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Volunteers of the Year

These Central Floridians are making a big difference in the community.

 

It takes a benevolent heart to reach out to those in need. Each year many people offer their kindness to others by joining up with one of Orlando’s many nonprofits. Nominated by their organizations, the 11 standouts featured here range in age from 16 to 78, but they all represent the kind spirit of giving that exists in Greater Orlando. We hope the stories of these do-gooders encourage you to join them in making your community an even better place to live.

Debi Immel, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Immel is always willing to help. That is why her co-volunteers and the Second  Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida wanted to recognize her for all the work she’s done over the past year. Second Harvest  Food Bank stores and dis- tributes donated food to six Central Florida counties in addition to hosting a culinary training program for economically  challenged adults. Immel says she enjoys volunteering at the food bank because she can help so many people.

“In three hours I can help make like 4,000 meals,” she says. “I can impact a huge amount of people in a short amount of time.”

Andrew Lorman, Autism Society of Greater Orlando

Lorman says he volunteers at the Autism Society of Greater Orlando ( ASGO) “because it’s fun.” Diagnosed with autism at 4 years old, Lorman  is now 26 and handles many tasks for the or- ganization but one of his most important contributions is participating in ASGO’s Autism Awareness Training. During the training, he demonstrates characteristics of autism and acts out certain scenarios with first responders, so they can recognize when they’re dealing with an autistic individual.

“Drew is the first to arrive and last to leave every ASGO event,” Linda Lorman, an ASGO board member and Andrew Lorman’s aunt, says. “He helps with loading and unloading, setup and teardown and always does it with a smile.”

Sarah Stoddard, Freedom Ride

Stoddard, 61, has dedicated over 2,000 hours of service to Freedom Ride, which provides enriching experiences for children and adults with disabilities through therapeutic  horseback riding and equine-related activities. Stoddard  has been volunteering with Freedom Ride for more than 16 years and her fellow volunteers and leaders say they are inspired by her dedication.

“Sarah is a hard worker,” volunteer coordinator Jessica Uhl says. “She always comes to Freedom Ride with a positive attitude and a smile.”

Renita Hunt, Dress for Success of Greater Orlando

Without a job how can a woman facing poverty who may have just escaped  an abusive marriage or may have been displaced by a natural disaster afford professional clothes? How can she get a job without a professional dress to wear to the interview? These  are the questions Dress for Success of Greater Orlando (DSGO) tries to address. Hunt, 39, is a central part  to running this entirely volunteer-run organization.

“On any given day, you might find Renita jumping on a call with a nonprofit committee  to solve an issue, standing up in front of a room of people delivering an inspiring message, or even digging through the storage unit to replenish essential items in  DSGO’s boutique,” Lauren Sedam, director of public relations for DSGO, says. “If there’s a need, she fills it.”

Dana Schmidt, Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association

Schmidt, 78, had retired from practicing  law years ago, but he decided he could still use his legal know-how to help people who are unable to afford a lawyer. So, he started volunteering at the Legal Aid  Society of the Orange County Bar Association in 2009 as an  in-person interviewer.

“He is empathetic to our clients and their circumstances and has sought different ways to advocate for their rights,” Judy J. Kuhns, intake volunteer coordinator  for the society, says. “He has on many occasions contacted his elected officials and lobbying groups to seek changes for the low income individuals in our county.”

Susan Pringle, A Gift for Teaching

A Gift for Teaching (AGFT) was founded to provide free school supplies for students and teachers because educators regularly  pay out of their own pockets to provide  learning tools for students who can- not afford them. Pringle, a retired educator, volunteers weekly at the nonprofit’s “free store” and also gives her time to many of the organization’s events.

“Susan always brings treats for the other volunteers  and teachers during the holidays and even lends her talents to designing  and decorating our annual nonprofit Christmas tree at Rosen Shingle Creek,” Jaqueta Abbey, communications coordinator for AGFT says. “She is not only generous with her time, but also as a financial supporter and donor of school supplies.”

Brian King, Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida

When King, 40, moved to Orlando in 2001, his uncle, Doug Spencer, recruited him to volunteer with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, which works to return residents to self-sufficiency through counseling, job training and educational programs. King has served on the board of the organization as well as donated and raised funds for the nonprofit’s mission.

“My Westbrook office is actually located on Orange Blossom Trail right down from the coalition’s office and we see lots of people who need help over here,” King says. “So anything we can do to help those people get off the streets is a good thing.”

Jordan Johnson, Florida Hospital for Children

Johnson and her mother, Marva, started  volunteering at Florida Hospital for Children last year in the hospital’s care pair program. This program allows 16- or 17-year-olds the ability to donate their time at the hospital when they are coupled with an adult 18 years or older. Jordan,  who has been accepted early decision to Cornell University, usually spends her volunteer time reading books to young kids and convincing teenagers to read too.

“I feel like being able to volunteer with my mom is a unique experience because we get to be here together and have family bonding time while doing something nice for others,” Johnson says.

Caitlin Chen, Orange County Regional History Center

In the past two years Chen, 16, has given more than 200 hours of her time volunteering at the Orange Coun- ty Regional History Center. She often volunteers as a counselor for the  young children who attend the center’s summer camps and special events. Diane Masciale, the museum services coordinator, says Chen is a great role model for kids.

“ My favorite part overall is being with the children,” Chen says. “It constantly amazes  me to see how easily excited and enthusiastic they are about things that adults tend to overlook.”

The Casteel Family,  Give Kids the World Village

Darren and Jessica Casteel started taking their children, Brinkley and Breyer, to the Give Kids the World Village to volunteer as a family about three years ago. The nonprofit resort in Central  Florida provides weeklong, cost-free vacations  to children with life-threatening  illnesses. Darren serves as a village ambassador and entertainment  assistant with his wife, Jessica. Meanwhile, Brinkley, 18, helps out in the spa and Breyer, 20, is a character performer.

“Our family got involved for many reasons,” Darren Casteel says. “We saw the difference  we were  able to make in a child’s life. We also wanted to do something as a family. Something we could do all together.”

Renee Gooden,  Orlando Science Center

This 16-year-old has been a volunteer at the Orlando Science Cen- ter (OSC), which provides  engaging  programing to inspire science learning for life, for nearly  a year now and her supervisors say she has already made a tremendous impact. Gooden has assisted at the center’s summer camp as a junior camp counselor and worked on the visitor experience team performing science demonstrations.

“While  Renee is a wonderful resource  for the people we serve, she especially shines when working with her peers,” Zach Lynn, the director of volunteers and engagement at OSC, says. “Renee’s passion,  enthusiasm, and positivity also inspires those around her to work hard and be great teammates.”

 

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s March 2018 issue.