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The Story of Tito and the Worms

The Story of Tito and the Worms

I have noticed recently that journalists assigned to human interest stories have added a new title to their business cards and electronic signatures. Rather than just identifying with their special sections they have begun noting their role as storytellers.

I have always had a special affinity for stories and the people who tell them in any form. I can’t wait to hear a new story from a friend, read a compelling feature in a magazine or listen to a professional story teller weave a tale.

One of the favorite parts of my job at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is the stories I hear about the incredible things happening in our region. I hear them from donors, advocates and nonprofits and they serve as fuel to keep me inspired around the work at the Foundation.

One thing about good stories is they beg and deserve to be repeated so over the next few weeks I will share some of the stories I have been fortunate to hear from the storyteller’s point of view.

This week, Betty Henderson, Exceptional Entrepreneur Program Leader from Grace Community Center shares a beautiful story about the very committed employees at their innovative program, which provides job training to special needs students by teaching all aspects of worm farming from production to marketing and sales:

“Miss Betty, I’m here!” Tito announces into the phone.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.” I reply.

This is the conversation I have every morning on my way to work. It never fails; the phone call comes usually fifteen minutes before the scheduled arrival time – never late. That is Tito’s motto. He is never late to work. Neither are any of the others.

Some people might think that this workplace is ordinary. It is anything but. It is extraordinary. It is a joyful place to work. It reminds me of that car commercial where the car drives by a spectator and the person says…”What kind of…” without finishing the sentence.

I’ll try to tell you what kind of place this is. It is a place where men and women like Tito show up to work. Some of our employees limp into this place. Others show up every day despite the fact that they cannot communicate verbally or have to arrive in a wheelchair –all while still wearing a smile. They comes to this place broken and hurting and challenged beyond what any of us can truly comprehend and find joy. There is joy in a day filled with hard work – especially for these special needs folks for whom job opportunities are scarce.

Everyone works hard at the worm farm feeding, watering, sifting and packaging worms and worm products. Worm bins have to be sorted and moved so we know which worms need feeding and which worms need to be sifted. Worm castings are packaged, weighed and labeled. Sometimes, the job demands heavy physical labor, and is dirty and occasionally smelly, but no one ever complains.

I had the opportunity to visit these exceptional entrepreneurs and their worm farm as part of the Foundation’s regional road trip to visit some of programs funded by our generous donors. The day of my visit, the only thing Tito and the rest of the employees were more excited about than the worms was the news of their first paychecks and they were more than happy to tell me the story of the worm.

Tell me your story 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 $72 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at

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