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Diamonds in the Rough

Diamonds in the Rough

The packages would always arrive when I least expected them. Wrapped somewhat sloppily in brown paper and twine with an upstate New York postmark the contents were a treasure trove of gemstones.

My grandfather, who I only met on one or two occasions as a young girl, fancied himself a rock collector and amateur gemologist. He would travel out west and collect all sorts of rocks that he would magically transform into rich pieces of polished turquoise or other shiny gemstones. Sometimes he would go so far as to include a small piece of jewelry adorned with one of his discoveries in my special deliveries.

I imagined him to be either a wildly adventurous gold miner or a wealthy gem trader, which made the packages even more exciting.

My illusions were dashed on one of his two trips to Florida. I envisioned him arriving in a limo dripping in gems and diamonds. He came in a Buick but I was still excited to help him with his bags and cases that I was certain housed the precious cargo. He had barely gotten comfortable before I begged him to show me his collection.

But instead of perfectly polished stones, he presented me with what looked like a box of dirty old rocks. I am sure my disappointment was showing. He was quick to tell me that these were in fact the beautiful gems I was hoping for but it would take a little time.

Reaching back into his bag he pulled out a rock tumbler and began the process of turning a bag of rocks into shiny polished nuggets. In some cases the change happened fairly quickly and gave me instant gratification while others specimens needed to be bounced in the tumbler longer and then had to be polished by hand with some sort of compound to bring out their inner beauty. All the rocks had to go through some sort of process to reach transformation.

Looking back I think this was my first lesson in how change happens.

I grew impatient quickly and he explained that it was not just about the gems but about the process and what happens along the way. He enjoyed searching for the rocks, collecting, cataloguing, and transforming them into the finished product. I just wanted the finished product.

If you have ever heard me introduce our team at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, you know I always speak of them as “Change Makers.” I speak the same way about community donors, non-profit professionals and volunteers. All of these folks are dedicated to creating change in our region. Not change for change sake but positive sustainable change that makes our communities better places for all of us to work, live and play.

I am still obsessed with the beauty of the end result but have also become more and more passionate and patient about the process my grandfather explained to me.

Many times we all read about the end results that change agents have accomplished and we hear great stories of successful transformation. But I have come to realize that these efforts have come as result of their own sort of rock tumbling.

Recently I was meeting with a group of interns from University of Florida who were embedded in local non-profits for the summer. I asked them what had been their biggest surprise in transitioning from the classroom setting to the field. They all agreed that they had come to realize that imagining the change they wanted to create in the world and the speed at which they could do it was vastly different.

I told them to just keep tumbling and the gems of change will emerge. If you want to be part of change in our community, let me know. I can be reached at [email protected]

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 $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided $61.2 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $2.9 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services. It granted $782,000 in nonprofit grants including more than $551,000 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

Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More