Sarasota Magazine: A Second Chance at Life

Sarasota Magazine: A Second Chance at Life

The following article was written by Gulf Coast Community Foundation and appeared on Sarasota Magazine’s website on November 1, 2023.

Powerful, transformative work is being done by a nonprofit right here in Sarasota County and we want you to know about it. Meet Project 180. Their mission? To reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into community life. The Legacy Trail provides over 50 miles of contiguous trail, free and accessible to the public with benefits like decreased automobile traffic, increasing transportation modes, and increasing health benefits. Both efforts have been long supported by Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast) and are now experiencing extraordinary benefits from each other.

woman and men stand smiling with arms around each other
Founder of Project 180, Barbara Richards, with individuals from Project 180.

Project 180 works with individuals who have served their time and are ready to rebuild their lives. Through philanthropy, this organization is giving individuals a second chance at life. Over the last three years, Gulf Coast, together with its donors, has provided over $150,000 to support Project 180 through its Criminal Justice Reform Initiative.

“When someone is incarcerated, it is the modern form of banishment. They lose everything from their family to housing, employment, financial sustainability, social networks, and their health deteriorates,” said President/CEO and Founder of Project 180, Barbara Richards. Richards’ staff of four includes herself and three formerly incarcerated men who are now dedicated to helping others. Their supportive board of directors also makes a difference by introducing the organization’s life-saving mission to the broader community. “We are helping hundreds of individuals who are reentering society, plus the general public. We prepare these individuals to live in the greater community. By helping them, we are helping our community and the community is helping us. Our organization becomes the family that so many individuals lost while they were using or incarcerated.”

Powerful Connections – The Legacy Trail and Project 180

Two of Gulf Coast’s initiatives (Criminal Justice Reform Initiative and Environmental Initiative) recently aligned when we learned that 19 of Project 180’s participants from the Residential Program use the Legacy Trail as a bike path to get to work, appointments, and activities. Two of Project 180’s homes are adjacent to the Legacy Trail which makes it a safe, easy place to ride for individuals in the program.

men on bikes ride a trail and smile at camera
Project 180 reintegrates formerly incarcerated individuals in community life.

Gulf Coast catalyzed the vision of our communities being connected by a beautiful bike and pedestrian trail. The foundation has been committed to expanding Legacy Trail opportunities from the beginning. “Through advocacy, partnership, and longtime support, Gulf Coast has provided, together with our donors, over $300,000 in monetary support for the Legacy Trail and the continued expansion of this community asset. We are thrilled to see individuals in Project 180 utilize the trail for their needs and enjoy time in nature,” said Gulf Coast’s Senior Vice President of Community Leadership Jon Thaxton.

“The Legacy Trail has been a superhighway for my recovery [from drugs and alcohol]. Not being able to drive during my early recovery, I’ve had to ride a bicycle mostly everywhere. The Legacy Trail has provided a safe, direct way for me to attend my recovery meetings in various locations spread out in the city,” said Brian R. who is a House Leader at one of the homes. “I’ve spent many days relying on the Trail. Every crossing is marked for bikes and pedestrians with a crosswalk or push button stop lights. Sometimes when I just want to enjoy a peaceful ride in and around nature, I have taken the Trail all the way through Osprey to Shamrock Park in Venice, stopping along the way at some of my fishing spots. I have enjoyed the Trail in so many ways, always saying hi to a fellow biker or dog walker. Sarasota is a better place for having this for not only the residents of Project 180, but for our community.”

Richards echoed his statement. “The fact that Gulf Coast Community Foundation invested in these men in the Residential Program has made all the difference and allowed us to continue realizing this dream that we have. The kind of assistance we’ve received from Gulf Coast and its donors is directly saving lives,” said Richards. “What keeps me interested in this work is that I am fascinated by the process of human transformation. I get to see these remarkable changes and processes of growth. I have such admiration for our participants and their courage and determination. We provide the stability they need so they can learn how to become the men they want to be.”

To learn more about how your philanthropy can make a difference, please click here.