SARASOTA -- A select group of five people were honored Wednesday at the Goodwill Manasota Ambassador of the Year Awards Dinner.
It was held inside a large, dimly lit hall at Michael's On East in Sarasota.
The event attended by about 200 people recognized those who demonstrate exceptional leadership, commitment and dedication to the local community, and support Goodwill's mission of changing lives through the power of work.
Ambassador of the Year honorees included:
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Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.
Phil Mancini and Michael Klauber, co-proprietors of Michael's On East.
State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.
The late Rick Fawley, co-founder and partner in the Lakewood Ranch-based architecture firm Fawley Bryant-Architecture, Interiors and Design. Fawley died Sept. 2.
Bob Rosinsky, president and CEO of Goodwill Ma
nasota, called the honorees "shining stars" in the local community.
"Whether it's arts, whether it's the schools, whether it's social services, these people work tirelessly to build a better community here," Rosinsky said, adding honorees were selected with input from the board of director and staff.
Fawley's business partner, Mike Bryant, attended the awards dinner.
"Rick loved Goodwill and he was on the board for more than 20 years. Twice, he was board chairman," Bryant said. "He was really instrumental in Goodwill Manasota's development as a model Goodwill organization throughout the country. He was part of bringing Goodwill to a higher level. For Rick, it was a real passion. He saw the good it did."
Bryant said the dinner was a fitting tribute to his late business partner, especially now. After Fawley died, Bryant said he approached Goodwill Manasota leaders about establishing a fund in Fawley's name. Last week, details were finalized for the new Rick and Coni Fawley Fund, which will be used for scholarships for Goodwill employees.
"Goodwill has a desperate need to help people with that first hand up -- getting their education is it," Bryant said, adding his firm has pledged $50,000 toward the fund. "Rick was all about education, too."
The dinner also honored Leonzo Gonzalez as Goodwill Manasota Employee of the Year. The 36-year-old Bradenton resident was severely injured a decade ago when he was hit by a drunk driver, and is now blind. The father of two works full time at Goodwill Manasota's corporate campus at 2715 51st Ave. E., Bradenton.
"Being named Employee of the Year is really exciting because of my disability," Gonzalez said. "They gave me the opportunity to get a job with Goodwill, so I achieved a lot of goals and am really happy to get the award tonight."
Gonzalez's wife, Crystal Gonzalez, said she felt great about the honor.
"I feel proud of him," the 34-year-old said as she looked over at her husband. "He's come a long way. ... It's just amazing to me what he just does because a lot of people in his situation don't even bother to get a job. It's something he strived for and he made happen."
Hillstrom, 54, said she felt overwhelmed when she heard she would be honored among others.
"Really humbled. This is such a great organization. ... It's a wonderful asset to our community," she said. "To be honored as a Goodwill ambassador is really special."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.