in Boca Raton with her husband, David, her daughter, Michelle, and her son, Ryan.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Lucy Lazaroni
For Wendy Friswell, giving is like breathing.
Ask her a question about how to help a nonprofit, how to help a young person with a learning disability apply for college, where to donate clothes (she gives hers to women released from prison) and she will have a resourceful and loving answer for you in no time.
“If you have an organization called Spirit of Giving you kind of open yourself to the world,” says Friswell, who took over as executive director of the Boca-based nonprofit last summer. “You can’t downsize that!”
Spirit of Giving unites more than 60 nonprofit organizations with a focus on children and families in southern Palm Beach County. Spirit of Giving members share resources and knowledge in monthly meetings that are open to the public and with Friswell’s lead, work with local businesses, community partners and engaged citizens to create change in Palm Beach County and beyond.
“It’s a huge umbrella but we manage to do it with laughter,” Friswell says.
Friswell, who didn’t learn to read and write until she was 15, is solutions oriented and if she doesn’t know the full answer to a question she will direct you to a generous someone in the profit or nonprofit community who does.
“My ability to navigate, to connect people to resources, is my way of giving back. It is my most commonsense input,” Friswell says. “I pull from my commonsense kit. That’s what makes me who I am.”
Friswell grew up in Trinidad and when her mother left to come to America when she was 8, she basically raised herself, finding her own food, clothing and shelter, until her mother came back when she was 15.
“I sort of raised myself,” Friswell says. “Everyone was struggling, so no one stepped up to take the leadership role of parent. I navigated for myself.”
In high school, Friswell had to play catch-up.
“I loved school. I never missed a day. I couldn’t see why kids would drop out. I was addicted to school,” she remembers.
At 18, she fell in love with dancing.
“I discovered I had built-in rhythm. Dance found me. Dance turned out to be my therapy for everything,” Friswell remembers.
And because her standardized test scores weren’t high enough for her to attend the university she wanted to as a freshman, she began her higher education career at a college for performing arts as a dancer and transferred to Temple University later on.
Dancing gave her strong muscles and a lean figure so she entered beauty pageants and competitions, winning them to earn money for college.
“There’s always a way when you quiet your mind and don’t let anxiety take over. You can figure out the roadwork and find solutions. I don’t wallow. I always look for a way out,” she says.
Friswell went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Temple and a master’s degree in recreation management from Florida International University. And she encouraged her mother, who had worked as a housekeeper in Philadelphia and as a nurse’s aide, to earn her high school equivalency diploma.
“My mom was never in a financial situation to support me,” Friswell explains.
“My mom was a single mom and she worked hard, very hard. She worked as a CNA. Her biggest accomplishment was getting her GED. I wanted to break the cycle in reverse. I had to let her see in her time that she deserved an education.”
Prior to joining the Spirit of Giving, Friswell worked as a director at the American Association of Caregiving Youth, executive director of Twin Palms Center for the Disabled, director of the YMCA and park service officer and grant administrator for Dade County’s Parks and Recreation Department.
As executive director of Spirit of Giving, Friswell is a passionate proponent of education for everyone, but especially the underserved youth in South Florida.
“Education is the key to changing everything in a person’s life. That’s why my No. 1 priority is to get you to school, to get you to learn. I don’t care how you learn. Everyone can learn. Everyone has ability. Everyone has strength. Everyone can pay it forward. And now it makes sense what I do.”
The Spirit of Giving’s annual Back to School Bash provides a backpack full of school supplies, a new pair of shoes and free health checkups for high-need children and their chaperones.
This invitation-only event will be held Aug. 8 at Village Academy in Delray Beach.
But there is a year-round need for donations and volunteers for the nonprofits providing services to high-need youths, including the growing number of foster children and homeless children in Palm Beach County.
“People can still contribute. The Back to School Bash is a one-day event and the 60 nonprofits we work with, there’s a year-round need. What you give is still getting to the child,” Friswell says.
Spirit of Giving also offers volunteer training and matches for people interested in giving back to their community.
“There are all kinds of needs and everyone has a talent,” Friswell says. “Share your talent. Touch someone else’s life with your talent.”
For Back to School Bash sponsorships, donations or volunteer training at the Spirit of Giving, call 385-0144 or visit spiritofgivingnetwork.com.