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The Giving Challenge Through the Eyes of Local Business, a guest post by Sam Davidson

May 2, 2014

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Sam Davidson, Marketing Director, Westfield Sarasota Square and Southgate

Sarasota is a tricky place to live. It’s a mosaic of generations coming together, multiple identities colliding, and thousands of businesses that all have different goals. But for a short period each Spring, we all seem to agree on one thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the tourism industry or an entrepreneur, real estate or advertising, healthcare or technology, retiree or student. During this time, Sarasota comes together, unifies its efforts, and celebrates our thriving and world-renown nonprofit industry.

This is The Giving Challenge.  For the past several days, my inbox has been flooded with every nonprofit in town explaining how they are going to raise money on May 6-7. For 24 hours, the most creative ideas in the gulf coast will be executed by the hundreds of organizations participating in this initiative. Last year, The Giving Challenge raised over $1.78 million for 287 local nonprofits. This year, more than 400 nonprofits will be participating.

During this initiative, local businesses are contacted and asked to be partners in the fundraising efforts.  And it’s more than just asking for a check. It’s “how we can use your business’ strengths to boost the campaign to the next level.” This is such a big part of The Giving Challenge that the best nonprofit/profit partnership will be rewarded with a $5,000 grant.

As a leader in the retail industry, Westfield has engrained in me how important it is to be a good partner in the communities we serve. Sarasota, in particular, is extremely rewarding to the businesses that give back to the community.  It’s more than just cause marketing or being socially responsible.  Giving back in Sarasota is part of the professional lifestyle, and The Giving Challenge is a gut check for local businesses to see where they’re at with forming valuable, lasting relationships with the nonprofit family.

At Westfield Sarasota Square and Southgate, we have teamed up with dozens of nonprofits over the past decade. We’ve hosted fundraising fashion shows for baby boomers and elementary students. We’ve painted our walls to raise awareness. We’ve brought record-breaking blood drives to our stores. It’s no secret that our best shoppers are also Sarasota’s best philanthropists, whether it’s with their financial means or their time volunteered. For us, it’s a no brainer to be an incredible community partner, and that’s part of the culture our employees bring to Sarasota Square and Southgate each day. That is why The Giving Challenge is such a fun time of year for us. This year, we have partnered with Community Youth Development (CYD) showcasing the “Pathway to STARs” at Westfield Sarasota Square near the food court and AMC Theatre.

From May 2-7, 162 stars will be featured on our mall floor – each star representing a current STAR student. A STAR student is a high school student who has completed CYD’s comprehensive, 75-hour STAR Leadership Training Program.  Students learn important skills such as team-building, communication, and leadership. After they complete the program, they are eligible to serve on a nonprofit board of directors, or on a city or county advisory board as a full voting member. To put it simply, STAR students are the best-of-the-best teenagers we have. To show off their names to 75,000+ shoppers this next week is the least we can do to recognize their achievements and commitment to our community.

Our CYD partnership is very important to us and hits home for one of our core shopper segments. The students who participate in CYD are the same teenagers who shop, eat, and socialize at Sarasota Square. Some of them even hold part-time jobs with our retailers. To honor this demographic with the “Pathway to STARs” is a privilege for us and I can’t think of a better location in town to get the word out about CYD and the STAR program.

Throughout the past few years, we have partnered with CYD on a number of projects, and every time, I am grateful for the opportunity. When you meet the STARs and see them in action, you instantly believe in CYD’s mission. What they are doing is working. I sit on the Sarasota Young Professionals Board of Directors with Samuel Winegar, who attends Pine View and is a STAR. Winegar doesn’t just sit in a quiet corner at the Board meetings.  Instead, he is a key contributor and often carries the conversation on certain issues we discuss. Whatever he was taught during his STAR training comes to life, and it’s extremely refreshing to see. I always seem to think, “I wish I had his confidence, public speaking talent, and cool composure when I was a teenager.” Through this experience, and so many more with CYD, I can emphatically state that supporting this program during The Giving Challenge (and into the future) will benefit an organization that is succeeding in developing thousands of young leaders in this community.

Through May 7, I encourage you to visit Westfield Sarasota Square and check out “The Pathway to STARs”. You will have the opportunity to learn more about the STAR Leadership Training Program and create your own star.  While you’re there, take a photo on the pathway and show your support by posting to your social media channels using the hashtag #BeASTAR”. Through this support, you can be assured that CYD is diligently working to develop students that the entire community can admire and respect.

Thank you, CYD, for partnering with Westfield during The Giving Challenge. You have provided us a simple opportunity to give back to the community which we love, and for that we are grateful.  Your students are ridiculously amazing. They represent your organization throughout the year with pride. The thank you notes the students send us are genuine, and their visits to our management office to personally thank us are always a pleasant reminder of why we support you.  We could not be more proud to team up with such an inspiring organization.  Good luck during The Giving Challenge, and we’ll see you at “The Pathway to STARs”.

 

We are grateful to Sam Davidson, marketing director of Westfield Sarasota Square and Southgate, for sharing his perspective on the Giving Challenge from the business world.

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