Giving Back: David Wilkins

Business leaders are a critical part of every community, and your commitment can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child and the success of a family. Business leaders are a critical part of every community, and your commitment can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child and the success of a family. Your incredible skills and resources can help children who are placed in foster care and can also help parents who are trying to achieve self-sufficiency and live the American dream.

I was formerly an executive in a global high tech corporation and I always understood the value of giving back to our local communities. When Governor Scott appointed me to the role of Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to both apply my business skills to help government run more efficiently and apply my passion for helping others in a big way.

As a business leader in Northwest Florida, I hope you share a similar passion for giving back — not just financially but also personally. Our youth and disadvantaged Floridians need your help. They need to hear your stories of success, understand the roads to independence and get valued mentoring and coaching to achieve dreams similar to those you have dreamed.

A great example of giving back is John Armentrout, 62, a small business owner in Pensacola who runs Muffler Masters. At a Rotary Club meeting a few years ago, he heard about “Bridges to Circles,” a grassroots initiative led by Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida with support from DCF and Families First Network (the local community-based care agency providing services to kids and families).

Armentrout signed up to be an “ally,” sharing his wisdom and experience about running a business with individuals and families who have crafted a plan to lift themselves out of poverty. This self-proclaimed ‘’car guy” also gives free advice to “Bridges to Circles” participants on the roadworthiness of vehicles they use for transportation. And his contacts as a lifelong Pensacola resident come in handy since he knows who in the community to reach out to for help.

“These are people trying to get out of poverty rather than people wanting us to hand them a welfare check. I like that idea,” he says. “The concept of it made me want to help.” He is proud of his work with a middle-aged woman, a great cook who wanted to start her own food business. She has reached her goals of getting a laptop and a car and is attending Pensacola State College to earn a culinary management degree. “I try to give back to the community. I think everyone should do that,’’ Armentrout says.

David Wilkins was appointed Secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families by Gov. Rick Scott. He left a 29-year career with Accenture, a global management, consulting, technology and business operations company, where for the last five years he headed the global sales organization of the Accenture Health and Public Service business, which operates in more than 25 countries and generated sales of near $4 billion. He has been an active volunteer at the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes for the past 14 years and helped launch “Orphan’s Heart,” a successful international child care services program.

There are other wonderful opportunities for business people to consider:

» Many community agencies serving children and families appreciate any help you can give them. Boys Town North Florida based in Tallahassee, which works with both boys and girls, is grateful for the many extras provided by local individuals and businesses which donate their time and money for projects varying from birthday celebrations to tutoring, pizza parties, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas presents, a new roof for a Treatment Family Home and building an outdoor pavilion for ping-pong games. For children in foster care who may never have had a birthday party, experiences like these can be very special.

» You can employ a young person currently in foster care or formerly in foster care. Or consider providing a youth with job mentoring, job shadowing or an internship. Teens in foster care and young adults who age out of foster care at 18 need job skills as well as employment. Under DCF’s Operation Full Employment initiative, more than 100 current or former foster youth are employed by DCF, non-profit agencies and private businesses.

The support you give will be incredibly important. Your belief in children who have experienced trauma and disruptions or families struggling to reach economic independence is priceless. You can be a figure of friendship, strength and support in their lives so they begin to feel a sense of hope about themselves and their future.

I congratulate and thank business leaders who have made a difference in the lives of children and families in the area served by 850 magazine, and I encourage others to take that step. I think you will find the rewards to be as great for you as the people you help.