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Northern Trust Vice President Chris Romine is the incoming president for the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund.
East County Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 6 years ago

Conversation with Chris Romine

Incoming president sets goals high for Lakewood Ranch Community Fund
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor


As incoming president of the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund, Chris Romine knows he faces a big challenge in 2016.

A Northern Trust senior vice president, the 55-year-old Romine has been a part of many non-profit boards so he isn't intimidated by the challenge. However, he understands that the Community Fund can only be as good as those willing to support it.

So what do Community Fund advisors do?

We raise money so we can present our grants. We also work on building our Founders 50 (a group of individuals who open personal accounts to make grant money available). We are 13 away from having 50. 

Did you know initially when you became a Community Fund advisor three years ago what was involved?

"I would have to plead ignorance. Bob Borkowski, a co-worker at the bank who lives in Lakewood Ranch, was on the board of advisors at the time. His term limit was up and he rolled off the board. So he saw me at work and asked me, 'Are you interested.' I said, 'Sure.' I went to their first meeting and found out what they do."

Were you surprised by what they do?

What I saw was that there was so much need in the community. I saw what the non-profits were up against. The need is at their door every day and their ability to serve is restricted by funds. The need is astonishing."

So one of your first tasks was to chair the grants committee?

My first time was a little scary, but I had a great mentor in Keith Davey. He was with me every step of the way. It was an involved process, something you had to do all year. And we want complete impartiality when we presented a grant."

How do you get impartiality?

"We look at people in the community and we research them in a clandestine manner. Then we got to the board and submit their names. The board ranks each one and we pick the top five or six people. The next step is to contact them to see if they are interested. When we get five or six, we have our grants committee. We make sure we get new folks every year."

Considering you gave away just over $75,000 in grants and organizations requested more than $250,000, how do you decide who gets a grant?

"We rank each one A, B or C, a weighted average. Somebody is at the top and somebody is at the bottom. We have nothing against any specific organization, they all do great work. We have placed a value on grants needed for education. There also is a need for feeding people. It changes every year. And I have been on the other end, asking for grants. It is so hard because you want to give money to everyone."

Do you check to see what kind of work is being done?

"We are given invitations to year-end meetings and we go on tours. We routinely are asked to visit those who get grants. You see what they are doing, and it's just great. Last year we went to the Visible Men Academy in Bradenton (a tuition-free school for boys in grades K-5). They teach boys how to be gentlemen. They wore these little uniforms, shook our hands and said, 'Thank you for coming.' They had an enthusiasm for learning there. It was really fabulous."

Why do you get so passionate talking about that one?

"My personal belief is that we need to support a good education. That will solve a lot of problems in the community, our country and the world. You need to start young to get that mode of learning. Twenty-three hundred kids in the Sarasota County school system were living wherever they could and 1,600 kids in Manatee County were in the same situation. They are living in vans and cars but they are still making it to school every day. It makes me extremely thankful. I think success in life is having a sense of gratitude."

Do you have the right people to make these grants happen?

"This board, honestly, is an extremely cohesive board because everybody is willing to work, People have no hidden or back-room agendas. Everyone is working toward the same goal."

So what will be your biggest challenge as president?

"Our biggest challenge is raising money to meet the needs. We have to grow our organization, and our fundraising so that we can have a bigger impact. We're a small group and we are limited in what we can do. I think we have the potential to take our Gala (March 19 at Lakewood Ranch Country Club) to a higher level. In 2008 with the economic crash, no one was going to galas. The past few years have been better. This year's theme is disco."

With all the time you put into this, is it hard on your family?

"My wife, Lynn, doesn't bat an eye and the rest of our family is three English springer spaniels and a cat. We've been married almost 28 years and she comes with me to all the stuff. She is involved and I get a lot of advice from her. She is smarter than I am."

So you have a positive outlook for the community fund?

"We live in a very giving community. I think we have more galas and fundraisers than anywhere in the country. And what makes it worthwhile is the end result, when you are able to give that money out. It's knowing that you are helping to the extent that you can."

How do you spread the word?

"To get information out, it is up to our board members who live in the community. We have to be involved on our jobs and businessess. it's what we do. We have to be ambassadors. We have to talk it up to everyone we see. Our gala is a great marking tool."

So when you aren't working or raising money, how do you spend that time?

"I play the piano and I still take lessons. I've played at a few recitals, mostly for friends and family, and co-workers and I spend a lot of time with it. My favorite to play would be Chopin Scherzo in B-Flat Minor. I've got a passion for music."

























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