Beside me are Chief Development Officer Afira DeVries and United Way Suncoast Board Chair Gary Sasso. Both are instrumental in our strategic planning.

An historic meeting took place late last month. It was the first strategic planning session with the Suncoast, Tampa Bay area and Sarasota area board members all in the same room, working to move our organization forward. 

Our staff worked long and hard to pull together information about our community and data about the United Way community impact agenda and resources. Board members shared their expectations and we broke into smaller groups to discuss and elevate key observations and questions. We wrapped up the morning with an organizational analysis of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 

Spoiler alert: this is a longer message than usual but it only scratches the surface of the data, findings and conclusions we discussed. 

Some key statistics:

  • Nearly 19 percent of our community’s residents live in poverty. 
  • 71 percent of Florida’s prison inmates read at a 6th grade level. 
  • Families who participate in a banking system decreased by 1.3 percent between 2009 and 2012. 
  • Unemployment has increased from 4.2 percent in 2007 to 10.9 percent in 2011. 
  • Calls to 2-1-1 have risen 14 percent since 2008. 

We have made progress.

  • In Sarasota, since 2008 the number of at-risk children in early learning programs increased from 38 to 62 percent. 
  • In Tampa Bay, since 2008 more than 4,000 children attended Summer Care to stop summer learning loss. 
  • In 2011, we prepared a total of 12,874 tax returns for free, generating $16.3 million in refunds. 
  • 83 percent of financial education students use strategies that help them achieve financial stability. 
  • More than 90 percent of families receiving assistance through the Siemer Family Stability initiative have averted homelessness, becoming financially stable and keeping children in their school of origin. 
  • Over the last five years our investments have kept 143 seniors in their homes through foreclosure prevention services. 
  • Our neighborhood work continues to grow, serving residents in Sulphur Springs and Potter in Hillsborough and North Greenwood and Campbell Park in Pinellas. 


  • We can pay now or pay later. We can make sure children get a good start or we can fund our prison system. 
  • Quality early education is a traditional strength of United Way and a good foundation for future work. 
  • Summer Care is a winning strategy. 
  • Partner agencies are key to reaching the right people with the right programs. 
  • The economic recession demanded more resources than we had planned, but raised awareness of hidden issues such as food insecurity. 

Our session was held at Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College. My thanks go to them and to all the board members who sacrificed their time to advance the common good.


Diana Baker, President and CEO