United Way Givers Gala honors those who inspire


Inspiration was the theme of the 5th Annual United Way of St. Johns Givers Gala, as community leaders and partners gathered to support and celebrate the agency’s service during challenging times.

More than $200,000 was raised at the black-tie gala held Jan. 28 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort. In addition to both live and silent auctions, the evening featured cocktails, dinner and dancing to the sounds of the Bold City Classics band. But the focus of the evening was on honoring those who provide the inspiration for all United Way of St. Johns does for those in need.

“There’s no denying the past couple of years have added some new challenges for so many of our neighbors,” United Way Campaign Vice Chair Dick Williams told attendees. “Tonight, we want to shine a light on those that have given us strength and inspiration to meet those challenges. You know, very often it’s the people around us that raise us up – the people who challenge us to do more and give more.”

Kelly Green, chairman of the United Way board of directors, agreed. “Tonight, this very room is filled with those whose generosity inspires us and fuels our belief that together we can do so much more,” she said, noting that in the past fiscal year, the organization had a $2.37 million impact on the local community. “Because of you, we celebrate the givers.”

Receiving the organization’s annual Corporate Award was The St. Augustine Distillery and its co-founders Phil McDaniel and Mike Diaz.

“A real community partner from its founding, this company has contributed greatly to the revitalization of one of the most historic sections of St. Augustine,” United Way CEO Melissa Nelson said. “By working together with the residents they serve, the distillery shows us that a generous company and a successful company are not mutually exclusive.”

MasterCraft Founder and CEO Chris Shee received the Nancy Burns Trailblazer Award that recognizes an individual who creates new opportunities for “Living United,” while the Legacy Award was presented to David and Nancy Hutson, whose son, state Sen. Travis Hutson accepted the award on their behalf. The Hutson Companies was the presenting sponsor for the gala.

The John and Peggy Bailey Sr. Community Leadership Award, meanwhile, was presented to Len and Jean Tucker in recognition of their fundraising efforts for both public and private schools throughout the Southeast and military.

“Len and Jean have made a mark not just on this community, but on a far larger scale,” Nelson said. “Because of their leadership and enthusiastic support for an extended list of causes and organizations, our community will be positively impacted for years to come.”