Can one person change the world? You bet, says Barbara Metzler, author of Passionaries, which profiles 35 men, women and, yes, youngsters who took their compassion for humanity and created nonprofit organizations that altered their neighborhoods—and the world—in some pretty amazing ways. A
Dominic Harris, Brotherhood of Men
“We have a bunch of young black males who have the potential to be successful, but nobody took time to guide them and help them,” Harris says. “God put it on my heart to give back.”
In the summer of 2007, Harris gathered four friends from his motorcycle group—an oncologist, pest control technician, waste management worker and youth ranch director—and distributed flyers throughout Newtown that the Brotherhood of Men would be meeting every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the James L.
Some 35 to 40 boys participate regularly. “We talk,” says Harris, about whatever they want: “low self-esteem, lack of role models, lack of identity, courage, bullying, belonging.” Sometimes there’s a guest speaker; some days they play sports. “We open and close every meeting with prayer,” he says. “One day, one kid asked to open up the meeting, and he prayed to God, ‘Thank you for sending us to love him and help him.’ It meant so much to me.”
Their messages are fundamental, he says: “Concentrate on your grades—grades are No. 1—and watch out for friends who don’t have the same goals and ideals. We teach them to put God first, love and respect themselves, believe in themselves and know, ‘Hey, man, you can do it.’”
Harris, himself the father of two, says his eyes welled up in June when the oldest youngster, who’s been with the Brotherhood of Men from the beginning, graduated from high school. “It was the best feeling,” he says. “I told the boys, ‘I will be with you ‘til the youngest graduates,’” he says. “I’ll keep driving if you do.”
The Community Foundation in February chose the Brotherhood of Men as one of its Unsung Heroes. Harris used some of the $6,000 award to take the group to
Katie Self, Teen Court
Katie Self had just packed her youngest son off to college in 1989 when she got the call that would change her life—and the lives of tens of thousands of youngsters across Florida.
How would she like to organize a brand-new project of the Sarasota Junior League aimed at reducing the backlog of juvenile delinquency cases jamming the court system? Modeled after a similar program in Texas that Junior Leaguer Debbie Dye Gigliotti had discovered, it would be a misdemeanor court for at-risk juveniles, overseen by volunteer professional attorneys and judges and run by teenage “lawyers” and “jurors” who would sentence them to community service—a concept just emerging on the national scene but until then not known in Florida, called Teen Court.
A new empty-nester who’d been active in her two sons’ schools and was “looking for what I was going to do the rest of my life,” Self says, “my first reaction was, ‘Now why would I go and work with delinquent children? I just got through the challenge of raising two.’ But something clicked. I saw a lot of potential, and I was impressed with the commitment Debbie and Judge Paul Logan had for it.” She told them she’d give it a six-month go.
Twenty years later, with Self still on the job, more than 7,800 at-risk youth have gone through
About 200 students volunteer annually as “attorneys” and “jurors,” and many of them have gone on to law school. (In fact, several who’ve returned to practice law here now help oversee the program.)
The statistics speak for themselves: For first-timers who go through
Self was elected the first president of the National Association of Youth Courts, which was formed in 2007 with support from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“To say it has been a journey is an understatement,” Self says. “I still laugh about the ‘six-month job.’ It has enriched my life beyond expectations.”
Arlene Willis, co-founder, Grapes for Humanity
Arlene Willis moved to
“We started with landmines because my brother was killed in
Nine years later, Willis—a part-time Longboat Key resident for 25 years—has raised $2 million for humanitarian causes around the world, primarily to aid victims of landmines. The all-volunteer group draws on the generosity of the world’s best wineries, which donate rare wines that are auctioned off at exclusive dinners in New York, Washington, Toronto—and Sarasota.
“It’s a great community of people who love wine,” Willis says. “They come to our events because of the wine, then they get involved with Grapes for Humanity because of what it does.”
Her latest focus is establishing an arts camp for disabled children in
Grapes for Humanity will host a wine dinner in October at Michael’s On East with guest of honor Pierre-Henry Gagey, president of Maison Louis Jadot, who has donated some of his finest wines in celebration of the winery’s 150th anniversary.
Sandy Loevner, the Loevner Family Foundation
Sandy Loevner has set out to create the first national kidney registry for transplant patients, a cause that is deeply personal.
In 2007, she and her husband, Jerry, were involved in the first-ever five-way kidney transplant, which took place at
In her first entry in her online blog, www.thekidneyblog.com, Loevner sums up the emotional journey that led to that groundbreaking medical event: “My late husband, Jerry, and I were not unlike so many other devoted couples,” she writes. “We were happy, active, hard-working and resourceful. So you can imagine our frustration when we were suddenly faced with the medical challenge of a lifetime and found little in the way of organized and focused information and practically nowhere to turn to. Believe me, it’s not that we didn’t try.”
Loevner spent last summer establishing the Loevner Family Foundation to create awareness about kidney donations and to begin to create the national kidney registry. The need is crucial, she says. Now “everybody does it regionally and independently, which makes it very hard to get a match if you’re hard to match. [Plus] it’s a life donor registry; heretofore donated kidneys came from cadavers, and live donors are much better.
“We’re sending people to the moon,” she says. “If someone in
It’s very much a grassroots campaign, but Loevner is undaunted. “I hope to get information into every dialysis center in the country as to how they can get on a national register,” she says. And she’s been in contact with several nongovernment organizations that are vying to manage her registry.
The volunteer executive director of the Florida Winefest & Auction for the past 18 years, Loevner plans to bring the same passionate commitment to her new goal. “As she writes on her blog, “Hope is a precious thing.”
Tish FitzGerald, Joining our Youth (Joy)
What happens to
A former art teacher in
FitzGerald and King spent two years researching mentoring programs across the country, incorporating their organization, earning their 501c3 status and recruiting like-minded volunteers. In 2006, they teamed with Randi Pickle, a USF behavioral analyst with a federal grant to develop listening courses. Pickle has since trained 23 JOY volunteers as certified listeners. Volunteers must be year-round residents and commit to meeting with their youngster one or two hours each week—year-round “because [the youngsters] have been abandoned so many times,” says FitzGerald—and they must submit to background and fingerprint checks.
Besides a caring ear, JOY supplies housekeeping starter kits—bedroom, bath and kitchenware, plus cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items and a tool kit. To help them get to work, JOY has raised enough money to buy each kid a bike and a year’s bus pass.
FitzGerald has big plans for JOY, including starting the mentoring program at age 17 and creating a task force to help them look for jobs. In this area, four to five young people age out each month, FitzGerald says. “Next year, they tell us 60 kids will be eligible.
“I am so worried about them—they are so immature and unprepared to go out,” she says. “They’ve been moved so many times and gone to so many schools, they’re like gypsies. They’re branded by their peers; they never have an opportunity to make friendships.”
JOY was one of three local charities chosen last spring by the Community Foundation to participate in ABC7’s local promotion in conjunction with Oprah’s Big Give television show. “We raised $26,603,” says FitzGerald. “As a relatively new organization, we were absolutely floored.”
WANT TO SHARE YOUR PASSION?
Here’s where to call to learn more about volunteering or contributing to these causes.
Brotherhood of Men: firstname.lastname@example.org , (941) 400-0444
Teen Court of Sarasota County: www.flteencourt.net/sarasota/index.html, (941) 861-8467
Grapes for Humanity: www.grapesforhumanity.com, (800) 218-1422
The Loevner Family Foundation: Sandy Loevner, email@example.com
Joining Our Youth (JOY): Tish FitzGerald, (941) 360-9207; or Marian Strickland, firstname.lastname@example.org