Looking to inspire others through community awards

The Community Foundation of Ocala/Marion County has come up with new awards of recognition and a selection process that aims to ensure a nonbiased pool of candidates.


File Photo: Ashley Wheeler-Gerds, left, and Lauren Deiorio, the president/ executive director of the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County, urge people to make their final donations during the Give4Marion conclusion at the Marion Theatre in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

Home » Community
Posted January 22, 2023 | By Julie Garisto, julie@magnoliamediaco.com

Anyone who’s ever participated in a recognition award knows that status can sway decisions at times and influence who gets honored in the community.

For once, in 2023, it may not be about whom you know.

The Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County has not only come up with a new community awards event, but they have outsourced the selection process to prevent any favoritism during the selection process of recipients of the inaugural Inspire Gala awards.

“We wanted to highlight donors, volunteers, board members, corporate partners and really anyone who is helping serve the nonprofit space for the betterment of the community,” explained Ashley Wheeler-Gerds, the director of strategic and community engagement for the foundation.

The Road to Wine Country Inspire Gala will be held March 3 at the Hilton Churchill Ballroom. The decor will borrow inspiration from California and Italian vineyards.

There will be a bourbon and wine pull during the cocktail hour for guests, as Gerds described it. Labels will be obscured, and guests can bid on bottles of wine that carry a retail price of between $20 to $1,000, but the cost of the bid will only be $20 to $750 pending the pull category you choose.

“So, you’ll pay $20 to pull a bottle and you could get $20 wine, or you could get a $50 bottle of wine,” she explained. “It’s a fundraiser with multiple levels to help raise funds for The Community Fund. We’re collecting donations from donors in the wine community, too.”

“As we continue to grow as a community, The Community Fund will help address  community needs as they arise and ultimately improve the quality life for the citizens of Marion County”, said Community Foundation President and Executive Director Lauren Deiorio.

Because there hasn’t been an overall awards presentation or dedication bringing all of the individuals together and honoring them for their contributions to the community, the foundation, according to Gerds, “wanted to create the Inspire Gala for two things: to help honor those people who are very well-deserving and to help inspire others and the community to continue to do better, learn about opportunities for helping to serve our local nonprofits, volunteering and where donations are most needed in our community.”

Gerds also emphasized that she wanted to make sure that during the nomination process and voting of winners, she and her colleagues at the foundation would proceed as authentically as possible.

“With our process, there’s a nomination form that has to be filled out and submitted to myself from local members of the community. Once the form has been fully completed, I will redact the nominees’ name as well as who nominated them, and they’re assigned a number in an Excel spreadsheet. After all nominations are collected by award category, they will be sent off to another community foundation outside of Marion County to be voted on with their committee or board in early February.”

The Community Foundation works with both sides of charitable endeavors. The members help support the donors in their community, while also supporting the nonprofits where a bulk of those donations are sent.

“So, we’re making sure that one, the donors are protected and helping use their dollars the best way possible and making those dollars stretch as long as possible,” she said.

“We’re also helping the nonprofits to not only receive donations but to also work with our grants department and help them write and receive grants from many different organizations outside of our donors so that they can continue to be funded,” she added. “We also provide technical assistance to the nonprofits on business management and finance management, marketing, strategic planning, building a strong board and foundation for their nonprofit to ensure that they are successful in our local community.”

The deadline to submit nominations is Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. Nominations must recognize an individual from each of these categories: Youth Philanthropist of The Year, Emerging Nonprofit, Nonprofit Board Member of The Year, Nonprofit of The Year, Corporate Partner of The Year, The Unsung Hero and Philanthropist of The Year.

Nomination forms can be found at ocalafoundation.org. Completed nomination forms may be emailed, mailed, or dropped off at the Community Foundation office at 324 SE 24th St., Ocala, FL 34471.

Voting, Gerds said, will be strictly based on merit and nominees’ contributions to the community through their dedication, time and resources to create a better Marion County.

If you’re making a nomination, review all guidelines for nominations, category requirements, and complete all information.

To respect the privacy of local philanthropists, the Community Foundation acknowledges that some aren’t comfortable with recognition. So, each nominee will be called and given the opportunity to have their nomination pulled if they choose.

The entity that submitted the nomination will remain anonymous within the Community Foundation, and the top three nominees for each category will be notified of being a finalist and will be given the opportunity to attend the Gala with a guest.

For more information, call Gerds at 352-622-5020, ext 105 or email ashley@ocalafoundation.org.