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Saleswoman wins award

Tina Harris, a real-estate saleswoman with Bremer-Bjurquist in Dunedin, has been named Realtor-Associate of the Year by the Florida Association of Realtors.

Harris says her proudest accomplishment is the Christmas Cheer program she founded, through which she and other volunteers collect Christmas toys for needy youngsters.

The children are identified through the Officer Friendly program at the Clearwater Police Department.

"What makes our program different from other programs is, The families are interviewed ahead of time to assure they are truly needy, and the toys are given to the parent or guardian only, not the children," Harris said.

The reason for that, she said, is that "We feel one of the most important things is to make children not feel they are being given charity. This gives the parent some dignity, and the child feels that this is a gift from Mom and Dad or Santa or whoever, but not charity or a hand-me-down."

The families involved _ and they're different every year _ "are honestly and truly the neediest of the needy," Harris said. "This is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done."

She's sensitive to the message children get if they're given used toys or hand-me-downs, Harris said, because her own mother received used toys from the Salvation Army as a child.

Second-hand toys, she said, tell a child: You're not worthy of something brand new _ and that's not a message she wants to send.

During the past four years, Harris estimated, the Christmas Cheer program has collected about 1,000 toys a year and helped several hundred families.

Besides the needy families identified by Clearwater police, toys are given to a spouse abuse shelter, All Children's Hospital, migrant families, and Clearwater police for use during the year with children who are involved in tragedies.

Co-chair Harris will be at it again this year, starting the day after Thanksgiving, standing outside the Toys R Us on Countryside Boulevard.

She and fellow volunteers will be there every weekend from Thanksgiving until Christmas.

Besides the Christmas Cheer program, Harris is chair of the local Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) and co-chair of the governmental affairs committee.

She is involved in state political committees and political fund-raising.

For the past two years, Harris has organized an RPAC fund-raising golf tournament for the Greater Clearwater Association of Realtors. She has organized and moderated forums for local and state government candidates.

Harris volunteers for a spouse abuse shelter, the Supervisor of Elections, Boy Scouts of America, and the Pinellas County School Corporate Volunteer Program. She initiated a program through which airlines sponsor inner-city children, enabling them to attend summer camps. She also created a program that encourages flight crews to collect toiletry items for homeless shelters and the Salvation Army.