Sarasota Magazine: A Compass for our Region’s Future

Sarasota Magazine: A Compass for our Region’s Future

The following article was written by Gulf Coast Community Foundation and appeared on Sarasota Magazine’s website on February 22, 2024

What do 65 members of our community, hundreds of survey responses, and 30,000 discussion notes all have in common? Aligning the course of impact for Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast) with our 2023 Regional Scan results.

Since 2009, every two to three years, Gulf Coast has commissioned a regional scan to identify the most pressing priorities in the communities we serve from the minds of those who live, work, and play here. Regional scans are a tool to define Gulf Coast’s priorities and to guide our funding decisions, but they are also used by community partners, government leaders, and philanthropists to serve their clients and our entire community best. Over half of the people who participated in the 2023 Regional Scan interviews and surveys had not taken part in previous scans and offered valuable new information and unique perspectives. One topic of importance that our region has brought up consistently in every scan throughout the years is the environment.

Five topics that came up most frequently in the interviews and survey results collected for Gulf Coast’s Regional Scan are affordable housing, water quality and access to green spaces, mental health, growth and development, and civility. Of those, Gulf Coast has chosen affordable housing, water quality and access to green spaces, and mental health as our three priorities for the next two to three years. These vital themes set an ambitious agenda for our regional philanthropic work and guide us in developing transformative initiatives to address them. Together with our donors, our goal is to move the needle forward to create and sustain positive change and impact.

Priorities for the scan are identified both by how frequently they were raised as a critical issue and how likely and significant their impacts might be in the near future. While these three issues remain our priority areas, Gulf Coast continues to be committed to our five broader focus areas of: arts and culture, civic and economic development, education, environment, and health and human services.

“At Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we envision thriving communities with opportunities for all. Our 2023 Regional Scan provides essential data to inform us to focus on the most critical issues facing our region to realize that vision. Together, we are ready to lead, partner, and invest in innovative ideas and solutions for our community,” shared Gulf Coast’s President | CEO Phillip Lanham.

For Tomorrow Today

woman and young child walk in the grass between houses
Photo Credit: Harvest House

The 2023 Regional Scan tells us that the community may not be able to sustain its essential workforce without a significant increase in the availability of affordable housing. 56 percent of renters in Sarasota County spent more than 30% of their income on their rent in 2021, meaning they are housing-burdened according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of these renters, more than half spend greater than 50% of income on rent leaving very little remaining to cover the expenses of childcare, food, education, healthcare, and other day-to-day essentials. Gulf Coast, in partnership with local governments, housing providers, employers, funders, and other community voices advocates for adopting and implementing the current recommendations of Sarasota County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, particularly exploring the sustainability of our city and county’s local affordable housing trust funds.

white bird stands in grassy marsh area
Water quality supports not only future generations, but also our quality of life.

The second priority revealed in the scan, water quality and access to green spaces, recognizes that water quality supports not only future generations, but also our quality of life. Over the past 60 years, red tide blooms along Florida’s west coast have increased in frequency, duration, and severity, and data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has shown similar trends in coastal flooding events. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2022). Gulf Coast plans to advocate for revisions to stormwater and facility maintenance and utility assessment fees and methodologies to focus on water quality. We will also continue to share our Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways (Water Quality Playbook) at conferences locally and nationally. You can view the digital playbook online here.


two women sit on a bench outside talking
NAMI Sarasota and Manatee Counties’ YANA (You Are Not Alone) drop-in center off Tuttle Ave.

Mental health continues to surface as a priority in our region for children and youth following the lasting effects of a global pandemic, isolation, and cost of living stressors. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. Guided by the Sarasota County Mental Health Needs Assessment Task Force Report, Gulf Coast plans to address system gaps for youth and their families while involving people with lived experience in the solutions. Confronting the spectrum of mental health needs and challenges requires a networked approach of nonprofit resources, social services, and community leadership, with different sectors working in alignment to raise awareness, connect those in need to resources, and support care providers.

Throughout the 2023 Regional Scan interviews, focus groups, and surveys, we heard a constant refrain from the community: public discourse has grown too polarized and too combative. There is a widely held belief that this growing polarization has interfered with our community’s ability to work together to solve problems and achieve common goals. This seems particularly surprising in the Gulf Coast, where a shared sense of civic pride and a spirit of cooperation have been cornerstones of our approaches to designing public policy and pursuing community service work for decades. To break through this polarization, we know that we are all members of the same community, and we all want a region that is safe, sustainable, thriving, and respectful.

Your priorities are Gulf Coast’s priorities. We are committed to working with our donors and partners in the public, civic, and private sectors to enact meaningful change and provide opportunities for all.

To read Gulf Coast’s 2023 Regional Scan, click here.