Kelli Caputo, vice president of community relations at PARC, recently celebrated her 10th year with the nonprofit.
Anyone who knows about PARC, knows Kelli Caputo. The 42-year-old vice president of community relations is quite visible throughout Pinellas County, promoting the programs of PARC, a 60-year-old nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
PARC provides over 40 services to about 800 children and adults with a budget of just over $14 million per year.
That’s where Caputo comes in. Her job is to spread the word about PARC and maintain business relationships that result in community support. The product of a strong Irish-Italian family with roots in New Rochelle, N.Y., she offers a level of dedication and love for the program participants that is unmatched.
When she first arrived at PARC 10 years ago, she knew immediately it was the right place for her.
Caputo was working at the time as director of volunteers and special events for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and was in the midst of launching a large fundraising effort called Battle of the Minds.
While at an event promoting the Free Clinic, she got into a conversation with Elliott Rakofski, the vice president of development for PARC, and accepted an invitation from Rakofski to tour the PARC facilities.
“I said I would love to because in college, I worked with special needs children during a summer camp,” said Caputo. “I just loved it so much that I thought about changing my mass communications major to special education.”
The change of majors didn’t happen but the visit to PARC was eye-opening, to say the least.
“When I came to PARC that day, I just couldn’t stop smiling when I left there,” she said. “Then the next thing I know, they called and said they had a position open they would like to interview me for. It was the worst time. It wasn’t anything I was looking for and probably something I should not have pursued (due to her project responsibilities at the time at the Free Clinic). But it was like a magnet.”
As vice president of community relations, her duties include working in community outreach, as a media legislative liaison, as well as marketing and communications.
As part of that, she is a member of the St. Petersburg, Seminole and Tampa Bay Beaches chambers of commerce.
Of the three, she is most active in the Beaches Chamber where she is a former board chairman and the current chair of the Government Affairs Committee.
While she brings a nonprofit perspective to the Beaches Chamber and has been a huge contributor, her primary goal is to promote the services of PARC and networking with potential employers who might employ PARC program members in a vocational rehabilitation capacity.
“Selfishly, it’s a great thing for me,” Caputo said. “As much as the chamber may be thinking I’m helping them, I’m also gaining a lot of business-to-business relationships out of it and that’s why I’m there. I can’t dedicate my time somewhere if it’s not going to be effective for PARC. If I wasn’t getting that return, I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I’m getting that return.”
The PARC mission, she said, is to give something to the program participants so they can contribute something outside in a mainstream environment. They learn job skills at PARC and perform job skills at participating businesses such as Pinch A Penny Pool Supply, Regal Cinema, Publix, Bon Appétit at Eckerd College, West Pharmaceutical, TSE Industries and others.
After graduating from the University of South Florida with a degree in mass communications, Caputo’s career path started at Home Shopping Network where she worked as an audio operator, did camera work and was a graphics operator.
After six years there, it became apparent HSN was not her future. So Caputo quit without having another job.
“I enjoyed doing what I went to school for, but I wanted a change,” she said. “I really wanted to feel like I could help.”
About three weeks later, she got the opportunity. Caputo answered a classified advertisement for a part-time volunteer coordinator position at Alpha, a nonprofit that helps pregnant teens and women.
She was hired, and not long after that she was named assistant executive director.
“What’s great about the path that I’ve taken, it just happened,” said Caputo. “It wasn’t on purpose. I left the for-profit arena at HSN to achieve a job in nonprofit. I started out with a small nonprofit called Alpha and it was a great learning experience. It was a great mission. It really invigorated me to know that I was making a difference.”
Next came a little larger organization at the Free Clinic.
“I was there a year and a half,” said Caputo. “That’s where I started working on events, the fundraising part, the development part and volunteer coordination. It was a great learning experience.”
Her career decision continues to be a learning experience, complete with challenges she accepts routinely on a daily basis. The whole experience has been so rewarding, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I think at the end of the day, I got what I needed,” Caputo said. “I think I have a perfect scenario. I was always thinking I would have something to do with some kind of production work. I never thought of myself as a person who would be the community outreach spokesperson. It just wasn’t in my sight. But now that it‘s happened that way, and I get to represent an agency helping people with developmental disabilities, it’s the best. I ended up getting everything I wanted.”
She cherishes the moments when program participants show off their paychecks for work they performed at a client company and the beaming smiles she sees when a program participant completes a piece of artwork for sale.
“It’s just a joy to work here,” Caputo said. “I get more hugs. It just makes you feel so good.”