SARASOTA, Fla. -- The 5th Annual Unity Awards were held Tuesday in Sarasota. The event honors organizations and individuals embracing the range of humanity in the workplace and community.
This year's winners span a range of categories, from health care to the arts, among them the Zenith Insurance Company, and Artis-tree CEO Joe Gonzales.
The Unity Awards are organized by Biz(941) and La Guia magazines, who say their purpose is to showcase those on the Suncoast who promote diversity
Here's a full list of the winners, as published in the January issue of Biz(941):
Eladio Amores, has worked to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities since the age of 12. He currently at Goodwill Manasota, and works with employers to hire people with "barriers to employment-disabilities No. 1, and also criminal records, or people who are coming off welfare, or young people who have no work experience but need a job," he says., when his older brother became a quadriplegic and Amores became his attendant.
Laura Safer Espinoza is the first executive director of nonprofit organization Fair Food Standard Council, headquartered in downtown Sarasota. The Fair Food Standards Council works to ensure the rights for more than 30,000 of Florida's tomato pickers. Those rights include an extra penny per pound for the tomatoes they pick, clean drinking water and other basic decencies.
Zenith Insurance Company is a workers' compensation insurance company with offices in seven states, has been in business for some 60 years and has always had a commitment to diversity. Two years ago, the company decided to formalize its commitment to its 1,400 employees, 215 of whom are in downtown Sarasota, by instituting a diversity and inclusion program. Zenith's Diversity and Inclusion Councils include members from every level of the company. Every employee goes through training to build trust. Zenith employees receive paid time to volunteer at the All Faiths Food Bank, and the company partners with Easter Seals of Southwest Florida to provide work experience for high school students with disabilities and learning challenges. The company also has sponsored NAACP events and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Such efforts have led to an increase in company bowling leagues, baseball teams and a greater mingling of employees.
Nate Jacobs, who founded the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe-one of only two professional black theater companies in the state-back in 1999 was a natural outgrowth of both his theatrical background and his passion for mentoring youth. Now, celebrating its 15th anniversary, WBTT enjoys a building that has been completely paid for, a sellout season of shows, dedicated board members and "graduates" who've gone on to perform on Broadway and around the world.
Joe Gonzalez. In 1990, he bought a lawn maintenance company in Venice now known as ArtisTree. Gonzalez, 66, took the company from a four-man mow crew to a 250-member workforce serving Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties. Annual revenues are now about $17 million. Gonzalez believes in providing opportunities for his employees. ArtisTree's robust recruitment program puts Hispanic workers in managerial and foreman positions, women in management roles and people over 50 in a variety of jobs. The company conducts a number of employee appreciation programs, including an annual safety-training barbecue where account executives prepare and serve lunch to the crews.
Neil Phillips, founder, CEO and principal of Bradenton's Visible Men Academy, an elementary-level public charter school started in August 2013 that caters to boys from low-income families. The school currently serves students in kindergarten through fourth grade, with plans to add an additional grade each year through eighth grade. The school currently serves 105 boys, Only 17 percent of the boys entered the school reading at grade level; by the end of the year, more than 70 percent of the student body had reached that reading benchmark.
Shon Ewens, of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County. There programs begin at pregnancy, teaching women of all ages and walks of life how to care for themselves and raise healthy, productive children. But the disparity in birth outcomes between the advantaged and disadvantaged has always been difficult to navigate. Ewens is especially proud of the Save My Life program, which provides free prenatal and postpartum support for African-American families. It's the first and only program in Sarasota County to concentrate on this population. The program has been remarkably successful. In 2005, in Sarasota County, there were 23 deaths of babies more than 20 weeks old per 1,000 deliveries for African-Americans compared to 4.8 deaths per 1,000 deliveries for Caucasians. During 2012, the fetal death rate dropped to 7 per 1,000 deliveries for African-Americans compared to 5.5 for Caucasians. Infant mortality also declined for African-Americans.
Ken Shelin was a 2012 Unity Award winner as part of the Sarasota County Bar Diversity team. This year, we honor Shelin as our Alumni winner for his ongoing work to win rights for the LGBT community. He recently earned cheers when he stood up at a Sarasota Bar diversity event and said, "I'm Ken Shelin, I'm a Sarasotan, and I'm gay," in 2012 convinced the city of Sarasota to establish a registry of domestic partners so that unmarried couples of any sex have the same basic rights, such as participating in health care and end-of-life decisions, as their married counterparts.