (352) 433-2320.

 

TRACY WATT, VOICES OF CHANGE ANIMAL LEAGUE (VOCAL), vocalforpets.org

“Tracy has fostered dozens of cats and a few dogs for us. She runs the trap, neuter and release program on the west side of Ocala. She takes sick animals to the vet and helps feed a feral colony in west Ocala. Tracy is one of those people who always has a smile on her face, no matter what is happening in her life. She is always willing to help and pitches in. Tracy is someone we rely on and she has never let us down.” —Linda Norman, President/Co-Founder

Impact of volunteers: Without our amazing and dedicated volunteers, VOCAL could not: take in and adopt out hundreds of animals each year, distribute one-million pounds of pet food and items donated by Chewy to 50 different animal groups and over a hundred low-income pet owners each year, trap, neuter and return feral cats and feed cat colonies, maintain our Fix the Future program to sterilize pets owned by people in need of financial assistance, answer nine-thousand calls a year, walk and train our shelter dogs, or keep our youth engaged in activities that teach them responsible pet ownership and create advocates of tomorrow.

Number of active volunteers: 150 active volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities: We have many needs, but at the moment we are trying to find more dog walkers and shelter buddies. Shelter buddies choose just one dog to socialize and take on outings, walks, can hang out with you while you run errands, or even at work. It is a fun program for anyone who needs a dog fix, but cannot adopt right now and it gives a dog a break from the shelter. We also need additional people who want to help at adoption events and at our new low-cost spay-neuter clinic.  For more information on volunteering, visit vocalforpets.org/volunteer/

VICKY DUNSTAN, XTREME SOLUTIONS, xtremesoulutions.org

“When my husband and I moved to Ocala, I was no longer working due to disabilities. Since I had so much time on my hands, I thought I could do some volunteer work, but with my disabilities what could I do? A neighbor told me she was moving away and that maybe I could take her place at Xtreme Solutions answering phones. That’s how I started volunteering with them. Over time my duties have evolved. My volunteering has even taken me to Marion Correctional, for meetings with our soon-to-be-released students to discuss their exit plan and see if we can assist. Periodically, I host a bingo night with our students, which I really enjoy, as do they. I believe in what Xtreme Solutions does and I see the results. Their teaching and re-entry program at Marion Correctional Institution not only helps to guide the inmates to want a better life for themselves and their family, it benefits the community. Anything that can help reduce the recidivism rate is a win for all and that’s rewarding to me. Also, the fact that I’m told almost daily how much I’m appreciated is also very rewarding.”

Impact of volunteers: We have two paid staff members, but all of our teaching, counseling and re-entry preparation is conducted by volunteers. Without them we could not provide the services that are essential to the programs we conduct inside the prison walls. We have men and women who are passionate about helping others become better members of society through personal interaction, classes, mentoring and guidance. We provide classes on many aspects of life skills including effective communications, finances, parenting, anger management, as well as job preparation including CDL and food handling.

Number of active volunteers: 30+

Volunteer opportunities: We welcome anyone with a passion for bringing a biblical worldview to the inmates, through the teaching of our curriculum at Marion Correctional Institution. In addition, we would be glad to have some help with social media, website management and other media. If you are interested in volunteering, please send an email to info@xtremesoulutions.com

 

 

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