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In Times of Crisis, Community Strength Means We’re Never Alone

In Times of Crisis, Community Strength Means We’re Never Alone

These are anxious times. COVID-19 has impacted global and local communities and disrupted our everyday lives in ways large and small. As we work together to adjust to quickly changing circumstances, our hearts are with those who have lost loved ones to a pandemic that has confronted everyone, everywhere.

As reports fill our TVs and news feeds, I find myself seeking a degree of reassurance in the realization that it’s times like these that have repeatedly demonstrated our capacity for compassion and an overriding desire to help others. Yes, the challenge is great, but so is the power of community we are witnessing in response to these difficult times.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in our neighbors who, like their counterparts around the nation and world, deliver medical care and health services to those in need – sometimes in situations that can threaten their own health, safety and well-being.

What is it that compels these healthcare providers and other first-responders to run toward a crisis to give aid? What is it that fuels their commitment to serving those in need, whether the threat is to an individual life or an entire community?

I’ve been thinking about this as I hear stories of the inspiring human response to COVID-19. Gestures of aid can be as grand as doctors, nurses, medical researchers and other health pros working around the clock to protect the most vulnerable among us, or as simple as a neighbor who runs an errand or delivers groceries to someone who has had to self-isolate in order to help contain the threat.

I believe the ability of each of us to give of ourselves, to think in terms of “we” instead of “me,” is rooted in our human need to find common ground, especially during the divisive times in which we find ourselves. When the chips are down, I am heartened by our capacity to draw strength from a common purpose, to collaborate and find connections that foster positive outcomes.

Because we need that now more than ever, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation in partnership with United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee has created the SWFL Emergency Relief Fund in response to COVID-19 to serve our neighbors in Southwest Florida.

Designed to complement the work of public health officials and local governments to expand local capacity and address all aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak as efficiently as possible, the fund will provide resources to organizations working right here in Southwest Florida to provide aid to those impacted.

The Community Foundation will proactively work with the United Way as they identify potential grant recipients and solicit guidance on potential recipients from other community funders and advisors. Funds will be released on a rolling basis as fundraising continues through the outbreak and recovery phases of the crisis, making it possible to move resources quickly as the effort adapts to evolving needs.

No fees are charged for relief funds, and donors have the option to cover credit card fees. Donors can give at, or by texting GIVESWFL to 444999.

While philanthropy is not on the front lines of combating the active outbreaks through diagnosis, treatment, mitigation, and ultimately recovery, we have a crucial role in supporting those who are at the forefront of this work.

That’s why I would also like to share the announcement of the SWFL Stronger Together campaign. A collaborative effort of Lee Health and NCH Healthcare System (NCH), the fund will furnish crucial resources needed to support our region’s doctors and nurses by providing additional ventilators, protective gear, mobile units, employee relief and more.

These nonprofit healthcare organizations also have a need for blood donations. Community members can arrange to donate blood by calling Lee Health blood centers at 239-343-2333 or NCH Community Blood Center at 239-624-4120.

For more information, or to make an online donation to SWFL Stronger Together, visit Available resources at this site also include free telehealth information, hotlines, COVID-19 news and updates, as well as an “Ask the Experts” forum.

Philanthropy has a long track record of responding rapidly and compassionately during crises. And, although COVID-19 is a new, still-evolving threat, the Community Foundation is bringing to bear other experiences in our field to deploy relationships, financial resources, knowledge and networks to ease suffering in our community.

Our neighbors who will be disproportionately impacted by the spread of the virus are those our nonprofit partners work with on a daily basis because they are without paid sick leave, health insurance, or homeless. Philanthropy’s support of local nonprofits serving our community is always critical, but even more so in times of crises.

These challenging days remind me that, even during the best of times, we must not give in to the frustration that too often arises when we’re gripped by others’ seeming refusal to see things our way, or whose solutions to overcoming obstacles seem misguided. It’s natural to internalize such frustration, which further feeds divisiveness and negativity, a corrosive spiral that diminishes our ability to recognize we are stronger together.

I’m convinced it doesn’t take a peril like COVID-19 to overcome divisiveness and tap into what each of us has to offer the cause of building a healthy, thriving community: Southwest Floridians from diverse backgrounds have contributed in countless ways, from sharing experience-based knowledge with the next generation of community leaders, to providing financial support for crucial causes, to volunteering to help sustain our community and, therefore, each other.

Pay it forward is a common refrain. Imagine the possibilities throughout our region if we pay it backward – that is, if we extend the kind of generosity and compassion we may have experienced along the way to those who have never received such a gesture. Consider the potential impact when formerly marginalized residents feel a heightened personal stake in our shared future.

Because communities truly thrive when each and every resident has the opportunity to tap into his or her personal capabilities to participate, reaching back to pay it forward enables an enduring inclusiveness that contributes to a strong community.

And during these days filled with uncertainty, there is one thing of which I am certain: our neighbors, families and friends may be anxious about the isolation COVID-19 has imposed, but a strong, united community means we’re never alone.


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 $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 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 a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit



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