The Heights Foundation
The Heights Foundation works to build strong, self-sufficient families in the Harlem Heights neighborhood in Fort Myers, Florida. Our mission is to support education and wellness, promote family and community development, and provide the benefits of enrichment and the arts. The foundation is a grassroots, hands-on organization that celebrates the strength and diversity of the community.
The Foundation was formed in response to a stunning realization during a church outreach in Thanksgiving of 1999. While delivering a simple Thanksgiving dinner, volunteers found a family of eight living in abject poverty and substandard conditions. The parents and their six children, ages 3-10, lived in a rented, concrete block duplex with no hope of change.
The windows were broken out and boarded up. There was no heating or air-conditioning. The kitchen and bathroom plumbing did not work properly, leaking onto the floor. They slept on mats and mattresses on the floor. They tied their groceries in plastic bags and hung the bags from the ceiling fan—because at night rats came out of the attic through gaping holes in the ceiling and roamed the tiny three room duplex. The “yard” where the children played was shared with the renters of the other side of the duplex: drug dealers and prostitutes. They were paying their rent in cash to a neighbor, and it was later discovered that their “landlord” was in jail. Because of cultural, language, and socio-economic barriers, this family had “fallen through the cracks.”
In response to this dire situation, the Heights Foundation was formed in 2000. With seed money from private individuals, the Foundation began developing projects to meet the specific needs of families living in the Heights community. The first project was to purchase an existing home within the neighborhood, which was renovated through efforts of volunteers and donated materials. The family who had struggled for so long with a desperate housing situation was moved into the “House of Hope.”
The years since the formation of the Foundation have seen great improvements in living conditions. Infrastructure improvements and relocation of resources into the community have provided access to needed services. The rebuilding of Heights Elementary provides a safe, engaging place for learning.
Partnership with existing providers is a primary goal of the Foundation. Careful resource management ensures services are not duplicated, and that the Foundation acts as a resource and referral service whenever possible. Still, situations exist where no other resources are available, and the Foundation is a safety net of last resort.