By Laura Labovitz
On June 1, the Girl Scouts of Gateway council honored five local women known for selflessly pouring their skills and love into community service achievements that have impacted Gainesville. The Women Who Make a Difference award ceremony hosted 340 attendees and raised $58,000.
“Just a little kindness can make a difference, whether you write a million dollar check or walk an old lady up a flight of stairs,” said 2016 honoree Sheila Spence.
The other honorees were Florida Bridgewater-Alford, Evelyn Foxx, Nancy Hardt, MD, and Lori Emmer McGriff.
While only two of the honorees started as Brownies, all of the honorees uphold the Girl Scout mission of courage, confidence, character to make the world a better place.
“I believe in the power of every girl. Power is one of my favorite action words- along with love,” said Bridgewater-Alford. She is the proud president of the Opinionated Ladies Book Club. Bridgewater-Alford works at the University of Florida as the Campus Communications Outreach Director and adjunct lecturer at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. She is a wife and mother of two.
As a child, Bridgewater-Alford did not have the experience of wearing a Girl Scout sash, although her mother ingrained the Girl Scout Promise and Law into her character from a young age.
“My mom taught me a long time ago- yes, it’s good to be blessed. But it’s better to be a blessing,” said Bridgewater-Alford.
A mother’s dedication and a dedicated scout leader shaped fellow honoree Sheila Spence’s life as well. Spence’s mother raised her two children alone after the death of their father.
At the Women Who Make a Difference award ceremony, Spence took the opportunity to honor the troop leader who led her Brownie through Cadet years. “Rebecca McLaughlin had four of her own children, but she felt like an extension of my own family,” Spence said.
Spence grew up as best friends with McLaughlin’s daughter Stephanie, but the two lost touch for 30 years after high school. When contacted about the Women Who Make a Difference award, Spence felt the need to take the opportunity to reconnect with the women who taught her vital life lessons.
“I learned a lot of good skills from Mrs. McLaughlin. She taught me the importance of entrepreneurship before it was a buzz word. But more importantly she showed how to give to your community and beyond your family,” Spence said. “My own wonderful mom was so busy trying to make a living, charity wasn’t a big part of our lifestyle because she was just trying to get food on the table.”
From her mother, Spence credits learning work ethic and endless love as she watched her pour hours into providing for her two daughters. From McLaughlin, Spence learned that giving back to the community meant more than handing over a check.
Minutes after finding the right Facebook profile and sending a message to McLaughlin’s son, Spence was on the phone with her long lost childhood friend Stephanie, who came as Spence’s guest to the award ceremony.
While Spence’s role model Rebecca McLaughlin passed away years before, her daughter Stephanie wept as Spence used her honoree platform to give credit to the Girl Scout champion of her youth.
“I almost turned this award down, but I decided it’s important for other people to know how critical the Scouts were to me. I was very humbled, but I was also thankful for the opportunity to say thank you to so many people who had helped me out along the way – my mother and Mrs. McLaughlin,” Spence said.
Spence is a partner and chief operating officer of John Spence LLC, a business consultancy she runs with her husband, John Spence.
In fifth grade, Evelyn Foxx launched a lifelong yearning to represent the downtrodden after attending a NAACP meeting. Foxx, originally hailing from Riceboro, Georgia, is now the president of the Alachua County NAACP. She works as an independent insurance agent. Along with serving on the board of seven organizations, Foxx and her husband raised five children. They now have eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Dr. Nancy Hardt started as a Brownie in her hometown in Illinois. As a physician, a fellowship brought her to Gainesville, where Hardt and her husband had two children. Their daughter is a fourth generation physician and their son is the first nurse in the family.
Hardt spearheaded the University of Florida Mobile Outreach Clinic which provides free health care across the city. The mobile clinic stops weekly at libraries, churches, and housing complexes in neighborhoods identified as suffering community-wide poor health. She also co-founded the Source Clinic at the Levin College of Law, which serves the legal needs of people in domestic violence situations; the Safety Net Collaborative, a group of health care providers who together fill the gaps in our healthcare system; and Peace4Gainesville, which informs organizations how their services can be trauma informed, and how to build resilience in their employees and clients.
A highlight of Hardt’s career was working in the U S Congress for Nancy Pelosi. The position was part of a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship.
Lori Emmer McGriff upheld her family’s entrepreneurship spirit and took over her father’s company as the president of Emmer Development, a long established Gainesville development company.
Working is no foreign concept for McGriff, who began small jobs at her father’s company at the age of ten. She took over as president in 2001. In 2004, her father swore her into the role of president for the Builder’s Association of North Central Florida. At the time, she was only the second woman to fulfill this position.