ST. PETERSBURG — Isay Gulley and her staff stepped out of the black stretch limousine and onto the red carpet that had been rolled out for them.
They smiled and waved as the small crowd in front of the historic Palladium Theater clapped and snapped pictures.
The red carpet moment was part of Wednesday's fourth- annual Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence Initiative Awards ceremony, during which $450,000 in grants was given to Pinellas County organizations and "local heroes." A similar event took place Thursday in Hillsborough County.
Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. received a $200,000 grant as a Neighborhood Builder. As part of the honor, Gulley and an "emerging leader" from the group will get to participate in a leadership development program.
"These funds come at a much-needed time," said Gulley, 61, noting an increased demand for her organization's services in the sluggish economy.
Bank of America will give Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, which is a NeighborWorks America affiliate, $100,000 a year for two years. Gulley said her first goal will be to hire a home ownership center manager who will oversee all of the housing-related services and activities. In addition, the training will allow her to develop a succession plan.
"My goal is to mentor someone and pass the torch someday when retirement is appropriate for me," said Gulley, who has worked with the organization since 1980 and served as president since 1990. "Because of my love for the program, I do not want it to go away when I go away."
The grants are part of $3-million in charitable giving by Bank of America in the Tampa Bay area during 2008.
"We work around priorities so we are not spread across so thin that nothing is a priority," said Bernie Craig, Pinellas County market president for Bank of America.
Those priorities are arts and education, neighborhood revitalization and K-12 education with a concentration in after-school care and families,
Five Pinellas County high school students were named "Student Leaders" and spent the summer at paid internships at local nonprofits. They were also sent to a weeklong leadership program in Washington, D.C.
Five "Local Heroes" were selected for their work in the community. A $5,000 contribution in their name will be given to a nonprofit of their choice.
Founded in 1979, Clearwater Neighborhood Housing has provided 3,440 households with home ownership education and invested more than $20.6-million to the effort. The organization has built 220 housing units and rehabilitated 536. The group has helped 866 folks from Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties purchase homes.
"We have programs geared toward home ownership, housing rehabilitation, economic development and education," Gulley said.
"When you put those services together working in a community, along with other services providers and partners, true neighborhood revitalization can occur. We've proven it."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org