Heart of the Community

The Heart of the Community Gallery

Our Heart of the Community Gallery is a place where the community can honor philanthropists, non-profit organizations, and fundraisers with a picture and a short commemoration.

This gallery is a benefit of patronage for Tampa Bay Philanthropy Week and begins at the $500 level. If you would like to purchase a Heart of the Community spot, you can contact the National Philanthropy Day Committee at npdchair@afptampabay.com. All submissions should include a high resolution photo of the honoree and a short blurb no more than 250 words.


Howard and Deanna Bayless with their daughter, Emily, and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation Board Member, Thaddeus Bullard, at the 2022 Heroes Ball.

The Bayless Family

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation gratefully recognizes the Bayless Family in the Heart of the Community Gallery.

When their one-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2005, Howard and Deanna Bayless were devastated. They knew they had to find the best possible care for their little girl and were both thrilled and relieved to discover it was right in their own backyard at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. Grateful for the gift of seeing their daughter live life now as typical teen, they have made a leadership gift to name the Bayless Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and give hope to others who are dealing with such a life-changing diagnosis.  

In addition, the Bayless Family made the 2022 St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation Heroes Ball a night to remember when Howard and Deanna served as Chairs for the spectacular black-tie event and, for the first time in the event’s history, raised over $1 million for St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital which will go to help fund early-phase treatment options at the Bayless Children’s Cancer Institute. Their daughter and pediatric cancer survivor, Emily Bayless, spoke at the event and received a heartfelt standing ovation from 600 guests after sharing her emotional battle.

Thank you to Sara Leonard Group for the inspirational message to fundraisers and philanthropists in the Tampa Bay community!

John and Sheila Auer

John Auer retired in 2018 after starting and growing American Strategic Insurance (ASI) into an ultra-successful insurance company in St. Petersburg. John has a passion for flying, and they spend much of their time flying to their favorite places, with John in the pilot’s seat.

The Auers are as passionate about philanthropy as they are about flying. John and Sheila have touched so many lives in the Tampa Bay community and beyond. Truly giving of their time, talents and treasure, they dig deep to explore charities for which they feel an affinity, seeking opportunities to provide meaningful, transformative gifts to elevate those programs and enrich the community.

Sheila’s father received hospice care in Ohio that allowed the family to keep him at home in his last days. Then in 2020, both John’s mother and Sheila’s mother received hospice care at the end of their lives. John’s mother was cared for by Suncoast Hospice, and the Auers felt a strong desire to learn more about Suncoast Hospice and all the programs in Empath Health’s network of full life care, including their newest project, a Veterans Adult Day Center in St. Petersburg. John and Sheila provided the lead gift, naming the ‘Empath Health Auer Szabo Veterans Adult Day Center’ in honor of their mothers.

Sheila started visiting Southeastern Guide Dogs for puppy hugging. She and John began volunteering, learning about the organization and ways to help. They rallied ASI employees for the Southeastern Guide Dogs Walkathon. John served on the board. They helped fund construction of the Puppy Academy, where puppies are born an early education begins. They provided the lead gift for the John and Sheila Auer Training Center at Canine University, where guide and service dogs receive advanced skills training. When puppies and dogs show they would enjoy life as pets, they can be adopted. The Auers adopted their beloved goldador, Penny. Penny now serves as an ambassador at Southeastern Guide Dog events.

When Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas in 2019, the Auers felt compelled to help the islands they love. John recalls the situation: ‘There was so much damage – homes destroyed, no food, no running water, no electricity. They needed so much help.’ John volunteered to fly people and supplies to the Islands. Working with Sol Relief in St. Petersburg, which provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief with the use of aviation, John flew over forty trips in his plane, often two trips per day to bring generators, water, diapers, food, and whatever else was needed. They even housed Bahamian refugees in their own home until they connected with family members, and matched donations for Sol Relief. Rebuilding is ongoing and John regularly returns to help. John has also flown with Sol Relief for hurricanes in the Florida Panhandle. Through these efforts, the Auers have directly helped thousands of people affected by disasters in their most difficult times.

John and Sheila and their family are Ohio State University Buckeyes, through and through. Over the years, they have made gifts to their Alma Mater, most recently supporting the Ohio State Athletics Facilities by creating the Auer Tennis Complex.

Introduced to Feeding Tampa Bay by friends, the Auers were impressed by how efficiently Feeding Tampa Bay collects food that would otherwise be destroyed and distributes it to individuals in need, and by their efforts to help people get on their feet so they don’t continue to require food handouts. They hire and train homeless and others, helping them become self-sufficient. Together with his friend and business partner, they are principal donor for a new warehouse facility to help Feeding Tampa Bay meet the growing need for food and services in the Tampa Bay area.

ASI and Tampa Bay Watch shared a common office building in the early days. Their relationship grew when ASI served as presenting sponsor of their annual fundraiser, Evening on the Bay. The Auers continued to be impressed with the mission of Tampa Bay Watch and its Marine Center in Tierra Verde. They provided a gift to name the Auer Marine Education Center in Tierra Verde and the Terrapin Turtle Exhibit in the TBW Discovery Center, a special favorite of Sheila’s.

Sheila and John feel they have been very lucky in their lives and have the ability to give back and support organizations that help others. With philanthropic hearts, curious minds, and a desire to roll their sleeves up and get involved, the Auers truly embody the definition of philanthropy.

Bob and Cathy Smith

Mother Theresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Bob and Cathy Smith live that statement. Bob could have easily chosen to continue his work as a clinical psychologist at the James. A Haley Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa or shift into private practice. Cathy could have continued serving as a psychiatric nurse. On that path, they would have impacted the lives of hundreds in Tampa Bay.

Instead, they opted to impact the lives of tens of thousands around the world.

In 1978, they started PAR, a company focused on helping psychologists better the lives of others through the publication and distribution of psychological testing products.

They cast a stone across the waters of the profession 44 years ago, and it continues to ripple.

Today, PAR is a leading publisher of assessment resources and digital products including the PARiConnect online testing platform developed to meet the needs of professionals in psychology, counseling, education and health care.

The Smith’s ripples don’t stop with psychologists and counselors. They generously support a number of nonprofit organizations, including United Way Suncoast. The Smiths’ relationship with United Way dates back to 1977, and in 1998, they became members of United Way’s Tocqueville Society, its leading affinity group. They also have encouraged PAR staff to contribute, and PAR has sustained 100 percent employee participation in its United Way employee campaign for more than 20 years.

The ripples they have created in six different decades have produced a tide of goodwill, lifting up this community and the world of psychology and counseling.

Ashley Young

One Hernando County mother has turned a tragic and unthinkable loss into her quest to safeguard children from a common danger, childhood drowning. In 2020, Young’s twin 10-month old boys got out of an open door in her home while she was making breakfast and both fell into the pool. Cash was not harmed, but his brother Burke lost his life. Drowning is the leading cause of infant and toddler accidental death. Most drownings in children ages 1 to 4 happen in family pools. Ashley and her husband Dave had looked into pool fences and swim lessons, but she shared that she “thought she had time.”

After getting over the shock of losing Burke, Ashley’s number one priority became getting Cash swim lessons and safe around water. She learned everything she could about drowning prevention and began searching for lessons for her son. She quickly found that in the entire area of Tampa bay, there were no lessons available for a one-year old that would ensure he was safe around water. “If he had learned to float and roll in the swimming pool, Burke would have been fine, “shared Ashley. She made it her mission to find a solution for son Cash. She connected with a mother who had also lost a child through drowning who shared information on the “FLOAT” program at her local Y in Tennessee.

Ashley was determined to ensure the program was available for her son and other families in Hernando County. She learned that the cost needed to train a certified instructor and begin the course locally was less than $5,000 and quickly mobilized community members to raise the needed funds to bring the “FLOAT” program to the Hernando County YMCA.

“I never want any mother to experience what we experience through losing our son through drowning. This is a preventable cause of death and we can all work together to skill our children and help them be able to survive.” Ashley is working with other donors to expand the “FLOAT” program to other Y’s in the Tampa Bay area with her goal to ensure it is available nationwide.

The YMCA of the Suncoast is grateful for the time, treasure and love Ashley has given and continues to in the memory of her son, Burke.

Danielle Chard

Danielle Chard is a loyal advocate for WUSF Public Media and widely considered the embodiment of the WUSF spirit.

Her love affair with public radio began at her grandfather’s knee as they’d listen to his transistor radio. As a child, Chard was so enamored with the shows that she would hide the radio under her pillow to listen to stories when she was supposed to be sleeping. At six years old, she started donating a portion of her allowance to the local public radio station – the first step in what would become a lifelong tradition of supporting public radio.

Now, she is a Cornerstone member of WUSF 89.7, Your NPR Station, and Classical WSMR, Florida’s Classical Music Station. Chard’s generosity recently translated into a legacy gift to advance the future of radio journalism. The Danielle E. Chard Endowment for WUSF Public Media, created through a life insurance policy, will one day provide paid internships for students working in the WUSF newsroom. Danielle also serves on WUSF’s Advisory Board as chair of the Donor Relations Committee, and previously on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which she hopes its values will be promoted through her legacy gift.

Even with the popularization of various forms of entertainment like television and social media, Chard finds that the radio speaks to her in a unique way.

“The WUSF journalism team goes to the very heart of the matter,” said Chard. “They provide excellent, in-depth reporting of the Tampa Bay area and all across Florida.”

Blaine Russell

Mr. Blaine Russell is a WWII Naval Seabee Veteran, father of four, grandfather of six and great grandfather of seven. He and his lovely wife Billie shared 60 years together before her passing and he continues to carry her love with him each and every day. Along with his devotion to his family, he believes that giving back to others is one of his biggest blessings in life. At 100 years old he may not be able to give physically but he will do
whatever he can however he is able, including helping to build brighter futures for the children at Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Mark Lalli

On 8-November 2007, Mark Lalli, serving in the US Army as Crew Chief on a Blackhawk helicopter, survived a crash that killed 6 of 11 crew and passengers on board. He spent 19 months as an inpatient at James A. Haley VA Hospital recovering from a traumatic
brain injury and a multitude of other injuries that would change his life forever.

During the course of his recovery, Mark engaged in many types of therapy, including equine-assisted therapy at Quantum Leap Farm, where he met and married his lovely wife Margo, a Social Worker by training. Since then, Margo and Mark have had three children – fraternal twin girls Cassidy and Phoebe, and a baby boy Dave. Cassidy has special needs and both girls also participate in equine-assisted therapy.

Margo and Mark are each incredibly tough, resilient, and hugely kind and generous individuals. They derive great joy from helping others who are struggling, as their own struggles inspired their passion and compassion for veterans and special needs children.

Margo and Mark’s generous financial support has made significant impacts on multiple veterans’ service organizations, equine-assisted therapy programs and other organizations providing services for individuals and families coping with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities in the Tampa Bay community.