The Heights Foundation is a grassroots organization that works to build strong, self-sufficient families in the Harlem Heights neighborhood of Fort Myers. They provide education, opportunity and enrichment to kids and adults in Harlem Heights.
Social services including:
- A supportive after school program for more than 100 children
- Enriching summer camp for more than 100 children
- The Harlem Heights Community Charter School
- MusicWorks!, a daily instrumental music education initiative that promotes positive social change through music
- Family Advocacy including direct financial assistance, counseling sessions and resources and referral
- Outreach programs providing Thanksgiving groceries for 300 Harlem Heights families, and Christmas gifts to bring joy to more than 800 children from Harlem Heights
- Lifetime Learning programs including English classes, GED classes, computer lab access, financial literacy courses, culinary training and SWFL Youth Connections
- Arts and Enrichment including Pilates classes, senior fitness classes, youth sports and a youth chorus, totaling more than 10,000 service hours
- The Heights Center is proud to serve as the lead agency for the Harlem Heights United Way House. Programs that are available to residents include Goodwill JobLink, Senior Friendship Centers, Area Agency on Aging access, Amigos Center and VITA tax return services.
What do you think makes Lee County a special place to do business?
Lee County is a special place for organizations like ours because of the generous support of residents. The Heights Foundation is grateful for the support of our neighbors, who believe as we do that kids growing up in Harlem Heights should have the same opportunities as the children growing up in neighboring communities. We believe children can learn strong character and integrity, despite the circumstances of their lives. We believe every child has a purpose, and want to find the gift in each of them. The guidance and financial support of these neighbors has allowed The Heights Foundation to flourish.
We are also grateful for the support of Lee County Human Services who have supported us in multi-year grants including Partnering for Results.
Why did you choose to start a business (non-profit) in Lee County?
I grew up one mile from Harlem Heights, driving past the neighborhood routinely, never giving extra thought to the families who lived there.
But that changed in 1999, when I delivered food baskets to households in the neighborhood with members of my church, Westminster Presbyterian.
I met one family in particular living in squalor. Rats infested their home and six children slept on mats spread out on the damp, concrete floor. I suddenly felt embarrassed that I had spent so many years naïve to the condition of households in my own backyard.
It was a day—and family—I never forgot, and it’s what led me and a team of dedicated individuals to create The Heights Foundation, The Heights Center and now The Harlem Heights Community Charter School.
Who is your target market/audience?
Residents of the Harlem Heights neighborhood.
What are your favorite parts of living in Lee County?
My family has been part of Lee County for more than 100 years – moving “north” from Key West. I grew up regaled with stories about the building of Tamiami Trail, the paving of McGregor Boulevard, the planting of the Royal Palm trees, clear water in the Caloosahatchee and mangroves teeming with Snapper, Snook and Sheepshead.
All of those stories formed my feelings about Fort Myers, and now I have stories of my own.
My favorite parts include:
- The back bays and the Gulf of Mexico, the amazing fish (even though we now have to go 30 miles offshore to find them)
- The beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the water
- Our wonderful downtown has come back to life, similar to when I was a child
- My heritage here and my extended family; seven generations of Kellys have called Southwest Florida home.
- Fabulous friendships cemented over significant causes.
What is your perfect 24 hours in Lee County? What would you do?
Watching the sunrise as we head offshore for a day of scuba diving and spearfishing. Slick, calm water, beautiful ledges, and wrecks to dive on. A stringer full of speared fish and no sharks around. Making ceviche on the boat, a beer on the way home and cleaning all the fish before the no see ums come out. Friends over for dinner, baked whole snapper with Mango salsa, black bean cakes and good wine. Homemade Key Lime pie (my grandmother’s recipe from Key West), ends a perfect day with friends and family in Lee County.
In your opinion, what makes Lee County’s business community special?
I love that many businesses in Lee County have rallied around specific causes, allowing their employees to donate time and talent. Surviving the recession makes us realize what is most important, and how each one of us can do something to help someone.
What is the biggest benefit to locating your business (non-profit) here?
Southwest Florida is paradise. We have a generous community of businesses and individuals who support our neighbors who are less fortunate.
What is the most exciting thing you see happening in your industry?
Intentional and specific efforts of non-profits to meet niche needs of the poor and under-served. Plus a willingness of donors to support organizations that truly make an impact.
Why do you stay in Lee County?
I live in paradise. Why would I leave?