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‘The Visual Voice’ a News-Press photo exhibit

‘The Visual Voice’ a News-Press photo exhibit

News-Press teamed up with Southwest Florida Community Foundation to show how images are continuing to inspire, educate and start conversations in our community through a photo exhibit called ‘The Visual Voice’. (Andrea Melendez/

We’ve all heard the adage — “A picture is worth 1,000 words.”

Powerful images can speak volumes. But, can photos change the world?  It’s a simple concept with a lasting legacy.  It’s also one of the catalysts behind the mission of The SWFL Community Foundation’s new photo exhibit “Art, Community & Conversation”. showing through October 23rd at The Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

News photos probably aren’t the first medium that comes to mind when we discuss art, but a strong, emotional news image has the power to change our perspective, challenge us to act, reflect our hubris, show us a new point of view, and sometimes change our community.

“I think photojournalism can make a difference either immediately or in the long term,” says The News-Press visuals journalist Andrew West, 47, ofFort Myers Beach. “We are trying to get readers to react, to spur them into action whatever that action may be.”

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Couple opens fund for Hope Clubhouse – $1.1 million to support mental illness locally

Couple opens fund for Hope Clubhouse – $1.1 million to support mental illness locally

FORT MYERS, Fla. (Dec. 5, 2014) – The Southwest Florida Community Foundation recently established a new fund for donors to support mental illness in our community.

Donors Kappy and John King established the $1.1 million John S. and Kathryne A. King Fund for Mental Illness with the Foundation.

Mental illness is a cause that’s near and dear to the Fort Myers Beach couple. Through their family fund, they’re committed to erasing the stigma associated with mental illness and helping Southwest Florida improve its services. The state currently ranks 49th nationally in mental health spending per capita.

“We hope by giving through the Community Foundation, it will raise awareness for the need for more money for mental illness,” said Mrs. King. “There are thousands of people out there who need help. It’s so difficult to raise money to support mental illness as opposed to mental health. We hope our fund will lead to additional contributions.”

The Kings worked with the Foundation to customize their fund, creating a family legacy that will ensure continued support of Hope Clubhouse, a Fort Myers agency offering work, education, friendship and access to housing for those with mental illness.

“It’s a wonderful organization, as it gives people a sense of life and purpose,” said Mrs. King. “We know if anything should happen to the Clubhouse, the money will continue to help people living with mental illness. It will carry on after we’re gone.”

The Kings participated in the creative exchange of ideas during the Foundation-hosted iLab with local nonprofits. By participating in the iLab, the Kings and other donors had the opportunity to see the work the Community Foundation is doing to partner with nonprofits.

“We got to watch and ask questions and share our insights,” recalled Mrs. King. “We knew about the Community Foundation and have watched them grow during the past few years. We love what they’re doing – carrying it further and seeking solutions.”

The Foundation has also introduced new programs to empower donors with ownership on the issues they care deeply about. Donors with donor-advised funds can choose their investment strategy, from conservative to more aggressive, and they can continue to work with their investment advisors through the Foundation.

“We’ve made it even more convenient for donors to become vested in their giving, launching a Donor View portal on our new website that provides 24/7 internet access to their funds,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “Here, they can track the history of their giving, create reports and receipts, and conveniently make grants.”

As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $80 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $60 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, the Foundation granted more than $2.8 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services. The Foundation granted $782,000 in nonprofit grants including more than $400,000 in regional community impact grants and additional $450,000 in scholarship grants.

For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit

Inhale Gratitude. Exhale Generosity.

Inhale Gratitude. Exhale Generosity.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
― William Arthur Ward

Well, if you are a calendar watcher, today is the first day of December and that means there are only a certain number of days until a variety of holidays.  Take your pick:  24 days till Christmas, 16 days to Hanukkah or 26 to Kwanza.

No matter your celebration, the first day of December signals the start of something and it is usually stress.  Just at the moment you are clearing the Thanksgiving plates someone is dragging holiday decorations down from the attic and your mailbox is full of catalogs with this season’s most popular gift ideas.

This year I tried to do a little bit of preplanning to prepare for the starting gate of holiday cheer.  I don’t mean getting my holiday shopping done on Black Friday or making cookies and freezing them, but I did practice some deep breathing.

I spent November intentionally inhaling gratitude.

I read every article, clicked on each blog post and followed friends on social media who were posting daily gratitude quotes and photos.  I thought if I was intentional about gratitude during November, I would be better prepared for December.

Along with all those catalogs my mailbox is filled with requests that require generosity.  If you spend any time in this Causes section you know that Southwest Florida has some amazing people doing extraordinary work around issues that are important to us personally and as a region.

In my work at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I am amazed without ceasing by what we accomplish together through generous gifts and acts of service.  Many of the people I talk to about their generosity express they are acting from a place of gratitude.  I still keep a copy of a check that was given to me years ago by a man experiencing homelessness that got back on his feet and wanted to give back to the organization that had helped him.  He gave as an expression of his gratitude.

Recently a donor to the Foundation opened a scholarship fund because she was grateful for a scholarship that made college a reality for her from a woman she never met.  The catalyst of her action was a thankful heart.

A local couple started a Donor Advised Fund last week to use as their philanthropic checkbook. They deposited money into the fund to grant out in gratitude for the services their son received from a mental health organization, as well as to their alma maters for which they said they feel indebted to for their educational opportunities.

And, our team met with a retired couple who are planning their estate with a special focus on their philanthropic giving as their legacy after they are gone.  They care about the welfare of all animals as they referenced their appreciation of their beloved family pet who saw them through some tough times.

People have many motivations for giving, but in my experience they all come from a place of gratitude.

So, I practiced deep inhales of gratitude in November so I could exhale generosity in December.

No matter which holiday you celebrate, December gives all of us the same 31 days to practice generosity.  It doesn’t need to be monetary.  It can be a generous gift of time, a kind word, or act of kindness.  If you are looking for ideas to get things started you don’t have to wait long on this month’s calendar.  Tomorrow, Tuesday December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. Charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

Check out their website for opportunities to participate on a local, national or global level.

And remember, just keep breathing.  In with gratitude, out with generosity.




We Need Each Other

I love a good theme.  I am one of those people who picks a theme song, word or phrase to carry me through a year.  I am a motivational quote junkie and look for ways to frame things to help ignite myself and the teams I serve.  This is not an issue for me but I can tell you I also encourage people around me to embrace my love for this exercise and that is not always readily welcomed.

So as the calendar begins to wind down I reflect on the year that has passed and begin my quest for a theme for the upcoming year.  My friends and family know it is coming and start avoiding any conversations that may lead to me asking about their word or theme song for the upcoming year.  This year I have vowed not to bring it up.  Except in this column.

I will not indulge in my personal theme, but instead the theme I have taken away from the amazing work done by individuals and organizations I have the pleasure of working alongside at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

In 2014 I witnessed so much progress and success as a result of people working together collectively to solve issues and create positive change.  Believe me, I know that working together is not a new theme by any stretch of the imagination, but talking about it and witnessing it in action are two different things.

It seemed as a region, we acknowledged that we need each other.  Nonprofit organizations funded by the SWFLCF gathered monthly to share ideas and best practices, donors and funders gathered to leverage funding for new ideas, regional coalitions developed to move the needle on economic development and workforce development took shape and made progress, and through our FutureMakers Initiative, we joined forces across county lines to help our high school seniors have greater access to financial aid needed to go to college or technical school.

At the SWFLCF we expanded our role as conveners’ and humble brokers of ideas to include a wider cross section of the community.  No longer is our table limited to donors and nonprofits, but now include policy makers, business leaders and national funders coming to the table.  More people means more perspectives and a greater chance for success.

Ok, I can’t resist launching a theme for 2015.  We. Need. More. Of. Each. Other.  I will let those words guide me as the Foundation moves into 2015.  Our team will commit to bringing more diverse groups to the table, we will listen to the residents who need the services we are funding and we will find ways to make greater strides around creating regional change for the common good.  But we can’t do it alone, because we need each other more than ever to create the change we want to see in our corner of the world.

If you share my passion for themes, I would love to hear what you are striving for in 2015.  Email me at [email protected]


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Wise Women

Wise Women

Collins English Dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight with good intentions.”

Just reading that definition greatly increases my desire to seek wisdom in my life and to surround myself with people who far outpace me in the wisdom department.

I had that opportunity last week at Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s Women’s Legacy Fund Luncheon. This is an annual event that brings WLF contributors and friends together to discuss community issues and award funding made possible by the collective donations to the fund and honor women who have impacted our lives professionally and personally.

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Loaded Questions

Loaded Questions

I have learned in life that there are just some questions and answers that are best to avoid.  Of course we all know from basic party etiquette to avoid politics, religion and controversial topics in certain situations like a family reunion, but the questions I am talking about are not nearly as weighty and can come out of nowhere.

They are seemingly innocent in nature, but can still pack a wallop if not handled with care.  I am talking about the “do these pants make me look fat?” or “what do you think of my new headshot?” variety of inquiries.  Depending on who is asking and who is answering these types of Q and A’s can cause a wide range of reactions.  In the role of answerer one is never quite sure if the questioner wants an honest response.

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Walk to school for regional impact

Walk to school for regional impact

This year, our family committed to riding our bikes to school with our first grader and preschooler in tow.  It’s hard to justify idling in a carline when we live about one mile from school, but others do it all across Southwest Florida and justifiably so.  As a working-mother, I felt uncertainty about fitting a ride into our crazy schedule and scared of the dangers.  I wasn’t sure we could endure the ride with a backpack, lunchbox, and sometimes a violin.

If you have children or grandchildren, it’s likely you walked or rode a bicycle to school.  Today, and particularly in Southwest Florida communities where neighborhood schools are becoming extinct and infrastructure is designed for single-occupancy vehicles, it is getting more difficult to provide children the opportunity to start and end their school day with some freedom, fresh air, and a little exercise.

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I’m Going to Stanford

I’m Going to Stanford

I’m going to Stanford.  That is something I have always wanted to say, but actually have never applied knowing full well that my intellectual and financial capacity to attend was lacking.

But all of that is changing now.  Nothing has actually shifted in the area of my intellect or financial resources, but the world of technology has allowed me to sign up for a Massive Open Online Course better known as a MOOC at this previously out of my reach University.  I am even considering cheering for the football team and ordering a sweatshirt now that I am enrolled.

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I remember how shocked I was when I first heard that Barbara Streisand suffered from nearly debilitating stage fright.  As a person who is almost completely tone deaf, I have always imagined that if I could sing a single note I would do so any chance I could get.  I have often wondered what it must feel like to possess a talent that would cause others to take notice. It must be humbling and somewhat frightening to realize people are critiquing you at every turn.

I cannot claim any such talents or gifts that generate this level of scrutiny, but I must admit that three years ago when I began writing this column I suffered from write-fright- a word I made up to express my terror of generating 500 words a week that could even touch on the topic of giving and the generosity that exists in our community.

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Mileage that Matters

Mileage that Matters

Recently I have been measuring and counting things.  It all started with one of those hand held pedometers that counts steps.  It was a prize in a box of Frosted Flakes and I became slightly consumed with eating fewer bowls of cereal and increasing my footprints on the pavement.

Counting things is a great way to get a realistic picture of how much progress you are making in certain areas of life. The step data I was collecting quickly revealed that I am not moving around nearly as much as I thought I was. I guess my feet hurt from the height of my stilettos rather than actual time on the move.

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