Effective community service requires a careful balance of passion, persuasiveness and dedication. Those qualities are the essence of Floridian Steve Uhlfelder who serves as the voluntary chair of the state’s mentoring effort and voluntary CEO of the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, among his many volunteer service duties.
Mr. Uhlfelder was born in Florida and believes in giving back to this state. From his days as student body president at the University of Florida, he has led by asking one question – what is the right thing to do? As an attorney and president of Uhlfelder and Associates, P.A., a governmental relations firm, Mr. Uhlfelder plays a significant role in the development of state policy. During the Presidential recount in 2000, he was a voice of reason serving as a volunteer consultant to ABC News.
Mr. Uhlfelder’s commitment to children and education dates back nearly four decades in his education advocacy and mentoring efforts. He voluntarily worked with Governor Jeb Bush on the campaign trail in 1998 to develop the Governor’s Mentoring Initiative, which has propelled Florida to become one of the leading mentoring states in the nation, currently with more than 206,000 active mentors. As the initiative’s first volunteer chair, working alongside Governor Bush, national leaders such as Colin Powell and many of Florida’s leaders, Uhlfelder has been instrumental in the charge to allow state employees one hour off each week to mentor, recruiting corporations to follow that lead, persuading individuals and community groups to join the cause, and working with city governments to adopt mentoring as a focus. He regularly serves as a passionate and persuasive spokesperson to the many mentoring groups that comprise the Florida Mentoring Partnership, and is a regular, voluntary contributor to the media on issues that relate to mentoring. Currently Mr. Uhlfelder voluntarily serves as Chair of Florida Mentoring Partnership – an association of mentoring groups of every kind, whose aim is to keep mentoring at the forefront of Florida’s policy and practice.
Mr. Uhlfelder’s commitment to youth and education is vast. He was appointed by President Bush to voluntarily serve on the board of the prestigious Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, of which he is now Chair. He is a former member of the Florida Board of Governors, the body overseeing higher education in the state; he previously served on the Florida State University Board of Trustees; and was Chair of the old Florida Board of Regents. All of this service is given as a volunteer.
Besides having an important role in setting education policy in Florida, Mr. Uhlfelder for the past 12 years, has tutored and mentored children in the Leon County School System, his home, and is known to personally help the families of the children he mentors when he sees a need arise – providing jobs, information and caring.
Simultaneous with his mentoring charge, over the past two years, Mr. Uhlfelder has dedicated, and continues to dedicate, hundreds of volunteer hours in mobilizing Florida communities to assist one another in hurricane recovery.
In just over one year the state of Florida has survived eight hurricanes, causing major damage to Florida communities and lives. In response, Governor Bush established the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund in 2004 and designated the nonprofit Volunteer Florida Foundation to manage it. Mr. Uhlfelder was asked to serve as Voluntary CEO of the Fund and volunteered a minimum of 30 hours per week in the tedious four months that followed, to get the Fund, fueled by private donations, established. The Fund is designed to make recovery dollars stretch by meeting needs not covered by insurance and government funding. Today this Fund has served as a model and advisor to Florida’s sister states in the Gulf, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, who have established similar funds for long-term recovery. The Fund also has provided technical assistance to the Bush-Clinton Fund, and most importantly, has gained the support and confidence of Floridians for its effectiveness in moving recovery along – a process that typically takes five years to complete.
Mr. Uhlfelder continues to volunteer countless hours each week as the Fund’s Voluntary CEO, to ensure its commitment to Floridians remains strong and viable. Since the Fund’s inception, Mr. Uhlfelder has been instrumental in helping raise nearly $24 million in donations and pledges to the cause. Among his major accomplishments: he was instrumental in mobilizing Florida’s legislators – Democrat and Republican – to hold a fundraising dinner in Washington, D.C. for Florida hurricane relief in 2004, and in the midst of political fundraising in 2005, he orchestrated the gathering of a bi-partisan group of officials in Tallahassee to raise funds to help Katrina evacuees that came to Florida for refuge.
Mr. Uhlfelder has been just as effective in helping the Volunteer Florida Foundation staff develop financial guidelines and grants to quickly encumber funds to Florida communities in need through assistance to more than 300 community and faith-based organizations working in recovery. As a public voice for the Fund, Mr. Uhlfelder continues to help encourage Floridians to volunteer in the long recovery effort, most recently through the Fund’s Neighbors to the Rescue program for Wilma survivors, which has a virtual warehouse and an adopt-a-neighbor system that makes recovery more cost-effective and efficient.
Mr. Uhlfelder’s tireless dedication and volunteerism to his home state is an inspiration to all Americans.