Spirit of Manatee awards presented

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 20, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The Spirit of Manatee Awards recognizing the philanthropic spirit were awarded Wednesday at Bradenton Auditorium:

* Young Spirit — Bradenton Christian School’s Kristen Truong has made an impact on fellow students and others in our community.

Working her way up through the ranks of offices with the BCS Key Club, she eventually became president and was influential in generating a population of BCS service leaders with more than 100 students involved in Key Club service activities.

As Key Club Florida district treasurer, Truong serves nearly 20,000 Key Club members from more than 355 schools around the state and Cayman Islands, supervising more than 350 Key Club treasurers and managing a budget of $750,000.

Truong also volunteers at Blake Medical Center and Manatee Memorial Hospital and serves on the Manatee Youth Commission.

* Community Spirit — The Bradenton Herald has grown with the community since its inception in 1922 and its steadfast support of Manatee County’s nonprofits has been a vital part of the newspaper’s growth.

Besides providing publicity, the Bradenton Herald has supported more than 170 organizations and contributed more than $600,000 to the community through nonprofit scholarships.

Perhaps its best known vehicle for those is the annual Golden Herald Awards, a program that salutes outstanding Manatee County high school seniors for their accomplishment and service to the community.

Since it began in 1978, the Golden Heralds have recognized more than 4,300 students with more than 1,000 receiving scholarships.

“Service is a responsibility and a requirement if you truly want to be a part of the community,” publisher Bob Turner said.

Expanding with the Lakewood Ranch Herald and evolving online, the Bradenton Herald has been recognized over its 90-plus years for its editorial page positions on issues, news coverage and community journalism.

* Community Spirit — The Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch of 70 members strong has done a lot of good work for numerous nonprofits around Manatee County. Among them are ArtCenter Manatee, Florida Blood Services, Food Bank of Manatee, Manatee Glens and Women’s Resource Center to name a few of more than 30 deserving organizations.

One of the most successful and creative ways the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch has accomplished this is through Suncoast Food & Wine Fest.

Started by these Rotarians more than a decade ago, the event has raised more than $1 million for charity. It draws thousands of visitors, 35 restaurants, hundreds of wineries and dozens of sponsors.

The club members were also integral in starting the U.S. affiliate of Shelter Box disaster relief, a Miracle League sports field for children with disabilities and upgrades to Manatee Glens.

In addition, these Rotarians are involved with Adopt-A-Road, gift boxes for seniors and sponsoring scholarships.

* Volunteer Spirit — Retirement didn’t last long for Jane Evers, the former First Lady of Bradenton during husband Bill’s 20 years as mayor.

The plight of Manatee County’s homeless children changed all that. Good thing, too.

Evers established F.E.L.T. (Feeding Empty Little Tummies), a volunteer nonprofit that provides backpacks with three meals and a snack per day each weekend of the school year to more than 200 students at 13 elementary schools.

Its 30 volunteers will account for more than 30,000 meals this year. Evers got donated warehouse space to house food and set up an exhange program trading donated food items with the Food Bank and other feeding organizations.

Using her kitchen table as her command post, she writes grant applications, solicits contributions and learned how to run a golf tournament — raising $15,000 the first time out!

* Leadership Spirit — Civic icon. Master of ceremonies. Pageant Judge.

Vernon DeSear has maintained a visible profile for years in his native Manatee County, but it’s behind-the-scenes as a person, professional and volunteer he has also managed to help make our community a welcome place to live and visit.

As Manatee Memorial Hospital’s vice-president for marketing, DeSear is a frequent sight visiting patients. He also makes his rounds around the community, financially supporting many organizations, helping build alliances among them and providing leadership on their boards.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County, DeSoto Historical Society, Manatee Education Foundation, Tidewell Hospice and Turning Points are but a few who have benefited from DeSear’s guidance. That goes for his involvement as a catalyst in the city’s renewal with both Bradenton’s Downtown Development Authority and Realize Bradenton, as well as Riverwalk.

Add Renaissance on 9th, State College of Florida and the Wellness Community to the list of organizations DeSear has assisted with fundraising for their projects and capital campaigns.

n Lifetime Spirit — During the last four decades, Fred and Millie Vandergraff have given generously of their money and time.

Among the nonprofits they support are the Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County, Duette School, Guardian Angels, Salvation Army, Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, Solve House and Sweet Adelines.

Bradenton Christian School, where Millie Vandergraff taught before moving onto banking and then the State Attorney’s office, has been a beneficiary, as well.

Fred Vandergraff, a World War II veteran, ran the BCS auction during the last 30 years and this year hosted the inaugural Charity Auction for Duette School, raising more than $4,500 for its 16 students.

The couple also helped raise $2.3 million in 28 days for the Bradenton Christian Reformed Church.

While serving on the Manatee Religious Services board of directors, Fred Vandergraff, presently a coin shop owner, also chaired the annual Community Awareness and Fundraising Banquet and raised $5,000 to $30,000 each year.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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