PENSACOLA, Fla. – In 2012, Shaun Hartsfield of Pensacola readily admits that he was making bad life choices and going through some very tough legal obstacles. He also witnessed gun violence cutting short many lives in the city, many of them young people.
It was then, with the backing of his family and friends, that he decided to not only get his own life back on track, but also to help young people in the area not make the same mistakes and provide them a support system and show them there are people who care.
“I had a lot of kids looking up to me when I was going through my own issues, and I wanted to help keep them out of trouble,” said Hartsfield, who founded the nonprofit organization, HYPE, or Helping Youth in Pensacola Endure. “I thought if we change the thought process in these kids they would make better decisions. A lot of kids are headed down the wrong path because of what is going on in the household not because they are bad kids. If we can get out there and help these kids make good informed decisions, they won’t even have to go through the whole legal system in the process of trying to rehabilitate their life.”
HYPE was one of three local nonprofit organizations recognized Tuesday by Gulf Power for their commitment to the community they serve. Each organization received an award and a $2,500 grant.
Northwest Florida Community Outreach and The Currie House rounded out the trio of organizations that “are at the grassroots level accomplishing amazing things and vital to the community they serve,” according to Stan Connally, Chairman, President and CEO of Gulf Power.
“These are organizations doing things that sometimes don’t get noticed as much,” said Connally. “But nonetheless, while they may be small in stature, they are doing things that make a big difference and raise the tides of our communities together. Through these awards, we are helping to tell their story that otherwise might go unheard.”
Connally added the awards are a way for Gulf Power employees to give back and engage with the community, as well as recognize those working together to try and solve issues in the communities.
“Our employees are part of the community,” he said. “We live and work here, and we raise our families here. These organizations collectively do great things for the communities and help lift them up. We are proud to be invested in the communities we serve.”
Raising the tide
Christeia Salter, director of Northwest Florida Community Outreach, thanked Connally and Gulf Power for the recognition, and she was humbled by the award, saying it will help bridge the gap between youth and seniors so that each group can have a voice and learn from one another.
“In our neighborhood, we have our older generation or seniors, and the younger generation, and each has its own sets of issues that they have gone through,” said Salter. “We have a mentoring program called ‘Youth Matters,’ where we want to bring these two groups together. We want our younger people to develop a heart for the older people. We want them to understand that even though they are older, they can help lead them down the right road and can be mentors. Both groups can learn from each other.”
Northwest Florida Community Outreach is dedicated to ensuring that individuals and families from all generations have the resources necessary to lead more meaningful and productive lives. Established in 2002, it provides educational seminars, basic needs support and social gatherings to create a brighter future for all members of the community.
Some of the outeach activities include Drug Awareness and Anti-Bullying seminars, Farm Share food giveaways, “Care Bags” for the homeless that include toiletries and food, senior neighbor breakfasts and bingo, and an annual school supply fundraiser.
Hartsfield echoed Salter upon receiving the organization’s award, adding that through HYPE’s activities, they hope to keep kids on the right track and make an impact in their lives.
“That is our main goal, just making an impact,” he said. “If we help keep them on the right path, we’ll have better youth, better citizens and a better community.”
Helping Youth in Pensacola Endure (HYPE) provides resources to Pensacola students in grades nine – 12 that keeps them on the right path for future success. Their mission is to provide comprehensive and innovative programs that will help youth envision and navigate a course for a rewarding future characterized by achievement, independent thought and social responsibility.
The nonprofit also provides tutoring, mentoring and other enrichment programs including financial planning, resume writing, job interview etiquette, and drug and violence prevention to help students reach their full potential. Participants are required to keep at least a 2.0 GPA and complete at least 50 volunteer hours of community service per semester to qualify for a possible scholarship.
Beth Decker, Regional director of Lutheran Services Florida, accepted the award on behalf of The Currie House, and was also humbled and honored to receive the service award. While the three organizations are separate in their missions, she noted they all work together to make the community a better place to live.
“It takes all of us to do this,” she said. “It takes all of us in this room to bring up the community and do everything we can. It’s important to come together and talk about how we raise a village.”
A safe place for youth and teens in need of shelter, security and counseling due to conflict within their household, The Currie House has been assisting adolescents and families for the past 26 years.
“When teens arrive here, they don’t know what their needs are,” she added. “But we love them; they are our passion. Helping them survive adolescence and helping families is what it’s all about. And we thank Gulf Power for making that a little easier.”
Honoring a legacy
Gulf Power started the Power of Service awards in 2012 as a way to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service, and recognize organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of others. The energy company’s employees, who nominate area service organizations, look for groups that support minorities and underrepresented populations that often go unnoticed when considering recipients.
Since the inception of the award program, Gulf Power has recognized 46 organizations in Northwest Florida and awarded more than $114,000.