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LAKELAND, Fla. | United Way of Central Florida announced Tuesday night at its Annual Meeting that the organization raised $23,773,393 to fund local health, education, and financial stability programs in Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties.  

$12,803,174 of that total came from funding from the Polk County Board of County Commissioners to provide direct, COVID-19 related assistance to Polk County residents and nonprofits. 2,196,826 more was also provided by Polk County but spent in the previous fiscal year and not included in the 2020/2021 total.  

In addition to this being UWCF’s largest fundraising total in the organization’s history, Timothy Campbell, Board Chair, also announced the nonprofit served a total of 70,000 people last year, another record. An additional 280,000 visitors were served at the George W. Jenkins End Hunger food pantry drops last year.   “United Way truly enables so many people in our community to rebuild their lives,” Campbell said.

“United Way meets people where they are, gives them a hand up, and walks with them through all of the challenges and stages of life.”   

Also at the meeting Campaign Chair Troy C. Smith announced that Publix Super Markets, Inc. and Publix Charities, for the second year in a row, is the largest United Way campaign worldwide, raising $62,320,740.  

United Way also presented awards for Philanthropist of the Year, George W. Jenkins Outstanding Volunteer, Spirit of Central Florida, Citizen of the Year, Difference Maker, and Outstanding Employee Coordinator.  

The Philanthropist of the Year award was created to thank and celebrate individuals, families and organizations who have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to philanthropy to the United Way and our community. This year’s honorees are Wesley Barnett and Ashley Bell Barnett.  

They are founding members of United Way Young Leaders Society and have been actively involved with our Board of Directors, Community Impact Cabinet, ReadingPals, and Tocqueville Society to name a few. Together, the Barnetts serve on regional and statewide boards such as the Polk State College board of trustees, Bonnet Springs Park Board, Citizens Bank & Trust Board and more.  

The George W. Jenkins Outstanding United Way Volunteer award goes to an individual with volunteer experience in a variety of United Way leadership roles and assignments. Don Selvage has provided long-term and continuous service to United Way, going above and beyond.   

As our past Board Chair, Don Selvage was the catalyst for bringing United Way of Central Florida & GiveWell Community Foundation together which has begun a collaborative partnership for disruptive change across Polk, Highlands and Hardee Counties. He has also served as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, Facilities Committee, CEO Search Committee, and Alexis de Tocqueville Society Committee. But his community involvement goes far beyond United Way, volunteering with organizations like LVIM, PAL, Polk Veterans Council, and Campfire.  

The Spirit of Central Florida award acknowledges an organization that has surpassed all expectations and exemplifies the giving spirit of this community. Central Florida Healthcare demonstrates every day the meaning of LIVE UNITED. This organization hosts 10 of our 21 United Way End Hunger Initiative mobile food pantries, where 2,923 volunteers distributed 1,441,025 pounds of food to 29,449 households and 113,250 individuals, including 44,622 children, last year.   

The Citizen of the Year award goes to an individual who has gone above and beyond for their community. Joy Johnson has made it her job to serve Polk County at the Polk County Board of County Commissioners office. She is on our Health Steering Committee, 211 Steering Committee, Community Impact Cabinet, United Community Relief Fund selection committee, and the Polk County Unites Selection Committee. But if that wasn’t enough, she advocated for UWCF more than ever this past year. When the County was awarded $120 million in COVID-19 relief, she championed the commissioners to involve United Way, providing $10 million in direct assistance for mortgage, rent, utility, food, childcare, and adult care; as well as $5 million for assistance to local nonprofits.   

United Way of Central Florida experienced the tragic passing of United Way Ambassador and staff member Kayla Harris this past year. Harris was a remarkable young woman who found inspiration in one of her favorite quotes, “one person of integrity can make a difference.” The Difference-Maker Award will be given annually to a young leader in Central Florida who exemplifies Kayla’s heart for making an impact on their community with a commitment to continuous community service and a vision for improving lives and strengthening their community.   

This year’s recipient, Sarah Beth Rogers, is a former staff member who has been an active member of their community since graduating college. She is a mentor and a fierce advocate for children, providing hope for Highlands County and Central Florida. Currently, Rogers serves as the Executive Director of the Children’s Services Council.   

The Outstanding Employee Coordinator award recognizes an individual that leads their organization in holding an exemplary United Way campaign and helps their organization achieve an increase in both participation and per capita giving. Erica Lupercio of CPS Investment Advisors went above and beyond to support United Way in a variety of areas. She always works to ensure her organization has 100% employee participation in their campaign, their organization had a per capita gift of $823 and this year had a per capita increase of over $320 with an overall increase of $10,931 for their campaign. During the pandemic, she created innovative ways to celebrate leadership and support within her workplace. 
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