WFLA is celebrating some of the most remarkable women in Tampa Bay during National Women’s History Month

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – March is National Women’s History Month and WFLA is celebrating some of the most remarkable women in Tampa Bay. A panel of judges selected four finalists from nearly 200 essays written by people who know and admire them.

Joanne Braccio was named a finalist for her compassion and dedication to her community. She is devoted to helping people who are facing life’s hardest battles, knowing all too well how difficult it is to overcome them.

“I was a functioning addict. But I think it turned around when I was tired of being sick and tired, ”Braccio said.

She now owns Maid to Order, a cleaning service based in Pinellas Park. Cleaning, she says, brings her joy. It’s all she’s ever done.

At age 17, she started cleaning houses and, despite her addiction and being homeless at times, she eventually established Maid to Order. She now employs more than 30 people.

Joanne hands out hygiene kits to homeless individuals in Pinellas County.

Braccio attributes her success to God and says her life’s purpose is to now help others.

“I just believe that’s what God put us here for, just to help each other,” she said.

For the past 20 years, Joanne has used a portion of the profits from Maid to Order to fund her charity Love Thy Neighbor. The nonprofit provides basic needs to homeless individuals in Pinellas County and offers free cleaning services for cancer patients across Tampa Bay.

It’s an effort that is near and dear to her heart.

“I think it’s a gift to us. I think the fact that we know what it’s like to have somebody that you love have cancer and help them through this, ”said Joanne.

Braccio create Love Thy neighbor in 2000 through the grief of losing her brother Robert to cancer. Joanne promised him that she would use her skills cleaning homes to spread kindness to other cancer warriors.

At the time, Braccio had no idea that Love Thy Neighbor would also create a legacy for her sister Lois who, in 2020, also passed away from the same disease.

“They were both too young to die,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Joanne’s brother Robert (right) and sister Lois (far right) died from cancer. Joanne created Love Thy Neighbor in their honor.

Through Love Thy Neighbor, Braccio has cleaned the homes of hundreds of people battling cancer who aren’t able to do it themselves due to the severity and cost of their treatments.

“It helps me heal,” she said. “It gives me purpose in life. I know that this is what I was meant to do. ”

Braccio’s personal experience with homelessness also drives her passion to help those living on the streets of Pinellas County through Love Thy Neighbor. Inside a pantry at the Maid to Order office, you’ll find dozens of bins with clothes, shoes, basic essentials and shelves upon shelves of food.

With her kids and grandkids in tow, Braccio delivers it all to the homeless.

“I want people down there to know that if I can do it, you can do it and that there is hope and never give up hope,” she said.

Georgia DeAngelis has been a client and friend of Joanne’s for 20 years and calls her Mother Teresa.

“It’s never been about her. It is always about how she can give back to the people and her community, ”she said. “Our paths crossed in life and I thank God every day they did. She is just such an inspiration to me in the things that she does. ”

DeAngelis has witnessed Braccio deliver items to the homeless often – whether on a regular Tuesday or on Christmas Day.

“There was a lady there… and Joanne gave the jacket off of her back to this lady. I mean, it’s just like – there’s just nothing that she would not do for somebody, for anybody, ”DeAngelis said. “Most families are celebrating at home with food and family and presents and everything. Joanne was downtown with the homeless with her grandchildren spreading cheer. And it was so unselfish of her in so many ways to be with these people and also – how rewarding and what a great teacher she is for these grandkids. “

That’s what makes Braccio a remarkable woman.

“This is not me, this is God. This is God’s work, ”she said humbly. “I want Love Thy Neighbor to grow. I want it to help more people. I tell people all the time we’re better together. ”

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