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The Lifeline

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A Helpful Decade

Featured Photo from A Helpful Decade

As Helpful Hands, Inc. prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary, we look back at what has become one of the Oviedo-Winter Springs community’s most, well, helpful charities.

About 50 people showed up to the first official gathering of Helpful Hands, and founder Regina Bereswill remembers thinking it was a smashing success. She welcomed the crowd, and after explaining what she hoped to accomplish in the community, Regina asked for their help. The new charity raised about $300 that day.

“Our hopes and expectations were just to tell people that Helpful Hands had been approved as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and to tell them why the community needed our charity and to garner their support,” Regina says. “We just wanted to get support from the community and help spread the word.”

The word has definitely gotten around since that first launch party. Helpful Hands now raises between $60,000 and $80,000 a year, and it will celebrate its 10th anniversary on March 2, 2019, the day Regina first filed for her official 501(c)(3) status.

The volunteer-run organization was developed to bridge the gaps between larger charities that help children and families in need. Helpful Hands enhances lives by providing many of the things that become unaffordable or low priority when a family is in crisis. While large organizations like the United Way and American Cancer Society may provide the essentials – like food, clothing, and shelter – Helpful Hands finances the things that enrich an at-risk family’s lives, such as music lessons, Little League baseball dues, or holiday gifts.

“When families are down on their luck, they can’t afford these things,” says Helpful Hands president Josh Strzalko, who joined the board in 2010. “Helping those families by keeping their kids in a state of normalcy pays dividends, both in life skills and the well-being of the parents and the children.”

The way Regina sees it, what Helpful Hands does is beneficial to these families as well as the local community.

“Ultimately, our goal is to make these kids good citizens,” Regina says. “When kids have nothing to do, they get into trouble. When kids participate in the activities we fund, they learn many life skills like sharing and camaraderie during a time when they are unstable in their homes, through no fault of their own.”

The City of Oviedo has developed a unique partnership with Helpful Hands. During two of the City’s popular events at Center Lake Park – the annual Mardi Gras celebration and the Rockin’ the Park music festivaL – Helpful Hands volunteers sell beer and wine, and the organization keeps the profits. At the BBQ Blowout, held every Memorial Day weekend, Helpful Hands also receives funds raised by the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“I think Regina and the volunteers with Helpful Hands are wonderful,” says Terri Martini Ash, the City of Oviedo’s events supervisor. “Because of their efforts and the money they’ve raised, many families and children have gotten things they that would not have been possible without them. They've helped so many children participate in things their families can’t afford.”

One of those things is called A Gift of Reading. Helpful Hands has partnered with Pine Crest Elementary School in Sanford to sponsor this program for kindergarten and first-grade students. The teachers select a particular book for the children to read and discuss, and the program culminates with the students seeing a play based on the book they have been studying.

“What we’ve learned is if children can’t read by third grade, their quality of life is severely disadvantaged,” Regina says. “So we feel   A Gift of Reading truly enhances their lives.”

During the holiday season, Helpful Hands also partners with a local women’s tennis league for the Hands Across the Net volunteer initiative. The WAIT A/B League, which includes 80 teams and nearly 1,400 women, collects gift cards from local stores and donates them to Helpful Hands volunteers, who then purchase presents for children in need.

“I’m so proud of our Orange and Seminole County WAIT A/B League and its work with Helpful Hands,” says WAIT president Telia Hazell. “Giving and gracious are two words I use when describing these ladies.”

Most of the money raised by Helpful Hands comes from its two primary fundraisers: Evening Under the Stars, which Regina dubs “a charitable date night,” and a spring golf tournament. And the group just gathered to mark its 10th anniversary and kick off the 2019 fundraising campaign (see sidebar).

“We are celebrating 10 years, but it’s really not about us,” Josh says. “It’s about our partners in the community – both the people we help and the people who help us with our mission – because without them, we can’t do what we do.”

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