Wendell Smith, Vice President Customer Service and Sales (left) and, Sandy Sims, Eastern District manager, present Janice Lucas, Executive Director of LEAD coalition, with the Power of Service award and $2,500 award during the recent ceremony. Gulf Power recognized two service organizations for their contributions and commitment to the communities of Bay County and Panama City.

PANAMA CITY, Fla.—The summer of violence in Panama City in 2014 left many searching for answers. Gun-related violence had claimed the lives of 10 people in a wave of shootings throughout Bay County within about three months.

But out of tragedy comes greatness.

“This was not who we were and not representative of who we were as a community,” said Janice Lucas, executive director of LEAD Coalition. “We knew we had to come together, work together and make this community safer for all of Panama City and Bay County.”

The LEAD Coalition was formed in Panama City following that summer of unprecedented homicides to address gang violence and drug issues by working collaboratively to prevent further violence and drug use by teens by providing solutions to keeping them off the streets and providing necessary job skills.

The organization was one of two that were honored November 7, by Gulf Power for their overall community outreach efforts and service to others. Along with the LEAD Coalition, Mental Health America of Bay County were presented the annual Power of Service Award for their commitment to improving the community they serve.

“This is our opportunity to publicly acknowledge those who may go unnoticed but serve a vital role in trying to solve important issues in their communities,” said Wendell Smith, Gulf Power’s Vice President of Customer Services and Sales. “The organizations we honor may be small in size but they have a big impact. They quietly serve others and this is our way to thank them and celebrate these groups who remind us how important it is to help others.”

When considering recipients, Gulf Power employees looked for groups that support minorities and underrepresented populations. The energy company started the Power of Service awards in 2012 to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service, and recognizes organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of others.

Wendell Smith, Vice President Customer Service and Sales (left) and, Sandy Sims, Eastern District manager, present James Taliaferro, Executive Director of Mental Health America, with the Power of Service award and $2,500 award during the recent ceremony.

“It is a privilege to recognize these organizations today that fill important roles and answer the question posed by Dr. King, ‘What are you doing for others?’ These are grass-roots organizations making a difference every day,” said Smith.

Mental Health America of Bay County Established in 1952, and focuses on those with mental illness as well as providing support to their families. They actively raise awareness of mental illness, hoping to impact prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment services. Working closely with licensed clinical social workers, the organization provides mental health screenings that identify depression, anxiety, PTSD and more, allowing for a safer community and improved wellness for all of those in Bay County.

“We provide services to our community members who might not otherwise have the financial means to be seen,” said James Taliaferro, executive director of Mental Health America. “Many people struggle to get treatment, prescriptions filled or just be able to talk to someone. You don’t have to be poor or down on your luck to be affected by mental illness…it can affect any one. We are proud of the services we offer for our local community.”

This is the fifth year Gulf Power has presented the awards in Bay County and Panama City. Since the inception of the award program, Gulf Power has now recognized 50 organizations in Northwest Florida and awarded more than $125,000.