Nonprofits make a difference one person at a time | News | The Villages Daily Sun

Nonprofits make a difference one person at a time | News | The Villages Daily Sun

When Bob Schwarz wakes up on Thursday mornings, he can’t wait to get his hands deep into the dirt at Shared Harvest Community Garden. “I really like being out in the garden, because even doing the most simple task, you know it’s really going to help someone,” the Village of Belle Aire resident said. Like Schwarz and other volunteers at Shared Harvest, charitable nonprofits are stepping up to help their clients in ways beyond the normal money and health care. Some of them are going above and beyond by providing cars, tools needed for jobs, food and emergency housing.

The garden, located on a 2-acre plot at 400 Oak St. in Lady Lake, behind The Villages Woodshop, helps provide fresh vegetables to local food pantries and soup kitchens.

“Working the land, tilling the earth, it feels great to know someone may not go hungry because of the work we do,” Schwarz said.

Friends of SoZo Kids Inc.

Like Shared Harvest, volunteers with the organization that supports the Help Agency in the Ocala National Forest are happy to help children living in poverty.

When the group heard a call to help graduating students with scholarships or with a form of transportation, they worked together to find a way to make it work.

In doing so, Friends of SoZo Kids created a scholarship program that is designed to help pay for the tools or items necessary to accomplish students’ college needs.

“We had an anonymous donor come forth and donate a car, so we got with Pastor Dave Houck to find a student it would benefit and made the preparations,” said Linda Casey, president of Friends of SoZo Kids. “Darian Biggs, one of the students who participates in the SoZo Kids program, needed a form of reliable transportation to get her to work and back. She was so surprised when she found out she was getting a car, but it was awesome to see her reaction.”

Biggs isn’t the only student they have helped.

When the club found out Nate Evans would need some tools to help him get on with a construction career after graduating high school, they also came to his aid.

“We were excited to help Nate with the items needed to help him succeed with this career,” said Tom Jones, scholarship committee chair for the club. “We were able to purchase tools and safety equipment he would need on the job, so that he was able to pursue construction.”

Evans said he was thankful for the help.

“I’m so appreciative that the club was able to help give me a hand,” he said. “I’m excited to get started and I know I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Forward Paths Foundation

The nonprofit seeks to positively influence at-risk youth and forever revolutionize their path to independence. Forward Paths Foundation, 1005 Main St., Room 102 in Leesburg, works to improve outcomes for kids aging out of foster care and homeless unaccompanied youth in Lake County.

It helps them with job training, emergency housing, schooling and when possible, provides them used vehicles.

“Our kids’ futures are very important to us,” said Denise Burry, executive director of Forward Paths Foundation. “We want to make sure they have all the resources that are available to them to help them succeed and change their lives. We love watching them grow and make good decisions, because that has a huge impact on their future.”

Recently, the group helped twin sisters who found themselves in need of emergency housing while finishing high school.

“The school recommended that the young women, Aaishah and Ra’eesah, ask us for help after troubles with their family left them with nowhere to live,” Burry said. “They came and we helped them find a place to stay and they recently just graduated high school. We are so proud of them and are now looking forward to watching them achieve their dreams.”

The nonprofit takes donations of used vehicles, clothing, laptops and other household goods for the young adults.

Kids Central Inc.

The nonprofit organization has offices in five counties. The group works with potential adoptive or foster parents and also works with families who already may have a child in their care.

“Kids Central works to help youth and young adults build a strong foundation for their lives,” said Jessica Gilbert in a news release. “Our Independent Living and Extended Foster Care provide young adults with the life skills and services that they need to make a successful transition to the responsibilities of adulthood.”

As a prevention program, Kids Central also offers Kinship Care Support for relatives raising children to keep them from entering foster care.

“Kinship care is any living arrangement in which a non-parent caregiver is caring for children who are related to, or have previously had a relationship with, the caregiver without a parent,” she explained. “This arrangement can be court ordered or be a mutual agreement between the parents and the caregiver, therefore keeping them with their families or a close friend instead of going into foster care.”

According to a study by AARP, nearly 355,000 children in Florida (7.1% of all children in the state) live in grandparent-headed households, and another 122,000 children live in households headed by other relative caregivers.

Florida Guardian ad Litem

The program also works to keep children with their families, except they do it by being a voice for a child during court proceedings.

Wanda Vogler, of the Village of Glenbrook, is a longtime guardian with Guardian ad Litem (GAL).

“If a person has about 10 to 15 hours a month and wants to do something extremely satisfying and rewarding, they can dedicate themselves to volunteering with Guardian ad Litem,” she said. “It is the most rewarding and frustrating thing I have ever done. The children always hurt the most as the majority of our kids are under 12 years of age and therefore the most vulnerable.”

Volunteers advocate for children who are abused or neglected, and focus on what’s in the best interest of those children.

Within the last year, the GAL program has helped 38,191 children statewide using 12,951 volunteers who donated around 343,602 hours.

Abundance of Love

The nonprofit crafting group has expanded to help more than 20 charities. Crafting and donating around 500 items a month, Abundance of Love has donated more than 6,000 items since becoming a nonprofit in June 2020.

“Throughout the pandemic, we wanted to show a little extra love, so we set to work making scarves, blankets, hats and other items, including comfort dolls to give to children in Orlando to comfort them before they go into surgery,” said Jen Smith, of the Village Santiago

Smith said she never anticipated helping as many people as the club has been helping, but she’s glad it’s beneficial.

“I started doing some research and found that there are a lot of people in need, not just locally but also statewide,” she said. “We’ve been working with homeless veterans, cancer patients, local school students — there’s just a wide range of people, more than we anticipated, who can benefit through the work we do.”

Senior writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or

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