Giving Opportunities

Click the button below to see a list of funds at the SWFL Community Foundation that you can donate to. DONATE TO A FUND



It Only Takes a Spark

It Only Takes a Spark


I am a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout.

I joined the Girl Scouts as a young girl, starting out as a Brownie scout and staying involved all the way through my senior year in high school.  I have lots of badges to prove it.

I became a Boy Scout much later in life when my daughter joined the organization’s Venturing Crew a co-ed group for teens whose focus was high adventure trips.  They needed a leader that was willing to go backwoods camping and spelunking and my experience as a seasoned Girl Scout made me a good candidate.   I jumped in and enjoyed the outdoor life with my daughter and her crewmates for a few years.  I have a uniform with lots of patches to prove it.

In both roles, I was known as an excellent fire starter.  A couple of years ago I was camping out with a friend in a primitive setting and she was blown away by my fire building skill set.

The key to a successful fire is materials, technique and a lot of patience.  Sure, you can take short cuts using newspaper, big logs and starter fluid to get a roaring blaze going but it burns out fast.

The long burning sustainable fire starts with kindling and small twigs arranged in a certain configuration and ultimately a spark.  The spark ignites the kindling, the fire takes hold and larger branches and logs are added to create a strong and healthy blaze.  Once you get it going it takes minding and care to keep the embers glowing.

The lessons for fire building can be applied to life as well, particularly in terms of change making and community building.  You have to bring the right materials to the table, allow ideas to catch fire, then nurture them to keep it going.

Last week I had the opportunity to hear from a group of specialists as part of a community-wide conversation on mental and behavioral health hosted by Healthy Lee.  Several hundred clinicians, nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, business owners and community advocates were on hand for the sold-out event, clearly ready to get something started.

Co-hosts Christin Collins and Debbie Toler who have personal and professional visions for a stronger, more effective system of behavioral health care in our community led several hundred people through a morning of proverbial fire building around the issue.  They understood they had to start slowly and patiently to set the groundwork in the community for this important discussion and they realized that many voices are needed to shape the conversation.

Speaker presentations on mental health, substance abuse and dementia were aptly named spark sessions; fast paced eight-minute data driven and inspirational topic overviews intended to get dialogues started.

Audience participation through live electronic polling allowed for immediate feedback that will guide next steps in how to address the issues we face around lack of access to mental health services, the surge of opioid deaths and the need for expanded services in dementia in our aging population.

These are big issues that can’t be handled in one meeting or community gathering.  We need to start with the strong kindling, which are things that are happening now in our community- really great things like the work at organizations like SalusCare, Elite DNA, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, David Lawrence Center, Arden Courts, Valerie’s House and then find the common goals and outcomes that can only be accomplished by working together.

The fire had been started- Solving these issues will take all of us tending it together.


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 $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 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. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. 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