Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa Bay, Chicago, Mesa, Arizona or Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Sherwood White – Family Promise
Life battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the fellow who thinks he can
– From the poem “A state of Mind” by Walter D. Wintle
Back in an era when players never left the field for the entire game and wore helmets with no face masks, Eddie Harrelson, the high school football coach in the tiny town of Bastrop, Louisiana, would recite Walter D. Wintle’s inspiring poem to his team before every game.
The players sat riveted and then rushed the field fully engaged.
More than 60 years later, the talented right end on that team can still deliver that famous poem from memory. And he remains fully engaged…in life.
For Sherwood White now nearly 81 years of age, Wintle’s prose provided the fuel for his life’s course, one that required much fuel.
“I have been on my death bed three times,” he says. “The doctors say ‘the only way you’re still here is because you want to be.’”
And, there are many needy families who are glad he is. Especially those at Family Promise of Pinellas County, a bridge program for homeless children and their families that offers intensive case-management and enrichment opportunities to enable long-term sustainable living. They do so by partnering with local congregations, civic groups and other community resources.
White has been closely involved with the organization’s upper management in a volunteer role since before FPPC opened the door of its Day Center in April 2015. He guides fellow volunteers who work on personalized budget counseling, and has himself worked directly with most of the families. He is tireless in his efforts to help.
“No matter what I ask for, he always says yes,” says Family Promise Director Jennifer Sunshine.
He also likes telling bad jokes and his Elvis impersonation in full dress should not be missed. White also works out regularly and likes to point out that at 215 pounds, he weighs the same as he did during his playing days on the gridiron (although he admits the waistline doesn’t quote match).
And, while he has helped countless folks map out their life’s journey, his own hasn’t been easy. Born the oldest of seven children in Promised Land, Arkansas, White’s challenges began as a senior at Louisiana Tech where he attended school on a football and track scholarship. The season after he was named to college football’s “Little All America” team and just six weeks after marrying Virginia, now his wife of 59 years, he began losing weight. A lot of weight. Eventually he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
“I spent six months in the hospital and my football career was over,” said White.
“They don’t know a whole lot about ulcerative colitis now and they knew nothing about it then. The doctor that did the surgery on me had never done it before.”
The procedure called for an ileostomy (an opening in the abdominal wall) at the ripe old age of 22. Undaunted, he recovered, learned to live with it and went on to earn his degree in chemical engineering.
White took a job in Bastrop, worked on the first ever local United Way Campaign and was named the city’s “man of the year.” He was just getting started. “I’ve always been involved in my church and my community and have always had a strong commitment to family,” he explains.
After getting transferred by his employer several times, he made a departure from the field of engineering and ventured into the world of financial planning. After less than three years in the company’s Mobile, Alabama bureau, he was assigned to St. Petersburg, an agency ranked 109th out of 100 in the United States. After five years under White, that office rose to a 15th ranking. He was a natural. Forty-six years later he is still at it.
Along the way he got deeply involved with First Baptist Church eventually bringing the congregation into the Family Promise volunteer network. Somehow, he found time to team with Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon to help create the area’s first Ronald McDonald House, threw himself into Rotary and became a key board member for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.
More community connections followed.
“I was at a Free Clinic fundraiser,” recalled White, “and someone asked me if I had heard of Family Promise in New Jersey. Was I aware of their model? Could it work here?”
After perusing their plan, he went to work and with others building the foundation that would become Family Promise of Pinellas.
There was another group White would soon begin a relationship with: the Lighthouse for the Blind.
White was losing his sight, the result of Macular Degeneration. He is now legally blind.
What he didn’t lose was his “want to.”
“Your attitude, not your aptitude determines your altitude. Your attitude can make all the difference,” White says.
While retirement from his business was imminent, he was a long way from slowing down. Thanks to the technology and support he received from the staff at Lighthouse for the Blind, he was able to focus on helping with the finances of those in need.
Lighthouse helped White get special programing for his computer that makes the font and icons much larger and can read the paper to him. He also received a device that can enlarge writing big enough to see.
“I get up in the morning with three objectives,” says White, “Learn something new every day, make a difference in a positive way in someone’s life and third – have fun doing it. You’ve got to learn to use what you’ve got to the best of your ability.”
That he has. In two and a half years, Family Promise, with his help, has shepherded 27 families- including 63 kids – from homelessness to back on their own with a sustainable budget and a life plan.
“When you can take a single mom with no GED and five kids and get them back on their feet, that’s saying something,” says White. “I don’t cry at supermarket openings, but with these families I will tear up to see what they have accomplished. When they leave here they leave as professional adults with kids they can be proud of.
“They have to show us they want to make things better for them and their family. But,” he cautions, “they have to want to do better, they can’t just wish it.“
Something Sherwood White knows a little something about.
– Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation