By Erin Feitsma
Paula Thomas loves to give back.
In 2018, the Tampa-based small business owner applied to the SCORE mentorship program. The former Hillsborough County Schools ESE parent liaison needed someone who could help get her consulting company, Dynamic Training and Growth Services, up and running. SCORE paired Thomas with a mentor who helped her develop marketing strategies, a business plan and more. Once she was equipped with the resources and knowledge she needed, she decided to pay it forward: In 2021, Thomas started volunteering as a SCORE mentor herself.
“I wanted to give back to an organization that really values volunteers,” said Thomas, 53. “The way I was treated through SCORE made me realize that this was where I wanted to volunteer my service and time. As a small minority business, I really didn’t have all the tools I needed … but it was different because I had a mentor. (This process) made me believe that not only could I receive mentor services but become a mentor myself. I received everything I needed and wanted to give back.”
SCORE is a national nonprofit association that helps small business owners succeed through mentorship and events as well as educational programs and resources, including webinars, videos and step-by-step guides. The organization was founded in 1964 and has since helped over 10 million would-be entrepreneurs actualize their dreams and set their business ideas in motion. SCORE has over 300 chapters nationwide, including local branches like Chapter 203 in Tampa.
Volunteers help make it all possible.
Community members at the local and national levels partner with the organization to volunteer as workshop presenters, subject matter experts, marketing support personnel and business mentors. For Thomas, giving back as a mentor has been a smooth process that helps her connect with clients who are open to receiving feedback.
“In some organizations, there is a lot of pressure in volunteering,” she said. “Here, they take your leadership strength and cultivate it to your ability. Volunteering for SCORE is not stressful; it’s a pleasant place to be if you are looking for an organization to give back to. You get a lot of support, help and training.”
After a small business owner applies for the SCORE mentorship program, the organization matches them with a business mentor volunteer. The frequency and modality of clients’ interactions with mentors varies depending on clients’ individual needs. Many mentors and clients have worked together virtually over the past couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mentorship relationships last as long as mentees need help, Thomas said.
“It’s ongoing … I could have a client for a week, I could have a client for a day, or I could have a client for six months,” she said. Thomas estimated that she has about 20-25 clients currently.
SCORE business mentor Jeff Simon, 72, lives in Boynton Beach and is part of the organization’s Tampa chapter. He typically works with clients whose companies or small business ideas are related to the hospitality industry. Simon draws on his expertise as the former owner of the Tampa-based business, Louis Wohl & Sons, which supplies commercial kitchens. Simon sold the company in 2018 and has since retired; he continues to do consulting work. He’s helped approximately 50-60 clients as a SCORE business mentor.
The satisfaction of giving back is part of what Simon loves about being involved in mentorship.
“When I see mentees having success, I get a lot of pleasure out of that,” he said.
One of Simon’s mentees is Karen Curry Hoffman, CEO and designer of Curry Hoffman Design, an interior design company that specializes in remodeling kitchens and bathrooms.
Hoffman, 59, who lives in Lutz, worked for years in Lowe’s Project Specialist Interiors (PSI) program before the company cancelled it. She was then faced with a decision: go to work for someone else or work for herself.
Hoffman, a single mother of two sons, chose the latter. With her son who has autism aging out of the school system soon, it was especially important, she said, to be able to have more control over her schedule. She launched Curry Hoffman Design in 2018.
“I knew it was risky (to start a business), and it was going to be hard,” she said. “But I’m not getting any younger. I had to take the leap. If not now, when?”
Hoffman has a business background with years of sales and marketing experience already under her belt but launching her company without the help of a business partner proved challenging, and she needed every resource she could have access to. SCORE provided her with these resources, including the mentorship connection with Simon.
“I’ve always been able to count on myself more than anyone. But I needed the guidance that SCORE offered. I needed the sounding board, I needed to bounce ideas off someone.
They set me up with a mentor … who was very familiar with my line of business. And it has been extremely helpful,” said Hoffman.
Besides the mentorship program, SCORE offers an array of resources, many of them free, for small business owners or those interested in exploring entrepreneurship. The organization offers training workshops (in-person or virtually) as well as webinars and prerecorded courses so you can learn from your living room. SCORE also has resources specifically tailored for different communities of business owners, including Black entrepreneurs, rural entrepreneurs, military veteran entrepreneurs and more.
Hoffman encouraged those interested in SCORE programs and resources not to be deterred if their business ideas aren’t fully formed yet, or if they’re not ready to quit their day jobs to pursue entrepreneurship full time.
“It’s so easy! You just have to reach out,” she said. “You don’t have to have everything in order, that’s what they’re there for. They know you don’t know. You need help. … It’s nice to have somebody who’s holding your hand but still giving you the freedom to make your own decisions.”
To learn more about SCORE’s local Tampa chapter, visit tampa.score.org, or call (813) 448-2311.
This article was originally published on July 24, 2022 in the LifeTimes section of the Tampa Bay Times.
Erin Feitsma is a Marketing Editor for Times Total Media. Times Total Media is the sales and marketing division of the Tampa Bay Times.
How to become a mentor
If supporting small business owners and the spirit of entrepreneurship is something you’re passionate about, you might enjoy working as a SCORE small business mentor or in another volunteer capacity. The organization has a variety of roles available for those looking to get involved. Visit tampa.score.org/volunteer to apply and put your skills to good use in the local Tampa chapter.
•Advises small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs
•Guides clients in developing business plans and business growth
•Shares business knowledge, experience and practical know-how
•Inspires business owners to achieve their ownership dreams
Must have broad experience as a business owner or an upper-level business manager to qualify. Must also have excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
Time commitment: 15-20 hours/month
•Delivers locally developed business training
•Teaches new concepts and information
•Engages small business audiences
Must have public speaking and/or training experience; experience in education a plus. Must have proven mastery of a business topic or strategy.
Time commitment: 2-10 hours/month (as needed)
•Manages local chapter activities
•Supports your chapter with administrative functions
•Is the face of SCORE in the local community
Must have project management, administrative and organizational skills, as well as computer proficiency.
Time commitment: 5-15 hours/month
Subject Matter Expert
•Supports mentors and business owners in answering questions related to your area of expertise
•Shares deep knowledge in a targeted functional area
•Offers practical know-how and specialized knowledge
Must demonstrate proven mastery of a specialized business topic such as e-commerce, accounting, human resources, technology, etc. Has excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
Time commitment: 2-10 hours/month (as needed)
These opportunities and more are available online. Apply to be a part of SCORE at
Content courtesy of SCORE.