[For use courtesy of the Governor’s Press Office. For additional photos, click here.]
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Last Friday, Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis welcomed heroes from across the state of Florida to the Governor’s Mansion to honor them for exhibiting courage, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. This is the first annual Florida Heroes reception and over 250 heroes were in attendance.
Those honored included police officers, first responders, and veterans who had risked health and safety to serve and protect their communities and country. Also honored were members of the community who have dedicated themselves to helping others overcome adversity through nonprofit efforts, adoption and foster care, careers in education, and advocacy. Floridians recognized showed resilience and perseverance under adverse circumstances and serve as inspirations to those they encounter.
“It was wonderful to welcome so many brave men and women from across Florida and the nation to the Governor’s Mansion for the first ever Heroes Reception, which my wife, our First Lady Casey DeSantis, devised to honor those who serve their local communities so selflessly,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “The First Lady and I appreciate this incredible group of first responders, football coaches, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders for their fearlessness and steadfast commitment to preserving, protecting, and defending all that we hold dear.”
“As First Lady of Florida, I have had the privilege of hearing stories from across the state of the inspiring, selfless, and dedicated individuals that serve as strongholds in their communities,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “So many Floridians devote their lives to selflessly serving others, and deserve recognition. We were proud to welcome these exemplary individuals to the Mansion to highlight their inspiring stories that positively impact Florida’s communities every day.”
The stories of every hero in attendance were displayed throughout the Governor’s Mansion as a tribute to their civic service and self-sacrifice. First Lady Casey DeSantis highlighted the stories of six attendees in her remarks.
Coach Joe Kennedy, Football Coach and First Amendment Hero
High School Football Coach Joe Kennedy lost his job after praying on the field following a game, which he had done for years. He fought for his job, stood up for his First Amendment rights, and won a case in front of the Supreme Court. He recently moved from Washington state to Florida and will receive a $1.7 million settlement for everything he went through.
Deputy Toya Adams, Deputy at Hillsborough County Vocational Training Center
Deputy Toya Adams motivates inmates at the Hillsborough County Vocational Training Center with her own story of perseverance. After wanting a brighter future for herself and her daughter, Deputy Adams began working inside the jail kitchen and soon was encouraged to become a deputy. Now, she empowers hundreds of inmates by helping them discover and believe in their full potential.
Oma “Zack” Nations III, Former Florida State University Police Officer and Policy Lead, Florida Digital Service
Oma “Zack” Nations III is a Florida State University Police Officer originally from Brevard County who stopped a campus rampage by a lone gunman in November 2015. Nations’ quick thinking and bravery saved countless lives. He was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida State University Police Department. Zack later went on to graduate from Florida State University’s law school and now serves as the Policy Lead at Florida Digital Service.
Graci Tubbs, Founder of Operation: Military Matters
Graci Tubbs, who is just 16, inspires many with her organization, Operation: Military Matters, which advocates for U.S. military personnel worldwide and sends thousands of care packages overseas and raising money. Today, she speaks with the U.S. military and at civic organizations to spread awareness about what she is doing to help those who serve our nation overseas. She has raised a tremendous amount of support and continues to bless many through her work.
Deputy Sheriff Steven Mills, Polk County Sheriff’s Office
After Hurricane Ian, Polk County Deputy Mills and good Samaritan Robert Sconyers rescued an elderly man after floodwaters from Hurricane Ian rushed in near Frostproof, Florida. Deputies said the 77-year-old man was sitting on the roof of his truck and was about four inches above the rising water when Deputy Sheriff Mills rescued him.
The sheriff’s office reported that Robert Sconyers backed his lifted pickup truck into the water and Deputy Mills floated a life jacket to the man. Once the man had the life jacket on, Mills pulled him to the truck. Due to Deputy Mills speedy collaboration with Robert Sconyers, the man was saved from the looming waters.
Freddie Figgers, Founder, Figgers Communications
At fifteen years old, Freddie started a cloud computing services company, and at the age of sixteen founded Figgers Communication, and at twenty-four had 80 custom software programs built, designed, and executed. Freddie’s parents Nathan and Betty Mae Figgers had already fostered many children but decided to adopt Freddie after he was discovered abandoned by a dumpster as an infant. He credits their loving support for changing the trajectory of his entire life and giving him a childhood where he could hone his gifts with computers and technology. Unfortunately, while Freddie was still young, his father began rapidly developing Alzheimer’s disease. This led to Freddie to develop a specialized GPS tracking shoe with two-way communication to help his father. This device, inspired by his love for the man who had taken him in and believed in his worth, became Freddie’s first invention which he eventually sold for $2.2 million.