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Just Below the Surface

Just Below the Surface

There is nothing quite like watching a child experience something for the first time.  I will never forget our youngest child’s inaugural snorkeling trip in the Keys.  He was first off the boat and before we could get our equipment on and join him he popped up ripped off his mask and snorkel and screamed, “You guys are never going to believe what is down there!”

For a moment we thought he had seen a shark and panic set in, but I quickly realized he had just gotten his first look at the beautiful reef right below the surface.

Although he had spent plenty of time at the beach and in the water, he was astonished to learn what had eluded him under the sea.

He continued to ask us why we hadn’t told him about what was down there and the only explanation I could come up with was I had somehow taken it for granted, and there was no way to adequately put it into words.

Although our family is on or near the water on a regular basis I wondered how many times I considered what was happening in the world I couldn’t see without the aid of a mask and snorkel or diving gear.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I had the opportunity to snorkel reefs I had never seen before.  They were extraordinary and I imagined I felt the awe my son did that very first trip.  I considered how easy it would have been to just stay on the beach and never see what was just within reach a few hundred feet off the shore.

In our day-to-day lives it is easy to miss beautiful things that are right in front of us and to overlook circumstances that are right below the surface.

I will never forget when Dr. Bruce Neil from Sanibel Sea School took me out on a boat in the waters off the Sanibel Causeway that I spent years crossing and showed me birds, fish and marine life I never knew existed.

In contrast when I delivered Meals on Wheels to the frail elderly I was astonished to learn that hungry seniors, the hidden homebound hungry were living among us.   And when an elementary school principal explained there were children in her school that were going without food on the weekends I could not believe that was happening in my back yard.

I wanted to shout out “you guys are never going to believe what is out there” to anyone that would listen.

One of the greatest things that happen at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is when a donor comes to us because they have discovered something just below the surface in our community.  Sometimes they want to preserve something beautiful like art or a park.  They don’t want to take the beauty for granted.  Other times they have discovered an injustice or a need they didn’t know existed and are ready to take action.

Sometimes the first step to improving the quality of life in Southwest Florida is just keeping our eyes open to the things right below the surface and never taking the beauty that is all around us for granted.  What beautiful thing surprised you this week?  I’d love to hear about at it [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 more than $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 also 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