A Day in the Life

By staff September 1, 2004

It isn't every morning that you can go to work knowing you'll spend the entire day improving lives of people in your town. But on most days, the staff of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County does just that. Take May 10, 2004.


Sarasota is full of lonely seniors, often isolated from Northern family and friends and in dire need of health care and other basic services. This Monday morning, Stewart Stearns, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, vice president of programs Wendy Hopkins and grants committee chair Sophia LaRusso meet with Alex Young and Katie Knight of the United Way, along with Bob Carter and Cathy Emmett of Senior Friendship Centers, the Sarasota Manatee Jewish Federation's Howard Tevlowitz and Rose Chapman of Jewish Family and Children's Services. They're here to talk about how they can work together to coordinate health and human services for the elderly of Sarasota County.

Together they explore possible funding sources to provide homecare, mental health services and other vital programs that prevent elder abuse and exploitation, including making creative use of new gifts from Community Foundation donors who have an interest in helping the elderly. "We brought these groups together for lively dialogue and will continue to pursue a new senior initiative with real impact," says Hopkins.

"Jewish Family and Children's Services has worked successfully with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County for many years, especially when it comes to helping seniors," adds Chapman. "With the foundation in a key role, we're formulating a potential new senior initiative that can leverage resources from the Foundation, the United Way and the Sarasota Manatee Jewish Federation, and look forward to providing major support to an even greater number of needy seniors in Sarasota County."

MID-MORNING: Partnering in Education

Later in the morning, the Community Foundation and its key funding collaborators-the Community Foundation, the Selby Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice-meet with new Sarasota school superintendent Dr. Gary Norris, associate superintendent Lori White and national consultant Dr. Ken Tewel to give Dr. Norris a briefing on the history and accomplishments of the Educational Partnership, now in its seventh year. The group has been helping the school district prioritize its needs and focus on areas ripe for attention, such as K-3 literacy, school-to-work career education and leadership development for district staff.

The funders have each been contributing $50,000 per year to the Educational Partnership-more than $1 million since 1997. Norton discusses his vision for the school system and plans for the upcoming year, including his goal to close the "achievement gap" that exists between white and minority students in the county. "The school system is so grateful for this support," says White. "The Educational Partnership has been instrumental in moving our district forward on key issues relating to student achievement. It has increased our capacity by providing necessary professional development to our staff to support systemic change."

Noon: helping Hopewell Cemetery

Few people know that Sarasota County maintains a cemetery on Bee Ridge Road east of I-75 for people who die with no money or relatives to bury them. The county provides about 10 to 20 free burials a year here, but Hopewell Cemetery has been "gently neglected" by the Parks and Recreation department, says Hopkins, resulting in a deterioration of the grounds and making it hard to accomplish burials. The Community Foundation has urged the county to clear weeds, improve the grounds and give more attention to the care and maintenance of the cemetery.

Over lunch, Stearns and Hopkins meet with John McCarthy and Shirley Amore of the county's Parks and Recreation department to talk about the need to mow the grass, trim the trees, install a fence around the front of the property, and add signage, a flagpole and an historical marker. Soon after this meeting, the county increases its supervision of Hopewell Cemetery and sends a horticulture crew there for one week to accomplish necessary improvements. The county has now made the upkeep of the cemetery a priority.

Why did the Community Foundation get involved in this project? Because a foundation donor, Mrs. Inger Bagger Stovall, read an article in the newspaper about indigent burials in the county and was moved to ask what she could do to help. When she died, Mrs. Stovall created a fund within the foundation to provide for improvements at the cemetery. Stearns and Hopkins followed up on Mrs. Stovall's wishes. Thanks to her fund, more improvements will be made in the future.

Afternoon-scholarship concerns.

Mimi Goodwill, scholarship coordinator for the Community Foundation, meets with the six volunteer committee members of the Father Connie Dougherty Scholarship Fund to interview student candidates for scholarships. The committee screens 12 applicants with the task of selecting 10 to receive $4,000 scholarships apiece. All the students are impressive; the committee looks for those who best exemplify the guidelines, set by the example of Father Connie Dougherty 29 years ago: academic excellence, visible community involvement and concern for others.

There are first-generation Americans among the students, including three who have lived in the United States for less than three years. Others have physical disabilities or dire family circumstances. All demonstrate financial need. After careful consideration and discussion, the committee chooses three young men and seven women-nine high school seniors and one already in college.

The Father Connie Dougherty awards are part of a grand total of $569,000 in scholarships the Community Foundation will give this year to 265 students. "A scholarship of this magnitude can significantly affect a student's ability to go to college," notes Goodwill. "After they graduate, many of our awardees give back to our community as adults, continuing the circle of influence and investment in the future of our young people."

Mid-afternoon -Weller teacher mini-grants

After lunch, Maggie Pugh, program assistant in grants and scholarships for the Community Foundation, leaves the office to visit Daughtrey Elementary School in Bradenton to observe a production of Cinder Elly. Drama Club members in grades three to five have put together a musical spinoff of the Cinderella story, using their talents to choreograph, make props, design lighting and perform in a special project funded by the Leslie and Margaret Weller Fund of the Community Foundation. "The students learned all the skills necessary to put on a theater production," says their teacher, Shirin Gibson, who was awarded a Weller Teacher Mini Grant.

Given to teachers from Sarasota and Manatee counties, Weller grants encourage individual teachers to create innovative programs in arts and culture. Their projects provide enrichment and enhancement to limited school district budgets. "I'm always impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and how much their students treasure these special programs," says Pugh. "Weller grants fund wonderful field trips, new projects, and purchase extra equipment and computer programs that the students would never be able to enjoy otherwise."

Late afternoon-coalitions and collaborations

At the end of this busy day, Debra Jacobs of the Selby Foundation draws together the three key community funders (the Community Foundation, the Selby Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice), along with the United Way and Sarasota County government officials, to discuss ways of keeping some uniquely interwoven community programs viable. Important organizations such as Sarasota Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE), the Hispanic/Latino Coalition and Community Youth Development (CYD), represent multiple groups and have board members from a variety of constituencies. As a result, they can't raise operating funds the way that individual charities can. The "coalitions and collaborations" meeting looks for long-term solutions to this dilemma.

"The community is blessed with people willing to collaborate," says Tim Dutton, executive director of SCOPE. "This is just one of many times when the Community Foundation has helped to identify issues before they reach the tipping point and collaborated with the community to leverage the best possible outcomes." What outcome can be expected from this meeting? One proposed innovation might be for the Community Foundation Board to approve three-year grants to SCOPE and CYD so they don't have to keep coming back each year for operating fund support.

Was May 10, 2004, different from other days at the Community Foundation? Maybe, maybe not. Every day, the foundation and those who collaborate with it work tirelessly to improve the community for its citizens, present and future. Their work is quiet, detailed and largely behind the scenes, and they win little glory for their efforts, but for everyone involved, it's all in a day's work.


Since 1979, when it was founded by members of the Southwest Florida Estate Planning Council, the Community Foundation has been partnering with others to make charitable giving work for our community. Philanthropic individuals use the Foundation to support the charitable causes they care about most, including the arts, education, health and human services, the environment and animal welfare. Plus, charitable organizations use the foundation's Nonprofit Resource Center to build skills in every aspect of their management, from improving daily operations to maximizing fund raising.

The Community Foundation's impact grows with each new gift it receives. Currently, it manages more than 470 different charitable funds, with assets of more than 100 million dollars. In the newly completed Leila and Michael Gompertz headquarters building at 2635 Fruitville Road, the visibility and accessibility of services will grow even stronger.

The Nonprofit Resource Center

Joe Jones is in charge of fund raising for a small, nonprofit organization, but he has no skills in managing a staff, and he can't run a good nonprofit without good people. He's a good fund raiser, but faces competition from thousands of charities out there competing for donations. He'd like to take a $450 management seminar, but can't spare the cash. Where can he turn for low-cost training right here in Sarasota? The answer is the Nonprofit Resource Center (NRC), a program of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Since the Nonprofit Resource Center began operations under the umbrella of Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE) in November 2000, it has conducted more than 100 workshops for more than 2,500 attendees from hundreds of different not-for-profit agencies. From receptionists to board chairs, staff and volunteers in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties go to the NRC for affordable and high-quality workshops, education, tools and resources to help them do their jobs better.

Its diverse menu of aids includes a resource library, workshops, computer classes and information and referral services covering everything from leadership training, governance, fund raising and development, human resources and staff management to the art of grant writing.

The NRC is now housed in the Leila and Michael Gompertz Community Foundation building at 2635 Fruitville Road, where state-of-the-art conference and meeting facilities enhance the accessibility and outreach of services. "We are continually improving our program offerings by increasing the scope of topics and providing more intensive and advanced training," says director Christie Lewis. "Now in our fourth year, the NRC has had an impact in our not-for-profit community, with participants reporting that they increased their knowledge, understanding and skill levels by attending a workshop. In addition, staffers and volunteers are applying their new knowledge to increase their effectiveness and the efficiency of their organizations."

To find out how the Nonprofit Resource Center can help your organization, go to

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