Welcome to another edition of “People Pulse.” Always hoping to bring you interesting folks doing even more interesting things in the Orlando and Central Florida area, here is Caroline. I met Caroline about 16 years ago (WOW!) when we both worked at the Florida Chapter of the American Cancer Society. That was so long ago I don’t recall memories of the actual experience, but I do remember I immediately thought Caroline was way super-cool, and there was definitely something very special about her. Caroline has done some incredible things in the Central Florida community, she absolutely loves and supports philanthropy and giving back (it’s one of my most favorite things about her) and arguably that’s most notable with her work in leadership at Give Kids The World. Let’s dig in a little deeper so you can get to know the awesomeness I’m talkin’ about….
Q. What brought you to Orlando, and how long have you lived here?
A. Like so many of us Central Floridians, I was intrigued by the mouse. During my junior year of school at Ohio Northern University, I applied and was accepted into the Disney College Program (CP). I lived the quintessential CP life at Vista Way and had the honor of being a Cast Member on the Opening Crew for Disney’s Animal Kingdom (go ahead and do the math…now you know my age). This was from February to August 1998. I returned to Ohio, graduated school in June 1999. I packed my bags, much to my mother’s dismay, and (kids close your ears) drove to Florida with no real plan. I had one of two goals: A) get a professional job at WDW – I mean why would they not want me? I had a degree, or B) get a job at Give Kids The World – it was my version of Peace Corps. There was no way in hell my parents were allowing me to trek off to any location that they could not get to within 24 hours.
Fast forward: I am still here!
Q. What’s one of your favorite things about living in Central Florida?
A. From the first moment of my College Program, I fell in love with the diversity that surrounded me. When working at DAK, I was in Africa attractions and made fast friends from South Africa and Kenya. My friend Phili spoke Xulu – I simply listened to her in awe. Trust me, where I am from, no one even knew such a language existed.
Of course, that diversity extended way beyond the gates of Vista Way and WDW. After I moved down here permanently, I fell in love with the melting pot that is Orlando. We may not be natives (although, I have happened upon more and more over the years), but we are rooted here.
I will never frown upon my hometown or home state. I come from a beautiful, warm and loving community; however, I would not trade the experience of this multi-cultural environment. I love raising my kids here.
Q. You’ve had a long-term passion for and have been doing some amazing work for the beloved Give Kids the World for many, many years, but recently announced a transition to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation as President & CEO. First of all, what is it about GKTW you love so much, and what would you say is your greatest work there. Second, what led to this change in work?
A. Give Kids The World delivers one of the most pure missions I have ever come across. GKTW boasts a well-run business, but captures and fosters a culture that inspires the soul. It sounds a bit lofty, but it is quite true. Ask anyone who volunteers there or has worked there, it changes you in such a positive way.
Working there, I could find myself completely moved by the family that contributes two or three days a week volunteering to the company that faithfully volunteers once a month for 20 years. Donors and sponsors thrive on the partnership and GKTW cherishes and appreciates their generosity.
My greatest work. Such a loaded question and one I have put a lot of thought into over the last year. Five or six years ago, I would have said two things: 1) the growth of our volunteer program that has quadrupled since I started, 2) special family moments where I had personally taken time to deliver the perfect guest experience first-hand. Now, when I am asked my answer rolls off my tongue. I am most proud of forming and cultivating a team of operational leaders that I could leave. I know this sounds crazy, but truly, we worked together to become “Team One” and tackle obstacles, business plans and tough decisions with a collaborative and mission driven approach. They felt empowered to do the right thing and knew how to navigate with our mission and core values at the heart of every decisive action they had to take.
This leads me to leaving. I am blessed to trip into a career at GKTW. When I started, we had 65 employees and it has grown to nearly 200. I was given the opportunity to lead several teams in a variety of areas and spent the last five years as the Vice President of Operations, a position I only dreamed of at one point in time. After 19+ years, I realized that I needed to be courageous and take the next step in my career on my own. GKTW was a safety net and believe me, I could have stayed there comfortably for many years to come. Do not get me wrong: My roles challenged me, pushed me, and came with the highest of standards one can try to reach. BUT…it was home. We all need to leave home.
Q. What is it the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation brings to the Central Florida community?
A. The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) was founded in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts; Betty Grissom; William Douglas, M.D.; and Henri Landwirth (also founder of GKTW). The goal is to keep the United States at the forefront of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation. Over 50 scholars across the United States will receive awards this year for their exceptional achievements in the fields of S.T.E.M. Students receive professional development and mentorship programs through ASF. ASF also honors the legacy of the space program and its rich history.
Sometimes, we forget that Central Florida reaches to the coast where innovation left much more than a footprint on the sandy beach. The tech community is just one more colorful aspect of this beautiful area we call Central Florida!
Q. Speaking of community, it’s one word I immediately think of when I think of Orlando. What does community mean to you as it relates to this great City of ours?
A. Community is different here and there is no doubt about it. We are spread out. Sure, you have your College Park, Thornton Park, and Winter Park areas where people live/work/play, but I feel that we claim larger territories as “our community.” I live in Osceola County and I consider the Greater Orlando area my hometown. We play soccer games at Bishop Moore High School and hit up our favorite restaurants on Edgewater after the games. I run nearly every Track Shack 5k and insist out-of-town friends check out Winter Park and Celebration. Our family friends are a cast of characters from Dr. Phillips to St. Cloud to Hunter’s Creek to Windermere. Regardless, its our community.
Q. So much has changed in Orlando over the past five years. What has been something you’re most surprised about?
A. I am not sure surprised is the right word, but I have been wildly impressed with the rallying around Orlando City Soccer. They grew fast, yet organically. I love watching the loyal fans roll out with the purple pride. Speaking of pride, I am ashamed to say that I have not been to an Orlando Pride match. That is going to change. I have two female soccer players in the family now, so I best be getting on that!
Q. What are some of your “best kept” secrets for things to do in Orlando and the Central Florida area?
A. I am not cool enough to have “best kept” secrets. But, I will share some of our favorite places to hit and things to do as a family. We drag our kids everywhere!
- Newly-discovered Phyre Brewery & Tavern in St. Cloud.
- ROYALTEA Orlando in Mills 50 District: OMG, the Rose Pu’er is divine!
- Ellipsis Brewing: Have a beer flight, play some games with the kids and eat the ridiculously yummy popcorn (smaller selection of the same popcorn at Orange County Brewing).
- Quantum Leap Winery: Cabernet + Namaste (always supports a good cause and a fun outing).
- Raglan Road at Disney Springs: Seriously, you cannot beat this Irish pub. Bring your out of town friends and kids along. They will even invite kids on stage!
- The Boathouse at Disney Springs during sunset: Grab a table or lounge area outside (not in summer). You cannot beat this…you will suddenly forget you are even on WDW property.
- Volunteering: We have the coolest places to volunteer. No, really – we do! Here are some of the most awesome charities to check out and we are always holding cool charity events around town. Volunteering is a great way to entertain a group of friends/family and make an impact.
🤝 Give Kids The World
🤝 Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida (THREE HOUSES)
🤝 Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida
🤝 Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando
🤝 Canine Companions for Independence
🤝 Bishop Grady Villas
Q. What’s one thing you’re always sure to do or share when someone’s visiting from out of town?
A. I always share my theme park tips. I have saved documents that I update and send out when friends notify me that they are headed here. Typically, I invite visitors to tour GKTW to see the generous side of our community, particularly the theme park industry. I also give indoor tips for when they decide to travel in July/August and realize it rains every day.
If friends/family are staying with me or with the purpose of hanging with us, I always plan unique adventures. We might hit up theatre at The REP or customize our own brewery tour. Wine tastings at Tim’s Wine Market are always worth the while and strolling Park Avenue via Sun Rail is a fun week-day outing (if only the train ran on the weekend).
Q. OK – one of my favorite questions: What are your go-to and just-can’t-live-without food places in town?
A. In St. Cloud: Hawaii Grill & Sushi and A Touch of Basil Pizza. Other Osceola County spots: Celebration Town Tavern and El Tenampa Mexican, Dragonfly, The Wine Room (did you say food?), Canvas, Dexter’s, White Wolf Cafe.
Q. What are some of your favorite places in Orlando to be inspired, or just to be motivated?
A. For me, anytime I participate in a Track Shack 5k. Each run is a collection of people of all shapes, sizes and speed. I love that we all got out there and we all did it.
Q. What is one thing you personally hope to achieve during the remainder of 2019 and on into 2020?
A. Oh, boy. I hope I am successful in my new role as President/CEO at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. This esteemed group of board members, astronauts, scholars and volunteers deserve the very best I have to offer and I sincerely intend to deliver all that and more.
Take time to enjoy Central Florida with my family!