01 Jun 2020 Together We Can Create a Cone of Certainty
Cone of uncertainty. The term crossed my mind as I watched reports on Tropical Storm Arthur, which flared up before hurricane season even officially began. We’ve grown accustomed to hearing those three worrisome words during our annual hurricane season, which begins this month. As atmospheric forces begin to steer the unpredictable storms our way, we all sit up and take notice when our local meteorologists point out the potential track and impact.
In a very real sense, we’ve all been living in a cone of uncertainty for months. One that changed our lives virtually overnight, it also seeks to predict a forward track and scope-of-impact for a different kind of storm: COVID-19.
During this crisis, our community has rallied around the Southwest Florida Emergency Relief Fund to support the most vulnerable among us as we acknowledge and thank our neighbors who work on the front lines and are essential to our health and well-being. Together, we will overcome these trying times and be able to look back knowing it was our unbreakable community strength and commitment to each other that saw us through.
Reflecting on the COVID-19 cone of uncertainty in which we now find ourselves, I realize we must work together to prevent the current state of anxiety to drive decisions that can have long-term consequences detrimental to both individual lives and our shared futures.
Nowhere is this more important than among families facing decisions about educational futures, whether high school students whose dreams of college have been upended by job losses and financial insecurity at home, or adult learners seeking to earn vital credentials and certifications that will improve their employment prospects and allow them to more fully participate in a thriving Southwest Florida.
With so many families confronting uncertain futures when it comes to pursuing educational opportunities, it strikes me that we need to fashion for Southwest Florida an education cone of certainty. How do we do that? By building upon the life-changing generosity of scholarship donors and extending the impact of dedicated community members who have banded together as the FutureMakers Coalition, which seeks to transform the region’s workforce by increasing the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications and other high-quality credentials to 55%.
The philanthropic infrastructure upon which to build is strong, thanks to passionate donors who have established more than 100 scholarships at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, which awarded nearly $900,000 in scholarships to 135 striving students in the most recent scholarship cycle.
Economists predict the unprecedented economic effects of COVID-19 will linger for an extended period of time. Already, a significant number of students and their families are struggling with uncertain educational futures because of economic hardships, with those in traditionally underrepresented communities disproportionately impacted. In our most recent scholarship cycle, 65% of applicants were eligible for need-based scholarships according to federal guidelines. We anticipate that number will rise among this year’s applicants.
This challenge we face comes on the heels of students with post-secondary education aspirations already facing increased obstacles in achieving a college degree, including rising tuition rates and corresponding financial pressures at home. This has made it more important than ever to look beyond getting students started in college and helping them finish. This is why multi-year scholarships, an increasing need throughout the region, have become so important.
In addition to supporting traditional-age college students with scholarships, the community powered FutureMakers Coalition represents a broad collaborative effort among the business sector, educational institutions, local government, and philanthropic and nonprofit organizations. The ongoing initiative also includes numerous student-focused events such as the annual Student Summit and DREAM Summit, which help us more fully understand the needs of today’s students and encourage and motivate our most at-risk youth to pursue their post-secondary goals.
Access to education not only elevates lives as it fosters a more equitable Southwest Florida, it also is essential to strengthening and sustaining our economic future through workforce development.
I’ve always been humbled and grateful for the way our community has come together during difficult times. We’ve stood strong, rallied around important causes and efforts, and steadfastly refused to let the challenges of a present moment dictate the course of our future. And that’s a cone of certainty I find reassuring.
I look forward to the time we can all be together again. Until then, if you’d like more information on how you can preserve a local student’s educational dream and help secure the promise of a prosperous community for all, please call us at 239-274-5900, or visit us at www.floridacommunity.com and www.futuremakerscoalition.com.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
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 $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 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. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com