LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Newtown, Conn., was devastated by the murderous rampage of 20 elementary school students and six adult staffers at Sandy Hook school in December 2012.
Rich Harwood was called in to help Newtown following the deadliest mass shooting of a school in U.S. history, and eventually Newtown's collective strength and resilience became an example for the rest of the world.
Harwood brought his inspirational message Tuesday to Lakewood Ranch before about 200 people from the public, private and nonprofit sectors in Southwest Florida.
Harwood, founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, also helped launch Manasota's newest community initiative, Aspirations to Actions. The initiative is funded by the Patterson Foundation, a Sarasota philanthropy dedicated to positive change.
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Harwood's address was part of a cross-country campaign to train 5,000 public innovators by 2016.
During his Town Hall "Reclaiming Main Street" presentation at Lakewood Ranch Country Club, Harwood told the attentive group he learned a lot from the Newtown experience.
"When we, as Americans, set our minds to it and make a decision, we can do it. But there are challenges along the way," Harwood said. "Public discourse is filled with acrimony
and divisiveness. Demeaning the other side has to end. Too many organizations are concerned about getting the next grant, and politicians want the attention. We need to move in a different direction if we want to be better."
Harwood laid out several possible courses of action.
"Talking alone isn't going to do it. People need to realize they're not alone anymore in this crazy world. No one leader or organization can help us get there. What it requires is we work together, put aside our differences and focus on what we can share collectively."
Harwood inspired attendees.
"I'm interested in working with groups in downtown Sarasota in the Main Street program. We've got too many groups and we've got to work together," said Paul Thorpe, a Sarasota resident.
Harwood will spend the rest of this week leading 75 individuals from Manatee and Sarasota counties during a two-day Public Innovators Lab in Sarasota, where he will introduce strategies and techniques for developing a deeper understanding of communities as a focal point for positive change.
"We are always interested in collaboration and innovation while embracing new ideas. This will positively impact our region and the lives of the people who live here," said Debra Jacobs of The Patterson Foundation.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.