TAMPA — The YMCA is known worldwide as an institution focused on cultivating values, skills, and relationships that promote positive behavior and healthy lifestyles.
Since its founding in 1844, countless persons have bought into those principles and fostered the same in the lives of others, most notably the younger generation.
Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA recently honored two such people in the community.
During its Community Impact Dinner, the organization named Paul Tolson as the New Tampa YMCA’s 2014 Volunteer of the Year for his outstanding contribution to the Teen Leaders Club.
This group is one in which youngsters ages 12 through 17 receive leadership training and learn the importance of social responsibility and service to others.
Tolson, 22, a junior at the University of South Florida, went through the program himself and because of its positive impact on him as well as his compassion for teens, has voluntarily headed up the program for about two years.
“The kids absolutely adore him,” said New Tampa YMCA Executive Director Monica Mirza.
She noted that Tolson averages about five hours weekly overseeing the club’s activities. He also accompanies the teens each summer to the Blue Ridge Leaders School in North Carolina, where he takes separate courses while they are in class.
Tolson, who also served as a Y youth summer camp counselor, said the more time he spent with the kids, the more he began to contemplate a career that involved interacting with young people.
He initially majored in chemistry at USF, a subject in which he’s always excelled, and planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, a chemist. But he’s since changed it to education with aspirations of becoming a teacher.
“This award means a lot to me,” he said. “These kids can come to me for most anything and I’m honored to have a part in shaping their lives.”
Lionel Ballard was named 2014 Volunteer of the Year for his contributions to the First Tee of Tampa Bay, a program that operates under the umbrella of the Tampa YMCA and got its start at Rogers Park Golf Course in West Tampa, where he grew up.
Using the game of golf and an established set of core values, First Tee provides the opportunity for young people to develop life-enhancing values such as self-confidence, perseverance and good judgment.
While still based at Rogers Park Golf Course, there are also First Tee after-school and summer programs in place at several other area golf courses, of which Ballard is involved.
“He has been devoting his time to the First Tee for more than 10 years ... starting and maintaining a mentoring program, and much more,” said Ian Baxter, the First Tee of Tampa Bay executive director.
“Lionel’s primary thought is whatever is good for the kids, and everything else is just details,” Baxter said.
Ballard, retired following a 40-year career with TECO, said he was surprised by the award and the attention it’s brought him.
“I just want to be a part of helping these kids, and I want to see them stay off the streets,” said Ballard, who noted that many of the youngsters he works with live in the inner city and come from single-mother homes.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]