Sometimes we take for granted the vibrant culture we have living on the Suncoast. With inviting Gulf waters and world-famous beaches, invigorating arts scene and restaurants for every palate, millions of visitors flock to the very place we are fortunate enough to call home.
Multi-day events like Thunder by the Bay, the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, and events like the 4th of July celebration at Bayfront Park are an integral part of the tapestry of Sarasota, bringing tourist dollars to hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments and providing consistent traditions for families to enjoy throughout the years. The tie that binds these events is that the enjoyment they bring to the community is just the tip of the iceberg with these monumental events. The real work of the Powerboat Grand Prix and Thunder by the Bay begins the minute the events end. Suncoast Charities for Children distributes the net proceeds raised through an annual grant to the Suncoast Foundation, which provides support to over 8,000 clients with special needs and their families.
With the Powerboat Grand Prix experience just behind us, which annually consists of a ten-day whirlwind including a golf classic, fishing excursions for kids, car show, downtown block party with the race teams, and culminating with action packed powerboat races showcasing Sarasota’s beautiful waters and beaches to millions of people around the globe, you might think it takes a small army to organize such a feat. Well, “small army” is right, as in two actual paid staffers, including Lucy Nicandri, Executive Director for Suncoast Charities for Children, and Business Manager Sarah Catell, and over 200 volunteers, performing like a well-rehearsed orchestra at this point, with years of experience executing these events. Everything from pulling permits, working with environmental conservation staff, multiple governmental agencies, merchants, donors, arranging onsite activation setups, and about one thousand other things falls on Lucy’s shoulders. The event culminates with fireworks at Bayfront Park, which to the surprise of many are jointly funded by Suncoast Charities for Children and Marina Jack. Echoed throughout the event were praises for the City of Sarasota for the great display, but, the charity is, once again, hard at work serving the folks of Sarasota in a myriad of ways, with one of them being a fantastic firework show.
What does Lucy Nicandri do after an event of this magnitude? After a “clean-up process”, where she ensures invoices are paid, prepares budgets for each event, compiles recap reports for sponsors, the City, the County, and a volunteer Board of Directors, and even hand writes thank you notes to all involved, she has learned a “re-up time” is necessary. She explains, in years past she would jump into the next thing down the pipe but maturity and time on the job, 11 years now, have made her see that time away, totally unplugged, must be in the cards.
Suncoast Charities for Children does so much for children and families in the area it is hard to quantify. But, Lucy will tell you with striking detail about clients of all ages with special needs who are helped, that their reach is far-stretching. Their funding supports the Suncoast Foundation which has constructed facilities in the area (valued at $20 million) occupied by four area non-profit agencies for an annual lease payment of $1. Some of the agencies these facilities are home to include The Haven, The Sertoma Speech Clinic, The Florida Center for Early Childhood, Children First, and Sarasota County Special Olympics. Loveland Village also receives support. Lucy explains many of the children and families directly assisted by these agencies are also included in the festivities at the boat races with special time offered to get autographs from the racers, and a day of fishing on Sarasota Bay. In fact, this year one race team, WHM Motorsports was so inspired by the charity, and those with special needs that it helps, that they made a $15,000 donation to the charity at the Festival Kickoff Party. Many other race teams also donated their winnings back to the charity.
The other large event the group does, Thunder by the Bay, will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. There was considerable controversy surrounding the location of the event being moved to Lakewood Ranch last year from Downtown Sarasota, whose boutique hotel boom and residential sprawl in the form of condo creepers made it increasingly difficult to hold the event by the bay. As a result, the organization suffered a nearly $100,000 deficit compared to years past. Last minute location changes with only four months to plan, coupled with bad weather impacted the festival. However, Lucy promises this year’s festival will be bigger than ever with more details scheduled to be released in late August.
Some of the other events Suncoast Charities for Children hosts or is involved with include the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, a favorite of residents up and down the Suncoast, Sarasota Tarpon Tournament, the New Year’s Eve Fireworks, and the annual Columbia Restaurant Community Harvest which will be taking place this coming September.
It would be hard to imagine Sarasota’s social scene on a yearly calendar missing any of these events, wouldn’t it? So, the next time you are enjoying the fireworks, or watching powerboats race across our waters for free, or love the time you spend marveling at the motorcycles as they roll into town each fall, please ask yourself what you can do to give back to Suncoast Charities for Children that is not only providing entertainment each year to you and your family but is also doing meaningful work on behalf of the vulnerable people that surround you. If you have the wherewithal to donate monetarily, they will gladly put your money to direct use doing good things in the community. If you are a business or part of a national corporation, consider suggesting either event as a venue to get your company’s name out in a meaningful way. Or, if you have a talent such as organization, social media, advertising, and just about anything in between, Lucy and her group will gladly accept your help. Suncoast Charities for Children is a solid force for good within the communities of Sarasota County, and with a driver like Lucy Nicandri at the helm, there is no task too large for her and her capable army of volunteers. To learn more about this amazing organization and for a link to donate, please visit www.suncoastcharitiesforchildren.org.
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