'How do we get better? By learning from people,' Rizzo said.
Hours before the interview for this story was scheduled to take place at the Government Services Building, Joe Rizzo got a text message. A student had arrived at an elementary school that morning in slippers; the student didn’t own a pair of shoes that fit.
Rizzo, as executive director for the Flagler County Education Foundation, dropped everything and contacted his team.
This was an emergency.
This was, after all, why the Ed Foundation exists: to give students the tools they need to succeed.
Within 30 minutes, Operations and Database Specialist Shelley Wheeler had gone to the store, bought a pair of shoes and a jacket — “I figured if was just wearing slippers, he probably didn’t have a jacket, either,” she said — and arrived at the school to make the delivery.
“Joe is passionate and dedicated. He looks for ways to assist the people of Flagler County tirelessly.”
“Identifying the problems and solving them is one thing my team does best,” said Rizzo praising Wheeler and his two other staff members: Assistant Director Rebecca Bower and Student Services Coordinator Christy Butler. To make any organization succeed, he said, “You’ve got to find people who are better than you. How do we get better? By learning from people.”
Rizzo was nominated for a Standing O this year by Lynette Shott, the recently retired Flagler Schools executive team member.
“Joe is a passionate and dedicated advocate for the entire Flagler community,” she wrote in an email to the Palm Coast Observer. “His roots go deep here as he graduated from FPC and has raised his family here. He looks for ways to assist the people of Flagler County tirelessly.”
Among Rizzo’s contributions, Shott said, are organizing distribution of food for hurricane relief, coordinating the graduations at the Daytona International Speedway in 2020, helping to find housing for a homeless student, and building partnerships with the business community to provide resources for Classroom to Careers programs.
“He never sees any barrier as impossible to surmount,” Shott said.
In response to the pandemic, Rizzo and the Ed Foundation have raised $35,000 to help provide masks and other equipment for students and classrooms.
Volunteer Executive Committee President David Alfin praised Rizzo for continuing with fundraising despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic. The foundation had an endowment of $1.4 million in February 2017, when Rizzo came on board, and now it’s at $2.6 million. Rizzo has been the fiscal conservative who made it happen.
“We’ve been tempted to spend today at the expense of tomorrow, but you have stayed the course,” he said to Rizzo during the interview.
Why does he do it?
Rizzo had a successful career in the restaurant business, but he felt like he was “constantly chasing that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” He was often working till 9 or 10 p.m.
Thanks to the encouragement of then-Superintendent Jacob Oliva, Rizzo took the job as executive director at the Ed Foundation, which necessitated a lifestyle change: smaller house, fewer toys. But, more time with his own children and wife.
He’s happier now, and he knows when he wakes up every day that he’s making an impact in students’ lives.
“Instead of chasing that dollar, I found something that I was passionate about,” he said.