Nonprofit Powerhouse 

Abigail Oakes, 25
Manager of Nonprofit Services, Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Your nickname Abigail Oaktree is a personal favorite—I’ve always been a nature nerd. Your brand tagline: Power of love > love of power  Would you rather be an inventor or leader? Inventor! I like thinking creatively about challenges and then empowering others to lead the charge.   Biggest a-ha moment?  I studied science and math as an undergrad at New College, and it really solidified the concept that “there’s more than one way to peel an orange.” Even in something that seems as concrete as physics or calculus, there are about 10 different ways to solve a problem and still reach the same answer, and each method has a context that could make it more or less time-consuming. I’ve taken this with me in my career in philanthropy and nonprofit work. We aren’t restricted to one “correct” way to change the world and improve the community. When did you feel helpless?  I managed a community-wide giving day (the Giving Challenge) with over 630 local nonprofit organizations participating this year. I am also pursuing my master’s degree at Northeastern University in Nonprofit Management. Sometimes the number in my email inbox makes me feel a bit helpless, but pep talks from coworkers and a wonderful support network keep me going! Oh, and coffee.  your heart goes out to I don’t think I am allowed to have a favorite nonprofit, but I do have to give a shout-out to my alma mater—New College of Florida!  Has Sarasota failed millennials? This is not a challenge specific to any age group, but affordable housing would be the #1 issue for me. After living in Sarasota for six years, I now live in St. Pete and commute to Sarasota every day for work. It’s actually more affordable to do that, and I get to live in a much larger place closer to a downtown area.   In Sarasota we do too much fixing and too little supporting. Our community has a tendency to prescribe solutions to problems we aren’t personal experts on, rather than empowering and supporting those experiencing a challenge to address things in a way that meets their unique needs. What's next? Completing my graduate degree is in my near foreseeable future! 


The Poised Performer

Melissa Coleman Sperber, 28
General Manager, Sarasota Contemporary Dance


Your nickname Mel Your brand tagline: Find balance in all things!   Would you rather be an inventor or leader? Wow that’s hard! I honestly think they go hand in hand, but I’d have to say Inventor, because I enjoy problem solving! Biggest a-ha moment?  I began dancing in high school and I remember during my very first performance—I was in the smallest part, with the least amount of choreography (In fact, I think my entire part took place sitting on my knees!)—but nonetheless, I remember the lights coming on and feeling like my world had changed. I had never felt that level of excitement or passion before—and as soon as I discovered it, I never stopped chasing it.  When did you feel helpless?  When I was 16, my father passed away after a long struggle with addiction and I felt like there was nothing I could do. My world was being turned upside down and I literally had no control over it. Although this still affects me to this day, I did learn something that shined through even this dark time. The shortened time I had with my dad was filled with enough love and support that it could last several lifetimes. I became so grateful for the lessons I did not even know he had already taught me. Has Sarasota failed millennials?   Accessibility and inclusion is something that Sarasota could work on to draw, and maintain, more millennials in the area. Our location is incredible—beautiful beaches, an abundance of culture, great weather most of the time—but sometimes it can feel like you are ‘trespassing’ in your own neighborhood. People want to feel like they belong, and millennials just want that too.  your heart goes out to  Sarasota Contemporary Dance, my Sarasota heart and family. In Sarasota we do too much excluding and too little  including. What's next?  I hope to just continue growing and learning—and taking it one day at a time!