Imagine the stories of 1800 students who have a dream for their future and are asking for support from generous strangers to help them get there.
Then consider the stories of 88 people or organizations compiled over four decades who are dedicated to trying to make some of those dreams come true with millions of dollars of funding.
Then add another 100 amazing volunteers across Southwest Florida who are willing to be the matchmakers (aka scholarship reviewers and interviewers) that bring the dreamers and dream-makers together and you have the makings of a dynamic scholarship program at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
As an organization, we are all about cultivating regional change for the common good and we know scholarships power students’ potential and aspirations, and our entire 5-county region is better as a result.
Every year we celebrate with a new class of scholarship recipients at the Community Foundation and it is a festivity that is repeated all over the region within other organizations like the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, Uncommon Friends Foundation, Community Foundation of Collier County, industry associations, gated communities and service organizations. But the initial scholarship award is just the beginning of the journey for the recipients.
Here at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we walk alongside hundreds of scholarship donors who have special and personal reasons for funding a student’s future education. Their motivations and passions might be unique but their goals are the same: to help the student get where they are willing to work so hard to go.
Not a single donor has ever come to us and said they were interested in a student getting into school, without the intent of that student finishing. Getting into school is one thing but getting to completion and a fulfilling career is the goal. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, community advocates and providers for their families.
So, what happens to all these scholarship recipients after the initial awards? We are committed to helping tell the rest of the story.
Of course we will continue to celebrate with each new class of awardees. This year alone we will award 88 scholarships to high school seniors, adults and non-traditional students returning to the classroom from across the region. We will also be working harder to stay in touch with the students all along the way and telling the stories of their lives after graduation. We are looking at new ways to establish scholarship funds that create renewable, multi-year awards that follow the student throughout their degree or certification program. We are also exploring emergency funds that can help when the unexpected circumstance threatens to derail a dream. And, we are partnering with others like the United Way of Collier County and the Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida to raise dollars for matched savings plans for education.
This year we caught up with several former Community Foundation scholarship recipients and discovered educators, doctors, attorneys, chief financial officers, social workers, and students who are were able to return to classes year after year thanks to ongoing funding. (You can read about and hear their individual success stories at www.floridacommunity.com/scholarship-success).
Another student we connected with, Maria Valladares, a 2016 graduate of Florida SouthWestern Collegiate High School, is just finishing her freshman year in legal studies at Nova Southeastern College in Fort Lauderdale and she made a special trip to Fort Myers to spend some time with this year’s scholarship reviewers. We had asked her to come and share a poem she had published which was beautiful, but she also took a few minutes to share her thoughts on what the generosity of others through both time and funding had meant to her. I think her words are the essence of what it means to walk alongside someone on their way to a dream.
“My mother always stressed the belief that one cannot accomplish anything alone. If a seed, she used to tell me, can recognize that it relies on the sun, the rain, and the dirt to grow, then how can we not recognize that those around us are essential to our individual growth?
Thank you for the dedication and time that you have compiled for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. All of you have impacted the lives of hundreds of young people because you believe in us. On behalf of every person that has received a scholarship: thank you. My mother has trained me to understand that gratitude is not simply a state of mind. It is a state of being. It is a lifestyle. And on this day I come to tell you that I have tried my best to live in gratitude in reverence of all of you and in reverence of every scholarship recipient. You are truly making a difference in the lives of this generation. You are helping us write our narrative for you provide us with the ink to do so. You are catalysts for change and we are merely a reaction. So… thank you.”
Thank you Maria for your dedication to your goals, it is our honor to be part of your story, and to follow you along the way. We can’t wait to learn the rest of your story. If you or someone you know has received a scholarship from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we would love to hear from you at [email protected].
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.