New Tampa mom, others win “local heroes” award from Bank of America

Could she pay for elementary school classmates who couldn’t afford field trips?

Could she mentor a high school student whose family’s hardships might force her to drop out?

In those cases and more, his mother obliged. Now his way of saying “thank you” rings with the same sense of volunteerism: Cameron nominated his mom for a $5,000 service award.

Which she won.

“I have set up more beds in strangers’ apartments,” Cameron, now 20, wrote in the application, “traveled to more unfamiliar places to deliver dinner and have been reminded of how fortunate — and frankly spoiled — I am, more times than I can remember, all because of my mother.”

Sokolik was recognized as a “local hero” by Bank of America last week, collecting a $5,000 prize to donate back to her organization, Starting Right, Now. The nonprofit supports homeless families with high school students by providing mentors who help find housing and jobs. The goal, Sokolik said, is to help students attain the highest level of education to prevent homelessness in the future. Sokolik, 49, of New Tampa, serves as founder and executive director.

Bank of America’s “Neighborhood Excellence Initiative” honored 10 leaders in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties with the grant this year. Ten high school students received paid internships over the summer and leadership training in Washington, D.C. Four organizations landed $200,000 each for serving their neighborhoods.

“They represent everything that truly is good about our community,” said Bill Goede, market president for Bank of America in Tampa Bay.

This is the seventh year the neighborhood awards have been given in Hillsborough County, and the sixth year in Pinellas County.

The Academy Awards-style ceremony for the Hillsborough winners brought more than 100 people to the Tampa Theatre last week. With cheers rising from the crowd, award recipients stepped out of black limos onto a red carpet and claimed miniature gold Oscars on stage with emotional acceptance speeches.

Sokolik devoted hers to her son, her source of inspiration.

“I learned from him,” she said about Cameron, who did not attend the ceremony. A junior at Stanford University, he is studying abroad in China.

Cameron studies psychology, although he’s still unsure about his future career. One thing is clear, though — he’ll be following in his mother’s footsteps.

“My gut tells me he’ll do something to change humanity,” Sokolik said.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

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