Presents come from the presence of people pursuing dreams

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Community Foundation: 2Gen graduation ceremony.

December is a time to reflect on the preceding 11 months. Looking back on 2022, one theme emerges: a collective determination to make this area better for all who call it home is key to creating a vibrant, more equitable community. No doubt we are living in a time of tension and division, but our best achievements are made possible by working together towards a common good. 

Throughout the year, I crisscross our area visiting with people who care, from individuals and families to government agencies, nonprofits, schools and businesses who are all working together in their own ways to achieve a brighter tomorrow. A few examples of collaboration and innovation stand out. Some you may be familiar with. Others may not have made headlines but are certainly notable. 

On Nov. 3, I was fortunate to witness an adult graduation ceremony of our 2Gen cohort at Alta Vista Elementary. These parents have worked hard for years, juggling work, raising their children, and attending college and certificate programs to gain the credentials required to attain careers that elevate their incomes, provide advancement opportunities, and improve prospects for their families. At that graduation, watching those mothers—this time it was all women at the ceremony—claim graduation gifts as their children beamed from the audience, I was reminded there are many terrific strategies for supporting overall community prosperity and stability. 

One mother offered her testimony at the graduation: “I’ve gone from public housing to home ownership.” 

I am so grateful for all those who recognize the promise of a 2Gen approach, which offers reinforcement to both children and their adult caretakers. The investments made in these talented, hardworking people improves their lives and the lives of their families, and the strength of our community, as talented people equipped with expertise enter the workforce in high-demand areas like healthcare and construction. 

On the creative front, this past summer brought our first-ever Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) internship program, which helps connect up-and-coming arts leaders with internship opportunities. The program, managed through Americans for the Arts, stands to advance the collective narrative, as it supports voices of underrepresented people in positions of arts influence. While different from the 2Gen approach, it does consider the role of education as a building block of a healthy, vibrant, creative society, and I am grateful for those whose vision, passion and financial contributions made it possible to bring strong new voices to the realm of arts leadership that will shape our community in the future. 

Other initiatives new and old provide opportunities for everyone to help our community. Tried and trusted, Season of Sharing is now in its 23rd year and continues to be a safety net for our neighbors living on the economic edge. When Hurricane Ian struck, we drew upon this initiative to quickly respond and help students, families and seniors with immediate needs. While those efforts continue (and have been a source to respond to other crises like Red Tide, the initial surge of the pandemic or personal emergencies), I am also incredibly moved by the community’s generosity to the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund

This special fund has garnered $5 million in the two months or so since the storm hit Southwest Florida. Different from Season of Sharing, these generous gifts will be vital to implementing longer-term solutions to challenges that resulted from the storm. This includes areas like mental health, legal aid and disaster planning, among others. You will hear more about the progress of this fund in the weeks and months ahead and can find ongoing updates on our website.  

All these initiatives and more have relied on the notion that “all of us are smarter than one of us,” that when we work together towards a shared vision of a bright future, we can achieve so much more than any one person or group could. I hope the spirit of collaboration carries us into 2023, and I imagine the possibilities of continued teamwork to bring about a more promising tomorrow. 

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

Photo courtesy Community Foundation: 2Gen graduation ceremony.

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