For years, The Patterson Foundation has worked alongside community members to help strengthen the efforts of people and organizations within Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota in Southwest Florida. Each of these counties has its own unique history, challenges, and opportunities. I think everyone in the region would agree that DeSoto county has its own set of hurdles and challenges.
DeSoto is a rural county with a high rate of people living in poverty. Residents with significant needs didn't often look favorably on some of the initiatives and programs designed to help. It was sometimes felt that "do-gooders" were swooping into the county to "fix" things, and they would then swoop out after a year when they realized how complex the challenges were. There was hesitancy from folks living and working in DeSoto regarding new nonprofits coming to town. Experience told them once the wheels got spinning, folks were left high and dry with no long-term investment.
When The Patterson Foundation (TPF) first started talking about the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) with the residents of DeSoto County, initial meetings had minimal attendance. Slowly, meeting by meeting and action by action, SCGLR began to build trust. Instead of walking away when things seemed hard, the initiative leaned in further to learn more.
With Beth Duda's leadership, SCGLR has worked with ESOL/ELL programs, distributed Kindergarten Readiness Bags to all incoming kindergarteners, catalyzed the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge, hosted Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry events, and produced Suncoast Remake Learning Days (SRLD) for children and families in DeSoto county since 2018.
TPF was planting seeds.
TPF recently hosted Rich Harwood in a series of community events around the Suncoast. I watched as the Desoto keynote presentation boasted over 80 individuals in attendance. It was amazing to see the different seeds from over the years start to emerge.
The Harwood event allowed us to see many of the strong relationships that have developed between partners. Representatives from various organizations were able to connect further (or even meet for the first time), and many brainstormed ways they could collaborate and further strengthen each other's impact. One organization said, "Participating in Suncoast Remake Learning Days really helped us up our game. Now everything we do is through the lens of engagement and hands-on learning." Another SRLD host noted they are inspired by the other organizations working to strengthen children and families. They are encouraged to dream bigger after being in contact with so many other amazing organizations.
These instances did not happen overnight. These relationships took years to cultivate and steward. One frequently uttered phrase at TPF is "Change happens at the speed of trust," but there is never a mention of how long trust building takes. Sometimes it is a long process. We must be willing to invest in ways that create lasting impact. Part of this is running with those ready to run and leaving a map for those who come behind. When you run with those willing to run, it is not an indictment on those who are not quite ready to participate. Rather, it is an opportunity to co-create new connective tissue with those ready to play ball and begin working towards creating systems to benefit all.
One community member in DeSoto mentioned that last year they needed more time to be ready for a particular program, but after seeing the impacts, they felt prepared to participate in the coming years.
When we plant seeds, we must remember that a bountiful harvest is a bountiful harvest, no matter when we can reap it.
May we be committed to seeing seeds blossom.
"These centerpieces were created with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in mind. Each person, partner organization, project, and initiative join together to create something that is multi-dimensional, greater than the sum of its parts. And once we’re joined together we create something both strong and beautiful, able to evolve and change according to the needs of the children and families in our communities…..and each of you with your desire to help the children and families in our region is a light illuminating our shared efforts." — Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading