23 Jul An Office with a Unique View–My Summer in Southwest Florida
Southwest Florida is the land of palm trees, beautiful beaches and retirees. Or at least that’s what I thought before I came to the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to begin my public interest communications internship this summer. That’s before I met community and nonprofit leaders who showed me the important work that is being done here.
It turns out that my journey to Southwest Florida started years ago when I was a confused sophomore at the University of Florida and walked into professor Ann Christiano’s office. She encouraged me to find a passion and introduced me to the world of public interest communications. Four years and four courses later, Professor Christiano introduced me to the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
Needless to say, I was excited to spend my summer in paradise. Feet propped up on a beach chair and fruity, umbrella drinks were just the ticket. “What problems are there in Fort Myers?” I thought to myself.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed at the Foundation with open arms and put straight to work. I had no idea what the foundation does, but I was quickly immersed. During my first week, I met the mayor of Fort Myers at a roundtable, sat with CEOs and directors of several other nonprofit organizations, and talked to World War II veterans on Sanibel. It turns out that was the closest I got to a beach all summer, and I quickly learned there is great need in our region and the Foundation is here to help.
The need here doesn’t look the same as in major metropolitan areas, and I learned that need is as unique as the people who live here. Since joining the Foundation, I learned of Pine Manor Community Center, which received a grant from the Foundation this year. The Center helps people become employable. To create opportunities for its residents, Pine Manor opened a kitchen and community garden and offered its first 6-week culinary arts course this summer. The residents have been placed into internships with area restaurants that will give them real-world experience. Need observed, solution applied.
The Foundation also taught me the importance of collaboration. The new community garden at Pine Manor may not have been possible without the Naples Botanical Garden, also a grantee of the Foundation for a special garden project for people with disabilities. At first glance, these two nonprofit organizations have nothing in common, but the Garden was able to teach Pine Manor about different types of gardens to meet their community’s goals.
Soon I am going back to Memphis, where I teach biology to low-income, minority students. My kids might not have the same experiences, just like the daily monsoons that occur each afternoon, but I will help them unite with community organizations to end the injustices in their communities.
I will be forever grateful to the Foundation for the opportunity to learn from such passionate and smart people. I look forward to applying the knowledge I’ve learned here and bringing it back to my students in Memphis so I can help them prosper too.
I will miss my office with a unique view, but hope to stay in close touch with my new colleagues. If you have any questions or want to know more about the needs in our region, please email me at [email protected].
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $80 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $60 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at www.floridacommunity.com.