5 Miles in the Snow

5 Miles in the Snow

We all have the family stories in which an older relative tells stories of having to walk miles to school through adverse conditions.

Most all of my greatest generation relatives are from Florida so they couldn’t use that reference but they came up with some story about snakes and one room school houses.

My cross -generational lamenting does not involve walking to school but rather riding my bike. I used to tell my kids that I biked 5 miles to and from school everyday and they believed me until we visited my hometown and they wanted to measure it themselves. I guess they were more skeptical than I thought. The reality, after I drove (notice I didn’t do it by bike) it 3 times was I actually only traveled about a mile each way. Seemed longer back in the day.

This Wednesday is National Walk to School Day and I am wondering if any parents shared their urban legends of the hardships they had traveling to school. I am guessing with the 21st century parent the stories are more about carpools, car lines and waiting endless hours on a bus to pick them up.

It is strange that a hardship had now turned into a novelty. People abandoned their cars and school buses to walk to school. But according to a few friends who tried this in the past it is a real challenge in Southwest Florida.

Many kids don’t go to neighborhood schools and if they do there are not necessarily safe walking or bike routes that make the activity doable.

This seems like a strange disconnect, as there is a direct link to kids moving and their performance in school. Parents and teachers report anecdotally to me that on the “walk to school day” the students are more alert and have an extra spring in their step.

We all know getting moving and staying moving matters. Last week not only highlighted a day for kids to increase their physical activity but Healthy Lee, a long-standing coalition in Lee County committed to improving community health, launched their Million Mile Movement which encourages all of us to increase our daily movement and work together to achieve one million miles in 90 days.

With the help of technology I have loaded an activity tracker on my phone to help log miles towards the lofty goal. My kids will be happy to hear there is some documentation in place or I might try to claim I did the full million on my own.

The team at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, aptly named Change-Makers has committed to hundreds of miles in 90 days. We have also provided funding to the effort to purchase pedometers to our neighbors who do not have the technology in place to log in miles via the Internet.

Just like any change that happens in community it does not happen alone. So if you are looking for ways to get moving and promote a community, join the movement at

If you don’t want to go it alone we welcome you to join our team. Just select ChangeMakers@Southwest Florida Community Foundation on the select a team pull down menu.

Just think, we can tell our kids and grandkids were part of the movement and I won’t tell if you want to embellish it just a little. It’s tradition.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

There is only one qualification for appearing on a Wheaties cereal box: Champion. You might be a world famous actor, politician or rock star but you are not going to show up on grocery store shelves touting the Breakfast of Champions.

Ever since Wheaties featured baseball icon Lou Gehrig on their product in 1934 hundreds of champions from the world of sports have made their mark on the iconic cereal box. Basketball legend Michael Jordon who was featured on the Wheaties box 18 times reminded us of the value of the breakfast of champions with his “You better eat your Wheaties” campaign.

In sports a champion is defined as a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition and is synonymous with prizewinner, victor, number one and king.

As a kid I didn’t actually like Wheaties nor was I particularly gifted in sports, but I did have a sense that being a champion was desirous, so I ate them. It never improved my abilities on the playing field but I did feel as if I was part of something special.

A few weeks ago, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation hosted a Breakfast of Champions. No, we were not able to secure Arnold Palmer, Wayne Gretzky or Mary Lou Retton but we were able to gather a number of our region’s champions around a breakfast table to discuss working collectively on a coalition to make our community stronger.

We invited Southwest Florida leaders from the world of education, business, economic development, and government to breakfast in order to learn more about the FutureMakers Coalition and invite them to become champions of a different sort.

You see in more general terms a champion is a person who fights or advocates for a cause on behalf of someone else and can also be known as a crusader, booster or campaigner.

The FutureMakers Coalition’s goal is to transform the workforce in Southwest Florida by increasing the number of college degrees and post-secondary certifications from 27 to 40 percent by 2025.

This translates into more opportunity for the residents of Southwest Florida, which means a stronger region and quality of life for us all.

This is work worthy of championing. But this effort can’t rely on a single institution or entity. No one group can take up the role of champion. Success on this field takes a team effort based on focusing on the collective impact we can create by working toward the same goal.

As one of Lumina Foundation’s 75 national Community Partners in Attainment, the FutureMakers Coalition is a regional partnership committed to creating a cradle-to-career pathway to ensure success for traditional students and adult learners.

At the breakfast (yes we actually had the bright orange boxes on hand) we learned from Lumina Foundation coaches about the qualities and systems needed to form a successful coalition and what our roles are in championing this effort individually, organizationally and collectively.

Since the breakfast, the guests have been stepping up in the roles they selflessly agreed to take on for the FutureMakers Coalition. Placing partnership decals at their workplace, rallying support in their circles of influence, encouraging their team members to become active participants in the FutureMakers Coalition regional and county action teams and providing funding. Just like true champions- doing whatever it takes to create this collective win for our region.

If you would like to learn more or get involved in the FutureMakers Coalition visit and sign the wall. We have a big goal to reach and much work ahead – we better eat our Wheaties.

Southwest Florida Community Foundation hosts “Happy Trails” premiere on Sanibel

Southwest Florida Community Foundation hosts “Happy Trails” premiere on Sanibel

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation recently hosted a showing of the short documentary film “Happy Trails” for its friends and community supporters, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director at the Sanibel Community Church on Sanibel Island.

“Happy Trails,” directed by Rusty Farst, is a documentary film about the journey of Trailways Camp, a camping experience for adults with special needs in Southwest Florida, and its founders Jerry and Sharon Miller, Sanibel residents and founders of the Robert V. and Benjamin G. Miller Fund at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

Trailways Camps create social connections between adults with special needs, provide opportunities to develop socialization skills and build friendships among campers, and support networks while providing respite support for the campers’ families and caregivers.

For more information about Trailways Camp or the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit






September 2015 issue

Falling for Fall

Our team at the SWFL Community Foundation greets fall with open arms not just for the promise of cooler weather and slight change of season, even for our tropical climate, but also in anticipation of our many seasonal friends and part-time residents returning to the region. We have a lot of things planned to accomplish and to enjoy together with you this year.


Don’t miss out as your Community Foundation kicks off the month of October by opening the City of Fort Myers’ Arts & Culture grant cycle that we administer for the City (check out “grants” on our website or click here), being part of the Walkable Communities Symposium and Mayors Luncheon on Oct. 15, and hosting the Women’s Legacy Fund Luncheon on Oct. 22.  The popular Visual Voice photography exhibit featuring the work of News-Press photojournalists’ will be up throughout the month in the Community Hub (our offices).


Read more about all of it here or on our website by clicking here.  We can’t wait to see you at something this season!


In Gratitude,

Women's Legacy Fund luncheon invitation
Women’s Legacy Luncheon
Thursday, October 22
It’s that special time of year when we get to announce the WLF 2016 grant winner and celebrate women sharing in philanthropy at the Fall WLF Luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 22,
11:15 am to 1:15 pm.
Please join us as we gather at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club for lunch, a special presentation of WLF Angels and the announcement of the grant chosen this year for the support of women and girls in the cause area: Access to Goods and Services in Neighborhoods.
The speaker Yajaida Vasquez, ARNP, will talk about access to health care.  Featured in Gulfshore Life Magazine this month, be prepared to be inspired by this lovely “warrior,” and change-maker.  The cost to cover the lunch is $40.  Please click here to RSVP or call us at 239.274-5900.  For more info on the Women’s Legacy Fund, click here.
Walkable Communities Symposium – Oct. 15
Making Dollars and Sense of Mixed Use

In an ongoing effort to be part of what makes SWFL great and ways to make our region even better, the Community Foundation is participating in the upcoming regional Urban Walkable Communities Symposium at Harbourside Convention Center Thursday, Oct. 15. Featuring national consultants and experts, Florida investors and developers will analyze commercial area revitalization, financing and more.  To read more, click here and to register, call (239) 321-7100, visit:

The Community Foundation is facilitating some “friendly” Shark Tank presentations and panels for local redevelopment agencies to share their big ideas.  We can’t wait to hear what creative solutions they have!  Join us from 8 am to 4 pm. $55 includes Breakfast, Lunch and Symposium.

We Are FutureMakers


(L to R): Nate Swan (Gartner), Will McDonough (Tech Attorney, Naples),   Sarah Owen (SWFL Community Foundation), and Charles Chapman (Hendry County – Economic Development)

FutureMakers Coalition Champions Team learns coalition building from national coaches
Two national coalition-building experts recently met with the FutureMakers Champions Team, part of a Southwest partnership committed to transforming the regional workforce by increasing post-secondary completion.
“The Champions Team members are key leaders and influencers who, together, have the opportunity to help shift the culture and conversation in Southwest Florida, and the coaches were here to help us all learn together just how to do that,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, which is serving as the anchor organization for Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnership for Attainment network. For more information and to become a FutureMaker, visit
Robert Rauschenberg Grantee “Tribe” Visits the Artist’s Residency
It’s not just your normal workday when you get to visit the studio and campus of the late internationally-renown Artist Robert Rauschenberg.  The SWFL Community Foundation took the grantees who received this year’s Robert Rauschenberg Foundation SWFL Grants totaling $250,000 on a field trip to the Artist Residency on Captiva Island recently.  The grant recipients are: Goodwill Industries of SWFL, The Laboratory Theater, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, and Jewish Family & Community Service.
A Beautiful Gift to Fight Hunger – Forever
It’s What Community Foundations Do Best

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation donated $100,000 to the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida for its capital campaign.

Acting in the community’s trust, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation played an important role in nurturing funds intended to fight hunger in Southwest Florida given years ago through the foundation by donors of another nonprofit organization with a similar mission to fight hunger in Southwest Florida.

“It is a beautiful story with the best possible ending,” Owen said. “Because of some important wording in a fund agreement established by a group of dedicated hunger fighters involved in Wake Up America many years ago, the corpus of the original donation was able to be retained after the sale of the nonprofit’s property, once they decided to sunset their operations. The funds realized from the sale were put back out into the community, to the Harry Chapin Food Bank, to continue to do the good it was intended to do.”

With a goal of $5.1 million, the campaign aims to improve the food bank’s ability to acquire and distribute more nutritious, fresh food to children, working-poor families and others who struggle with hunger.

Wake Up America closed its Fort Myers operations in 2013.

Want to leave a lasting legacy like this?  Contact us and we will show you how to benefit the causes you care about most and sometimes save current income, or estate tax dollars.  Click here or call us at 239-274-5900.


When’s the Gala?

When’s the Gala?

When I meet people in Southwest Florida for the first time and they discover I work in philanthropy one of the first questions many of them ask is “when’s your gala?”

Although “when’s your gala?” might not be an appropriate inquiry for a first meeting in many parts of the country, in our Southwest Florida culture it is completely legit.

Long time residents know that when the calendar turns from September to October, the charity gala season is on with no slowdown until the waning days of May.

Southwest Floridians are gifted in throwing events that raise money for great causes all over the region. These parties with a purpose fuel organizations and inspire involvement in charitable giving.

So when folks ask enthusiastically about the date of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s gala I feel a bit like I forgot to send out invites to a long awaited party.

I really appreciate the question because it reminds me of how much support there is in our community for getting involved in making change. When people ask about an event they are usually just saying they would like to be a part of what we are doing and galas are a great way to connect with a non-profit.

If you are a newbie to the Southwest Florida charitable scene you might be conjuring up images of our team decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos.   The reality is galas in our part of the world can include nights on the Sanibel Causeway under the stars in shorts and flip flops, a dinner of southern fare in the bays of an automotive shop, a night dining with firemen, running in a 5K or repelling down a building. I could actually fill an entire column with the variety of charitable events in our area.

Charitable organizations and their teams of supporters are always looking for creative ways to raise money for their cause. It is an enormous amount of work that should not be taken on by the meek of heart.   Gala committees are manifesting the passion for the organization they work for or support and they realize the money raised is vital to the work of the cause they care about so deeply.

Although the Community Foundation does not throw a gala we do work with donors who want to keep the gala giving spirit going all year long through creating customized funds that allow them to donate to causes and non-profits they support.   Donors can access the funds 24/7 online and recommend grants to their favorite non-profits in and out of gala season. Our staff even works with donors as concierges of philanthropy pointing them in the direction of organizations working on the donor’s cause or passion, and guiding donor families with tours of non-profits in the region to showcase the good work happening and illustrating the need for support.

Other Community Foundation donors establish endowed funds that provide funds to non-profits in perpetuity. This means that in addition to the money raised at the seasonal events, the organizations benefit from an annual check from the fund which is a welcome boost during the off season.

So whether you are a seasoned veteran of the gala scene or a rookie looking for a way to get involved, dust off your dancing or running shoes and attend an event this season and then check our website to learn more about creative ways to keep the giving going all year long. If you have a story about how you like to give, please send it to me at







FutureMakers receives $300,000 from Schulze Family Foundation

FutureMakers receives $300,000 from Schulze Family Foundation

Goal to transform the workforce by increasing the number of college degrees and post-secondary certifications from 27 to 40 percent by 2025

FORT MYERS, Fla. (Sept. 28, 2015) – The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation recently granted the FutureMakers Coalition $300,000.

The grant, which is payable during the next three years, will help fund programs and projects developed by the Coalition’s Regional Action Teams focused on the FutureMakers’ goal of increasing the number of Southwest Florida residents with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 40 percent by the year 2025.

“It resonates throughout the region when big organizations work together for the greater good,” said Mary Beth Geier, Florida region coordinator of the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation. “The work FutureMakers is doing really falls in line with what we want to do, and we love the collaborative aspect of this effort.”

The Schulze Family Foundation was created in 2004 by Best Buy founder Dick Schulze, a Southwest Florida resident. It supports education, human services, health and medical research, and transformational entrepreneurship.

“This generous funding put forth by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation will power the ideas generated by experts and go directly to support the programs identified through the Coalition’s Regional Action Teams to address identified needs to boost our region’s workforce through skills training and educational initiatives,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, which serves as the anchor organization for the Coalition.

The FutureMakers Coalition was born out of a two-year regional initiative focused on increasing the number of high-school seniors in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Responding to the Florida College Access Network’s 2012 report that more than $100 million in Pell Grants went unclaimed by Florida students, the initial effort involved a team of more than a dozen stakeholders who invested in high-school seniors through one-on-one and group mentoring, FAFSA workshops and support, and career coaching.

Within a year and with the recommendation of FCAN and Helios, the work of the inaugural FutureMakers program was recognized by Lumina Foundation, an independent private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. The FutureMakers Coalition benefits from Lumina’s collaborative approach that connects Southwest Florida to renowned national thought-leadership organizations and provides technical and planning assistance, data tools and flexible funding as attainment plans are customized.

About FutureMakers Coalition
The FutureMakers Coalition is working to increase post-secondary certification completion in Southwest Florida and promote the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workplace and in life. Formed in 2015 around existing regional collaborations, the Coalition’s goal is to transform the workforce by increasing the number of college degrees and post-secondary certifications from 27 percent to 40 percent by 2025 throughout Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

As one of Lumina Foundation’s 75 national Community Partners in Attainment, the FutureMakers Coalition is a regional partnership involving education, government, business, nonprofit and citizen stakeholders, and advocates committed to creating a cradle-to-career pathway to ensure success for traditional students and adult learners.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation serves as the anchor organization for the Coalition. The FutureMakers Coalition’s collective effort encourages residents to join and support this community-changing initiative. It is looking for partners from all sectors to invest resources, including time, expertise, funding and more. For more information, visit, call 239-274-5900 or email Tessa LeSage at


Community Foundation’s Women’s Legacy Fund to hold Fall luncheon

Community Foundation’s Women’s Legacy Fund to hold Fall luncheon

FORT MYERS, Fla. (September 17, 2015) – The Women’s Legacy Fund will host its Fall luncheon on Thursday, October 22 at 11:15 a.m. at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club located at 18061 Miromar Lakes Parkway.

A fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the Women’s Legacy Fund is a group of women who foster the immersion of women in philanthropy and develop the region’s next philanthropic leaders.

Yajaida Vasquez, ARNP, will serve as the keynote speaker and will share her journey from experiencing homelessness to opening a healthcare clinic that serves women and families in Southwest Florida. A Community Foundation scholarship recipient, Vasquez is a first generation college graduate and community change-maker.

The luncheon will also feature the 2015 WLF grant check presentation and an Angels Tribute.

In just eight years of existence, the WLF has been able to provide $100,000 in grants to benefit people and communities in Southwest Florida. Currently, the Fund has nearly $400,000 in endowment that will continue to help fund local issues now and in the future.

The event is for contributors to the fund, WLF Prima Donors and women who are interested in making a difference in their community.

Contributors to the WLF give a minimum of $250 each year ($100 for women under 25 years of age). The first half of contributions is pooled for the purpose of immediate annual grants, while the second half is pooled into the WLF’s endowment fund, which provides additional grants to be made both now and in years to come. Prima Donors are local women who have contributed $10,000 or more to the WLF endowment and are committed to making an impact in their community through charitable giving.

To purchase your ticket, please visit or contact Andrea McKiddie at 239.274.5900 by October 9, 2015.

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




Never Forget.

Never Forget.

I forgot. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not remember it was September 11th 2015 until 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

I was in my car driving to a meeting and tuned into a talk radio station that was encouraging listeners to call in with their stories and remembrances. I nearly had to pull the car over to regain my composure when I realized I had forgotten the thing I along with millions of others had solemnly vowed to never forget 14 years ago.

I contemplated how this could have happened. I woke that morning, never turned on the television, headed off to work and went quickly from one meeting to another. I have gotten in the habit of keeping the car radio off in order to remain focused and peaceful on the road. It seemed like just another day. Just like September 11, 2001 had seemed like just another day until it wasn’t.

It was midday before any mention of the tragedy crossed my consciousness. I was so grateful I had turned on the radio and the stories of others brought me back into the reality of the anniversary. Hearing the recollections brought the day back into clear view. I remembered.

I spent the rest of the day compensating for my lapse. I made a point to mention the anniversary of the attack on our country to various people, watched hours of programming on the history channel, and spent some time with my 14-year-old son recalling where we were that day.

We were living in Northern Virginia and a family member was traveling by train up the east coast for a visit. Once the attacks were underway most all forms of transportation came to a stop and we had to travel several hours to pick up our guest. She was terrified and shaken and we were grateful our family member was safe, when so many others trying to locate their friends and family were dealing with the reality that they would not be reunited. My story is not remarkable in anyway, other than the fact that it happened to me and is my tether to the day. My teenage son does not remember the events of that day first hand but he can tell you our story.

That’s what happens when we share a collective moment particularly a tragedy. Our individual stories create the tapestry of our collective grief.

Most weeks in this space I write about our local community and the issues we face together. We have our own sorrows and victories that are unique to Southwest Florida. But sometimes we must widen that lens on community and expand our support. We must support both our national and global community from a local perspective. When I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial for the first time last year I realized the great role philanthropy could contribute to memorializing and curating our collective experiences.

September 11th is an anniversary, but not my only chance to remember. Never forgetting spans more than one day. We just have to keep telling our stories. If you have a story to share, please do at

‘The Visual Voice’ a News-Press photo exhibit

‘The Visual Voice’ a News-Press photo exhibit

News-Press teamed up with Southwest Florida Community Foundation to show how images are continuing to inspire, educate and start conversations in our community through a photo exhibit called ‘The Visual Voice’. (Andrea Melendez/

We’ve all heard the adage — “A picture is worth 1,000 words.”

Powerful images can speak volumes. But, can photos change the world?  It’s a simple concept with a lasting legacy.  It’s also one of the catalysts behind the mission of The SWFL Community Foundation’s new photo exhibit “Art, Community & Conversation”. showing through October 23rd at The Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

News photos probably aren’t the first medium that comes to mind when we discuss art, but a strong, emotional news image has the power to change our perspective, challenge us to act, reflect our hubris, show us a new point of view, and sometimes change our community.

“I think photojournalism can make a difference either immediately or in the long term,” says The News-Press visuals journalist Andrew West, 47, ofFort Myers Beach. “We are trying to get readers to react, to spur them into action whatever that action may be.”

Click here for more