Adrienne Bookhamer had no experience in family welfare when she took a position overseeing adoptions in Jefferson County, Colorado, outside Denver, in 1997.
She would go on to spend 25 years connecting babies, kids and teenagers with families, first in a county government role and later with nonprofits. When she moved to Florida at the onset of the pandemic, settling in Lakewood Ranch, she commuted to Tampa for two years, running a nonprofit adoption services organization there.
Bookhamer, named executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund in May, has now been out of the adoption services field for six months. But, for this forward-thinking, caring executive, the intrinsic value of adoptions will always have a place in her heart. Of the hundreds of families she’s worked with, she recalls one, more than 15 years ago in Colorado, when her organization found a family for a 17-year-old.
“Everyone had given up on him,” Bookhamer says, “and we found a family that wanted him. He had always wanted a family but thought he was going to have to emancipate from foster care. They took him in. And he never thought it was possible.” Bookhamer remains in touch with the young man, now in his 30s.
That’s the kind of passion Bookhamer seeks to bring to the fund, a role that’s ushering in some other big changes at the organization. For starters, Bookhamer is the fund’s first salaried employee. Another big one: In early 2021, the fund received its own 501(c)(3) exemption, after spending its first 20 years under the Manatee Community Foundation’s umbrella.
The fund’s mission, on its own and under Bookhamer, remains the same: to support the 100-plus nonprofits that improve the lives of Lakewood Ranch residents. The fund has granted some $1.4 million to those organizations since its inception. “It’s super exciting,” Bookhamer says. “We have the potential to be a huge resource in this community. We have nowhere to go but up.”
In a recent interview with LWR Life, Bookhamer talked about her career, her focus and challenges. The following are edited excerpts:
Why did you seek out this position?
I love nonprofit work. I’ve always been on the other end, figuring out how to get money into organizations, whether it’s fundraising, donor cultivation, or asking for grants. Now I’m on the other side where I can really see a difference. I can say, “Hey look, you guys are doing a great job and we can support you.” It feels good to give money away, instead of always having to beg for it.
What is the fund’s elevator pitch?
The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund is an organization that enhances the quality of life in and around Lakewood Ranch by granting funds that support nonprofits making an impact within Lakewood Ranch. We are big on saying, look around, Lakewood Ranch seems well-to-do, and it is. There are a lot of people around here doing really well. But there’s an undercurrent of families here not doing so well. There are the working families that help make this place what it is. And there are organizations out here trying to help these families. We’re granting funds to help these organizations.
What is the No. 1 challenge you face?
The biggest struggle is awareness. To show people that, yes, there’s a lot of wealth here, but there are also families struggling to make ends meet. Affordable housing, being able to put groceries on the table. Being able to get your kids educated, daycare.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in the community and Lakewood Ranch just continues to grow. And, as it grows, those issues are going to be present and probably magnify. Everybody should be able to thrive here, and all families should be able to live here.
In your career you’ve mostly worked in or in charge of teams. What’s it like being the sole person now with a public-facing, multimillion-dollar granting organization?
Well, there’s a lot to do, but it makes you prioritize what is really important for us right now, and that’s making sure people know who we are so people can feel comfortable and trust us, so when they give to us, they know we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing with the money and are being good shepherds with the philanthropy.