TAMPA – While what might be Carrollwood’s party of the year is still six months away, Ginger Willms is already working hard.
Willms volunteers at the Bob Sierra Family YMCA in Northdale and was a recent recipient of the Hillsborough County Volunteer of the Year from the Bob Sierra Y, 4029 Northdale Blvd. She works tirelessly on many of the projects sponsored by the YMCA, but she is the director of the annual Carabana event, slated for November of this year.
And while people still ask her what Carabana means – actually, its a made-up word – the event is very real to the Bob Sierra YMCA. It raises thousands of dollars and Willms makes it all come together. This year there will be a country music theme and the very-secret Y’z Guys – a group of men who like to remain anonymous – are already on the hunt for the event’s main prize. In the past, they have rebuilt cars, jeeps, and many other items for the auction. Willms is already setting up the music and putting in plenty of volunteer hours, making it truly a labor of love.
“I love volunteering here,” Willms said. “There are a lot of people that need our services in Northdale and Carrollwood. It can be the person next door or the person down the street. They work, they have summer camp for their kids. Just go to our workout room. You have professional athletes next to people who are here on scholarships that were provided by the YMCA.”
Last year the YMCA provided more than $750,000 in scholarships for families who couldn’t afford to join the YMCA. In keeping with the policy that no family ever gets turned away, it’s up to Willms and her team of volunteers, numbering about 20, to raise the needed funds.
Willms works tirelessly and is proud of what she does.
“The Bob Sierra is a blueprint for the entire area,” Willms said. “The people get to know you. We have a lot of people that come here, some who area wealthy and some who aren’t and need the help, but no one ever needs to know who does and doesn’t need help. Carabana goes a long way to helping out.”
Carabana, she says, is a party with a purpose. It’s a casual event that attracts so many that there is a limit on tickets sold. Last year the event netted more than $100,000. The money doesn’t go to overhead or employees or advertising.
“Every penny goes to the kids,” Willms said. “It’s all about volunteers and everyone who donates items for the auction.”
Donated items come from around the Tampa Bay area. All of the professional sports teams donate as do many of the area golf courses. Willms is grateful but said she is always looking for more donations as well as more volunteers.
Willms has been at the Bob Sierra since 2005. She started helping out with Carabana and was quickly asked to take over. She jumped into the party head first.
She is also very involved in the national YMCA gymnastics championship that the YMCA will host on the first week in July. Hundreds of kids from all over the country will descend upon the YMCA during that week. Once again, Willms needs plenty of volunteers and when she gets plenty of volunteers, she said she needs plenty more.
Willms has a lot on her plate the next six months, but she said it is all worth it.
“I love this place,” she said. “There’s nothing like it.’’