‘Angels’ needed for on-call help

Published on: March 5, 2014


A local woman in her mid-40s had a full-time job and was going to nursing school part time, and was also the main caregiver for her disabled mother. She was managing to do all this — until she developed a tumor that had to be surgically removed. Many complications ensued, and she was unable to return to work for quite a while. Her recovery at home was also complicated because their air conditioning was not working, and it was in the heat of summer.

That’s where the Brandon Foundation came in.

“One of our service providers made a house call and was able to easily fix the AC at no charge,” said Jill Lansky, who, with Janet Noah, heads the Angel Program at the Brandon Foundation. “What a lifesaver he was,” said Lansky.

Noah agreed, saying that such service providers are invaluable to the Foundation’s Angel Program. “We couldn’t run it without them.”

While The Brandon Foundation is mainly designed to annually present checks to charities that submit applications, it has one fund that gives directly to people in need.

Those gifts are usually in the form of a service, like having a car repaired, or a resume written, or plumbing repaired, because the Angel Program is relationship-driven, not an agency that hands out money.

Steve Holland, owner of Brandon Auto services, says seeing the results from working with the program shows it is well worth the effort.

“We repair vehicles for families who have serious transportation issues,” he said. “I encourage every person and business to join the Brandon Foundation and see what you can do to help. I have personally met with each person we have helped, and respect the struggles they live with on a daily basis.”

The program is now especially in need of plumbers, roofers, yard-maintenance persons and dentists.

The Foundation’s executive director, Rich Strehl, explained the scope and purposes of the foundation, and the geographical area in which it works.

Strehl said that when he first came to the community in 2007, he joined the Brandon Chamber of Commerce just as Foundation members were planning its annual golf tournament, one of its three big yearly fundraisers. When he offered to help, the chamber introduced him to someone in the Foundation who gave him a crash course in what the Foundation does to help those in need and how they make the money to pay for it.

“Every year local charities come to us to be registered for grants,” Strehl said.  “There’s an online application, so they can easily see if they meet the criteria.”

Application deadline is each September. “That gives us October and November to go through the applications and see what we can do,” said Strehl.

Last year, for example, $100,000 was given to the community by helping charities that assist residents in a variety of ways, from the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Once the applications are examined, charities are chosen and amounts are assigned to each application. The awards are announced and given out at the annual Charity Check Presentation Dinner held at the Florida State Fairgrounds in November.

As executive director, Strehl has come a long way from tearing down signs and emptying the trash, as he did at that first golf tournament in 2007.

Now he helps coordinate a board of directors. When all are present, the board numbers around 30.

Most board members are involved with individual projects in groups of four and five, so they don’t meet often as one large group, Strehl said.

The Foundation covers all of Eastern Hillsborough County, encompassing both Brandon and South County, but it also gives to veterans’ projects no matter where in the county they are, such as the Haley House in Tampa. Veterans’ families who require help may also live anywhere in the county, Strehl said.

“We meet the needs of household members of active-duty military personnel all over the county as well,” he said.

The Angel Program is a separate program within the Foundation and operates unlike the Foundation’s main mission, which is giving to charities.

Instead, it gives directly to people who have life-threatening diseases or who have suffered a catastrophic event, Strehl explained.

Janet Noah and Jill Lansky, the program’s leaders, explained: The Angel Program is all about a relationship with a service person helping someone in need who can’t pay for their services.

This could mean giving a gift card for food or getting a car repaired, or even writing a resume for someone who has to go back to work after a long absence because a breadwinner has died. Or maybe finding a resume writer for a woman who is suddenly widowed and needs to go back to work.

“We never reinvent the wheel,” Strehl said. “Emergency food and other services that are strictly financial are usually referred to places like ECHO.” ECHO is the Emergency Community Help Organization and has a long history of giving food, medical care and other immediate services.

There are specific ZIP codes included in the Angel Program, which extend from Seffner and Brandon through FishHawk, Riverview, Dover, Gibsonton, Wimauma and the rest of South County, and also two areas classified by the Post Office as Tampa ZIPs. The program does not go as far east as Plant City.

“Unfortunately, we can’t count something like losing a job or home as a catastrophic event,” Strehl said. “They may be catastrophic to the family, but we can’t help everybody, and that would mean choosing one or two from many. So we stick with things like a house burning down, or renovating a home for a serviceman who suddenly finds himself or herself in a position to need a wheelchair.”

A charity that wants to participate (or receive money) must first register as a charity with the Foundation by filling out an application. Most, but not all, are nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations. But some they give to might include a parks department, he said.

Much — in fact, almost all — of the help given to individuals through the Angel Fund, however, is service-driven, he said. That means Foundation members getting on the phone and asking service providers like builders and lawn service persons to do jobs for those who need but cannot afford them.

“We don’t just hand out money,” Strehl said. “We keep a list of people who have volunteered their time and services.”

Right now the group is planning for the March 15 Golf Tournament sponsored by Brandon Hyundai. The preceding  night is a luau party with six Bay area restaurants participating. Information and registration can be done online at

In September, at the Straz Performing Arts Center in Tampa, will be a wine and food festival sponsored by Brighthouse Networks. 

The Foundation’s major fundraising events each year are the golf tournament, a wine and food festival and the annual charity check presentation dinner, Strehl said. Donations come in from sponsors, attendees and a silent auction, he said. The funds go to the designated charities, such as the Angel Program.

Founded by Anne Nymark and a group of her friends in 2003, the Brandon Foundation has worked quietly to help many all over the county.

“We always consider the depth of the need based on the amount of money to be granted,” Strehl said. 

The overall mission of the charity is also considered as each year from seven to 10  board members evaluate the applications. This is always overseen by the Board of Trustees, which finalizes whatever its Advisory Board lists.