by Steven J. Smith
Although Peter and Joanne Powers have lived in Sarasota for only a short time, they fully embrace the concept that charity begins at home. Wanting to contribute in a meaningful way to their new community, the couple recently turned to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation at the behest of a contact they met during a local social event.
“We were told they would help us make a good entrée into philanthropic options in town,” Peter said. “Before we knew it, we had (senior vice president for philanthropy) Veronica Brady introducing us to Sarasota.”
Close to the heart
That introduction led them to financially support local organizations with which they felt a special connection — Asolo Rep, Children First, Reading Recovery, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs and All Faiths Food Bank, among others.
“Before we knew it, we had Veronica Brady introducing us to Sarasota.”
“Veronica exposed us to probably dozens of deserving organizations, arranging day visits, tours and talks with the people running things,” Peter said. “The organizations we chose made a good impression on us. We thought they were accomplishing things.”
A wise decision
Peter was born and raised in upstate New York, while Joanne grew up in Orlando. The two met in Atlanta in 2000 and have been married almost 13 years. She’s a former elementary school teacher and he headed a plastic bottle and jar manufacturing company called Clearplass Containers, which he later sold to a competitor. Now retired, they moved to Sarasota two years ago after deciding they needed a change of scenery.
“We were looking at various places in Florida and concluded we were never going to make the decision if we didn’t just pick somewhere and move,” Peter said. “Sarasota turned out to be a great choice for us.”
The Powers obviously turned out to be a great philanthropic choice for Sarasota as well. Joanne said an important goal of the couple’s patronage is keeping updated on the success they bring to organizations they support.
“Sarasota turned out to be a great choice for us.”
“For example, with All Faiths Food Bank, we stay in touch with them and know the kinds of programs they offer to help the community,” she said. “The Campaign Against Summer Hunger is one we particularly contribute to.”
That program was necessitated in part by the fact that food donations for Sarasota County’s tens of thousands of needy kids dwindle in the summer, due to the fact that many donors — who spend just the winter here — head back up north. Thanks to donations from benefactors like Peter and Joanne, almost 50 distribution sites remain open around the county each summer.
Another effort near and dear to the Powers is the Reading Recovery program, which brings struggling elementary school kids up to speed with their reading skills through short term, intensive one-on-one lessons with trained literacy teachers.
“I was a first grade teacher in a Title I school,” Joanne said. “Some of the children in my class went through the Reading Recovery program every day and I know it helped them.”
“We pick organizations and programs in which specific results can be achieved,” Peter added. “For example, with Children First we made a donation to them that funded a crib to help a family with a newborn. It’s more satisfying when we see results coming from our philanthropy.”
The couple’s donations to the Boys & Girls Club have helped create a vocational training center that aids kids in selecting a profession, he said.
“For the most part, the organizations we pick are about children and families,” Joanne said. “That’s really important to us, along with the arts, which so often suffer budget cuts. Asolo Rep also brings children in at times during its season to see plays, as does the Van Wezel.”
“It’s more satisfying when we see results coming from our philanthropy.”
The Powers recommend Gulf Coast Community Foundation as an ideal resource for anyone moving into the Sarasota area with a desire to give back to the community.
“One of the most important things about GCCF is their initiatives,” Joanne said. “Veronica Brady in particular has been amazing in giving us information so we can select the causes that are most meaningful to us. They have a wealth of information.”
“If you’re like us, you don’t know the neighborhood,” Peter added. “GCCF had the ability over a very short time to expose us to Sarasota and get us acclimated into the community. They’re about researching and identifying problems even more than giving money away. They’re out there doing their homework to help people like us determine what’s worthwhile.”