Last week, SRQ took SB2 guests on a journey into the minds, missions and hearts of some of Sarasota’s most notable charitable organizations at SB2: Helping People. Hosted at The Francis in downtown Sarasota, the discussion took a look at the big and small ways we can work together to grow a stronger community.
As the series sponsor of SB2, Bob Stanell of CS&L CPAs welcomed the crowd that gathered early on Thursday morning. As an organization, CS&L CPAs not only supports local philanthropic organizations through their accounting services, but also through partnerships with CS&L CARES, their community giving platform. “We work with some of the social service giants in our community on their finances and business decisions,” said Bob. “But when you put the people who serve in front of you, your heart will change.” Bob went on to communicate his pride in working with young people that make a difference by their desire to give back to the community.
Also sponsoring the event was CoolToday. The company’s fearless leader, President & CEO Jaime DiDomenico shared the importance of taking care of people – the CoolToday 2015 initiative. Leading with a powerful video of how they do just that, Jaime moved more than a few of us to tears. “Community is a circle of life. Sometimes people use the phrase ‘pay it forward’ but really, we pay it in a circle because you never know when you’ll be the one who needs help,” said Jaime. “The way we do business is that we want our impact to be around to give back tot he community and continue the circle. The next time you’re out there and you can do a little something, you should do a little something.” He closed with a powerful image of a well-work pair of shoes belonging to a homeless member of our community and challenged everyone in the room to think differently about how we can live and give.
Between bites of the delicious bacon, guests heard first hand about the organizations, programs and need in our own backyard. Panelists hailed from every sector: Erin McLeod of Friendship Centers, Bob Rosinsky of Goodwill Manasota, Sonia Santiago of Sarasota YMCA and Tom Waters of Easter Seals of Southwest Florida. Our panelists were equally as passionate about helping each other as they were about the populations they served.
Here’s what we learned:
1. The need in our community are innumerable – but the organizations giving back are up for the challenge. Ask anyone: where are our biggest needs as a community and you will get an equal number of different answers. While a large spotlight is often shined on the issue of homelessness, it isn’t the only group that needs assistance. Of our panelists, each serves a different demographic and form of need.
Sonia Santiago of the Sarasota YMCA let us in on statistic of her organization that blew us away. Most people are familiar with the YMCA as a gym or the organization behind a multitude of youth sport programs, but they do so much more. The Sarasota YMCA one of the top performing Community Based Care organizations meeting state and federal outcomes for child welfare in the State of Florida. In our area alone, there are over 1,000 homeless children that have the same basic needs as all children–including a school to attend. Due to the transient nature of their situation, they’re often uprooted and sent to new schools with new teachers and classmates when their living arrangements change. The Sarasota YMCA has programs that ensure homeless children can stay at their current school and cultivate a sense of stability and normalcy in their lives.
Tom Waters of Easter Seals of Southwest Florida reminded us about the needs of children and adults that are differently abled. “This isn’t a group that you notice when you walk the streets of downtown,” he said, “but the need is just as great.” As children with special needs grow older and even and outlive their parents, having life skills and a safe haven are important. “Currently, we serve little ones from 6 weeks old to 87.”
2. Deciding who to help isn’t always easy.
For some organizations like Goodwill Manasota that serve numerous at-risk populations, prioritizing who to help first is not easy. When you serve multiple causes with limited resources, it takes skill and a steady sense of purpose to make the right decision. According to Bob Rosinsky it takes a “strategic planning process that involves our team, our stakeholders and we have to prioritize.”
Tom Waters taught us a new expression in addressing this issue: Mission over Margin. Similar to understanding the best return on investment of a business decision, Easter Seals of Southwest Florida takes the idea of early intervention very seriously when allocating their funds. “For every $1.00 spent with children with special needs, it saves over $8.00 in future services for that child. That is why we invest heavily in The Lily School,” said Tom of Easter Seals’ early childhood intervention program for children who are differently abled. He went on to explain that often decisions on funding are made where the impact is great and the longterm success is evident.
3. All of us can give back. Whether we are a big business or a person looking to get involved, there’s room for more people dedicated to doing good.
When discussing the ways that we can get involved, Erin McLeod shared her experience with serving as a corporate partner years ago, “Sponsorships get old after a while. We know that. At Friendship Centers recognize the need for exposure to social responsibility–exposure to the audience we serve.” Encouraging volunteerism and undertaking projects acts as an emotional and physical connector to the people being served. Erin encouraged the audience to explore the organizations supported by their companies and get involved on a personal level.
Sonia Santiago of the Sarasota YMCA reminded us that we can be in the business of creating opportunities, “Give area teens internships and give them information out about vocations and jobs. When college is emphasized, some kids get defeated,” she said. “We focus so much on academics that sometimes we fail to point out the vocational opportunities that are out there.” At the Sarasota YMCA, various programs are in place that recognize children’s talents and interest and connect them to teachers or organizations to hone their talents.
Young professionals are often the most enthused group when it comes to serving the community, but a lot of organizations don’t have events that support their busy and growing schedules. “We recently hosted an event and had a lot of young professionals in attendance. They found out about it through Facebook,” said Tom Waters. We need to provide more episodic events that work with their schedules if we want to attract advocates that are dynamic, intelligent and look at things differently.”
4. Two mission-minded heads are better than one.
The needs are great in our community and one organization alone cannot provide all of the solutions. New and emerging programs spanning multiple organizations will hopefully deliver a maximum amount of assistance using fewer resources by each group involved. “We recently worked on a grant for fall prevention with The Pines and Sarasota Memorial,” said Erin McLeod. The idea of pooling efforts ensures that everyone wins. As Erin said, “When another organization represented on the panel wins, we all win.”
Goodwill Manasota recently held an event in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida, mentioned Bob Rosinsky. The “Little Black Dress” luncheon was the perfect partnership – drawing on the strength of a Goodwill Manasota event, the Girl Scouts were able to promote their mission and organization to a fresh audience. “This type of partnership is perfect to spread our Youth Ambassador Program and bring in the next generation of Goodwill supporters,” said Bob.
It is safe to say that we couldn’t have learned the incredible things about helping people without the sponsorship of CS&L CPAs and CoolToday. Thank you for your support of SB2, but most importantly, thank you for the ways you give back and help people in our community each and every day. Your example inspires us.
Special thanks to our panelists for graciously agreeing to participate in the discussion, and for taking an active role in leading the movement of service in Sarasota and beyond.
A gallery of images from SB2: Helping People is available online. The next SB2: Financial Forecast will be held on September 24, 2015 at The Francis. Special keynote speaker Jesse Panuccio will deliver a presentation on the current economic state of Florida. For tickets and more information, visit SRQSB2.com.