The Girl Scouts of Gateway Council has long recognized extraordinary individuals in our community with the Women Who Make A Difference award. The award honors successful women who have given back to the community and, as the name suggests, made a difference in the lives of others. All five of these women have worked tirelessly to better the Greater Gainesville area without seeking any recognition.
The 2016 honorees are Florida Bridgewater-Alford, Evelyn Foxx, Dr. Nancy Hardt, Lori McGriff and Sheila Spence.
Florida Bridgewater-Alford, a first generation college student, has worked at the University of Florida in the office of the vice president for nearly 15 years. She currently serves as UF’s campus communications outreach director and lectures in the College of Journalism and Communications. For the past three years, she has taught the upper-level course Public Relations Campaigns to senior students. Bridgewater-Alford actively serves her alma mater, but her résumé extends far beyond the university. She has volunteered with the American Cancer Society for over 10 years and has long served on the organization’s local board. Bridgewater-Alford now also serves on the ACS board for the state of Florida. Her maternal grandmother, who passed away from breast cancer, inspired her involvement in the fight against cancer.
Bridgewater-Alford, who became a Girl Scout during adulthood, is well-versed in the wide world of community service. She has been heavily involved in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, a platform for college-educated women to volunteer and serve. She is involved in the Gainesville Chapter of The Links Incorporated, a service organization for professional women of color. She has directed several service projects, such as Coats for Kids, an annual event that offers free jackets, coats and sweaters to more than 1,000 families in Alachua County. Moreover, she is currently involved in the fundraising efforts for the renovation of J.J. Finley Elementary School’s playground. Despite her many accomplishments, Bridgewater-Alford is most proud of her husband, a local business owner, and their two children. “When I look at them, I understand clearly what my charge is in the world – to ensure that they are successful and to be their advocate in every way,” Bridgewater-Alford said.
Evelyn Foxx, an influential civil rights and human rights activist, has been a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since the second grade when her teacher introduced her to the organization. Foxx attended her first NAACP meeting at the young age of ten, and it has grown with her ever since. She now serves as the president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP, where she works to bring justice and equality to those being treated unfairly. Foxx devotes herself to standing up for what it is right and correcting what is wrong. Moreover, she serves as a member of the state’s executive board of the NAACP, extending her impact far beyond the borders of Alachua County.
Foxx, an active member in local politics, works tirelessly to promote causes that are important to her. An active member of her church, Foxx spearheaded a successful initiative to have Shady Grove Primitive Baptist Church included among the National Register of Historic Places. Among all her achievements, Foxx is most proud of her involvement in addressing the digital divide. In collaboration with the Gainesville Housing Authority and Cox Communications, the local NAACP worked to provide computer access to the Gainesville community. More specifically, the committee provided eight computer labs with Internet access to the Gainesville community for the underprivileged. In regards to her recognition as one of the Women Who Make A Difference honorees, Foxx is grateful for the acknowledgment. “I am honored to even be considered,” Foxx said. “It is humbling to be selected as one of the women who will be receiving this honor.”
Dr. Nancy Hardt has long taught and worked in the fields of obstetrics, gynecology and pathology. Prior to her recent retirement, she served as the director of health disparities and service learning programs for the UF College of Medicine, where she worked with pre-professional undergraduate students to raise awareness about diversity in the field. Hardt attributes her interest in diversity to her childhood experience as a Brownie and Girl Scout. “I was one of those youngsters who thought that differentness was interesting,” Hardt said. “It was really good for me to have that exposure at a really young age. It’s a really good way for girls to get out of their comfort zones and beyond homogeneous neighborhoods.”
Hardt previously served as the associate director of the Family Data Center, helping to create maps that pinpoint areas of health disparities in Alachua County. The Mobile Outreach Clinic, a medical clinic on wheels staffed by an inter-professional team, travels to the areas identified by the Family Data Center’s maps. Moreover, Hardt co-founded the Intimate Partner Violence Clinic with the UF College of Law. The clinic serves to bring legal and mental health counseling to victims of domestic, dating and sexual violence. Hardt continuously fosters the power of collaboration within the community to address local health equity issues. She humbly believes her success derives from the relationships she has formed with other service-oriented members of the community. “We’re all trying to help each other fill the gaps,” Hardt said. “We’re all trying to get the patients to the right provider.”
Lori McGriff, the president of Emmer Development, is proud to be following the footsteps of her mother, Barbara Emmer, who wast also once recognized among the Women Who Make A Difference. As the president of a family-owned business, McGriff is no stranger to multi-tasking. She oversees the many components of the business, including home-building, development and property management. “Honestly, I do everything from walking homes during construction, assembling sales packets and crunching numbers to answering the phone when it rings more than twice,” McGriff said. “Customer service is of utmost importance to us. Having a live person answer the phone is significant, and sometimes you get the president when you call Emmer.”
Emmer Development values giving back to the community and has done so for over 60 years. Moreover, McGriff serves the community with her own personal contributions. She has volunteered at her children’s schools for over 20 years, serving as the past PTA president for J.J. Finley Elementary and Westwood Middle School. She also serves on the board of the Builders Association of North Central Florida and the Alachua County Education Foundation. In addition, McGriff is an active member in the Junior League of Gainesville and the Take Stock in Children program. McGriff believes that the old African proverb “It Takes A Village” applies to life so far. “I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the friends I have in my life are my village,” McGriff said. “Many of the accomplishments in my life wouldn’t have come to fruition without their support and helping hands, minds and hearts.”
Sheila Spence, a former Girl Scout herself, is the COO and partner of John Spence, LLC. Her management role in the business has allowed Sheila the opportunity to travel much of the world with her husband and friends. She has visited countries such as Cuba, Haiti, Tanzania, and Peru on humanitarian trips and many others through business. She enjoys her job because it allows her to meet fascinating people who want to grow their businesses and improve their employees in order to help their customers.
When she’s not working, Spence is active in many philanthropic causes. For 25 years, she has supported the Arc of Alachua County, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping those with intellectual disabilities, and is currently a member of the board. She is a founding board member of the Cade Museum, is active in the Women’s Giving Circle, and is lifetime patron of the Santa Fe College Fine Arts Program. She also serves on the advisory boards for the Ronald McDonald House, Taste of Gainesville, and the Junior League. In collaboration with a close friend, she founded the John Spence Scholarship Fund at Santa Fe College. Through the support of John and Sheila’s efforts and generosity of their friends and clients, the fund provides assistance to students with economic challenges to pursue higher education.
Because Sheila’s father passed away when she was a young girl and her mother worked to support her and her sister, the Girl Scouts were an incredible influence on her life. The organization and her troop leaders provided life lessons too numerous for this article. She can proudly say she was an active Scout from a Brownie to Cadet. “Girl Scouting was an immeasurably positive influence in my development, and I want to inspire people to support the Scouts and realize that it truly can and does make a difference in a young girl’s life. I know it did for me,” Spence said.