Mitchell Shenkman holds a thank you card he received from students at the Imagine School in St. Petersburg following the delivery of a load of used books.
TREASURE ISLAND – Staying busy has always been a part of Mitchell Shenkman’s life.
It started in his younger years as a sales manager and president of a New York City apparel company and continues today during his retirement in Treasure Island.
While some seniors enjoy playing golf or traveling, Shenkman, 66, stays busy with eight different organizations and directs the majority of his energy toward helping children and contributing to his community.
His list of activities includes being involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County, working as a community advocate for the Sixth Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem program, serving on the board of directors of Eckerd Community Alternatives, a board member of the Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Gulf Beaches Rotary Club, city of Treasure Island Planning and Zoning Board, city of Treasure Island Local Planning Agency and the city of Treasure Island Vision Stewardship Committee.
The size of his busy lifestyle matches the size of his heart. Shenkman is truly a giver and believes in helping children whenever he can.
“Today, I have the luxury to do things I enjoy,” he said, “and things I can do to give back to the community.”
Shenkman said it started about nine years ago when he and his wife Whitney, who have no children of their own, were foster parents. They applied for an adoption but were turned down, which left a tremendous void for Mitchell.
Whitney, who has her own business, suggested Mitchell get involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters. He followed her suggestion and it turned out to be the next best thing for him. Today, the couple is a Big Couple in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“People ask me how do you find the time to do all this,” Shenkman said. “You find the time. If it’s important, you find the time.
“What are the alternatives? What am I going to do?” he added.
In addition to his community work, Shenkman also represents three screen printers who produce apparel. He also finds time for fishing and cooking the family meals each night.
Shenkman has the unique ability to mentor and recruit at the same time.
“What I’ve done here is I’ve kind of put the community organizations together,” he said. “For example, the Rotary got involved to send some (Big Brothers) kids to a Rays baseball camp. On another occasion a Rotary member, Mark Hubbard, put together a half-day for 24 kids out in the Gulf of Mexico on one of his boats. They had a great time.”
Last year, Treasure Island City Commissioner and Firestone Grand Prix president Tim Ramsberger donated 100 race tickets and this year he has committed 200, which will be split between guardian ad litem children and members of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“So it’s kind of like networking,” Shenkman said.
His involvement with the Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce has resulted in the inaugural Treasure Island Fun Day for Big Brothers Big Sisters. The event, which will feature loads of pizza, inflatables and sports activities, will be held at Treasure Bay Golf and Tennis on April 12.
Through his Rotary contacts, Shenkman has gotten involved in the Madeira Beach Middle School Interact Club with fellow Rotarians Bob Minning and Dennis Fagan. Through their efforts the Interact Club raised $2,278 for Wounded Warriors with a booth at last year’s John’s Pass Seafood Festival.
Three years ago, once again through his Rotary Club contacts, Shenkman discovered the Pinellas County Schools library system was destroying old books that were no longer of use. Sensing an opportunity, Shenkman and another Rotary member, the late Daniel Mannello, collected 3,500 of those books and donated them to Eckerd Community Alternatives, Guardian ad Litem, Imagine Charter School and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“These are all children who don’t have much of anything,” Shenkman said. “So for a lot of them, none of them had their own books.”
The second year of the book collection resulted in 4,000 books distributed and this past November, the number grew to 4,500. He has since gotten the Rotary Mid-Town club involved in St. Petersburg, as well as a Rotary Club in Trinity.
“There are a lot of good people in this community,” said Shenkman. “You just need to let them know what they can do other than fish.”
His mobilization of people should come as no surprise. Shenkman has always been an idea person who follows through.
“I can’t sit and wait to see someone else do something,” he said. “I do it, and I bring people in to help.”
Shenkman said his organization of the library book collection and affiliation with Big Brothers Big Sisters are his two biggest accomplishments.
“It’s knowing what I’m doing today is going to benefit children in the future,” he said. “What I do is better than counting the days. It’s making the days count.”