This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.
It’s amazing what generous people will do when they understand a community issue and see a way to help solve it. But many times, the roadblock to getting started is that people don’t really understand the problem or even realize there is one.
In Sarasota County, Florida—widely viewed as an affluent, cultured magnet for retirees of means—the notion that families with school-age kids were sleeping in cars behind shopping centers was incomprehensible to many. Homeless kids, in our community?
Increasingly visible cases of chronically homeless individuals and panhandling in some pockets of town couldn’t be ignored. But the growing diversity and extent of homelessness since the Great Recession, including the number of struggling families slipping into homelessness across our 725-square-mile county, went largely unseen. That has changed in the past year.
As Gulf Coast Community Foundation learned more about the issue and met different faces of homelessness up close, we recognized that more people in our community needed to see what the agencies on the ground were seeing. Last fall, Gulf Coast launched a new publication designed to help make that happen. PROACTION, a 12-page magazine focused on a single community issue—homelessness in the first edition—aims to educate community members and inspire practical action toward solutions.
As Gulf Coast has increasingly developed systemic, data-driven regional initiatives and engaged more donors in them, the need for community awareness and education about the issues we tackle has gained importance. With a problem like homelessness, which is sometimes hidden, often stereotyped, and continually changing, we had to educate ourselves as well as potential partners and the wider community if we hoped to foster the collaboration needed to transform it.
The first PROACTION magazine was an experiment of sorts. We printed a few thousand copies to mail and hand out. Soon after, we had an opportunity to distribute 45,000 more through a weekly newspaper. About a month later, we did a third printing because individuals, civic groups, and others kept asking for copies. That demand suggests an informational need that the publication is helping to fill.
Of course, a 12-page magazine can’t tell the whole story. The fact is, focused coverage of homelessness by our local daily newspaper has done much to keep the issue—and constructive community dialogue—on the front burner. Our publication provides one source of information that shares individual stories different from other media. The more people we can hear from who struggle with homelessness or work hard to help them, the greater chance we have to better our system.
Gulf Coast is now deep in research for the second issue of PROACTION, which will examine food insecurity and nutrition. The CEO of our local food bank, the hub of our region’s hunger-relief system, told us she is “always looking for ways to increase awareness of hunger because we understand that when people know about it, they want to do something about it.” That’s exactly why we aim to get her thoughts and those of many others involved in this issue out to as many community members as we can.
Greg Luberecki is the director of marketing and communications at Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the editor of Gulf Coast’s PROACTION magazine.