Laura Lockwood, founder of multiple community programs, has spent most of her teen years helping others
She's never made a game-saving tackle. She's never scored a go-ahead touchdown or kicked a last-second field goal. She's never even stepped on an NFL field, for that matter. Yet the National Football League has fallen in love with the amazing abilities of Laura Lockwood, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2000 Community Quarterback winner.
Since November of 2000, NFL Charities has dispersed over $50,000 to ManaTEENs, the organization Lockwood founded in 1994…at the age of 12. On February 17, 2003, the NFL named Lockwood and her ManaTEENs one of five Silver Medalists in the NFL's Junior Community Quarterback Grant Program. This prestigious award acknowledges the benefits that the ManaTEEN's have provided to their community and more importantly rewards them with a $15,000 grant to continue their outstanding works.
Lockwood's journey with the NFL began just prior to Thanksgiving in 2000. During a ceremony to honor the Buccaneers' 10 Community Quarterback Award finalists, a shy, 17 year-old girl sat at a table with her family in the Club Level of Raymond James Stadium and listened to Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks discuss the importance of community involvement. Lockwood was one of those finalists.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Community Quarterback Award, sponsored by NFL Charities, honors volunteers who demonstrate leadership, dedication and a commitment to bettering the community in which they live.
That evening, each of the 10 award-winners was recognized for his or her community contributions and given $1,000 to apply to their respective charities. In addition, two semi-finalists and an overall winner from among those 10 was revealed. Brooks announced those winners as well, and Lockwood's heart sank a little as two of the other finalists were called and awarded an additional $2,500. As Brooks prepared to announce the $10,000 winner, Lockwood looked around to guess which of her fellow community quarterbacks would be selected.
"As Derrick Brooks stood at the podium to announce the winner, it never even entered my mind that my name was about to be called," said Lockwood. "When he announced, 'Laura Lockwood is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Community Quarterback', I was overwhelmed and humbled beyond belief."
Humbled, we can understand, as Lockwood's humility matches her generosity. Her family, friends and all those she has helped would be hard-pressed, however to find a time when the now 20-year-old has been overwhelmed.
After winning the Buccaneers Community Quarterback Award, Lockwood was grouped with 30 other team Community Quarterback Award winners for a shot at becoming the NFL's Community Quarterback. That honor would carry with it a $25,000 grant for the winner's organization. Two months later at the Super Bowl, hosted by Tampa at Raymond James Stadium, Lockwood was seated at another banquet table with her boyfriend and members of the Glazer family when she again was amazed to hear her name called. Lockwood's dream came true that day, as she was announced as the NFL's Community Quarterback.
"I was star-struck, to say the least," said Lockwood. "I don't think I uttered a word throughout the entire luncheon. Several presentations were made that afternoon and I was caught up in the excitement of the event. I was reading the program and looking for notables in the room when I was asked to join the master of ceremonies on stage. I thought I was going to lose my lunch."
Since founding "ManaTEENs," Lockwood has tirelessly promoted youth volunteerism in Florida and throughout the nation. The ManaTEEN organization is currently the largest teen-led volunteer initiative in the country, with 11,600 active members who contribute in excess of 1.6 million hours of service annually to benefit local charities and the community at large.
"I created The ManaTEEN Club in 1994 to promote youth volunteerism in Manatee County, Florida," said Lockwood. "In addition to providing assistance to not-for-profit agencies, communities of faith, hospitals, schools, and retirement centers, ManaTEENs are trained to identify area needs and develop projects to address those needs."
It all started when Laura and her friends, who had been volunteering in the community through a local organization, decided to create a group of teen volunteers that encompassed all the local middle schools and high schools. At first, the group created projects for itself, but as time passed and word spread, community organizations began to look to the ManaTEENs to help. Where once organizations were suspect of teen volunteers, they came to embrace the hard work and dedication of the ManaTEENs.
From this initial decision came many new and original ideas. "Carousel Kids," for instance, connects qualified teen babysitters with families in need, while "Weekend Dads" encourages non-custodial parents and their children to volunteer together on weekends. These programs and others helped raised ManaTEENs' profile in local circles, and the new Junior ManaTEENs, which pairs third through fifth graders with current ManaTEEN members, helps keep the organization fresh and innovative.
Of all the programs run by the ManaTEENs, it is the group's work with senior citizens that has raised its national profile.
"I established Home Safety for Seniors in the summer of 1999," said Lockwood. "I was delivering emergency meal kits to elderly residents when I noticed the deplorable conditions in which many of them lived."
As Lockwood spoke with the elderly people to whom she delivered supplies, she realized that many were former winter visitors to Florida who had come to spend many years in Florida without much family or support. Often, after the passing of a husband or wife, the surviving spouse would to stay in Florida year-round because they could no longer financially or physically maintain a home in the North and another in Florida. Unfortunately, the "vacation" homes in Florida were usually mobile homes, beach cottages or houses in general disrepair.
Thanks to the support of her peers in implementing the Home Safety program, and corporate support to initially fund the effort, Laura began to train youth and family volunteers in Aging Sensitivity (to better understand challenges faced by our aging population) and seek referrals from senior service organizations.
She scheduled appointments with seniors for groups of teens to visit them in their homes, assessing safety needs and allocating up to $50 in safety products per home to make their living environments safer. Three years later, more than 2,300 ManaTEENs have been trained and have participated in the project, serving 3,987 local seniors with more than $200,000 in items such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, anti-slip rug mats, levered door handles, weather radios, bathtub seats and more.
The Home Safety for Seniors program picked up momentum and soon spread far beyond Manatee County. In 2001-02, the program was replicated in six cities across the country, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and Ft. Lauderdale. Start-up funding was provided via corporate sponsorship and Lockwood visited each city to train youth leaders. A team of ManaTEEN leaders also assisted Lockwood with technical support and grant research for the replication sites.
Expansion to new and uncharted territories wasn't exactly easy, as the needs of the elderly in West Central Florida differ from those in Las Vegas.
"One of the biggest problems we faced was that seniors at different places needed different things," said Lockwood. "In Las Vegas, misting systems that go around their houses and spray water to cool people down were the number-one items, while scorpion repellent is the number-one safety product distributed through the program in Phoenix. They're just things we didn't think of."
ManaTEENs worked with local agencies to keep such problems to a minimum and the programs have been very successful in all six cities.
With the recent donation $15,000 from the NFL, the young philanthropist hopes to produce a video, publish an operations manual and offer start-up funds to empower youth in 25 additional communities to initiate the Home Safety for Seniors project through local Volunteer Centers.
"It means so much to us," said Lockwood, of the donations from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL. "To have that much money gives us the opportunity to travel and do the replications in new cities that we've been asked to do, whereas before we were always scraping for money and funding.
"With all of the funding we've received, it's provided so many more opportunities than before. Whenever I'm asked what the greatest thing I've ever received is, I always say the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL. It's really great and I can't even put it into words how much it's helped us."
If you would like to learn how you can help out Laura and the ManaTEENs, please visit their website or call (941) 761-3207 to speak with a trained volunteer.