SWFL'S SU­PER VOL­UN­TEERS

THEY GIVE. THEY HELP. THEY ASK FOR NOTH­ING IN RE­TURN.

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“Kind­ness is a lan­guage which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” —Mark Twain

South­west Florida is home to sev­eral thou­sand non­prof­its, whose mis­sions range from of­fer­ing life-sav­ing aide in the wake of hur­ri­canes such as Irma, to or­ga­niz­ing cul­tural perks for kids. And with­out their vol­un­teers, many of th­ese agen­cies and in­sti­tu­tions would fall flat. TOTI Me­dia has se­lected a hand­ful of th­ese gen­tle souls to share with our read­ers:

PAWS AS­SIS­TANCE DOGS IN COL­LIER COUNTY

BY BRIGID O’MAL­LEY The golden retriever puppy looks up at Deb Maguir e. The dog’s eyes fo­cus squarely on her face as she en­cour­ages him as he trots along. His fo­cus is the pay­off. “Look at you,” she says. “Look at you!” Maguire is one of a team of 50 or so PAWS As­sis­tance Dogs vol­un­teers help­ing train the dogs to al­low com­bat-wounded mil­i­tary vet­er­ans and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties to be more in­de­pen­dent. An av­er­age of 12 golden re­triev­ers get placed with re­cip­i­ents each year. So far, 59 dogs have been put in ser­vice since PAWS be­came a non­profit in 2012. Th­ese Col­lier County vol­un­teers tackle ev­ery­thing from puppy house break­ing and so­cial­iza­tion through the long and com­plex train­ing process, which of­ten lasts more than two years. An­other team of vol­un­teers helps with of­fice work, fundrais­ing and other pro­jects. PAWS As­sis­tance Dogs vol­un­teers in 2016 do­nated 35,269 hours. Founder and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Jean­nie Bates nearly tears up when asked about the value of vol­un­teers to the or­ga­ni­za­tion― she couldn’t do it with­out them. With 18 ne w pup­pies at its Naples train­ing cen­ter by mid-sum­mer, the vol­un­teers (who are trained them­selves by a pro­fes­sional dog trainer) will have their puppy pa­tience tested and their train­ing skills pushed to the limit as more and more lit­tle paws pad around the room and the work­load grows.

“I give thanks for them ev­ery day,” Bates says of the PAWS vol­un­teers. “Ev­ery sin­gle day.” Brigid O’Mal­ley is a writer liv­ing in South­west Florida.

FRIENDS WHO CARE: SANI­BEL COU­PLE’S GIFT THAT KEEPS GIV­ING

BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Theresa Louw­ers was driven by the idea that deeds, good or oth­er­wise, cir­cle back. The non­profit that she co­founded on Sani­bel with her hus­band, Tom, nearly 35 years ago has lived and en­dured by this no­tion.

The cou­ple’s non­profit, Friends Who Care, this hol­i­day sea­son will do­nate sleighs full of gifts and de­liver vol­un­teers by the hun­dreds on Sani­bel and Cap­tiva to those most in need on the is­lands. In re­turn, kids, moms and dads with lit­tle to give, se­niors with health and in­come is­sues, each will have a hap­pier hol­i­day.

In a sense, those of us liv­ing and work­ing on Sani­bel and Cap­tiva will have given some­thing―money, gifts or time― to help Friends Who Care suc­ceed, large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion an­swer­ing that an­nual shout for help. “Things came back to Theresa,” Tom Louw­ers says of his wife and life­long com­pan­ion who died in Fe­bru­ary 2015. “I could give you sto­ries to knock your socks off.”

Theresa and Tom Louw­ers were givers from child­hood in sub­ur­ban Detroit. Theresa was most af­fected by kids, ad­vo­cat­ing for those fam­i­lies liv­ing day to day, Tom says. Shift­ing their lives to Sani­bel, the cou­ple in 1983 formed Friends Who Care. The ini­tial goal was to help fam­i­lies in cri­sis. The hol­i­days pre­sented a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, how­ever. The cou­ple set up hol­i­day do­na­tion sites at se­lect lo­ca­tions around the is­lands. Ser­vice groups such as Ki­wa­nis, Lions and Ro­tary also gave money and time.

What evolved be­came the Friends Who Care Santa Run― vol­un­teers in Santa gear de­liv­er­ing wrapped gifts to those iden­ti­fied by churches, non­prof­its, teach­ers, so­cial agen­cies and others aware of need at the hol­i­days. Theresa and Tom in the

be­gin­ning wrapped the do­nated gifts at their is­land home, but that chore has moved to The Sani­bel Com­mu­nity House, where rows of gifts are laid out, get di­vided by need and age, and are wrapped by that vol­un­teer army. San­tas hit the streets on Dec. 23, six of them in ve­hi­cles stuffed with gifts, each re­turn­ing with amaz­ing sto­ries, Tom Louw­ers says.

Although Theresa Louw­ers is gone, her le­gacy flourishes. Friends Who Care this year has also pro­vided se­lect fam­i­lies with school sup­plies, helped fund the F.I.S.H. of Sani­belCap­tiva, Inc., hu­man ser­vices group at Easter and in Novem­ber with Thanks­giv­ing pro­vi­sions, served those with health trou­bles or who are just cop­ing.

Tom Louw­ers has been re­warded over time by in­spi­ra­tional is­lan­ders. One fa­ther, for in­stance, was given Friends Who Care toys and gifts for his fam­ily. In turn, the man gave some of those toys to other kids in strug­gling fam­i­lies. “That’s what keeps me go­ing,” Tom Louw­ers says of such sto­ries. Craig Gar­rett is a con­tribut­ing writer for TOTI Me­dia.

CAPE’S PIONEERS SAFE­GUARDED EACH OTHER, NEW­BIES STILL DO

BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Stopped in morn­ing traf­fic you’d not guess now that Cape Coral was once a lonely out­post in South­west Florida— no bridges, no Star­bucks, noth­ing. In­stead of Con­estoga wag­ons, how­ever, the Cape’s early pioneers in the 1950s and ’60s ar­rived in Dodge or Ford wag­ons, clus­tered to­gether, started tra­di­tions, built and sup­ported churches, busi­nesses and so­cial cen­ters.

For those re­main­ing to­day from that “bo­hemian” time, the vol­un­teerism mind­set is in the blood. It’s what Glo­ria Raso Tate calls the Cape’s in­nate “vol­un­teer spirit,” her fam­ily a first among 200 or so Cape Coral set­tlers. Mod­ern Cape Coral num­bers nearly 200,000 res­i­dents. “If there was a need,” she says of that early era, “we all took care of it. It’s the way we grew up … it’s the Cape Coral story.”

Liv­ing in such iso­la­tion pre­pared Tate for lead­er­ship, whether vol­un­teer­ing, lit­er­ally build­ing things, or for a po­si­tion with city coun­cil, the first woman to do so. To this day she is vested in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties to make Lee County’s largest city a bet­ter place, she says. “You learn to take care of your own,” she says of the on­go­ing think­ing in Cape Coral.

Again, it’s hard to imag­ine early Cape Coral, ac­cessed only by what is now Pine Is­land Road. Things got per­co­lat­ing in the 1950s when two brothers be­gan sell­ing home sites and dredg­ing canals. Glo­ria Raso Tate’s fa­ther, Joe Raso, bought Cape prop­erty around 1960 af­ter hear­ing a ra­dio ad­ver­tise­ment in Pitts­burgh. He would work for those brothers, Jack and Leonard Rosen, and later help start the Cape’s Ital­ian Amer­i­can Club with his wife, Grace. Raso Realty is his le­gacy.

ALTHOUGH THERESA LOUW­ERS IS GONE, HER LE­GACY FLOURISHES.

The Ra­sos in Septem­ber 1960 were wel­comed by a Florida hur­ri­cane. But things set­tled and the small town built its shops, mari­nas and din­ers, its churches, a place for kids, all with lo­cal money, a thing of spe­cial pride that Glo­ria Raso Tate in­sists is part of the Cape’s con­tin­u­ing le­gacy.

“We learned to not de­pend on gov­ern­ment,” she says. “Look to your neigh­bor and [you] will find that out.” Craig Gar­rett is a con­tribut­ing writer for TOTI Me­dia.

READ­ING NEWS­PA­PERS ON THE RA­DIO AND TEACH­ING ESL

BY GLENN MILLER Mark Twain’s un­der­stand­ing of kind­ness is fas­tened on a wall at Florida Gulf Coast Univer­sity. The mes­sage at its WGCU stu­dios ap­plies to what thou­sands do to make our lives eas­ier, safer and—in some cases—per­haps a fi­nal com­fort­ing face.

The mes­sage ap­plies to what Char­lie Sloin, Gary McCarthy and Su­san Atkin­son do ev­ery day in South­west Florida. They vol­un­teer. They give of them­selves. They help others. They ask for noth­ing in re­turn.

Sloin and McCarthy, for in­stance, vol­un­teer at WGCU’s Ra­dio Read­ing Ser­vice for the blind, read­ing news­pa­pers for a lis­ten­ing au­di­ence.

Atkin­son, a re­tired high school English teacher from In­di­ana, vol­un­teers at the Lit­er­acy Coun­cil Gulf Coast/Bonita Springs. She teaches English as a sec­ond lan­guage.

Sloin, 82, has per­formed in com­mu­nity theater in Ohio and also here in South­west Florida. He looks at read­ing for the blind as an­other use of those skills. “I love that op­por­tu­nity,” Sloin says.

“The vol­un­teers are ev­ery­thing,” notes Bar­bara Stein­hoff, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and out­reach at WGCU Pub­lic Me­dia.

McCarthy, a re­tired New York at­tor­ney, finds vol­un­teer­ing at WGCU very re­ward­ing. “I’m a bit of a ham,” he con­cedes. “I do look for­ward to it … I plan my day around it.”

That is also the case with Atkin­son, a Bonita Springs res­i­dent. She lived in Romania and Ukraine ear­lier in life, and can re­late to non-English speak­ers. “I know what it’s like,” she says.

On a pleas­ant sum­mer day, Atkin­son is teach­ing a lan­guage class in Bonita on Old U.S. Route 41. Three ta­bles are set up around her in a U shape, with about 15 stu­dents crammed in, sit­ting close to each other. The topic of the day is ba­sic sen­tence struc­ture and dif­fer­ences be­tween ad­verbs and ad­jec­tives. On a board on the wall be­tween two large maps― one of Florida and the other of the world―she writes: “I like the pep­per­oni pizza.” Atkin­son then asks: “Where is my ad­jec­tive?” Drills such as this are what Atkin­son, 68, uses to help teach ba­sic English. She un­der­stands be­cause she’s been on the other side of the white ta­ble. “I did this be­cause of em­pa­thy,” she says. Glenn Miller is pres­i­dent of the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

“IF THERE WAS A NEED, WE ALL TOOK CARE OF IT. IT’S THE WAY WE GREW UP … IT’S THE CAPE CORAL STORY.” — PIONEER­ING CAPE CORAL RES­I­DENT GLO­RIA RASO TATE

Glo­ria Raso Tate

Tom Louw­ers

Char­lie Sloin

Gary McCarthy

Su­san Atkin­son

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