Charity Register

The definitive guide to Marion County’s charitable organizations presents numerous opportunities to give back to our community — particularly to those in need. These pages are created to help our readers connect with trusted, local nonprofit organizations deserving of our gifts of time and treasure.



EARS Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary
P.O. Box 306, Citra, FL 32113
352.266.2859 |
Susan Nassivera
Mission Statement: Preserving with dignity.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020:
Always improving and adding larger turnouts and new enrichment for our animals.
Greatest need: Turnout area for every cat so they do not have to take turns going out.
Signature Event: Hot Cars and Cool Cats held on November 16th 2019,
April 18th, 2020, and November 21, 2020. See website for locations and
more information.

Forest Animal Rescue
640 NE 170th Court,
Silver Springs, FL 34488
Lisa Stoner, vice president
Mission Statement: Forest Animal Rescue is a nonprofit wild animal sanctuary and educational facility, dedicated to the lifetime care of non-releasable wild animals to prevent them from being destroyed — and the rehabilitation and release of native wild black bears.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are continuing to expand and improve our facility. After moving our entire operation to Marion County and building from scratch, there is much to do. We greatly need assistance with expansion through funding, volunteers, and interns (interns may become eligible for permanent employment).

Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc.
3251 NE 180th Ave., Williston, FL 32696
Mary Jo Brandt
Mission Statement: Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Inc. was created for the charitable purpose of rescuing, raising, training, and then donating medical service dogs to mentally and/or physically impaired individuals to provide aid and independence while improving the quality of life for both the recipient and dog. In addition, it is our goal to promote education about service dogs and pioneer research studies to further advance service dog training. We also strive to raise public awareness regarding the laws pertaining to service dogs and lessen the dependency of the disabled on the government, communities, caregivers, and families.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We will soon launch a campaign for funds to develop a 68-acre property that we have recently purchased in Levy County into a state-of-the-art training campus that will enable us to change and save more lives. Watch for the launch of our campus campaign!
Signature Event: Celebrating 10 years of being a nonprofit! Event TBA.

Have a Heart for Companion Animals, Inc.
P.O. Box, 831413, Ocala, FL 34483
352.687.4070 |
Marilyn Marinelli
Mission Statement: Have A Heart for Companion Animals Inc. operates as an information and referral center for those who are looking for help related to animal issues. Emphasis is placed on animal welfare education through brochures, website articles, and telephone counseling.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our long-term goal is to build a no-kill animal rescue shelter and sanctuary.

Humane Society of
Marion County
701 NW 14th Road, Ocala, FL 34475
352.873.7387 |
Roseann Morton, president
Mission Statement: The Humane Society of Marion County is a nonprofit, no-kill shelter dedicated to the care and protection of animals in Marion County, Florida. Our mission is to prevent cruelty, suffering, and overpopulation of animals.
Signature Events: Celebrate the beginning of summer with an old-fashioned cookout at the Dog Days of Summer 2020 event. Enjoy an evening of high-stakes casino fun where the proceeds go directly to benefiting the animals at HSMC during the Casino Night 2020.

Patriot Service Dogs
10545 SE 42nd Court, Belleview, FL 34420 | 352.514.9903
Lee Conger, president and lead trainer
Mission Statement: To enrich the lives of disabled military and veterans in our communities by placing a well-trained and lovingly raised service dog with them and educate the public about the rights of service dog trainers and teams, while focusing on giving disabled veterans back some of their independence lost while preserving ours.
Signature Event: Cheers to Patriot Landing! (Dinner Dance). Come enjoy an evening of music and food with the chance to meet our newest puppies in training! Get ready to be charmed! February 29th from 6–9 p.m. at Whispering Oaks Winery, Oxford, FL.

Perpetual Care
1200 NW 73rd Terrace, Ocala FL 34482
888.355.7091 |
Virginia Kilmer |
Mission Statement: Perpetual Care educates pet owners and assists them with life care and estate planning for their pets in the event that they are no longer able to care for them due to disability or death. When necessary, Perpetual Care also rescues and finds or provides a home for orphaned pets at our Life Care Center.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Perpetual Care would like to expand the capacity to help more pets by expanding the current facility or find a new facility with more space for animals.

VOCAL (Voices of Change Animal League)
6393 SW 52nd St., Ocala, FL 34474
352.289.0800 |
Mission Statement: Our mission is to solve the homeless pet problem through prevention, community outreach, adoption and collaboration.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our goal for 2020 is to continue to expand and grow several successful programs. These programs include trap-neuter-return of feral cats, pet food and resources for the public, rescue and adoptions of animals exclusively from Marion County, and providing food and pet items through our warehouse to over 80 other rescues, food banks, and shelters.
2020 Special Event: Come support us our fifth annual Furball on February 8th, 2020!

Addiction/Substance Abuse

Christian 12 Step Ministry, Inc.
415 NW First Ave., Ocala, FL 34475
Renee Arnett
Mission Statement: We exist to give hope in Christ, show love through support, and encourage change through Bible-based recovery from substance abuse, emotional strongholds, and codependency.
2020 Goal: Fundraise with an eye toward making our program available globally.

The Centers, Inc.
5664 SW 60th Ave., Ocala, FL 34474
352.291.5555 |
Kristina Donohue
Mission Statement: Our mission at The Centers is to strengthen lives with compassionate healing.

Phoenix Houses of Florida
15681 North U.S. Highway 301, Citra, FL 32113
Maria Alvarez, president and CEO
Mission Statement: We are passionate about healing individuals, families, and communities challenged by substance use disorders and related mental health conditions.


Fine Arts For Ocala, Inc. (FAFO)
120 SW Fifth St., Suite 106,
Ocala, FL 34471
352.867.0355 |
Maggie Weakley |
Mission Statement: Formed in 1972 with a simple mission to promote the appreciation of the fine arts and to enhance art education within our community. FAFO continues to support art education through scholarships and various community programs.
2020 Event: FAFO’s Symphony Under The Stars on Mother’s Day, May 10th, 2020 at the Ocala Golf Club.

Magnolia Art Xchange, Inc. (MAX)
531 NE First Ave., Ocala, FL 34470
352.629.8414 |
Jessi Miller
Mission Statement: To repurpose historic Ocala Union Station and further develop the downtown cultural campus by providing studios, instructional spaces, and exhibition opportunities for visual artists in a collaborative hub that encourages professional development.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: MAX is Ocala’s first art incubator and we have our first artist residents in studios with a grand opening on November 7, 2019. We will have a second call for resident artists and members early in 2020. Please visit our website for the latest project information.
Marion Cultural Alliance
23 SW Broadway St., Ocala, FL 34471
352.369.1500 |
Jaye Baille |
Mission Statement: Marion Cultural Alliance champions, convenes, and creates opportunities for artists and arts organizations.

Ocala Film Foundation
2008 SE 37th Court Circle,
Ocala FL 34471
Laurie Zink |
Mission Statement: The Ocala Film Foundation leads our community in creative and cultural discovery through the medium of motion pictures. Our efforts support the cultural and economic well-being of the region, in addition to providing student scholarships and classroom grants to students and teachers of digital media and technology.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We will be unveiling two new plaques to be added to the Walk of Fame. Date TBA.

Ocala Symphony Orchestra – Reilly Arts Center
500 NE Ninth St., Ocala, FL 34470
Willliam Nassal, president
Mission: Our mission is to create cultural experiences and opportunities for our community through music.

Reilly Arts Center
500 NE Ninth St., Ocala, FL 34470
Megan Whittaker
Mission Statement: To provide cultural experiences for the community through arts and entertainment.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are continuing to focus on providing high-quality programming, an excellent customer experience, and community impact, especially in our downtown and arts community overall.

The Marion Players, Inc. DBA Ocala Civic Theatre
4337 E. Silver Springs Blvd.,
Ocala, FL 34470
Marilyn Price
Mission Statement: To uplift, inspire, and entertain by providing quality theatrical experiences and performing arts education.


Black Nurses Rock,
Ocala Florida Chapter
P.O. Box 5544, Ocala, FL 34478
352.208.9412 |
Bridget Boynton
Mission Statement: To assist dedicated, driven, and determined nurses to grow professionally while addressing healthcare disparities in the Ocala and Marion county area.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: To continue getting out in the community to educate and bring awareness about health-related topics and continuing to help aspiring nurses become nurses.

Liberation Ocala African American Council, Inc.
P.O. Box 2693, Ocala, FL 34478
352.875.5071 | Oscar Brown
Mission Statement: Initiate and facilitate programs and activities for the enhancement of the quality of life for African Americans in Marion County.

Disabled Resources

ARC Marion, Inc.
2800 SE Maricamp Road,
Ocala, FL 34471
352.387.2210 |
Leah Craig |
Mission Statement: ARC Marion’s mission is to create opportunities for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live, work, and play to the fullest of their capabilities in Marion County.
Signature Event: Ocala Bike Fest in the spring (March–April). Dates TBA.

Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida
3445 NE 24th St., Ocala, FL 34470


Tony Delisle, director
Andrea Melvin, office manager
Mission Statement: Our mission is empowering people with disabilities to exert our individual right to live as independently as possible, make personal life choices, and achieve full community inclusion.
Signature Event 2020: The Amazing Give Charity Fundraiser, to be held in March. The Amazing Give will raise money for local nonprofits, like the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida, through a single online donation platform. This will provide an easy way to connect donors to the charitable causes they care about most and encourage them to take action.

Champions for Champions, Inc.
240 SE 17th St., Suite C, Ocala, FL 34471
352.585.9158; 352.462.0380
Maria C. Roman or Don Nottingham
Mission Statement: The purpose of Champions for Champions, Inc., is to enrich and empower families’ lives and values through providing and facilitating educational, sports, arts, social and life skills programs for people with disabilities.
Signature Events: Night of the Brightest Stars: A Christmas Gala held on December 7, Saturday at One Health Center.
Fifth Annual Champions Celebrity Night Dinner and Auction at Southeastern Auditorium: March 20, 2020. Tickets will be on sale soon.
Fifth Annual NFL Caring For Kids Clay Shoot at Robinson Ranch on March 21, 2020.
Celebrity Champion Waiters at Celebrity Restaurants — Various times.

Florida Center for the Blind, Inc.
1411 NE 22nd Ave., Ocala, FL 34470
352.873.4700 |
Mandy Intravaia
Mission Statement: The mission of the Florida Center for the Blind is to provide services, at no cost, to individuals who are visually impaired, empowering them to live safely, productively, and independently.

Kenny’s Place Nursery
7677 SE 41st Court, Ocala, FL 34480
Brandy Evans, director
Mission Statement: Our mission is to create a positive, caring, and accepting environment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Marion Therapeutic Riding Association (MTRA)
6850 SE 41st Court, Ocala, FL 34480
352.732.7300 |
Pam Morrison
Mission Statement: MTRA strives to offer the miraculous benefits of therapeutic horseback riding and equine facilitated learning to persons of all ages and capabilities that are physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: To increase funding for the growing veterans program, Freedom Reins, and the Equine Experience program for foster children and at-risk youth.
Upcoming Events:
November 30th: Holiday Market and Antique Cars show
January 19th: Florida Mini Match
February 24th: Fourth annual Golf Tournament
March 1st: HITS Family Fun Day
March 21st: Poker Run

Stirrups ‘n Strides Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc.
4246 W. Hwy 318, Citra, Florida 32113
352.591.1042 (office) or 352.427.3569 (Betty cell)
Gail McDaniel, program manager
Betty Gray, executive director
Mission Statement: To provide therapeutic horseback riding and carriage driving to anyone with physical, mental, or emotional challenges and to improve their quality of life with opportunities for emotional, educational, and physical growth through horsemanship and competition.
Signature Event: “Goin’ for Gold” charity fundraiser at Golden Ocala held on December 8th at 5–9 p.m. For more information, contact Betty Gray. This is our biggest event of the year!
We are so thankful for every bit of community support and assistance we are receiving toward ultimately reach our goals.

Transitions Life Center
NEW FACILITY at 3360 NW Gainesville Road, Ocala, FL, 34475
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 236, Ocala, FL 34478
352.877.8999 |
Darren Ritch, president
Mission Statement: The Mission of Transitions Life Center (TLC) is to provide a safe, caring, and enriching community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


Ambleside School of Ocala
507 SE Broadway St., Ocala, FL 34471
Emmy Lilholt
Mission Statement: It is the mission of the Ambleside administration and faculty to provide what Charlotte Mason called “a living education,” where each child is guided and empowered to author a full and free life, a life rich in relationship to God, self, others, ideas, and all of creation.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We will build out the high school building to accommodate our high school students.
Signature Event: Annual Father-Daughter Dance on February 7th and 8th, 2020 at Circle Square Cultural Center.

Cornerstone School
2313 SE Lake Weir Ave., Ocala, FL 34471
Matt Young, marketing coordinator
Mission: In an ever-changing world, our mission is to prepare students for success with a comprehensive educational program of an innovative curriculum; inspirational teaching that develops a passion for learning; and the Cornerstone values of acceptance, integrity, and mutual respect.
Signature Events: Marion County Chili Cookoff on November 2nd at the Livestock Pavilion.
Ocala Derby Party on May 2nd: Ocala’s premier Kentucky Derby party is an evening full of big hats, mint juleps, and exciting entertainment. There will be live music, live and silent auctions, a Best Hat competition, signature cocktails, hand-crafted hors d’oeuvres and multiple big screen TVs showing all of the coverage of the race.

Grace Christian School
4410 SE 3rd Ave., Ocala, FL 34480
352.387.3090 |
Kristin Dean |
Mission Statement: To prepare our children for life, to honor and glorify God in a Christ-centered environment of academic excellence.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Students at Grace Christian School are taught the importance of giving back to the community through service learning. Each year our school participates and donates to local charities.
Signature Event: Our Annual Mother-Son Dance is held each spring. Proceeds from the event are donated to a charity as part of our “Grace Gives Back” program.

Public Education Foundation of Marion County
1239 NW 4th St. Ocala, FL 34475
352.671.4167 |
Meghan Magamoll
Mission Statement: To financially and materially support Marion County Public Schools, its students, and teachers.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are recruiting mentors for our Take Stock in Children program.
Signature Events: Xglosive Tennis for Take Stock in Children – November 8th, 2019 at the Fort King Tennis Center from 6:30–9:00 p.m. This is a fun family friendly glow in the dark tennis-themed event! For more information visit or call 352-671-4167.
Sneakers and Smores 5K Run and Walk – Saturday, January 18th at the Country Club of Ocala.
The Memorial Golf Tournament – Saturday and Sunday, January 18th and 19th at the Country Club of Ocala.
Moot Thomas Golf Scramble – Monday, January 20th at the Country Club of Ocala.
Event information at or call 352-671-4167.

R.A.M.A.L. Educational and Social Services, Inc.
1636 SW 31st Ave. Ocala, FL 34474
352.873.1319 |
Barbara J. Brooks, Ph.D.
Mission Statement: To provide information, training, and life coaching which will empower, inspire, and motivate individuals to improve their lives and the community in which they live.

St Johns Luthern School
1915 SE Lake Weir Ave Ocala Florida 34471
Mission Statement: Saints Alumni & Friends come together to foster continued excellence in academics, athletics, social, and spiritual growth, and Christian Service as exemplified in the founding and continuing mission of St. John Lutheran School.


Howard T Odum Florida
Springs Institute
23695 US-27, High Springs, FL 32643


Tessa Skiles, Outreach director
Mission Statement: The mission of the Florida Springs Institute is to provide a focal point for improving the understanding of springs ecology and to foster the development of science-based education and management actions needed to restore and protect springs throughout Florida.
Silver Springs Alliance, Inc.
550B Midway Drive, Ocala, FL 34472
John Dunn, vice president
Mission Statement: Silver Springs Alliance’s focus is on restoration and prevention of the further deterioration of the Silver Springs ecosystem.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our current project is to help restore the natural functioning of Silver Springs and the Silver River by removal of the Kirkpatrick Dam.


Florida Thoroughbred
Charities, Inc.
801 S. W. 60th Ave., Ocala, FL 34474
352.629.2160 |
Lonny Powell |
Mission Statement: Florida Thoroughbred Charities is administered by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association with the mission to fund charitable organizations within the Thoroughbred industry, the City of Ocala, Marion County, and the State of Florida.

Horse Farms Forever
P.O. Box 5279, Ocala, FL 34478-5279
859.553.5510 |
Sara Fennessy, director of
community affairs
Mission: To inspire the conservation of horse farms through education and awareness so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, and to protect the soil and water on which they depend, while minimizing land use conflicts in Marion County.

Horse Protection Association
of Florida
20690 NW 130th Ave., Micanopy,
FL 32667
352.466.4366 |
John Sturm |
Mission Statement: Equine rescue, rehabilitation, education and adoption services. Assistance to law enforcement and animal agencies with cruelty investigations and the care and placement of horses. Promote horse care and humane, natural methods of training for horses.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Acquire a farm that is suitable for Horse Protection programs (rescue, training, adoption, sanctuary). Increase donations to $500.000 annually in order to help a greater number of horses in need in Marion County and to be able to accept horses at Marion County Animal Services needing placement.

Marion Therapeutic Riding Association (MTRA)
6850 SE 41st Court, Ocala, FL 34480
352.732.7300 |
Pam Morrison
Mission Statement: MTRA strives to offer the miraculous benefits of therapeutic horseback riding and equine facilitated learning to persons of all ages and capabilities that are physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: To increase funding for the growing veterans program, Freedom Reins, and the Equine Experience program for foster children and at-risk youth.
Upcoming Events:
November 30th: Holiday Market and Antique Cars show
January 19th: Florida Mini Match
February 24th: Fourth annual Golf Tournament
March 1st: HITS Family Fun Day
March 21st: Poker Run


Crossroads Alliance and Ministries
P.O. Box 1000, Silver Springs, FL 34480
352.209.8777 |
Darlene Kelly
Mission Statement: Crossroads Alliance and Ministries is changing lives through compassion for people in need.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: CAM Honduras: CAM’s investment in this life-changing ministry involves developing campuses where a church, school, agriculture center, and trade and Bible school help those in the community rise out of their cycle of poverty. CAM is hopefully securing a school bus, or two, and will have this ministry in self-sustaining status by the end of 2019.

Faithfully Guided
Health Center
40 SW First Ave.,
Ocala, FL, 34471
Ashlee Seek
Mission Statement: Our mission is to provide faith-based, lifestyle health care.

FLIP FLOP Support Groups, Inc.
1629 NW Fourth St., Ocala, FL 34475
352.361.1206 |
Jacalyn Brown
Mission Statement: Facilitating the success of families with loved ones in prison, families with loved ones out of prison, utilizing tools to show them that their challenge is unique but not uncommon and can be conquered through networking, self-improvement, and support in a spiritually-based setting.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are currently working towards a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Marion County to identify, assess, and provide aid for children of incarcerated individuals.

Frank DeLuca YMCA
Family Center
3200 SE 17th St., Ocala, FL 34471
Kelli Garcia |
Mission Statement: Our mission at the Frank DeLuca YMCA is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build health, spirit, mind, and body for all.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We believe everyone deserves the YMCA. That’s why we offer financial assistance to individuals and families. In 2019, our goal is to raise $500,000 so that we can continue to support our neighbors in need.

Harvest International, Inc.
3711 NE 42nd Lane, Ocala, FL 34479
352.622.1818 |
Pam Barrett
Mission Statement: Physically and spiritually touching lives.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We would like to have 1,000 Buckets of Love ready for the 2019 Hurricane season.

Interfaith Emergency Services, Inc.
435 NW Second St., Ocala FL 34475
352.629.8868 |
Sonya Tyler |
Mission Statement: Interfaith Emergency Services is a community of faith, called by God to offer emergency assistance without judgment to all persons in Marion County.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: To double the number of people receiving free medical, dental, and mental health services while we continue to provide for those who struggle to have their basic needs.

Love INC of the Heart of Florida
15797 S. US Highway 441, Summerfield, FL 34491
Barbara Briggs
Mission Statement: To mobilize local churches to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Expanding our mission of improving the overall health status of Marion County residents by providing quality primary medical, dental, behavioral, maternity, and pharmacy services to all residents, but in particular to those residents who would not otherwise be able to access the services due to financial limitations and/or lack of health insurance.
Soon we will be moving many of our services to our new building providing the ability to see more patients as well as a one of a kind “One-Stop” Medical Home for patients.

My Life Counsel
24 NE 14th Ave., Ocala, Fl. 34470
Scott Inman, M.A., founder and
executive director
Mission Statement: Our mission is to renew faith, hope, and intentionality in individuals, marriages and families.

Pay It Forward Outreach Corp
2203 SE 28 Place, Ocala, FL 34471


Rev. William Bender, president
Mission Statement: To empower the family unit through educational growth and emotional support so the family will gain stability and self-worth through the Gospel.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our goal this year is to obtain a larger facility, around 10,000 square-feet. With 3,000 square-foot for conference and media rooms, we can expand our educational health and financial teaching programs. We believe education is the next step to freedom and breaking the generational assistance given through the government. Sustainable living not only through a sustainable and secure home but also through education.

Redeemer Christian School
155 SW 87th Place, Ocala, FL 34476
Lisa Villella, office manager
Mission Statement: Our mission is to serve students through a rigorous, biblically integrated program of instruction, educating them to live in a community with grace and excellence.

Unlimited Discipleship Ministries, Inc.
4560 SE 120th St., Belleview, FL 34420
352.427.8607 |
Mike and Wendy Behar
Mission: Our mission is to assist men and women in the preparation, restoration, and growth in their marriage.

Wear Gloves, Inc.
1469 N. Magnolia Avenue, Unit B, Ocala, FL 34475
352.342.5487 |
Ken Kebrdle |
Mission Statement: Serve those that God puts in our path, teach others to love like Jesus, and advocate for the most distressed in our community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We would like to open a bakery and be able to employ those in need to earn what they need.

Family and Community Services

911 Cell Phone Bank
626 S. Pine Ave., Ocala, FL 34471
Bob Mikler
Mission Statement: Since 2004, the 911 Cell Phone Bank has provided more than 100,000 devices to vulnerable and needy residents in communities nationwide — all at no cost. Over the years we have given emergency cell phones to victims of abuse and senior citizens, tablets to women’s shelters, laptops to law enforcement and smartphones to teachers for use in high school app development courses.

Altrusa International Foundation of Ocala
P.O. Box 4228, Ocala, FL 34478
Colleen M. Duris, president
Mission Statement: Altrusa International strives to improve our community by providing services, developing leadership, fostering international understanding and encouraging fellowship through a network of dedicated volunteers.
2020 Signature event: Altrusa Trivia Night on March 7, 2020.

Creative Services, Inc.
1910 S. Pine Ave., Ocala, FL 34471
352.355.2928 |
Chris Azar |
Mission Statement: Creative Services Inc. aids, comforts, and empowers victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Creative Services, Inc. strives to meet the needs of those Marion County residents seeking safe and secure emergency shelter, as well as continuing to aid, comfort, and empower survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault along their personal journey of healing and recovery through counseling and advocacy. Creative Services, Inc. is honored to serve our community by continually expanding the capacity of our certified Domestic Violence Shelter, and providing survivors with advocates.

The Genesis 7 Project
Robert & Xochi Smith
Mission Statement: To awaken the potential, purpose and promise of today’s youth through community and spreading love.
Goal and Objective: Many of today’s youth are living unsupervised, in shelters, on the streets or with parents/guardians in crisis. The Genesis 7 Project is a faith based, 501(c)(3) that enables the community, churches, and local businesses to share Christ’s love to these children, teens, and families in our community. Our program collaborates with parents, schools, churches and community leaders to thoroughly support today’s youth and together help provide greater opportunities for them.
Signature Events: Christmas Community celebration “The Gift”.
College Tour Fundraiser.
Graduate Celebration.
“The Center” Summer block party.
“Stock The Rock.”

Help Agency in the Forest
16890 E Highway 40 Silver Springs, FL 34488
(352) 625-1900
Mission Statement: Providing
assistance to those in need in the Marion County area.

Ignite Community Counseling & Resource Center
3561 S. Pine Ave., Ocala, Florida
Mission: Mental health organization offering mental health services for trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression, spiritual issues and much more. We specialize in igniting hope and empowering lives.

Kiwanis Foundation-
Ocala Chapter
PO BOX 682, Ocala, FL 34478
Nick Navetta
Mission Statement: The Kiwanis Club of Ocala is dedicated to serving the local community, especially children, through various service and fundraising projects. Our club has been in service to Ocala and the surrounding area for more than 90 years. We are part of KIWANIS INTERNATIONAL, an International organization serving local communities for over 100 years.

Law Enforcement Agasint Destructive Decisions
Lynn Nicely | 904-826-7288
Mission Statement: To save the lives of our young people from distracted driving.

Ocala On Top of the World
Lions Club
P.O. Box 772733, Ocala, FL 34474
Estelle Michaelson
Mission Statement: To empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace, and promote international understanding through Lions Clubs.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Establish Lions Quest, a social and emotional learning process in at least one school or other early learning center in Marion County.

Unity Family Community
Center, Inc.
20030 NE 23rd PL, Williston, FL 32696
352.529.2030 |
Keila Legall |
Mission Statement: To improve the quality of life of families and individuals by providing services and opportunities designed to create a culture of C.A.R.E.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our goal for 2019–2020 is to implement an after-school program (S.W.A.G. 2.0) at no cost in Marion County. Also, to increase our capacity, UFCC is developing a capital campaign to construct an administration building with an estimated cost of $250,000.
United Way of Marion County
1401 NE 2nd St., Ocala FL 34470
352.732.9696 |
Scot Quintel |
Mission Statement: Uniting local resources to help our neighbors.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: United Way of Marion County and its partners are working to build a prosperous community by focusing our efforts on three key goals by 2022: First, increase the early childhood literacy rate by 10 percent. Second, help an additional 600 individuals achieve financial stability. Third, provide permanent housing for 375 individuals.
Signature Event:2020 Community Care Gala on January 30, 2020 at On Top of the World, Circle Square Commons. Join United Way “Under The Big Top” for an unforgettable evening of entertainment, upscale American fare, and sideshow acts that will amaze and astound! It’s the greatest show in Marion County! Proceeds will support United Way’s Community Care Fund. Tickets are $100. For more details visit

Xtreme SOULutions
P.O. Box 5487, Ocala, FL 34478
352.694.4888 |
Shirley Beattie
Mission: We empower people to create a future for themselves and their children, building a strong community with moral values, financial stability, and hope for generations to come. We are committed to partnerships that will lead the way in successfully building up those who are prepared to do their part in positive growth and development and to help break the cycle of government welfare assistance and poverty.


Believe in Santa Foundation, Inc.
11150 N. Williams St., Suite 108, Dunnellon, FL 34432
561.509.5776 Ext. 1225
Keith Carson
Mission Statement: The Believe in Santa Foundation is a public service all-volunteer organization focused on improving life. Without any expectation of compensation, the foundation is dedicated to serving all children in need. We put people before profits, regardless of race, creed, color, or sexual orientation.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are in the planning stages of building a North Pole in this area to serve special needs, terminally ill, and other children in need. It will be open year-round.

College of Central Florida Foundation, Inc.
3001 SW College Road, Ocala, FL 34474
Dawn Gonsalves |
Mission Statement: The College of Central Florida Foundation’s mission is to identify, solicit, and acquire restricted and unrestricted resources to support the college in providing educational services to Citrus, Levy, and Marion Counties.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: “Reaching Higher” Campaign—This is a $20 million comprehensive campaign to raise resources for: Health Sciences, scholarships, Appleton Museum of Art, and Agri-business and Equine programs at CF.

Community Foundation for Ocala Marion County
324 SE 24th St. Ocala, FL 34471
Lauren Deiorio
Mission Statement: Connecting the charitable interests of the donor to build a better community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: The Community Foundation is working towards the establishment of a Nonprofit Resource Center.

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Foundation
P.O. Box 1987, Ocala FL 34478
Gary Skogsbergh Sr., president
Mission Statement: We pledge to serve as a nonprofit organization for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office by engaging in fundraising activities to support community programs, the Sheriff’s Office budget, and volunteer functions.

Ocala Lions Club Charities Foundation
P.O. Box 801, Ocala, FL 34476
352.854.6715 |
Audrey Hall
Mission Statement: The Ocala Lions Club is a collegial, congenial group, dedicated to the proposition that collectively we can do more than we can as individuals. Our focus is on the preservation and enhancement of sight and hearing.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our goal is to be able to expand our outreach and provide services to even more people in need.
Signature Event: The Ocala Lions Club Jerry Cullison Memorial Golf Tournament, which is played at Ocala Golf Club on the first Saturday of December every year, which is December 7th this year. This will be our 26th annual tournament. It is limited to 31 foursomes because we have hole-in-one prizes on every par 3, which include a car, a boat, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and $10,000. We provide coffee and doughnuts, drinks and lunch, and have door prizes including a big screen TV.

Ocala Rotary Foundation, Inc
P.O. Box 104., Ocala FL 34478
352.732.7080 |
Jonathan Dean
Mission Statement: To receive and administer funds for scientific, education, and charitable purposes.

QuitDoc Foundation
807 B SW Third Ave., Ocala, FL 34471
352.359.5383 |
Barry Hummel |
Mission Statement: To improve overall community health and wellness by reducing the number of deaths in the United States from tobacco addiction and curtailing tobacco use within youth and adult populations through research, education, and prevention.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are currently working on a youth online cessation support video series on tobacco health and tobacco-free policies for county parks.

Homelessness /Poverty

Brother’s Keeper (Blessed Trinity Catholic Church)
320 NW 10th St., Ocala 34475
Office 352.622.3846
Thrift Store 352.732.7988
Soup Kitchen 352.789.8139
Jason Halstead |
Mission Statement: Brother’s Keeper, in cooperation with the pastor of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church and community agencies, is committed to assist the poor and needy of Marion County and other areas without regard to race, creed, or ethnic origin.

Deliverance Outreach Ministries
821 NE 36th Terrace, Suite 10,
Ocala, FL 34470
352.209.8777 |
Felicia Miller |
Mission Statement: Our mission is to help people with their needs and conduct humanitarian outreach.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: To continue to help as many non-insured and homeless citizens as possible.

Habitat for Humanity of Marion County, Inc.
P.O. Box 5578, Ocala, FL 34478
352.351.4663 |
Tori Arens |
Mission Statement: Putting God’s love into action in Marion County by strengthening communities, building hope, and providing dignified housing solutions through partnership and empowerment.
Signature Events: Seventh Annual Habitat Ocala Strawberry Festival on March 7th, 2020. Featuring live music, food and drinks, vendors, pet contest, car show, pie eating, kid zones and strawberries! Event details: Also, the Fourth Annual Strawberry Jam 5K, winding through beautiful Ocala neighborhoods. Details: Then don’t miss Hookin’ for Habitat Fishing Tournament on March 14th, 2020. For more information:

Helping Hands Foundation, Inc.
101 NE 16th Avenue
Ocala, FL 34470
(352) 732-4464
Mission: Helping Hands is a nonprofit charity, serving the people of Ocala/Marion County. It was established to provide shelter and related assistance for the homeless, and others who are in difficult situations. Besides shelter, we assist our residents with jobs, food, clothes, medical, dental, transportation, counseling, Bible study and fellowship, and other needed services.

Marion County Homeless Council, Inc.
108 N. Magnolia Ave., Suite 202,
Ocala, FL 34475
352.732.1369 |
Angela Juaristic |
Mission Statement: Eliminate homelessness in Marion County by providing housing assistance while serving as the Continuum of Care (CoC) lead agency.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: In 2019–2020, we hope to increase the number of families that remain housed through prevention. We welcome donations including monetary (which is used to pay for items not covered by grants such as baby formula, work boots, uniforms, bus passes to work, and basic necessities) as well as donations of sunscreen, hats, mosquito repellant, rain ponchos, zip lock baggies or pencil cases to product documents and small hygiene products. Every item donated is distributed to homeless individuals and families encountered and needing protection from the Florida elements.

Ocala Housing Authority
1629 NW Fourth St., Ocala FL 34478
352.369.2636 |
James Haynes
Mission Statement: The Ocala Housing Authority is committed to providing and expanding safe, decent, and sanitary housing in the most efficient manner, to the residents of Marion county; to provide economic opportunities and housing free from illegal discrimination; and to build better neighborhoods by providing comprehensive opportunities for our residents through partnerships and networking within our community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are working towards increasing our rental housing stock and expanding homeownership opportunities for low-income families.

Project Hope of Marion County
830 NE 28 St., Ocala FL 34470
Mike Amsden
Mission Statement: Our mission is to support homeless families in Marion County progress out of homelessness by providing transitional housing as well as programs that encourage self-sufficiency.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Expansion of units available for transitional housing.

Open Arms Village, Inc.
1839 NE Eight Road, Ocala, Fl. 34470
Michael Patrick Smith
Mission Statement: Open Arms Village exists to create a safe and healthy residential community that treats homeless men with dignity. We provide a full array of programs and services that men can use to move themselves towards independence.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: With our continuing success, we are working to create a greater community awareness! Many of our men are available to speak with your church, club, or civic organization. The stories are amazing and will certainly encourage needed growth of our donor base.

The Salvation Army
Marion County
2901 NE 14th St Ocala Florida 34470
Mission Statement: The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
Saving Mercy
3601 W. Silver Springs Blvd.,
Ocala, FL, 34475
352.629.6902 |
Mark Lindsay |
Mission Statement: We are hope and help for the homeless in Marion County.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: The Mercy Inn & RV Park will be working to develop and provide affordable housing options, case management, and wraparound support services for the homeless at our newly acquired property at 3601 West Silver Springs Blvd (formerly the Motor Inns & RV Park).


Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC)
15 SE Osceola Ave., Ocala, FL 34471
Laurie Zink |
Mission Statement: The Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) pioneers technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. IHMC faculty and staff collaborate extensively with industry and government to develop science and technology that can be enabled with respect to society’s broader goals.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Continuing to offer our evening lecture series to the community at large and to expand our Science Saturday and Robotics Camp scholarship programs.

Public Policy Institute of Marion County, Inc.
The Enterprise Center, 3001 SW College Rd, Suite 202, Ocala, FL 34474
352.854.2322 ext. 1457
Toni James |
Mission Statement: To give the community a sense of hope and optimism by creating a broad base of community involvement in identifying, researching, and establishing dialogue on community-wide issues and then in recommending and helping to implement timely solutions.
Goal/objective 2020: The goal for 2020 is to run a study on all the issues related to healthy children — physical, mental, social, and educational.


Early Learning Coalition of Marion County
2300 SW 17th Rd Ocala, FL 34471
352.369.2315 |
Elizabeth Denola
Mission Statement: To provide leadership and foster partnerships to optimize a quality early-learning environment for our children through childcare, Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK), and parent education.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: In the fiscal year 2019–2020, the Coalition team will be implementing the Help Me Grow program in Marion County. This program helps to identify children in need of developmental, behavioral, or learning support, and connects them with community-based services at no cost. Services include screenings, information, resources and materials, referrals, and family networking opportunities. Two key partners are United Way’s 2-1-1 and Healthy Start of North Central Florida.

Friends of the Forest Public Library, Inc.
905 S. Hwy, County Road 314 A,
Ocklawaha, FL 32179
David Freudenburg
Mission Statement: The ongoing purpose of the Friends of the Forest Public Library to promote and develop the Forest Public Library facilities in Forest Corners and Marion County by enhancing community awareness, understanding, and use of the library in cooperation with the Library Board and the Library Director through supplemental financial assistance and direct voluntary support.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Promoting new members for bringing fresh ideas and talents, with hands-on abilities to continue to support the Forest community and library.

Friends of Freedom Public Library, Inc.
5870 SW 95th St., Ocala, FL 34476
352.438.2580 | Susan Sullivan
Mission Statement: To cooperate with and support the Freedom Public Library in the development and promotion of library services, resources, and facilities for the community and to encourage and receive gifts, endowments, and bequests to the library to provide supplemental financial assistance.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Creating awareness of the Freedom Friends’ work across the library’s service area.

Friends of the Marion Oaks Public Library, Inc. (FOTMOPL)
294 Marion Oaks Lane, Ocala, FL 34473
Irma McNeal, vice president
Mission Statement: The mission of the FOTMOPL is to promote the perpetual existence of the library by supporting it and cooperating in the development of services, resources, and facilities of the community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Completion of library refurbishing and continued support of library in all its functions.

Friends of the Ocala
Public Library
2720 E. Silver Springs Blvd.,
Ocala, FL 34470
Bridget Kiefer, vice president
Mission Statement: To promote and develop the public library in Ocala by enhancing community awareness, understanding, and use of the library in cooperation with the library director through supplemental financial assistance and voluntary support.

Marion County Literacy Council
120 SW Fifth St., Ocala, FL 34471
352.690.7323 |
Yamila Acosta
Mission Statement: All adult citizens of Marion County should have a resource available to help them improve their literacy skills.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are working towards more community partnerships to offer our programs to more potential students as well as growing our correctional institution programs, public school programs, and working with probation and parole.

The Friends of the Fort McCoy Public Library
14660 NE Highway 315, Fort McCoy, FL 32134 | 352.438.2560
Mary L. Thomas
Mission Statement: This corporation was formed for the advancement of education by distributing its funds for the promotion and development of the public library facilities in the city of Fort McCoy, Florida, as well as to encourage the use of such facilities.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We hope to secure grant funds to renovate our auditorium. (Our building was once used as a school.) If successful, we will have state-of-the-art equipment for presentations, which will make the library a much-needed venue for local clubs and classes.
Event: This past year the Friends of the Fort McCoy Library received a $7000 grant from Clay Electric and we purchased a wireless projector and large screen so community organizations will be able to use the library for meetings and presentations. We’re hosting a Community Celebration and Block Party at the library on November 2 from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. There will be free food, fun for kids, lots of organizations with information, and door prizes.


Friends of the Christmas Parade
5184 SE 20th St., Ocala, FL 34480
William Taylor
Mission Statement: To support the
Ocala Christmas Parade tradition for over 60 years.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are working each year to make the event more enjoyable for the community.

Ocala Main Street
405 SE Osceola Ave. Ocala, Fl 34471


Jessica Marr, executive director
Mission: To create a thriving, unique, and livable downtown that enriches the community, embraces history, celebrates the arts, and promotes quality events to instill a sense of place in our community.

Health and Medicine

American Heart Association
1202 SW 17th St., #201-167,
Ocala, FL 34471
Kristina Donohue, regional director of Marion County
Mission: To be a relentless force for longer, healthier lives.
Signature Event: Marion County Heart Walk on September 2020.
Go Red for Women on March 5, 2020 at Circle Square Cultural Center.

Cancer Alliance
2020 SE 17th St. Ocala, FL 34471
Linda Koontz, director
Mission: Founded by H.U.G.S. Charities because Marion County needed a collective cancer care community that could collaborate, communicate, and educate together for the greatest impact.

Community Cancer Education, Inc., DBA 21st Century C.A.R.E.
2234 Colonial Blvd.,
Fort Myers, FL 33907
Liz Luna |
Mission Statement: Provide cancer education at the community level to patients, cancer care providers, and the general public; support cancer research and provide financial assistance to cancer patients in need.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are planning a skin cancer screening in the coming year and are partnering with local retailers nationally to raise funds.

Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness & Community Resource Center
819 NW Seventh St. Ocala, FL 34475
Pamela Lewin, M.D.
Mission Statement: To provide accessible preventative primary care, medical, and dental services to the underserved and uninsured residents of Tucker Hill in the 34475 postal area, without regard to age, race, gender identity, disability, religion, or ability to pay.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We would like to become accredited to see medical, dental, and mental health patients in our facility.

Heart of Florida Health Center
203 E. Silver Springs Blvd., #101,
Ocala, FL 34470
352.877.7142 |
Heather James
Mission Statement: Our mission is to improve the overall health status of Marion County residents by providing quality primary medical, dental, and mental health services to all residents. In particular, to those residents who have financial and insurance limitations.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Expanding our mission of improving the overall health status of Marion County residents by providing quality primary medical, dental, behavioral, maternity, and pharmacy services to all residents, but in particular to those residents who would not otherwise be able to access the services due to financial limitations and/or lack of health insurance. Soon we will be moving many of our services to our new building providing the ability to see more patients as well as a one of a kind “One-Stop” Medical Home for patients.

H.U.G.S. Charities
P.O. Box 34, Ocala, FL 34478
Rhoda Walkup |
Mission Statement: The H.U.G.S. organization encourages heartfelt unconditional giving to benefit cancer patients and the fight against cancer through the creation and support of its community cancer alliance.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We hope to continue helping meet the non-medical needs of those facing cancer in Marion County and equipping them to get to treatment, nourishment, and shelter.
Signature Event: A silent auction on March 26, 2020 honoring the late David Tuck. Tickets and donations can be made at

March of Dimes
P.O. Box 3153, Harlan, IA 51593-0344
Tammy Dygert, executive director
Mission Statement: March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies.
Signature Event: Our 2020 Marion County March for Babies walk event is Saturday, April 25 at the Baseline Trailhead. This year marks the 50th anniversary of our walk events (and the 82nd anniversary of March of Dimes as an organization).

21765 SW 106 Lane Road, Dunnellon, FL 34431
352.469.6006 |
Justin Lamb, Advanced Imaging
Ocala Health
Mission Statement: The Michelle-O-Gram exists to provide breast imaging services for the uninsured and underinsured women and men in our community. We are celebrating our 10th Anniversary and are proud to have served nearly 1500 individuals, both women and men. Men do get breast cancer. The healthcare situation continues to change, referrals come to the Michelle-O-Gram via physician offices, free clinics, Heart of FL, American Cancer Society, Marion County Health Department as well as self referrals.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We hope to increase exposure in the community — after seven years we continually learn of those who have never heard of the Michelle-O-Gram.

AdventHealth Auxiliary, Inc.
1500 SW First Ave. Ocala, Florida
John Christman, auxiliary president
Jennifer Poole Wood, director
Mission Statement: As a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) service organization, the AdventHealth Auxiliary, Inc. is committed to supporting good health in our community. We actively sponsor programs and services which enhance the lives of our community residents in their homes and in the hospital. Utilizing the skills and dedication of volunteers and staff, the Healthy Home program provides the elderly patient after a hospital discharge, non-clinical services such as food, well-check telephone calls, transportation to their doctor and safe home modifications. These social determinants of health, when met, assist in providing for a healing home environment for our elderly neighbors. All services are provided free of charge. The revenue from the AdventHealth Hospital Gift Shop funds this nationally recognized volunteer program.

NAMI Marion County, Inc.
P.O. Box 5753, Ocala, FL 34478-5753
352.368.2405 |
Diana Williams |
Mission Statement: Educate, support, and advocate for people diagnosed with mental illness and their family and friends.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: NAMI Marion County will be initiating mental wellness screenings in outlying areas of Marion County to enable people to identify if they have a problem; we will also provide telehealth counseling for those people via Meridian Behavioral Health Services. In addition, NAMI Marion County is working with the Marion County Mental Wellness Coalition to develop a plan to have a clubhouse-type of walk-in center for referred people with mental illness.

Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 6163, Ocala, FL 34478
Joan Audette
Mission Statement: To ensure strong local and regional effort in the fight against cancer through funding research and education.

Three Angels Clinic
4817 NE Second Loop, Bldg. B, Ocala FL, 34470 | 352.509.6350
Dr. Kevin Barret, executive director/trustee
Mission: A private, independent, faith-based clinic priding itself on having a wonderful selection of experienced and caring medical professionals and volunteers dedicated to serving the sick in our community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: For 2019–2020, we hope to increase community ownership through individual financial support and donations, increase the number of Marion County and Ocala residents served who have no medical provider or are uninsured, and obtain at least one hospital support for select patients to get labs, diagnostics, and pharmacy services.

Senior Care

Hawthorne Village Retirement Community
4100 SW 33rd Ave Ocala FL 34474
Mission Statement: Providing state-of-the-art treatment with the benefits of a not-for-profit provider. Our priority is to ensure every resident is treated with respect, love, and the best possible
care available.

Hospice of Marion County
3231 SW 34th Ave., Ocala, FL 34474
Cindy Moody
Mission Statement: We provide exceptional compassionate end-of-life care to our community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Memorial Park for our Estelle’s and Monarch Center Campus: Set in the serene setting between Estelle’s House and the Monarch Center for Hope and Healing, the Memorial Park offers peaceful respite for meditation, remembrance, and celebration. This campus has recently been named the Helen “Mimi” Walker Campus. Our landscaped park features red brick paving stones and a granite memorial wall. Both may be engraved in memory or in honor of a loved one. The Veterans Circle of Honor is a tribute to either living or departed veterans who have served our great country. A brick paving stone may be engraved with an honoree’s name, branch of service, and dates of service. There are also five individual Branch of Service Monuments available for a name and military rank to be engraved.
Signature Events: November is Hospice Month—Join us for two veterans events: Nov. 1 we’re hosting nationally known author and nurse Deborah Grassman who’ll give a presentation in the Elliott Center from 8:30–10:00 a.m.; she’ll share her unique experiences caring for veterans over her 30-year career with the Department of Veterans Affairs. On Nov. 16, at the Memorial Park, from 10:00–11:30 a.m., Hospice of Marion County will hold a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony with local dignitaries, high school choir, and color guard in attendance. All events are open to the public at no charge.

Marion Senior Services
1101 SW 20th Court,
Ocala, FL 34471
Cassandra Jackson
Mission Statement: Assisting the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged residents of Marion County to maintain independent living status.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Gaining additional financial and volunteer support for In-Home Support services. We have over 800 seniors requesting additional support with their daily living activities and if we could address their needs, we could avoid those seniors becoming at risk for further health issues.


Special Olympics
Florida, Inc.
2800 S.E. Maricamp Road, Building #2, Ocala, FL 34471 | 352.988.7998
Sandy Hopkins, sports director of Marion County
Mission Statement: The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities for physical fitness.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: For 2019, our goal is to integrate health initiatives into schools, increase healthy athletes’ programs and see a wider influence within Marion County and the rest of Florida. We also have a newly added Young Athletes program for kids between the ages of two and seven.


Ocala Blue Star Mothers
8470A SW 92nd Lane, Ocala, FL 34481
Tina Shumway
Mission Statement: Our mission is to support our active duty military, our veterans, and the families of the fallen.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Provide items for veterans who receive services through the Gainesville VA Hospital in the form of new clothes and shoes as well as flip flops and other items requested by the hospital to help veterans who are going into transitional housing, i.e., dishes.

Veterans Helping Veterans
USA., Inc.
2730 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Suite 200, Ocala, FL 34470
352.433.2320 |
Hank Whittier
Mission Statement: To assist veterans and their families who need social services and information to improve their lives and to assist them in maintaining their independence.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Training and employment for veterans.

Women’s Charities

GFWC Woman’s Club of Ocala, Inc.
P.O. Box 4444, Ocala, FL 34478
Sonia Palmer, president
Mission Statement: Working together to strengthen our community and enhance the lives of others through community service.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Our goals for the coming year are two-fold: increase membership and fundraising. These would enable our club members to volunteer in more areas of need in the county and also to have more funds available for schools and other charitable organizations.

Our Hearts Align
179 NE 51st St., Ocala, FL 34479
Kara Mangum
Mission Statement: To provide physical and emotional comfort to moms, and their family, during and after a pregnancy loss. We provide this support through physical resources, personal support, prayer, and love.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: In the next year, we would like to develop additional resources to support the entire family unit during the loss of a baby. We want to not only support the mom but the father and siblings as well. We hope to do this by developing new books, print and digital resources, and community events.

PACE Center for Girls
328 NE First Ave., Suite 500,
Ocala, FL 34470 | 352.369.0571
Kim Vollmer Smith
Mission Statement: PACE provides all girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training, and advocacy.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Looking to procure the facility we are currently leasing.

Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.)
9145 SW 70th Loop, Ocala, FL 34481
Christy Cathcart
Mission Statement: P.E.O. is a philanthropic organization where women celebrate the advancement of women; educate women through scholarships, grants, loans and stewardship of Cottey College; and motivate each other to achieve their highest aspirations.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We continually raise money to support all of our funds that support women’s educational goals.

Women Veterans In Crisis (WVIC)
2730 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Suite 200-6, Ocala, Florida 34470
352.533.2789 |
Mitchell Coulton, executive director
Mission Statement: First in the nation to expand community-based resources to provide comprehensive mental health and social services to women veterans and their children, doing so with compassion, respect, excellence and integrity.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: WVIC’s current project is the establishment of a facility with 120 apartment-style rooms together with 100 transitional and permanent supported housing cabins (1- and 2-bedroom homes) on a 111-acre campus. On-site capacity will be roughly 180 women and 40 dependent children. The treatment campus is designed to mirror an Ocala horse farm. This approach reflects the movement away from institutional-looking facilities and takes advantage of Ocala’s beautiful rolling hills and pleasant climate. We are currently working with congress to provide legislation which will bring this project to fruition. To donate to this cause, please visit our website at


Arnette House, Inc.
2310 NE 24th St., Ocala, FL 34470
352.622.4432 |
JP Leard |
Mission Statement: To provide safe and effective programs to strengthen youth and families.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are currently working on building the Sara Arnette Aquatic Center. We have completed stage one and are looking forward to starting stage two.

The Boys & Girls Club of
Marion County
800 SW 12th Ave., Ocala, FL 34471
352.690.7545 |
Aaron McGlon
Mission Statement: To enable all young people, especially those who need it the most, to become caring, productive, responsible citizens.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: World Class Club Experience. We want every young person to want to be a member of the club and every parent to want their kids to be members.

Children’s Home Society
of Florida
226 NE Sanchez Ave., Ocala, FL 34470
352.732.1412 |
Christy Gibbons, program director
Mission Statement: Building bridges to success for children.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Expansion of the Mid-Florida Community Counseling Program in Marion County to include tele-health services which will alleviate delay to services and provide the opportunity to serve more individuals.
Covenant Children’s Home
11350 N. Covenant Path, Dunnellon, FL 34434
352.489.2565 |
Debbie Davis
Mission Statement: Covenant Children’s Home exists to provide children a home where a Christ-centered environment promotes health, hope, healing, and a brighter future in the lives of children who need the care and support of a loving community.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We are in the process of breaking ground on our second home, with the goal of building a total of five homes on our 24-acre campus.

Episcopal Children’s Services
8443 Baymeadow Road, Suite 1, Jacksonville, FL 32256
904.726.1500 |
Debbie Moore
Mission Statement: Creating
opportunities for children to reach
their full potential.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Male Involvement Initiative — ECS is continuously striving to increase male involvement for our children through, not only our parents, but father figures and positive role models within our community. They are important influences on the school readiness of children and the well-being of families, overall. This initiative requires a lot of community involvement to be successful.

Florida Kids Helping Kids
3560 SE 137th Lane, Summerfield, FL 34491 | 352.347.0883
Gerri Gerthe |
Mission Statement: Kids Helping Kids, with the aid of adults, to become better citizens by teaching each other how to show compassion by helping other kids and our community in which we serve.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: We need volunteers for the Marion County Fair which will be April 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th located at the Marion Military Academy off of Baseline.

Francis Marion Military Academy, Inc.
5895 SE 83rd St., Ocala, FL 34472
Charles deMenzes
Mission Statement: Educate high school students in leadership, government,
and business.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Increase our student population
in college.

Hands of Mercy Everywhere
6017 SE Robinson Road,
Belleview, FL 34420
Diane V. Schofield
Mission Statement: To provide a Christian-based residential group home for teenage girls and pregnant or parenting teens in the foster care system.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Continued fundraising for the Grace House major remodel and the development of a vocational program for Independent Living Services and Training.

Junior Achievement (JA)
319 SE Broadway St., Ocala FL 34471
352.727.0178 |
Kristin Schreiner
Mission Statement: To inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: JA BizTown Mobile for 5th-grade students would combine in-class learning with a day-long visit to a simulated town. This popular program allows elementary school students to operate banks, manage restaurants, write checks, and vote for mayor. The program would help Marion County students connect the dots between what they learn in school and the real world.
Signature Event: The annual Celebrate Junior Achievement Breakfast – Impact the Future is an opportunity to learn about the work that Junior Achievement is doing in our own community, see and hear from some of the kids who have directly benefited from JA programs, and learn about our newest program, JA BizTown.

Kids Central, Inc.
901 Industrial Drive, Suite 200,
Wildwood, FL 34785
Debra Wise-Velez
Mission Statement: Protecting children, supporting families, and engaging communities.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Kids Central continuously works on keeping children from coming into the foster care system. Kids Central provides evidenced-based services to work in-home with parents who had a call to the child abuse hotline. These services assist in strengthening families and eliminating risks that brought them to the attention of the child abuse hotline.

Kimberly’s Center for
Child Protection
2800 NE 14th St., Ocala, FL 34471
Davis Dinkins
Mission Statement: Our community working together to protect, serve, and advocate for abused and neglected children.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Kimberly’s Center will work towards raising funds sustaining our new Trauma Intervention Program for its second year in 2019 — $87,000. In addition, we will move forward on planning stages for installing a playground on our property. Lastly, we will continue to educate the community on child abuse prevention and awareness.

Marion County
Children’s Alliance
3482 NW 10th St., Ocala, FL 34475
Monica Bryant
Mission Statement: To improve the lives of children in Marion County by providing resources that enable nonprofit organizations serving these children to operate more efficiently by providing safe and effective services of the highest quality.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: The Department of Children and Families verified 41 babies out of 154 that were exposed to substance abuse at birth. The Marion County Heroin and Opioid Task Force will be addressing this issue by collaborating with local, state, and regional agencies who serve pregnant moms and agencies that focus on family planning.

Marion County Junior Golf, Inc.
3130 E. Silver Springs Blvd.,
Ocala, FL 34470
Jason Lenhart
Mission Statement: We are organized to impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that provide character development, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Continuing to provide a safe environment in which young people can excel in learning, experiencing life, and being involved in a sport that could result in educational advancements as they near the college time frame.

Project LIFT (Life Initiative For Teens) Dunnellon
20540 E. Pennsylvania Ave., D
unnellon, FL 34432
352.465.9009 |
Bob Zaccheo, founder and executive director
Mission Statement: Dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk teens and their families through substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, mentoring, and vocational skills training.

Southeastern Youth Fair
2232 NE Jacksonville Road,
Ocala, FL 34470
352.629.1255 |
Sara LeFils, executive director
Mission Statement: To recognize the outstanding youth of Marion County through the Southeastern Youth Fair as a showcase for competition, exhibition, enhanced educational opportunities, and to promote self-esteem, personal growth, and development while aiding in the education of the Citizens of Marion County regarding the importance of agriculture and related industries in our area.
Signature event 2020: Southeastern Youth Fair 2020, February 21-29th.

The Pearl Project
625 NE 12th Ave., Ocala, FL 34470
Beth Willis
Joy Zedler, executive director
Mission Statement: To help children from hard places discover that they are precious.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: The Pearl Project’s goals are building a trauma informed community. We do this by working with foster, adoptive, and kinship families, as well as biological families. The Pearl Project has recently begun facilitating the study, “Making Sense of Your (Past) Worth” both in office, as well as in the Marion County Jail as part of the WEST program. We look forward to continuing this work in Lowell Correctional Facility. This is a great opportunity for anyone who needs to come to terms with previous hurt.
Signature Events: The Pearl Project hosts a caregiver training in Trust Based Relational Intervention each month on second Fridays at Ocala Police Department. These trainings are scheduled throughout 2020.
The Pearl Project hosts a twice monthly support group at the Frank DeLuca YMCA for foster, adoptive and kinship families. This group meets twice a month, on Sundays from 2–4, child care is provided.
Each spring, The Pearl Project hosts Empower to Connect Conference.

Voices for Children of North Central Florida, Inc.
P.O. Box 4062, Ocala, FL 34478-4062
352.484.0319 |
Sue Carpenter
Mission Statement: To support critical physical and psychological needs of children who have a Guardian ad Litem assigned to them. To support recruitment, training, and retention of volunteers who advocate for these children.
Goal and objective of 2019–2020: Expand the scope of our impact on the children who are in the judicial system and have a Guardian ad Litem appointed to their case; assist the Guardian ad Litem program in recruiting additional Guardian advocates; maintain our Normalcy program and increase our Christmas 4 Kids program.
Signature Event: Watch for our annual auction dinner in early summer, 2020.

Fabulous Fall

Story, Recipes, and Photography By RSVP Robin

Fall is the perfect time to focus on hearth and home. We can shift our focus away from outdoor activities and concentrate on fluffing our nests. It’s also a wonderful time to reflect on the past year and renew our sense of gratitude, restore our spiritual selves, and shed our souls of unnecessary debris. In other words, count our blessings!

In Florida, spring and summer tend to meld and become one long, hot season. Fall creeps in ever so slowly here. It begins with noticeably cooler morning and evening temperatures. All of a sudden we can wear long sleeves and sport jeans without melting. Our makeup stays fresh, and we relish the good hair days! We Floridians know how to look for the slow, subtle signs of the new season approaching.

In my years of planning events and weddings in Florida, the fall events were always the most enchanting. The obligatory floral centerpiece gives way for more creative elements. Birdcages, wrought iron, metal, heavier fabrics, rustic branches, and twigs can all come into play. Tabletop design and home décor are all about texture and layering. Warmer tones take over from their softer, paler cousins. Tawny browns, sage, and olive green, vibrant reds and oranges make a bold, yet cozy and comforting statement.

Our taste buds sense change in the air as well. Now is the time to indulge in heartier soups and stews, starchy root vegetables, and heavier protein choices. So dig out your fall décor, put on a pot of life-affirming soup, grab a soft throw, and make a mug of hot cocoa. However slow and subtle…it’s
fall, y’all!



Roasted Chicken

Prep it

1 whole 4-pound chicken

4 to 5 cloves whole garlic, peeled

1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

olive oil

juice from 4 organic roasted lemons (cut lemons in half, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in 375°F oven for 20-25 minutes)

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thickly sliced

approximately 8 baby potatoes, washed and sliced in half (optional)


Place chicken on a cutting board, breast side down. With a pair of kitchen shears cut down both sides of the backbone and remove.

You can discard the backbone or save it for stock. Spread the chicken on a flat surface and press firmly on breastbone to flatten it.

Rub It

Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. Massage the butter, dill, and lemon into and under the skin. Pour the juice from 1 lemon over the top and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and pepper. You can put in the refrigerator and marinate this way for up to two hours. 

Roast It

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the fennel, potatoes and garlic in the bottom of a roasting pan and place the spatchcocked chicken flat on top of the veggies.

Roast chicken for 40 minutes. Baste the chicken with the pan juices (and/or chicken broth)  and return to the oven, rotating the pan to help with even browning. Roast for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is browned and crispy.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Walnut and Fresh Fig Chutney


1 cup peeled and chopped butternut squash

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1/2 cup chopped fresh figs

1/4 Gorgonzola Cheese crumbles (optional)

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Olive oil

Fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste


Place butternut squash on a small roasting pan lined with parchment paper, drizzle lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Roast at 375°F for approximately 20 minutes until tender. Let cool.

Gently chop fresh figs into small ¼ inch pieces.

Toast walnuts in a small frying pan to release natural oils
(careful not to burn).

In a medium bowl, combine squash, walnuts, figs, and cheese. In a small bowl, whisk together maple syrup and lemon juice. (add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste) Drizzle mixture over squash mixture, tossing to combine. Cover and let stand for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours. Serve on baguette slices as a bruschetta appetizer or as an accompaniment to chicken or pork.

Creamy Polenta and Wild Mushroom Parfait


1 pound of assorted wild (if available) or
gourmet mushroom of your choice 
(Chantrelle, porchini, shitake)

1 tablespoon of unsalted pastured butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs of your choice such as: thyme, rosemary, sage

One package of yellow corn grits or polenta (we recommend Bob’s Red Mill)

Freshly grated fontina cheese

1/4 cup of organic half and half

Sea salt and pepper to taste


Place butter and olive oil in a 12-inch frying pan and saute the mushrooms until soft and lightly brown.

Add herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.

Prepare the polenta as instructed

When a porridge consistency is achieved,
add half and half, cheese, salt, and pepper.
Stir to combine.

Layer the polenta and mushroom mixture in the vessel of your choice.  This can be made into individual servings (as pictured) or in a larger baking dish.

Keep warm until serving.

Healthy Yogurt Carrot Cake


2 large eggs

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup maple syrup or honey

1/2 cup almond milk

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tbsp cinnamon

3 tsp baking powder,
aluminum free

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups carrots, finely grated

1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

1/2 cup coconut flakes (optional)


In one large bowl, whisk the eggs for 10 seconds. Add yogurt, oil, maple syrup, milk and vanilla extract. Whisk well and set aside.

In another large bowl, add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk well breaking any baking soda or powder lumps. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or oil a 9×9 square or round baking dish and set aside. (If using walnuts and coconut do the following) Preheat large skillet on low heat, add walnuts and toast for a few minutes (until fragrant), stirring occasionally. Add coconut flakes and toast another minute, stirring frequently (careful not to burn).

Add dry ingredients to the bowl with wet, stir gently until combined (do not over mix).  Add carrots (and walnuts and coconut flakes, if using). Stir gently just enough to combine. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Top with your favorite whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Music Scene: Bennie Munnerlyn

Local Musician Bennie Munnerlyn discusses the inspirations behind his music.

Out of all of your original work, which song is your favorite.

My absolutely favorite original song is entitled, “Love Myself.” It is an ode to love. I wrote it while I was in college at a very low point in my life. It’s amazing how dark situations often seem to give birth to light. The chorus says, “I’ve got to love myself, be myself, no one else. I’ve got to be happy with me.” What I like most about the song is how the pronoun changes with each chorus (i.e. I, you, and we), and this illustrates that if I can first love myself, I can then encourage YOU to do the same, and in the end, WE can love each other.

From cassettes to online streaming services, technology has drastically changed over the decades. How has this changed your approach to what you do?

Though it is true that the medium has evolved drastically in my lifetime, personally the creative process has remained the same. I am inspired by interactions with people, memories of various places, and, sometimes, even by emotions and feelings I have yet to experience. However, I can say that the shift from the physical to the digital (remember the record store?) has changed my mindset in one way. I can remember being super excited about creating cover art, writing clever liner notes, and thinking about distribution deals; but, I think more about social media presence these days. Although I haven’t really put myself out there yet, it is at the top of my musical to-do list.

You have been both a solo artist and part of a larger group, which do you find is the most conducive to the creative process?

It really depends. There are times when the subject matter is so personal that the songs come together more organically when I am alone. However, on the other hand, collaborating with other musicians can be a cathartic experience as well. Especially when there is an environment where all ideas are valued and can be freely exchanged.

As a musician, singer and songwriter, what is the one thing you want your fans to take away from seeing you perform?

I want my fans to leave a performance feeling like they spent some quality time with one of their best friends. In addition to wanting them to leave feeling entertained, uplifted, and energized, I want them to feel like there is someone else in the world who can relate to how they are feeling as they tackle the ups and downs of life.

Who is your dream collaboration? 

As a fan of intricate arrangements and harmony, it would be a dream to collaborate with Take 6.

Who are your biggest musical influences when it comes to playing an instrument?

As it comes to instrumentation, I have been heavily influenced by Jeff Lorber, Brian Culbertson, Snarky Puppy, Ben Tankard, Moonchild, Hiatus Kaiyote, and recently, Jacob Collier and Jon Bellion.

Lyrically who are your biggest influences?

As an English major, I truly value the power of words. Some of my favorite songwriters/lyricists are Stevie Wonder, India. Arie, Brian McKnight, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, John Mayer, PJ Morton, Common, and Ludacris.

If there was one thing that you could change about the music industry, what would it be?

Although I understand that a certain look creates buzz and interest and will ultimately make money, the focus on the superficial seems to overshadow the actual music at times.

We are always hearing about crazy stories from musicians about the various shows that they do. what is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you while performing?

It seems like there is always that one person in the crowd who is having enough fun for everyone! At one show, I was walking around the crowd and interacting, and a young lady just came to me and planted a wet, drunken kiss right on my face. I was taken aback, to say the least, and I completely forgot the rest of the lyrics to the song.

Music has the power to speak to the masses and even change the conversation of global media. In your opinion- what has been the most influential piece of music recently in both society and for you personally? Why?

I am a HUGE fan of Beyoncé, and while she may have her share of haters, we cannot deny her global imprint and reach. I believe that the albums Beyoncé, Lemonade, and Homecoming each left a major impression on the world and me. The self-titled album, Beyoncé, made history by being released with no promotion. This showed the power of innovation and thinking outside of the box. Lemonade was an album that was musically diverse, deeply personal, and undoubtedly controversial. It proved that you really could take the bitter that life throws at you and transform it into something sweet. Homecoming took the concept of the Black College Experience and showcased this facet of black culture to audiences who probably had no idea that it even existed. Love her or hate her, Beyoncé is definitely solidifying her legacy.

What is one thing you want people to know about you?

One thing that I want people to know about me is that I don’t just love music—I LIVE MUSIC! 

The Power of Pink

By Ilia Laboy

We have all seen the self-exam posters showing us how to check for lumps in the shower but how many of us actually take it seriously? As we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, we are reminded that, outside of skin cancer, this is the most common type of cancer among American women.

What exactly is breast cancer? Breast cancer is when the cells in the breast start growing in an uncontrollable way. Most times these cells form a tumor that can be felt as a lump or seen via x-rays, but not all lumps are malignant and not all tumors can be detected this way. That is where the importance of early screening comes into play. Many cases of breast cancer are found during screening.

Breast cancer rates are down 40% from 1989 to 2016, and since 2007, although death rates in women under 50 have remained rather steady, the death rates among women over 50 have continued to decrease. It’s believed this is due to the advances in research and early screening and detection efforts. Actually, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer sometime in their life, but women are not the only ones affected by this disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 2,670 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed and about 500 men will die of this disease in 2019.

Most of these exams and research are thanks to the donations of millions of Americans through different fundraising efforts, the main event being the Making Strides Against Cancer Walk. This is a noncompetitive 3 to 5-mile walk to help raise money and awareness for the cause. It is a celebration of the warriors who survived breast cancer as well as a way to come together and remember loved ones lost to the fight. The American Cancer Society relies on this walk against breast cancer to not only help raise funds but also have the community come together and support one another through the fight. The recruitment of community leaders brought about the Real Men Wear Pink campaign where men are given a leadership role in the fight and use the power of pink to raise awareness and money for breast cancer initiatives. The nationwide campaign counts on local efforts to be able to make a difference and the Ocala community is not one to stay behind.

The Making Strides walk unites the community behind a common effort to save lives. The residents of Ocala will have their chance to take part in this effort at the Making Strides walk on Saturday, October 19th at the Veterans Memorial Park. Check-in is at 7:30 am and the walk begins at 9:00 am. Local leaders Philip Glassman, publisher of Ocala Magazine, and Josh Leverette of Roberts Funeral of Ocala have come together to form Team Men in Pink and aid in the fight by using the power of pink to fundraise for the cause. 

If you would like to join in their efforts please visit to make your donation.

For more information on breast cancer and local fundraising events visit

It Takes the World to Raise a Village

Story and Photography By Rich Sterne, MSN, APRN

On August 24, 2019, the world stood watch as Hurricane Dorian leveled much of the Bahamas. With winds reaching 183mph, this slow-moving storm decimated anything that stood in its way. In the days and weeks following, many around the world rushed into action.

Rich Sterne, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) was one of the heroic medical professionals who used his knowledge and expertise to help aid those on the storm ravaged island. He shares his experience exclusively with Ocala Magazine—direct from the field.

September 9, 2019

7:30a.m. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The private pleasure yacht El Jefe is packed from stern to bow with supplies for the hurricane-battered Bahamas. It’s been almost an entire week since Dorian ravaged the islands, and we are headed there to help.

8:30a.m. We embark on a mission to deliver supplies to the floating hospital MV Pacific Hope docked in Freeport, relief supplies for the Bahamian residents, and in the evening, the boat will return to the states with evacuees. Aboard the El Jefe, we have three Bahamian residents heading over to assess their properties, my medical assistant Brandi and me, and of course, Captain Tom Isom with his crew Mike and Mike. The owner of this multimillion-dollar pleasure vessel has basically turned it into a cargo ship full of generators, tarps, cases of water, and medical supplies. The El Jefe is taking all of that cargo and us overseas gratis; not only have they gifted us passage to Freeport, they also covered the cost of over 900 gallons of fuel. And this is just one trip. 

You now know where we are going, so let me tell you how we got here. I’m a nurse practitioner, and I’m trying to get to the Bahamas. A bunch of people, including myself, want to go volunteer. When seeking a way to volunteer my professional services, I was fortunate to be networked with Mike Stocker, a staple member of the South Florida Yachting community. He introduced me to Captain Marvin Wilson of MV Pacific Hope, to Yacht Aid Global, and then locally to Bradford Marine in Fort Lauderdale, Bluewater Yacht Crew Training, and National Marine Supplies. All those mentioned, and some others, meet at National Marine and have a planning meeting about how to logistically manage working in tandem. Many of them have worked together for years, and they plugged me and my medical professionals right in. 

This trip is to help who we can medically in the tattered islands. And with the recent introduction, it became a way for me to work with and assist the MV Pacific Hope with medical staffing solutions, and relief for their current volunteers.

Just to get one nurse practitioner and a medical assistant to the Bahamas, we have so far included two worldwide non-profits, three huge Fort Lauderdale and Caribbean Marine supply companies, a few marinas in a couple different countries, a pleasure yacht owner, his captain and crew; and, last but not least, this wouldn’t have been possible without numerous unmentioned employees, volunteers, emails, phone calls, texts, and social media posts. I am sure that list is less than half of who has acted in our one small mission to get a couple medical professionals to the islands. 

9:30a.m. We are full steam ahead at over 30 knots per hour riding seas 3 to 5 feet. Flanked by flying fish, we are twenty-five miles offshore, so fifty more to go. I look at the beautiful deep blue water, matched with the light-blue sky and its puffy white clouds shaped like cotton balls. It’s a beautiful day and we are on the type of luxury boat that only few get to experience in life. That thought is quickly contrasted by the rude awakening of traumatized Bahamian people, and the devastation which awaits us in the once beautiful Bahamas.  

The only reports that we have received from those ahead of us relay that the stench of death abounds, and it’s accompanied by bloated, dead bodies littering the villages. “Can you bring us a few thousand body bags or large tarps please…”, echoed a voice from one of the medical teams on site. That vivid carnage is juxtaposed with the reports of grateful and determined Bahamians taking care of one another and working steadfastly through the reality that their friends, families, properties, and nation will never be the same again—and that’s if they were lucky enough to survive the storm at all. At this time were told more than 6000 people are still missing, and the death toll keeps rising. On the television news last night in Florida, the Bahamian government last reported about 40 deaths. The reports from our people on the ground there multiplies that number by one hundred.

10:15a.m. Making small talk with my fellow passengers, we discuss our reasons for heading to the Bahamas. One of the Bahamian residents coming with us is a nurse named Gretchen. I explained to her that in our planning meeting in Fort Lauderdale the other day, with all of the aforementioned groups, the topic of needing surgical suites was paramount, as the hospitals in the Bahamas were flooded. She happens to be the Director of Nursing and Clinical Administrator of a surgical center in Freeport that survived Hurricane Dorian; being on the third floor of a well-built structure, it weathered the storm. She explained they are a fully-equipped surgery clinic and have a generator for power. In the next breath, she offered the facility for any procedures needed. What are the chances, in the middle of the ocean, with a total of eight people onboard that I get a contact like that? I’m no statistician, but I would say it’s about a billion-to-one. So, Gretchen Dezelick and her facility, Okyanos Center for Regenerative Medicine, now join the ever-growing list of who and what it takes to help move our little spoke on the wheel of medical relief for those affected by the storm.

12:30p.m. We arrive at Bradford Marine in Freeport. The Bradford staff is happy to greet us, and we all empty the 20 generators, uncountable cases of water, and medical supplies we delivered on the El Jefe. It is obvious that the dockworkers are grateful that we brought them and their country supplies; on the other hand, it was just as obvious that their faces told the story of weathering a horrific cyclone, and then continuing the trauma in the week since, living in the destruction. The Bahamian customs and immigration officials are not only efficient and professional, they also express gratitude for all the help they are receiving. At least half of the cargo we delivered on this trip is ear-marked for Bradford Marine’s Bahamian employees. There is a distribution center set-up at the main office, and employees are coming and going with food, generators, diapers, toothbrushes and just about anything you can imagine them needing. Employees whose own homes and families are torn apart are actually the ones who are working the pallets of items to distribute to their coworkers. A beautiful microcosm of a village coming together at a time of need; in addition, it’s wonderful to see a company caring for its employees the way that I witnessed today. 

2:20p.m. We take a short tour of the island by transporting our fellow Bahamian-resident travelers to their homes. There are more trees snapped in half than there are complete ones. There are more roof shingles scattered about than there are the roof. Fuel stations are running on generator power, and 100-vehicle winding paths of cars and trucks, out of gas, are being pushed slowly but surely through the line as it moves. Just about this time, my phone chimes, telling us that we need to get to the airport to pick up a couple of Emergency Room Physicians, both with a fellowship in Disaster Medicine. They arrived to staff the Pacific Hope. We give them a quick report of what we know so far as we get back to meet the ship. The only thing they knew was, “There was a bad storm, so we volunteered to come here, and we just got off the plane…that’s all we know…” Fady Issy, M.D. 

3:45p.m. The MV Pacific Hope harbors at Bradford’s Marina. Captain Marvin Wilson gives instructions to his crew. They unload both land and sea vehicles off-board and start the process of setting up shop. We tour the vessel and learn they just got here from Dominican Republic, and, though they just docked, they are ready to bottle 100 gallons of potable water per hour and cook 1000 meals a day to be delivered to those in need. That doesn’t even mention the medical missions they are here to sow. Captain Marvin  loads us into a 4-wheel, all-terrain service vehicle. The small vehicle is clearly marked Pacific Hope, so many people wave, even though, they are in a 5-hour line to get enough fuel to power a small generator and a light. For many, this will reveal the fact that they don’t even have any furniture to sit on because the storm surge gutted their home. These same people give us a smile and a wave, so again we feel the gratitude from the locals.

4:40p.m. We are en route to Rand Memorial Hospital to get a first-hand look at the facility and their capabilities. We have heard rumors but are unsure of the truth. Samaritan’s Purse, another life saving Non-Governmental Organization, is working on a temporary tent hospital, but it isn’t built yet. Reminiscent of a pop-up military type facility, they will have surgical theaters and all the equipment of a top-notch hospital. 

We get to Rand Memorial Hospital and it looks devastated. Uninvited, we interrupt them; the staff is doing their thing managing the patients as best they can, yet it’s a one-story building and was as flooded as anywhere else on the island six days ago. Not only are they managing the healthcare, they are greeting us with smiles. The captain, doctors, Brandi and I step in to a meeting with the medical director, the director of nursing and 10 other administrators of Rand Memorial. Captain Marvin informs the medical director and the administration that MV Pacific Hope is here to support them and serve them with anything they need. He couldn’t have been more courteous in explaining to them that we came to help them, not coming to change anything, but to support them with staff, food, water, patient care, outreach to far villages, transportation, and housing for staff. Pacific Hope was even willing to create a makeshift pediatric unit to hold them until Samaritan’s Purse was running. We complete our meeting with them with a promise to return tomorrow for a meeting with the Bahamian Ministry of Health and all of the key players for establishing and maintaining a medical facility to care for them until they can care for themselves. As indicated to us, Rand’s plan is to close the hospital completely for enough renovationsbto again be operational. Pacific Hope is supplying water and food, housing medical staff, and preparing mobile medic units. Samaritan’s Purse is building tent hospitals. The disaster physicians, Brandi, and I are all sifting through the pallets of donated medical supplies, and Captain Marvin is fielding non-stop phone calls while managing his crew.  In Fort Lauderdale, Yacht Aid Global, National Marine Supplies and Bradford Marine employees are assisting in logistics arranging tons—literally tons—of cargo that the private yachting community has donated. In addition, the private yachting community is donating their private vessels, planes and helicopters to deliver the supplies and manpower; however, this takes a lot of planning to execute.

I’m in the Bahamas watching first hand 40 to 180-foot private pleasure boats and super-yachts whose owners are selflessly turning them into cargo ships. There is load after load of supplies, from diapers and formula to generators and fuel containers. The wealthiest people in the world have come out in force; they have showed up like I’ve never seen before. They are not only donating money and supplies, they are literally donating billions of dollars’ worth of vessels to offer their individual parts for the unraveled isles they have always called their playground. The Bahamas is considered the backyard of the South Florida yachting community; and a regular destination of boaters from around the globe. The mariners have always provided support for the Bahamas, by way of patronage; however, this is an unprecedented response. 

5:30p.m. We get back to the MV Pacific Hope just in time for supper. We sit in a large common area on the ship, eating and talking. The time winds on, then Captain Marvin calls a meeting of all-hands-on-deck. He begins by discussing the information we have learned in the last few hours, the lay of the land we have surveyed, and the Bahamian government’s situation and requests. He shares with the group how far along Samaritan’s purse is with building the hospital. He explains the role Pacific Hope will play in the multifaceted rescue mission. He informs them of the ominous task at hand. His crew of volunteers are ready. The plan right now: supply water, make food, deliver water, and deliver food. Introduce the 2 new physicians and other newcomers to the ship. Then, we get ready to tour around the island to make more plans.

7:20p.m. It’s dark all over the island. The sound of generators abounds. There are no cars on the road, there are no streetlights, there are no stores, restaurants, or any businesses open. There are no cruise ships in harbor, there are no tourists shopping, there are no yachties enjoying libations at the local roosts. There are no birds in the sky, there are no leaves on the trees, and there is no telling when any of those will be back. The air is still, the smell is strong, and the feeling of gloom is palpable. A once-favored spot of partygoers from all over the globe, it’s now ground zero for a massive disaster. There are untold numbers of people and animals dead. All of that said, there is a great need for us to come back and for more to come over. The Bahamas need help, and they will need help for a long time. 

8:30p.m. We complete our journey at Pelican Bay Lucaya, where we obtain board passage back to Florida. Thanks to the sport-fishing vessel, The Predator, and its captain, John Hynes, we get a comfortable ride back to Florida—free. It has been quite a journey. Today has been a long day.

4:30a.m. I am back at my home in Florida, with electricity, warm water, a working refrigerator, and air conditioning. My house is full of furniture and all my family members are still alive. I get back to social media. We are getting hundreds and hundreds of medical professionals from all over the country, and the world, to offer their help to the Bahamas. We are inundated with boat and plane owners willing to transport staff and supplies, all day every day to the needy islands. The real story is the wonderful world of boat owners and crew, planes and pilots, and the large volume of people willing to help—because of their efforts the Bahamas has a chance.

On The Menu: The Keep

Mark and Megan had been discussing opening a small bar or restaurant close to the Downtown Ocala area when the owners of Ocala Wine Experience decided to sell. Naturally they jumped at the opportunity to actually make this dream happen. Megan has an extensive background in finance and has been at the helm of several businesses while Mark is a certified Sommelier and offers close to 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Together they came up with a concept rooted in bringing a unique experience to our town. After taking ownership of Ocala Wine Experience in 2016, over the course of the past three years they gradually started putting their taste and personality into the establishment. In May 2019, on the 20th anniversary of Ocala Wine Experience, and the 3rd anniversary of having become owners of such, they launched a full rebrand. Thus The Keep was born!    

Drawing inspiration from their travels as well as their common love for the Medieval era, fantasy, and Vikings, Mark and Megan have made The Keep an extension of themselves and their home.The goal was to bring an alternative place to the area. They wanted to give Ocala the best of their journeys to some of the finest pubs and speakeasies in New Orleans, New York City, and all of Florida, and that is exactly what they have done. The physical location is small but it has a very big attitude. As you enter, don’t be surprised to come face to face with 80s music videos. There is a full wall of wines to choose from as soon as you walk in, leading back to the whimsically lit patio area which is cozy and adorned by a beautiful hand painted mural that stretches the whole back wall. Upstairs you will find the “Red Carpet Lounge”, a quaint bistro-style room where the low lights set the mood and you are bound to find some live talent performing. The basement-bar-feels are accompanied by great wine and mead, tapas, and a personalized service fit for a king.

The menu at The Keep stays true to the fantastical nature of the Viking theme while highlighting simple ingredients and classical pairings to a good glass of wine. Indulge in some authentic pizza topped with corned beef, Guinness BBQ, potatoes and mozzarella, or keep it light with a delicious house salad made with fresh sweet apples, genoa salami, olives, feta cheese and artichoke hearts served on a crispy bed of romaine lettuce and drizzled with tangy house dressing. If you’re feeling a bit more classic, you could order a shareable gourmet cheese platter for the table or just for yourself. They are regularly looking for ways to improve so they have added extra kegs for a more diverse draft menu, bringing additional unique choices to Ocala’s Downtown. In addition to their draft menu, they offer some delicious and exclusive wine and mead choices, with six to 12 honey wines in stock at a time, depending on the season, and demand. “Wine is a little intimidating but I’m a laid back guy and I present it in such a way that makes it approachable for people,” shared Mark. “I help people get into wine and find wines they like and that’s fun for me, so if I can do it for a living that’s doubly fun.” In addition to Trivia nights, goth nights, and open mic jam sessions, they also host events like wine tastings and Viking nights to promote their patrons to step out of their comfort zone and try new spirits. They also offer networking events, space rental, and catering options.

The dynamic duo have literally put their heart into this boutique pub. Their enthusiasm for this business is difficult to ignore and the power couple seems to have found the perfect balance between business and personality at The Keep. “I am extremely lucky to have a business partner who is very passionate about the product”, shared Megan in regards to Mark. This passion translates to the quality of service you will receive when you’re here.  As someone who is not versed in wine, I relied on his palate to recommend some choices based on my tastes and his Sommelier skills are sharp as a tack. He suggested wines I would’ve otherwise never tried, pushing my boundaries and compelling me to expand my palate as well—although I found my new favorite wine in his second suggestion and turns out it is an exclusive of The Keep! I asked them both what kind of advice they had for others pursuing the restaurateur or entrepreneur path and the information they shared was refreshing. Mark recommends that you do what you enjoy most. If you’re passionate about it, people will see it. Megan suggests that clarity is key. “You have to get really clear on your plan,” she says, “you shouldn’t wait for every detail to be planned to go for it, but be as clear as you can be.”

Megan and Mark’s clear vision of what they want to contribute definitely brings a unique experience to the Downtown Ocala area. The atmosphere they have created depicts a modern day version of a castle’s keep, where all the most important and valuable goods were stored. The keep would serve as the center of castle life, often also as the lord’s residence, and, in our case, a safe haven for friends, food, and fun with a twist.

Beyond The Classroom: FAFO

By Kaitlyn Butler

As seasons change, many prepare by swapping summer decor for pumpkins and forgoing an iced coffee for a pumpkin spiced latte. Within the walls of art classrooms all over Marion County, another type of transition is happening. In the weeks leading up to the weekend of October 26 and 27, art teachers are preparing for the biggest annual showcase of their students’ work, the 53rd Annual Ocala Arts Festival.

Each teacher is different. One speaks hurried in sentences that don’t really end or begin, flowing together. Another has a slow drawl that transports the listener to a front porch drinking sweet tea with lemon on a hot summer day. Many of them are artists themselves, working places like The Dalí Museum during the summer. They all hold an invaluable place in our classrooms, creating spaces that allow creativity to flourish.

The Ocala Arts Festival, presented by Fine Arts for Ocala and lovingly referred to as FAFO, is an opportunity to showcase all the work teachers pour into the classroom experience.

“Most teachers, I would say all of us, like to make it a showcase of what we did (in the classroom) at the end of last year and beginning of this year,” Staci Moore, an art teacher at Howard Middle School said. “It’s an opportunity to showcase our programs and all the hard work us teachers are putting in each and every day.”

The Student Art section of the Ocala Arts Festival highlights students from elementary to high school. Fifty-seven public school teachers and twenty-four private and homeschool teachers submit their students’ work for display in the public festival. For some students, it’s the first time they’ve been recognized for a positive school experience.

Veronica Eason, an art teacher at Marion Oaks Elementary School, recalls an experience she had with one of her kindergarten students. He was struggling academically and suffered a devastating setback in the traditional classroom. In art, however, he thrived.

“With art, he always felt successful and always had a smile,” Eason said of her student. “That was encouragement for him, and even when they had the ceremony, and he was there, he received the award, he was so happy. It boosted his self-confidence, and I could see a change in him after that. It was really encouraging, and the opportunity to make him feel like he could succeed was special.”

Beth Cannon, student art coordinator for FAFO, says seeing the students’ and teachers’ reactions is her favorite part of festival weekend. She said she remembers seeing how excited Eason was about her student being chosen for a purchase award. Despite teaching all week, Eason volunteered her time at the festival supporting her students.

“I just love seeing each child bringing their family members along, getting so jacked up about seeing their artwork on display,” Cannon said. “Especially, Jenkins (Auto Group) provides a ribbon for all elementary school students because, at that point, you are a winner because you’ve been chosen by your school to be there.”

The power of recognition does not stop at the elementary level. Moore says many students feel empowered after seeing their piece featured.

Jennifer Moore, the head of drawing and painting department in the MCCA program at West Port, submitted the piece of a sophomore last year. The 18” x 24” pen and ink piece took home Best in Show in 2018. She said the scale of the Ocala Arts Festival and the way the organization highlights student art is what makes the festival—and her student winning—so special.

“It’s one of the biggest festivals that Marion County has, and it is a mixture of both student work and professional artists who come from all over Florida,” Jennifer Moore said. “The variety of arts that are there­­—a lot of our dance students do performances and band—and they have a variety of the arts that are there, so the exposure of it and the location is really wonderful being downtown. I think that’s really unique, because the space, the way they utilize it, they try to make sure that for the students, they have a space that’s particularly designated for them.”

The winning piece was hand-drawn by Gabriela Cortes-Arroyo, an 11th-grade student at West Port High School. She completed the piece the summer before her sophomore year. “10,000 Hours,” the Best in Show piece depicts Cortes-Arroyo’s brother with his back to a trash can that is overflowing with crumpled paper balls. The extensive line work and size of the artwork can only be described as imposing and meticulous.

Cortes-Arroyo said she didn’t expect to see her piece selected for an award when she and her family visited the festival. In fact, they spent so much time looking at professional art booths that by the time she reached her piece, teachers were packing up.

“I saw that there was a ribbon on mine and I was excited to see that, so I went to go look at it,” Cortes-Arroyo said. “I saw it said Best in Show and I was very excited about that.”

Since the show, Cortes-Arroyo has gone on to compete in several other art competitions and taken home multiple awards. She said she hopes to enter more competitions, and has even researched how many awards she can enter and win each year. Cortes-Arroyo says winning the Ocala Arts Festival has impacted the way she views her own art.

“I think it’s given me some more confidence in my work,” Cortes-Arroyo said. “After FAFO, I more consistently started entering in pieces to art shows. I won three others after FAFO.”

Even beyond the scope of high school, the impacts of the student art section last for lifetimes. Beth Cannon says she remembers visiting the festival as a child to view her own artwork.

“The impact is huge,” she said. “Several FAFO board members’ first encounter with the FAFO arts festival was attending the festival to see their artwork on display in the student section.”

Teachers selecting art to submit rather than students submitting their art is what separates the Ocala Arts Festival from a lot of other competitions. Some schools have more than 250 art students, so being selected for the showcase is worth being recognized. In the late summer months, art teachers are finalizing projects so they can review and submit their most notable student pieces.

At Marion Oaks Elementary School, kindergarten students are learning the fundamentals of collage. Howard Middle School students are working on a recycling project. At West Port High School, the home of the visual and performing fine arts magnet program in Ocala known as MCCA (Marion County Center for the Arts), 11th-grade students are experimenting with surrealism.

These are just sample pieces that may be on display at the annual arts festival presented by FAFO. Each year art teachers in Marion County are given four panels on which to display their students’ work. Depending on the size of the pieces, they may display anywhere from four to 25 pieces of art.

Staci Moore says the number of students showcased each year depends on the work they have been doing in the classroom.

“There was a year that I had four panels, and I had four door-sized pieces, and they were so great that I only submitted four,” Staci Moore said. “There were other times that we did tiny little small things, so I could fit 15, 20, 25 — it just depends on the size of the work.”

According to Cannon, the judging for student art is based on criteria assessing how far along students should be in their art education. She said the student art show is its own show within the Ocala Arts Festival.

“The process of selecting works from each school essentially emulates the jurying process that the festival artists go through,” she said. “David Reutter (FAFO board member) secures a qualified judge for the middle and high school artwork. This judge gives out the best-in-show and other artistic awards of distinction. Jenkins Auto and Duke Energy provide ribbons and prize money for the winners, and the Appleton Museum hosts an awards reception in December.”

Though the student pieces are not for purchase at the festival, there are purchase awards at each student level. More valuable than the cash prizes are the invaluable confidence and impact the student art imparts on the students who are chosen to participate.

A resounding message came from each teacher: continue to support the arts. One way the community can encourage art education is to visit the student art section at the Ocala Arts Festival. High school art is located at Citizens’ Circle in downtown Ocala. Middle and Elementary art is located on SE Second Street just west of Citizens’ Circle.

“They (the students) get to experience the work of the professional artists that are out there and support Marion County so that more arts can happen,” said Jennifer Moore, “and they get to see what the real world is like once they graduate, the potential of what they can do with their art.”

A Life Under The Big Top

By Carey David | Photography Provided By Jean Garden

Who among us hasn’t described our lives at one point or another as a 3-ring circus? A term that brings to mind too much to do and too little time to do it. Juggling work, family, and personal obligations, praying not to drop any of those balls that will cause our world to spin into absolute chaos. I recently had the chance to visit with local Jean Garden, the daughter of Ian and Micheline Garden of the world-renowned Garden Brothers Circus. Her parents are considered “Circus Royalty” in the business. Although there are many moving parts and people involved in running a circus, Jean was clear that vision, planning, and having the right professionals passionate about what they do was and continues to be the key to Garden Brothers’ success.

In North America, there are two circuses that set the standard for excellence for the industry. Garden Brothers Circus of Canada and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in the United States. Ringling Brothers closed their big top show in January of 2017 after 146 years. Garden Brothers continue to operate today in the same grand fashion with performances not only in the US and Canada but around the world. The Ian Garden story is a rag to riches story similar to the one told of P.T. Barnum in the blockbuster movie, The Greatest Showman. But before we can go forward, we need to go back.

The passion to entertain lies deep in the roots of the Garden family. Ian’s father William was born in Scotland in the little town of Buckie. He eventually met Jean Shaw of Glasgow and they were later married. William and Jean migrated to North America to become Garden & Shaw, a song and dance act. William then formed Garden Brothers Amusements. The couple had five children: Bill, George, the twins-Dick and Kandy, and Ian in 1933. Ian started training animals at age 14. He worked at a riding stable as a kid and his interest in horses was sparked. He also got a job exercising high energy steeds at a local racetrack. The balance of the time he was training his own animals: a dance horse, dogs, and a rhesus monkey. In later years Ian would be called the “Fairy Dust Trainer” as he had the ability to break (train) any animal to respond to voice and hand commands and have them ready to perform in as little as three months.

In the early ’50s Ian was off to Montreal with his animal act to work the nightclub scene and his show was in high demand. He continued to operate the nightclubs, including the famous Mocambo Club in Hollywood, CA that was frequented by many stars for the silver screen like Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor. Ian was performing on the same stage as the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra! If you’re not familiar with the Macambo, its main stage was replicated to be the “Tropicana” Club on the “I Love Lucy” show. It was these years that Ian met a beautiful singer working on the same bill, Micheline. She only spoke French, and he only spoke English, but love would eventually find a way.

In 1956 Ian returned to Montreal and formed the Royal Brothers Circus with his brother, Bill. They needed initial operating capital, so Bill took out an ad in the Toronto Globe and Mail looking for an Angel investor and found one. With $2,000 Royal Brothers were on the road. Ian ran the animals, and Bill ran the show. The tour by Jean’s description was “… a disaster and the season closed early. In the late 50’s dad did a series of shows with Bill, but none ever came to fruition.” Ian wasn’t the type to give up though. In 1959 he married that beautiful French girl, Micheline. “His real success came when he returned to Montreal to stay. He spent the majority of his time developing telemarketing for the show and personally handled every event he booked, which would lead to a single, highly successful date in Montreal for the circus. This was essentially the rebirth of Garden Brothers Circus”, Jean told me. In 1961 Ian and Micheline’s son Richard was born. In 1962 a second son, Ian Jr. And in 1963 the Garden’s daughter Jean graced the scene. By 1968 the circus was in full tour mode, and it was truly a family affair. Ian Sr. was not only the owner and trainer but the Showman and Ringmaster as well, directing every facet under the Big Top. Micheline handled all the production numbers from music to choreography. The children played an active part in the day to day operations of the circus, whether it was caring for the animals, performing, working the concessions or helping with staging, rigging, and production—all this and still keeping up with their education by correspondence courses.

After nearly 30 years Ian and Micheline—referred to as the King and Queen of the Garden Brothers Circus—passed the baton to their sons. Richard, the oldest, worked behind the scenes acting as the General Manager handling the business aspects of bookings and promotions. The talents of Ian Jr. didn’t fall far from the tree. He performed as Showman, Ringmaster, Trainer, and handled the day-to-day operations when the circus was on the road. Garden Brothers Circus has since been taken over by a cousin and is still going strong today with both Canadian and US tours.

A circus that started with a dream and a $2,000 investment of Angel investors continues to be a multi-million dollar-a-year legacy of primarily one man—Ian Garden Sr. His daughter calls him a man of honor and integrity. She shared with me, “It wasn’t always easy. No matter how tight things were, Dad spared no expense on the production of the shows and the performers and staff ALWAYS got paid. It was a class show, and the people that came got their monies worth every time. It was always the best…and Mom was the glue that held us all together. She gave up her own career for Dad’s.”

Ian Garden has lived an incredible life. He has been inducted in the Ring of Fame in Sarasota, FL as the foremost animal trainer in America. He trained the last six Bactrian camels for Ringling Brothers before they took their tent down for the last time. He trained horses, camels, zebras, elephants, and dogs. You can take the boy out of the circus, but I guess you can never take the circus out of the boy! Ian has lived in Ocala for the last 14 years, owns a 12-acre training facility and seven-days-a week, 8-hours-a-day continues to train Liberty Acts (horses who perform without riders or tethers, controlled only by commands of the trainer) and still performs from time to time.

What do we have like the circus today? Something that brings the family together. That delights children and adults alike. That creates a memory by the sights, sounds, and smells that can be relived years later, giving you the same feeling of excitement and joy.

Hemingway said, “The circus is the only ageless delight that you can buy for money. Everything else is supposed to be bad for you. But the circus is good for you. It’s the only spectacle I know that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”

Thank you, Ian and Garden family, for those truly happy dreams created under the Big Top.


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