Celebrating Our Circle of Champions

Nov 9, 2021

Our work supporting students and teachers—our work uniting the community to prepare each and every student for life—it would be impossible without generous donor support. It was this understanding of how lucky we are to have a committed base of donors that inspired the creation of the Circle of Champions.

The Circle of Champions is a group of donors to the Education Foundation of Sarasota County who give $1,000 or more annually. As members, they enjoy special access to the Education Foundation and to other benefits. And on November 8, we invited Circle of Champions members to LaunchPad4U, our community resource center and learning lab in the Rosemary District, for our inaugural celebration. We wanted to honor the vital role our donors play in helping us realize our mission and our vision.

At 5:00 p.m., 56 attendees joined us in our celebration. In addition to Circle of Champions members, Florida State Representative Fiona McFarland attended, as did guest speaker Dr. Brennan Asplen, the superintendent of Sarasota County Schools. Education Foundation board members, past and present, attended, and so did volunteer mentors and staff members. It was a mix of individuals committed to supporting students and teachers.

The event was a wonderful opportunity for donors to meet board and staff members as well as local thought leaders. Attendees toured LaunchPad4U, enjoyed drinks and food, and socialized. Reverend Brock Leach, our board chair, welcomed the first-ever gathering of Circle of Champions and introduced Dr. Asplen, who shared the district’s strategic plan and how seamlessly it fits with the work of the Education Foundation. He shared his belief in the Student Success Centers we have developed in four area high schools and the value they bring to the schools.

Sarasota High School senior Krystal Porlles spoke as well, sharing her story of coming to America from Peru when she was 11. She shared how lost and alone she was—but how she has found a support network at her Student Success Center that has helped her develop a plan to attend a four-year college. She spoke of her Education Foundation College Career Advisor, Cheryl Haller, who made sure, no matter how busy she was, that “there was always an open space at her desk.” Krystal spoke of her mentor, who has provided invaluable guidance and who will continue to support Krystal throughout her next adventure, “hopefully at the University of Central Florida.” Her mentor, Krystal emphasized, has been there for her so many times, after stressful days at school or work. Krystal ended her speech full of gratitude: “All of you have impacted my life and for that I am forever thankful.”

Following Krystal, Education Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Vigne, shared plans to deepen and expand the resources we provide to students and teachers—work that we can do because of the generosity of donors like our Circle of Champions.

Gregg Matthews, a Circle of Champions member and former executive at American Express who had previously served on the Education Foundation’s board, attended the event. A longtime advocate for young people, he became interested in the Education Foundation years ago and has been drawn to its commitment to teacher excellence and student support. In the Education Foundation, he saw the preeminent organization to provide support to the district—and he wanted to be a part of that.

What most inspires Gregg about the work of the Education Foundation? Definitely the Student Success Centers. He understands the real need for one-on-one advising and assistance and sees how these centers change lives. He sees these centers moving students “to another level”—and he’s excited about their evolution and expansion. He also sees the great power in mentoring and is excited to watch this resource grow. For at-risk students and first-generation college goers, having a trusted, compassionate mentor to bounce ideas off of and to help in developing a plan makes all the difference. Gregg sees how these mentors change lives.

Of the Circle of Champions, Gregg sees a catalyst. He sees committed philanthropists who understand that for our community to thrive, we need students graduating prepared for life, ready to solve problems, ready to become future leaders across Sarasota County.

Our donors left the event with Circle of Champions lapel pins we hope they will wear proudly. These lapel pins reflect their passion for education in Sarasota County. They reflect the community coming together to prepare each and every student for life. And we are so thankful to have amazing donors like our Circle of Champions.

We hope that you will consider joining Gregg and all of our Circle of Champions members. We are excited to do more to support students and teachers—but we need your help. Join the Circle of Champions today!