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Back to the Future

Back to the Future

I knew it wouldn’t be long before someone asked me about ghosts. When the Southwest Florida Community Foundation recently moved into our new home, Collaboratory, we were following in the footsteps of previous generations.  Our new space was created through a renovation of the 1924 Atlantic Coast Rail Depot and 13,000 square feet of new construction.  Collaboratory was created to bring people, ideas, and funding together to solve community issues and seize possibilities and opportunities for change.  Preserving and being a steward of a historic treasure is meaningful to our board and team.

We have spoken with historians, viewed photographs and listened to stories of residents who remember the bustling Depot in operation until it closed in 1971.  Often the occupants of historic landmarks wish the walls could talk.  There are stories we know but so many that go untold.  And that is where the ghost questions arise.  Several folks have inquired if I have been in the Depot at night or if I feel a sense of other world visitors.

When I see the old photos I imagine where people were going, or who they were waiting on to arrive.  The Depot was a vital part of keeping people connected, but I haven’t encountered bygone passengers  lurking in the old waiting rooms, ticket office or baggage storage when the lights go out.  The only ghosts that have haunted me since we began the project have been the painful stories of segregation that were evident in white and black waiting rooms and bathrooms in the station.  But those are ghosts I want to continue to encounter as none of us want to forget the past while we commit to be an active participant in healing for the future.

Collaboratory has a unique feeling because of the combination of old and new, both in architecture and purpose.  We want to create a space in which the community can learn from the past while looking ahead and creating something new.

In this issue of Florida Weekly, you will find the Foundation’s annual report, Building On the Foundation for the Future.  In the report we share both what our donors, nonprofits and residents were able to accomplish together over the past year and cast a vision for what we can create in the future.  Take a few minutes to journey back in time and then imagine what we can build together in Southwest Florida in the years to come. You can find additional stories in the expanded version of the report on our website

We like to say we have a seat at the table waiting for you at Collaboratory, and yes, that includes the ghosts.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.3 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $79.9 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, 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