Editor's Note: Johnette Isham is the executive director of Realize Bradenton, a partner of the Legacy of Valor campaign honoring veterans in Southwest Florida.
In February I received an email from Alicia Chalmers of The Patterson Foundation about participating in the Legacy of Valor campaign. I asked my staff, “What do you all think?—we could have a USO kind of show with a Bob Hope impersonator.”
Oopps. Half of the Realize Bradenton staff is under 26—so Bob Hope is not in their millennial memory banks.
Once we started to explore the creative ways that arts and heritage could be activated to honor veterans, inspire patriotism, and embrace freedom, we realized that this was an opportunity to flex our collaboration muscles with our Bradenton Cultural Partners Work Group.
A little background will demonstrate why this partnering opportunity was significant and aligned with our work in the Bradenton area.
First, everything Realize Bradenton does is guided by collaboration and capacity building as we pursue our three key program areas:
• Marketing and communication
• Events that bring people together through arts, culture, heritage, and sports
• Community engagement that builds the community’s future
“We are stronger together” is the mantra of the Cultural Partners Work Group that Realize Bradenton convenes every month to develop and execute co-marketing strategies. We work together to create a more vibrant, attractive, and prosperous Bradenton area for residents, visitors, and businesses. This is a lively and diverse coalition of the South Florida Museum, Manatee Performing Arts Center, ArtCenter Manatee, Village of the Arts, Manatee Historical Village Park, DeSoto Historical Society, Realize Bradenton, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders. For the Legacy of Valor, additional heritage nonprofits expanded our collaboration circle including the Palmetto Historical Park, Manatee County Agricultural Museum, and Florida Maritime Museum.
Second, the Legacy of Valor campaign presented the opportunity for the Cultural Partners Work Group to develop new relationships with other nonprofit organizations that provide support and services to veterans, troops, and their families. These included: Manasota Operation Troop Support (MOTS), Del Couch Music Education Foundation, Heroes on the Water, Tidewell Hospice, Manatee County Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Manasota Industries, CareerSource Suncoast, Manatee County Veterans Services, Turning Points, State College of Florida, SCORE, Jewish Family and Children’s Service Suncoast, Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, and DeSoto National Memorial Park.
What resulted was more than Realize Bradenton could accomplish on its own.
Together, we co-created the Bradenton area Stories of Valor initiative—a rich tapestry of events offered by over 30 community partners during March and April 2014 in a variety of community settings. This joint effort creatively linked performances, exhibitions, classes, and multiple participatory events with electronic and print promotion to showcase our community’s cultural assets to honor veterans, inspire patriotism, and embrace freedom.
We used our collective imaginations to increase our impact and deliver community benefit in fun and engaging ways:
Pittsburgh Pirates saluted veterans at a baseball game
ArtCenter Manatee worked with veterans to construct a Freedom Mural
Film Fridays at the South Florida Museum featured military films
The downtown Farmers’ Market appreciated troops and veterans at several markets
Heritage Days featured military exhibitions, entertainment, and speakers at the Manatee Village Historical Park
John Miller, a WW II marine, had a solo art exhibition and local vets built kayaks at the Florida Maritime Museum.
Realize Bradenton kicked off and concluded the Stories of Valor initiative with three musical celebrations on the Riverwalk showcasing the Sarasota Pops Orchestra, Manatee Concert Band, the Second Time Arounders Marching Band—the world’s largest adult marching band!
The USO-style show at McKechnie Field was the grand finale offered by Realize Bradenton in partnership with the creative talents of the Manatee Players, METV, the Del Couch Music Education Foundation, Freedom Elementary School children’s choir, and Manatee High’s drum line. More than 2,000 people attended this family-friendly, patriotic event with live performances, including the National WWII Museum’s charming trio, the Victory Belles, who took the audience on a nostalgic journey with spirited performances of classic American songs. Between performances a large projection screen showed interviews of veterans, historic photos, and front pages of the Bradenton Herald.
Three promotional partners helped to build the buzz for the USO-style show. The Bradenton Herald sponsored contests for adults and children that requested the submission of writing, art, and photographs. Bright House Networks ran a lively PSA for two weeks and from March 1 through April 11, shoppers at Bealls Department Store in Manatee County donated $2 to Manasota Operation Troop Support. These customer donations of $3,000 were matched dollar-for-dollar by The Patterson Foundation and donated to MOTS.
Not only did the USO-style show provide an evening of patriotic entertainment, the event raised approximately $2,000, attracted 225 school students to write a letter to a hero, and donations of non-perishable items collected at the event filled 220 “goodie” boxes for troops deployed overseas.
Realize Bradenton board chair Judy Sedgeman noted that,“All of Realize Bradenton’s events are really exciting, drawing huge, multi-generational and diverse crowds. But for me this USO-style show is special because it isn’t often that veterans are honored with something fun. This event is high spirited entertainment while still respectful in honoring our vets.”
Local businesses and community organizations embraced our efforts and we thank Tropical Cadillac, Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders, METV, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Bright House Networks, Bradenton Herald, NetWeave Social Networking, Sarasota Magazine, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, Gold Coast Eagle Distribution, and Bealls Department Stores.
Truly, the Stories of Valor Bradenton area initiative, as part of The Patterson Foundation’s Legacy of Valor campaign reminds us of the quote from architect Daniel Burnham (1846-1912):
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”
Such “big plans” are only possible because we are “stronger together.”
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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