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Healing. Stronger.

Healing. Stronger.

Sometimes unexpected events cause our world to stop and speak of nothing else.

I will never forget when the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the West Indian Island country of Haiti in January of 2010.  More accurately I should say I will never forget not being aware of the disaster until 2 days after the event.

Travels had taken me to a remote location in the middle of the ocean with no outside communication services and I only learned of the earthquake upon my return flight home.  I was astonished and deeply saddened to hear the news.

There was something surreal about being oblivious to this kind of tragedy.  We are all so accustomed to receiving news and information in real time and reacting immediately.   Just two days’ post impact I felt as if I had missed the opportunity to help and was thankful when the flight attendant passed a basket for donations to support relief efforts.

Immediate response to disasters is critical.  Our love of humanity compels us to take quick action to help our fellow man and we rush to provide basic needs in the hours and days after an unexpected tragedy.  In this fast paced, well-connected world we are in touch with human suffering almost moments after it happens and this adds to the intensity and velocity of our response.

Many times philanthropic organizations and charities are on the forefront of assisting in the instantaneous needs of the suffering.  Those of us that work in the social sector have long been prepared to handle natural disasters but more recently we have begun to realize that we must be equally equipped for events that threaten our communities in many different forms.  I almost don’t want to give power to the words by penning them but violence, mass shootings and terror attacks are now part of crisis planning in our communities.

As shocked as I was by the earthquake in 2010 I think the idea of a natural disaster was comprehendible to me.  The uncontrollable, unpredictable forces of nature sometimes collide with our planet.    In my lifetime I have seen the impact of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and tornados.  In these situations, I understood the role of philanthropy in both the immediate support and the long term recovery efforts.  I knew once the news trucks rolled out of town and the emergency responders closed down their base of operations that philanthropy would be there to support the longer term proposition of healing and rebuilding.

What I have been less prepared to understand is the devastation at the hands of my fellow man.  How do we ready ourselves for these forms of crisis and how can philanthropy be at the ready to help create stronger communities in the aftermath of a tragedy?

In 2010 two days without knowing seemed like a lifetime.  In 2016 I find myself holding my breath before I click on the 24-hour news channel in the morning, dreading what I may have missed overnight.  Imagine my shock when a week ago today my cell phone buzzed in the wee hours of the morning alerting me that a mass shooting had struck the city I call home.    At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we feel responsible to be prepared to support this region and our fellow citizens in both the national and global communities that face an unexpected crisis.  In recent months we have been on numerous national conference calls with communities facing unfathomable crises in an effort to be supportive and learn from others.

I have watched with great interest and admiration as my colleagues in Orlando have begun to prepare for the long term recovery of their community after the Pulse Nightclub tragedy.  They are dealing with a very unnatural disaster that requires the long view on healing and repair.

In the immediate aftermath of a crisis the community cries out for stability.  Healing comes through direct services like counseling for those impacted by tragedy, but it also comes from bringing people together to see the possibilities for the future and a vision for a stronger community.

In a recent blog post, the team at the Central Florida Foundation inspired me with words of hope for the Orlando community in the wake of their pain, It takes more than just money to build stronger communities. It takes community leaders and those who envision a stronger community to join in with helping hands. As we move out of the chaotic crisis stage of the Pulse tragedy, we will start to see people in need of safe places to come together, evolving partnerships to help the healing continue, and clear visioning around how all the communities involved, and the survivors, can thrive. “

They reminded me that even if the world has stopped speaking about a devastating event there is still much work ahead and 2 days or a longer stretch of years is not too late to help a community not only be better prepared but to heal or rather in their even more powerful words, “heal stronger.”  My greatest desire is that Fort Myers will heal stronger.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the it has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.





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