FLORIDA TODAY Citizen of the Year finalists share passion for children, helping hungry

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The three finalists for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year Volunteer Recognition Awards share a passion for helping children in the community and serving those less fortunate with their time, money and skills.

This year's finalists for Citizen of the Year are:

  • Robert "Bob" Barnes, founder of The Children's Hunger Project and Aspiration Academy;

  • Michael Cadore, founder of I Got Skillz football camp, president of Magnus Solutions and vice president of Train to Succeed — two organizations that focus on leadership skills and mentorship;

  • Marcus Ingeldsen, director of construction at MH Williams Construction Group and chair of the board at Space Coast Habitat for Humanity and Space Coast Discovery.

Barnes founded The Children's Hunger Project and now hopes to instill a love of education in students through Aspiration Academy. Cadore began more than 20 years ago coaching football, and his mentorship of local youth has blossomed from the field into classrooms. Ingeldsen helps oversee the construction of homes for children and the care of those with developmental differences at Space Coast Discovery.

Volunteer Recognition Awards
Volunteer Recognition Awards

Outside of their passion for improving the lives of children, the finalists also help serve food to the larger community and fundraise for charities.

Nourishing children's bodies and minds: Robert "Bob" Barnes

Robert “Bob” Barnes, 81, has been serving the community since 1967 in a variety of ways, but improving the lives of children remains his primary focus. In 2010, the West Melbourne resident founded The Children’s Hunger Project with co-founders David Cohen, Sam Jordan and Jean Yves-Clerc.

Bob Barnes, founder of the Aspiration Academy and founder of The Children's Hunger Project, is a finalist for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year award.
Bob Barnes, founder of the Aspiration Academy and founder of The Children's Hunger Project, is a finalist for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year award.

The effort started at one school and grew to serve 50 schools, feeding 3,500 children every weekend. This summer, it moved to its permanent headquarters in Cocoa Village.

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Now, Barnes is working to launch another project to help kids on the Space Coast: Aspiration Academy. The after-school program will work with gifted elementary school children in schools in lower income areas throughout the county, starting with third graders at University Park Elementary School in Melbourne in January.

Many students who drop out were previously identified as gifted, Barnes said. His hope is to intervene at a young age. The children will be provided extra coaching and guidance after school, with special focus on reading and math.

In addition to academic subjects, students will get “cultural opportunities” on some school days and Saturdays, Barnes said, such as visits to Brevard Zoo or Kennedy Space Center.

“There are many individuals from a middle class or wealthy family that are able to take these trips to the zoo and concerts and plays, trips and vacations and tutoring and stuff like that, but a child from a lower income family … those opportunities are mostly not there.”

The idea began germinating about six or seven years ago, Barnes said. When he first started The Hunger Project, the goal was to start at the most basic level.

“The absolute foundation for good education is not a good school system … it’s food. Nutrition is the foundation for a good education. If a child is hungry in school, as many poor or lower income families’ kids are, even with a free breakfast and a free lunch, if they’re hungry, you cannot teach them properly.”

As Barnes worked to establish and grow The Children's Hunger Project, he began to learn about other obstacles facing area children and wanted to do more.

“There are two factors that really will influence a child’s education, and that is zip code and opportunity,” he said. “I cannot change the zip code, but what I can do is change the opportunity.”

Outside of The Children’s Hunger Project and Aspiration Academy, he has volunteered with The Salvation Army since 1967. Though he is Jewish, and the nonprofit is a Christian organization, he has spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas in the kitchen, helping to prepare meals for those in need.

But Barnes’ heart’s desire lies most in meeting the needs of local children.

“I believe there are three groups of people that should command our attention and support,” he said, saying these groups include elderly people, people with disabilities and children.

“If you can capture a child’s mind … with character building and education and support on how to treat each other and stuff like that – if you can capture a child’s imagination, let’s say before they’re 10 years old – wow, you can change all of society.”

Mentoring kids on and off the field: Michael Cadore

Michael Cadore has been helping children on and off the field for more than 23 years.

The 56-year-old Rockledge man has a passion for helping others, which he credits his parents and mentors for instilling in him. As a former NFL New Orleans Saints draft pick and a Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame member, he’s combined his desire to serve the community, particularly children, with his love of sports.

Michael Cadore is a finalist for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year award for his work with youth on the field, in the classroom and through  mentoring.
Michael Cadore is a finalist for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year award for his work with youth on the field, in the classroom and through mentoring.

In 1999, Cadore started the I Got Skillz football camp to coach young Brevard athletes. While these camps initially started small, with more volunteers than kids, they grew dramatically in the third or fourth year, when the NFL donated money to send more than 150 student athletes to camp for free.

Cadore said coaching was fulfilling because in the 23 years since starting the camp, he’s watched many of his former student athletes go on to have careers in coaching, football or cheer.

“We’re now seeing many of those student athletes who are currently playing in the NFL, or cheering in the NFL,” he said, adding some of his former student athletes include C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Jawaan Taylor and Jamel Dean, with his own daughter cheering for the New Orleans Saints.

In 2020, Cadore “passed the baton” to the younger generation so that future camps would be run in partnership with Jamel Jackson of A1 Fitness and Taylor. The camp, which was on hold due to COVID-19, is set to resume in 2023.

Off the field, Cadore has worked with students with his organizations Train To Succeed and Magnus Solutions.

Train to Succeed, of which Cadore is vice president, started with an athletic focus, helping students who didn’t have the financial resources to get training for a specific sport, but then evolved into mentoring youth off the field and preparing them for future professional settings, such as job interviews. Train to Succeed also partners with other organizations to support area camps, where volunteers mentor students.

Magnus Solutions, where Cadore is president, also tackles youth leadership development, as well as teaching students various types of skills.

Cadore said he works to connect students with professionals, whether that's a coder or a firefighter.

“Those students were elated to not only learn coding from Microsoft, be able to change a tire but also learn CPR ,” he said.

Some of his other work in Brevard includes volunteering with Aging Matters and his church, Faith Temple Christian Center; raising funds for Children's Advocacy Center of Brevard; and starting the Cadore Family Minority Scholarship at Eastern Florida State College. He also serves as a city council member in Rockledge.

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Building homes and young leaders: Marcus Ingeldsen

Marcus Ingeldsen wants to make sure kids grow up with more resources than he did. The 42-year-old Melbourne resident and director of construction at MH Williams Construction Group dealt with homelessness during his middle school years in Brevard County in the 80s and early 90s.

“Having to come through that and being where I am now, and knowing that there (are) other kids in the same situation that I was — I’m not going to save them all, but I’m sure as hell going to try,” he said.

Ingeldsen joined MH Williams Construction about 10 years ago.

Marcus Ingeldsen, director of construction for MH Williams Construction, is a finalist for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year for his work with Habitat for Humanity and Space Coast Discovery among other nonprofits.
Marcus Ingeldsen, director of construction for MH Williams Construction, is a finalist for FLORIDA TODAY's Citizen of the Year for his work with Habitat for Humanity and Space Coast Discovery among other nonprofits.

Every year, MH Williams chooses an organization to help by renovating the group's building. The job is done for the cost of supplies, and they don’t make any profit.

Earlier in the year, Ingeldsen helped renovate the building in Cocoa Village that became The Children’s Hunger Project headquarters. It was a project he was particularly passionate about because it didn't exist when he was a hungry kid in need of help.

“The Central Brevard Sharing Center — that’s where I got dinner on the weekends,” he said. He and his family volunteer there as well with the Sharing Center’s annual barbeque in April.

They've also volunteered at The Children's Hunger Project, where they've bagged meals.

Outside MH Williams, Ingeldsen helps build with Habitat for Humanity in Brevard. In 2009, he first became involved at Space Coast Habitat for Humanity when his church, Church at Viera, was working on a project in Port St. John. Now, he serves as chairman of the board, a position he’s held for three years. It’s his second stint in the position; he previously served one year on the board.

“It’s been a fun challenge with the staff and our executive team to take this organization from a good organization, but take it to the next level,” he said.

His favorite part of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity is helping people who may be their family's first homeowners.

"I love to see the excitement in the kids' eyes when they show me their bedroom in their first home that they've received from Habitat," he said. "We're setting them up to succeed long-term."

Outside of construction, he also serves at Space Coast Discovery near Melbourne as chairman of the board, where he’s served for about four years.

“Some of these children that come to Space Coast Discovery are (nonverbal) — they don’t talk, and they’re 6, 7, 8 years old,” he said. “And just by getting in that environment to where they’re learning differently and they’re learning with typical developing and non-typical developing students, they thrive.”

Over the past 20 years or so, he’s led various ministries at Church of Viera, including the men’s ministry and a youth ministry, where he worked with middle school boys through high school.

“We did trips together, we went to Atlanta, we did all kinds of things together,” he said. “We volunteered throughout the community together, it was a good opportunity to show these boys, now men, what it meant to be a Christ-follower and what it meant to live out serving the community.”

Though the boys graduated high school years ago, Ingeldsen said he still keeps in touch and plans to see them over Christmas.

This year's winner of the Citizen of the Year award will be announced at an invitation-only ceremony next month. The previous winner of the Citizen of the Year award in 2019 was Pastor Jarvis Wash, who leads the R.E.A.L. Church of Brevard in Cocoa.

Finch Walker is a Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or fwalker@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @_finchwalker

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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: FLORIDA TODAY Volunteer Recognition Awards Citizen of the Year finalists