Photo: Fall Virtual Lab participants

Caring Innovators Make Communities Better

Posted on October 20, 2020 by Abby Rolland, TPF Fellow 2020/21
Throughout my four months working at The Patterson Foundation (TPF) and living in the Suncoast region, I’ve discovered something. Something not revolutionary, nor surprising, but simple and woven throughout this community.

People here care.

They care about their community and making it better for everyone. They care about children and finding creative ways to inspire a love of reading. They care that people complete the 2020 Census so that each region and community gets the appropriate number of resources it needs to succeed for the next ten years (until the next census). They care that everyone has the opportunity to age well and that everyone has a roof over their head, and that access to the Internet, so critical for many of today’s functions, is available to everyone.

Now, that’s not to say that people in other areas of the state and country and world don’t care. But in this area of southwest Florida, there’s a special caring attitude displayed in many people here—I think of it as a current of care, and one that is illustrated in innovative ways.

So, when CEO Debra Jacobs asked Hannah Saeger Karnei, John Ferguson, and myself to lead the Aspirations to Actions (A2A) initiative, we were thrilled. Included in A2A is TPF’s partnership with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Twice a year, the Institute hosts a Virtual Lab, which brings together people from around the country to learn about Harwood principles such as “turning outward” and “identifying shared aspirations.”

Now leading this initiative, our first task was to recruit for the upcoming fall Virtual Lab. While we have all spent differing amounts of time in this region and have met a number of incredible people, we immediately and specifically thought of seven amazing individuals who care deeply and actively strive to make the world better.

So, without further ado, we are thrilled to introduce the next wave of public innovators, who will spend the next ten weeks engaged in building their community muscles through the Virtual Lab:

  • Clara Alvarez – Education and Activities Coordinator, Casa San Juan Bosco Education Programs (Catholic Charities).
    Clara works in DeSoto County as the education coordinator for Catholic Charities and activities coordinator for Casa San Juan Bosco. She also collaborates with different agencies to help the community and be better informed.

  • Carolina Franco – Consultant, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR); President, CreArte Latino
    Carolina not only manages the behind-the-scenes SCGLR storage unit, but she also created a nonprofit to connect the Latino community to the arts, particularly through theater.

  • Joni Hansen – Consultant, SCGLR
    Joni recently retired from working in a congressional office and immediately jumped into working with SCGLR. Her nickname, “Sparky,” illustrates her enthusiasm for every project she undertakes.

  • Jake Hartvigsen - Consultant, Digital Access for All (DA4A), Census 2020 Education, & SCGLR
    Jake is a connector—he knows many people working in a wide range of areas and working in different ways in this region. A marketing professional, he knows how to reach different audiences in meaningful ways.

  • Kiarra Louis – Research Assistant, DA4A
    Kiarra is a highly engaged student at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus who majors in professional and technical communication. She’s using her data and research skills to help illustrate the need for expanding digital access.

  • Laurie Miller – Consultant, SCGLR
    Laurie is one part of what we call the “Dynamic Duo,” along with her husband, Ben. Laurie helped write the scripts for every THIS BOOK IS COOL! webisode and also appeared on a panel about THIS BOOK IS COOL!

  • Ben Tollefson – Consultant, SCGLR
    Ben is the other part of the “Dynamic Duo.” In addition to working on TBIC!, Ben was the company manager for the A Walk to Respect performances earlier this year, which featured Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

  • Josephine Eisenberg – Consultant, The Patterson Foundation
    Although Josephine is already a public innovator, as logistics coordinator leading the Virtual Labs, her action plan is second to none!

As you can see, each of these individuals brings unique talents, skills, and knowledge to the programs they work on and now, the Virtual Lab. At the same time, each is exemplary in her or his caring – they care deeply and strive to make the Suncoast region a better place for all.

We are eager to follow their journeys as they engage with the Harwood principles and action steps, and connect, share, learn, and strengthen themselves, each other, and their communities.

Hannah, John, and I have no doubt that these wonderful, caring people will engage deeply and find new ways to channel their care into making the world a better place.

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