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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Heroes walk among us every day

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During a break Saturday at the Lightning’s hockey game, the camera flashed to Trish McGuigan and showed her face on the giant video board hanging over the center of the arena. The announcer told the large crowd about her work at The Spring of Tampa Bay. We learned she was being named the Lightning Community Hero, and that the team’s foundation was donating $50,000 to her favorite cause.

That’s a grand and fitting reward, but I would suggest she and those many others who care for the needy and abandoned of our community deserve something else — perhaps a standing ovation, or even an extra cookie in heaven. The best gift of all, though, might be a heartfelt “thank you” to those who are a lifeline for the ones society has a tendency to forget.

Since the Lightning singled out McGuigan as the 100th recipient of the Community Hero award, we’ll start with her. After retiring last year from work at a doctor’s office, she came to The Spring as a volunteer to serve the women and families that are victims of domestic violence and other life problems.

The Spring has no office manager. There is no paid receptionist. Everyone pitches in, so McGuigan answered phones, filed papers, and basically did what hundreds of others do in similar positions throughout the city.

“She said she just didn’t want to sit around and be bored. She wanted to give back in a meaningful way. She is a very humble person. She goes about her work with quiet dedication,” said Mindy Murphy, the organization’s executive director and CEO.

“She doesn’t seek attention for herself. Allowing me to nominate her (for the award) was yet another gift she gave to The Spring. She did this to help us even more than she does. She wants to give back.”

Just helping out around the office wasn’t enough, though.

She took an intensive 30-hour course required for direct service volunteers, and then she really got busy.

The Spring is a 102-bed facility, and this time of year it’s not uncommon for the facility to be full. A lot of the families come seeking shelter with barely the clothes on their backs. To help those families, Keller-Williams and California Closets combined to refurbish an old executive office into a clothes closet of about 250 square feet.

“Because we have so many different women of different sizes, we have clothes in there from a size zero all the way up to a size 30 or more,” Murphy said. “Trish took charge of it completely. It was a huge job, but she organized it and runs it.

“She sits in that closet. Women make appointments and (she) goes on personal shopping trips with them. She helps them pick things out, but mostly she sits and listens to them as they unload their burdens.”

Finding someone to listen isn’t easy, especially these days. People are so busy and distracted that they sometimes can’t see those who fall through cracks in the system. But do you think people like Trish McGuigan make a difference?

“You should see it,” Murphy said. “Women will run up to Trish just to talk to her, tell her about their families or that they got the job they were hoping for.”

That sounds like a hero to me.

We have a lot of heroes in this town, like the angels at Metropolitan Ministries or any of the other many charities staffed by people who care. From those who ring the Salvation Army bell, to those in the churches who offer aid and comfort, there is more goodness here than we sometimes understand.

That’s also true for the Lightning, and owner Jeff Vinik, for starting this program. And for men like Rays manager Joe Maddon and his annual Thanksmas program, and for the Bucs and their charity work.

And to Hospice, which received $5,000 from McGuigan’s award.

The remaining $45,000 that goes to The Spring?

“That will fund two weeks of the entire cost of the shelter,” Murphy said.

Yeah, although it might not always seem this way, there is hope because there are heroes who live and walk among us. Just take a look around. Chances are you will see one.

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