16 Jul Out of Sight but Not Out of Mind
A couple of weekends ago I spent a few days in a college town. I was visiting family and we spent some time wandering the downtown area that surrounds the campus and a landmark football stadium.
I am not going to get into college football politics here but I rarely visit this town or stadium because I consider them rivals. But my husband got his MBA from the institution so once and a while I have to put my football loyalty aside and enter enemy territory for the good of my marriage.
This was the first time I had visited the area on a non-football weekend and in contrast to the tailgating mayhem I was used to the place felt like a ghost town. I noticed things about the campus and the city that I had never seen before and wandered leisurely through the coffee houses and small shops, a luxury I am not afforded on a gridiron visit.
After 3 lattes I began waxing poetically to my sister-in-law about how pretty I found the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. She is a loyalist like my husband so she smiled with satisfaction but mentioned that she was concerned with what seemed to be an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the area.
I had seen these folks as well on benches, corners and biking around town with what appeared to be most of their belongings in tow. I had spoken to a few and greeted others with a nod or hello. My days working alongside neighbors who were trying to overcome homelessness has taught me that they sometimes feel overlooked or invisible and so I have learned from them to always make a point to connect with everyone I run into on a sidewalk- no matter their circumstances. You just never know what a person might be going through on any particular day.
Since I was seeing the town through new eyes, I shared my family member’s concern and compassion. She wondered out loud what she could do to help. This lead us into a conversation in which we considered if she was becoming aware of the need because it had recently increased or if it had always been there and she just hadn’t noticed due to the normal hustle and bustle of a college town when classes are in session and the streets are crowded with all kinds of people from all walks of life.
Our conversation reminded me of a weekend I spent living on the streets to raise awareness of homelessness in Southwest Florida as part of a citywide campaign. Of course there was no way to replicate homelessness in one weekend when I knew I had a home, transportation and food awaiting me at the end of the weekend, but I did learn a great deal from the experience. I realized for the first time how many people I passed each day when I was going about my daily life who were in need. Although my work put me in touch with individuals and families who were experiencing great need, I was still missing a lot of them just as I went about my day-to-day life.
Just because we don’t notice a need does not mean it doesn’t exist. We can be living next to a frail elderly person who needs home delivered meals, or see an abandoned pet in the parking lot of our local grocery store. Many times needs are right in front of us and we are so used to our surroundings we just don’t notice.
My sister-in-law was so relieved that her eyes were opened to a need, because now she is going to take action. She was grateful that she saw this college town and all of its residents in a new light.
Much like my weekend away, the pace of life slows in the summer in Southwest Florida. Lets all take a moment and look around to see what we might be missing to help our neighbors in need. They may be out of sight but never out of mind.
If you are looking for ways to get involved in your community this summer, please email me 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 $77 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $60 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at www.floridacommunity.com.