Helping People

When these families volunteer together, two big things happen

Ethan Hill and team members from Global Builders nailing bamboo floors in new home at Tabitha Cambodia project, Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia, June 23, 2015
Ethan Hill and team members from Global Builders nailing bamboo floors in new home at Tabitha Cambodia project, Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia, June 23, 2015

As busy South Florida workers try to balance work and family, more are finding a new way of making time for philanthropy — by including their children in their charity efforts.

Nationally, volunteer rates have been steadily declining for a decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But by combining their giving back and family time, even the busiest professionals are making it happen. For some people combining interests has led to family vacations that include volunteering. For others, it has inspired weekends together at charity events, parent-child team participation in fundraising runs, or weekly volunteer efforts for nonprofit organizations.

Eglee Collado, a nuclear mechanic at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant and mother of three, combined her family trip in March to the Dominican Republic with her desire to supply clothing, shoes and backpacks to needy children in the Caribbean nation. Collado reached out to churches in advance of her arrival and created a list of names, ages and sizes of children in need. Then, Collado asked her co-workers for donations and included her 15-year-old daughter, Amanda, in buying additional items and creating packages for each child.

Collado, originally from the Dominican Republic, considers herself fortunate to have graduated from Miami Dade College and land a job in Miami. “I know some of the children there will never get the chance I got or the chance my children are getting. I want my my daughter to understand that.”

When Collado arrived in the Dominican Republic, families gathered in the churches and the mother-daughter team distributed bags of goods to each recipient. “They were so grateful because the things we were bringing them were things they can’t afford,” she said. Days later, Collado and her family spent time with their relatives in the Dominican Republic and appreciated the opportunity to make a difference. She has since sent backpacks and more shoes to the church to distribute.

Collado said because she tends to work long days, combining vacation time with giving back allows her to teach her children about he spirit of giving in a way that best fits her schedule. She plans on more family trips to Dominican Republic where at least one or two vacation days are spent on charitable efforts. “There is something special you feel when you do this. You have to see the needs of others to ‘get it’ ”

Like Collado, William Hill, a shareholder at Gunster law firm in Miami, also turned his family vacation into a philanthropic experience. While Hill is involved in the South Florida classical music community, he, his wife and his two children have made three trips to Southeast Asia over seven years. While there, they combined sightseeing and volunteering.

As a family, they built homes for poor families in Cambodia through the nonprofit Tabitha Foundation, and they also worked with a charity in Laos that provides books to schoolchildren who lack resources.

“This was an opportunity that we all got a lot out of,” Hill said. “When you combine adventure with doing good for people, it can be a life changer.” Hill said his children became so enamored by the efforts of the Tabitha Foundation that they started a high school service organization to raise money for the cause. Hill’s daughter, Allegra, now in college, plans to return to Southeast Asia to do more volunteer work.

For others, the interest in combining family and philanthropy has led to new weekend activities.

Steven Weinstein, managing partner with K&L Gates in Miami, often spends his weekends cleaning shoes and lacing sneakers. His 16-year-old twin sons, Brandon and Jordan started an organization called Click4Cleats.org that collects new and used shoes, mostly sneakers, and donates them to kids in need.

To date, Click4Cleats has collected more than 1,500 pair of shoes that the Weinstein family has delivered to the Overtown Youth Center in Miami and InJacob’s Shoes in Fort Lauderdale. “From a very young age, my wife and I impressed on our sons they are fortunate and that they give back when possible. The most rewarding part for all of us is when we see young children get shoes they are happy with. It’s really gratifying,” Weinstein said.

Meanwhile, single father, Steve Rossman, a trial lawyer with Rossman, Baumberger, Reboso & Spier in Miami, and his 16-year-old daughter volunteer together every other Monday night at Ransom Middle School in Coconut Grove through a special program of the Children’s Bereavement Center. The center provides free resources and support for children, teens, and adults who have lost a loved one.

When Steve’s wife, Karen, died in 2009 from heart disease, his daughter, Danni, was 9 year. Steve and Danni participated in the program and its support groups. Now, they are back as volunteers and have been through training to help others. Steve volunteers with adults and Danni with children.

“I have been involved in charities but this is something where we wanted to make a difference together,” Rossman said. “I think it’s good for Danni’s self-esteem that she is helping others. We are all busy, but I think it’s important for children to understand that part of being a participant in the community is giving back.”

For companies, employee preference to include family has led to new formats for creating volunteer programs. FPL’s Communications Director Bianca Cruz in Turkey Point said the company regularly has events for employees to improve the quality of life in the communities the utility serves. However, the company’s most successful philanthropic efforts are those in which they encourage family involvement, she said.

In March, the utility’s employees participated in community-wide beautification projects and in October they collected and packed 56,000 meals for the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere. Cruz said instead of employees just signing themselves up to help out, many involved their spouses and children, too.

“We have noticed that any time we open up a giving-back event to employees’ families, we have more success.”

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