Luz Corcuera learned the value of community service at a young age, when the Peace Corps traveled to her home country of Peru. She brought her growing passion to Florida nearly two decades ago.
As the executive director of UnidosNow, she empowers local Hispanics to pursue higher education. She and five other philanthropists — the common thread behind local education, health, science and development in Manatee County — were honored on Wednesday afternoon.
Approximately 500 people gathered at the Bradenton Area Convention Center for the annual Spirit of Manatee luncheon, hosted by Manatee Community Foundation for the past 14 years.
“At a time when the conversation nationwide is centered on the crisis of leadership, and our values are in question, all we have to do is turn to Manatee County and see the generous leaders and philanthropists in this room,” Corcuera said. “This is a place we are so proud to call home.”
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Before she accepted the Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award, one of her young successors took the stage.
Mina Quesen, a senior at Braden River High School, founded the UnidowsNow Club at her school, and her involvement at Braden River extends to the creative writing club, school newspaper and media center. She accepted the Young Spirit Award on Wednesday afternoon.
Quesen said mentors inspired her involvement in the community. In turn, she serves as a mentor to others.
“I strongly believe that everyone has a voice,” she said. “Behind the person we see every day, there is something worth hearing, and there is a story worth knowing.”
Donors and volunteers often work quietly behind the scenes. And while the community foundation awarded locals for their good deeds, each shifted the focus to others — those who paved the way for their success.
“Community plays a very important part in one’s success,” Steve Bayard said.
The Manatee Performing Arts Center, in Bradenton, nominated Steve and Sara Bayard for this year’s Lifetime Spirit Award. They were a driving force behind the center’s construction at 502 Third Ave. W., and the Bayards are equally involved with Meals on Wheels PLUS, which provides home-delivered meals to those in need.
Steve Bayard said he was blessed with a loving family and rewarding career, one that allowed him to travel the world and want for nothing. Family values, hard work and luck were behind his accomplishments, but so was a community of supportive peers.
“It’s a lot more rewarding to see one’s estate help people now, in this life, than waiting until we are both 6-foot under,” he said. “For us, it’s payback time, a joyous time of helping make other people’s lives better.”
Caleb Grimes, an attorney in Bradenton, is known for spearheading “Invest in Kids,” a $7.5 million campaign to rebuild the DeSoto Boys and Girls Club. His father, Bill, helped to found Boys and Girls Club of Manatee County in 1946.
Grimes started as a member of the club, and he recently served the organization as a member of its corporate and foundation boards. He accepted the Leadership Spirit Award on Wednesday.
“All of the things that one organization does for our kids in our community, and especially our underprivileged kids, is awe-inspiring,” he said.
The Community Spirit Award went to a company that donates one-third of its profits to the charities within its markets. Mike Bear, the general manager at Dex Imaging, described the staff as its own community.
They volunteer and donate equipment to worthwhile organizations, Bear said, emphasizing the importance of local relationships.
“Let’s not go through life with the breaks on, even when it’s a little tough driving on Manatee Avenue right about now,” he joked.