Editor’s Note: Christina Russi is the community fiscal agent and liaison for Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center.
Some 19 years ago, our community came together to create what we know now as Season of Sharing, a community safety net that helps individuals and families on the verge of homelessness. I was involved almost since the beginning and can recall the meetings, long discussions, and heated debates about how Season of Sharing would operate, who could be helped and who perhaps not, how much assistance would be offered, and what category of needs would be addressed.
Flash forward to today, the importance and necessity of this fund are no longer debated, and I think it is safe to say that Season of Sharing is a well-conceived, well executed, highly effective and efficient community giving campaign that assists those in need.
So, how do you define something that means so many different things to so many different people? Let me try.
Many words come to mind when I think of Season of Sharing:
- Vital – There is no question that these funds are of great importance to our four counties. The needs of our communities exceed the grant dollars so carefully planned for and requested by our nonprofit directors. How many families would be homeless if not for Season of Sharing to prevent homelessness? How many would struggle getting to work or not going to work if not for Season of Sharing dollars to repair their car? How many would miss their work schedule without Season of Sharing to help with child care? Over the course of a year, the answer is hundreds of families. Over the last 19 years, thousands of families would have gone unserved or underserved without the Season of Sharing campaign.
- Unique – We know that when experts come to our areas to review our special projects and programs, Season of Sharing is always mentioned in their final reports as a notable, positive factor for our communities. I would venture to say, if one traveled anywhere nationally, walked into any social service networking community, and asked, “Do you have two million dollars to spend each year to assist the residents of your community?” The answer would sadly be, “No.”
- Enduring – I think the 19 years speaks for itself. Many fundraising campaigns do not last five years.
Season of Sharing is a Gift, not a given. There is a tremendous amount of work, behind the scenes, on the part of the Community Foundation and its staff to make the Season of Sharing campaign a success each and every year.
- Inclusive – one of my favorite things about the campaign is that they never tell you how much to give, they just ask that you do give; whatever amount you can to contribute to the well-being of fellow residents facing overwhelming challenges. This allows the child with one dollar and the philanthropist with one hundred thousand dollars, and all those in between, to participate together to the success of this campaign.
- And finally, Trusted. Trust is earned over time. Season of Sharing is trusted. Organizations trust that the Community Foundation of Sarasota County will give every effort to make the campaign a success. Case managers trust that when they submit a request it will be reviewed and processed in a timely manner. Clients trust that their needs and concerns will be received in a compassionate and emphatic way and they will be heard and helped. Finally, donors trust that their donations will be well managed and properly spent.
For me, Season of Sharing is like a house. Every house needs a solid, stable foundation, and for me, that is the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Then we have the walls and the roof. That would be the foundation’s Season of Sharing task force members who oversee all the moving parts of the campaign and protect its integrity. The windows and doors are the fiscal agents with a view of all requests and ability to deliver the checks to vendors. They take the steps to resolve problems. Next, we have the case managers and clients. They are the pulse, the heartbeat of the house, the very reason for Season of Sharing. Once they are in the house, we have a home.
But don’t forget, we need to turn on the lights. For me, that spark, that electricity, is every donor – friends, relatives, neighbors, visitors, and philanthropists who contribute to the success of Season of Sharing every year.
Season of Sharing is a campaign which is subtle in its request, without the glitz and glitter of other fundraisers, but it has energy, staying power, and commitment to mission.
In closing, if I may humbly say, Season of Sharing in its subtle grace of influence past, present, and future is one of our community’s finest moments.