Prior to the launch of OUTCOAST, I made it my mission to meet every LGBT community group and non-profit leader in the region. I wanted to understand who was who, determine which of the organizations in the region were 501(c)3 non-profits vs. social groups, and develop a strategy to best give back to area LGBT non-profits.
I met with several organizations and leaders. But when I met with Carla Corley, President of SWIM (Social Women in Motion), and her wife Nicki Uchin, I knew I had found more than a business connection.
Perhaps it was the relaxed atmosphere of the Dog Bar, where our first meeting took place, Corley’s warm personality, Uchin’s laugh, or their adorable border collie, Marlee, that pulled me in, but as soon as I met the two of them and their pup, I couldn’t wait to hang out with the trio again.
According to Corley, she had no idea what SWIM was before last summer. She happened upon Carla Douglass, the organization’s founder, during a music performance at the Hollander Hotel in St. Petersburg. The two Carlas conversed about SWIM as well as Corley’s work with several LGBT groups in Atlanta. At the end of the conversation, Douglass asked if Corley would help with the group.
“Quickly seeing how large the LGBT women’s community is in the Tampa Bay area and that there wasn’t an organization strictly for women outside of social groups, we started talking with others about what they would like to see in a women’s organization,” says Corley.
The organization received the feedback they needed to take the organization in a new and fresh direction. Women wanted to host organized events with unique activities. They wanted events that “helped support them in their business or careers, gave back to community nonprofits, provided opportunities for exclusive events and dances, and utilized the power of a group to bring in speakers, get better events and discounts,” and more. They wanted more than an opportunity for social connection.
Thus, the rebranding of SWIM was born. SWIM now defines itself as “an LGBTA group of social, professional and community-minded women in the Greater Tampa/St Petersburg area” with a mission to “bring together a diverse group of women, empower and motivate each other and give back to our community – all while having fun doing it!”
Although it started as a simple social group, SWIM became an official 501(c)3 in May. While they still host social activities and events, they can now “build a structure/foundation for people to organize around, utilize benefits afforded to nonprofit organizations as well as build credibility in the community, and leave something that can be passed to the next generation,” says Corley.
SWIM currently has 75 women-owned businesses and women managed organization listed in their free online directory and around 3200 followers on social media.
Although they are taking their time to organize and strengthen their board, they plan to have a two-year rotating term to allow for consistency, but also to bring “new blood and ideas” to the group, including a rotating president term of one year. Corley hopes this strategy will create a community-run feel for the organization.
SWIM has hosted six events since their Kick-Off Rooftop party in November 2016 and has plans for lots more. They’ve hosted a wine tasting at Wine Madonna, a group outing to Hairspray in the Park, quarterly pop-up parties to fundraise and are hosting their biggest fundraiser yet this weekend.
SWIM’s White Party is this Sunday from 3-7 PM at the 5-Star event space NOVA 535. Proceeds from this event will go to Girls Rock Camp St. Pete. They expect 100-250 women in attendance.
While Corley has enjoyed all of their events, to date, the rooftop party at the Station House was most memorable. “It was amazing to see the ideas and hard work we spent rebranding SWIM come to fruition – and others to be so excited about it!” she says. She hopes to experience the same feelings this weekend.
SWIM events attract successful LGBTQ businesswomen and allies between the ages of 30-60. The demographics of their group allow for meaningful connection, business networking, and community collaboration.
After the White Party, SWIM plans to take a break in July to stop and evaluate where they are as an organization. Corley explains, “we want to take a look at what is working and what isn’t, make some tweaks and get ready for the 2nd part of the year. We are definitely looking for input from others in the community on what they would like to see SWIM do.”
SWIM is the only nonprofit in the Bay area for LGBT and Ally women. They are looking for event attendees, donations, and social sharing of their mission. During SWIM’s last event, they raised $800 for a Women’s Veteran Homeless Shelter in Tampa and they can’t wait to see what they can raise for Girls Rock Camp St. Pete.
Over the past few months I have learned a lot about the women behind SWIM, organization’s future goals and events they plan to host. As the publisher of OUTCOAST and an active LGBTQ+ community member, I can’t wait to get more involved.