In celebration of volunteerism and National Volunteer Week (April 21 – 27, 2013), hundreds of Tampa Bay volunteers from diverse walks of life and social endeavors were recognized at a special luncheon in the grand ballroom of the historic Fort Harrison, the religious retreat of the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, on April 24.

Established in 1974 and supported by federal, state and local leaders as well as grass roots organizations around the country, National Volunteer Week is an acknowledgement to the impact of volunteerism and its role in everyday citizenship in improving conditions in American society.

The event was organized and MC’d by Church of Scientology Public Affairs Director Pat Harney. Thirty-three individuals and groups were recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Awardees received a framed certificate from the Corporation for National Community Service, a letter from the President of the USA and either a gold, silver or bronze pin depending on how many hours of volunteer service they had contributed in the previous year. Ms. Harney introduced each of the individuals or groups with an audio visual presentation which demonstrated the remarkable force of volunteers present in the ballroom on this special occasion.

The event opened with a stirring rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s famous gospel, “If I Can Help Somebody,” performed a capella by the Colleen Lindsay of the Fort Harrison Band.

At the conclusion of the event, Bob Dillinger, Pinellas County Public Defender, was awarded a lifetime achievement award, for his continuing work to help feed and clothe under-privileged children in Pinellas County. His wife, Kay Dillinger, was given a Gold pin for her years of volunteer work raising standards for youth and assisting in their education.

In her closing comments, Ms. Harney observed, “It is the actions like those noted here today that decrease crime, drug abuse, human rights abuses, illiteracy, hunger and dejection and raises a community up in unity and joy. They help the community to work together.” and she noted that L. Ron Hubbard said, “A being is only valuable as he can serve others.”

Those awarded included:

  • Youth for Human Rights Florida, represented by Dustin McGahee, for their work in bringing human rights education to youth world-wide.
  • United for Human Rights Florida, represented by Gracia Bennish and Ginger Rodegehero, for their work in providing educators with free human rights teaching aids.
  • Several groups for their work in youth drug education, including Foundation for a Drug Free World and Consumer Energy Solutions Drug-Free World initiative.
  • The Way to Happiness of Florida, a large group of volunteers which spent over 12,000 hours over the last year distributing The Way To Happiness, a common sense guide to better living authored by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and for seminars and events they have conducted to raise awareness of morals and self-esteem.
  • Criminon Florida, a prisoner rehabilitation program which uses secular works of L. Ron Hubbard to restore self-respect to criminals, allowing them to again become a contributing member of society. Criminon currently has 2,500 inmates enrolled in its correspondence courses and is delivering to inmates on-site in four Florida correctional facilities.
  • Stop the Violence Coalition of St. Petersburg, which contributed over 1,300 volunteer hours through its leader Brother John Muhammad and volunteers, to keeping Childs Park in St. Petersburg safe through a series of vigils, street rallies and anti-crime information programs.
  • The Community Learning Center in Clearwater, which provided over 4,000 hours of free tutoring for English and Spanish speaking children and adults.
  • Hillsborough County School Board Member, Mrs. Susan Valdes for volunteering over 2,000 hours of her time in 2012 to assisting families struggling to educate their children in Tampa Bay.

Other groups and individuals acknowledged with awards included:

  • The Volunteer Ministers of Tampa Bay
  • Families for a Better Community
  • Global Pioneers
  • Joanie and Steve Sigal
  • Jim and Fu Mei Mathers
  • Laurie Jessup
  • Brett Miller
  • Bill Paul
  • Anne Fogarty-France
  • Clearwater Downtown Partnership
  • Clearwater Martin Luther King Neighborhood Coalition
  • Sherry Van Hootegem
  • Clearwater Community Volunteers
  • Samuel Mobley, President of the East Tampa Eastern Height Neighborhood Association and Crime Watch
  • Ms. Denise Pate, founder of mentorng group for 2 groups of at-risk teens at NFL Youth Education Town in East Tampa
  • Pastor Essie Sims, Chairman of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership
  • Chloe Coney, Tampa District Director for Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s Office & CEO of Urban Enterprise Center