USFSM’s Brunch on the Bay scholarship fundraiser hits record

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: November 02, 2015

SARASOTA, Fla. (Nov. 2, 2015) – Brunch on the Bay Co-chair Dr. Anila Jain loves to mingle at the annual event. Fellow Co-chair Tracy O’Neill likes to catch up with friends and indulge in cupcakes. And former USF Sarasota-Manatee CEO Dr. Laurey Stryker enjoys sharing memories of her time on campus and socializing with friends.

Brunch on the Bay celebrated its 22nd year Sunday and for many who attended, the fundraiser offered a chance share a story or two, almost like a family reunion – but in an elegant setting under white tents and with vendors representing the region’s finest restaurants and catering companies.

Dr. Jain, who brought her mother and father, said the affair gave her a chance to catch up with friends and recall how the event has changed over the years. “I bleed green and gold,” the USF alumna confided.

Now on “auto-pilot,” Brunch on the Bay is so entrenched in the community that tables are “90 percent sold” before tickets go on sale, she said. Early on, though, organizers worried whether the Sarasota and Manatee communities would even support the fledgling university as it strived to raise money for college scholarships.

“That first year, we would have been happy if we sold just 200 tickets, but we sold more than 600 and it’s been growing ever since,” said Dr. Jain, who served on the first Brunch on the Bay organizing committee.

O’Neill, chief office administrator at Sarasota-based accountants Kerkering, Barberio & Co., said employers quickly embraced the event because of what the university brings to the community.

With its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, and Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, many USFSM alums end up working locally after graduation including at Kerkering, Barberio, which employs dozens of USF and USFSM graduates. O’Neill, herself, is a USFSM Class of ’90 alum.

She added that in addition to the Brunch’s corporate sponsors, many individuals return yearly to sample cuisine from the 20 or so restaurants and catering companies that line the sidewalks behind the rotunda.

“For me, it’s the cupcakes,” O’Neill said. “Everybody has their favorites they go back to.”

Dr. Stryker, CEO from 2000 to 2007, said Brunch “brings wonderful opportunities to the campus.”

The event changed much under her tenure (2000-2007). Sponsorship totals rose from $30,000 to $150,000 to make the event USFSM’s top fundraising tool for scholarships. This year’s event brought more than $370,000 in scholarship donations, the most ever for the event.

Since it began, Brunch on the Bay has contributed more than $1.3 million to the Brunch on the Bay Scholarship Endowment and contributed more than $1 million in scholarships to more than 1,400 students, mostly from Sarasota and Manatee counties.

A premier fundraising tool, Brunch also serves to kick off the social season. But that’s a far cry from 1994 when the Brunch event was founded, says Charles Baumann, who chaired the first Brunch on the Bay committee. Back then, he said, the event was organized for two key reasons: To raise scholarship funds and introduce USFSM to the Sarasota and Manatee communities.

“Back when it started, USF Sarasota-Manatee used to be on the New College campus and most people didn’t even know it existed,” Baumann said, adding that not only did the campus raise its profile locally since then, but it went on to garner recognition internationally through its partnership with the Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory. The university opened teaching labs at Mote in August 2013.

Now about 1,000 people attend Brunch yearly, so many that organizers have capped the event. As in years past, this year’s attendees mingled and sampled drinks and food – from crepes to cupcakes to lobster to curried chicken. Attendees were greeted by mascot Rocky and student Ambassadors. Students from the campus’ College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership volunteered at food stations.

Several politicians and dignitaries attended as well, including USF System President Dr. Judy Genshaft and USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Dr. Sandra Stone, whose attendance coincided with her one-year anniversary at USFSM and the campus’ 40-year anniversary, which is being celebrated throughout the academic year.

“Thank you for throwing a party for me,” she joked as she addressed the crowd.

“As we celebrate our past, and look forward to our bright future, I want to thank each of you for the warm welcome during my first year as regional chancellor and for your enduring support of USF Sarasota-Manatee,” she said. “I hope that you enjoy the rest of today’s event and I look forward to seeing you at one of our many anniversary events throughout the year.”

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