Teeth seem to be in short supply these days. No, I’m not suggesting that our nation’s dental profession has been failing us, it’s just that our collective incisors and bicuspids don’t seem to be on display as much. And I miss everyone’s smiles.
Of course, I get it. Our lives seem to be upside down, making it harder for us to flip-flop our frowns into an upright position. If only there were more social distancing between the upper lip and the lower lip so everyone’s teeth could shine again.
Pop culture loves smiles. In fact, musical theatre lovers know “you’re never fully dressed without a smile.” And can’t you just hear Dolly Parton saying, “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.”
Still, I read a quote recently from beloved comedian Phyllis Diller that really resonated with me. “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
The irony being that her husband’s name was Fang.
I have managed to smile every day since the Coronavirus crisis began. To begin, I have maintained a proper perspective—my family is healthy, we have food and shelter, we are all working, and we’re safe. The basics are covered, so the rest pales by comparison.
My smiles haven’t come from Marco, Naples, Goodland, or Isles of Capri. Instead, they have come from a community situated 40 miles northwest of my home in Verona Walk.
I smile for Immokalee.
We hear quite a bit about Immokalee in the news, however, ask around, and most Southwest Floridians have never been there. And no, going to the Casino does not count.
It’s not breaking news that many people in Immokalee live below the poverty line. That basic human needs are sometimes difficult to come by. That the lifestyles we take for granted in Naples and Marco seem unattainable to an Immokalean.
Even so, Immokalee is a proud community—one that celebrates family, friendship, culture, and tradition. And as their primary industry is agriculture, the working people of Immokalee, quite literally, feed Southwest Florida—and human decency demands that we “feed” them in return.
In December 2019, I began working with The Immokalee Foundation (#Lifechanging).
Founded in 1991, the Immokalee Foundation and its supporters are empowering children and young adults to change the course of their lives. Their students come from situations where English may not be their first language, where just getting through high school is considered a high achievement, and where a college degree and career are mere dreams.
The Immokalee Foundation boldly states, “We’re in the business of helping make those dreams come true.”
One hundred percent of the foundation’s work is focused on education and professional development and its students run the gamut from kindergarten to post-secondary. And all of this is made possible by the very cornerstone of Collier County—passionate donors, mentors, and volunteers.
I’m a tad embarrassed that it took me 57 years to understand the vast power of philanthropy and putting other’s needs first. With my kids, it’s not the same. They may be 29 and 31, but I’m their father, and caring for them will always be my job.
Sure, I’ve donated my time and written checks, but until I immersed myself into the non-profit world, I never knew this specific kind of fulfillment—and joy.
When my words helped provide a laptop to a student who otherwise couldn’t attend class, that was joy. When a major local publication ran a piece penned by one of my mentees, that was joy. When my outreach resulted in a donation large enough to fund several lifechanging education-themed events, that was joy. And when I saw the foundation’s team embrace technology and remain “virtually open” despite widespread area closures, that was joy—and AWE.
So, if the news becomes too much to bear, and fear is perilously close to taking over, please think of Immokalee and me. Throughout this epidemic, because of a resilient community and a matchless Foundation, I have experienced joy… Every. Single, Day.
You can too.