Florida Weekly Column

Exceptional Entrepreneurs

Exceptional Entrepreneurs

by Patti Nemazie, Director of Reach and Send Ministries
Cape Coral Campus and Grace Community Center
2015 grantee of the SWFL Community Foundation

This summer, as the SWFL Community Foundation gears up for the next competitive grant cycle, we have asked our 2015 grantees to send us their stories. Here this week we learn from Pattie Nemazie of Grace Community Church. The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change makers. If you have ideas and hope for the future, we’d love to hear from you at [email protected] or @SWFLCFnd on Twitter.

With a smile on his face, a paycheck in his hand and joy in his heart, Josh declared, “I did a great job!” And as the old saying goes, “it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true”! Just a few months ago, Josh rarely spoke at all and now his confidence inspires everyone within the sound of his voice. Josh’s life is being transformed by a combination of his God-given spirit and his faithful participation in a new program in Southwest Florida appropriately named Exceptional Entrepreneurs. Exceptional Entrepreneurs is a ministry of Grace Church that seeks to empower persons with special needs by equipping them with job and life skills.

Exceptional Entrepreneurs began in the fall of 2012 when a special education teacher in our community, Betty Henderson, gave full voice to her dream of making a difference in the lives of people with special needs. “I have a really crazy idea and I believe it is from God,” Betty shared with church leaders. Betty had not only a calling to make a difference, but also a background in agriculture. She brought her two passions together to create an opportunity to educate her students in vermiculture (“worm farming”). “I want to start a worm farm for students with special needs,” she shared, “so that they can find worth and value in themselves and who God made them to be,” including the dignity of having employment.

The ministry launched with six students from two local high schools, but has since grown to include over 20 students from 4 high schools, in addition to 13 full time participants. Participants began raising fishing worms, making fertilizer and natural pesticides. In true entrepreneurial fashion, while waiting for the worms to grow, students began creating whimsical garden art flowers and other products that caught the attention of many customers. Since then, the program has expanded to include products such as honey sticks, baby tutus, shea butter cream and even the outsourcing of office work. The Franklin Shops in downtown Fort Myers carries many of these products.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been vital to the growth of this ministry through the award of two grants and the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of other nonprofit leaders in the community.

The Exceptional Entrepreneurs program is providing Southwest Florida with a fresh voice of hope that inspires us all to be who God made us to be.

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 $88 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $61.2 million to date 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, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com

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