SARASOTA, FL – The Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Vice President of Community Impact, Kirsten Russell, was selected as one of 55 professionals from across the state of Florida to join the next Leadership Florida class as part of the Cornerstone Class 40 during 2022-2023.
The class is a yearlong series of professional development opportunities designed to stimulate personal vision, networking, and collective influence of leaders from around the state. Participants are those who have demonstrated positive impact within their communities and a commitment to the continual betterment of Florida.
Russell, who moved to Florida 17 years ago from Northern Virginia, said participation in the Cornerstone Class will help satisfy her craving to delve deeper into the communities, trends, and solutions in the state. Russell said that the diversity in the state—of people and experiences, the arts, tourism, culture, and philanthropy—makes Florida a complex and dynamic place to live and to inspire positive change. She is excited to engage with the leaders of Florida who span the spectrum, politically and culturally, to engage in vital conversations she feels could develop meaningful impact.
In her role as VP of Community Impact, Russell oversees grants and projects for various sectors, and her work touches on nearly all aspects of life in the state, from animal welfare and human health to environmental issues to the arts. She is eager to discover innovative strategies to improve current approaches, to dialogue with leaders from different municipalities about programs and ideas we might replicate in this area.
Even with this breadth of impact she’s had on the community, for Russell, education has been a centerpiece of her work with the Community Foundation and in the public sector.
“If I had to pick one area to address, it would have to be education,” she said, noting that often community leaders try to fix problems at hand, but sustainable solutions may be inadvertently overlooked. She acknowledged that the state’s issues—the affordable housing crisis and the environment, to name a few—need attention and solutions, and for her, the foundation of solution-building is education.
“If we’re not being good stewards of what the education system needs to be at its core, we’re not going to build the pipeline of leaders to address the challenges today or in the generations to come,” she said.
During her eight-year tenure with The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Russell has been instrumental in using philanthropy as risk capital to build stronger, sustainable communities. Projects under her direction include the Two-Generation Approach to Education (2Gen), which aims to provide educational opportunities for both caregivers and their families; Season of Sharing, a community-wide human services network providing emergency financial assistance to support immediate basic needs; and lead participation in the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, in partnership with several organizations throughout the Suncoast, which has implemented interventions and programs to support educators and families in the task of instilling literacy skills in youth and closing the achievement gap.
About the Community Foundation of Sarasota County: The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is a public charity founded in 1979 by the Southwest Florida Estate Planning Council as a resource for caring individuals and the causes they support, enabling them to make a charitable impact on the community. With assets of $520 million in more than 1,570 charitable funds, the Community Foundation awarded grants and scholarships totaling $27.5 million dollars last year in the areas of education, the arts, health and human services, civic engagement, animal welfare and the environment. Since its founding, the Community Foundation has been able to grant more than $350 million to area nonprofit organizations to our community thanks to the generosity of charitable individuals, families, and businesses. For more information, visit www.CFSarasota.org or call (941) 955-3000.
About Leadership Florida: Leadership Florida is a unique organization that takes a holistic view of the conditions and challenges facing our great state and offers a continuum for expanding the impact of community leaders across the state. Created in 1982 by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Florida seeks to build a sense of statewide community by identifying and educating individuals who have the passion, commitment, and positioning to help make great things happen. The individual contributions of nearly 1,500 active Leadership Florida members are multiplied by their collective strength and enhanced by the distinct and diverse regions of Florida in which they reside. The members of Leadership Florida are dedicated not only to their local communities but also to the statewide community of Florida. From its vibrant annual classes to active region groups, to its broad committee structure encouraging long-term involvement by all members, Leadership Florida is a dynamic organization designed to promote statewide leadership. While leadership programs exist locally and in many other states, none rival Leadership Florida’s ambitious class offerings.
Knowledge is a key element of leadership, and each Leadership Florida program is designed to enhance understanding of issues critical to Florida. Leadership Florida also develops bonds among Floridians who combine their talents and resources to build an even greater Florida, community by community.