Where in the world do you begin to assemble a list of the top community volunteers in Oviedo and Winter Springs? Or, more accurately, where in the world do you stop? Oviedo-Winter Springs is blessed with as many Super Volunteers as there are cozy cul-de-sacs in our community. Highlighting even a few risks diminishing all the others, but please join us in congratulating this small but mighty sample of men and women who selflessly work to move our community forward.
Jeffrey & Cheryl Chudnow: Volunteers in Chief
When it comes to their volunteer efforts and involvement in the community, Oviedo Police Chief Jeffrey Chudnow and his wife, Cheryl, can sum up their attitudes toward community service pretty succinctly: “If you don’t want us to come,” Jeffrey says with a grin, “don’t invite us. Because, if you do, chances are we’ll be there.”
“And if you do ask us to volunteer or help out,” adds Cheryl, “don’t be afraid to put us to work. We like to get our hands dirty.”
Those are bold proclamations from such public community figures, but Jeffrey and Cheryl aren’t afraid to back up their words with constant community action.
In short, the Chudnows are everywhere, from the Oviedo Farmers Market (which the couple helps run every month) to meetings of the Oviedo Citizens in Action and the Oviedo Woman’s Club.
Even if Jeffrey and Cheryl aren’t formally involved, they make it a point to attend as many community events as they can to show support and help raise funds for worthy causes. “If I know about a fish fry or fundraiser going on somewhere, I try to be there,” says Jeffrey.
And though they’re not official members of local Rotary Clubs, the Kiwanis Club, or the Optimist Club, the Chudnows can be found at those groups’ events as frequently as the members themselves.
For Jeffrey, the commitment to community service is both a personal and professional calling. “In 2007, when I interviewed to become chief of the Oviedo Police Department, the city manager at the time told me the city wanted a chief who would be involved in the community,” Jeffrey remembers. “That really resonated with me. Personally, I enjoy being involved and helping as many people and causes as I can. As chief, I understand that it’s a very important way to help connect the department and our officers with the people we serve.”
As such, Jeffrey has instilled the spirit of community service throughout his corps of officers and police staffers. In the recent past alone, an Oviedo Police Department officer has served as president of the Rotary Club of Oviedo, the Kiwanis Club of Oviedo-Winter Springs, and the Oviedo-Winter Springs Optimist Club. Like Jeffrey, his officers volunteer countless hours – in street clothes and on personal time – to help the Johnson Hill-Washington Heights Community Outreach beautify its historic community, aid the Oviedo Historical Society as it works to keep Oviedo traditions alive, or give back to countless other organizations.
Even on the clock, Jeffrey expresses the police department’s community commitment in a number of ways. When Oviedo was struck by a rash of property thefts out of unlocked vehicles, Oviedo Police could have sent a few public service announcements to local media outlets and called it a day. Instead, Jeffrey and his officers personally walked door-to-door to engage with residents and share tips to help keep their property secure.
“If my officers and I are more personally involved in the community, it makes the entire department more approachable,” says Jeffrey. “We’re not just meeting people in times of crisis. Then, if there is ever an issue, I’m not just the chief and we aren’t just police officers. We’re neighbors you know who can help you.”
The significant time Jeffrey and Cheryl spend volunteering and serving the Oviedo community can make for a very busy calendar in the Chudnow house, but Jeffrey is quick to praise Cheryl for her support and enthusiasm to help him go above and beyond his official duties as chief.
“Anytime I say, ‘This is going on, and I’d like to be there,’ Cheryl is always eager to jump in, too,” Jeffrey says. “Having her behind me makes all the difference.”
“People like him, and he likes people,” Cheryl says of her husband as the two share a smile. “He really gets into it, and we enjoy doing it together.”
Danny & Jenette McKinney: Speaks Louder than Words
For 45 years, Oviedo Citizens in Action (OCIA) has engaged and uplifted Oviedo’s tradition-rich African-American community, and few have meant more to one of Oviedo’s signature civic groups than Danny McKinney and his wife, Jenette Davis-McKinney.
President of OCIA for the past seven years, Danny helps coordinate the organization’s efforts to aid Oviedo residents young and old.
“We just finished our annual back-to-school drive so that every kid has the opportunity to start the school year ready and equipped to learn,” says Danny. “We work with elderly citizens, too – keeping them engaged and responding to their needs. We even offer computer training to make sure they stay up to date on technology and can do all the latest things we take for granted.”
OCIA works closely with the city of Oviedo, the Oviedo Police Department, and the Parks and Recreation department to help ensure area youth have amenities and opportunities to make productive use of their free time. Danny himself recently cut the ribbon to officially christen new facilities at Round Lake Park.
Danny and OCIA’s close connection to the people in Oviedo’s Recreation and Parks department is no coincidence. The city’s recreation coordinator happens to be Danny’s wife.
“I actually became involved in Oviedo Citizens in Action before Danny did, back in the very early ‘90s… and then he went and took over as president!” Jenette says with a hearty laugh. “I started working for the city in 1991, and my title at that time was special events coordinator. As part of my job, I got involved as a volunteer with a number of organizations, and I was especially drawn to OCIA.”
Jenette and OCIA made for potent partners, and the team eventually set out to address a glaring need in the community.
“I thought we needed to do something within the city to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,” Jenette says. “Dr. King was all about equality, and I wanted to bring everyone in Oviedo together to honor him and to promote equality in our community.”
With help from OCIA and her colleagues at the city, Jenette organized Oviedo’s very first official Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at Riverside Park in 1992. What began as a gathering of about 150 people in the park’s multipurpose room has now become one of Oviedo’s biggest annual events, featuring a spectacular parade down Broadway Street and a celebration with nearly 10,000 neighbors, requiring the event to be relocated to Round Lake Park. And Jenette continues to lead and organize the festivities to this day.
“We enjoy everything that we do,” says Danny, a 911 dispatcher for the city. “We love to help and uplift people.”
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how big your house is or what kind of car you drive,” adds Jenette. “What really matters is what you’ve done for the community, and that’s why we strive to do everything we can.”
Gary & Doris Grund: Rotary Royalty
The fact that Gary Grund recently earned the Rotarian of the Year Award from the Rotary Club of Winter Springs is impressive. That his wife, Doris, is a Non-Rotarian of the Year is remarkable. That they both earned the awards in the same year is downright unbelievable. You better believe it, though, considering how much the Grunds do for Oviedo-Winter Springs.
Gary helped upgrade the Rotary Club’s signature fundraiser this year, the Denim and Diamonds Vegas Night. The most recent event brought in $24,000, which the club will give out in scholarships and other charitable donations. That’s more than double last year’s haul of $11,000. Doris, for her part, helped secure sponsorships and silent auction items that made the impressive tally possible.
Aside from Rotary, the Grunds volunteer with the local Relay for Life, Regina Bereswill’s Helpful Hands, Kids House of Seminole, and many, many more.
“We don’t do it for thanks or recognition,” says Gary. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Jim & Marci Gordon: Boys, Boards, and Backyards
For Marci and Jim Gordon, their commitment to community service in Oviedo has its roots deep in America’s heartland. “I grew up outside Omaha, Nebraska, just across the street from the original Boys Town Village,” says Jim, a partner with Beers and Gordon, P.A., in Oviedo. “Boys Town is like its own city out there, with a gorgeous church, its own post office, a hospital, and its own ZIP code.”
“We were married at the church, and I did research for my college thesis at the hospital,” Marci adds. “Boys Town was a very important part of our lives, and we knew what important work they do with at-risk kids.”
So when the Gordons moved to Oviedo 16 years ago, they didn’t have to look far to find a worthy cause to embrace. The couple just had to wait until their own boys were old enough to make mom and dad’s community service both possible and pertinent.
“As our kids got older and started school, we finally had the time to get involved in the community, and we really wanted to show our sons that it was important to volunteer and give back,” says Jim. “That’s when we began working in the community and involving them as often as we could.”
It didn’t take long for the Gordon family to adopt Boys Town Central Florida in Oviedo as a cause close to their hearts, and it didn’t take Boys Town long to realize they had some special volunteers on their hands. “We were helping out at events there pretty often, and they really liked our story, so it was only natural for us to join the board of directors,” Jim recalls.
“Serving on the board at Boys Town is a perfect example of how we like to do ‘board service,’” says Marci. “With the kids at Boys Town especially, they really respond when they see that you care, that you’re taking the time to listen to them and show them that they are important. It’s not just about raising money for Boys Town. It’s about putting in the time to really help those in need.”
The Gordons apply the same philosophy to all their board appointments, and there are more than a few. Jim sits on the Oviedo Police Foundation board and the HOPE board. Marci spent six years on the grant board of Susan G. Komen Central Florida. She’s also vice president of the Krewe of Leaders, a longtime ambassador at the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce, and is very involved in the Oviedo Businesswomen’s Network and its scholarship programs for young women graduating from both Oviedo and Hagerty high schools.
With any extra time, the Gordons help lead the party planning committee of their neighborhood and even put on an elaborate re-telling of the Christmas story in their backyard every holiday season. Jim is also a soccer coach, formerly at the local YMCA and more recently with Florida Kraze Krush Soccer. “If you can give back, you should,” says Marci.
“Our boys get a kick out of volunteering, too,” adds Jim, “which makes us feel really good.”
Todd Cluxton: Field General
He’s been the volunteer president of the Oviedo Little League for 12 years, but “Coach” Todd Cluxton is about to go full circle… full circle around the base paths, that is.
“I coached local Little League teams for years as my boys were growing up,” Todd recalls. “Once they grew out of the league, I started volunteering as president. Now, my first granddaughter is starting T-ball, so it looks like I’m going to add ‘coach’ back into my duties for a while.”
As a coach or president, Todd has helped thousands of local children embrace America’s pastime, and his efforts continue off the field, too, as a member of Oviedo’s Parks and Recreation advisory board.
Todd has served the Rotary Club of Oviedo as its treasurer for eight years and spent seven years on the board of the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce and is a past president. He continues to volunteer at numerous chamber-sponsored community events, “usually manning the beer booth,” Todd says with a laugh.
“I enjoy giving back to the community,” says Todd, a vice president at Citizens Bank of Florida. “It’s important, and it’s fun.”
Lisa Covelli: Kiwanis and Kids
The current president of the Kiwanis Club of Oviedo-Winter Springs, Citizens Bank of Florida’s Lisa Covelli keeps her volunteer efforts focused on a theme that’s close to her heart.
“I decided to join Kiwanis because so many kids don’t have the support and opportunities that my children enjoyed,” Lisa says. “It’s unfair that those kids face so many obstacles that they didn’t create.”
Through Kiwanis, Lisa is able to help direct tens of thousands of dollars back into the community every year, much of it in the form of scholarships to hardworking, underprivileged kids.
An Oviedo native, Lisa also serves on the public relations and communication committee of Boys Town Central Florida and recently joined the Helpful Hands board. She helps distribute more scholarships through the Krewe of Leaders and is active in HOPE’s back-to-school drives and Christmas in the City events.
There’s plenty more, and it all comes back to Lisa’s intensely personal theme: “Helping kids is what tugs at my heartstrings the most.”
Regina Bereswill: Called by Crisis
About four years ago, Regina Bereswill founded Helpful Hands of Seminole County with the simple mission of helping local children and families in crisis. It was a crisis of her own that first led Regina down her path of philanthropy.
“I was a very driven woman in the corporate world until I was diagnosed with cancer,” Regina recalls. “It sent me into a tailspin, but I believed that God had a plan for me. From that plan came Helpful Hands.”
Regina’s foundation has since raised and distributed countless thousands of dollars to help local children in elementary, middle, and high schools. Helpful Hands partners with those schools, churches, Boys Town, HOPE, the city of Oviedo, and many other organizations to identify young boys or girls who may be at risk or whose families are facing hardship.
The Helpful Hands teen program works with older kids to keep them in school or help them return to the classroom or earn a GED. The athletic program gives children who could benefit from character-building athletics the chance to play on a team, an opportunity that their families could otherwise never afford.
At Christmas, Helpful Hands makes dreams come true for children of all ages − from teenagers all the way down to little boys and girls who write touching letters to Santa Claus. Underprivileged high-school seniors in the community have been able to experience the joys of graduation, prom, and the simple dignity of their own yearbook thanks to Helpful Hands.
There’s so much more, but Regina insists the underlying goal is blissfully simple. “We want to put smiles on peoples’ faces,” says Regina, who is gearing up for Helpful Hands’ biggest fundraiser of the year, A Night Under the Stars on October 11. “Knowing that we can help children enjoy all these wonderful things is what drives me now.”
Harry Arthur: Feed My Sheep
The simple Biblical instruction to “feed my sheep” is what drives the volunteer efforts of the Tuskawilla Shepherds, led by Harry Arthur. They follow these timeless instructions in big ways and small.
One Sunday every month, Harry and a cadre of other volunteers fulfill the mission, one pancake at a time, at Pathways to Care, a medical recovery facility for the homeless in Casselberry. They prepare and serve a scrumptious breakfast for the residents, complete with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and Harry’s famous banana pancakes.
On a much larger scale, the volunteers distribute food by the truckful through their Tuskawilla Shepherds foundation, which Harry’s father founded in 1991. Last year alone, the foundation provided 750,000 pounds of food to 18,000 needy families in Seminole County. This year, the foundation has set an additional goal to help stock food pantries at every Seminole County Public School. “Helping people is what it’s all about,” says Harry, who is also active in the Rotary Club of Winter Springs and many other civic groups. “That’s the whole reason we’re put here.”
Kathy McDonald: Doing the Most Good
If all you know about the Salvation Army is red kettles and ringing bells, Oviedo’s Kathy McDonald would like a moment of your time. A volunteer member of the advisory board for the Seminole County Salvation Army since 2001 (and current board chair), Kathy knows firsthand just what the dollars and cents dropped in those holiday kettles can do. “The Seminole County Salvation Army’s main emphasis is on social services,” Kathy explains. “We maintain a large food pantry that is open to any Seminole County resident in need. We also help individuals with pressing financial needs, like prescription medication and rent assistance.
“In addition to that, we are a disaster-relief center,” Kathy continues. “We can immediately bring potable water and other disaster supplies anywhere in the area as directed by emergency managers.”
Kathy is also the last remaining charter member and a two-time president of the Kiwanis Club of Oviedo-Winter Springs, and she’s a trustee for the Florida Kiwanis Foundation. “Need knows no season,” Kathy says, echoing another Salvation Army motto. “If God has blessed us, it’s incumbent on us to share those blessings.”