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Collaboration equals multiplication with the formation of COAD.

The circumstances were extraordinary, and so was the resulting math: An equation in which one plus one plus one came to equal hundreds, thousands and even millions. On March 15th of this year as the crisis of the pandemic bore down, representatives from four local entities, the Charlotte Community Foundation, Charlotte County Human Services, United Way of Charlotte County, and the Gulf Coast Partnership, all came together to form COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) to strengthen the community’s response.

“Overnight the Gulf Coast Partnership was able to establish, build and publish the COAD website, and we were able to start processing applications for emergency relief funds the next day,” explains Ashley Maher, Executive Director of the Charlotte Community Foundation.

The Community Foundation supplied early monies to COAD, using a $50,000 gift and another $50,000 received from an estate to create a matching fund that ultimately resulted in $200,000 to be dispersed immediately.

“We deployed money,” Maher notes. “We did not sit on it.”

Eventually with resources from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, $2.5 million was deployed into the community, and now, with the formation of COAD, Charlotte County has a new and effective community network connecting over 250 entities, including smaller non-profits, churches and other volunteer groups creating a stronger assistance and relief infrastructure for the future.

COAD focuses on five areas: financial assistance, hunger relief, youth and education, small business assistance and volunteerism. Also, the COAD website currently serves as a community contact point for COVID testing. In the future, Maher and other COAD partners believe the new organization can provide vital assistance during and after weather-related disasters, and with the power of collaboration, can enhance community response to other issues as well.

Stepping up to meet a higher level of need.
In addition to work with COAD, the Community Foundation continued with other critical projects in a year that required flexibility and agility for the utmost responsiveness. Separately from COAD, the Foundation dispersed $500,000 to area non-profits, with $65,000 in challenge/match grants ranging in size from $5,000 to $20,000. And in a break from previous years, the Foundation allowed monies to apply to the non-profits’ operational costs in order to help keep doors open and staffs employed in the face of the pandemic’s effect on the economy.

The Foundation stepped up its financial support in other areas, adding a new cycle in its higher educational funding, awarding $100,000 in the first cycle and $30,000 in the second. “We believe it’s important that area residents have the opportunity to advance their careers with education and skills training,” Maher says.

Stepping up has meant staffing up, with two additional Foundation team members added. Even so, Maher points out the workload was such that “the staff worked day and night for months.”

Stepping up also meant taking a leading role in addressing social justice issues, with the Foundation convening a round table with staffs from local sheriff and police departments and four area activist groups to open dialogue and increase understanding. Progress has already been made in some of the resulting action items: For example, an academician who is also a retired police chief recently gave an address about implicit bias to law enforcement and interested community members.

“We took the helm because we could bring neutrality and because we could make sure that every voice is heard, whether it’s about financial assistance or social justice,” Maher explains.

The power of numbers.
The Foundation’s goals are two-fold: To respond to immediate community needs and to build a sustainable structure for the future. And the key to achieving those goals is data. As Maher sees it, data is a critical component in effecting positive change. “We channel passion into philanthropy, and with data, we’re able to direct that philanthropy into creating the greatest impact.” To that end, the Foundation is making a “deeper dive” into data in the next year to examine senior needs for future projects.

In the meantime, the takeaway for Maher has been the strength in numbers with collaboration as well as with data.

“This year, we’ve seen how incredibly important connections are, and the power of collaboration, even if it means difficult conversations. There is power in numbers, and together this community is incredibly resilient.”

For more information about the Charlotte Community Foundation, click here.
For more information about COAD, click here.