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Focus on Manatee: The opportunity to make a difference does not end with the holidays

With December behind us, so too is the focus on giving. We’re back to the grind in the office or the regular rhythm of retirement. We are busy and have things to do, new resolutions to make or break.

If you are like me, exercise is one of them. It’s always one of them.

But there is a new kind of exercise we can focus on this year. It is the regular practice of thinking about the life stories of other people, how their circumstances impact their ability to live a good life.

There is a secret in our community, and those who live and work around us hide it well. Four out of every 10 people are one paycheck away from being homeless. You would never guess who some of them are.

Living on the edge like so many people do, a small, unforeseen event can stop you from being able to pay the rent or afford the electricity bill. Just knowing that reality exists for so many people is eye-opening.

Susie Bowie mug.jpg
Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.

When you exercise your imagination about what such uncertainty might feel like for struggling families, it can change your entire perspective.

The proximity to homelessness lives close to all kinds of people: Those who work hard, single parents, families that experience a sudden illness or a car that will not start in the morning.

When it hits our most vulnerable citizens, their social networks do not have the resources to help them.

For years, I did not understand how lucky I am — the mere knowledge that if something extreme happened to me, I have family and friends who can help. That safety net gives me an unconscious feeling of protection that many people in our community do not have.

Each year, the Season of Sharing campaign reaches households in a four-county area in our region to prevent homelessness. People like you make a financial gift in any amount they can afford. Those gifts add up, and for every $500,000 the community raises together, The Patterson Foundation contributes another $100,000.

Manatee Community Foundation recently received a $50,000 gift from an anonymous donor to help fund the campaign in Manatee County. We would love to see others step up and help too.

At the end of January, the active fundraising campaign for Season of Sharing will come to a close, but the funds donated by people from all walks of life will help others stay in their homes throughout the year.

Trained case workers at Turning Points, Step Up Suncoast and other local nonprofits work with individuals requesting support to assess their need and ensure that they only receive one-time assistance within the year.

But unlike some processes, there is little red tape and families can receive the help they need before they become homeless.

We can wonder how a precarious economic reality is little talked about when so many people are living on the edge. But the truth is, it’s a neighbor, a co-worker, a senior citizen in line at the grocery store. Maybe it’s been you at some point in your life — or now.

Need does not end with the holidays, nor does the opportunity to make a difference. If you are resolute in your new exercise routine, include stretching those muscles in your heart to give what you can, when you can.

Our friends at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County provide all of the administrative support for Season of Sharing campaign at no cost.

You can make a tax-deductible gift that will change someone’s life online at www.CSarasota.org, or mail a check to Manatee Community Foundation, 2820 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton FL 34205 with “Season of Sharing” in the memo line.

Be sure to choose or note “Manatee County Campaign” to ensure that your dollars support families here.

Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: SBowie@ManateeCF.org. Phone: 941-747-7765.

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