Lifelong Bradenton resident Ray Baden, 87, has had airplanes, cars, houses, cars and successful businesses, but none of that, he said Tuesday, has given him the same pleasure as handing out big checks to local nonprofit organizations that he believes in strongly.
This year, the fourth straight, Baden requested funds from the Sara and Ray Baden Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation be made into checks for local organizations doing special and exemplary work in his view to make the community a better place.
The eight recipients this year — whose representatives paid Baden back on Giving Tuesday with tears, hugs and repeated thank yous — were Visible Men Academy, Just for Girls, the Salvation Army of Manatee County, Turning Points, Family Partnership Center, the Food Bank of Manatee, Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County and South Florida Museum.
Baden decided to hand deliver all eight $10,000 checks in white envelopes to those agencies with the help of the Manatee Community Foundation’s Susie Bowie and Joan McCaw.
The $80,000 donated Tuesday brought the total to $400,000 awarded through the generosity of Sara and Ray Baden through Manatee Community Foundation, Bowie said.
“Susie and Joan told them that a donor wanted to take a tour on Tuesday,” Baden said with a smile and mischievous grin. “They had no idea they were getting something big. This is going to be fun.”
Along with his “talking” dog, Sparky — Sparky howls with glee when asked his opinion of nonprofits — Baden hopped into Bowie’s SUV along with McCaw, and their first stop was to see Principal Neil Phillips at Visible Men Academy, a four-year-old school for boys with a current enrollment of 100.
“Neil Phillips is doing very important work, and I wish others would join him,” Baden said.
A surprised Phillips told Baden, “We are immensely grateful, indescribably appreciative. This is the kind of support we need to help our boys and families.”
Next stop was the Food Bank of Manatee, where food bank director Cindy Sloan broke down and cried.
“I was shocked,” Sloan said. “They told me this morning I was going to do a tour — and instead they gave us a $10,000 check.”
“This makes me feel that people understand us and want to support us and that makes me feel really special,” Sloan added.
The next visit turned out to be one of Baden’s favorites of the day. It was Just for Girls, where Bowie introduced Baden to the energetic Gail Murrell, a director at the school for girls and an employee there for 30 years.
“We kind of made up a story,” Bowie confessed to Murrell with a grin. “We told you a little fib. You thought we were here for a tour but we are really here for Giving Tuesday.”
“Here’s a $10,000 check,” a smiling Baden told Murrell.
“I’m speechless, shocked and overwhelmed,” said Murrell, who could only start hugging Baden, Bowie and McCaw. “I am just thrilled to receive this on behalf of Just for Girls. I had my little tour speech ready.”
Baden and his crew next traveled to see a delighted Major Dwayne Durham at the Salvation Army of Manatee County who told Baden some of the money will go to buy toys for needy kids.
“I think where they are going to use it is well placed,” Baden said. “At Christmas time it is good to use it to buy toys or things for their clients instead of making an addition to the building or fixing something. It should go for making cheer for someone else.”
A few moments later, Adell Erozer of Turning Points alternated between crying and laughing.
“You won’t have a problem spending this will you?” Baden asked.
“It will go for services,” an emotional Erozer replied.
By this time Baden was really getting into the giving zone, having fun.
“Surprise, surprise,” Baden yelled out when director Dawn Stanhope came into view at the downtown Bradenton office of Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County.
“We brought you a little check to help you out,” Baden said, his voice sounding more and more like a kid’s at Christmas.
“You did. Oh my, thank you so much,” a thrilled Stanhope told Baden.
The next visit was to Katrina Bellemare, executive director of Family Partnership Center, where parents who have been struggling with their parenting skills come to stitch their families back together.
Family Partnership Center may not be as familiar to the general public as Turning Points or Salvation Army, but, according to Baden, they should be.
“I know what they do,” Baden said. “It’s a hard job and you don’t see immediate results. You have to keep working at it. So, it’s not give them a dose of medicine or a 30-minute seminar. It’s a continuous thing with them.”
Next up was the South Florida Museum, home of Snooty, The Bishop Planetarium and early Manatee collections. Baden fell in love with a big green inflated dinosaur in the lobby.
“Thank you so much for this,” museum director Brynne Anne Besio told Baden.
“No thank you,” Baden said. “You do good work here.”
When it was all over, Bowie and McCaw told Baden, “We’re taking you out for a big lunch.”
“Good,” said Baden. “I’ve about had it.”
The giving business can wear a person out.