NAPLES — Photography by Erik Kellar // Shot on location at Clive Daniel Home
Too often, those behind the scenes who give of their precious little, personal time, sometimes balancing full schedules of job and family, are not recognized for their selfless devotion to our community as volunteers.
More than a sense of civic duty, these folks enjoy the deepest of all rewards in selfless acts of giving that each would tell you are more valuable than the time they give. In most every case, it was a soul-stirring experience that compelled each volunteer to make the decision to find the organization for which they could impact the lives of others in a positive way.
From one of our youngest, a 17-year-old who is already wise beyond her years to one who refuses to allow her own disabilities get in the way of helping others to a man who will do anything it seems, even climb a mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro to be exact, to raise awareness for the organization he loves. We applaud them all.
Meet just a few of our area volunteers whose stories, we hope will ignite the spark for you to take action and to join their privileged ranks.
Sonya Michele Sawyer
Even though she is the busy CFO and Community Director for Home-Tech, 38-year-old Sonya Michele Sawyer finds time to serve on the board of directors for the American Heart Association (AMA). Along with her husband, the couple is chairing the 2013 AMA Heart Ball to raise money to fight heart disease and stroke, specifically in areas of research and education. After the death of her mother-in-law who died of heart disease at a very young age, Sawyer realized that if she had taken better care of herself and listened to her body, she might have lived to enjoy her grandchildren. With a renewed sense to appreciate life and an understanding of the importance of prevention and education, her service to the AMA comes naturally. Besides the intrinsic benefits of deep fulfillment, energy and happiness, she said volunteering has brought many amazing people into her life. Like her, they too are committing their time, talent and treasure to a great cause, one that aids in enriching and empowering each of them to strive for excellence. Sawyer hopes to be a positive role model and that by her example, her children, friends and family will also see the value of service to their community.
“Our community is dynamic and extremely philanthropic. Our community is energetic, passionate, and extremely loyal.”
Twenty-two-year-old Andy Middleton (his friends call him “AJ”) has been volunteering since he was in middle school. Whether helping out at special events at school, at Riverdale County Library, cleaning up Fort Myers Beach, raising money with the Key Club, helping out the Kiwanis Club at the Medieval Fair for three years, to volunteering at Tags Gym in Riverdale for four years, the young man has developed a big heart for service. A straight-A student at High Tech North in Cape Coral, AJ looked for a place where he could put his schooling to work and responded to a newspaper ad for volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, in North Fort Myers. After an interview, he was so impressed with the type of help they gave the community, he decided he wanted to be a part of it. Every Saturday and on days off from school, AJ can be found doing all sorts of things for Habitat. From making signage for sales in the Habitat store, to using Google maps to provide truck drivers with directions to pick up donations, to working on computers, setting up office electronics, answering phones and cleaning the store, AJ pitches in.
“I hope to my mark on our community by helping people in need, by being consistent, reliable, on time for volunteering so they know they can count on my being there when I tell them I will be. I am eager to work knowing it will help strengthen my community and make it a better place for everyone to live in.”
Nicholas Zeto, 35, is a managing partner at Boston Beer Garden who loves to work with kids. For the past 10 weeks, he has given his time to the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County whose annual fundraising campaign slogan is “Great Futures Start Here.” Zeto works with and educates 20 youngsters in the process of creating a mural, one of four he plans to complete in a year. After the first mural is complete, he plans to mentor a club member for one hour a week. For Zeto, there are many reasons for his decision to volunteer, most importantly stemming from the large support group of family, friends, teachers and coaches who encouraged him to accomplish his goals in life. They instilled a strong work ethic as well as the proper morals to lead a healthy and happy life as an adult. Now, he feels it is his turn to inspire and lead by example. A firm believer that every little bit helps, he said that in today’s society, the ideals of a community can be overlooked. And, with just a few hours a week of volunteering, folks can help strengthen and build the community for the benefit of all.
“I feel today’s society needs positive interaction more than ever. Volunteering in the community creates a solid foundation to improve life for someone in need and creates the support and encouragement for individuals to accomplish a positive goal.”
These days, Blair Gurick, 33, is a busy stay-at-home-mom of two children with a giant-sized heart. Preparing to expand her family with the soon adoption of a three-year-old from Africa, she has managed to serve as a leader with Young Life Collier since 1998. Even so, Gurick says that her life is not always focused on her needs and issues but instead she goes outside of herself to show love to others. The non-denominational Christian organization works to build deep and meaningful relationships with high school and middle school youngsters. Positively influenced by her mother who attended Young Life in the sixties, Gurick recalls her mother talking about how the program changed her life. Deeply impressed, Gurick joined the organization in high school. Over the years, she has learned the values that have shaped her own sense of volunteer service and acknowledges that giving of her time to others fulfills her life and makes it meaningful. The time she spends talking through issues affecting the kids’ daily lives, loving them unconditionally and sharing the gospel message has been the most rewarding thing she has done.
“I hope that through building life long lasting relationships with teenagers and walking through life with them that in that they may find life in the knowledge that someone truly cares about them, wants to listen and even accept them just as they are. No expectations, no agenda, no judging just someone who cares.”
Natalie Delgado, 21, is a master’s degree student of clinical psychology at Barry University. Besides juggling a busy class schedule, she has been volunteering with Catholic Charities Refugee Youth Services for four years. Born of parents who were Cuban refugees, Delgado recalls stories of hardships they faced in learning English. Influenced by her mother who worked for Catholic Charities, Delgado knew that was the organization she would also serve. When they started their Refugee Youth Program, she knew she could put her educational skills to work while helping those who were struggling, as her parents once did. Now, Delgado tutors students from first grade to high school in learning English, helps with homework and with filling out college applications and assists with SAT/ACT preparation, among other tasks. Witnessing the positive effect of her time with students in improved schoolwork and a greater assimilation into the United States has changed Delgado’s life. She said volunteering exposes one to opportunities to discover areas of interest and to speak with professionals - invaluable experiences that can help shape future career choices. She advises to start volunteering early as the benefits are often as great as the time selflessly given.
“I hope to make a mark on our community by making an impact in the lives of the youth. I want to help these students succeed in school and in life. Should any student be struggling with assimilating into the U.S., I want to help them have a positive outlook and strive to do their best. I would like these students to be able to look back one day and see how much my service, along with the other Catholic Charities volunteers, helped them to reach to their fullest potential.”
Charles B. King
Attorney Charles B. King, 38, has been faithfully serving The Humane Society of Naples for 10 years. Currently a board member working with others to provide the oversight and direction to help the organization maintain their noteworthy reputation, he is also a canine coach, providing socialization to the animals as they wait patiently for their adoptive homes. Before moving to Naples, King volunteered at an animal shelter in Rhode Island. After a friend adopted a homeless dog, his eyes were opened to the idea of adoption rather than purchasing a pet. Since his family had always purchased their pets and he was often told that shelter animals were “damaged” in some way. King said that his friend’s positive experience inspired him to volunteer and when he relocated to Naples, he decided to continue as a volunteer in a similar setting. Always considering volunteer service as intrinsically motivated, King recalled that someone once said that volunteering gave them a “private smile.” He agrees. He said that just as any dog owner knows the appreciation their pet shows when they arrive home, the reward of appreciation is multiplied from every dog at the shelter. It makes his day every time.
“I believe using one’s free time to help others demonstrates to those in need, whether children, animals, or otherwise, that our community cares and they are not alone.”
For six years, realtor Kevin Aizenshtat, 40, has volunteered with the Jewish Federation of Collier County (JFCC). His impetus for service is a desire to finish what his parents started in raising his family and children in a community where they are not afraid to embrace their Jewish identity. He is grateful that his sons, often the only ones of Jewish descent in their classes and sports teams, have never experienced religious hazing, ignorance or intolerance and committed to working with JFCC to build awareness of the need for all to embrace people of all races, religions and backgrounds. The JFCC secretary, he is involved in fundraising, community relations, education, disbursement and allocations of funds to recipients and agencies. A volunteer coach with the youth soccer programs in Collier County for the past five years, Aizenshtat is also involved with the Florida Fire, an elite soccer team. He said that volunteering gives him a tremendous amount of satisfaction and is a firm believer that no one is too busy to volunteer. He said there are many ways to help out no matter how busy one’s schedule as the community depends on volunteers to shape the children’s futures.
“The more I get involved the more I see the same people donating their time. Our area needs everyone to be involved in their community not just the handful that keeps doing everything.”
Aurora Wells, 36, works as controller at Naples Zoo, Inc. and is also a professional musician, currently performing as bass player for the Naples Players. For the past two years, she has volunteered with Bayshore Cultural and Performing Arts Center, providing accounting services, assisting with education, fundraising and music performance. When the opportunity arose to assist at BCPA, it was easy for Wells to say yes due to her 20-year history of rewarding experiences with community service as a volunteer and as a musician and her understanding of the needs of fellow artists. The organization’s focus, one dear to her heart, is to support local talent and to create a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts facility. Her collaboration with the dedicated professionals driving the organization’s mission keeps her motivation to serve high and leaves her deeply gratified. Wells said that while it is a challenge to balance a busy daily schedule with volunteering, the satisfaction that comes with giving to and being actively involved in the community is well worth the time and effort. She feels it is inspiring beyond words to witness great accomplishments resulting from a combined philanthropic effort.
“I think the people of any community make it unique, and when it comes to volunteers, Southwest Florida has a great group of fun, hardworking, community-minded people who take pride in giving back and passing their spirit of sharing on to others.”
Glen Schwesinger, a financial at UBS Financial Services Inc. has been serving The Shelter for Abused Women & Children (The Shelter) for years. In 2011, he began serving on the board of trustees and has played a key role in the development of the Next Generation Committee that works to help those under 55 understand the importance of The Shelter’s work in ending violence. However in 2013, he plans to go where few have gone to serve the organization they support and love. Preparing physically and mentally, he and a friend plan to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for The Shelter. While a considerable undertaking, Schwesinger is mindful of the parallel between the courage and determination it takes to climb a mountain and the strength and resolve it takes for women and men, sometimes with children and pets, to make the decision to leave their abusers and to reach their personal summits. Through his charitable work, he sees that his life is full as compared to others who suffer and he sees how much good he can accomplish for others. This leaves Schwesinger gratified that his work really does make a difference.
“Volunteering allows us to help meet the needs of so many in our community that non-profits just couldn’t reach without additional support. When we volunteer, we become a valuable resource that helps non-profit organizations transform our community.”