Personal Touch to Family-Based Philanthropy

Guest Correspondence

BY ROXIE JERDE SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 6, 2021

In this time when connection means everything, a personal touch is always appreciated. We’ve all experienced it, the glow of a smile when a handwritten thank you note arrives in the mail or an impromptu phone call – or Zoom invitation – graces your day. There’s no telling how many unexpected moments of gratitude these thoughtful interactions can create within others. And for generous families who call our region home, this personal touch often finds new meaning through their own philanthropy and the causes they hold dear.  

Over the last 10 years living in Sarasota, I’ve been honored to work alongside many of these families as they build their own giving traditions. It’s a process (and journey) I wholeheartedly look forward to: identifying family values, discovering areas of shared concern, and ultimately creating a lasting charitable legacy. This rewarding dialogue gives a better understanding of what a family stands for and unites family members across generations by defining why and how they give.

These strategic elements of clarity bring closeness within a family and ignite possibilities outside of themselves.

When I first met Florida native and local philanthropist Lee Wetherington, his philosophy to charitable investments stood out to me as it seemed a very embodiment of these principles. As Lee would describe it: “We strive to give others opportunities to get out of bad situations and provide a bridge to move up in life. After all, all of us want to help another be successful.”

Lee approached the Community Foundation of Sarasota County nearly two decades ago, establishing his family foundation – the Lee Wetherington Foundation – with an initial gift of $1 million. Ever since, Lee and his wife Caroline have connected and supported a myriad of causes in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties: Spearheading the campaign to reimagine transitional housing for formerly homeless families at Harvest House; founding a college scholarship fund and remodeling facilities at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties; and partnering with Friends of Oscar Scherer Park to construct a handicapped accessible trail and purchase acreage to protect its surrounding environment. And the list goes on. One can only imagine the countless lives touched and yet to be impacted by this generosity.

And yet like so many who provide financial support, Lee and Caroline’s altruism goes far beyond just a signature on a check. They are volunteers, board members, and visionaries at many of the nonprofit organizations that capture their hearts, including our own, with Lee having served as the Community Foundation’s board chair from 2008 to 2010 and an early proponent of our two-generation approach.

It’s with this spirit to do more that, earlier this year, the Lee Wetherington Foundation has surpassed $2 million in grants, a momentous milestone. It was humbling to hear from Lee that knowledge and services provided by our foundation had helped guide his charitable investments to new heights.

“Support from the Community Foundation through thoughtful coaching and awareness of community needs helps ensure we’re making the best investments possible with our giving,” said Lee. “My wife Caroline and I like to be involved in projects, and make sure that our money works the best for everyone taking part. Thanks to the Community Foundation, I know our giving is well managed, balanced, and has a purpose.”

As Lee and Caroline exemplify, philanthropy is always personal. It’s a remarkable thing, how the life and experience of one family can inspire others, across time and distances.  Family-centric giving is a hallmark of our region’s unique culture, and it reminds me that within all of us is the potential to transform the personal into the perpetual, a bridging legacy to a more connected and supportive community.

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

Photo of Lee Wetherington courtesy Community Foundation.

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