North Port Community News Editor
NORTH PORT — One day before her 16th birthday, Willow Tufano received a gift unlike no other teen.The young entrepreneur who purchased two houses in Charlotte County at age 14 was recognized Tuesday by the James Madison Institute in Broward County, Fla.“They made a five-minute film about Willow, which they showed at the ceremony,” said her mother, Shannon Moore, a local Realtor who co-owns the homes with her.Willow, who made a speech, was presented the Preston Wells Award for students.“It is awarded to a Florida student who has done something extraordinary to promote their ideals. In Willow’s case, it is thrift and self-reliance,” Moore said, adding Willow also answered questions about how she was able to save $6,000 to help buy her half of a $12,000 General Development-style home two years ago.William Mattox, a resident fellow at the James Madison Institute and a freelance writer for USA Today, wrote a story a few months ago about the young North Porter who takes virtual school classes online.“You can YouTube ‘Willow Tufano James Madison Institute’ to see the video,” Moore said. “The institute paid all expenses, food, gas, hotel, etc.”In 2012, an amazed Ellen DeGeneres gave Willow a $10,000 Ace Hardware gift card after she learned the then-14-year-old bought a house in Port Charlotte. The gift, presented to Willow on TV during the “Ellen” show, was used to refurbish the home and rent it.DeGeneres sought Willow out because she was impressed with her entrepreneurial skills used to buy the house with her own money. Dubbed “Florida’s youngest landlord,” Willow explained how she saved up the money over a year’s time by buying and selling hundreds of items, including longboards, baby items, bunk beds and videogames, on Craigslist, eBay and other websites.