Julie Johnson-Weintraub, 48, was born in England and moved to the Northeastern United States with her family at age 7. They relocated, again, to Florida in the mid-’80s. “My mother just loved the sound of living here,” Johnson-Weintraub said. Dropping into a lovely British accent, she channels her mom: “’Clearwater,’ she said, ‘What a lovely place that must be.’”
Johnson-Weintraub is known to many across Tampa Bay as part of the dynamic duo behind Gold & Diamond Source, a very successful business she and her husband use to support their deeply ingrained philosophy of philanthropy.
“I was raised in a home that valued giving back and supporting others, so I learned that early,” she said. Her mother even took a homeless man into their own home and worked with him until he became a homeowner himself.
So, in addition to being a generous sponsor involved with numerous area nonprofit events, the business allows Johnson-Weintraub to “support four to 10 deserving charities each week“ through Julie Weintraub’s Hands Across the Bay, a nonprofit she established in 2009.
“I read a story in the newspaper about a man who had committed suicide in front of his two children—they were close in age to my own kids at the time—over a $100-something electric bill,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘There has to be someone who could’ve stepped in to help quickly.’ But I learned there wasn’t.”
And so, Hands Across the Bay does, as Johnson-Weintraub described it, “lots of random things” to fill gaps in service. “When a person gets into a bad situation through no fault of their own,” she explained, “we’re able to fill the gaps for great organizations, meet those needs they can’t.”
As the Gold & Diamond Source site says on behalf of the family: “Our nation has a long and rich tradition of people coming together to solve problems and enrich their communities. Realizing that nonprofit organizations are a crucial part of our society, providing help to the needy, raising funds for good causes and those in need, Julie Weintraub’s Hands Across the Bay was formed to give us the ability to do just that and more!
Our efforts range from simple acts of kindness such as paying an electric bill to hosting signature black-tie events bringing together many members of the community that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of local charities.”
Hands Across the Bay—and Johnson-Weintraub herself—are perhaps best known for their work advocating for domestic violence survivors and their education and prevention efforts.
“We’ve distributed 94,000 copies of prevention and awareness booklets in Hillsborough and Pinellas County schools,” she said. “We speak at schools, corporations and businesses. Because I want everyone to know women are not disposable, and domestic violence is an epidemic in our country. Someone has to speak up and say, ‘This is wrong!’”
The scope of the problem—20 individuals are abused every minute of the day—and the number of survivors Johnson-Weintraub has helped is staggering—and sad. “When you ask me about my survivor who was shot, I have to ask you, ‘Which one?’ When you ask about my survivor who was nearly stabbed to death, I have to ask you, ‘Which one?’”
Johnson-Weintraub has become a staunch and fierce advocate. “I’m angry and frustrated about how these cases are treated. I have no law degree. I have only a high school diploma, but I have to go into courtrooms as a private citizen and address the injustices I see.”
She tells the story of one of her survivors who was five months pregnant when her abuser held her down and shot her in the face. Miraculously she survived that, and he reported it as a home invasion and even went to the hospital and whispered in her ear that he’d kill her whole family if she told the truth.
“He should have been charged for two counts of attempted first-degree murder—one for the child and one for the mother,” Johnson-Weintraub said heatedly. “They were going to charge him with aggravated assault only. He could’ve been sentenced to only 10 years.” Even after Johnson-Weintraub “raised holy hell” with the prosecutor, the compromise was a single count of second-degree attempted murder. “He was sentenced to 25 years and could be out in his mid-40s.”
“I just want our community to be safe for our boys and girls,” she said with a note of sadness.
Johnson-Weintraub admits that this type of advocacy takes a lot of energy. “It takes a lot as a person—every time I go into a courtroom, I leave a little bit of me there, but I hope I’m making this world a little bit better than it was before. And it’s inspiring to see people overcome these horrific situations.”
When asked if the work has changed her, Johnson-Weintraub initially said, “I try not to let it—I don’t want anyone’s bad behavior to change my heart—but I think it has made me stronger but also more grateful and loving and, I hope, kind.
“No survivor knew when they woke up that morning that it was almost their last day,” she said. “So, I know life is fragile. I have more gratitude. And when I think I have a ‘problem,’ I remember these people overcoming truly unbelievable circumstances.
There is value in this work. Over the last 12 years, if I look back, each case I handle has given me something I treasure more than gold. I have precious life lessons from those cases.”
If you’re experiencing an abusive relationship, please research your local resources for help building a safety plan to reduce your abuser’s opportunity to hurt you or your family. If you’re in immediate danger, please call 911. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) for a referral to your local resources.
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