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The Hills: Good Samaritans by example
BY SANDRA RAWLS - CORRESPONDENT (Week of February 5, 2009)

Given the time, money, and plain old encouragement they provide to so many causes, it is a wonder Toby and Tuny Hill will be able to find time to accept this year’s Good Samaritan Award.

But on hand they will be on Feb. 12 at the Parrish Hall of Holy Cross Catholic church at 6 p.m. when the Samaritan Center for Homeless Families of Vero Beach will hold its annual dinner to recognize the Hill’s outstanding volunteer service to the community.

The award comes as no surprise to those familiar with the many charitable causes the Hills, owners of The Hill Group Construction Co., have supported over the years, and the spirit in which they give their time and resources.

Verna Wright, Director of the Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center in Wabasso, let out a joyful exclamation when hearing the news: “I’m ecstatic they’re getting that award! There is no better couple. I just wish we could clone those people.”

She explained how Tuny Hill helped her raise funds in 2002 when the Center, which provides tutoring for under-privileged students, was still struggling to survive. “Tuny let us use her house for a big cocktail party where we sold tickets. That was a big success.”

Not far away at the Environmental Learning Center, Executive Director Holly Dill tells a similar story.

“We had a bad lightning strike out here in June of last year,” she said. “The fire it caused burned down our main exhibit hall, the exhibits, our biggest classroom, furniture, even our restrooms, over 4,500 square feet. Toby is a wonderful builder, of course, and he’s re-building everything for no profit. He’s getting his sub-contractors and suppliers to do the same. It will take all year, but we know we’ll have an even better place than before.”

The ELC’s relationship with the Hills is long standing. Tuny is on the Board of Trustees and has chaired fundraising events like EcoFest, and currently is cochair of their Environmental Education Committee. Like Verna Wright, Holly Dill describes a couple ready to do anything to help.

“Toby is just as likely to be out in the field directing people where to park, or popping popcorn, anything,” she said. “The range and spirit of their giving is just tremendous. And they are so quiet about it. There is never any sign of wanting recognition.”

That spirit is what is so important to the Samaritan Center, the Catholic charity whose dinner this year has the theme of “Give from the Heart.” The annual dinner is the Center’s signature event, and candidates for the Good Samaritan Award are considered based on the assessment of an advisory board headed by Steven Brooks.

“The award goes each year to outstanding local philanthropists and is not related to involvement with the Samaritan Center,” he said. “We are interested in the real spirit of helping people in the community. We consider the consistency of that spirit, and setting a great example, more than a list of activities.”

Around Vero Beach, others talk readily about that spirit. Cynthia Falardeau, Executive Director of the Education Foundation, is effusive in her praise, not just of their giving, but their leadership in encouraging others to do the same.

“Toby and Tuny are remarkable people who show others, lead others, into giving and philanthropy,” she said. “They have been tremendous partners for the Education Foundation.” Lucinda Gedeon, Executive Director of the Vero Beach Museum of Art, also admires Tuny Hill’s talent for bringing others into the fold when it comes to charities.

“Tuny has a very broad plane of friends all over town,” she said. “And she is incredibly good at getting them to join her in the good things she does. The Hills always step up to the plate. They are extremely generous, and they have that special gift for encouraging others.”

Toby Hill is characteristically humble when talking about the Good Samaritan Award.

“I think there are people more deserving than we are,” he said. “My first thought when I was called was it was not necessary. Others deserve it more than we do.”

Philanthropy is something that evolved as the couple got to know the community and their business prospered. They met at the University of Florida, and moved to Vero Beach in 1980. Their lives as volunteers and workers for charities began when their son Christopher was at St. Edward’s School.

“We got involved with school activities, the school sports association, the Annual Fund,” he said. “After Christopher left, I was on the board. Our charitable work came from our own slow maturation as the business grew. We began to see and understand local needs.

“We have been very blessed and I believe you need to give back to a community. I have a lot of faith, faith in God, and believe giving back is something you should do. I definitely believe local people need to work to solve local problems, to help those who need it. That makes a lot more sense to me than sending money off to Washington to be misspent or disappear.”