I had a chance to sit down with Gina Spicer, Event and Fund Development Coordinator for Manatee Children’s Services the other day. Gina, a New Jersey native and model, moved to Anna Maria Island when she was 13. In high school, she was a beauty queen runner up in the Manatee County Fair aka Hernando / De Soto Historical Society. An active member in the community, Gina now speaks up, saving children’s lives.
Q- Everyone remembers you as the owner / operator of Turtle’s bar on Anna Maria Island in the early 90’s. You owned the bar for about 8 years and then closed it. What made you decide to close Turtles?
A- I wanted to get married and raise a family. I was in my early thirties and I was ready to move on and settle down. I did get married soon after and had two beautiful daughters.
Q- You have said that you never did any charity work prior to Manatee Children’s Services, but I’ve heard you did some fund raising when you owned the bar. Can you elaborate?
A- Yes, I was one of the first people to have benefits at Turtles to raise money for band members and their families when someone was sick or had passed away. I saw a need and I wanted to help, nothing more.
Q- When you were a stay at home mom, besides raising your two girls, what did you do to occupy your time?
A- I ran my husbands business, the office and also did the same for my brother.
Q- How did you get involved with Manatee Children’s Services?
A- The CEO of MCS, Melinda Thompson, approached me at their annual Country Night and asked how everyone in the room knew me? She said they could use someone like me on their team and asked me to join. I couldn’t say “no” to such an important cause.
Q- What is your job description with MCS?
A- I am the voice, I am the advocate for abused and neglected children.
Q- Where do the donations go?
A- “MCS provides a full spectrum of care through programs such as our Street Outreach Program, which provides homeless youths with food, transportation and support, our community’s only shelter dedicated to providing a safe haven to child victims, mental health services and other child abuse prevention programs.” Another important program is Grandparents As Parents (GAP) which provides support to grandparents and other relatives who are raising their kin. As a non-profit organization, we count on all donations to help support our programs and ongoing projects.
Q- Are there a lot of success stories in the Child Welfare System?
A- Yes, there are. I can think of two young men off the top of my head. Both had been living on the streets and each of them, I’m proud to say, are college graduates today. Without the help and resources offered by Manatee Children’s Services, I’m afraid to say both boys would be statistics today.
Q- Are the statistics on child abuse and neglect in our community on the rise or decline and why?
A- Unfortunately it’s on the rise and it is mainly because of the economy. People tend to think of child abuse as being only sexual when in fact there are many forms. Leaving your child in the car while you go to the local bar and drink your worries away is a prefect example of the neglect and abuse we see in our community on a daily basis. Many parents are repeating patterns of learned behaviors and therefore the cycle continues under the stressful conditions we find ourselves living in these days.
Q- You got divorced last Spring. Like so many other single parents out there what are some obstacles that you have been facing and how have you been dealing with it?
A- The biggest obstacle has been my daughters blaming themselves, saying, “It’s their entire fault.” My children are the most important things to me and it breaks my heart. “I have been dealing with this by going to therapy with the kids and co-parenting the best I can.”
Q- There is a “Giving Challenge” coming up. Tell me about it and why it is so important people make their donations at noon?
A- The 24-Hour Giving Challenge on May 6 and 7 is very important to a charity like MCS. We are asking people to donate at least $25 or more preferably at noon because every dollar will be matched until the matching funds are exhausted! Last year it only took 10 minutes until it was exhausted, so it is very important to go on-line with a major credit card to www.givingpartnerchallenge.org, select Manatee Children’s Services, Inc. and make your donation. If you can’t afford to donate, we are asking you to please visit www.manateechildrensservices.com during those 24-hours. The most visited charity website during the challenge will win a $5,000 grant. Your donation is a gift for the future, a gift that will make a difference in the life of a child.
Q- What are some of your most favorite accomplishments since joining MCS, how have things changed since you’ve come on board, and what are your future goals for the charity?
A- I’ve put this charity on the map. No one knew who they were or that they even existed before, I am proud I could do that. Things have changed because we are getting the word out and raising money that is much needed for these children, our children. This is our community and I am happy I can be the one who speaks on their behalf. As much as we’ve accomplished together, there is still more work to be done. “Children are one third of our population and all of our future.” We’re going to keep educating, raising money, supporting and assisting the community with the services we offer. Last year we helped over 14,000 children and families and we will continue until we win the battle.
Q- What do you want your legacy to be?
A- That I was someone who cared, who spoke up and spoke out, who fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.
Gina Spicer, mother, advocate, and community leader is still fighting on behalf of the innocent, silent voices of our neglected and abused children. She dedicates her time to her helping other, working with other charities, foundations, musicians, and businesses in our community. In case you are wondering, yes, Gina has a lot of energy. We are fortunate to have her as a neighbor, a friend, and a voice.