Big Cat Rescue Wins People’s Choice Award

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Big Cat Rescue Wins People's Choice Award Thanks to YOU!

Plenty of heart, soul in Tampa Bay area

By Ernest Hooper, Times Columnist
In Print: Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mason Dixon, the longtime WQYK-FM 104.7 program director, calls the auto accident that almost took his life 3 1/2 years ago an opportunity most people don't get to experience.

Dixon, whose real name is Jimmie Crawford, shared the story of his near-death experience at the WEDU Be More Awards on Thursday. An accident in June 2005 left Dixon critically injured with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Doctors had to remove his spleen.

With friends, family — and strangers he never realized he had touched — sending him get-well wishes, Dixon gained an insight perhaps experienced only by a soul looking down from heaven at his funeral.

"It gave me the chance to see how you can make a difference in somebody's life," Dixon said as he dabbed away tears. "I never asked God why it happened. I just thanked him for the opportunity to stay here and I promised we would continue the work we had started with Christmas Wish."

Dixon and his wife Pat Crawford have piloted the Christmas Wish Foundation for 10 years, raising more than $1-million to fulfill the holiday dreams of needy families. Last month, it used $121,000 in donations to help 275 families.

Dixon's volunteer efforts and his past work as host of the Be More Awards, an annual salute to nonprofits, prompted WEDU officials to create the Mason Dixon Be More Involved Award for individual volunteerism. Dixon presents the first award in 2010.

More than 400 people filled A La Carte Pavilion for this year's event, which recognized more than 85 organizations in the PBS station's 16-county coverage area thanks to the help of a judging panel that included yours truly.

Meals on Wheels of Tampa came away as the big winner, capturing the Be More Unstoppable award as nonprofit of the year and the Be More Informed award for creative, original marketing. Meals on Wheels executive director Steve King echoed an event theme by saluting all the organizations.

"Everyone here is passionate about what they do," King said. "I thank all of you for making a difference in our community."

Other winners at what I like to call the area's Academy Awards for nonprofits: Girls Incorporated of Sarasota County; Big Cat Rescue; The Children's Home; Pinellas-based Family Services Center and Sunrise of Pasco County.

The Little Red Wagon Foundation and the Lazy Days Partnership Foundation shared the judge's choice award after teaming up to help Little Red Wagon founder Zach Bonner, 11, complete a walk from Tallahassee to Atlanta.

Bonner shines a spotlight on the plight of homeless children, but he couldn't stay for the completion of the ceremony because he had to fly to Washington to dine with President Bush.

It's such stories that have made Be More an inspiring event, and it's no surprise that PBS stations around the nation have adapted the format, the brainchild of WEDU vice president Laura Turner.

One person told me she left the event ready to conquer the world, and it's important to note that conquerors don't always need money.

Joanne Lighter, president of 2007 nonprofit of the year winner the Spring, said there is no shortage of heart and soul in Tampa Bay.

That's all I'm saying.

Carole's Note:  Thank you everyone who voted for Big Cat Rescue in the People's Choice online voting contest.  This was our third year in a row to win this coveted award of being voted the favorite charity in a 16 county radius. 

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

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