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Let’s Keep Showing Up for Each Other

Let’s Keep Showing Up for Each Other


The plates of cookies and pitchers of fruit-infused water went untouched for weeks.  This surprised me as I thought the smell of warm chocolate chip wonders and refreshing thirst quenchers would be gobbled up by all that passed through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s doors on a daily basis.

Trust me, I have lots of ideas that don’t work but I felt pretty certain on this cookie idea.  The goal was to present a welcoming, hospitable atmosphere in our coffee bar lobby area.

We see ourselves as community connectors and conveners and desire to bring people together to solve issues and find solutions for our regions challenges and opportunities.  The more often people gather the better and we want to set the stage for gatherings and hospitality.

Hospitality is important in our culture.  By definition it is the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.  Synonyms include reception, neighborliness, cordiality, courtesy, generosity and food.

My cookie and fruit water strategy was clearly focused on the food end of the spectrum.

After our staff had eaten our way through un-devoured treats for days on end I asked a few Foundation visitors why they weren’t partaking. Some touted dietary restrictions or a full stomach but most said they didn’t think the spread had been set out for them.

They thought it was for an event or “special guests” and had no idea that the table had been set to welcome them.  Once I began meeting visitors up front and pointing out the offerings people began to feel more comfortable.    We did switch to healthier snack options and stepped up our coffee game, but the key to the change was the personal interaction.

Sometimes we get too wrapped up in the trappings of hospitality.  Just think about the last time you invited guests to your home, or hosted a party.  Just take a spin on Pinterest or attend a baby shower these days and you will see what I mean.

But all of our efforts to be welcoming can be lost if we don’t have the sense that we are as important as the host as the beautiful surroundings.  Many times when we extend hospitality, it is for the people we are expecting.  But in the definition of the word strangers are very clearly noted.

I see this in charitable giving and generous acts all the time.  People showing up for people in meaningful ways even though they are complete strangers.  It was very much on display during Hurricane Irma and it is evident in the nonprofit organizations in the region.

I recall volunteers at local food pantry spending hours each day creating an environment that mimicked a local marketplace with hot coffee and food tastings, for people they were meeting for the first time and would likely never see again.  That was a nice touch but what meant more was the greeting that volunteers extended and their willingness to walk alongside the guests as they made their pantry suggestions.

Just being there and making people feel special is the ultimate hospitality.  The cookies are optional.  Let’s keep showing up for each other- friends and strangers alike.

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

For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, 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