Phylis Moore, Altruistic to the Core

Who is Phylis Moore?

When you first meet Phylis Moore, her soft-spoken personality misrepresents her true nature. A reserved and gentle woman, Phylis is actually a change-agent in her community and an empowering force in the lives of others.

The expression, “change occurs one person at a time” is, in the case of Phylis Moore, no exaggeration. She may not have deliberately set out in this world to make a big difference but through small steps her footprint looms large.

Phylis was born and raised on the west side of Winter Park, and according to the Hannibal Square Heritage Collectionthis was “on the other side of the railroad tracks from affluent white people’s houses.” It was in fact developed “as a residential section for the ‘colored’ help.” And it was this neighborhood that formed Phylis’ devotion to community and ultimately defined her career path to serve and empower people in need.

In a moment of retrospection, Phylis said she “gets excited about helping people because I see myself in other people. Growing up was hard for me and my brothers. So, my goal was always to give back, to make people happy and to make them feel that they are in control of their own community.”

A Defining Moment

 Phylis’ selfless concern for the well-being of others is evident in the diligent way she approaches her work, in the volunteer opportunities she pursues and in one small story that embodies how she leaves no one behind. When she served as a substitute teacher and later as the attendance clerk at Wymore Tech High School in Eatonville, Phylis, was affectionately nicknamed “godmother” by her students. Grown kids from her ten-year tenure at Wymore Tech still thank her for “being there for them” and for “molding them” when they were students at the school.

In particular, one young man who went onto graduate school, is indebted to Phylis for assuring him his future. It happened that one day the police showed up at the high school to investigate a home break-in. They targeted this young man as a possible suspect. They asked to verify his attendance at the school during the time of the crime. Phylis did her job and did it meticulously.  She supplied the necessary evidence to exonerate the student from any connection to the crime. Phylis knew these kids had rough lives. She was not going to let an opportunity pass her by where she could help lighten their load or brighten their day.

When Giving Back is a Way of Life

Altruism and compassion are attributes Phylis has displayed throughout her life. As someone who prefers action over talk, Phylis has always been concerned with the greater good. Back in the 1980’s, she worked for Mayor Bill Frederick’s “Clean Up Orlando” program in the Paramore area. Her role was “to ride, view, stop, talk and encourage residents and business owners to improve their neighborhood”. Among other duties, she helped residents clean up overgrown yards. She facilitated the removal of abandoned cars and resolved conflicts between neighbors. She organized community activities and arranged for school supplies to be handed out to kids before each academic year began.

Whether her role was as volunteer or paid employee, Phylis used each experience to define her next “give back” adventure. While working as the part-time Volunteer Coordinator for the City of Winter Park, Phylis developed an after-school enrichment program for neighborhood kids. It was for 1st through 6th graders, attending public school in the Winter Park, Lakemont, Killarney and Aloma areas. With a volunteer crew from the First United Church in Winter Park, Phylis introduced these kids to – chess, tennis, golf, ballet and drama – experiences to which they had never previously been exposed. She encouraged parent involvement, forging family memories and helping parents prioritize time spent with their children.

Returning to Roots: Hannibal Square

Family has always been important to Phylis. Having tragically losing one brother in 1968, her closeness to remaining family never diminished. Eventually in the early 2000’s she became a caregiver to her other brother, moving him, his two children and two grandchildren into her own home. The consummate caregiver, Phylis tends to the needs of her family and her community. Wherever something is broken is where Phylis turns her attention. This is why Phylis joined the Community Redevelopment Board in Winter Park to improve the district of Hannibal Square hoping to restore some of its old charm.  Also named to the board of the Winter Park Community Center, she helped champion the development of that building.

At the time, Hannibal Square, the area between New York Avenue and Martin Luther King Park, was rift with slum lords, bad housing and dilapidated homes. The area was economically challenged. But through the efforts of the city, and volunteers like Phylis, the area started to turn around. Yet, as with any family, one challenge soon turned into another. Hannibal Square became so gentrified, “that local businesses and traditional meeting spaces were demolished and replaced with upscaled businesses” displacing long term African American residents who could no longer afford to live there. Thus, the Hannibal Square Community Land Trust was born enabling low, very-low and some moderate-income families to secure long term housing at a controlled and affordable rate. Like every good caregiver, Phylis, stepped up one more time to serve as the first treasurer of the land trust. She was devoted to stopping the hemorrhaging of long-time residents leaving the community because it had become unaffordable. Yet, her nurturing of the community she so adores so much did not stop there.

With the changing face of Hannibal Square, it was important to those affiliated with the community that its old charm and history be retained. In 2007, with grant assistance from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and guidance from the Crealde School of Art, the Hannibal Square Heritage Center was built and stands today as a “tribute to the past, present and future contributions of Winter Park’s historic African American community.”  To no one’s surprise, Phylis Moore worked for two years to help develop the Hannibal Square Heritage Center and then served as its first manager.

Altruism and the Brain

Phylis may be unaware of the neuroscience research that shows how aiding others reduces stress-related activity in the brain and boosts the reward systems of the brain. She may be unaware that volunteering one’s time and helping others doesn’t just make your world better. It also makes you better. Giving back is one of the greatest things you can do to boost your own sense of well-being and mental health. The research is overwhelming. Still, you don’t have to read every journal article to know that helping others is a feel-good activity.

Perhaps this is why Phylis keeps on volunteering.  She currently serves as an AARP volunteer and as a committee member on the Table Sixty organization, whose mission it is to locally alleviate senior hunger. Still going strong in her older years, what Phylis “gets back” from “giving back” is a heightened sense of well-being, and according to neuroscience research, a mental boost from the neurochemical reward system in the brain.

Phylis’ Advice

Enjoy your life no matter what. Help people when they need assistance with their everyday needs. Volunteer for things that give you meaning. Be helpful and remember, if life is hard, it can get better.