Bruce Abels

A lawyer, a logistics advisor, a tax advisor and a Lakeland couple who raised more than $100,000 for the United Way of Central Florida’s early education programs were honored Thursday during the agency’s annual meeting.

An estimated 275 people at Thursday’s ceremony looked on as Kyle Jensen, Bruce Abels, Tripp Barnett and Ronnie and Laura Hedrick were recognized for their contributions to their community.

Jensen, a lawyer with Clark, Campbell, Lancaster, Workman & Airth in Lakeland, received the Difference Maker Award for his involvement with Lighthouse Ministries and the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, where he serves on the boards of directors, and his support of the George Harris Youth Shelter.

The George W. Jenkins Outstanding Volunteer of the Year went to Bruce Abels, former president of Saddle Creek Logistics Services and currently president and chief executive officer of Fairfield Logistics Advisors in Lakeland.

The last five recipients of the award selected Abels for his service on the boards of VISTE, the Salvation Army, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center, Catholic Charities of Central Florida and his 23 years with the United Way of Central Florida.

The staff of the Lakeland-based United Way office selected Barnett to receive the 2021 Citizen of the Year Award in recognition of his longtime commitment to the agency’s projects and staff.

“Often being mistaken for an employee, he takes the lead on many projects in the United Way of Central Florida office, taking on tasks to make sure that our office runs smoothly and efficiently.” said last year’s recipient, Joy Johnson.

“Beyond our office walls, he has been a volunteer for over 30 years with Habitat for Humanity and Angel Flight, putting his pilot’s license to use by providing free medical flights for patients in the Southeast.”

In presenting the Philanthropist of the Year Award to Ronnie and Laura Hedrick, Ashley Bell Barnett commended the couple for their commitment to the United Way:

“They have held matches for leadership gifts, hosted many events at their home, including virtual events during the pandemic, and this past year, extended a match request in honor of my mother-in-law, Carol Jenkins Barnett, raising record funds for early education.”

Also recognized for the United Way fundraising campaigns within their businesses were Black & Brew Coffee House and Bistro, CPS Investment Advisors Inc. and Publix Super Markets Inc., and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Grady Judd were presented the Spirit of Central Florida Award, which honors an organization that exemplified the community’s giving spirit.

At the ceremony, it was announced that United Way’s Family Fundamentals program will be renamed to honor the memory of Carol Jenkins Barnett, who championed the Success by Six concept. Family Fundamentals will move to the Florida Children’s Museum at Bonnet Springs Park this fall and be called the Carol Jenkins Barnett United Way Children’s Resource Center. The announcement was made in this video:

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Suzie Schottelkotte has been a journalist in Polk County since 1981, having worked for The Tampa Tribune and The Ledger. She is currently a free-lance reporter for LkldNow.

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