By Jaimie M. Engle
In honor of the spirit of Thanksgiving, SpaceCoast Living is showcasing the profiles of several residents who treat each day as one to be thankful for. Their dedication to improving the community and the world around us inspires the philanthropic spirit in everyone by showing that it takes just one person who is willing to help many in need.
Fifth grader Acacia Woodley is a tiny girl with a big dream. Born without hands, Acacia has always found nontraditional ways to reach her goals, be it fingernail painting, climbing trees, or re-defining the phrase from Anti-Bullying to Pro-Friendship. Her “Friendship Benches” to stomp out bullying are spreading across the country and beyond. After her move to Florida, Acacia was teased and bullied, and in an effort to understand why, she reached out to the girl. She learned this “bully” was struggling through problems at home and the two eventually became friends. Acacia determined that every school needed a place for kids to come together and talk out their differences. The Friendship Bench was born. Made of recycled materials and painted in bright colors, this statement can be seen in over 100 schools nationwide and throughout Canada. In just two years, Acacia has brought her groundbreaking thinking into the hearts of teachers, students, and friends. She speaks to schools regularly and was even invited to speak to a crowd of over 4,000 people in Opryland before Martina McBride took the stage. Acacia is working with the Early Learning Coalition to get benches in local early learning childcare centers. To learn more please visit TinyGirlBigDream.org.
A MAN OF MANY HATS
Bill Welser freely shares time, his most precious commodity, while encouraging others to do the same. Habitat for Humanity provides hope and opportunity for the homeless. Through sweat-equity, interest-free mortgage, and financial planning, families build and own their first homes. He first helped the charity in St. Louis and hasn’t stopped since, now serving as local branch vice chairman. Bill works part-time with AFTAC, the Air Force Technical Applications Center, at Patrick Air Force Base, freely sharing his active duty experiences. In 2011, Bill volunteered as an Honor Flight guardian. He escorted a vet to Washington, D.C. to visit his fallen brother’s memorial for the first time. The vets were greeted like celebrities by an enthusiastic cordon of adoring fans. It was like a parade. Out of the 25 trips since, Bill has partaken in 22. As president of the Honor Flight program, Bill’s goal is to locate and assist the 9,000 WWII and Korean War vets in Brevard County who have never made the trip. “It’s a life changing experience for everyone,” Bill said. “A chance for these great men and women to unlock their stories and be recognized for their service.” For more information, visit BrevardHabitat.com or SpaceCoastHonorFlight.org.
Stacia Glavas is the CEO/Founder of Brevard Rescue Mission, (BRM) Inc., a nonprofit organization whose main focus is to “permanently break the cycle of homelessness for single women with children.” One of Stacia’s favorite success stories is about a woman with two small boys, no car, and no job. After completing BRMs faith-based residential program, the woman secured full-time employment, married her boys’ father, and then donated $1,000 toward another family’s life transformation. Stacia credits her desire to help others with learning a “can-do” outlook while growing up on a farm. After earning her MBA, working on Capitol Hill, and owning a small business, a call on her life led her into ministry. One very lost woman turned her life around, and Stacia knew God was directing her to do for many what she had done for this one. Today, BRM has helped more than 50 families in less than 5 years. When asked what she would do if money were no object, Stacia mentioned expansion. BRM turns away about 300 callers per year. An entire village of structured communal living could facilitate growth in women and families with more challenging needs. To help or donate, please visit BrevardRescueMission.org.
Jon Miller of Jon’s Fine Jewelry adheres to the Rotary’s primary motto: “Service Above Self.” Since moving to Brevard in 1979, a love for small town life encouraged him to aid fundraising and publicity efforts with several local charity organizations, including The Jess Parrish Foundation, Brevard Library Foundation, Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, and Brevard Humane Society. “I like helping people,” Jon said. “Especially those trying to help themselves who can leverage the support I offer to benefit the community. As my business has grown I’ve been able to share even more with these great people.” He is especially proud of his “Time for Charity” program. By charging a flat $10 donation to change watch batteries, several hundred dollars each month is earmarked and given to a specific local charity. Although many large corporations give generously, shopping local allows businesses to pour money back into the local economy. Wages are paid, money is spent, and charitable works become possible. Jon’s support of individual personal involvement means each member of the community gives of their resources, time, or money. By serving the community, a sense of pride permeates our neighborhoods and we all benefit from the goodwill.
Ellie Hoffman has an affinity for homeless girls. Homeless her entire childhood, she decided to pave a new road instead of following in her parent’s footsteps. She earned her degree, became a physicist, and found a job at Rockwell Collins, which introduced her to the international group of women pilots known as “The Ninety-Nines.” Started by Amelia Earhart, the program raises awareness through education, scholarships, and mutual support of women pilots. At 54, Ellie earned her license and has been flying ever since. Her involvements include Chair of the Women’s Forum at Rockwell Collins, instrumental in helping women go back to school and find work, and the Hacienda Girl’s Ranch, where homeless girls find family and order. “Do everything with a team,” Ellie said, a mantra she has lived by. At the ranch, girls attend school, live in apartments, and stay organized through chore charts listing kitchen and house duties. When the girls leave, they take their comforters. Ellie decided to buy 20 brand new comforters for the girls. As they piled in her office, excitement swelled and 30 more were donated. “People want to help and get involved,” Ellie said. “They just don’t always know how or where to start.”