The 2023 Riverview Citizen of the Year, ECHO executive director Eleanor Saunders, with Betty Jo Tompkins, the award’s 2022 recipient. (Photo credit: Linda Chion.)

The 2023 Riverview Citizen of the Year is Eleanor Saunders, executive director of ECHO (Emergency Care Help Organization), who said at the award’s announcement that it is an honor she shares proudly with her team.

“I’m so proud of my team, and it’s a stellar team,” Saunders said on February 2 at The Regent, where the then-named Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet and awards ceremony, shortly before unveiling a new logo with the organization’s new name, the Central Hillsborough County Chamber of Commerce. “I’m so thankful that we live in a community that now has two places like ECHO for people to come and get help.”

Saunders for roughly 18 years has been an employee of ECHO, hired as the second employee by Stacey Efaw, whose job Saunders filled roughly nine years later. The nonprofit today, at two locations, has 26 employees, up from 10 a decade ago, Saunders said. The nonprofit opened more than 30 years ago in Brandon, thanks in good part to the largesse of Julian L. Kraft Jr., who provided the space at 507 N. Parsons Ave.

ECHO last year moved its Riverview operation into larger quarters, from 7807 Capitano St. to 10509 Riverview Dr., home of the old Riverview library. The new and much larger Riverview Public Library is at 9951 Balm Riverview Rd.

At both locations — and with plans over the next few years or so to open two more, including one in South Hillsborough County — the mission is to focus services on three areas of critical need.

“Right off the bat, you have the critical need for food and clothing,” Saunders said. “Then you have the need for one-on-one job training, but you can’t keep a job if you don’t address the third level of need, for shelter, reliable transportation and child care.”

Overall, the need is growing, as ECHO this fiscal year, which ends on Sunday, June 30, is on track to report having served an unprecedented 30,000 neighbors, up from 10,000 neighbors in fiscal year 2010, Saunders said.

With a deep commitment and steady hand, Saunders has steered ECHO into new directions, having never lost sight that the nonprofit’s strength, then and now, has been grounded unwaveringly in community grassroots support.

“That’s the great thing about ECHO,” said Betty Jo Tompkins, who in 2022 was named Riverview Citizen of the Year. “Their programming is very individualized, and they take advantage of all the opportunities given to them in the community.”

“People need help,” Tompkins added. “They need help with food, they need help with housing, they need help with clothing, they need educational and job training skills. ECHO is offering a comprehensive program to work towards helping the whole person.”

To learn more about ECHO, donations, hours, volunteer needs, services and more, visit Call ECHO Riverview at 813-540-9880. Call ECHO Brandon at 813-685-0935. ECHO has two thrift stores in Brandon, one at 815 W. Bloomingdale Ave. and the other at 424 W. Brandon Blvd.

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