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Front Row to the Future

Front Row to the Future

In this week’s Florida Weekly issues, you will find a 2-page spread by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to celebrate our 2014 scholarship recipients.  These 84 students, from all over our region, received over $500,000 in scholarships to pursue their post-secondary goals and dreams.  We aren’t celebrating the money, but rather how the winners were selected, and what the students plan to do with the opportunity.

Our challenge is that we can never run a big enough story to adequately capture those hopes and dreams, or to properly thank the generous donors who made these scholarships possible.   But we like to try because many of these scholarships have been created in the last few years by donors who say that they were inspired by the stories they read and heard about our previous scholarship recipients.

The team at the Community Foundation is fortunate because, along with our scholarship reviewers, we also have an opportunity to read the details of these students’ aspirations and learn more about their journey and backstory.  We realize that no feature could capture everything.  It is all just so big.

Each student has their own story and each donor has their own reason for establishing an endowed scholarship fund.  When I stop to consider how many people are involved along the way in helping a student reach their educational or career goals, I am blown away.

One group of volunteers that has a front row seat to this process every year is our scholarship reviewers.  The funding provided to students is competitive and we have so many more talented students than scholarship dollars available—hence my constant quest to encourage others to establish these life-changing funds.  Each year the Foundation relies on a group of well trained, dedicated community volunteers to read, evaluate and in many cases interview these students and select the applicant that most closely matches the intent of the donor who established the scholarship.  These donors are counting on us to honor their desires and to act as knowledgeable stewards of their gift.  This is a responsibility we all take very seriously, but it is also one of the most inspiring volunteer positions at the Community Foundation.

We devote a good bit of ink to featuring the recipients but I wanted to take some time to share some of the reflections from a few of this year’s scholarship reviewers who have the first glimpse into our future.

“I’m always amazed at the quality of these applicants.  In general, they’re all highly motivated and high academic achievers—I guess this was not so surprising since they’re generally the top GPA students in their high schools.  More surprising; however, is that, at the same time,  many are also musicians, entrepreneurs, employees, athletes, officers in clubs, active in their churches, and committed to the community thru volunteer activities.   They’re all exceptionally well rounded in their high school activities!!   As I read the scholarship applications of these young adults, I feel very comfortable that these “kids” will be the future leaders of our beloved country and our future will be bright under their leadership!  — Denny Brown, Fort Myers

Each year I look forward to being able to see what outstanding young adults we have in our community. This year was no exception. I wish we had the resources to give scholarships to all of the applicants. I often tell my friends that they should feel good about the future of our country because we have some fantastic future leaders in our midst.”  — Tim O’Neill, Sanibel Island

“From the first time I began reading Scholarship Applications several years ago, the one thought that continues to please and amazes me is that we will be handing over the future to intelligent, caring, and capable young people. The future looks much brighter to me now that I have met these extraordinary high school seniors. It is very satisfying that I had the opportunity to play a small role in furthering their educational opportunity.” — Dr. George Traicoff, Bonita Springs

Reading this year’s scholarship applications was a great privilege and sheer torture. These young people are so “over the top” in their academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and work helping others, in many cases while coping with dire social and financial circumstances at home. It’s so difficult to rate them. Every one of them is a winner – they all deserve our help and support! — Cello Bennett, Cape Coral

If you would like a front seat to the future by supporting a student through a scholarship fund, contact us.  And, if you are a former scholarship recipient, living and working in the area I would love to hear from you at [email protected]


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