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The Helping Habit

Lisa Kelley credits her mom with her dedication to volunteer work

Published in 2022 Florida Super Lawyers magazine

Lisa Kelley’s mother has a refrigerator magnet that reads: “Stop me from volunteering again.”

It’s a family joke—like mother, like daughter. Kelley, a medical malpractice plaintiff’s attorney in Tampa, is renowned in her community for her volunteer work. 

Betsy Stecher raised Kelley and her two older brothers as a single mom. “She joined Junior League and she volunteered for everything,” Kelley recalls. “That was my example. As long as she’s got breath and her legs are working, she’s going to do it.”

Kelley herself chaired—and also emceed—the last pre-pandemic Lights, Fashion, Hope charitable gala in 2019 put on by LAMPLighters Tampa, to raise funds for Metropolitan Ministries and Friends of Joshua House Foundation, two nonprofits that serve low-income children and families. They brought in more than $100,000—twice as much as the annual event had raised in the past.

“That’s my contribution—taking a day off from analyzing medical mistakes to do what’s quite enjoyable for me and serves a very important purpose,” says Kelley, who practices with her husband, Michael Trentalange, at Trentalange & Kelley. 

“The 2019 fundraiser she did was hugely attended,” says DeDe Grundel, executive director of the Friends of Joshua House Foundation, which operates a therapeutic shelter for abused and neglected children and teenagers. “We actually got more men to attend than in the past, which isn’t easy with an event called ‘Lights, Fashion, Hope.’ That’s based on her ability to influence her peers and have frank conversations.”

Before that, Kelley served on the board of Downtown Tampa YMCA and headed its annual fundraiser, which raised money for years to help finance the construction of the new Bob Gilbertson Central City Family YMCA in Tampa. She and her husband also created an outreach program for homeless people who gather in a parking lot near their law office. At the front desk, they can pick up kits containing socks, toiletries and other essentials.

Kelley is fearless about approaching colleagues and others for charitable contributions. “I know a lot of people hate fundraising, but I don’t really mind it,” she says. “I learned that if you have a good elevator pitch, they’re glad to give. You just have to ask.”

Kelley, whose blended family includes five kids, became involved with Joshua House through her modeling work, which started before college. After modeling for a fundraising fashion show for LAMPLighters Tampa in 2010, she stayed to listen to the presentation about Joshua House. She was moved by the plight of the kids and the intensive services provided by that organization. 

“These are the worst-abused kids in a state that’s very bad in terms of abused children, and abuse begets abuse,” she says. “They grow up to become adults, and they could be your neighbor. We’re stopping the cycle of abuse.”

Kelley has passed along the habit of volunteering to the whole family. “All the children have been involved in one way or another in volunteerism,” she says. In 2014, they went on a church mission trip to Nicaragua to build housing. The kids have also participated in programs for the homeless and at Joshua House.

Her twin son and daughter, Giovanni and Lili, are now in college. Without her knowledge, her son, when he was 13, launched his own fundraising campaign for Joshua House, writing letters to tell people the kids there needed new sneakers. He raised more than $1,200.

“Lisa sent me that letter and it made me cry,” Grundel says. “Lisa’s gift isn’t just what she does for the community as a volunteer. It’s also that she’s teaching the same principles to her children, and they got it.”

LAMPLighters Tampa hasn’t held Lights, Fashion, Hope since the pandemic started and has moved in a different direction with fundraising. As someone who is immunocompromised, Kelley hasn’t been able to participate in in-person activities. So, for the next stage of her volunteer career, she and her mother recently joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. Together they plan to participate in DAR-sponsored volunteer activities such as reading books to schoolchildren virtually.

“I’d like to do some hands-on work with kids now that mine have flown the coop,” she says.

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