by Sarah Owen, a FutureMaker and President & CEO
SWFL Community Foundation
For months our offices at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation have been buzzing with preparation for a regional student summit designed to bring high school students from all five Southwest Florida counties to the table to discuss challenges and opportunities they face in planning their next steps out of high school.
The Foundation is the anchor organization for our region’s FutureMakers Coalition, which is working collectively to transform the workforce through increasing the number of college degrees and certifications attained in our region. As you can imagine talking to students is a critical part of that work.
A student summit was not the brainchild of the Community Foundation or any of the organizations in the Coalition but like many brilliant ideas it came from the students themselves. A group of over 100 Charlotte County students aptly named CCVolt who came together two years ago to provide a voice to students in the Charlotte school district provided a great model.
When we learned of their efforts we reached out and asked them to share the concept with FutureMakers partners in other counties. Idea sharing is a big part of the strength of the Coalition and some of our partners picked it up.
Students and organizations that support them know how to rally a movement and get things accomplished and summits in Lee, Collier, Hendry and Glades took shape. The FutureMakers Coalition is a regional effort so the idea of a bigger summit made sense. But it was ultimately up to the students’ willingness to participate.
We were thrilled they said yes and we began the planning. We figured if they were willing to bring their brainpower, experience and expertise on being a student, then we could supply the pizza, group facilitators, a video diary booth, and the tools to help collect their ideas.
Another FutureMakers Coalition partner Hodges University provided the venue, Domino’s supplied the pizza, Promotional Incentives brought the swag, and Rocket Lounge and Hyper Team sponsored the t-shirts. Additionally, local artists gave their time and talent to illustrate the students’ discussions and education foundations and school systems offered valuable support. This is what I love about working collectively- everyone has something to offer to reach a common goal.
The theme of the regional summit was The Future is Bright and time spent with the students revealed that along with bright spots there are also challenges with moving on to post secondary opportunities. Students weighed in on trends discovered at the county level and shared their experiences.
Many times we think the barriers to college are strictly financial and of course that is a factor, but students also shared challenges related to stress, making a career choice and the early start times at the high schools.
Our Foundation team will now examine the data and dialogue and identify regional trends that will be shared with the Coalition and the community and this will help shape our work.
The best news is the students have agreed to stay involved and most who attended signed up to be part of the student leadership team for the FutureMakers Coalition, which will keep their voices and ideas at the table.
Talking helps them as well. A mom of one of the students shared that her daughter left the summit fired up about the future and felt like discussing the topics helped refocus her on the possibilities for the future.
When we help support students in creating their future we create a brighter future for our region.
Keep an eye on the FutureMakers Coalition website www.futuremakerscoalition.com for results of the summit and video clips that highlight these important voices in our region.
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 $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.