PLAYguide: Philanthropy

Star Wars Celebration at Florida Hospital For Children


The Force was strong at Florida Hospital for Children on December 15, where staff and volunteers “trained” the next generation of Jedi with fun, games, and of course costumes.

Disney and Lucasfilm sponsored the afternoon of excitement: the hospital’s young patients got to do Star Wars activities, take photos with characters, and take part in special “Jedi training.” It was all ahead of the newest Star Wars Movie, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Costumed volunteers went room to room for private patient visits, so no child was left out of the fun.


“I think this is the first time he’s smiled since he got here,” said Nadia Datoo of her son, a patient in the hospital. “It’s absolutely wonderful to see how they’re interacting with all the kids, all the activities that they have. I think it’s really great.”

Members of the 501st Legion— a collection of Star Wars fans who dress as Stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters to promote interest in the movie series— also made a special visit for the afternoon.

“Disney is a longstanding supporter and partner of our organization, and we are honored that they, along with Lucasfilm, selected for Florida Hospital for Children for this very special day,” said Marla Silliman, the hospital’s senior executive officer. “Having their very own Jedi training and unique Star Wars activities will provide these children and their families with wonderful memories.”


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Family-Friendly Volunteer Opportunities

(This is an excerpt from Philanthropy Does a Family Good; originally published in PLAYGROUND Magazine’s Winter 2008 issue)

It’s time to get your family out into the community for a hands-on, site-based volunteer experience. We are very excited about this dynamic Central Florida volunteer resource: Hands On Orlando

Screenshot 2015-07-27 12.47.55

Written by Cris Phillips-Georg

Hands On Orlando takes all the stress out of finding family-friendly volunteer opportunities. This organization is a unique nonprofit that plans, manages and leads a ton of one-time volunteer opportunities each month, serving a broad range of local charities. Each project only takes about three hours to complete and Hands On Orlando provides all of the materials and tools needed to get each task done, at no charge to the volunteer or to the agency receiving assistance. (Translation: That means you can connect to multiple charities through this one organization, and they set up the volunteer opportunities. Sweet!)

Though Hands On Orlando welcomes volunteers of all ages, they are particularly passionate about engaging families in community service and only take on volunteer projects that welcome youth of an appropriate age. Each opportunity is hands-on and short-term, making this an ideal solution for families with sporadic schedules who still want to make a real impact.

What we love most about Hands On Orlando is that they are equally focused on volunteers having a positive experience as they are on local charities receiving support. That means that you are greeted with a smile and provided with a thorough orientation before you begin your assignment. Hands On Orlando makes each experience fun (they even provide snacks), and they never fail to help you and your children make a clear connection between the task you are completing and the powerful way it will benefit the cause.

Ready to lend a helping hand? Visit and peruse the current volunteer calendar to find a volunteer opportunity that fits the interests and ages of your family (minimum ages vary per project0. Then email your commitment via the online form or contact Executive Director Chris Allen at 407-740-8652 for more information. Hands On Orlando will let you know exactly what you’ll need for your specific volunteer assignments.

“Unless someone like you cares an awful whole lot.
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

~ Dr. Suess, The Lorax


  1. Charities need support all year long. Make volunteering a year-long resolution, rather than a one-time holiday event. Many non-profits are inundated with volunteer requests between November and December, but hear nothing but crickets the rest of the year. Remember, need has no season.
  2. Good neighbors make strong communities. While helping the stranger across town, don’t forget the neighbor next door. Is there a single mom who needs help with her lawn? And elderly neighbor who needs a friendly visit? A resident i crisis who would appreciate a home-cooked meal? Even a smile can make a positive difference.
  3. Set your family up for success. Developing a service ethic takes time. Children (and adults) can sometimes be fearful or find it hard to relate to the people they are trying to help. Talk about what you m right encounter before volunteering. Get the conversation started by reading Chicken Soup for Little Souls: the Braids Girl by Lisa McCourt and Tim Ludwig. This charming picture book (appropriate for ages 4-9) is a great reminder that what people need most is not money, but respect and compassion.
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Volunteer Vixens


This local mom’s giving circle offers inspiration to mothers and children.

With her headphones over her ears and her hoodie pulled up over her head, the young girl made it clear she wanted to be left alone while attending an empowerment workshop for women and young girls at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, hosted by the Volunteer Vixens. “She was very private and didn’t want to share her personal details,” says Christina Bolling, cofounder of the Volunteer Vixens, a Central Florida-based sharing circle of women who do a monthly local charitable event. “Throughout the session, young girls would ask her to be their partner or join the activity. After 30 minutes, the hoodie came down. By the end of the evening, she opened up like a flower,” says Bolling. “It was literally a jaw-dropping-to-the-floor moment.” That, says Bolling, is what Volunteer Vixens is all about.

Forging Ahead
Bolling and her cousin, Katy Leach, founded Volunteer Vixens in January 2011. “I have an extensive background in philanthropy in Central Florida,” says Bolling, who is stepmom to son Jordan, age 12. “What I found is that the more you move up in an organization or the greater exposure [the organization] gets, the easier it is to get disconnected with the root cause you’re supporting. It’s easy to get burned out.” Bolling and Leach, mom to Gavin, age 7, Caden, age 2, and a third child due in February, wanted to offer women an opportunity to get involved with something that wouldn’t burn them out. “After all, our volunteers have families, young children, but they want to be involved. They want to make a difference,” she says. In addition, she wanted to support the relationship women have with one another in a positive environment. “We want women to have a chance to build relationships with one another without getting together over cocktails, or with a MOMS or MOPs group — someplace they can come to socialize but also include their families and make a difference,” she says. That’s not to say she isn’t a strong supporter of those social groups. In fact, the Volunteer Vixens get together for one social meeting each month in addition to one charitable event. “We do a yoga class or happy hour, and one or two philanthropy projects are also scheduled each month,” says Bolling. “We want to give back, but we also want to focus on forming new friendships and having a social network outside our jobs or kids.”

Grassroots Philanthropy
Volunteer Vixens is not an official nonprofit. “We don’t want it to be about managing money,” says Bolling. “We remain a grassroots concept called a giving circle, a small group of individuals supporting multiple causes and supporting existing organizations.” The group has two chapters — one in Central Florida, with 18 active members, and another in Rhode Island, recently formed by a former Central Florida Volunteer Vixens member who moved to that state. While the Central Florida chapter has 18 active members, they get upwards of 45 volunteers out to each project, including husbands, significant others, children and friends.

The group supports many different causes, including Dress for Success, the Orlando Union Rescue Mission and Beta Center. “We gravitate toward charities that uplift and support women and children,” says Bolling. Whom the group supports is decided democratically. Members come forward and make suggestions, and the group votes on which ones to take on. However, one organization close to both Bolling’s and Leach’s hearts is the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Katy and I both lost a grandfather to pancreatic cancer, so that is our pet organization,” says Bolling. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so the group participates in the PurpleStride Orlando 5K Run/Walk (November 18 at UCF’s main campus), working the registration tables and participating in the run/walk. In December, the group will adopt a family with young children and provide it with food, presents and decorations.

One of Bolling’s most memorable events was a carnival the group held at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission. “We’ve been working with them since they were founded, and we did a family fun night at the shelter,” says Bolling. About 55 Volunteer Vixens showed up to work booths, paint faces and mingle with the 155 residents of the shelter, many of whom are women and children. “Our goal was to have a carefree, fun day for the kids. At the end of the night, the residents and children were asking for photos with us, kids came up to hug us. People shared their stories. Our members left feeling like they made a difference that night,” she says.

Expanding Quickly
Bolling says the group has expanded organically. “We put the word out on our social networks. I have a lot of corporate contacts [her full-time job is with Winning Work Teams, a human resources consulting business], and Katy is active in her MOPs group,” says Bolling. However, she says many of the new women come via the Facebook page. “People share [our page] a lot, and we do some events with the arts community where we’ll have a table about our group,” says Bolling. But overall, says Bolling, she just wants the group to be fun, be positive and allow local women to participate as much as they choose.

Even husbands and children were among the 55 Volunteer Vixens who created a carnival event at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

Even husbands and children were among the 55 Volunteer Vixens who created a carnival event at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

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Sit. Stay. Give.


Independence is one of the best gifts you can give someone. As a family, volunteer to train a puppy to be a service dog for someone in need. Jessica Leon, a local teen, gives her firsthand experience of the pure joy of giving back.

Written by Jessica Leon (17) of Orlando, volunteer for eight years

I love that my family raises service dogs because we learn something new from each dog. Although we often find it hard to identify which black lab is in what picture, they each had contrasting personalities, making it great to know them. In many ways, I believe that we benefit just as much as the clients who get to receive these animals. The experience is rewarding.

Service dogs in training are puppies that are raised by volunteers who take them to puppy classes and teach them house manners and public etiquette. When they are around 16 to 19 months, the dogs are returned to the organization and begin their formal training. The service dogs aid adults and kids with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Not only do we get to have puppies, typically around eight weeks old, there is a feeling of accomplishment when one of our dogs gets placed. We cried when our first dog, Tribute, left, but we had a new ball of fur at our feet that needed our attention and desperately desired it.

During a puppy outing, we got to hear Bill, a client, express the value in what we do. He described how much his companion had changed his life, how he had regained his independence. Of course, that’s what every volunteering family hopes to hear. We’d assumed Bill had been paralyzed his entire life. We were shocked when his wife later told us that he’d been a fireman just a couple of years ago. While on top of the truck, a hose was turned on, and the immense pressure of it knocked him to the ground. His dog that he talked so much about was born on the very day of his accident. We had goose bumps. We still get goose bumps whenever we tell this story of a man who went from helping people every day of his life to needing help himself. And it wasn’t the accident that he talked about — it was the dog. Whenever I am missing one of our dogs, I think about Bill and his story. I couldn’t imagine life without a service dog in training.

We take for granted the independence our bodies provide, and this is a way a family can come together and work to help others. Locally, Canine Companions for Independence is always seeking volunteer puppy raisers. Visit the organization at or call 407-522-3300 and give someone his independence.



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Thiago: My Miracle Preemie


One Cool Little Dude – Thiago’s Story

Written by Aixa Acevado, Thiago’s mom

I was 24 weeks pregnant when David and I got the horrific news from a maternal specialist that I would have to deliver my firstborn son within 48 hours. I remember desperately asking, “Why? What’s wrong? How is he going to survive?” According to my week-by-week pregnancy book, his lungs weren’t even developed yet. How was he going to breathe? The doctor just said, “You need to check into the hospital right now.” I was suffering from severe preeclampsia. Delivery of the baby, or bad placenta, is the only cure.

David and I walked quietly to the car, where I called my mother to give her the news. I began to sob, and so did David. Several hours after my arrival at Winnie Palmer Hospital, the doctor explained that the pregnancy would be induced. A C-section was going to be avoided at all costs due to the risk it posed on my life and the high possibility of not being able to have children in the future. The doctor explained that the baby would not survive the labor and delivery due to his size (less than one pound) and fragile state. He even said that if by some miracle the baby survived delivery, his lungs were too underdeveloped and his health was too poor to be able to survive on the outside, on his own. It was likely the baby would be dead before labor even began. We were emotionally drained.

I began to feel a little better and was able to hold off on the inducing for a few days in hopes that the baby could have that time to develop more. Every hour was crucial. I was given steroid shots to help his lungs grow. All too soon, my health got worse, and the doctor said they really should focus on my health because the baby’s chances for survival were slim. After five days of an emotional roller coaster, to say the least, I was induced, and Thiago Gabriel Torres was born — still in the sack, completely unscathed by the labor and delivery and alive. He weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces.

Although Thiago was born alive, that didn’t mean he would ever come home with us. Preemies sometimes die within a few hours of being born and as far out as two months later. Our story is one with a good ending, but an emotional and tough journey. Throughout Thiago’s stay, there were many people (my mother and sister specifically) and organizations that offered help and prayers. David became a solid rock and foundation for me, and Thiago’s biggest fan. I personally turned to the March of Dimes website for support and to read other preemie stories. I found comfort there. Thiago received a blood donation from Florida’s Blood Centers, and the Ronald McDonald House offered us a room to stay in while Thiago was in the NICU. We were blessed to have Dr. David A. Auerbach and the amazing staff at Winnie Palmer’s NICU. Three months and one week after Thiago was born — 99 days exactly — I got a call from Dr. Auerbach informing me that we could take him home.

Today Thiago is completely healthy. Most preemies are born with countless hurdles to overcome. Thiago only gets occupational therapy once a week because of minor residual effects from the intubation. Other than that, he is our amazing little miracle — he’s healthy, walking and talking. He is one cool little dude.



Winnie Palmer Hospital
Donate Items
Knitter and crafter volunteers donate preemie hats and blankets to be used and enjoyed by babies, children and their families. If you enjoy knitting or crocheting and would like to donate your items, please contact volunteer services at 321-841-5932.

Florida’s Blood Centers
Donate Blood
One single blood donation can save up to three lives, lives like Thiago’s. Blood is always needed. The minimum age to donate blood is 16 years old. You can host a blood drive or visit one of the blood donation centers near you and save lives.

March of Dimes
Donate Money
It’s estimated that $10.5 billion in loose change is sitting idle in American households. Imagine how far that would go in helping babies be born healthy. Donate your loose change to the March of Dimes.

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More Than Cookies


The Girl Scouts have gotten a facelift.

Written by Jenny Fauser | Photo by Brittany Miller | Styled by Tammara Kohler

Girl Scouts are known for cookies and camping, but this green-centered, earth-loving philanthropy is way more than tents and Thin Mints. It’s influencing this country’s finest young women.

With a recent national restructure, Girl Scouts of the USA is breaking their stagnant stereotype and becoming more relatable to modern kids and their interests. We like that each troop is completely unique and the young members drive the activities and interests they pursue. Today, scouts go rock climbing, swim with dolphins in the Florida Keys, go white water rafting and even travel abroad through troop or council programs.

Depending on their interests, girls are given the opportunity to gain knowledge and acquire skills in: dance, drama, math, biology, poetry, fashion, problem solving, leadership and handling peer pressure — among countless other relevant topics. A favorite among the tween crowd is a program called “Mean Chicks.” Nope, they’re not being taught to be “ugly,” but rather addressing the rampant problem of gossiping and manipulating at school. The “Couch Potato” interest project gets girls exploring how youth and women are portrayed in
the media.

This organization focuses on personal pride. Its mission: Building girls of courage, confidence and character. The Scouting program encompasses every aspect required to build a well-rounded, dynamic and vibrant woman out of your sassy little diva. Check out for more info on how to get your daughter (age 5 – 17) in on the fun.

A Few Famous Girl Scouts:
• Dakota Fanning
• Sheryl Crow
• Vanessa Hudgens
• Martha Stewart
• Barbara Walters

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