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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 10 months ago

Follow Through

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Tom and Debbie Shapiro see the difference Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County makes in children's lives. That's why they continue to support the organization.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Tom Shapiro attended the YMCA and was involved in the Boy Scouts from elementary school to high school, achieving its highest rank of Eagle Scout. “I'm a big believer in youth programs,” he says. “If we get them when they're young, they might not need as many social services programs later on.”

Shapiro, the owner and president of Sarasota-based countertop manufacturer Sterling Manufacturing, says his involvement in youth programs allowed him to see firsthand what youth organizations can do. “In a similar way,” he says, “Boys & Girls Clubs teaches life skills.”

He got involved with the organization after Sarasota homebuilder, philanthropist and prominent BCG supporter Lee Wetherington asked him to join him on a tour of the club. Shapiro says, “I liked the way the kids were engaged with the leadership,” and the “mutual respect between the two groups.”

Adds Shapiro: “It's more than a gym and swim.”

That was more than a decade ago. Shapiro, who bought Sterling in 2002 and has led it to around $25 million a year in sales, has served on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County board since 2007. He was chairman from 2013 to 2015. In March, Boys & Girls Clubs of America named Shapiro Board Member of the Year for the Southeast Region.

Tom Shapiro's wife, Debbie, is also involved with Boys & Girls Clubs. Debbie Shapiro, an ombudsman with the state of Florida who assesses long-term care facilities, chaired the Boys & Girls Clubs' annual Dream Makers Ball fundraiser for two years with Tom. She secured many of the silent auction items for the balls, and the events netted more than $440,000.

One of the couple's biggest impacts on Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County is the Tom & Debbie Shapiro Career Resource Center that opened at the facility off Fruitville Road in 2016. A major gift from the Shapiros allowed the organization to create the facility, which is a center for vocational training, college preparation, entrepreneurial workshops and job interview preparation. (The organization declines to disclose how much the couple donated for the center.)

“There's a lot of need in the area for technical skills,” Tom Shapiro says. Some companies in the community can't find enough employees to fill open positions, and workers in the building and culinary industries are particularly in demand.

Tom Shapiro says the entrepreneurial program at the center also trains students how to conceptualize, plan and start a business. The second class is going through the program now, and 20 students have already participated.

Club officials plan to add new programs at the career resource center, Debbie Shapiro says, including preparation courses for the ACT exam. Officials are considering establishing a similar program on other campuses, too.

The impact of the Career Resource Center and other programs at Boys & Girls Clubs on children is clear to the Shapiros. “You can see the confidence level in them change,” Debbie Shapiro says. That's her favorite part of being involved, she says — watching the children grow.

The next Boys & Girls Clubs mission Tom Shapiro will take on? He's chairing a committee dedicated to what the organization calls strengthening program impact, a major initiative. The Shapiros will also continue supporting many Boys & Girls Clubs programs and events. “In our family,” says Shapiro, “we were always taught if you're successful, it's your responsibility to give back to the community.”

Executives: Tom and Debbie Shapiro
Organization: Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County
Giveback: The Shapiros have made significant donations, established a Career Resource Center and planned fundraisers; Tom Shapiro serves on the board and is a past board chairman.
Mission: Support youth programs to help children succeed.

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