Samuel's House Founder and CEO Elmira Leto has been selected to receive the Florida Achievement Award by the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.
The decision was made last week. Leto will be presented with the award at noon July 24 at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota.
Leto is well-known in Key West for her advocacy on behalf of the homeless. Fifteen years ago, she founded Samuel's House, Inc., as a small emergency shelter for women in a building her family owned on Truman Avenue. The organization has since grown into a shelter for homeless women, women and children, and intact families. It is located in several buildings in the Poinciana Housing site on Duck Avenue.
Leto has also provided gainful employment for a number of locals, including some former clients.
"I really feel like a princess who has been discovered inside of a tower, and I feel so honored that the ladies would nominate me to receive this award," Leto said. "Samuel's House has helped to change so many lives, and I'm so proud to be a part of it."
The award announcement has put a spring in Leto's step as she and her staff put the finishing touches on "Le Grand Chic Trunk Sale," a fundraiser for Samuel's House taking place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in the ballroom of the Mariott Key West Beachside Resort, 3841 North Roosevelt Blvd.
The event, a benefit for Samuel's House, offers brand new fashions for women and men from such designers as Lilly Pulitzer, Tommy Bahama, Columbia Sportswear and more. The clothes were donated by the Ocean Key House after it closed its gift shop, and prices have been reduced to 50 to 75 percent off the retail price.
Leto has fit a huge amount of public service into her life since graduating from Key West High School in 1967 with accomplishments too numerous to list.
She founded the Florida Keys Youth Club, now known as the Boys d Girls Club of the Keys Area, and has worked for the Monroe County Detention Center, Jail Ministry. In 2003, she received both the Golden Angel Award from the Rotary Club of Key West, and a special commendation for outstanding work on behalf of homeless women and children of Monroe County from the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, Inc.
Somehow, she also managed to find time to run an interior decorating business and raise four children.
"They're the love of my life," Leto said, "as are my two grandchildren."
Leto was nominated for the Florida Achievement Award by the local women, including Gae Ganister, Andrea Spottswood and Kay Miller.
"She's a wonderful role model for the community, especially young women," said Miller, a friend and colleague of Leto's. "Her faith and perseverance in addressing local homeless and social issues, and her advocacy efforts on behalf of women, children and families, have made such a difference in the lives of many families faced with desperate and sometimes life-threatening situations of domestic violence."