MANATEE -- Manatee High School senior Heather McGuire's eyes lit up when the oversized check was brought into the classroom Thursday morning. John Neal of Neal Homes and state Sen. Bill Galvano briefly interrupted Jackie Elmore's student leadership class to present the Young Philanthropy Award.
Although the award was meant to be a surprise, McGuire began smiling even before her name was called.
In the season of giving, McGuire will get to present a $500 check to her favorite charity -- Bill Galvano's One Stop Center, which is run by Turning Points, formerly the Community Coalition on Home
The check served as a trophy Thursday for McGuire.
"You'll get to carry that around with you all day," Neal said.
McGuire was chosen based on her work with One Stop and an essay she wrote about the importance of such organizations in an economic downturn.
On top of serving as a class officer, McGuire volunteers at One Stop.
"It is exciting, especially in this community," McGuire said of the work One Stop does. "I think it is going to be effective."
Galvano described One Stop as a place for people who need to get back on their feet.
"The idea is that someone who is homeless, or on the fringe, can come in and interact with government agencies," Galvano said. They can also "get a meal and a shower and see a counselor" and look for a job.
Galvano said the organization thrives on volunteer support and donations, especially during the holiday season.
Galvano is not the founder of One Stop, but the center was named for him because he lobbied for state funds to start the center.
This is the second time this year Neal's pilot philanthropy project has recognized Manatee High School student volunteers. The goal is to acknowledge one student each quarter, and Neal said he plans to extend the philanthropy program to all Manatee County high schools next year.
"Each time it keeps getting harder to select a winner," Neal said. "We really appreciate their time, and we get such good letters."
Runners-up Railene Bilter, Madison Davis and Katie Christenson also received recognition Thursday.
Previous winners include Manatee High School sophomore Alex Servia and junior Janaye Brown. Servia was awarded $500 to give to the Gulf Shore Animal League, and Brown was awarded $500 for the Manatee Players.
All Young Philanthropy Award winner names are displayed on a plaque in Manatee High School's trophy case.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081