Meet Our Board Members: 

Bernadette Spong and Kari Vargas

As we kick off Volunteer Appreciation Month, we want to recognize two women on our board of directors who are fierce advocates for the health and wellness of our community – Bernadette Spong and Kari Vargas.

1. Can you tell us briefly about your background and how you became involved with the Foundation for a Healthier West Orange?

Bernadette: I was CFO with Orlando Health from 2015 until 2022, when I retired.  I had the privilege of working with the Foundation as Orlando Health’s CFO. Given my passion for health and wellness, it was a great opportunity for me.

Kari: West Orange County has been my home for almost 40 years. After finishing college and graduate school, I worked at AdventHealth (previously Florida Hospital) in various roles across Central Florida. Currently, I serve as the CEO at AdventHealth Winter Garden. The vision of the Foundation aligns with my personal and professional aim of helping our community feel whole, mind, body and spirit.


2.What do you believe is the most important work that the Foundation is doing, and how do you see it making a positive impact in our community?

Bernadette: Our goal of ensuring our community is one of the healthiest in the nation is certainly one that all health professionals can appreciate and eagerly support.  While there are so many great programs under the Foundation’s umbrella, I have a couple of favorites—Westly’s Miles and the HUBB. As a grandmother, I see how important physical activity is for young children. I firmly believe children who have the opportunity to participate in school-sponsored exercise programs like Westley’s Miles perform better academically and also benefit from a love of exercise which continues with them as they grow and develop. We can only ensure our success of being one of the healthiest communities if we involve everyone in the community—some of our neighbors struggle with challenges such as lack of health care, lack of affordable housing, and food insecurity.  HUB provides our neighbors with opportunities to find help in these and other critical areas.  With this resource to lean on, they can then also focus on their health.

Kari: The Foundation’s aim is to unite the community, business, government and faith communities in making West Orange County one of the healthiest communities in the country. The Foundation understands that it requires all stakeholders to work together and reaching out to our residents where they are in life. It is not just one single action that changes West Orange County. It is the joint effort of investing in our youth by inspiring them to be active and eat healthy food through Westly’s Mile or creating fun ways for families to become active together in challenges or the trails connections, which leverages existing community infrastructure to rally an entire community of leading an active lifestyle. I am also enthusiastic about how the Foundation is using the HUBB to link a variety of community resources smoothly to those who need help.

3. Can you speak to the value of collaboration when it comes to the health and well-being of the community?

Bernadette: Collaboration is an absolute must as we work toward being the healthiest community in the US. So many organizations are part of the equation – healthcare systems like Orlando Health and AdventHealth play key roles in providing excellent care to our residents. It’s great that both these organizations are represented on our board. We are blessed with a number of not-for-profits whose goals align with ours and are actively engaged in West Orange County. The Foundation for a Healthier West Orange has a solid reputation for achieving what we set out to do. These other not-for-profits appreciate that and partner with us to achieve our goals. Without this collaboration, it would certainly be more challenging for us to be as successful as we are.

Kari: Collaboration is essential for the health and well-being of the community, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty. No one person or organization can solve the complex and interrelated challenges that affect people's lives, such as poverty, hunger, healthcare, education, or environmental issues. Collaboration allows diverse stakeholders to share their perspectives, resources, and expertise and to work together towards a common goal. Collaboration also fosters trust, mutual learning, and innovation, which can lead to more effective and sustainable solutions. By collaborating with others, we can leverage our collective strengths and make a greater impact in our community.

4. What are your favorite ways to stay active and healthy, and how do you incorporate them into your routine?

Bernadette: Being retired has given me the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the fresh air every day. I play golf a few times a week including walking 18 holes which is approximately six miles. I also practice yoga and take core and strength classes, not to mention running after four grandchildren gets my heart pumping.

Kari: With two active teenagers and a robust career, I am in a very busy season of my life. Our family enjoys the outdoors; whether it is biking, water sports, pickleball, or a gym day, we tend to stay active as a family activity. It is great because, on any given day, one of us encourages someone to get out and shoot some hoops or push a few more reps in the gym. For us, we find it a great way to spend time together and put our health and well being at the forefront of busy lives.