Photography by Adam Spafford

You might find him planning vacations at Lugos Travel, raising money for area schools, or joining in a local pub run, but wherever you find him, ItsJustCharity.org’s Shane Mahoney will tell you why Lakeland is a great place to do good work.

The Lakelander: How did you come to call Lakeland home?
Shane Mahoney: Lakeland was initially a tough relationship for me. I call it home, but I’ve known so many. While not originally from Lakeland, I moved here in the fourth grade and stayed until I graduated from Lakeland High School in 1995. At the time, I thought I’d never live here again and went about my adventures. After thirteen years of living elsewhere, I’d come to appreciate what Lakeland truly oers and made my way back willingly and with verve.
Lakeland has a great mix of many desirable traits. For me, what sets it apart is the parks and recreation department’s keen attention to detail in beautifying the city. e result is a gorgeous town that oers a great mix of large-town amenities with a small-town feel. Lakeland also oers quick access to so much Florida has to oer, and the net eect is a clean, great place to
live, surrounded by many attractions of which the world can be jealous. In the end, a large part of doing this work is borne from wanting to show up-and-coming adults that Lakeland is a great place to stay and that it’s a community that truly does care.

TL: You once related to me a story of an unfullling career. How does that experience inuence your work — professional and charitable — now?
SM: It inuences me more than any other driving force. Life is far too short to waste it not pursuing your dreams. A motivated person with a dream is most powerful. Following my heart,
and letting all other decisions ow from there, has changed my entire perspective on life and how I wish to live it. I believe in being the change I want to see. And where I’ve made mistakes, I’ve corrected them and moved on to just be better next time. I also don’t dwell on the past much, at least not when there’s so much riding on the future.

TL: Speaking of your charitable work, what is ItsJustCharity.org?
SM: It’s an event-based, youth education and mentoring charity designed to help in small but measurable ways. That means a lot of different things, so let me explain.
We started ItsJustCharity.org based on three principles which we use to guide us. First, we wanted it to be about kids’ education and life balance. I feel that upcoming generations will face different economic and job challenges than what we see today. Much of that is borne from the technological and scientific changes that are occurring. It’s diffi cult for anyone to just pick up those fields and run with them.
Our second principle was to be event based. We wanted to bring entertaining things to Lakeland, and knowing that each and every one of us enjoy going out, want to have a good time, and will gladly spend money on it, we figured why not off er events that everyone would want to attend and that just so happen to off er a great cause as the benefactor? Th ere’s no reason giving to charity can’t be fun. Lastly, we wanted to be sure everything we did was locally based and locally benefi cial. Everything we raise in Polk County, we keep in Polk County. Not that other charities aren’t deserving, but we really felt that we could be about a community helping itself.

TL: What motivates you?
SM: It started from a philosophy I’ve had for years, that where something can be done, it should. Having had personal experience with how much teachers spend per semester to educate the children of other people, and especially given how little they make, I simply felt like it was something that had to be done. We all hope that the proper amount of attention is being paid to budgets so that the best education can be had by all, but I just thought that until that happens, I’d rather fill the gap. I’d hope that if we all just pitched in a little we could all benefit. Ultimately, I feel that every dollar put into the education system today is worth multiple times the investment when compared to the cost of someone spending twenty years in our penal system.

TL: What makes ItsJustCharity.org so effective?
SM: Well, I suppose an argument could be made either way depending on your standards. I feel what we’ve been able to accomplish is modest, and I’m eternally grateful for the many people who have helped and continue to help, but I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied until real change in our education system occurs. That would be a conversation for another day, though. Personally, I feel that ItsJustCharity.org operates on love and kindness, so whatever gains we make, modest or otherwise, I’m happy to see the community supporting something I feel is important.

TL: What have you learned? What advice would you give aspiring charity founders?
SM: I’ve learned that there is no halfway with this life. If you want to do it, you need to be fully committed. That being said, it’s rewarding in ways that far eclipse monetary gains. After all the work comes the reward in seeing the people we can affect, and while I may never truly know if anything we’ve done will make a huge difference per se, I think it’s more about the effort. Sometimes it’s the smallest of gestures that can have the greatest impact.

TL: What events have already happened? What ones are coming up?
SM: We built the premise around just four yearly events. For one thing, putting these together are time intensive, and for another we didn’t want to constantly be in people’s faces. We’d rather do what we do well and be like a charity treat you can indulge in from time to time.
The Diamonds and Pearls Masquerade Ball benefits the Florida Baptist Children’s Home which takes care of kids who need short- and long-term foster care as well as guardian ad litem. We love this event because it gives us all a chance to dress up and really go out on the town.
Later in the year we host our It’s Just Comedy Night which benefits the Learning Resource Center. We support this organization because they really do a fantastic job of supporting education in Polk County. They are locally based and independently funded.
The Just a Lil Bit Country Event is our latest creation and our event for local classrooms and teachers. It’s how we fill the void where good teachers want to have the best ways to teach but can’t pay for it themselves. We’re hoping this event is a success, and it marks our first and only kid-friendly event. So far we’ve been able to pay for butterfly terrariums, robotics laboratories for third graders, and PE equipment for eight hundred kids.
Our last event is our signature Wine & Cigar Night which helps us address our own budgetary needs as well as plan for long-range projects. One of my goals is to eradicate text books in favor of iPads or the like. To me, it opens so many new learning paths while saving kids from toting around thirty-ish pounds of books and the resulting health issues.

TL: What’s the best way to get involved with ItsJustCharity.org?
SM: The best part of what we do is make giving to charity not only easy, but fun! If you’d like to help, …follow us on Facebook, go to our website, and come to our events! Take a chance and let us show you.

ItsJustCharity.org brings fun, new events to Lakeland. Bringing the community together is vital to our growth and prosperity, so help us and have a great time. Remember,
ItsJustCharity.org!