The high school sweethearts’ love affair with Sarasota began in 1999. Former Chicago and Silicon Valley residents Tom and Nancy Flanagan visited this charming coastal city for vacation and fell in love with its vibrant arts community. They then discovered dedicated philanthropic allies like the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, which propelled them to make Sarasota their new home within just six months.
It all began with a serendipitous encounter with Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of the Community Foundation, during a local event. They were immediately drawn to her enthusiasm and passion for the foundation and the work it does to strengthen our community. “Roxie was brand new to the area and already had a firm grasp of the local landscape including the demographics, issues, and needs of our diverse community. We could see the goodness in her, and her vision for Sarasota, and the power of partnerships really resonated with us,” says Nancy. “Knowing Roxie was at the helm attracted us to want to work with them.”
Running Towards A Dream
In 2017, the Flanagans created a scholarship fund to support high school runners, an endeavor inspired by Tom’s experience as a former high school cross country coach in Chicago. The scholarship program aids high school runners, prioritizing those with financial need.
The Flanagans’ initial goal was to provide a onetime scholarship to college freshmen. However, the Community Foundation provided valuable guidance that led to a more sustainable approach: dividing the scholarships into four parts, disbursing funds each fall to provide ongoing support.
“You know, we never thought of it from that aspect,” says Nancy. “Yes, we want to help them get to college, but we also want them to graduate.”
They learned that, especially for first-generation college students, getting to college is one accomplishment; staying in through graduation is a different matter. Realizing the impact they could have, not just for the scholarship recipients, but for generations that follow, has been gratifying, made all the sweeter by annual luncheons, arranged by the foundation, that connect the couple with scholarship recipients.
“It’s one of the highlights of the year for us,” says Tom. “We just love the fact that we can sit down and talk with these young people about their aspirations and their lives. That was one of the things we really liked about the foundation, that we actually get to see the impact we’re having.”
From two recipients that first year, the number of students who receive the Flanagans’ scholarship has grown to eight.
Their scholarships have already borne fruit, with several students graduating and pursuing careers in their chosen fields. One is now in graduate school.
One aspect the Flanagans appreciate about the Community Foundation is the connections they make, both with recipients of their philanthropy and with the staff at the foundation itself. Meetings with the Philanthropy Team have combined shared interests and hobbies with discussions of their vision for their philanthropic impact.
Sharing coffee and conversations with the Community Foundation team has allowed the relationship to develop beyond the transactional. One time, a meeting with an advisor was conducted during a run over the Ringling Causeway.
“It was very fun,” Tom says. “It was different, and I think that also bonded us, and continues to tie us to the Community Foundation even more because they are open, willing to be a little flexible, and to do things a little differently.”
The Flanagans are working to ensure their assets continue to impact the lives of those in need as a part of their legacy. The couple have recently activated another fund, The Nancy and Tom Flanagan Giving Back Fund, which will support social services within the community and is set up to adapt to the evolving needs of Sarasota over the years.
“The sky’s the limit,” Nancy says. “We have such great confidence in the Community Foundation and having them be stewards of our legacy is very comforting.”
Their engagement with the local community goes beyond their scholarships and donations. Nancy serves on the Board of Trustees at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, where her vantage point has enabled her to witness the ways that the Community Foundation partners with local nonprofits. Tom’s involvement with Meals on Wheels Sarasota, where he serves on the board, further highlights the couple’s dedication to making a difference in the lives of those in need.
Sharing Community Spirit
The Flanagans emphasize that one doesn’t need to make large donations to have meaningful impact. “You just have to find the right passion, or find the right cause that you feel passionate about. And the Community Foundation is great at matching people with the right causes,” Nancy says.
The Flanagans’ story embodies the generosity and community spirit that defines Sarasota. Through partnerships with organizations like the Community Foundation, Tom and Nancy hope to inspire others to join them in building an even more fun and vibrant city, one act of kindness at a time.
Or, to put it as Nancy did: “Sarasota is growing, and the needs are growing as well. If more people can get involved on any level, it can make a huge difference.”