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East County Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 1 year ago

Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance volunteers stack up against the best

Hay maze at Nathan Benderson Park among the nonprofits helped by the LWRBA.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

For the members of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance volunteering at Nathan Benderson Park Oct. 5, it was OK for them to get lost in their work.

And why not? They were building a maze.

The group was just one part of the Alliance Gives Back special event held Oct. 4-5. More than 150 members of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance worked to help 20 area nonprofits that had asked for assistance.

John Rojas of the Bank OZK tosses bales of hay into the maze to be stacked.

At Nathan Benderson Park, the Alliance members were asked to build a hay maze next to the children's playground. The maze will be available through Halloween.

Bob Whitford, the director of facilities and operations for Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, explained to the LWRBA members, mostly made up of Bank OZK managers, along with Erik Hanson of Norton Hammersley, the services available at the park. Whitford gave the volunteers a diagram of the maze and turned them loose.

The temperature was climbing toward 90, but no one seemed to mind.

"The community gives us so much," said Jason Osborne, a regional manager for Bank OZK. "And Benderson Park is such a focal point. It brings the community together."

AnneMarie Graff, the Sarasota branch manager of Bank OZK, said even the volunteers benefitted. "I knew it would be a great opportunity for team building," she said. "We have such a great group."

Hanson, who said the park is his children's favorite playground, noted the LWRBA was ready to host such an event.

"It was time," he said. "We hit a growth point (at the Alliance). The Alliance wanted to build relationships with our members and non members."

Did he feel the same way after sweating for two hours?

"I will love seeing the smiles on the kids' faces," he said.

Heather Kasten, the CEO of LWRBA, said a new community engagement committee was formed early in 2018. They came up with the idea for The Alliance Gives Back and set it for a time when they hoped the heat would subside a bit.

Erik Hanson of Norton Hammersley said he enjoys giving back to Nathan Benderson Park, which is one of his two children's favorite places to be.

"We wanted to connect with the nonprofits," Kasten said. "They communicated their needs. There was a thousand moving parts to this."

LWRBA reached out to more than 50 nonprofits and were asked for help by 21. Kasten said her group was unable to help one, which needed some professional construction skills that the volunteers just didn't have to offer.

She was hoping for 75 volunteers to fill the needs, and she got twice that many.

"I was blown away (by the turnout)," she said. "I couldn't believe the excitement behind it."

She said LWRBA lived up to its slogan, "The Power of Connection."

Besides Nathan Benderson Park, other nonprofits receiving volunteer work included Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation, Food Bank of Manatee, Prospect Riding Center, Suncoast Blood Bank, Easter Seals and 14 others.

Harvey Ruiz, Annemarie Graff, Jason Osborne, Abe Sanchez, SANCA's Bob Whitford, John Rojas, Erik Hanson, John Lang and Seth Wiepking.
















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