By D. K. Christi

Planning for forever got a kickstart at the inaugural celebration to mark the founding of the Estero Forever Foundation. The February event at the Club at Grandezza astonishingly raised $113,000 in donations to support the fledgling foundation that is based on a vision of what Estero residents want for the future of this community.

Founders Club members Nick Batos and Bettie and Jim Gilmartin at the celebration_photo by David MichaelContributors share a vision that includes open green spaces, walking and biking trails connecting parks, a performing arts center with a theater and further enrichment and entertainment opportunities.

“It was great to be able, in our inaugural event, to get residents of the Village of Estero to commit to an idea – a concept – with no current project on the table seeking funds,” said foundation Chair Nolen Rollins.  “People are committed to making it a better place to live.” 

Rollins said it is always easier to mobilize funds for a specific project like a performing arts center – something people can see.  Yet the event illustrated the enthusiasm and passion to move forward. The foundation has borrowed from previous amenity surveys conducted by the Village of Estero and the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) to set sights on a few projects with great community interest.

“I think this is a great idea,” said Stoneybrook resident Theresa Long.  “I am interested in health activities.  Maybe they can put in a spa – anything associated with health.”

Founders Club members Billy Dean and Dawn Birch perform at the inaugural celebration_photo by David MichaelExisting theatre, opera and ballet companies have provided input about needing a home for their performances in Estero. One of the challenges facing the new foundation is setting up a database of partners and supporters. Engagement from passionate community members is essential to the success of the Estero Forever Foundation.

“Currently our startup database has 150 entries, and I hope more organizations and enthused residents sign in online to receive the monthly electronic newsletter,” said Rollins.

He believes his best contributions to the board as chairman are networking, team building and enlisting good leaders to grow the organization. The foundation already works closely with the Village of Estero, the ECCL and the Estero Chamber of Commerce. Financial management of the funds is through the Southwest Florida Foundation, experienced fund managers for many local organizations.

One benefit for foundation donors is they may designate their financial support to a particular idea if they wish – even if it is not yet on the table. If the donor’s passion is green space, they may target the donation so it will be ready when that project starts, including any interest earned over the development time.  A donor may even target a special interest that no one has yet mentioned. Targeted donations provide a sounding board to help measure community interest in particular amenities.Foundation Chair Nolen Rollins speaks at the inaugural celebration_photo by David Michael

In addition to Rollins, current board members include Barry Freedman, Joni Pavich and George Zalucki. The vision of the Estero Forever Foundation is the continual development of a community that embraces its historic heritage, protects the environment and builds strong neighborhoods. The stated mission is “to mobilize financial resources for the fulfillment of our vision by encouraging and facilitating generosity.”

In their initial meetings, foundation members set core values and priorities to begin their work. Core values include legacy – the belief that everyone should leave a legacy of impact for those who follow; generosity – the belief in giving back to the community; excellence – the belief the community should be the best place to live, work, worship, play and visit; and collaboration – that all entities within the community (residents, civic, business and non-profits) should work together to achieve the mission.

When planning to meet needs forever, starting with priorities provides initial focus. Based on previous surveys, those priorities include art and cultural centers, environmental preservation, green spaces, historic heritage, parks, recreational facilities and fields, trails and land that meets the priority needs. Funding and community desires will shape the scope as the foundation evolves.

Originally founded on the idea that the community desires low taxes and a vibrant lifestyle, the foundation seeks to fund amenities that benefit all residents and contribute to preserving the village’s unique character and environmental assets. A short video on the foundation’s website provides a synopsis of the Estero Forever Foundation history through the eyes of community leaders, business people and residents. Watch the video and learn more about how to get involved at

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