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Previously published by The News-Press

"We have an ideal ecological balance of opportunity-meets-need."

"Giving enriches you, but only if you follow your heart."

Giving from the heart is priceless

Published in The News-Press on 2/23/14


A few weeks ago, it was reported that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, were the most generous personal philanthropists in America last year.


They gave 18 million shares of Facebook stock valued at over $970 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.


If I could whistle, I would be whistling. For many of us, that kind of wealth and ability to give is unfathomable.


But right here in Southwest Florida, during our height of season, we have some of our own mind-boggling donors. More than $13 million was raised a month ago at the Naples Winter Wine Festival for children in Collier County. It’s the most successful such event in the nation, says Wine Spectator, featuring glamorous auction items like a one-of-kind Rolls-Royce that fetched $750,000.


No. 8 on Wine Spectator’s list of top events is the newer SWFL Wine and Food Fest, which wrapped its big auction last night at Miromar Lakes. It’s become the largest fund-raiser in Lee County, raising more than $8.9 million in five years—this year’s primary beneficiary is the Golisano Children’s Hospital.


At the glitzy FGCU President’s Celebration Feb. 1, President Wilson Bradshaw announced a $2 million gift from visionary developer David Lucas for a faculty development center.


And a vibrant Magic Johnson brought star power to town Feb. 12, highlight the vital services of the Quality Life Center in the heart of Fort Myers, donating $100,000 and urging others to give back.We have a dichotomy in Southwest Florida.


Many of us are here because we choose to be here in paradise, and have the wherewithal to enjoy its riches. Yet the needs also are great, from a vast majority of our school children on subsidized or reduced lunches in both Lee and Collier counties to 14.5 percent of households in Lee County living below the poverty rate. So we actually have an ideal ecological balance of opportunity-meets-need.


If you check out The News-Press calendar online, the most comprehensive in the region, you’ll find 2281 events over 30 days. From Alva to Marco Island, that’s 76 options per day to engage, entice and educate. Of those, 128 were categorized as causes and fund-raisers.


As part of The News-Press’ ongoing content enhancements, we started the Causes section a year ago in print and online, and added the “good news” feature last fall. Both are among our most popular “passion” topics.


There are so many in the community who give of their time and talent, tirelessly, quietly, fervently. They are the backbone of the community engine.


But at the end of the day, money fuels the engine. I was honored to give out two Gannett Foundation checks recently, to the Harry Chapin Food Bank for a new mobile pantry, and to the Golisano Children’s Hospital for an interactive play screen. Over five years, we’ve given out over $400,000 to local non-profits. The deadline for this round is Friday.


Giving enriches you, but only if you follow your heart.


Both my husband, Randy, and I were recipients of charitable organizations and individuals—he as one of 10 children on a tenant farm in Missouri; me as an immigrant in Chicago. So we’re personally driven to lend a hand, especially to youngsters. If you touch a life, you can change the world.


Sometimes, the needs seem overwhelming, and everyone wants a few dollars. That’s why United Way is such an excellent community safety net as a single gift supports 70 local agencies. 


Sometimes, we may think our few dollars won’t make a difference. But just think of the millions the Salvation Army raises through pennies, nickels and dimes at a time. After News-Press columnist Amy Bennett Williams told the tale of Randy Ray, battling cancer and about to be evicted from his trailer, $1000 came in from the Peace Community Church, and neighbors over-paid for knickknacks at his garage sale to help him out.


The PACE Center for Girls held its hard-hat party Tuesday at the new Gail Markham building: $1.6 million has been raised and $203,000 is needed. The evening sparked over $60,000, ranging from $50 to $20,000.


Dollars and cents make a difference.


In my home community, we held our Grandezza Gives Back event Feb. 9 and raised over $8,500 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This annual tennis-plus bash was sparked by tennis pal Rich DeSousa in 2010 after he read of Cape Coral soldier Corey Kent losing his legs while on patrol in Afghanistan. Rich was driven to give back to this young man, who had given of himself for this nation. Rich’s passion resulted in $23,000 for Corey, and over $100,000 since for other worthy causes.


OK, we’re not Mark Zuckerberg. But consider this: he has about 443 million Facebook shares. That means he gave away a modest 4 percent last year.


Give from the heart. That is priceless. 

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