In so many ways, Deodat Jhoda embodies the mission of the Self Reliance Center for Independent Living.
Jhoda, one of several people honored Wednesday during the United Way's Volunteer of the Year luncheon, uses his van to deliver donated power chairs and scooters to people with disabilities. He brings freedom to people who otherwise would be prisoners in their homes.
He also provides transportation to medical appointments and encourages folks to step up and step out despite their disabilities by seeking help from the center.
"We have people roll through that front door every day and they say, 'Jhoda sent me,'" said Brenda Ruehl of the Self Reliance Center in Tampa. "Whether it's for a piece of equipment or to volunteer or get involved, they say, 'Jhoda sent me.' They get out of their houses and they live."
Along with the center's clients, Jhoda, of Tampa, also inspires his two nephews by bringing them on his trips.
"I want them to see there are people who need help . . . and people who are less fortunate so they can learn to appreciate what they have," he said. "I get them involved so they can see what the real world is like."
Jhoda learned about the real world 16 years ago, when he drove a cab in New York. A robber shot him in the shoulder, severing his spinal cord.
Like many of the people he helps, Jhoda is a quadriplegic. It would have been easy for him to withdraw from the world, but the Center for Independent Living in New York helped him regain his appreciation for people — and for life.
"I have no bitterness about me getting injured, about my disability or anything of the sort," said Jhoda, a native of Guyana. "I'm just happy that I'm alive and able to make a difference.
"When I first got hurt, there were so many other people who impacted my life and made a difference in my life. That's my inspiration. A lot of the people who helped me made me want to help others."
His courage was just one of the many admirable stories revealed Wednesday..
Along with Jhoda, the category winners were: Animals and the Environment: Pam Burns, SPCA Tampa Bay; Arts and Recreation (tie): Lorraine Potocki, Bakas Horses for Handicapped, Sweetwater Sunday Programs Group; Education: Brandon Bessette, Shaw Elementary; Health Care and Health Education: Manny Esperon, MacDonald Training Group; Leadership: Paul Manfrey, PARC; Partners in the Workplace: Brian and Jennifer Shaffer, Don CeSar Resort/Ronald McDonald House; Youth: Thomas Berg, Lowry Park Zoo.
Dr. Sylvia Campbell of the Judeo-Christian Health Clinic received the Golden Achievement Award. She was recognized for her tireless work at the clinic and her medical missions to countries such as Haiti and Uganda. She also emotes an uncommon compassion with every life she touches.
"I feel like the things that I do God puts in front of me," Campbell said.
Campbell says every volunteer has a huge army lifting them up. Of course, those armies are ready and willing to add a few more soldiers.
That's all I'm saying.