With so many organizations doing so much good on the Giving Coast, our reader, our readers showered special attention on the Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning (SILL) for intellectually enriching the region. Cat Depot’s animal rescuing ways earned it a first finalist slot in our results, while the constant philanthropic innovations of Goodwill Manasota received enough votes for the second finalist position. Tied for third finalist were Easter Seals of Southwest Florida, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast. 

Mustafa Yilmaz (on Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning): Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning is the most exceptional because it engages seniors like me and improves their lives with its superb programs. Amazingly, they are run entirely by volunteers and have no paid staff. If you like classical music and would like to gain insight into the careers of world-renowned musicians, you cannot find a better way than musical conversations with the artists on SILL’s Music Mondays. If you want to keep engaged and gain insights into a wide range of contemporary global issues, SILL lectures by outstanding experts will provide that. While I am thinking, learning and enjoying the lectures, I am in the company of other well-educated and interested seniors. What a way to get out of the house and spend a quality hour several times a week. 

Carol Wolfers (on SILL): We like a wide range of musical experiences and SILL goes beyond performances and discusses the backgrounds of the artists interviewed giving us insights into the factors which influence the development of artists of many kinds. We would hope that SILL could reach an even wider audience to improve the musical life of the entire Sarasota community.

Elsie Appleton (on SILL): Each lecture helps us better understand events around the world as they are now, and when they occur in the future. They make us better informed and smarter about the many and complex global issues we hear about, in a non-political way. 

Virginia Carnahan (on Cat Depot): People don't realize that by feeding "stray" cats they are contributing to the problem of feral cats. Cat Depot has a crew of volunteers who go out to known "tribes" of feral cats to capture them and bring them in to the Rose Durham Veterinary Clinic for spaying/neutering and vaccinations. Each cat gets a medical exam and any services it might need to be made healthy, then the cat is returned to its "tribe" to live out its natural, wild life without procreating. A single female cat can have several litters of kittens each year and those kittens produce more kittens. The number of potential homeless cats from each female feral cat is enormous. My two cats are great companions and seem to be grateful that I rescued them.

Cathy Damiano (on Cat Depot): Cat Depot provides many free and low-cost services to the community. With donations, they provide free cat food to the local community cat population. Volunteering at Cat Depot gives me my ‘cat fix’ after losing my own after 20-plus years.

Tracy Edwards (on Cat Depot): They get so many of the most vulnerable in the area—homeless cats—off the streets. They do a lot of adoptions, have a low-cost vet office, a community pet food bank and summer camp for kids. They offer classes to the public for animal emergency rescue in disasters, cat care and have a community cat care fund to help provide medical care for sick and injured cats in maintained feral colonies.

Amy Greene (on Cat Depot): Over 1,400 cats and kittens were adopted out last year, and for the fourth year in a row, not a single kitten was put down in Sarasota County for lack of shelter space. They also help manage feral populations through TNR (Trap, neuter, release) programs that significantly reduce the rate of reproduction. They go to extremes to save cats other shelters would put down, often successfully treating significant health issues. Cat Depot has given me the opportunity to be involved with saving lives through their foster program. I have raised over 100 kittens that were brought into Cat Depot, many as tiny kittens requiring bottle-feeding. All have since been adopted into loving homes. They continue to save lives, including the cat I adopted, who was brought in with severe infections that caused both eyes to have to be removed.

Wendy Schilling (on Goodwill): Goodwill’s mission changes lives by empowering people with a job and giving them various opportunities for improving their lives. Goodwill also has several veterans’ programs to assist and serve those who have served for us. Goodwill has a variety of community classes which anyone can attend either to learn a new language, a new craft, financial awareness, among a few. It has given me a fresh outlook on what greatness people can accomplish.

Louise Alleva (on Goodwill): We have a special needs friend who is very happy with her new job at a local Goodwill. She likes being more independent and earning her own income. We have noticed an improvement of self-confidence in her relationship with others. Looking for bargains is always fun at Goodwill. We have shopped in all departments of our two favorite stores. My husband has found several golf clubs he couldn't pass up and my favorite purchase is a set of china that had the same pattern (discontinued in 1997) of a set we lost in a house fire in 2001. 

Sally Harris (on Goodwill): Large community presence and involvement, actively educates the community, provides valuable services to disabled residents. I was involved with Goodwill for many years as an employee and the organization shaped my future.