On my way to a breakfast meeting I was hustling across a crowded parking lot and an unfamiliar black SUV pulled up next to me. As the window rolled down I peered in thinking it would be someone I knew. The early morning sunlight was hitting the windshield just right and blinded me to the driver’s identity.
I could hear him talking but I couldn’t make out his face. I still assumed I knew who he was so I made my way over to greet him. I felt safe and at ease because his words had been warm and he was paying me an unexpected compliment.
As I blocked the sunlight with my hands and gazed into the truck I realized it was a perfect stranger smiling warmly at me. I asked if we knew each other and he said no. He just wanted to say something nice to me to start my day. With that he pulled away and I felt like I floated into the restaurant.
It was such a little thing that made such a big difference. A warm word of encouragement from an unexpected person changed my whole day. I shared the story with several people and they all were able to relate on how the smallest gestures can mean so much.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, our team spends a lot of time thinking about, designing and executing big ideas for change. In the last year we have hosted design sessions and convenings on issues like children’s behavioral health, water, sustainability and college access and attainment. These are not little things.
Our community has also been addressing and, in some cases, wrestling with violence, poverty, pedestrian safety and food insecurity. There is no shortage of big conversations around big issues these days. I have read with interest guest editorials and letters to the editor from caring advocates and citizens who are willing to remain both optimistic and hopeful that we can work together to strengthen our region.
It is tempting when we are facing a monumental situation or conversation to pass it off as undoable. The solutions can seem out of reach and we must guard against discouragement.
I think one of the best ways to combat the bigness of some things is with the little things.
Last week we all celebrated national Make a Difference Day which allowed us all to focus on the little things we can each do to make a big impact. Make a Difference Day is an annual event of community service sponsored by USA TODAY and its parent company, Gannett. Other sponsors included the volunteer organization Points of Light, and Newman’s Own, the philanthropic food company founded by late actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner.
I kept my eye on social media all day and saw the News-Press team cleaning a stretch of Fort Myers Beach. Each piece of trash or debris seemed small but in the end they made a difference. FGCU students and faculty were deployed renovating a space that will be used by a startup nonprofit, Valerie’s House, to support grieving children, and I saw a group of bankers working at local food pantries sorting and shelving food. All over our region and throughout the country people took time away from their regular routines to focus on the little things. They rolled up their sleeves and took action to create something individually and collectively for our community.
Watching the day unfold I was left with the same feeling I had from the friendly stranger and was reminded in the midst of all the big things we are trying to solve we must never lose sight of the power of the little things.
One of the wise founders of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, John Sheppard, the absolute example of leading a life of honoring the little things, has a beautiful quote from his book Little Things Mean A Lot which I think says it best:
“We cannot all do great things nor make great gifts but we can all do little things and our little things said or done in love can change one life and when passed on to others can change the world.” — John Sheppard
About the SWFL Community Foundation
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 www.floridacommunity.com.