By Dakota Parks and staff for Pensacola Magazine
Introduction by Dakota Parks
There is a lot to love about Pensacola—from the iconic landmarks, scenery and cultural offerings to the way neighbors and community come together in times of adversity. As our community continues to grow and change over the years, it is the people who dedicate their time and hearts that make our city such an amazing place to live. These organizations, activists and community leaders rally around issues within our community to promote change, progress and make our city a better place for future generations to come.
While we sport our Pensacola regalia and “live where you vacation” bumper stickers to show off how much we love our city, it takes guts to stand up for what you believe, point out issues that affect our most vulnerable citizens and work together on solutions to fix them. In the spirit of the season, Pensacola Magazine wanted to highlight these organizations and activists that work year-round to support issues of food insecurity and homelessness, domestic and sexual violence, animal welfare, social justice and racial inequality, LGBT+ and women’s rights, disability rights and so much more. While we could not include every nonprofit organization working to effect change in Pensacola, we hope this selection gives you an insight into the many ways to give back to your community and love the place that you call home.
Pensacola Activists You Should Know
Profiles by Dakota Parks
Christian Wagley (he/him)
Coastal Organizer for Healthy Gulf
Christian Wagley is an environmentalist, avid bicyclist and community advocate. He works as the coastal organizer for Healthy Gulf in Florida and Alabama and serves as the volunteer executive director for Bike Pensacola. “I describe the work we do at Healthy Gulf as science-based advocacy,” he said. “We are as much concerned about the health and well-being of the people of the Gulf Coast as we are about plants, animals and waterways. We utilize the results of scientific research to identify the most important environmental issues we face such as water pollution and climate change. We then engage with local communities around solutions. I make certain that the information I bring forward is rock-solid in its accuracy and relevancy and that the discourse stays respectful. By continually bringing forward the facts, you can become a trusted source on the issues.”
GET INVOLVED: Get engaged around the issue of climate change any way that you can. It is the epic issue of our time, and one that challenges us greatly here on the Gulf Coast.
Mallory Luana (they/she)
Vice President of STRIVE
Mallory is a queer, Haitian American artist, the Vice President of Strive and an advocate for transgender rights and undocumented Haitian and black communities. “I have a lot of intersecting identities and experiences with oppression. I am passionate about helping the oppressed lift themselves up,” they said. “The primary way Strive helps the transgender community in-need is through our emergency housing program, where volunteers become a host home in the event that we get contacted by someone in need of shelter, especially in winter. We work alongside other organizations like Dream Defenders, Food Not Bombs and the Pensacola Chapter of Women’s March Florida because we recognize that struggles are connected. While we are helping trans people, we recognize that there are trans people who need reproductive rights. At the end of the day, everything we do—the protests, rallies, organizing, city council meetings, emails and calls to officials demanding justice and change—is for the betterment of all oppressed groups. That's why Strive is present in all actions that advocate for oppressed and marginalized people.”
GET INVOLVED: Most activism and organizing happens online these days. Diversify who you follow online, including local organizers and organizations, so you can actually see what is happening to marginalized groups of people.
Hale Morrissette (she/they)
North Florida Regional Organizer for Dream Defenders
Hale Morrissette is a full-time organizer, part-time DJ and mother to two young boys. “I do the work of a womanist abolitionist,” she explained. “To break it down further, that includes race and gender inequality, police brutality, prison abolition and community violence. In November of 2014, I helped organize the first Black Lives Matter (BLM)-affiliated vigil, and it hasn't stopped since then. I am raising two very free little Black boys in the South, and I want the world to be different for them and whoever they bring into the world. I love Pensacola and the people here. They help raise my little ones and the generations to come, so I give my all in fighting for a better community.” Hale Morrissette
GET INVOLVED: Join an organization that is doing tangible and strategic work. Dream Defenders is always looking for new members. If you can donate, make a donation to organizations doing things that light your fire.
Caleb Houston (he/him)
Founder and Director of There is Hope and Huts 4 Our Friends
After recovering from drug addiction and homelessness, Caleb Houston made it his mission in life to help provide food, shelter and rehabilitative services to the most vulnerable members of our community. He is a homeless advocate, community leader and founder of There Is Hope, a 200-bed shelter facility opening soon at 3101 North Davis. “I feel like this is my calling and purpose in life to help people,” he said. “I don’t get paid for any of the work that I do. My paycheck is seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they haven’t bathed in two or three weeks or have been on drugs, and they come in and take a hot shower and eat a hot meal. Right now, we have more than 400 people signed up for our program and 40 people that are sober from coming into our classes and mentor programs. I believe that consistency is the greatest key to success in helping people get on the right path. We are offering day services while we await the final code regulations to fully open the shelter. We provide showers, food, clothes, hygiene products and various classes and counseling to help equip individuals to be effective at job interviews. We need to stop judging why someone is homeless and instead provide effective assistance to help them transition out of homelessness, which is what we aim to do here.”
GET INVOLVED: Find your passion. Whether it’s homelessness, Black Lives Matter, the LGBT community, find what you believe in and put in that footwork to research and support local organizations.
Allison Ferreira (hir/ze)
President of the Pensacola Chapter of Women's March Florida
As a retired Army veteran and life-long activist, Allison Ferreira spends most of hir time volunteering, organizing and serving as the President of the Pensacola Chapter of Women’s March Florida. “These days I believe you need to aggravate and agitate in order to facilitate true change,” Ferreira said. “Being queer and from an older generation, I have seen way too much discrimination and harassment. I feel the need to continue speaking out against these issues for the younger folks coming up. The issues are women’s rights—whether that be black, brown, poor, immigrant, disabled, lesbian, queer or trans women. Their health, safety and environmental justice is the priority. Protests, rallies, caravans, speaking up at city council meetings, providing security for other activist organizations and escorting women to family planning clinics are just some of the tools required to make steady change.”
GET INVOLVED: Join organizations that are making a difference all year long. If you can’t get involved in- person at protests and events, you can work behind the scenes making phone calls and getting the word out.
Bruno Matthew Arnold (he/him)
Founder of Trident Disabilities
Disability rights activist Bruno Matthew Arnold, is the Founder and CEO of Trident Disabilities and a senior at University of West Florida (UWF). “I was born blind in my left eye as a baby in Azores, Portugal, but I could see until I was around 11 when my vision in my right eye started fading due to two tumors found on my optic nerves. Today, I see very little, and my guide dog, Mastro, leads me around,” he explained. “I first started Trident as a club in high school to combat bullying against people with disabilities, then brought it to UWF and finally registered it as a nonprofit. Fighting for disability rights is a little like trying to pull up concrete with a spoon because you are trying to chip away at a monolith that has stood for years and is trying to keep you out, but we continue chipping away. People with disabilities have always been seen as the other in society. That is why I work through Trident to make sure that both people with and without disabilities understand issues of disability rights that affect all of us. Think of how useful ramps and automated buttons are for people with disabilities that are in-turn are also used by mothers with strollers and kids on skateboards or bikes.”
GET INVOLVED: Don’t be afraid to get involved because you don’t know something. Disability rights are complicated. Whether you donate, give time or share your story, you are impacting change for a more inclusive world.
Pensacola Nonprofit Organization Profiles collected by Staff
350 Pensacola is the local affiliate of 350.org, one of the largest international nonprofit organizations fighting climate change on a global and local level. 350 is the amount of carbon, in parts per million, needed in the atmosphere to have a healthy, sustainable planet, and right now the global average atmospheric levels are over 410. “We are already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change around the world, in the form of severe storms, droughts, flooding, wildfires, sea level rise and the destruction of whole ecosystems, such as coral reefs. Our mission is two-fold, to educate the public about the need to take action to reduce carbon emissions immediately, as we now consider the planet to be in a climate emergency, and to influence local government to implement policies to reduce their own carbon emissions and encourage and support local citizens in their efforts to do the same,” Executive Director Sandra Adams explained.
Healthy Gulf, originally formed in 1994 under the name Gulf Restoration Network, is an organization dedicated to providing research, communications and coalition- building tools needed to reverse the lover exploitation of the Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources. “Our staff of 15 works with people across the Gulf region to protect waterways, aquatic life and communities from the impacts of pollution and climate change. We do that through science, education, advocacy and sometimes legal action. We don’t accept funds from polluting industries, and that keeps our voices free and strong. Volunteers help us fulfill critical needs, including research, graphic design, social media and more,” Christian Wagley, coastal organizer at Healthy Gulf said.
Keep Pensacola Beautiful
Since 1979, Keep Pensacola Beautiful (KPB) has been serving Escambia County residents by providing interactive opportunities to improve our community through litter removal, beautification and other sustainability initiatives. “Maintaining a clean and beautiful community is vital to our economic, environmental, mental and physical well-being. We love engaging with fellow community members who all share a passion for a healthy environment and for making their neighborhoods better places to live, work and play. It is because of volunteers that KPB removes thousands of pounds of litter from public spaces each month,” Executive Director Sigrid Solgard said.
Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program
The Pensacola & Perdido Bays Estuary Program (PPBEP) is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to restore and protect the Pensacola and Perdido Bay Watersheds through restoration, education and unbiased monitoring of the health of our estuaries. Through multifaceted programs like the National Coastal Condition Assessment, Trash Free Waters Project, and the Community Grant Program, PPBEP ensures meaningful and collaborative watershed management. “A mission as ambitious as ours cannot be accomplished without the support of dedicated volunteers and partners. Volunteers are critical in supporting our Trash Free Waters Project that aims to prevent water-borne trash in our local creeks and waterways as well as aiding in the development of our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), a blueprint for the recovery of our waters,” Community Outreach Coordinator Logan McDonald said.
PACE Center for Girls, Escambia- Santa Rosa
Established in 1994, the Pace Center for Girls Escambia-Santa Rosa is a safe and supportive academic and wrap-around social services model that helps girls and young women overcome challenges and prepare for their future. Pace provides girls, ages 11 to 17, the opportunity to heal, learn and grow to better identify and utilize their own unique strengths through education, counseling, training and advocacy. As one of the only gender-responsive, trauma-informed and strengths-based models for girls in the country, Pace has served more than 2,000 girls and young women throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. “Every human being deserves to have experiences and opportunities in their lives that allow them to find and be their best selves,” Pace Executive Director Laurie Rodgers said. “At Pace, we serve girls who are at the age of self-discovery who are not able to fully realize who they are and what they are capable of due to personal and family distress,” Rodgers explained. Pace is sponsored by the State of Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and is managed and led by a volunteer-based board of directors.
Children’s Home Society of Florida
As the largest and oldest statewide nonprofit in Florida dedicated to serving children and their families, the Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS) has worked to build bridges to success for children and families since 1902. A leader in drafting key policies affecting children—from child labor laws to compulsory education laws— CHS advocates for the best interests of children in Florida and throughout the nation. Annually, the organization serves more than 60,000 children, youth and family members through early childhood services, child welfare, counseling and mental health services, community partnership schools, mentoring, outreach and job training. The goal of Children’s Home Society of Florida is to end the need for foster care by working with children and families before crises occurs. Staff and volunteers work to help keep more kids safe at home with their families, giving parents confidence and opportunities to build upon their strengths, empowering them to raise their children in healthy, nurturing homes.
Impact 100 Pensacola Bay Area
IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area, Inc. (IMPACT) is an organization of women committed to improving their community by providing substantial grants to nonprofit organizations in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Started in 2003 by four local women, IMPACT has become the largest IMPACT group in the world. The idea behind IMPACT involves recruiting at least 100 women to donate $1,000 each and pooling those resources into one large grant fund to be awarded to qualifying nonprofit organizations throughout the community. In the 18 years since its inception, IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area has awarded 131 grants to 91 nonprofit organizations totaling $13,950,000. The mission of IMPACT is accomplished through thousands of volunteer hours of the Board of Directors and its membership as well as many generous donations by community partners and sponsors. IMPACT has no paid employees or staff, so 100 percent of each member’s annual contribution of $1,000 is pooled and awarded to nonprofit organizations in increments of at least $100,000 grants.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida
For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has operated under the belief that inherent in every child is the ability to succeed and thrive in life. As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer- supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”) in communities across the country. Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of the oldest and largest youth mentoring organizations in the country and has been the leader in one-to-one youth service for 30 years by providing caring, adult mentors to children ages 5 to 18 and beyond, who come primarily from single parent homes. “Each Time Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs a child with a role model, we start something incredible: a one-to-one relationship built on trust and friendship that can blossom into a future of unlimited potential,” BBBSNWFL CEO & President Paula Shell said.
Launched by a group of ten friends back in 2014, Sunday’s Child is local nonprofit that works to create a culture and community of acceptance and visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) individuals in the Pensacola area. Armed with a mission to award grants for significant charitable and economic initiatives and that promote diversity, inclusion and equality, Sunday's Child has raised more than $536,000 for nonprofit organizations throughout our community. Drawing from the charitable-giving model of IMPACT100, members of Sunday’s Child donate money on an annual basis. Each year, funds from membership contributions are pooled together and used to award multiple grants, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, which are awarded to eligible, local nonprofits or initiatives that address a community need and place value on diversity, inclusion and equality. Individual members or member ensembles donate up to $1,000 annually, with 100% of funds going toward grant awards. Sunday's Child has no paid staff and is organized, maintained and managed by volunteers.
Valerie’s House Pensacola
Valerie’s House Pensacola (VHP) provides free grief support programs to help children, ages 5 to 18, and their families in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties to share, grieve and heal from the loss of a loved one. Valerie’s House expanded its services to Pensacola in April 2021 and is currently the only registered 501(c)(3) organization in the area solely dedicated to helping children and families heal and navigate through the process of grieving, together. The organization hosts weekly support group sessions in a peer-to-peer setting which are designed to allow children to form bonds with the other members of their support group and group leaders. Although VHP is not a formal counseling center, it does serve as a community platform for individuals to come together, share and mentor each other through shared experiences. “When children experience the loss of a parent or sibling, it shakes their foundation during a time when they are still learning about themselves and the world around them,” VHP Advisory Chair Crista O’Keefe Brandt explained. Valerie’s House depends on volunteers and support from individuals in our community to provide grief services to children and families in need throughout the Pensacola area.
Northwest Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation
The Northwest Florida Guardian ad Litem (NWFGAL) Foundation serves the First Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which includes Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton Counties. The foundation provides direct support to the Guardian ad Litem Program, which assigns Volunteer Child Advocates to children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment and neglect. Volunteer Child Advocates look out for the best interest of the child by speaking up for them in matters relating to placement, medical, educational and personal needs. All volunteer advocates receive special training and support from GAL attorneys and Child Advocate Managers who work together to ensure the best possible outcome for each child. The NWFGAL also provides for some of the basic needs such as school clothes, money to attend camps and medical or mental health needs. “Our goal is to help normalize the child’s life, even if it’s only in some small way—like purchasing them a new pair of shoes,” NWFGAL President Alicia Sckolrood said. Volunteerism drives success within the Guardian ad Litem Program advocating for the system to remain focused on children’s well-being, assuring that each child’s specific needs are properly addressed.
Gulf Coast Kid’s House
Gulf Coast Kid’s House (GCKH) is a nonprofit children’s advocacy center that strives to form a strong, collaborative response to child abuse cases for children and families throughout Escambia County. Through support services and expert resources, their center of dedicated professionals work to improve case outcomes for victims of child abuse and help minimize trauma to children and families. With a mission to end child abuse and heal families through collaborative intervention, family support and prevention education, GCKH serves as a one-stop shop for families impacted by abuse. The organization hosts a team of on-site professionals and resources needed to conduct interventions, investigations and prosecution for child abuse cases all under one roof at its child-friendly facility in Pensacola. Through counseling and support services, the organization works to form a more collaborative response to child abuse cases to help improve case outcomes and minimize trauma to the children and families it serves. GCKH relies on the support of volunteers to help accomplish its mission. “Our volunteers assist with everything from working our reception desk, to making donor gifts, hosting events and managing our family resource closet. We are a small team and could not accomplish all that we do without their support,” GCKH Director Stacey Kostevicki said.
Feeding the Gulf Coast
Feeding the Gulf Coast (FGC), formerly Bay Area Food Bank, operates three branches located along the Central Gulf Coast, which partner with more than 400 agencies to distribute more than 30 million pounds of food annually to the 24-county service area through FGC’s hunger-relief programs. Helping the people FCG serves to gain access to healthy foods is critical. Throughout the Florida service area, more than 130,000 individuals, including nearly 39,000 children, struggle with food insecurity. “We rely on food, feet, and funds to achieve our mission. Small contributions by every individual make a tremendous, collective impact in ending hunger. Feeding the Gulf Coast and our partners rely on the generosity of volunteers,” FGC Marketing and Communications Manager Amanda Young said. Almost 24,000 individuals and groups helped provide an estimated $2,245,530 of paid staff and operation time by donating more than 224,550 hours of their time.
Manna Food Pantry
Manna Food Pantry is a local grassroots organization fighting hunger in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties by providing groceries directly to those in need. This year alone, Manna has provided more than 494,500 healthy meals to a total of 31,014 people. Typically, 95 to 98 percent of the food Manna provides to the hungry is donated by businesses, faith organizations and individuals, with less than 10 percent donated by grocery stores. Manna also takes a unique approach by working with agencies that are addressing the root causes of hunger—for example, financial instability, low wages, lack of affordable housing and COVID-19 impacts. Volunteers are critical to the work that Manna does. “In the past year, 1,702 volunteers have given 5,676.25 hours of service so we could carry out our mission to help people in need,” Executive Director Dede Flounlacker said. All donations made to Manna stay local to help serve people in need throughout our community.
Food Not Bombs Pensacola
Food Not Bombs is an all-volunteer global movement that shares free vegan and vegetarian meals as a protest to war and poverty. “We view Food Not Bombs more as a verb than a noun. Food Not Bombs is direct action. We do what is needed for our community and do not ask for permission. So while we are assisting those in our community, we are also very much protesting many of the conditions that our society allows to exist,” Michael Kimberl, Food Not Bombs volunteer and organizer said. Food Not Bombs is attempting to bring attention to issues surrounding income inequality, homelessness and how people seem to have an out of sight, out of mind mentality to these issues. It hopes to draw attention to the growing issues and to help start a conversation while providing some of the solutions. There are hundreds of independent and autonomous chapters sharing free vegetarian food with hungry people and protesting war and poverty. This energetic, all-volunteer grassroots movement is active throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
Waterfront Rescue Mission
First established in 1949 as a refuge for wayward fisherman, the Waterfront Rescue Mission provides faith-based rescue and recovery programs to lift people out of homelessness, poverty and addiction along the Gulf Coast. In 2020 alone, the Waterfront Rescue Mission provided 72,000 meals and presented 518 life skills and job readiness classes. Through these services, Waterfront assisted 68 men in finding and obtaining employment and also helped 35 men obtain housing. Waterfront’s goal is for clients to leave with connections and resources to live sustainably independent as overcomers. While most services and programs are available to men only, day services are open to men, women and children. Volunteers are encouraged to conduct item drives at their workplace or church or help serve meals at the Mission. “By using their talents and taking their time to serve at Waterfront, volunteers are providing more opportunities for us to reach our homeless community in various ways,” Waterfront Rescue Mission Executive Vice President Angie Ishee said.
United Way of West Florida
United Way of West Florida (UWWF) works to improve community outcomes in health, education and financial stability by investing resources in quality programs, building and participating in collaborative partnerships that address critical issues and engaging people throughout our community with meaningful opportunities for service and advocacy. UWWF provides significant support to nearly 30 nonprofit organizations in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties through the Community Investment grant process. Unite Way also manages a number of programs that provide valuable support and resources to the community including the information and referral hotline 211 Northwest Florida (211 NWFL), The Florida Veteran Support Line and critical disaster relief services. “Volunteerism is at the heart of what it means to Live United,” UWWF Director of Marketing Jon Potrzeba said. ”United Way of West Florida manages several volunteer programs and sees firsthand the breadth of their impact on our community!” UWWF has also coordinated Day of Caring, the largest single-day of volunteerism across Northwest Florida for 28 years. Since 1993, UWWF has coordinated more than 28,000 volunteers that have completed 2,572 projects at schools and nonprofit agencies in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
The Alfred-Washburn Center (AWC) is a day resource center for people experiencing homelessness and extreme bouts of poverty. They provide a place to take a shower, do a load of laundry, set up a mailbox and acquire some of the supplies needed to survive on the streets of Escambia County. The services such as showers and laundry help to give back dignity and provide cleanliness and health; additionally, they assist with job placement and sustainability. The center is run by an all volunteer staff. Michael Kimberl, the director of the AWC, said the volunteers’ love and dedication to the poor is second to none.
Loaves & Fishes
Established in Pensacola in 1983, Loaves & Fishes is a nonprofit Christian charity which operates a soup kitchen and shelter for Pensacola-area homeless. It also operates a thrift store whose proceeds go toward their charity work, as well as other educational and outreach programs. Loaves & Fishes reaches out to homeless men, women and children in an effort to meet their needs both spiritually and materially. Its goal is to provide a safe, clean and uplifting environment for those in the Pensacola community who find themselves in need. Loaves and Fishes strives to offer its guests hope for a better future. Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen is a nonprofit corporation, and all donations are tax deductible.
Satoshi Forest Sanctuary
The Satoshi Forest Sanctuary is the first intentional homeless encampment in the State of Florida. Satoshi gives priority to women, people over the age of 50, the disabled and members of the LGBT+ community to have a safe, secure place to set up a campsite with portable toilets, running water, and garbage pickup. “A good majority find themselves sleeping outdoors in the rough. There is always the risk of arrest, theft, and assault sleeping on our streets. We provide a place that gives that extra security,” Co-founder and Director Michael Kimberl said. Volunteers have played a vital role in the success of the sanctuary. From clean up days to hot meals, Satoshi could not do this work if not for members of the community stepping up to assist. Follow @SatoshiForest on Facebook for updates and additional information.
Pensacola Habitat for Humanity
Pensacola Habitat for Humanity (PHH) builds homes for people with a modest income and sells them with an affordable mortgage. When it opened in 1981, PHH started off as a completely volunteer-driven organization. To date, it has almost 50 employees between the affiliate and the PHH ReStore, but never loses sight of its volunteer roots. PHH encourages volunteerism both in the Community Development program to assist with projects like wheelchair ramp builds and critical home repairs, as well as at the PHH ReStore to assist with donation delivery and customer service. Monetary support cycles back through the programs over and over again with homeowner mortgage payments. Every dollar is recycled through the community. Homeowner mortgage payments allow PHH to build the next home or complete the next repair. “We are on track to serve 53 homeowners through our Home Buyer Program and 80 homeowners through Community Development initiatives,” VP of Development and Communications Crystal Scott said.
The Salvation Army helps the less fortunate and the sometimes forgotten by offering love, hope and relief in the form of food and shelter. After Hurricane Sally and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Salvation Army remains on the front lines of need to ensure that Hope Marches On this holiday season. “Need knows no season. Although the holidays are often a time of joy, many people will not be able to celebrate this year because they are battling the effects of pandemic poverty,” pastor Capt. Herb Frazier III said. The Salvation Army has proudly served Pensacola and surrounding counties since 1901 with multiple different programs such as Emergency Disaster Response Teams, emergency social services, food pantries, The Angel Tree Program (which helps families in need with toys and clothes for Christmas), emergency homeless shelters for women and children, sports programs and a community center program with an indoor aquatics facility.
Autism Pensacola, Inc.
Autism Pensacola works to guide children and families affected by autism through the maze of resources available to them. Autism Pensacola programs include a summer camp, support groups, community family events, adult activities, sensory stations, respite opportunities, educational training and collaborations with law enforcement and other autism- focused organizations. “When a child is diagnosed with autism, we are the first call a parent makes, and the first thing we say to that parent is, ‘You will never be alone again,’”Executive Director of Autism Pensacola Inc. Mary Donovan McClellan said. Autism Pensacola also serves as a central clearinghouse of information for resources that are specific to the disorder. While they do not diagnose or offer therapies, they do hold families’ hands as they journey through the world of autism and build personal relationships with parents and their kids. Volunteers play a big role in Autism Pensacola’s work. From parents, grandparents, and caregivers to therapists, college students, community leaders, teen peers and educators, volunteers are needed and greatly appreciated.
Pensacola Humane Society
The Pensacola Humane Society (PHS) is committed to improving the lives of companion animals in our community through advocacy, adoption, education and sanctuary. Unlike other animal society organizations, PHS focuses on the people in the community just as much as animals. The PHS Help Team focuses on providing resources to pet owners in the community to keep pets in homes through their pet supply pantry, domestic violence program, outreach and education. “Volunteers are essential to our organization because they allow us to extend our reach and capacity care far beyond what it would be if we operated with just our small staff,” Director of Development Manda Leigh Moore said. PHS Volunteers provide temporary homes to dogs and cats in need, help ensure that each animal gets above and beyond care and helps us reach out and support our community through various programs.
Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center
The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center (NBSTCC) allows visitors from near and far to learn about the importance of sea turtles by entering the center and meeting Sweet Pea, NBSTCC’s ambassador, whose story is one of survival and really touches the heart of everyone she meets. She is a green sea turtle that has been deemed non-releasable by Florida Fish and Wildlife due to a tremendous amount of damage both externally and internally. After hearing Sweet Pea's story, guests are welcome to explore the center to learn more about the ecosystem and several habitats of local wildlife. “We are powered by passionate and dedicated volunteers. Because we are a working conservation center, we rely on our volunteers to be at the center on a daily basis,” NBSTCC Volunteer and Outreach Manager Nicole Stephens said.
Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida
Since January of 2021, NBSTCC has hosted more than 45,000 guests, had over 500 participants for field trips and private tours, and 919 volunteers have collected more than 1,400 pounds of marine debris. The Wildlife Sanctuary is a nonprofit wildlife hospital that cares for 3,000 to 4,000 orphaned and injured native animals each year. They take in turtles who have been hit by cars, baby flying squirrels displaced by hurricanes, birds of prey injured in territory disputes and many others with the goal of returning them to the wild. The Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the few facilities in the state of Florida permitted to rehabilitate bald eagles. Sanctuary volunteers help with all aspects of daily operations including lawn maintenance and habitat construction, diet prep and cleaning, feeding of neonate animals and public education. “2022 will mark 40 years that the Wildlife Sanctuary has served the western Florida Panhandle's community in its efforts to preserve our native wildlife,” Sanctuary Animal Care Supervisor Emily Holden said.
Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge
The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge (ECWR) rescues animals from as far north as Century, FL and as far south as Panama City, FL. Because ECWR does not have the manpower for a rescue team, it depends on private citizens to volunteer to bring the animal to them. “We were lucky to have citizens assist us with over 1,000 of these rescues this year. We are reliant on donations to help rehabilitate the sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife.” ECWR Development and Content Manager Stephanie Scott said. ECWR has grown from being operated out of volunteer homes to having its own facility on donated land, buildings built through donations and grants and habitats built by volunteers. ECWR does not receive government funding but is supported through the generous donations of local residents and businesses.
FavorHouse of Northwest Florida
FavorHouse serves as the certified domestic violence center for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. FavorHouse provides emergency and transitional housing, counseling for both victims and offenders and a 24-hour crisis hotline. The FavorHouse shelter program is a “bridge to a new beginning” for hundreds of domestic violence victims in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. FavorHouse accepts monetary donations and offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities.
The Secret Place Home
With a mission to provide a safe space for female child and young adult survivors of commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC) and their families in Northwest Florida, The Christian-based center offers independent living life skills, health and wellness, therapeutic services and mentorship. The Secret Place Home is survivor-led and centered on Trauma- Informed Care. In addition to its services for survivors, The Secret Place also offers Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and Human Trafficking 101 education and training to health care, education, hospitality and other organizations and agencies. “Advocating is the number one job and the main reason we exist,” Volunteer Coordinator for The Secret Place Melissa Parker said. “Volunteers are essential in bringing awareness to the community, but they also serve as tutors, instructors and interns to help provide additional services to the survivors.”
The ARC Gateway
Since 1954, ARC Gateway has provided life- enhancing programs that help children and adults with developmental disabilities realize their dreams. ARC Gateway provides programs and services focused on living, learning, working and growing. ARC Gateway clients are trained to provide services such as paper shredding and fulfillment services. They also sell client-produced products including artwork, recycled Mardi Gras beads, concrete products, survey stakes and plant sleeves. These programs allow clients to learn new skills, earn a paycheck and live more independent lives. Members, volunteers and supporters play a critical role in ARC Gateway’s efforts by donating time, money, sponsorship and by becoming members.
An arts-focused adult day training program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Pyramid, Inc. is known for its unique focus on visual and performing arts as a way to engage those whose cognitive, physical and behavioral disabilities. “Pyramid celebrates the abilities of its students. Rather than focusing on what students cannot do, Pyramid’s curriculum is person-centered, offering a wide variety of opportunities that enrich and enhance the lives of our clients,” Pyramid Pensacola Director Joseph Green said. Through the arts and other programs, Pyramid offers students the opportunity to be compensated for their talents, develop new social roles, forge connections with others and gain the social skills, work ethic and other skills necessary to lead full productive lives as active members of their community. Volunteers play an integral role in Pyramid’s ability to create opportunities for community engagement and expose students to a more diverse range of skills, experience and knowledge. Volunteers assist Pyramid, Inc. by donating their most important commodity—their time. They also assist in staging public performances, help with facility and ground maintenance, donate supplies, lead club activities and spread the word about the organization and the abilities of those with disabilities.
Council On Aging of West Florida
Council on Aging (COA) serves homebound elder adults through various programs such as Meals on Wheels, homemaker, personal care, companionship, respite and more. These services allow frail seniors to remain in their home, living with dignity and independence, for as long as possible, staving off nursing home and/or assisted living care. COA receives federal and state funds for their core programs, but they also offer several extra unfunded services that are important to help elders age in place. These include wheelchair ramp installation, distribution of air conditioners and heaters, yard cleanup, Christmas for Seniors, a community care closet, caregiver support groups and more. “Volunteers are our boots on the ground in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Hundreds of volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels, serve in our adult daycare, do wellness checks, call for telephone reassurance, provide companionship and caregiver support and so much more. We literally could not do what we do without them,” Marketing and Communications Director Josh Newby said.
Marine Toys for Tots
The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program collects new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distributes those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. Toys for Tots began in 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks, United States Marine Corps Reserve and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. The 1947 pilot project was so successful that the Marine Corps adopted Toys for Tots in 1948 and expanded it into a nationwide campaign. There are many ways to volunteer with Toys for Tots – simply donate a new toy, donate money via the website, volunteer during the campaign, become a toy drop-off site or become a corporate sponsor.
USO Northwest Florida
The USO is a nonprofit charitable corporation chartered by Congress that relies on donations from individuals, organizations and corporations to support its programs and strengthen America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. USO Northwest Florida has more than 430 active volunteers and more than 40,000 hours logged in 2021. “Our service members are linked by a common challenge: separation. We go where no other nonprofit organization goes to keep our service members connected to everything that gives meaning to their service. Through programs focused on connection, strengthening, wellness and resiliency, we express America’s gratitude and commitment to service members and their families,” Executive Director Dana Cervantes said. Volunteers play a crucial role at the USO where they provide hundreds of thousands of hours of service, from welcoming home deployed service members to providing support for individual service members and their families at USO centers. Volunteers help run special events, provide patrons with a home away from home experience in our centers, and honor those who serve by serving themselves.