06 Aug CAUSE & EFFECT: Ms. Owen Goes to Washington
The Washington Monument is beautiful at night and when I am on journeys to our nation’s capital I make a point to visit the iconic landmark in the moonlight. On a recent trip to D.C. I mentioned my evening plans to a long-time city resident and she lamented that having the monuments in your back yard creates the risk of taking them for granted. She couldn’t remember the last time she had paid a visit.
I have fallen into the same trap with Southwest Florida’s beautiful beaches and other points of interest and make an intentional effort to visit and appreciate the local surroundings others travel great distances to enjoy.
Sometimes we don’t see what is right in front of us, because we are used to it always being there.
As I was readying for my trip, people were anxious to provide a narrative of what they would like me to accomplish during my time away. I am not certain they knew who I would be meeting but across the board, folks would good-humoredly comment that they hoped I could “straighten some things out while I was there.” I would smile and try to assure them that I would do my best.
It struck me that although the remarks were made in jest, there was an overwhelming feeling that someone, somewhere needed to do something about challenges our country and region were facing.
On both sides of the political aisle there seems to be a general frustration that we all could be doing more to make things better. We don’t always agree on the how, but are united in our urgency for the now. In Southwest Florida we face challenges with our water, access to behavioral health services, attainable housing, transportation, workforce and the list goes on.
My meetings in D.C. were focused on civic engagement in communities, the state of democracy in our nation, the impact of immigrants on economy, two generational approaches to fighting poverty and Hill visits with the staff of our region’s U.S. Representatives Tom Rooney, Francis Rooney and Mario Diaz-Balart.
All the conversations were productive and provided insights and resources for Southwest Florida, but the meetings with the local Representatives’ teams confirmed that localism is key to some of the “straightening out” or solutions we are all seeking.
Te legislative staffs were open to learning more about the work of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and although we discussed the tax legislation the Foundation feels could generate greater philanthropic funding nationally and locally, the majority of our conversation was centered around what could happen in their Districts immediately to create change. Each meeting closed with the suggestion that I meet with their staff on the ground in southwest Florida.
Much of the recent national discussion around localism has centered on local governments taking more of a front seat in addressing community issues, and of course municipalities play a vital role, but from my vantage point I see a real opportunity for individuals and organizations to embrace localism as a relational solution that involves local government, non-profits, business and individuals coming together to work on issues with a local lens that just doesn’t happen at a federal level. No one knows a neighborhood better than the people living and working there.
Sweeping changes created by federal law and what can happen at the ground level in a community look different. Advocating for large scale change is vital, but while waiting for change on the national stage there is much that can be accomplished at the community level.
The New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks recently defined localism as the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels, and asserts it is thriving because people have faith in the relationships right around them, the change agents who are right on the ground.
Working on behalf of a community and for an organization whose mission is cultivating regional change for the common good, I see this relational change making every day.
Over the past year I have watched this play out in Southwest Florida with residents starting nonprofits to address the water issues, autism support services, access to behavior health care, a collective group gathering around attainable housing and a greater focus on workforce development. In each case these local groups have advocated for national change but have not waited on it to take action locally.
Look around, what is frustrating or inspiring you? Is there something in your backyard you just aren’t noticing that might be the catalyst to creating the change you want to see the world? I believe we can straighten some of this out together.
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 $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 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. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com