When Monaca Onstad left her post in 2022 as community relations director for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to launch her own business, she made it clear she wasn't leaving Lakewood Ranch.
And while her role in the community might have been different, she continued to work on the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities board.
On Jan. 11 at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities' Community Appreciation Awards event was culminated with its Volunteer of the Year award.
Onstad heard her name called, and her hands went to cover her face. Tears fell, and the standing-room only crowd exploded with applause.
"I'm shocked, surprised, elated," said Onstad, who owns OnPlace, a lifestyle and amenities firm. "The Lakewood Ranch community is so in my heart. I love it here, and this is my home."
Onstad said working with Keith Pandeloglou, the CEO and president of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities, made everything easy.
"With Keith's leadership, Lakewood Ranch Community Activities has been built to where it is today," she said. "Everything I brought to Keith (as an idea), he said, 'Let's try it.'"
Pandeloglou guided a fast-paced event that provided plenty of news.
A combined event with the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund, a major announcement was made when Lakewood Community Fund President Mark Clark announced that the nonprofit had changed its name to the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation.
Clark said the new name should give Lakewood Ranch area residents confidence that the foundation will be "laser focused on Lakewood Ranch."
"This is a new chapter," he said.
John Clarke, who was the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO at the time he founded the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund in 2000, listened as Clark talked about the nonprofit's changes and its goals for the future.
"It's wonderful," Clarke said.
Clark also told the crowd that the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation will use a new tagline of "Open the Door."
"We will open the door to many new opportunities in 2024 and beyond," Clark said.
The Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation presented 13 grants to area nonprofits for a combined $60,363. Since its inception, the LWRCF has awarded $1.5 million in grants. In 2024, it will award grants quarterly as opposed to previous once-a-year grant presentation.
Clark talked about the new Builders Give Back program that began in 2023. Anchor Builders, Homes by Arthur Rutenberg, Homes by Towne, John Cannon Homes, Lee Wetherington Homes, Pulte Homes, and Stock all make a donation to the foundation every time they sell a home and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch will provide matching funds.
The foundation introduced its Junior Humanitarian of the Year, ODA student Amy Kwakye-Amoah, and runners-up Marcella Hymes of Lakewood Ranch High and Brayan Hernandez of Manatee High.
"This has been a humbling experience because of the amazing people I have met," said Kwakye-Amoah, who will graduate in May. "I have learned a lot about myself. I had to learn to advocate for myself."
Despite her busy schedule during her senior year, Kwakye-Amoah gives back to the community through groups like Healthy Teens.
She was accompanied by her parents Daniel and Rhoda Amoah, who both said they were proud of her daughter working so hard both for herself and the community.
"I have always said there is time for the most important things," Daniel Amoah said.
Pandeloglou, who serves on the boards of the Lakewood Ranch Community Foundation and the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, introduced a new volunteer program where residents can go to any of the three websites (LWRCA, LWRBA, LWRCF) and be directed to the same site where they will be able to see all the volunteer opportunities as well as being able to sign up. People also can be asked to be matched with a nonprofit.
"We have needs in this community that touch every socioeconomic group," Clark said.
Pandeloglou said a link should be active on the three websites by Feb. 1.
The Community Appreciation Awards were sponsored by Gold Coast Eagle Distributing and PDQ Chicken.