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Opinion
East County Thursday, Apr. 28, 2022 7 months ago

Big changes for Lakewood Ranch Community Fund

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Along with dedicating funds to pay a full-time employee, the board is moving toward a bigger schedule of events.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

I'm sure Nicole Ryskamp, a Realtor and a real estate attorney with Michael Saunders, was worried about filling the shoes of David Fink as she becomes president of the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund on June 1.

Of course, now she knows the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund has hired someone to hold the shoehorn.

In this case, that person will be full-time Executive Director Adrienne Bookhamer, who represents a philosophy switch by the board. Bookhamer becomes the fund's first paid employee May 2.

Those who know Fink must be wondering what he could have accomplished during his two-year term if he had such a person dedicating every day to the fund and nothing else. He always has been a ball of energy whatever the community cause, but he was working with an entirely volunteer force through two years of a pandemic. It doesn't seem fair.

Although Lakewood Ranch Community Fund presidents are now being cut to a one-year term, Ryskamp will be the first to have a full-time employee running day-to-day operations and, boy, does she appreciate it.

"Everybody has been coming to the board meetings with their ideas, but then they go back to their paying jobs," she said. "We have a person now who will manage events, communications and marketing. This is huge for us."

It is huge for the community.

I always felt the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund has been somewhat of a sleeping giant. A small group of dedicated volunteers have worked to collect funds and redistribute them to nonprofits in the community. The effort of these folks has been nothing short of amazing.

Former SMR President and CEO John Clarke founded the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund in 2000 with the thought that any thriving community needs to redistribute some wealth to the betterment of the community as a whole. By the nature of Clarke's connections, the fund was driven by developers and builders, and those who served them.

Fink had the foresight to understand that the landscape has changed — literally. While developers and builders continue to dominate the farer reaches of Lakewood Ranch, much of the community has been formed. Fink's idea was that the area's residents would become more involved with the fund so the reliance on builders would be lessened.

Unfortunately, the pandemic was a tough time to go door-to-door shaking hands. But Fink has offered a new mindset.

Ryskamp, therefore, is taking over at an exciting time for the fund. Along with dedicating funds to pay a full-time employee, she said, the board is moving toward a bigger schedule of events. Five years ago, The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund Gala was the social event of the year in the area. But, once again, the gala was fueled by developers and builders buying entire tables at the event would brought in money to the fund.

As years passed, fewer of those tables sold, and board members were concerned the gala would become more of a financial burden than a generator. The price of a ticket to the gala was high, so some board members worried the general public was being shut out. The gala died three years ago.

For an organization that doesn't have many events, losing the gala was a problem.

Ryskamp isn't saying the gala will return, but she said the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund is planning more events in the coming year. It's going to be more work, but the residents are going to become more familiar with what the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund does.

Already the organization's website has been redesigned with the volunteered help of Grapevine Communications. Check it out at LWRFund.org. It's going to have up-to-date news and easy ways for people to get involved, whether that means becoming a volunteer or by donating money.

In 2021, the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund received its own 501(c)(3) exemption, after spending 20 years as part of the Manatee Community Foundation. It's a whole new world, and Ryskamp will be steering the ship. The fund has sent $1.4 million back into the community in all its years combined, but I wouldn't be surprised if they top that amount in the next decade.

Ryskamp said the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund has aligned with the Lakewood Ranch Information Center on Lakewood Main Street so that people coming into the community for the first time will be introduced to the fund as they look at homes. It's another great step forward.

It's a big job for her, but Ryskamp said she is up to it.

"I've always had a passion for giving back to the community," she said. "This position is fulfilling our family's mission."

Ryskamp and her husband, Patrick, live in River Club and have two sons, 19-year-old Cade and 17-year-old Cole. The couple wants their sons to see them work to give back to the community in the hopes they follow that path as well.

Now it's almost time to get to work.

"It nice that people are going back to live events," Ryskamp said "When we invite people to things, they want to say yes.

"We want to reach the families and host family-friendly events. And I want to give a lot of credit to David (Fink). I would like to continue with his vision and enhance it."

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