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The Power of the Story

The Power of the Story

Every year our tribe of grantees make the journey to the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida.  While on retreat, the tribe members work on strategies to improve their ability to communicate the stories behind their organizations’ work in order to make real change.  When focused beyond awareness, stories can be a powerful tool in changemaking.

Around the same time of this trek north, the Scholarships Committee and the Foundation Team are back at home, focused on wrapping up our scholarship application process.  This was my first year getting to know the world of scholarships.  I had no idea how challenging helping to administer scholarships would be.

It wasn’t the newness or the transition to a new software system that needed to receive just shy of 400 applications to be reviewed by more than 100 volunteers that kept me up at night.  Don’t get me wrong, that stuff was hard, but it was the stories that made it so difficult.

Students today face many challenges, challenges that many donors never could’ve anticipated. Many of us never imagined a time when earning an industry certification or degree would be as important or as tough as it is today.

More students than not face incredible barriers, from a lack of career exposure to needing to maintain a job or care for a family member while trying to get the training and education they need to help break a family-cycle of poverty. No one opens a scholarship fund thinking a student won’t ever earn a credential, but that is the reality for many who try to navigate the path to education beyond high school today.

It’s easy for me to write that here and illicit very little emotion.  I typed it like a person who has seen some of this data and spends some time with local educators and employers as part of the FutureMakers Coalition.

The real desire to make a difference comes when you read and hear the students’ personal stories. The stories are filled with incredible challenges and the strength to maintain their dreams for more and, most often, a desire to make a real impact on the world.

Students who had to work in the fields in Immokalee alongside their parents instead of participating in sports, student government, or other activities that help prepare them for their future.  Children who have been bullied or faced devastating family health crises that make it difficult to leave home more or less pursue educational goals.  There are so many stories of hardship doused in an equal amount of hope.

If you’re a changemaker, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of making an impact in their worlds.  Helping them earn that credential and land a job is a no-brainer when you read one application after another or spend the day in interviews. It becomes clear that anything we can do to adapt the education system, so it works better for today’s students is worthwhile.

While the stories students share may not represent the science of public interest communications, they do represent the power that stories can have in making a community or region better.  I cannot share the stories of our scholarship recipients here, but our nonprofit grantees can theirs.  The Foundation is thrilled that our tribe members will fill this column over the summer with their stories. They are a talented bunch, and we’re confident their communications will peak your interest and move you to want to make a difference, too.



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


Tessa Lesage
Tessa Lesage