Growing up in New York state foster care from the age of 11, Greg Cruz has dedicated his life to the betterment of those in the community who are struggling, marginalized or oppressed. He has organized toy, school supply and backpack drives for foster children in the Sarasota area. Mayor Willie Shaw has dedicated June 16th as "Stop The Violence Day" in Sarasota in honor of the annual no-cost community cookout he organizes.
From the rights of prisoners and migrant workers, to the LBTQ+ community, to environmental activism, Greg spends his time on the front lines of the struggle for social justice.
Cathy Bryant has spent her life doing what she loves; caring for people. A recipient of three degrees (criminal justice, nursing and psychology), Cathy became involved in rape and domestic violence advocacy in college and has championed victim’s rights for 15 years. She and her husband David have raised three children including a daughter, Danielle, who has a severe and chronic degenerative brain disorder. and needs constant care. In addition to her role at SOP, Cathy publishes books and uses social media to promote authors and several for-profit and non-profit groups, teaches yoga, does tech support for several clients as well as working as Assistant Head Usher at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Theater.
As owner/operator of a pet sitting business, Devon Oppenheimer spends much of her time tending to the everyday needs of animals. Streets of Paradise gives her the opportunity to extend love to her fellow human beings. A graduate of the School of Hard Knocks, Devon has earned her “degrees” in both Golden Rule Adherence and Thrift Store Negotiation. These life skills have prepared her well for her role as Finder-of-Helpful-Things for the people whom Streets of Paradise serves. Amateur photography and writing are two of Devon’s favorite hobbies. She and her husband, Andy, live in Venice, Florida, with their dog, Einstein. The couple’s son, Griffin, is currently away at college.
Kelli Brewer is a Southern Illinois native who moved to Florida in 2013. She has been a Registered Nurse for 26 years and loves her profession. She is a mother of five children and grandmother of one. Kelli is actively involved in Evangelism in her church and believes true ministry is found in feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and sharing love with all people equally. She volunteers her time with Streets of Paradise because “The outreach with Streets of Paradise embodies my core beliefs about the treatment of all people. We are all equal and should be treated with unconditional love. We meet the basic needs of people who are unable to provide for themselves. Streets of Paradise gives me an opportunity to be a light to others. It’s important to me to be an example to my children and to teach them that life is most fulfilling when you’re serving people, especially those who can’t repay you.”
The passion that Kanani has for working with the homeless comes from her personal experience raising five children on her own (a sixth child is an adult working and living in Pinellas County). Kanani has raised her children to help others in need and through the years, it has become second nature to them. In addition to a varied work history, she has coordinated many community events including awareness for missing children, back to school help, unity in the community, literacy, health and nutrition, going green, and gardening to name a few. While working for Children First, Kanani worked with a company to green their schools and implemented gardens in all 13 schools of theirs at the time.Currently Kanani is the Vice President of the Jabez Spann Foundation, sits on the advisory board of the Sarasota's YMCA's Y-Achievers, Alta Vista's Student Advisory Committee, and is a new member of the Selection Committee for Democrats Care of The Sarasota Democratic Club and maintains an outstanding rapport with community agencies and partners through the work she's done and as a business owner.
Today, she works as an event and party coordinator.
Cindy grew up in Washington DC, the eleventh of fourteen children and moved to the SunCoast eight years ago. As a single mom for most of her life, she understands first hand that financial struggles and lack of support are a reality for far too many people today. Cindy joined the Core Team of Streets of Paradise because their mission aligns with her core values, which include treating the homeless and working poor with dignity and respect; understanding that we are all one community. Her passion lies in meeting the street community during food shares and greeting them by name; letting them know they are seen. She is inspired to make an impact locally.
To say that she is busy is an understatement. Cindy is the Senior Group Representative for SunCoast Blood Bank, which offers critical life-saving blood donations to patients in the surrounding community. When she is not at SunCoast Blood Bank or volunteering with Streets of Paradise, Cindy can be found enjoying her family; which includes her two adult daughters and three grandchildren or out boating with her friends.
Jeanine a native of Cincinnati works part-time as a Mammography Technologist. She feels honored to work alongside her Streets of Paradise team members and is an enormous asset to the Streets of Paradise Core Team. Jeanine is committed to treating each person with the respect and dignity that they deserve and she works collaboratively to ensure that those in need receive the clothing they require. Her compassion for others is an essential element of her character and can be seen in her interactions during outreach work.
Everyone that Jeanine encounters knows that she believes in them and that they are appreciated just as they are. She truly respects the homeless and working poor and is acutely aware that many people in the United States are no more than a few paychecks away from homelessness. Her compassion and understanding of social issues ground her in gratitude. When Jeanine is not visiting local thrift stores to find bargain clothing for Streets of Paradise she enjoys tenderly caring for her magnificent orchids.
Angel Williams has lived in FL for the past 5 years, but it didn’t feel like home until she started volunteering with SOP. The newly formed friendships and the community outreach SOP provides has given her the opportunity to give back in a way that has changed her life, all while changing the lives of others. She works in animal welfare by day, but she truly believes a communities success is defined by their treatment of the marginalized. Streets of Paradise is truly what makes Sarasota beautiful.
GOD is love and I enjoy volunteering for a group of lovely people loving people! Streets of Paradise team is my family! Hi my name is Brian Albert Stusalitus (my spiritual name is AZTH pronounced a-oth and means angel).
I grew up in Orlando Florida and lived there most of my life. I have two younger brothers, Leon and Austin. Our parents taught us to treat others the way that we want to be treated, the Golden Rule, and many good morals and values. We grew up very poor and very blessed.
During this time being homeless since 2014, I received a great revelation from the HOLY SPIRIT that JESUS CHRIST became a homeless man after water baptism. Knowing this truth greatly encouraged me and increased my understanding of the WORD of GOD. I was so amazed that nobody was teaching this revelation that JESUS CHRIST was a homeless man. Now I embrace being a minimalist. Now I work for GOD, not for money. Like a bird, I fly through life wherever GOD leads me and I live by faith. Yes my life is difficult, and GOD is worthy, so I look for ways to magnify HIS worth, because my song is my trial.
Now I look for opportunities to help everyone I meet and share my faith and good news with them. Streets Of Paradise team helps many people and many families in many ways. They fed me many meals while I was sleeping on the streets. I saw love, I saw a family of many different people volunteering to help people in need. I saw where I fit in, and I wanted to help. After asking how I could help, Mrs. Cathy said they could use some muscle to move furniture. I love it! Serving others in need is so healthy in many ways! Do you want to join us?
- Rekike “Lily” Sisay was 10 years old when she, along with her family, moved to the states from Africa. She has a son Malachi, whom she adores. While she has had the wonderful opportunity to diversify her academic career, she now finds herself pursuing a career in Engineering Drafting. Like many of the volunteering chances she stumbles into, she learned of streets of paradise through her sister and has grown to love this space of service to those who need it most. “To pour warmth and kindness into someone who is alone and with out a home is to give the very basic human dignity. It out of this dignity that one finds the courage to live up to our potentials. And this is something I feel I have a personal responsibility to do.”
- Malachi Sisay was born and raised in Kansas, he moved to Sarasota about 5 years ago with his mother. He is a senior in high school and hopes to pursue a career in mechanical engineering in the future. For his young age Malachi is proven to be a man of great depth and intellect. He lives his life always doing the right thing and never wavering to show his heart. He never turns away form a good challenge as he always strives to outperform anyone. He began volunteering with streets of paradise when his aunt asked for help doing move-ins and has grown to love the joy she sees in those he serves. “I enjoyed helping others in my community and doing these services gave me insights and helped me grow a lot.”
Douglas Shea lives in Venice, Florida. He is a student of the Bible and a follower of Christ. Douglas has learned that Jesus Christ's words, "It is better to give than to receive" is not only true, but the key to happiness. Although not always successful, Douglas strives every day to put other's needs before his own, and to show love and kindness to everyone he meets.