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Longtime YMCA supporter named top Camp Cristina volunteer

— Bubbles, marbles and a car trunk filled with toys and canned food are the tangible embodiment of Jill Andrew’s philosophy of life.

Andrew never leaves home without a bottle of bubbles tucked in her pocket. The marbles are readily available in a jar on her desk at work to dole out to anyone who has figuratively lost theirs. And the toys and food are always on hand to meet the needs of her favorite charities.

“This is the way I was raised,” said the Valrico resident. “We celebrated everything in my family when I was growing up. Blowing bubbles whenever anything good happens is my way of continuing that tradition.”

The marbles, said Andrew, are a reminder of her mother who believed the simple things in life are the most meaningful.

“She always had a big container of marbles on the living room table and taught all the kids games to play with them,” said Andrew. “Now I keep marbles on my desk to remind me of my mother and to give out to anyone who’s having a bad day.”

The donations packed away in her car trunk represent her family’s legacy of giving back.

“My dad was heavily involved with the chamber of commerce in New Castle, Pa., and my mom was a nurse and the first female board member of the New Castle YMCA,” said Andrew. “This was how I was raised. We all volunteered in my family.”

It was Andrew’s trademark outreach efforts that made her the natural choice for the YMCA Camp Cristina’s Volunteer of the Year award, said Darren Dannelly, executive director of the camp on Balm-Riverview Road in Riverview.

Andrew, executive director of Superior Residences of Brandon, an assisted living community at 1819 Providence Ridge Blvd., said she was surprised to receive the honor at the Tampa Metropolitan Area’s YMCA’s Regions Community Impact Dinner on March 27.

“I looked out over the crowd and saw so many people who were more deserving in my mind,” she said. “I was flabbergasted. I don’t see why they chose me.”

Dannelly, however, said he couldn’t think of anyone more deserving than the two-year Camp Cristina board chairwoman who agreed to be the first person to slide down the newly constructed Wet Willie tandem slide into Lake Cristina as excited campers looked on.

“She actually cut the ribbon on her way down the slide,” said Dannelly. “I didn’t find out until afterward that she was afraid of heights. She’s such an amazing person, so outgoing and supportive of our mission at Camp Cristina. She’s always willing to step up when there’s a need.”

Andrew said she accepted the Wet Willie dare in July 2012 because since joining the board four years ago, there isn’t an activity at the 65-acre camp that she hasn’t tried, including the climbing wall, high rope challenge and her favorite, paintball.

Having the opportunity to play with the campers is one of the perks of being a board member, she said.

“Whenever I’m out there, I always ask the kids what their favorite part of the camp is,” said Andrew. “About 90 percent tell me it’s the hiking trails. Today kids just don’t have a lot of opportunity to explore nature like I did when I was a kid. That’s why Camp Cristina is so wonderful.”

With drowning the No. 1 cause of child deaths in Florida, Andrew believes the YMCA’s swim program is especially critical.

She recently helped make arrangements for the camp to adopt the Bayou Crossing apartment complex at 10305 Zachary Circle in Riverview, which has a high percentage of low-income working parents who can’t afford to send their children to camp.

For the first time this summer, Camp Cristina will donate free weeks at camp including swim lessons to 100 children living at Bayou Crossing.

“It’s going to give them an incredible opportunity,” said Andrew. “I spoke to one single mother who works 50 to 60 hours a week at a local restaurant and is studying to become a certified nurse assistant. She is so grateful that her children will have a chance to attend summer camp.”

“Jill really went out of her way to make sure these at-risk children learn to swim,” said Dannelly.

D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]

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