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7 Who Care Honoree 2012: Tom Dignam

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 9:55 am

You can't walk too far through Englewood before meeting someone who knows Tom Dignam and appreciates his far reaching impact on the community.

The lifelong resident has spent decades making his hometown a better place to live and raise a family. He's tonight's ABC 7 Who Care honoree.

Summer campers at the South County Family YMCA are taking on The Tower. It’s an imposing climbing apparatus that paratroopers at Fort Benning used to train on, until Dignam helped bring it to Englewood. Now, it helps build the self-esteem of the city's youth.

"Well, I know it helps with our team building and stuff, because when some of the kids can't make it, the other kids down here and they'll coach them up," says Trish Valere, camp counselor.

After climbing, the kids have a shady place to rest under the "Dignam Family Pavilion." Oh, and when they have to use the bathroom, that's named for him too, because none of it would be there, not even the YMCA facility itself, if not for tom.

"He was the volunteer that really took the ball and ran with the actual building campaign. He helped us get the 33 acres donated and he helped us secure the one million-dollar lead gift from Mr. Warren Laurenger. That was the gift to get this project going and then we had a lot of people fall in after," says Pat Ryan of the YMCA.

"People always ask me, What do you do for a living? and I say, I'm a professional beggar, and they say what do you mean? You know you have to talk to 100 people to make one hit and I don't mind being turned down."

Just a few miles west of the YMCA, along the pristine beaches of Manasota Key, sits the hermitage. "This building here was started in 1907 by a man by the name of Johansen."

Artists, writers and composers from all over the world go there for inspiration. It’s a spot in paradise where their creative talents can flourish, and it would be a beach parking lot today if not for Tom Dignam. He helped lead the remarkable effort to restore these historic buildings, and yes, there's a cottage with Dignam's name on it. "I said, yeah I can help ya, I'm not an artsy person, but I can help get things done and that's how I got involved."

"The impact of what Tom's work has been is felt all around the world, because the work that is being done here, it’s being created here and is being performed around the world in some of the major spots," says Bruce Rodgers, Exec. Director, The Hermitage.

Tom Dignam has left his mark on Englewood, and the city and the people who live here are better for it. He inspires others to follow his lead to give, not only their money, but their time and talents as well.

He also plans to keep giving for many years to come. "Well, there was a book that was written and it was called "Die Broke" and it says the last check you should write is to the undertaker and it should bounce, and that's my theory and I'm hoping that other people will follow me. That's it. (laughs)."

Many of the children you saw at the y's summer camp are there because of a group known as "Kids' Needs." The non-profit group that Tom helped start, pays for their summer camp and helps countless other children in Englewood with free back to school clothes, shoes and supplies.

It’s just the latest way Tom Dignam is making an impact in the city he loves.

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Eleanor Ball