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Flexibility Can Change the World, Or at Least Our Corner of It

Flexibility Can Change the World, Or at Least Our Corner of It

As another year begins to wind down, many of us take a little more time to reflect and express gratitude.  We are amid the holiday season, which tends to bring out generosity and kindness in many.  Florida starts to feel a little less like summer and our population swells. It’s a time for celebration and family, which can also come with stress and even feelings of loneliness.

From a student’s perspective, it’s time for midterms, report cards and winter break.  Many FutureMakers partners throughout the region are working hard to help graduating seniors fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in hopes of removing the financial barriers to getting a degree or industry certification after high school.

At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, our Scholarship Coordinator, who I often refer to as the “teenager whisperer” because of her amazing ability to engage teenagers, is wrapping up her first phase of outreach to Southwest Florida’s high school seniors. Her effort at the end of every year lays the groundwork for a successful scholarship season.  That means we will be in a good position to find a student to match each of our generous donors’ goals to create opportunities for continued education and ultimately workforce development.

The Foundation team is charged with meeting donor intent both in grants and scholarships.  It is a privilege to do this work and, while it can be very challenging, it is extremely rewarding to see others make an impact with the generosity of someone they oftentimes will never meet.  It is something to reflect on with gratitude, whether you are the philanthropist, the direct recipient, or an indirect recipient in that your community is better off as a result.

As our team approaches the end of the year in this world of facilitating positive philanthropic impact, we reflect on the challenges our community faces and whether we were able to make in impact in those areas.  More and more, both in the granting and scholarships, we find that legacy donors never could have imagined some of the challenges we would be facing in 2018, which sometimes makes it harder to seize opportunities and support great ideas that are adapting in a fast-changing world.

The same is true when it comes to scholarships.  The student headed to college or career school today faces challenges many cannot imagine.  You can see it in the college completion rates and the ever-expanding number of unfilled jobs that require a credential beyond a high school diploma.  It’s obvious when you see that more and more local, post-secondary educational institutions are opening foodbanks and finding students living in their cars on campus because they cannot afford rent.  Students today often have to choose between working a second job to pay the bills and finishing a degree or earning a certificate.  Keeping the lights on is always going to win in that scenario and ultimately, we all lose.

I was in a FutureMakers meeting the week before Thanksgiving listening to a story about local college students finding themselves homeless.  We talked about needing emergency funds in institutions to help students overcome 2018-type barriers to attainment. As we all reflect and express gratitude and generosity this holiday season, consider how problems and opportunities change over time.  Flexibility is key in a changing world.  That is true in philanthropy, too.  If you are interested in learning about how you can help make a difference today and, in the future, we’d love to hear from you.


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 $6.8 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




Tessa Lesage
Tessa Lesage