The following reflection was written by John Robertson, Director of Membership Services at the Florida Network.
This time last year we gathered at Hammock Beach to bring our year to a close. The Florida Network Annual Meeting is many things. It is above all else, a celebration of our commitment to the work that we do. By uplifting specific individuals, programs, agencies and Network partners, we hope to honor everyone who identifies with their achievements. We look back on the year and recognize advancements in our services, like the ever-growing Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) program. We look at the numbers: how many youth we sheltered, how many families got help, how many we diverted from detention facilities or foster care. With each member agency doing their part locally, it adds up to roughly 20,000 kids having a chance at a better life before things get worse.
We also reflect on what we survived. What challenges threatened to interrupt our cause? How did we handle them? To look back on tough times and know we persevered, together, is what gives us courage for the hard times to come.
Our Annual Meeting is also like a revival. It is a time to look squarely at the problems threatening Florida’s children and families, and re-dedicate ourselves to our collective purpose. Last year we opened our event with a deep and frank lesson on the nature of poverty and the hidden rules that differentiate situational from generational poverty. Dr. Payne’s complex assessment of society does not lend itself easily to sound bites, but bite it does. Once she has opened your eyes, you can never view the world the same, or deny the need for new ideas and interventions to help families make permanent positive progress.
We honored the incredible grit and tenacity of Anchorage Children’s Home in Panama City. Their shelter was closed by Hurricane Michael, an unprecedented disaster that destroyed their community and the surrounding area beyond recognition.
The President’s Award was given to Michel Marquez, self-described handyman, who led a crew of survivors through the storm all while improvising solutions as the storm battered the building and tore through the roof. I get goosebumps remembering the standing ovation.
We honored the broad-shouldered Youth and Family Alternatives as Agency of the Year, for serving so many kids and families that we were able to absorb the impact of low numbers from the hurricane.
We closed out the meeting on the last day by taking a hard look at the reality of violence on our school campuses. Chief Tim Enos, of the Sarasota Schools Police Department, conducted an assessment of the vulnerabilities exploited during the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and what we can learn from them to protect our own children and schools from this hideous phenomenon.
So in these events you can see how even as we come together to celebrate, we do not have the option to drop our guard, or fail to prepare for the next unexpected calamity.
Now all of that brings us to this week, as we must celebrate together, apart. None of us could have anticipated such a strange close to our year. While there is much reason to be discouraged or to lose hope for better days, we do not have that luxury.
Join us for our 2019-20 Virtual Annual Meeting and be inspired! Together we have achieved so much and this year gave us much to celebrate. If anything, our conviction to serve our neighbors and communities is stronger, and our bonds are tighter. We don’t know what this new year will bring, or what will be asked of us, but we know we will face every challenge to the safety and well-being of Florida’s families as we always have: ready and eager to serve. If there is one thing we do know, it is that the Network works, and that is because of you.