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Back to School

Back to School

This year I went back to high school, a trip back in time that struck terror in my soul.  I was there to mentor a high school senior as part of the Foundation’s FutureMakers regional call to action which connects local students with their next steps after graduation.

I was worried that I would not say or do the right things.  I felt a big responsibility to provide this student I had never met with valuable information and a healthy dose of encouragement for this last leg of her public school career.  Luckily, the team at the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools had prepped me well for this first encounter and provided me with lots of resources to help me guide my student as we charted her course for college.

I was also equipped with my iPhone and GradApp, a mobile application packed with resources for students and mentors.  I figured if I was too scared to talk at the first meeting, at least we could both look at our phones.

We both survived the first awkward encounter and dozens more after that.  I was partnered with an incredible young woman who is motivated, inspired and intelligent.  She just needed the right information and someone to help her set deadlines and goals for the year.  Over the last few months my nervousness has turned to excitement for her future.

But my most recent visit a few weeks ago made me nervous all over again, because I knew that I had to ask her the tough question.  Can you pay for college?

As always, she was ready for the conversation and had been working with her family on starting the FAFSA, but scholarships were another story.  She had done some searching but felt she did not know where to look and felt somewhat overwhelmed by the process.

It was at this moment I realized why the Foundation’s regional FutureMakers program was so important.  There are literally millions of dollars in grants and scholarships left on the table every year in Florida.  The Foundation offers over $450,000 each year through our local scholarship programs and there are several very specific scholarships that we work hard to recruit applicants.  My student was ready to pass on the opportunities, not because she wasn’t motivated, she was just not sure how to take the first step.

I explained that one scholarship alone at the Foundation, the John M. and Mary A. Shanley Fund, had distributed $1,050,000 to local students that attended college. It was important to the Shanleys to support students in realizing their dreams and potential. They are no longer alive but their legacy lives on through the students who have been launched into college as a result.

We revisited our iPhones and I guided her back to the GradApp that features dozens of links to local scholarships including the 65 from the Southwest Community Foundation.  At least a dozen are a match for her qualifications and field of study.

So many times people reach out to me to ask how they can help our community.  I can’t think of a better way than connecting a local student to a sustainable future, through the establishment of a scholarship fund like the Shanleys, becoming a scholarship application reader, or taking the step to go back to school to be a mentor.

Don’t be nervous.  Just take your iPhone. A student needs your help.

To learn more about scholarships at the Community Foundation check out the latest edition of Our Community in this issue of Florida Weekly.


The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $75 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at

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