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For these awards, we owe it all to them

Published January 19, 2007


A hush fell over the crowd, with only low-pitched squeals of anticipation breaking the silence.

You could almost hear people crossing fingers, hoping favorites would be called.

Then the announcement came, and screams filled the air. People bounced up to the stage and thanked those who had helped them win.

The scene was reminiscent of the Academy Awards, yet it took place in Tampa's A La Carte Pavilion instead of Los Angeles' Kodak Theater. The second annual WEDU Be More Awards saluted the region's most worthy charitable efforts. As one person noted, it was the Oscars for nonprofits.

More than 70 organizations from WEDU's 16-county coverage area applied for honors in one of the eight categories. A judging committee, on which I served, determined the winners in most of the categories.

Big Cat Rescue, SPCA Tampa Bay, the Junior League of St. Petersburg, the Pier Aquarium and the Family Enrichment Center were among the winners from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Sarasota's Children First also was honored, and the big winner was the Community Haven for Adults and Children With Disabilities, which received the Community Foundations of Sarasota & Manatee Counties Community Spirit Award and the coveted Be More Unstoppable Award as the nonprofit of the year.

The Community Haven is a 52-year-old organization that helps children, teens and adults with physical, developmental, mental health and sensory disabilities. One of the group's primary focuses is a horticulture training program for the disabled that includes a sustainable organic farm.

The farm and campus were destroyed during the 2004-05 hurricanes but are on the rebound.

SPCA Tampa Bay received the Be More Informed Award for a marketing campaign that increased animal adoptions by 10 percent.

The Junior League of St. Petersburg earned the Be More Entertained Award for special events thanks to its inaugural Mayoral Ball, the league's best fundraiser in 15 years.

The Pier Aquarium received the Be More Brilliant Award for a series of youth outreach programs, and the Family Enrichment Center, a child-placement center, won the Judge's Choice Award.

Big Cat Rescue won the voters' choice Be More Humble Award.

Even being among the finalists is huge for the nonprofits, and it's about more than just pride and recognition. WEDU will broadcast a television special about the awards and promote the winners in other ways.

Children's Home president Gerard Veneman, who won the organization of the year award in 2006, credits WEDU's recognition for helping his nonprofit move to within 30 percent of completing its $4.6-million capital campaign.

More importantly, as WEDU president Dick Lobo noted, these groups deserved to be saluted "today and every day."

Elected leaders may be the brains of the community I know that statement will invite jokes, but nonprofits are our heart.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at

[Last modified January 19, 2007, 00:36:39]

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