Turning Unrest Toward Opportunity



The pronounced violent acts across our country over the past few weeks were saddening and tragic. The families of those who lost their lives, or whose lives were threatened, are dealing with heavy burdens none of us should have to endure. These shocking acts also threaten our identity as a nation of hope and possibility. It is all too easy to get swept up in divisive rhetoric following these situations, further eroding trust and confidence among neighbors.  

I choose, however, to view this unrest as an opportunity for our local nonprofits, faith-based communities and charitable foundations to step up in creating a stronger sense of identity, belonging and higher purpose for the regions we serve. We are the ones working on the ground, identifying the reality our citizens face and rallying the passion of the public to create a more vibrant community together. At the heart and soul of our work are our community members, and I like to remind everyone that philanthropy means the love of humanity.

We saw this firsthand this week when The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee quickly assembled a vigil on Monday evening, A Community in Solidarity, for the Tree of Life and our fellow citizens in Pittsburgh. By being proactive and listening to people who wanted to declare our community as inclusive, the Federation was able to bring together more than 2,200 people to demonstrate harmony among different faiths. While the event came about through tragedy, I was buoyed by the hopeful, caring spirit of everyone who attended. I was especially moved so many in our area felt it was important for them to be part of such a public showing of support.  

From the space we work in, we see every day how it is individuals helping individuals that positively changes our world. In particular, philanthropy gives individuals the power to speak out and lead the way towards tackling tough subjects and making a brighter community for everyone. It serves as a tool for innovation, a purpose to gather people around a cause or passion, and philanthropy is inclusive for everyone who wants to be the one to make a difference at any level.

In the worst of times, I try to focus on what our special community has to offer.

Earlier during the day ahead of the vigil I was again reminded of just how proactive our community is in working to create opportunities for so many. For several years, the Community Foundation has supported a special 2Gen college campus at Alta Vista Elementary School for parents who wish to improve their family’s future by pursuing certificates and education in nursing, information technology and technical trade skills. As I do for each cycle of students, I was fortunate enough to visit and have lunch with a group of moms who are pursuing their Certified Nursing Assistant licenses.

This program is literally life-changing and being undertaken by young women for whom life has not ever been easy. But thanks to donors who wanted to make a difference, they are pursuing opportunities they know will make their and their families’ lives better. This type of transformative change comes through support and belief that we all have the power to change a life. I am always inspired by the resilience, commitment and optimism of both these women and those who provided the platform for their success.

At each Alta Vista 2Gen graduation I share a small quote—"every accomplishment starts with the decision to try”—and I think now more than ever we need to continue to try harder to embolden the love of humanity. Together, we have the expertise, knowledge, treasure and talent to address the issues facing the future of our region. Our success depends on building a genuine, honest sense of community, belonging and responsibility to answer a widespread feeling of insecurity. As a community, we can be the ones to make a difference and create positive, lasting impact. As I often  say, all of us are smarter than one of us!

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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