As Co-Chairman of the firm’s Corporate & Tax Group and head of the Executive Compensation & Employee Benefits practice, Alton C. “Al” Ward has enjoyed a life filled with family, service and meeting community needs. Through the years, his practice with tax-exempt entities has afforded him contact with many charitable organizations. As a natural response to these professional contacts, he has developed a long history of community involvement with a host of local charities.
One of the main ways Al helps these organizations is through his finesse as a successful fundraiser. Several organizations in which he serves hold strong personal ties. He believes this is the key to finding a good fit for long term, fulfilling community service -- find an area that you have a personal interest in and get involved.
For Al, his community service grows from a sincere love of Tampa. Growing up in an Air Force family, Al remembers that his father, having been a POW in World War II, was afforded the privilege of choosing any location while they were stationed stateside. “My dad chose Tampa every time,” Al proudly shared.
In between living in places like Germany, Panama and St. Croix, Al and his family always made their way back to Tampa. “It really is my favorite place in the world,” he boasts. Though he loves fishing, the water and the outdoors in general, his favorite part about Tampa is the people and the feeling that “even though it is big, it has a small town feel where everyone knows everyone else.”
For many years, Al served as a member of the Board of Directors for two key local organizations -- the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens and Goodwill Industries - Suncoast. His early roots with these organizations date back to 1983, with the birth of his son Justin, who was born with Down Syndrome.
“At that time there were not many organizations in Florida that offered help or support for children with disabilities like Down Syndrome,” reflected Al. In facing this new challenge in their lives, he and his wife Barbara became friends with another mother of a Down Syndrome child, Emily Kingsley of New York. Emily happened to be an Emmy award-winning writer for Sesame Street. Al credits Emily with “putting a face” on Down Syndrome through her efforts to include children with Down Syndrome on this treasured children’s program.
Al and Barbara began to work hard to promote awareness and greater understanding, and Barbara became a national advocate for children with Down Syndrome and disabilities. She appeared on talk shows and spoke to groups across the country. Al and Barbara continue to help with these and other local organizations, such as Pepin Academy, which serves disabled children and adults in Hillsborough County.
Another organization dear to Al’s heart is the Hillsborough Education Foundation, which was organized in 1988 by several attorneys, one of which was our firm’s own Andrew Lubrano, who passed away in 1999. Al got involved with this group as a result of Andrew’s passion for the Foundation and his own personal commitment to public education. Al is a graduate of Chamberlain High School, a public high school in north Tampa. He looks back fondly on the quality education he received.
The Education Foundation is an organization whose main goal is to invest community resources, through private support, to enhance public education in Hillsborough County. The use of private funding allows flexibility to help in areas where tax dollars are not adequate to meet all the needs. Some of the programs implemented provide grants to teachers and schools, scholarship and mentoring opportunities, recognition programs, Nature’s Classroom, and “Teaching Tools 4 Schools.”
Al’s favorite Foundation program is “Teaching Tools 4 Schools” as it provides basic school supplies to teachers in Title I public schools serving students from underprivileged neighborhoods. “Teaching Tools” solicits donations of surplus supplies from local businesses and corporations, along with financial donations to purchase supplies, which are stored in a warehouse. Teachers at eligible schools are allowed to “shop” once a month, receiving $250 worth of free supplies during each visit.
“Do you realize that most public school teachers spend between $500 and $1000 of their own money each year on supplies for their classrooms?” asked Al. “The Foundation’s goal is to expand this service to all Hillsborough County public schools.” This effective program boasts the fact that 90% of each dollar donated goes directly back into resourcing the needs of the program.
Al’s commitment to his family and his community has fostered a belief that serving others is an essential part of life. “This community has been very good to me and my family and it is important to give back,” reflected Al. “I am very impressed at how involved the entire firm is with this great community we call home, and I encourage all young attorneys joining the firm to continue this fine tradition of service.”
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