Photo: Heather Kasten

Stepping Forward in Unprecedented Times

Posted on March 23, 2020 by Heather Kasten, president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

Editor's Note: This article is repurposed with permission from the Herald-Tribune and Heather Kasten, president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

Growing up, my parents frequently used the phrase “the one thing in life you can count on is change.” Over the past two weeks, we have seen firsthand what change looks like for our business community. The plans and calendar of activities from just two weeks ago look starkly different from what the plans and calendars look like for many of us at this moment. Businesses right now are process of re-working and tweaking those plans on a daily, or in some cases, an hourly basis to keep going during these challenging times.

At the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, we have always been focused on convening the business community by connecting people in a variety of ways: networking, education, and advocacy. Just last week, one of our small groups at the Chamber completed a four-week book circle that examined Stepping Forward, written by Richard C. Harwood.

Harwood is an innovator, writer, and speaker. For over three decades, he has devoted his career to revitalizing communities and creating a sense of civic faith. The Patterson Foundation, led by Herald-Tribune, launched an initiative this year to encourage businesses, nonprofits, and the community at large to assemble small groups of 10–15 people to read and discuss the ideas outlined in Stepping Forward, signaling a proactive effort to unite and strengthen our community.

Throughout the book, Harwood gives an overview of communities that have experienced significant obstacles and world events — like Flint, Michigan, and the Sandy Hook community — and examines the subsequent challenges within those communities. Today, in response to the COVID-19 virus, our community, as well as the global community, are dealing with new circumstances that warrant us uniting and working together in new and creative ways.

The principles outlined in Stepping Forward can be used to help us as we navigate our evolving circumstances. One of those principles is for us to “turn outward.” This is a time where leaders and the business community are navigating incredibly tough decisions that have outcomes that we won’t fully know the extent of or understand for quite a while. Community leaders are weighing many potential decisions that will affect those who work for them and their businesses. The principle of turning outward challenges our desire to only focus on our own programs, processes, and perspective during trying times. Turning outward is about adopting a “we” mindset — it is fortified by communicating with others, identifying shared experiences, and collaborating and convening resources, ideas, and skill sets.

It has been so encouraging to see our community turning outward in so many ways. Efforts from community leaders and businesses include providing lunches to school-age children during school shutdowns, coordinating programs that enable our community to reach out to shut-in elders, seeing organizations getting creative on how they can keep their employees working, and seeing our restaurants innovate ways to provide delivery and to-go opportunities. We need to continue to support our first responders (police, fire, and EMS) and our medical professionals that are working overtime to keep our community safe. We are also so thankful for the hard work of grocery store employees and the teams who are working to keep their shelves stocked for our community. Please consider turning outward to encourage and thank them when you are there.

I’d also like to share Harwood’s principle, “build together.” This principle is about a sense of belief — the true American can-do spirit that our nation was founded upon. When COVID-19 passes, we will need to bring our community together in new ways. Authentic hope is built up when people see people working together. Harwood states, “People gain trust and hope by seeing others work together. Think back in American history to such events as barn raisings. The sheer act of building a barn together served as a visible affirmation of belief in one another. It proclaimed that we are joined in a common enterprise. It demonstrated that people could get things done together.” When we come through this, we, as a community, will need to build together again.

Since I started with a saying from my parents, I’ll end with one of my favorite sayings that my mom instilled in me during rough times: “This too shall pass.” Peace, strength, and courage to you as we turn outward and build together. Let’s unite to become a community in Sarasota that we are all proud to be a part of.


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