Recently, Hurricane Ian has served as an important reminder of how natural disasters affect our Suncoast region. DeSoto County, for example, is quite inland from the coast, yet it experienced some of the worst damages from flooded waters. Whether sea-level rise, storm surge, or historic rainfall is the cause, higher waters affect us all. Was there anything that could've been done to lessen this disaster?

Patty McIlreavy, president and CEO of Center for Disaster Philanthropy, visited The Patterson Foundation at the start of hurricane season to address disasters regarding funders. Patty shared, over the past years, philanthropy has reinforced its role in communities' recovery and resilience through generous donations to the global pandemic, societal injustices, and other disasters. But there is more that can be done. While donations from philanthropic community leaders are appreciated, it's more of a reactive response when a proactive response is needed. With sea levels on the rise, we need more proactive responses from our philanthropic community leaders.

Foundations are uniquely positioned to be proactive leaders when it comes to disasters. This is because regardless of what the focus area or mission is, when a disaster hits, all beneficiaries are impacted. Within every type of focus area and mission, foundations have the opportunity to strengthen their beneficiaries to be more prepared before a disaster strikes. For example, a foundation focusing on physical health on the surface level has nothing to do with natural disasters. However, I bet a majority of the community members who participate in their health programs or activities are affected when a disaster hits and for months after. I get that addressing disasters can feel too big or too looming, but it really is as simple as looking at your activities, programs, and decision-making and asking this question: Are these approaches causing us to evolve or revolve? Are we moving forward or just moving in circles?

DeSoto County faces the highest levels of poverty, inequity, and barriers across the board in our region. When comparing this to the impacts of a disaster like Hurricane Ian, it makes sense why they faced some of the most significant damages out of the four counties, for they are the most vulnerable population.

As community leaders, we encourage philanthropic organizations, especially foundations, to start shifting their focus from reactive to proactive responses and look for ways to remain an attentive and effective partner in communities' equitable recovery. Each county in the Suncoast region is at a different level of need when facing a disaster, and sea level rise is one devastating factor impacting those levels of need. If foundations and other philanthropic organizations lead by example, it can become much easier to address our quality of life.

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