United Way honors volunteers and celebrates another year of fighting for a stronger Miami at its 2018 Annual Meeting and Volunteer Awards


United Way of Miami-Dade hosted its 94th Annual Meeting and Volunteer Awards on Wednesday, June 27, honoring five extraordinary volunteers and celebrating another year of fighting for a stronger Miami. The luncheon and awards ceremony was held at Jungle Island.

This past year, United Way had many firsts: appointed a new president and CEO, Maria C. Alonso for the first time in 27 years; jumped into action during the 2017 Hurricane Season coordinating volunteers in the relief effort and ultimately awarded more than $6 million to aid families in affected areas; expanded Early Head Start services to a total of 520 infants and toddlers who are receiving full-day, year-round high quality early education interventions at 20 United Way partner centers in high-need neighborhoods; launched Inspire305,an initiative that activated the community to vote for two emerging nonprofits to receive grants to further their missions; awarded Citi Foundation’s Community Progress Maker Fund to implement an employer-based financial wellness program at Jackson Health System; and built a permanent home for Mission United and the United Way Center for Financial Stability to offer direct services to the community at its Batchelor Campus, to name a few.

Every year, United Way honors extraordinary volunteers, who truly make our community a better place. This year’s honorees include Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Annelies Da Costa Gomez, Francisco “Paco” Vélez, Shekeria Brown and Joshua Williams.

Below is additional information on the awards and award winners:

The Public Service Leadership Award recognizes public servants and community leaders who display a remarkable sense of commitment to hard work, courageous leadership and a dedication to improving services for children, youth and families. Understanding the needs of many families in Miami during tax season, U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo sponsored the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Permanence Act in 2017. VITA provides free tax preparation services to taxpayers earning less than $54,000 and for those with a limited proficiency in English. Curbelo first started his public service career in 2009 as a state director and advisor for U.S. Senator George LeMieux. He was then appointed to the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization and was elected to the Miami-Dade County Public School Board. In 2014 he won his first term in Congress and has been working with Republicans and Democrats to improve the quality of life for the people of South Florida.

The Dorothy Shula Award for Outstanding Volunteerism recognizes an individual who exemplifies volunteerism and is committed to bringing hope, promise and opportunity into the lives of others. Annelies Da Costa Gomez has combined her passions of volunteering and early childhood education at United Way. As a United Way board member and chair of the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education, she clocked in the most hours this year. Da Costa has participated in United Way’s volunteer reader program, ReadingPals, which helps improve literacy skills in young children and has traveled to both Tallahassee and Washington D.C. to advocate on behalf of early education. She has made United Way a family affair, engaging her husband and his company in annual Thanksgiving food drives and holiday toy drives and her sons in United Way Young Leaders.

The Monsignor Walsh Outstanding Human Services Professional Award recognizes a human services professional who has dedicated his or her career to helping others. Francisco “Paco” Vélez, president and CEO of Feeding South Florida, is a Texas native and Baylor University graduate, who boasts more than a dozen years of food bank experience, which he earned at the San Antonio Food Bank. After Hurricane Irma, Vélez drove around Miami to deliver food to shelters at all hours of the day and night to ensure those in need had food. All year-round he works to ensure families do not face food insecurity and have food on their tables. Vélez serves on the boards of the Florida Association of Food Banks and United Way of Miami-Dade’s Emergency Food & Shelter Program (EFSP). His wealth of knowledge and expertise in the areas of program development, client services, government contracts and leadership are invaluable to the community.

The Essie Silva Community Builder Award recognizes those who address particular community problems affecting different cultural or ethnic groups. Shekeria Brown, executive director of South Florida Community Development Coalition, has designed, implemented and assessed affordable housing, community and economic development programs throughout South Florida and has administered over $100 million dollars in community development federal and state grants awarded to local jurisdictions. She works to create long-lasting impact through an array of services and initiatives including building and managing affordable housing, providing homeowners with counseling and resources to build assets, financial coaching, shaping public policy, strengthening the role of nonprofits, as well as, helping small businesses with financing, coaching and training.

The Outstanding Youth Award recognizes a Miami-Dade County youth, 18 years of age or younger, for leadership, commitment and character through service and volunteerism. At age five, Joshua Williams founded Joshua’s Heart Foundation with the goal of eliminating hunger and poverty. Since then Williams has served more than 500,000 meals, distributed more than 2.2 million pounds of food and gathered more than 100,000 books and toys for children. He also created a junior advisory board at his foundation to educate youth members on the value of philanthropy and volunteerism in their communities.

Source: United Way Miami

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