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2023 Volunteer Appreciation Awards!

Congratulations to RFL's Mentor of the Year Al Illustrato, Volunteer of Year Carolyn Baum, and MVP of the Year Denise Rodriguez!

Mentor of the Year: Al Illustrato

Al & His Mentee Jimmy

Tell us a little about yourself:

I am retired after over 31 years with Tampa International Airport. I’m originally from the Bronx, NY and have lived in Clearwater since 1989. My wife Lisa and I en


joy doing a wide variety of outdoor activities, and giving back to the community through the various groups we are involved with.


Why did you choose to get involved with RFL?

I met someone through another volunteer opportunity, and she thought it would be a good fit for me with my background and patient nature.

What do you like about being involved with RFL? To be there for struggling youth who need a little help to find their way in life, and hopefully be able to enjoy many of the wonderful things available to them out there.

What’s your favorite memory related to RFL:

The first time we had a group get together with mentors/mentees playing games, etc. It was so cool to see all the camaraderie and caring in the room.

What’s your Mentee’s Name:

Jimmy Reese


What’s one thing you love about your mentee?

He is a kind person who always does his best to give someone else a hand when he can.




Volunteer of the Year Carolyn Baum

Tell us a little about yourself:

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, and a volunteer. I have had careers as a County Extension Home Economist, an elementary School Teacher and a Bank Marketer. My father was in the Navy, which meant we moved several times, and I changed schools many times. To this day my brothers and I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories which tend to enrich our lives.

Why did you choose to get involved with RFL?

Since I retired I have volunteered at organizations which support people in communities near me. When I heard Michelle Walag talk about the former foster youth RFL services, what services RFL provides and the impact RFL has on the lives of these people, I wanted to get involved.


What do you like about being involved with RFL?

The thing I like the most is getting to know and do activities with the former foster youth. I am amazed when I see their resiliency and determination to improve their lives. So often I feel inspired by their stories. I also enjoy meeting other volunteers and hearing about their experiences with RFL. I have met many dedicated and generous people.

What’s your favorite memory related to RFL?

My favorite memory was watching a video of my mentee, Gloria Richardson, speaking before the Florida legislature advocating for House Bill 1101 that would maintain extended benefits to former foster youth until they are 21. She was poised, mature and articulate. Gloria is only 18 years old. It just “blew me away”!


You’re an RFL Mentor too, correct? Yes.

What’s one thing you love about your mentee?

My mentee is Gloria Richardson. My favorite thing about Gloria is her enthusiasm. She has been working hard to finish her last year of high school and receive her diploma. Then she will be attending college. I have known Gloria only a short period of time, but I feel that Gloria will be successful in college and a leader among her peers.



MVP of the Year Denise Rodriguez

Tell us a little about yourself:

I am a woman who is eagerly discovering and embracing her Life Force and how I can share that energy giving back to my community in whatever capacity is most impactful. I have been given much and it gives me joy to share with others.

Why did you choose to get involved with RFL?

My employer is a civic-minded organization that encourages its employees to get involved in community matters and after a former colleague organized a volunteer

event at RFL, I found it to be an interesting organization that I felt I could contribute to.

What do you like about being involved with RFL?

RFL serves a unique purpose as it strives to serve the needs of an incredibly underserved community of vulnerable youth. The staff is a family of its own making which creates a genuinely supportive and loving environment for those they serve. I feel privileged to be a part of this valuable organization.

What’s your favorite memory related to RFL?

My favorite memories all relate to the reaction of the little ones when they were greeted by Tanya the Turkey, the Christmas Grinch, or the Easter Bunny. They are so happy and the hugs I get from them are priceless.



Want to get involved with RFL? Visit our Volunteer page or register to become a volunteer here

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