07 Nov 2016 CAUSE & EFFECT: Purpose Driven Politics
“Britt Is It” for President is my all-time favorite political slogan. You won’t be seeing Britt on next week’s ballot but this candidate did make a successful presidential run back in 1996.
After a hard fought 2- week campaign complete with posters, buttons, speeches, and custom cupcakes Britt took the helm as President of Port Orange Elementary School’s study body. She had been encouraged to run by female mentors in her life and teachers at the school.
I had not thought of my eldest child’s foray into the political scene in years. It was her first and only campaign. Not even the politics of the day had brought it to mind, until I connected with a friend last week who had made an ultimately unsuccessful run for the US Senate in a highly contested race in another state in 1992.
My friend and I were not talking about national politics, a topic I avoid in my role at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and this year, just avoid in general. Instead we were talking about the impact of early experiences and the role of mentors in the lives of women and girls.
She had just been asked to present on a national stage, as she often is to discuss her work in politics and women’s equity issues, but this time she would not be alone. She would be accompanied by her granddaughter. Like my Britt, her granddaughter had campaigned for the presidency of her middle school student council a number of years ago and together they are going to be sharing insights from the US Senate run and the student council campaign.
Of course the opportunity to work alongside her granddaughter to prepare their presentation was a treasured endeavor. Anytime we can cross generational lines and share common experiences we are more closely knit to each other. I am certain that this young woman has always been surrounded by encouraging mentors including her grandmother.
My friend shared that as they worked on their speech she was particularly struck by the influence the middle school election had on her granddaughter in terms of her confidence and her place in the world.
Her biggest take away from this early experience was the importance the trust of her peers meant to her when she realized she had won. In my own daughter’s case, her victory came shortly after we had moved to a new city and the race helped connect her to a new school, new friends and new community.
Exposure to these opportunities stuck with them. There are many things my adult daughter has forgotten about middle and high school but the campaign is not one of them. It exposed her the possibilities that were available and in front of her.
Last month, the Women’s Legacy Fund (WLF), a fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, held its annual fall luncheon in which the contributors award their annual grant funding to a local nonprofit that advances issues related to women and girls.
This year’s WLF focus area for the grant selection was early exposure to career exploration for young women and girls. A key word there is early, meaning the contributors to the fund wanted to make sure that the funded program interacted with girls in middle school in an effort to connect with them during years that shape their future decision making.
The luncheon featured speakers Airline Captain Diane Meyers and IT Program Manager Denise Spence, women who have forged careers in nontraditional roles and special guests included young women from Dunbar High School’s tech and engineering programs.
This year’s grant was awarded to the Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) program at Florida Gulf Coast’s Whitaker Center for STEM education. GEMS matches women in the STEM fields with FGCU students who then mentor girls in local middle schools.
The WLF contributors hope that early exposure to leadership and career opportunities is distributed in an equitable and intentional way, not just for the sake of shaping future career opportunities but also providing the confidence that sticks with them throughout their lives.
And to expand the reach of mentoring in the Southwest Florida, the Women’s Legacy Fund also welcomed a new fund, Impact Dunbar. Founded by Karen Watson and Tasheekia Perry the fund will provide philanthropic support to programs designed to empower young women and girls in the Dunbar community.
My friend’s granddaughter is about to graduate high school and head out into the world, and the young women we mentor through the WLF funding also have an open canvas in front of them. My hope is that they feel supported and that we are offering experiences that shape them and inspire them.
My daughter has not pursued a career in politics, but the middle school experience and other mentoring moments did impact her in many other positive ways in her nearly 30 years.
And for the record, I still think Britt is IT! Along with all the other young women who will affect our future.
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. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 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. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.