Building Philanthropy for a Better Florida

Creating Resilient Cities: Orlando Strong

May 12, 2017

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a gunman opened fire at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, leaving 49 individuals dead and more than 50 injured. This hate crime was the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. The attack distinctly targeted LGBTQ and Hispanic people and had devastating effects on those already marginalized communities in Orlando. The ripple effect could be felt across the entire region and world.

The City of Orlando, Contigo Fund, Central Florida Foundation and Funders for LGBTQ Issues will host the Orlando Strong: One Year Later Funders Symposium June 14 – 15, 2017. This two-day program will be a gathering of national and local philanthropic leaders sharing lessons learned and promising practices from the response to the Pulse tragedy.

Florida Philanthropic Network hosted a luncheon for its Tampa Bay Funders Forum to discuss lessons learned and continued healing initiatives with leaders from key organizations – City of Orlando, Contigo Fund and Central Florida Foundation – critical to the recovery effort in Orlando and how the Bay area can develop a strategic philanthropy response plan in the event of a disaster or tragedy. Continue reading for a recap of the discussion and lessons learned.

What makes a city resilient?

Collaboration and friendship, according to Orlando philanthropic and government representatives. 

Orlando was showered by a national and international outpour of compassion during immediate response efforts after the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Within hours a GoFundMe campaign was launched by Equality Florida’s then-Development Officer Ida Eskamani, to facilitate online giving. Members of the philanthropic and nonprofit communities were on the phone, said Sandi Vidal, vice president of community strategies and initiatives at Central Florida Foundation, coordinating response efforts for two immediate needs:

  1. Long-term financial support for the needs of survivors and victims’ families, and 
  2. Assisting community organizations in relief efforts and long-term community healing.

The GoFundMe campaign later merged with other local and national efforts to create the OneOrlando Fund led by the City of Orlando and Mayor Buddy Dyer. Passionate about supporting those directly affected by the Pulse tragedy, Mayor Dyer helped establish an advisory committee made up of community and business leaders to oversee the distribution of more than $30 million to assist victims’ families and survivors before the fund officially closed. To support those affected, you can still give through the Better Together Fund at Central Florida Foundation and the Contigo Fund, an initiative of Our Fund Foundation.

While the OneOrlando Fund focused on relief directly to victims’ families and survivors, Central Florida Foundation’s Better Together Fund works to strengthen and connect existing mental health systems, including providing trauma response training for lay leaders in the community, gap funding through the Orlando United Assistance Center to provide direct assistance for survivors and their families and support to formalize the One Orlando Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to unifying, connecting and empowering the LGBTQ+ community in Central Florida.

Supporting underserved communities

This unprecedented outpour of financial resources filled immediate needs, but the Pulse tragedy created and exposed a sudden and critical burden on Central Florida’s underdeveloped nonprofit infrastructure. Further, the attack targeted LGBTQ+, Latinx, immigrants and other communities of color, all marginalized and underserved communities for which philanthropic support and nonprofit infrastructure had been historically weak in the region.

the attack targeted LGBTQ+, Latinx, immigrants and other communities of color, all marginalized and underserved communities for which philanthropic support and nonprofit infrastructure had been historically weak in the region.

On the national level, foundations joined forces to support both in the recovery and future empowerment of the region. This coalition aimed to support existing nonprofits that would be stretched undoubtedly beyond their limits as well as grassroots groups formed in the aftermath that would eventually run out of resources.

Knowing that emerging organizations representing the underserved and distinctly impacted communities would face more difficulty accessing resources, the coalition created a community-driven philanthropic vehicle accessible to both new and mature groups, working to support medium- to long-term initiatives to help heal, empower and lift up the affected communities. By pooling together their resources  accumulating nearly $1.5 million  the Contigo Fund, an initiative of Our Fund Foundation, emerged. “Contigo” means “With You” in Spanish.

To adequately respond to tragedy, it takes unity between community, government and philanthropy, said panelist Marco Antonio Quiroga, program director of the Contigo Fund. “You desperately need to be prepared. We live in a society where hate and violence is being normalized, particularly in marginalized communities.”

Starting at full speed

The Contigo Fund hit the ground running; its grant committee – comprised by Central Florida business, religious and community leaders, as well as members of the LGBTQ and Latinx communities and direct and indirect survivors of Pulse – quickly went to work. Contigo developed an emergency Rapid Response Fund, which issued grants for LGBTQ and linguistically competent mental health services to Pulse survivors, their families and the broader affected communities, as well as to grassroots efforts that emerged from the tragedy to create community and leadership development opportunities for those most affected from the LGBTQ Hispanic community.

In March, Contigo bestowed more than $450,000 to 15 agencies advancing LGBTQ equity and racial justice causes in Orlando and across Central Florida for Pulse-affected communities. The money went to programs that offer mental health counseling, leadership development for transgender women of color, anti-bullying education and capacity building support for Latinx individuals, Muslims and African Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. The grants also helped launch the “Orlando 49” project to thoughtfully teach public school students about the act of hate at Pulse and expand their knowledge of LGBTQ history and movements and the need for acceptance.

So how can communities prepare for tragedy and ensure resilience in dark times?

“Make friends now!” Manager of Collaborative Partnerships at the City of Orlando and panelist Felipe Sousa Matos Rodriguez advised enthusiastically. “The City of Orlando is fortunate to have friends in the Central Florida Foundation to help us convene and support the coordination efforts of more than 700 mental health specialists.”

“We’re also honored to work alongside our new friends at the Contigo Fund,” he added. “The work they are doing to improve resources for and support underserved communities is critical to Orlando’s long-term healing and planning.”

This existing relationship was critical in early response efforts for organizations to work together and understand valid differences in perspective and approach. Working together on other projects in the community – from Parramore Kidz Zone to addressing chronic homelessness – the existing relationship made it easier to identify what each organization can provide, how they can provide it and who can receive direct services, Vidal said.

“Make friends now!” Felipe Sousa Matos Rodriguez told Tampa Bay Funders Forum.

FPN President & CEO Robert "Bob" McFalls; Central Florida Foundation Vice President of Community Strategies and Initiatives Sandi Vidal; City of Orlando Manager of Collaborative Partnerships Felipe Sousa Matos Rodriguez; Program Director of the Contigo Fund Marco Antonio Quiroga; and Children's Board of Hillsborough County Executive Director Kelley Parris. 

Without that relationship, these conversations could have prevented strategic response and stifled community healing. Instead, Central Florida Foundation and the City of Orlando fund worked together using side-by-side funds to provide comprehensive compensation and long-term relief. The Better Together Fund’s first grant was $122,000 to Heart of Florida United Way to support immediate needs such as rent assistance for survivors and families until they received compensation from the OneOrlando Fund.

“We had to be and wanted to be as collaborative to ensure we weren’t duplicating our efforts and that our collective efforts were as complementary to one another as possible,” Quiroga said of co-funding partnerships.

Whether it is an episode of mass violence or a natural disaster, Sousa-Rodriguez said, there are two key pieces to ensuring resilient communities:

  1. Addressing chronic issues now to withstand shock
  2. Developing partnerships to coordinate government, business, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors

Mayor Dyer has served Orlando for nearly 15 years; in that time, Dyer has worked arduously to address homelessness and historically been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusion, pushing for policies to protect against discrimination. Orlando continues to embrace diversity as part of its proud culture, while working together to address gaps in the community. In the Pulse tragedy, the majority of those impacted were low-income people from all over the world and part of a historically marginalized community, Sousa-Rodriguez added.

Communities must be aware of their current situation to improve it, Sousa-Rodriguez noted. One focus is providing linguistically and culturally competent mental health care to populations who speak limited or no English. Florida ranks last in the nation for mental health services, and our state has the third highest percentage of mentally ill persons who are also uninsured.

“In Florida, funds for social services and mental health dollars are not drawn down to the city level,” Sousa-Rodriguez said. To respond to tragedy, the city must work alongside community organizations, other government entities and partners in philanthropy to serve its residents.

Resilience in action

One of the best practices from tragedy response is developing a resilience center, a one-stop space for service providers to work with those affected and transition from immediate response to long-term recovery needs.

The Orlando United Assistance Center opened just days after the Pulse shooting to serve as a navigation point for those needing support. After fielding more than 1,700 phone calls and 760 appointments in its first six months of operation, Mayor Dyer, city commissioners and leaders in Orlando were able to keep the center open while awaiting grant news from the Department of Justice. Announced in March, Florida will receive $8.5 million to build mental health infrastructure in Orlando, fund the needs of first responders and fully fund the center to stay open for 27 months through the DOJ’s Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance Program.

The leaders hope to develop a white paper addressing their response efforts, from navigating state and federal policies to building strong partnerships, aligning funds and maintaining open communication between sectors, but for now they are speaking directly to communities about philanthropic models responding to tragedy, supporting underserved and marginalized communities and the value of cross-sector relationships.

Next month the City of Orlando, Contigo Fund and Central Florida Foundation will be joined by Funders for LGBTQ Issues in hosting Orlando Strong: One Year Later Funders Symposium on June 14 – 15, 2017. This two day program will be a gathering of national and local philanthropic leaders sharing lessons learned, promising practices and long-term funding strategies to empower LGBTQ and Latinx communities and strengthen systems for mental health and cross-community dialogue.

Learn more at

For more information about connecting with Florida grantmakers through Florida Philanthropic Network and membership opportunities, visit

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