A busy Friday for the Glazer Family Foundation included a productive stop by the Vision Mobile at a nearby elementary school and the awarding of grants totaling more than $25,000 to six non-profit organizations seeking funds for very worthy causes
On Friday morning, the Glazer Family Foundation helped 20 local grade-schoolers see the chalkboard better. Later that day, another group of Bay area citizens found they could see their dreams a little more clearly, also thanks to the Foundation.
It was a banner day for the Glazer Family Foundation, which followed a morning visit by the Vision Mobile to Just Elementary School in West Tampa with a luncheon at One Buccaneer Place in which more than $25,000 was awarded in grants to six local nonprofit organizations.
In addition to continuing its quest to provide vision screening and correction to every grade school student in eight different county school systems, the Foundation also brought aid on Friday to worthy organizations dealing with such issues as at-risk youth, homeless families and victims of violence.
Representatives from Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), Connected By 25 Initiative, Family Promise of Sarasota, Healthy Start Coalition, Rescue Outreach Mission of Sanford and The Junior League of Tampa attended a private luncheon at the Bucs' headquarters and accepted checks presented by Foundation Co-President Darcie Glazer Kassewitz. Glazer Kassewitz also gathered the nonprofit representatives in a circle in the team's media studio before lunch and led an informal chat in which each organization had an opportunity to explain their programs.
The GFF's Vision Mobile was introduced this past December and began a year-long tour through schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, Orange, Osceola, Manatee and Polk Counties in January. In less than two months it has already visited 22 schools, where it has conducted over 600 exams and handed out more than 450 free pairs of eyeglasses.
Friday's stop at Just Elementary allowed 22 more children who might not have otherwise had the means to get corrective measures for their vision problems to be examined on the vision bus. Twenty of the students who boarded the Vision Mobile on Friday left with new glasses, to the absolute delight of the school's principal, Carolyn Hill.
"I'm so excited because my kids come from homes where they may not be able to afford the glasses, and I know if they can see better they'll do better in school," said Hill, who greeted Glazer Kassewitz warmly upon arrival. "I can see long-term results from the action we're taking today. We had kids in our school who did not pass the eye exam but who do not have eyeglasses. Their parents are unable to afford them. When I heard that the Vision Mobile was coming I got really excited because I know this is going to be good for our kids. It's going to help them academically. Academic success will lead to them staying in school long-term, and I think that's going to result in more productive citizens."
The Vision Mobile is the latest step in the Foundation's vision program, which is one of its most important and beloved initiatives. The Glazer Family Foundation chose vision screening as one of its core programs because Malcolm Glazer, Glazer Kassewitz's father and the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, benefited greatly from vision screening during his own youth. Since 2006, the vision program has made sure that the schools in the eight counties mentioned above had the proper equipment to test students' visual acuity and detect potential problems that can hinder the learning experience. The Vision Mobile takes the program to the next step by providing the corrective glasses necessary to students at Title I schools who had no other means to get them.
One third-grader at Just Elementary, for example, had originally been screened and received glasses when he was in the first grade. However, those glasses were later lost and the student has spent parts of the last two school years without them. He got a new pair from the Vision Mobile on Friday.
"If you can't see, you can't learn," said Glazer Kassewitz. "He's had a hard time for a few years and now hopefully we can correct that. We're just so thrilled with this program. Some of these kids can't see the board and they're just so thrilled to get their glasses. They'll have more success in school and life will be better because of it."
In addition to providing the aid that is needed, the Vision Mobile provides a non-intimidating environment that makes it easier for young children to get an eye exam. The inside of the Vision Mobile is extensively decorated in a Buccaneer theme and it includes items to put its visitors at ease, such as a helmet that can be tried on and pom pons for would-be cheerleaders.
"We have put a lot of fun stuff in the Vision Mobile," said Glazer Kassewitz. "We've got footballs in there and cheerleader stuff. They can try on the outfits, and the doctor in there is a great guy. The kids are having a blast. I don't think they look at it as an eye doctor visit."
Added Miray Holmes, the Buccaneers' director of community relations: "Some of [the children] are a little apprehensive because they don't know what to expect. But once they go inside the doctors are in there to explain to them what they're doing, and they come out of there pretty happy. That was done by design. We wanted the inside of the Vision Mobile to be really engaging for the kids, to lessen the anxiety that anybody has when they go to the doctor. We wanted them to be at ease and so excited about everything that's in there that the exam becomes not a big deal."
After helping many of the Vision Mobile visitors through their exams, Glazer Kassewitz returned to One Buccaneer Place to welcome the grant recipients. Though she had read each application and personally approved each of the grants that were awarded on Friday, she was also eager to meet the non-profit representatives and hear some more details regarding the programs to be funded.
For example, Executive Director Mary Jo Plews of the Healthy Start Coalition described how their "Bed for Babies" program has led to a decrease in infant suffocation deaths in the Hardee, Manatee and Polk Counties since 2006. William Hull of Family Promise of Sarasota detailed how their program aids homeless families who are motivated to get back on their feet while Sarah Hart of the Connected by 25 Initiative explained how important it is to provide young men and women leaving foster care with monthly bus passes so they could continue their education and remain employed.
Glazer Kassewitz and the rest of the Foundation's representatives were moved by the stories.
"Everybody deserves a chance," said Glazer Kassewitz, "especially somebody who is trying so hard to help themselves.
"The Foundation's impact would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of these organizations. Their selfless efforts deliver the Foundation's mission of enhancing the lives of youth and families throughout Central Florida, and we are proud to support them in their endeavors to give back to those less fortunate."
Friday's roundtable discussion and luncheon also served the purpose of introducing the various non-profit organizations to each other, though some of them had already seen their initiatives overlap.
"We are always looking for non-profit organizations to connect with each other," said Holmes. "They have a lot in common and they often serve the same constituencies. It's a good opportunity for them to network with each other and find out ways other non-profits are helping in the community."
The Glazer Family Foundation awards grants twice each year to West Central Florida programs focused on the health, safety, recreation and education of disadvantaged youth. This past year, 12 nonprofit organizations have received grants through the biannual program. Here is a description of Friday's six grant recipients and the specific programs that would be aided by the Foundation's awards.
· *Community Action Stops Abuse (Pinellas County)* aims to raise awareness against violence through advocacy, empowerment and social change. The awarded grant will support its "Visitation Program", which provides a supervised, safe environment for children to visit with their non-custodial parent.
· *Connected By 25 Initiative (Hillsborough County)* is a community initiative that engages youth with public/private partners and policy makers to improve outcomes for foster youth through investments in services and programs. The grant will fund an on-site education program to serve at-risk youth in foster care.
· *Family Promise of Sarasota (Sarasota County) *assists the homeless by providing the tools, resources and support network to help individuals and families regain housing. The awarded grant will fund the "Family Promise Shelter", which provides essential living items for homeless families who would not otherwise have access to them.
· *Healthy Start Coalition of Hardee, Highlands and Polk Counties (Hardee, Manatee, Polk Counties)* is a nonprofit corporation that serves as an advocate for improved maternal and child health services for all residents in Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties. The grant will help fund the "Beds 4 Babies" project, which provides portable cribs to families in need of a safe place for their baby to sleep.
· *Rescue Outreach Mission of Sanford (Seminole County)* provides emergency shelter, food, clothing and spiritual guidance to disadvantaged, needy, homeless and abused individuals and families. The grant will fund the purchase of educational resources for the homeless children living with their mothers in the outreach's "Open Door Shelters for Women and Children" program.
· *The Junior League of Tampa (Hillsborough County)* is an organization of over 1,600 women committed to promoting volunteerism and improving communities through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. The grant will fund its "Love Bundles" program which supports Hillsborough County children who have been removed from their homes due to allegations of child abuse and neglect. "Love Bundles" include toiletries, clothing, books and toys.
"This money comes at a much-needed time right now," said Ernest Hamilton, executive director of Rescue Outreach. "Our centers are always full right now. This gives the children an opportunity to have some normalcy while they're there. It's a challenge every day, every single day, just to keep our shelters going."
The Foundation hopes that its efforts will not only help the six grant recipients keep their current programs running but also lead to more aid in the future from other sources.
"During the grant awarding process, non-profits are required to document other organizations that are funding them," said Holmes. "We're hoping that the Glazer Family Foundation's name will help those non-profits when they're applying for a different grant. If an organization sees that we thought those non-profits were important enough to fund, then perhaps they also will choose to fund them."
The Glazer Family Foundation is dedicated to assisting charitable and educational causes in the West Central Florida region. The Foundation aids established not-for-profit organizations that work with youth and families to help identify and create programs that support positive social and economic development within our communities. The Glazers, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, established the Foundation in 1999. Since that time, the Glazer Family Foundation has given millions of dollars in programs, grants, tickets and merchandise to the Tampa Bay area. Most recently, the Foundation donated $5 million toward the construction of a new children's museum in downtown Tampa, which is scheduled to open later this year and be named the Glazer Children's Museum.
Visit www.GlazerFamilyFoundation.org for more information.