With each holiday season, you can expect a dazzling array of new films, long-awaited sequels, and blockbusters to debut upon the big screen. One box-office hit has been capturing and moving hearts nationwide since just before Thanksgiving: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, retracing the impact Fred Rogers has had on our national culture. The film brings us optimism about how each of us has an opportunity every day to help another. My favorite Mr. Rogers attributed quote is: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” As always, Mr. Rogers offers a timely message for us all: we all can do a little something to spread and share the gift of kindness.
Sharing is an integral part of our region’s unique identity and culture. As a community, we are connected by the act of sharing. Yes, we share our time and our resources. But most importantly, we share ourselves and in return receive an opportunity to connect with another human being. The feelings of compassion and possibility that come from sharing touches us deeply. It doesn’t matter if you’re helping a friend, a family member, or a stranger – the effect is profound.
Fred Rogers knew this and made it his purpose to inspire us to create that feeling every day. Being a neighbor doesn’t just mean living next door to someone. Webster’s defines neighbor as “a fellow man,” and being neighborly as “helpful and friendly.”
In our area at this time of year, neighborliness is demonstrated through Season of Sharing, a community-wide campaign that has empowered neighbors to help neighbors in need regain stability and ward off the threat of homelessness before it happens. For 20 years, Season of Sharing has underlined our community’s passion and willingness to change someone’s tomorrow by raising nearly $22 million for more than 35,000 families and individuals in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties. In recent years, local participation has tripled with more than 3,000 individual gifts – ranging from $5 to $20,000 – helping annual donations exceed $2 million, along with great support from our neighbors at The Patterson Foundation.
None of these successes would have been imaginable without our desire to share our gifts, stories, and experiences with others.
In fact, Season of Sharing was built on the belief that heartfelt storytelling – by learning about someone’s personal experiences – could emotionally connect and motivate our community to action. Over the years, countless families and individuals have been willing to share their lives and difficulties with us through these stories, and while each has been meaningful in its own way, several have captured my heart.
Abandoned by his father and other relatives, Antonio found his way to the YMCA’s Transitional Living Program, where he was given the necessary resources and support to locate a job and attend high school. When his time with the program came to an end, Season of Sharing funds helped him stay in his apartment while he fulfilled his academic goals through higher education.
This ripple-effect of kindness spreads far beyond the boundaries of Sarasota County, as well. A car accident in 2017 left Jami with a severe brain injury, leaving her unable to work and maintain her budget for the month. Needing assistance with her water bill, Season of Sharing funds covered the fees to prevent disconnection of her utilities in her Venice home. And in Charlotte County, Jason and Amanda were provided funds to keep their family of six children in their home after a series of unexpected health and unemployment issues almost toppled their family stability.
As you can see, sharing can take on many forms over a 20-year community campaign like Season of Sharing. Yet, at its heart, it remains a pure reflection of our community’s boundless generosity. Mr. Rogers would be proud to see so many helping during this special time of year, and every day. So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day – Please won’t you be my neighbor?
To make a donation or learn more about Season of Sharing, please visit www.CFSarasota.org.
I would love to hear your stories of neighborliness. As always, we’re listening.