Jason Eichenholz, founder of Jonathan's Landing, visioned to be the world's most comprehensive community for adults with autism where “live and work are equal pillars."
Eichenholz’s vision of Jonathan’s Landing stems from his desire to provide a safe, thriving, sustainable, adult living community for his autistic son Jonathan and “499 of his closest friends.”
Planned for 25-50 acres near an urban center in Orlando, the design combines entrepreneurship, social enterprises and deep strategic partnerships to provide safe and affordable housing for 500 adults with autism and create 5,000 jobs and career opportunities in the community and eventually worldwide.
Even before breaking ground, the Central Florida non-profit is actively developing its first work program and social enterprise.
Jason has also launched several unique inclusion and experience programs for individuals with special needs, starting with “Meals with Jonathan,” where Jason and Jonathan gather for small group meals that give Jonathan an opportunity to learn, practice and showcase his socialization skills while giving others (more than 100 already) an opportunity to learn more about the world of autism. Jonathan sometimes even dons his apron and chef’s hat to demonstrate his cooking skills, working with personal chefs and restaurant partners. In the past year, this has grown to include events at Orlando Magic games where individuals and families enjoy a more intimate microenvironment of a corporate suite providing a safer sensory experience.
Eichenholz is leveraging his business success and relationships to build Jonathan’s Landing and feels he has found his “why.” “I was born to build my company, Luminar, but it is God’s plan for me to build Jonathan’s Landing.”
Jen Knopf, inspired by her son Reed's journey with dyslexia, founded the REED Charitable Foundation (RCF). This heartwarming initiative has a clear mission: to empower the dyslexic community, address the global literacy crisis, and ensure the Orton-Gillingham (OG) training - a scientifically proven literacy method tailored for dyslexia - is accessible to all educators.
In Knopf's quest for solutions, she found that many young students face reading challenges and require specialized instructional support. However, she was alarmed to see a substantial gap in resources and support systems for such adaptive instruction.
Knopf passionately believes, "Reading failure is the downstream cause of almost any societal issue. The impacts are catastrophic. We know the solution to the literacy crisis — and it is our responsibility to make sure that all children get what they need. That's why RCF exists."
In December 2020, with an aim to reshape the educational landscape, Jen introduced the REED Charitable Foundation. This foundation champions the Orton-Gillingham method, which breaks down reading and spelling into more digestible units, emphasizing letters and sounds for children diagnosed with dyslexia. This method has proven transformative for all children, enabling them to harness a reading technique that truly lets them flourish. While such training could cost educators thousands, RCF generously offers no- or low-cost training. Moreover, they stand by educators, providing consistent support to ensure the training's enduring impact.
Since its inception, RCF has made remarkable strides, training nearly 600 educators in 135 schools across the U.S. and beyond. For Knopf, the motivation is pure and straightforward: to empower dyslexics and address and alleviate our national literacy challenge.
Dana Nichols, the engaging and passionate Executive Director of Cannonball Kids' Cancer (CKc), carries a spark of disruption in her spirit.
She zestfully says, "I always want to be at a place where we are disrupting what's happening. We're asking questions about why something is the way it is and striving for permanent change. For me, CKc is the answer to all of that."
Nichols envisions Cannonball Kids' Cancer as a journey "up the river," a proactive quest to discover the most effective pediatric cancer treatments. She's deeply passionate about this mission, particularly aware of the young lives hanging in the balance. Nichols' eyes light up when she talks about the transformative work her foundation supports through two pioneering grant programs.
The first is dedicated to clinical trials designed for children battling cancer, ensuring treatments are tailored to their unique needs. The second, the "Young Investigator" grant, is especially close to her heart.
"We need to keep young, innovative minds in the field to get to a point of clinical trials. It takes years and years. If we don't help protect their lab time, they may otherwise go where the money is." This Young Investigator grant paves the way for sustained research, focusing on both treatment and the long-term well-being of young cancer survivors.
"Research is the Key" isn't just the motto for Cannonball Kids' Cancer; it's Dana's personal mantra for tackling challenges.
Her driving force? CKc empowers Nichols to stay true to her core beliefs: innovative thinking, seeking upstream solutions, and proactive problem-solving. For her, making a difference is all in a day's fulfilling work.
Central Florida's nonprofit vanguards: Tomas Lares, Dana Nichols, Jason Eichenholz, Margaret Guedes, Jen Knopf, and Theresa Smith Levine. Beyond helming organizations that touch countless lives, these trailblazers share a profound, heart-driven ethos. Their collective resonance? An unwavering, deeply personal mission fueling their impact. Dive into the passions and purposes of these transformative figures in our cover story.
Tomas Lares, founder and president of “Stop Human Trafficking” checks his phone and smiles. He has just heard from a survivor whose life has been changed from his Central Florida agency. He takes a moment, and then, assuredly answers the question we’ve asked this month’s non-profit executives, “Why do you do this work?”
“What keeps me going are the survivors. When I see life and hope coming back. To see somebody who now realizes that they have value, that they are loved, that they are important and that they have a purpose. That keeps me going everyday.”
Lares has spent his entire 33-year professional life in the non-profit advocacy space, having founded several agencies and task forces. After graduating with a psychology degree, he says he found his passion from day one with his job at Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Lares realized that many of the kids benefiting from the organization were also personally affected by human trafficking — back then, categorized under the broader umbrella of child abuse.
In 2009 Lares started the non-profit Central Florida’s Stop Human Trafficking. The agency, and its hundreds of volunteers act as first responders who coordinate an array of services to help victims escape trafficking situations. It often starts with a call to the agency’s hotline.
Lares wants people to know that human trafficking does not discriminate. It affects children, adults, females, males, and people of all ethnicity and education. He also wants us to know the hotline number 407-504-1319 because every phone call can mean another life saved.
The mission of Kids Beating Cancer is to provide access to the best local medical care for every child in Central Florida. For Margaret Guedes, CEO, president and founder, the mission is deeply personal.
It all began 31 years ago when the Guedes lost their 9-year-old son after a tumultuous battle with leukemia. Local treatment for his type of leukemia was not available, so the family had no choice but to travel very long distances for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. The stress of the cancer was exacerbated by cross-country travel, weeks away from home and the lack of community support and services.
Following the passing of their son, Guedes became an advocate for children with cancer, and their families. Her “why” remains the same since the Kids Beating Cancer Foundation began: “So no other family will have to go through the stress of travel just to receive great medical care for their child.” Three decades later, Kids Beating Cancer has extensive support within the hospitals, including weekly visits, food kitchens for parents so they don’t have to leave their children’s side, themed hospital rooms, seasonal parties, a Teddy bear and blanket, clothing and any necessities a family may need.
Guedes realized from the beginning that fundraising would have to become a major part of Kids Beating Cancer’s goal of creating local access for cancer care. In 2012, Kids Beating Cancer’s first major funding investment helped open the first pediatric transplant center in Central Florida at AdventHealth for Children, so no child and family would have to leave town to receive a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. “It was a long battle, but we fought for the cause.”
Theresa Smith-Levin, executive director of Central Florida Vocal Arts and Opera del Sol, says the non-profit’s slogan, “Where the Voice Takes Center Stage” is about empowerment.
Ten years ago, Levin woke up from a dream with the realization that she had a calling to help people express themselves through creativity so she made it her mission to combine her love for music and her talent for performing with her desire to help people find their power through voice. Within 12 hours of having that dream, Levin was applying for a 501(c)3.
“Even more than an artist, I consider myself a person who really cares. That’s always been my life. I decided to take what I was good at and do something and that meant creating art that really speaks to people. I want to provide for their mental health, for their heart and their soul. Art can help people find their voice.”
Levin laments that access to performing arts is not equitable. “What tends to happen is that we get a very homogeneous professional performing arts scene. That means that only certain stories are told and what defines us as a culture is a very limited lens.”
Central Florida Vocal Arts has the mission is to change all that by bringing performances, lessons and opportunities for expression to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and life stages.
“Now we’re telling all stories, so that we are experiencing a full, inclusive, diverse, holistic vision of who we are as an American people, and that informs and inspires future generations.”
The Winter Park based non-profit uses the power of music to inspire audience members to not only view traveling performances (put on by a pool of 200 paid performers) and cutting edge theatre, but also to participate in performances, music appreciation workshops and affordable or free music lessons.
Levin believes that when a person finds the confidence to sing, they gain confidence in every aspect of their life. “I know what music meant for me. The place that made me whole was my choral program. It was singing.”
Levin’s “Why” is to help all participants to feel empowered by discovering their unique voice.