Help for a Rainy Day

Categories: Two-Generation Approach, CEO Message, Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund,

With the official start of summer, headlines abound with warnings of an especially active hurricane season, leaving many in our community bracing for uncertainty in the coming months.

We enter the season as a region still rebuilding after Hurricane Ian struck our coastline in the Fall of 2022. Like most disasters, Ian disproportionately impacted already vulnerable communities, and unmet needs and funding gaps are still revealing themselves.

Before Ian made landfall, our community foundation partnered with The Patterson Foundation to activate the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund, with the purpose of providing recovery resources as needs emerged over time, aiming to achieve equitable outcomes for our four-county region: Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

Two years ago, we couldn’t have predicted the true costs of repairing hard-hit Charlotte County, nor did we know it would not qualify for Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grant funds—Congressional funding used to help low-income areas recover from disasters and move towards economic revitalization. In time, it was revealed that Charlotte County’s population size precluded the county’s eligibility for these dollars, despite the heart-wrenching damage the county sustained.

With an eye toward this type of predicament that surfaces over time, our community foundation recently approved a $128,000 grant to Gulf Coast Partnership to support the opening of a childcare facility in Charlotte County, which lost eight childcare centers to Ian, and is experiencing stunning economic hardship, as evidenced by an alarming uptick of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunch (FRL). In the 2021-2022 school year, 73 percent of students qualified for FRL; two years later, in 2023-2024, this number has risen to 86 percent. More than 90 percent of the children served by the new center will be homeless, in foster care, or living in poverty.

Our foundation’s 12-year commitment to 2Gen (or two-generation) approaches to family well-being has crystallized our understanding of the critical role of early education and childcare for whole family well-being. The lack of available quality childcare naturally impacts children’s educational readiness, and it also creates extreme hardship to parents’ employment opportunities.

I’m grateful to work with foundation partners and a Board of Directors that recognize the importance of the long game, the patience required to learn about needs over time from those most impacted, and the need for judicious investment that provides stable solutions.

The fact that the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund is a model for other communities hit hard by disaster is a point of pride for our foundation; it’s a way we can be of service to communities beyond our four-county region. It’s a huge win for our community that disaster recovery funds remain to suupport those who have unmet needs that have lingered from the last major storm.

Perhaps as importantly, we have a playbook for rebuilding in the wake of the next one. While we must realize that we won’t be able to conquer nature, it is comforting to know we can unite to recover with resilience.