Sarasota is widely recognized as A giving community. At the recent SB2: Helping People in July, we explored the idea of how nonprofits lead the way in doing good and serving at-risk groups in the region. Helping People was sponsored by CS&L CPAs and Cool Today, two local organizations dedicated to community outreach. 

SRQ: What is the greatest area of need in our community?  Tom Waters, President and CEO of Easter Seals of Southwest Florida:If you want to look at where the need is and what we are going to be struggling with even more in the future, it is adults with disabilities outliving their parents without services or opportunities. The second thing is the need for early intervention. Early intervention funding continues to decrease. One out of 68 children is diagnosed somewhere along the spectrum of autism. If you take a look at those numbers and see the children we are serving every day and then you go down the road to know that 80 percent of adults with autism are unemployed, those numbers for future unemployment are dramatic. 

As businesses get engaged with your organization, what do they see in return? Erin McLeod, Senior Vice President of The Friendship Centers: At the Friendship Centers, we took a step back several years ago and looked at how we are engaging with the business community to find ways for our corporate partners to benefit as much as we were. I remember being on the other side and how everyone wanted a donation or sponsorship or something like that. It got old after a while. I felt as though we were being nickeled and dimed and not for a lot of return. So I put myself back into those shoes and remembered that what we wanted was exposure: for the good work we were doing in the business world, but also for corporate responsibility. Our business partners want to get their name in front of people that are going to shop with them or use their service, or become potential customers. But I also think business owners also want their team to feel that sense of philanthropy and sense of pride. It makes their businesses stronger in the community. 

Are people aware of the services that are available in our community? Waters: We recently had a meeting with Suncoast Technical College (STC) driven by the fact that $537,000 was cut from the education budget for adult basic education. There are over 60 adults going to STC for education and employment connections. In one week’s notice, all of the teachers are gone. Where do these folks go? We hosted a panel with representatives from organizations that can help. They came into the meeting dejected and left elated. Whether they live in Venice or Sarasota or Bradenton, many found out about something that they didn’t know about before. If partners can provide us a forum, it can make a big difference. 

A lot of the suggestions for businesses looking to help involve impacting the government. Is there something we can do on a more grassroots level that can make an impact?McLeod: Yes. Volunteerism. Putting volunteer teams together to work on a project, or go out and do volunteer work for the community on a regular basis. Make that part of your corporate social responsibility strategy. 

How do you prioritize the need of your clients when the need is so great?Bob Rosinsky, President and CEO of Goodwill Manasota:  We utilize a strategic planning process that involves stakeholders, volunteers, partners and our ambassador program. You’re right, we have to prioritize every day on how we use our resources. This community has been very rich in working together. We don’t always work together as well as we should, but there is evidence that we work together a lot. Getting data, using resources, involving stakeholders and maximizing the use of the resources you’ve got is what we are all faced with on a regular basis. 

How do you prioritize the future self-sufficiency of youths? Sonia Santiago, Vice President of Youth and Family Services, Sarasota YMCA:  We promote self-value and focus on their strengths while developing them. It is so important when working with low-income kids for them to know they have the ability to make their life better. At the YMCA Sarasota, we focus on developing their talents. One of the things that the community can do for our teens is provide them internships and come to their schools to provide information about careers. It doesn’t have to be about college. Information about the vocational course is just as important. As a culture, we emphasize college and these students can get very defeated.  Beginning in eighth grade, we should start providing our children with options that aren’t just college. With the services we provide, if a child comes to our shelter and shows a talent for drawing, we connect them to a teacher that can help guide and inspire them.