Giving Back To Our Community
Has Always Been An Honor & Our Pleasure!

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U of F Journalism College Gets $1 million for Investigative Program

Lee Wetherington didn’t go to UF, but he’s a Gator fan.

That’s why Wetherington said it was an easy choice to promise a $1 million donation to the College of Journalism and Communications last week. Because the donation is a bequest, it is uncertain when the money will be acquired, said the college’s dean, Diane McFarlin.

Wetherington is the founder of Lee Wetherington Homes in Sarasota.

The money, which will come from the Lee Wetherington Foundation, will go toward supporting studies in investigative journalism. McFarlin said she hopes to use it to hire a faculty member, create more access to public information and expand a data journalism program. “It will enable us to support something that is very central to both our profession and our country,” she said. “Investigative reporting is critical to an informed public.” UF journalism senior Ashley Lombardo said she’s glad the college is getting the money but wishes it could be used to expand the online journalism curriculum. “It would be wonderful if we could expand the curriculum to include other kinds of journalism that are becoming more prevalent,” the 21-year-old said.

Wetherington said he decided to give his money to the investigative journalism program after speaking to McFarlin, his friend of 20 years. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been successful, and I’ve always felt that you need to give back to the community,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better place than the University of Florida.”

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Harvest House

2016: Lee Wetherington Family Village. Lee Wetherington spearheaded the campaign, along with Community Foundation of Sarasota, to buy 9 duplexes out of foreclosure in a predominately black neighborhood, completely rebuild inside and out, and LW Foundation bought all the furniture. It is now transitional housing and home to 18 homeless families, mostly veterans, and homeless veteran woman. It’s not only changing lives but transforming a neighborhood.

2012: Manatee County Boys and Girls Club. Lee Wetherington Homes refurbished, gratis, the teen Center at the Bayshore Club. Taking the teen center down to the studs, it was completely rebuilt including furniture, televisions and games, new computers to study, carpeting, dance floor, and a new study area. Attendance went from 25 kids to over 100 kids.

2009: Roy McBean Boys and Girls Club. This club is located in a federal housing project in a black neighborhood. Completely remodeled an existing Club, gratis, added two school rooms, offices, dance room, remodeled the gym, remodeled kitchen, complete paint and flooring, etc. Attendance went from less than 75 kids to over 300 kids.

2002 to 2010: Community Foundation of Sarasota County Board Member. Served 7 years on executive committee and as Board Chair in 2008. CFSC is a $275 million foundation.

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Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County

Lee Wetherington has been involved with and has been on the Board of Directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County since 1991. Elected to the Executive Committee in 1998, he became Vice-President in 2000 and President in 2001.That same year, he served as board chair. Wetherington has also chaired the Building Committee, responsible for funding and building the new Fruitville Boys & Girls Club, North Port Boys & Girls Club and proposed Venice Boys & Girls Club. In addition, he serves on the Capital Campaign Steering Committee, working to raise funds and endowments for the Venice, Fruitville and North Port Clubs. Under his leadership, the committee raised $10 million in seven months.

Lee Wetherington Companies has given more than $600,000 to the children of this community through contributions to the Kids in College Scholarship Fund—which Wetherington founded—and the Boys & Girls Clubs Capital Endowment. In addition, Wetherington’s personal donations of time and talent are incalculable.

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The Lee Wetherington Foundation

In 2002, Lee Wetherington made an initial gift of $1 million to establish the Lee Wetherington Foundation, administered by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The $1 million gift was repeated in 2004 and 2005. The purpose of the Lee Wetherington foundation is to award grants, primarily to those whose needs are not addressed by other governmental or charitable entities, with a focus on the less fortunate and especially on disadvantaged youth. Further, he has made a series of print and electronic ads, “Building Bridges,” to encourage others to make philanthropic contributions.

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Oscar Scherer State Park

Beginning in 2002, Lee Wetherington Companies has provided support for the annual Scrub Jay 5K Run and One-mile Fun Run/Walk and donated $250 from the sale of every home in Willowbend, a Lee Wetherington community adjacent to Oscar Scherer Park. In September 2008, Lee Wetherington Companies donated 16.31 acres valued at over $800,000, to Oscar Scherer State Park. The Park will use the land for buffering from surrounding urbanization.

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Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County

In 2001, Lee Wetherington was named to the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, Inc. He had already been working with these Clubs for many years and provided Kids in College scholarship support among other contributions. Lee Wetherington Companies and trade partners also donated funds and labor to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, valued at $80,000, to update and remodel the Bradenton Unit, a building constructed in 1925. In addition, the company presented a technology grant that allowed the purchase of a new server and associated software to provide networking, backup capabilities, virus prevention and greatly increased efficiency.

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Fruitville Public Library of the Sarasota County Library System

In January 2002, Lee Wetherington met with representatives from the new Fruitville Public Library (of the Sarasota County Library System) and its not-for-profit support group, The Friends of Fruitville Public Library, to develop a productive use for the empty space just outside its back doors. Wetherington suggested a unique Reading Garden and donated the resources of Lee Wetherington Companies to make it a reality. He spearheaded a campaign to secure donations of labor and materials for the Garden, which has a Storybook Cottage and stage, waterfall, butterfly garden, herb garden, scented garden, birdhouse, bat house and many other special features. Developed in a public-private partnership among Sarasota County, Lee Wetherington Companies, trade partners, and the Home Builders Association of Sarasota County under the Home Builders Care program, the Reading Garden held its Grand Opening in October 2002. Since then, the Garden has become a cherished, valued asset for residents and the Sarasota County Library System. Valued at more than $250,000, the Reading Garden began to garner awards even in its first year of operation.

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United Way of Sarasota County, Inc.

Lee Wetherington organized and co-chaired United Way’s first Day of Sharing in 1992 and repeated his leadership role in subsequent years. 1992: For Children’s Haven and Adult Community Services, Wetherington coordinated donations of labor and materials from Lee Wetherington Homes and others in the building industry to revamp a group home for eight developmentally handicapped young women. He raised over $400,000 in labor and materials and supervised 400 volunteers who refurbished, cleaned and painted seven buildings in the complex. Contributions of labor and materials resulted in the installation of a new hot-water heater, roof, fascia, bathroom, kitchen, pool area and flooring. 1994: To benefit five different organizations at five different sites, Wetherington spent nine months organizing and chairing a vast project. He supervised 800 volunteers and coordinated over $750,000 donated in labor and materials to refurbish ten buildings. 1995: Wetherington headed teams of volunteers who refurbished a group home for Project Rainbow (Easter Seals) by installing new cabinets, flooring, patio and deck, and by painting the facilities. 1997: Wetherington organized and helped raise over $25,000 worth of labor and material for The Loveland Center for the Disabled in Venice, Florida.

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American Heart Association

From 2002-2005, Lee Wetherington Companies fielded a team for the annual American Heart Association Heart Walk on Siesta Beach and has also undertaken additional company-wide fundraising activities—including a chance for associates to drop Founder Lee Wetherington into a dunk tank. Donations to date have exceeded $18,000.