Community Fund taps its past by honoring Humanitarians of the Year

Article by Jay Heater, Observer, November 9, 2022

The room at Station 400 in Lakewood Ranch was abuzz with activity.

Assembled Wednesday were what Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh called “the best of the best” when it came to doing humanitarian work in the community.

The Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation board held a breakfast Nov. 9 to honor the past winners of the C. John Clarke Humanitarian of the Year award.

The idea was to not only honor the past recipients of the Humanitarian of the Year award, but to perhaps also reengage them with the goal of unifying the community to support the many nonprofits helping those in need.

“Oh, my gosh, energizing is the word for this,” said Barbara Najmy. “I think we are all here to empower each other to continue the good work we’ve done.”

Najmy and her husband, Joseph Najmy, were the Humanitarians of the Year in 2019.

Joseph Najmy, a former Community Fund board member, said he was happy to see the current Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation board trying to expand on the charitable work that has been accomplished over the years.

“This work has tentacles that I am sure the initial founders are so proud to see,” he said.

Diane Brune, the 2018 Humanitarian of the Year and a former president and board member of the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation, said the past winners of the Humanitarians of the Year had never been brought together before.

“I am very happy and surprised with the energy in this room,” Brune said. “I love this new phase the fund is going through.”

The Community Fund is coming off a successful Wine and Giving Oct. 27 at the Esplanade Golf and Country Club that sold out with 260 in attendance. The event raised more than $50,000 profit to go toward the grant program that benefits the region’s nonprofits.

With the Community Fund board hoping to host more events in the future, it wanted to tap the previous Humanitarian of the Year award winners for guidance. Station 400 agreed to host the event to further the cause.

“I am beyond words,” Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation President Nicole Ryskamp said. “This is such great energy.”

Lakewood Ranch Community Fund Executive Director Adrienne Bookhamer told the former Humanitarians of the Year that the board is committed to making a huge impact in the community.

“Thank you so much for being a part of our history,” she said. “We try to remember where we came from. This is John Clarke’s vision, to make the community better.

Clarke is the former Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO who founded the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation with the thought that no strong community exists without a charitable arm.

“We want to continue that (vision),” Bookhamer said. “We want to find out how to can make a bigger impact.”

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