Five ordinary citizens who have made extraordinary contributions to the Bay area community were honored Tuesday at One Buccaneer Place, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers awarded their 2010 Community Quarterbacks. Each of the five winners was recognized for his or her dedication to volunteerism and service.
This year's award recipients were Alycia Bower, Alex Cooks, Jennifer Frances, Russ Oberbroeckling and Labrawn Saffold. The Community Quarterback winners, as well as many other deserving candidates, were nominated for the award by a coworker, family member or friend through Buccaneers.com.
Bower is the current President of ManaTEENs, the largest youth-based community service organization in the nation, annually providing over 1.7 million hours of service. Along with volunteering a great deal of her own time to ManaTEENs - more than 1,600 hours, to be exact - Bower has started another program called "Big Breath and Bark." Its mission is to supply all the fire trucks in Manatee County with oxygen masks for dogs and cats to save them from fires. She successfully accomplished her goal after two years and is now looking to expand the program to neighboring counties.
The Buccaneers' Community Quarterback Awards call attention to hard-working citizens as Bower and her fellow winners, who have clearly made community service a life-long goal.
"It's obviously not about the recognition, it's about what I'm doing for the community," said Bower. "I think it's always important for things like this to let others know what's going on in the community, what's happening to make a difference, and that there are people out there striving to help others. So it's important for things like this to get recognized and know that people do care about what I'm doing. It kind of lets me know that I am making a difference."
Super Bowl XXII MVP and Buccaneers Director of Pro Personnel Doug Williams helped the five winners celebrate their accomplishments on Tuesday evening. Williams addressed the group before presenting each of the winners with a commemorative football. The Buccaneers also made a $2,000 donation in each award winner's name to the charitable organization of his or her choice.
"When people nominate others for certain awards, especially awards like this for doing things in the community, it's a little more gratifying and it's good to see the look on their face and let them know you appreciate what they've done over the years," said Williams. "Hopefully, they keep doing the same things, knowing that people recognize what they're doing."
Bower, who graduates from high school in June, will attend the University of South Florida this fall. The 18-year-old wants to stay involved in Manatee County through the ManaTEENs club and hopes to branch out into organizations such as AmeriCorps to find new ways to serve the community.
Different motivations led to very different causes among this year's five Community Quarterback winners.
Saffold, for instance, was the victim of a tragic hit-and-run accident that left him paralyzed before his final year at King High School. Despite what many would view as a devastating setback, the senior went on to graduate and start the "Quest for Real Life Success" program. "Quest" helps prepare students for college and career opportunities while developing character and integrity. In addition to mentoring local students about post-high school opportunities, Saffold spends his hours as a tutor to enhance students' FCAT and literacy skills.
"I was very blessed to have a second chance at life, despite having a car accident, so I try to live my life with meaning and purpose," said Saffold. "We only have one shot at life, so I do it every day to encourage everyone that's going through to do the same."
Gonzalo Garcia, a professor at King High,* *first met Saffold when the student was a senior, following his return to school.
"The example [he sets] to these kids is monumental," said Garcia. "It's much more than what any adult can tell the children when they see Labrawn in his situation trying to strive for more education."
Buccaneers Director of Community Relations Miray Holmes echoed Garcia's message about the importance of honoring the efforts of Saffold and others like him.
"We are more than just a football team, we are an integral part of this community," said Holmes. "So we feel that it is important for us to recognize our fans for things that they do that make this area a special place to live."
Saffold was able to sum up the theme of the night using one of his life lessons.
"One of my mottos I live by is 'No excuses,'" he said. "If you're living, don't just live for yourself, live to help enhance others."
Below is a brief description of what the 2010 Community Quarterback winners are doing to serve others in the Bay area community:
Alycia Bower is the current President of ManaTEENs, the nation's largest locally-based teen volunteer initiative. With over 14,000 members, ManaTEENs participants volunteer more than 1.7.million service hours a year. Bower has also focused her volunteer efforts on animal welfare support, founding "Big Breath and Bark ...or Meow!," a project to equip every fire station throughout Manatee County with life-saving oxygen kits for dogs and cats.
Alex Cooks is the founder of the "Alex's Christmas Bikes for Kids" program. As the owner of a used bicycle handed down to him as a child, Cooks decided to start a program to purchase new bicycles for disadvantaged kids. With the help of friends and customers of his family business, "Alex's Christmas Bikes for Kids" has supplied over eight thousand new bicycles for Hillsborough County elementary school children over the past 10 years.
Jennifer Frances is the founder of "Bess the Book Bus," a nonprofit mobile outreach program that works to close the literacy gap for disadvantaged children. In 2009 alone, Frances distributed over 38,500 books to students throughout Tampa Bay and across the country through her summer literacy tour.
Russ Oberbroeckling is the founder and organizer of "Buddy Baseball," a new baseball league for children with special needs. The only one of its kind in Tampa Bay, "Buddy Baseball" provides special needs children the opportunity to play an organized sport with the help of a young buddy. In 2009, over 50 schools in Tampa were represented in Oberbroeckling's league, which has helped form friendships and dissolve social barriers between children from different backgrounds.
Labrawn Saffold, a student at the University of South Florida, helps oversee and execute the "Quest for Real Life Success" program, an initiative designed to prepare students for college and career opportunities while developing character and integrity. In addition to his own educational pursuits, Saffold volunteers at Joshua House and All Sports Community Service, Inc., a program that helps students contribute to their communities through volunteerism, community service and mentoring.