Children First announces $1,060,000 matching gift initiative for its 60th anniversary

Agency is exclusive provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services for Sarasota County

Image from the Children First website

Children First of Sarasota has announced The Challenge for Changing Lives, a $1,060,000 matching gift initiative led by Children First’s 60th Anniversary Diamond Circle members.

“The Diamond Circle is a dedicated group of extraordinary supporters leading the charge in advancing the mission of strengthening children and families together,” a news release explains.

“The members’ goal is to inspire those in the community to join them in giving by matching all gifts, dollar for dollar, up to $1,060,000, throughout 2021 as the focal point of the agency’s overall annual fundraising efforts,” the release adds. “Their commitment is to increase support of early childhood education, family strengthening, and comprehensive services for families living at risk,” the release explains.

The key philanthropists comprising the Diamond Circle membership are two anonymous donors providing gifts totaling slightly more than $300,000; individuals, couples and foundations providing gifts of $60,000 each, including the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, Dawn and Mitchell Epstein, Julie and Brock Leach, Joan and Bart Levenson, Katherine and Frank Martucci, Elenor Maxheim in loving memory of John Maxheim, Keith Monda and Veronica Brady, Leslie and Dick Rivera, Gaye and Jack Schwarz, and Karen Solem in loving memory of Charles Forman; couples joining together to form Diamond Circles with combined gifts from $20,000 to $30,000, including John Bean and Alexandra Jupin, Lisa and John Giglio, Carol and Richard Kalikow, and Bob and Lin Williams; and couples and individuals comprising a Diamond Circle with gifts from $10,000, including Alison and Howie Madsen, Jo and Stan Rutstein, Mike Rutstein, and CEO Philip Tavill, the release says.

“Even as we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we know that the hardships faced by those we serve are greater than ever,” said Children First CEO Philip Tavill in the release. “We are working together to lead in providing solutions in these unprecedented times. These are the moments in which we can change the tide by meeting our families where they are and providing access and opportunity for current and future generations,” he added in the release.

“This collective matching campaign kick-off gift marks a significant investment in the potential of our community’s most vulnerable, allowing them to experience the transformation of a lifetime,” said Vice President of Philanthropy Jessica Rogers in the release.

“As the exclusive provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services for Sarasota County, Children First has grown to serve hundreds of children and their families annually at 15 locations annually,” with campuses in Venice, North Port and Sarasota, the release points out. As a four-time designated Head Start Program of Excellence, the release continues, the agency ranks in the top 1% of more than 1,800 programs nationwide. “Through its award-winning Families First Institute, comprehensive curricula is offered at no cost to all community members,” the release notes.

In 1961, the Junior League of Sarasota founded the Sarasota Day Nursery with a mission to prepare children from low-income families for kindergarten,” the release explains. In 1994, the agency began providing Head Start services.

“With Early Head Start services added in 1998 and a name change to Children First in 2000, the organization grew rapidly, driven by the high demand for quality early childhood education and family strengthening programs within economically vulnerable communities,” the release says.

To make a gift in support of The Challenge for Changing Lives, visit