By Sarah Owen, president & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
I grew up in Central Florida, which provided me access to Mickey Mouse, beautiful lakes, fresh oranges on demand and space shuttles.
One of my favorite memories is going to Cape Canaveral for NASA rocket and shuttle launches. I was always amazed that I could witness in person what others could only experience through a media outlet.
Being at the Cape meant you not only saw the launch- you also felt it in every fiber of your body. Of course I didn’t make it to every shuttle launch but the next best thing was watching the countdown on television and hearing the words “we have liftoff” from mission control and then running out the front door and gazing up to see the wonder of the rockets in the sky above.
But nothing beat the rumbling that could be felt on site. It just signaled that something really big was about to happen and it gave you the chance to prepare.
The ground would literally shake under my feet just before the space vessels cleared the launch pad with the greatest force I had ever experienced. I always wished I could grab on to the rocket and go along for the ride.
Over the last year at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I feel as if the ground beneath our feet has been rumbling. No, the Foundation is not hatching a space program but we have been launching or serving as the backbone organization for a number of regional initiatives. One such movement is the FutureMakers Coalition.
Just like any big project there is a great deal of process, preparation and hard work before you ever get to the launching pad. A year ago we invited community partners who had been working alongside us to the kick off rally for the FutureMakers Coalition, a regional effort to transform the Southwest Florida workforce through increasing the number of working age adults with high quality certifications and degrees from 27% to 40% by 2025. In simpler terms we are working together to help Southwest Floridians get ready for college, get in college, get done with college and get connected with a career. Remember college includes our technical institutions as well. At the rally we were rolling this idea out to the launch pad and announcing the strategies that would ignite the engines.
The last 12 months have welcomed over 161 partners to the FutureMakers Coalition who have worked tirelessly to ready us for the next frontier of the initiative- working together across county lines to reach our goal. This commitment to work collectively instead of in silos seemed to intensify the rumbling and we all knew something big was happening.
Together the FutureMakers Coalition made up of partners from education, business, government and philanthropy in five counties has:
– Gathered students from all five counties for a student summit to provide guiding input to the Coalition on what barriers and opportunities exist in obtaining high quality certifications and degrees.
-Partnered with Career Source of Southwest Florida, Lee Memorial Health System, local technical colleges and scholarship donors to create a training and education pipeline to fill an immediate workforce demand that is creating a pathway out of poverty for participants.
-Identified the tracking and benchmarking that will let us know if we are making progress toward our 40% goal- remember the goal represents a strong workforce and careers for our residents and we must know if we are making a difference.
-Examined local scholarship opportunities and put processes in place to track what happens to students who receive funding- are they graduating and moving on to careers?
-Tailored the work of the Coalition to assist in starting, retaining and expanding a significant engine of our regional economy: small businesses
-Enhanced mentoring programs across the region with significant progress in previously underserved communities
-Rapid cycle testing the activities that are already working so we can replicate and scale- we understand that there is no reason to reinvent the wheel or start new programs
– Connected our local partners to national resources for support and expertise through our cohort relationship with Lumina Foundation
-Learned the perception of technical colleges is changing and we are harnessing that momentum to point people to rewarding careers in Southwest Florida
And, we just completed setting regional outcomes that will guide our work together. We are all heading in the same direction while maintaining what works best in each county and program.
In other words we have lift-off.
But there are many more launches in our future, I am already starting to feel the rumbling again. Please visit futuremakerscoalition.com and be part of the journey.
About the SWFL Community Foundation – Celebrating 40 Years of Philanthropy
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.