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Mr. Central Florida contest raises money for the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center

By Kaitlyn Pearson

The Ledger
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 6:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 6:53 p.m.
LAKELAND — A few good men are helping those with communication difficulty get medical help regardless of their ability to pay.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sept. 12

WHERE: Sun ‘n Fun Florida Air Museum, 4175 Medulla Road, Lakeland

COST: $60

ATTIRE: Cocktail

Mr. Central Florida contestants
These are the Everyday Heroes who are in the contest:

Chief Charles Bird, Winter Haven Police Department

Michael Ehlenbeck, CPS Financial Advisors

Troy Garcia, CFP, Financial Adviser, Allen & Company

Ramon Gonzalez, medical training officer, Polk County Fire Rescue

Richie Johnson, purchasing manager, Southern Homes

Lt. Col. Scott LaRonde, professor of military science, Florida Southern College

Kenneth Reddick, assistant superintendent, Polk County School District

Sgt. James L. Ring, Lakeland Police Department

Dr. Carlos Romero, M.D., internal medicine, Romero Medical Plaza

Steve Senn, Peterson & Meyers, P.A.

Cpt. Dave Simpson, senior Army instructor, Lake Wales High School

Chris Walker, firefighter paramedic, Lakeland Fire Department

Mike Woodhouse, commercial risk consultant, Lanier Upshaw
Of the more than 230 children the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center sees each week, 98 percent need help paying for care, said Debbie Burdett, vice president of community engagement for the center.

“We absolutely do not turn anyone away when they come here for speech and hearing needs,” Burdett said.

To offset the cost of treatment, the center is hosting its third annual Mr. Central Florida event from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Sun ’n Fun Florida Air Museum, 4175 Medulla Road in Lakeland. Voting officially opened both online and in person Wednesday and will continue until the night of the event, when attendees can continue voting until 8 p.m.

Each dollar a contestant raises equals one vote, but contestants can earn 1,000 votes if they secure an auction item valued at $1,000 or a sponsor who donates $1,000, Burdett said. The man with the most votes will earn the title of Mr. Central Florida 2015.

Thirteen men from across Polk County are going head-to-head, all of whom were chosen to reflect this year’s theme: Celebrating Central Florida’s Everyday Heroes. The theme was chosen to honor those who served on Sept. 11, 2001.

“During this time of year, we’re thinking about people who give all to keep us safe and healthy,” Burdett said.

The variety of men competing includes doctors, first responders, military personnel and those who are dedicated to service.

“This event ensures the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center is able to provide care for all patients,” she said.

There are 99,000 people in Polk County with a documented hearing loss, Burdett said, and each hour of therapy costs the center $63. Because untreated hearing loss is directly linked to dementia, high blood pressure and diabetes, speech and hearing is critical to overall health, said Burdett.

In 2013, the Mr. Central Florida contestants raised $50,000, and in 2014, they raised $60,000. This year, Burdett said, the center’s goal is to raise $75,000.

So far, Burdett said, the contestants are “taking it to heart.”

Chris Walker, 29, a firefighter paramedic chosen to represent the Lakeland Fire Department, said he began fundraising before voting ever opened.

Walker, who was born and raised in Lakeland, said he understands how important this cause is. One of Walker’s good friends has a child who attends the center for speech therapy.

“The entire building is based off of donations,” Walker said. “(The children) would have nothing if it wasn’t for donations.”

Another contestant, Sgt. James Ring with the Lakeland Police Department, started a campaign called “Thank You Hero.” For each photo community members take with a first responder and tag the photo with #thankyouhero, his corporate sponsor will donate $1.

Burdett said the contestants’ willingness to help raise money for the center is only one example of what makes them heroes.

“These men have spirit,” she said.

If you’d like to vote online or learn more about the Central Florida Center for Speech and Hearing, visit

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