George Garcia is recognized for his efforts to stop hate and promote healthy living from his leadership position at the High Point branch.
CLEARWATER — George Garcia, executive director of the YMCA of the Suncoast's High Point branch, has been awarded a $5,000 grant from the USA Network for his efforts to fight hate and promote good health in his community.
The cable channel, in partnership with Bright House Networks, which matched the $5,000 grant, recognized Garcia as one of its Characters Unite award recipients for 2013 in a ceremony last week at Island Way Grill.
He was one of 10 winners chosen from hundreds of applicants.
The Characters Unite Award honors extraordinary individuals who have made significant efforts to champion civil and human rights and combat prejudice and intolerance while promoting understanding and acceptance in their communities.
Garcia, who came to Clearwater from Milwaukee in 2001, said he initially was skeptical about being nominated for the award. But he relented once he realized how it could help the people who participate in his programs.
“I don't like the limelight. I get my rewards behind the curtain,” Garcia said. “But when I found out I could get $5,000 for my Salsa, Sabor and Salud program, I said, 'Go ahead, throw my hat in there!' ”
The program — the name stands for sauce, flavor and health — teaches parents and children about healthy eating and helps Latino families learn how to prevent diabetes.
In addition to that initiative, Garcia has other programs and classes that he either has developed or promoted at the High Point facility, including an early learning readiness project that teaches parents how to help their children with kindergarten admission tests.
Garcia said he's been working with underprivileged and at-risk people since he decided to turn his life around following years of getting into trouble on Milwaukee's mean streets.
“I first started doing this when I was transitioning from the streets to real society,” he said. “I was down and out, facing jail time and doing some real soul-searching.
“I was always a community leader, just on the wrong side of the community. Then I decided to turn my life around and start helping others who were in similar situations.”
After moving to Clearwater, he got a job with the Y, and he's quick to credit its officials for putting him in the position he's in today.
“I'm only here because the YMCA of the Suncoast took a chance on me,” he said. “If not for them, I'd still be in Milwaukee.”
With the Characters Unite grant and matching funding from Bright House, Garcia said he can keep his programs running for at least another year.
He's been humbled by all the attention he's received for winning the award, which also allows him to shoot a public service announcement that will air on the USA Network.
Garcia won't take all the credit for the work he's done to help others, attributing his success to a higher power.
“I love to share the story,” he said, “but I give God all the glory.”
Characters Unite, USA Network's new community affairs program, was created in January 2009 to address the social injustices and cultural divides still prevalent in our society. Created on the simple premise that life is richer when people see beyond stereotypes and appreciate individual differences, Characters Unite kicked off with a national on-air public service campaign and a multimedia pledge drive for unity and understanding.
Inspired by USA Network's iconic "Characters Welcome" brand and with the support of leading national not-for-profit organizations, the ongoing, multimedia campaign is dedicated to supporting activities and messaging that combat prejudice and intolerance while promoting understanding and acceptance – on-air, online, and in communities across the country.
Learn more about the 2013 Characters Unite award recipients at charactersunite.com.