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‘Champs’ for children

  • Sarasota
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There was chardonnay, rosé, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, prosecco and Champagne. Nearly 500 women dressed in designer footwear from Prada, Christian Louboutin, Valentino, Dior and Louis Vuitton. And a Backstreet Boy.

Forty Carrots Family Center engulfed The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota once again Nov. 17 with its annual Bacchanalian fundraiser — Wine, Women & Shoes luncheon and fashion show

No other event in Sarasota comes close to reaching the height of spectacle — as in spectacular — as does Wine, Women & Shoes.

And it’s probably a good bet many of the dazzlingly dressed ladies attending — nor many in Greater Sarasota, for that matter — have any idea how this event helps Forty Carrots spread its good works throughout the community.

Since its inception in 2005, the event has raised millions of dollars for the organization, from a net of $100,000 in its inaugural year up to $1.1 million at last year’s event. Results from this year’s event will be released in the next few weeks. 

The wildly popular and, surely envied, sellout event touts its own hashtag — #bestdayever. Women come from Tampa and Naples to the Sarasota event to enjoy an over-the-top day of fashion, shopping, food and libations. 

And while the event has become legendary, you could say the cause behind it is little known. But it has a big impact.

Forty Carrots Family Center’s mission is to nurture healthy child and family development through research-based, relationship-centered education and mental health services. Founded 30 years ago by Betsy Kane-Hartnett and Diane Weiss, Forty Carrots offers early childhood education through its preschool, child and family therapy and parenting education, of which 96% of the children and families served receive free of charge. 

Because most of Forty Carrots’ programs and services are provided free, fundraising is a key component. It contributes 19% of the organization’s annual revenue, which is 3% more than actual program service fees. That makes Wine, Women & Shoes integral to Forty Carrots’ operations. 

“We’ve been very grateful for the participation of our attendees, sponsors and the new people we meet in the fun of all of it,” says Michelle Kapreilian, CEO of Forty Carrots Family Center. 

The remaining 65% of Forty Carrots’ revenue comes from contributions (36%), grants (28%) and investments/other (1%). While 83% of the organization’s revenue is derived from fundraising, Forty Carrots only spends 10% of its budget to generate those funds. 

“Forty Carrots is among the highest-performing nonprofits in our region across any mission or focus area, and it really sets the standard for parenting education and therapeutic care for children and families,” says Teri A. Hansen, president and CEO, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation is among Forty Carrots Family Center’s top investors. 

With more than 1,500 free community groups, nearly all of them are parenting education groups that address families’ needs throughout a child’s development from birth through age 5. Groups range from parenting education for families with infants; play-based movement and learning groups; discussion groups on topics such as postpartum and lactation; and parenting education groups helping families involved in the court system work toward reunification with their children. 

These groups, that max out at 12 families per group, meet at the Forty Carrots Parenting Center, area nonprofits and public schools and libraries in Sarasota and Manatee counties. 

In the past year, parenting education services have increased 20%. “We have consistently been increasing our services based on needs,” says Kapreilian. “This past year, we had to turn away 600 families because of capacity.”

The demand for mental health services is on the rise as well. Since 2020, Forty Carrots has increased its mental health services more than 70% through its partners and on-site child and family counseling services with licensed mental health providers. Which is why Forty Carrots has a campaign underway to build a new mental health center on Cattlemen Road. 

Expected to be completed by the end of 2023, the new center will include six therapy rooms, a parenting center with family room and program offices to accommodate expected growth of 100% in mental health services and more than 30% in parenting education services over the next few years. 

“There is a real lack of mental health services in Sarasota and Manatee counties,” says Kapreilian. “There is a severe lack of mental health providers who are well trained in youth and family services even more so. It’s our responsibility to provide those services for our community.” 

To date, the organization has raised $8,750,453 of the projected $10 million cost. 

While mental health and parenting education programs will expand to Cattlemen Road, Forty Carrots’ preschool will remain on its main campus on Tuttle Avenue. Forty Carrots’ play-based curriculum is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Accreditation is given only to early childhood education programs that meet 10 standards of excellence. 

Demand is so high for one of the 86 spots for children 2 to 5 that the application process for the 2024-25 school year will begin in January. 

That high demand, however, does not prohibit entrance for families of all socio-economic backgrounds into its program. In the past year, Forty Carrots awarded more than $200,000 in scholarships to families enrolled in the preschool. 

With mental health and parent education services expanding to Cattlemen Road, easing the annual wait lists for enrollment in the preschool is also underway.

“One of the things people may not understand is the roots of adult mental health are born in early childhood,” says Kapreilian. “We are working with families from before birth to age 18. Life is a continuum. You can’t just pick out a piece and be as successful in the end as you can while providing services all the way through. Forty Carrots is here at every stage.”

Wine, Women & Shoes is truly an amazing event — an amazing contributor to the well being of Sarasota and Manatee families.



Emily Walsh

Emily Walsh is the president of Observer Media Group and has served as publisher of the OMG’s Sarasota-based publications since 2016. She joined the company in 2001 as Black Tie photographer, later serving as editor of Black Tie and Arts + Entertainment, an advertising sales executive and chief digital officer.

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