By: Butch Swank
Not everyone will like hearing this, but I am okay with that. Sometimes a person can go their entire life with a glaring but easy to solve problem that everyone in their life sees. It is obvious. However, no one ever mentions this glaring problem because “everyone” seems to think someone else should say it, or even worse, they don’t want to hurt feelings. So, instead of having this burden lifted because someone sat them down and said: “Look, this thing you do is hurting you. You can’t see it, but everyone else can. Let’s talk about it and see what can be done.” Hard conversations are, by definition, hard to have. You are uncomfortable leading up to it, it’s painful when it’s happening, but something remarkable happens afterward. It’s all out there now! Whatever this dirty secret, terrible habit, or unsavory behavior was, it’s out there and can be talked about in the open. That means you embraced the hard part first, so you can now begin the good part, which is the solution. Life is hard. Why make it harder by ignoring obvious problems?
Everyone struggles at first when we try something new. We’ve all seen a pro golfer or baseball player swing, and it looks so amazingly easy, right? We never pay any thought to what their very first swings looked like. Listen, they were awful! Truly. Even the most gifted athletes must start somewhere. Another saying comes to mind: The master was once a fool. To me, that means the master knew early on there is no progress without struggle, pain, and discomfort. Comfort and inaction get you nowhere. However, embracing discomfort and struggle can lead to remarkable improvement. You just have to get started.
Why do I say all of this? I say it because it’s become clear to me that all of the communities surrounding Lehigh Acres and East Lee have had fierce advocates for years and years. We currently have a few but need many more. I ask everyone reading this to please consider how or what you can do to help become an advocate. Tiny bits of help in large numbers can become an unstoppable force. After all, there are over 130,000 of us now! Nobody wants to face something focused and relentless. Nobody.
Here’s a concrete example of what I mean. As of last fall, the Lee County School District was slated to begin construction on a $90 million school in Estero. Let me share a fascinating statistic. The School District has a tool they use to measure how many students per 100 households the different communities of Lee County produce. Guess how many kids per 100 households Estero produces. What did you guess? 50? 25? 60? Well, the actual number is 7.
This number I share next deserves its very own paragraph. Guess how many kids Lehigh Acres produces. Also, keep in mind we have 1,991 kids in portables out here. Ok, the big reveal is that we produce 71 kids per 100 households. Now ask yourself: How on God’s green Earth can Estero get a brand new $90 million school when we in East Lee must fight even to get our portables patched up?
The answer is simple: Advocacy. Estero does a much better job representing themselves on the other side of I-75 than we do. It really is that simple. So, I come back to my earlier point about the person struggling through life with a fixable problem while no one that cares about him will take the time to point it out to him. It’s fixable, but nobody says a word. We are all that unfortunate dude’s friends and family in this scenario. In general, Lehigh Acres and East Lee have too many Dollar Generals, auto parts stores, and not enough restaurants and fun things to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stay in town to go on a date night? How about taking the kids or grandkids right down the street to HeadPinz? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a whole range of major retailers right here? Also, we don’t have enough job opportunities here for our teenagers or adults. A slew of new businesses here would mean more job opportunities and more things for us to collectively do. Not to belabor the point, but that would also mean way less driving back and forth, which means we’d all have to spend less on gas and tires.
By our own inaction, we deny ourselves this positive change. That needs to end. I ask that you find out how to contact our county commissioners and give them hell. Call them, email them, or even better, schedule an in-person meeting so they can listen to your concerns face to face. If you don’t like the fact that our Lehigh schools are overcrowded and understaffed, contact the School District and give them hell, too. It’s well past the time for action. I know making that first contact will make you feel like the fool I spoke of earlier. Trust me, after a few interactions, your game will get better. One more point, be insistent but always polite! Our outreach to these officials is literally something new to them. We have not advocated for ourselves, and these officials are human, just like us. They simply cannot fix problems they know nothing about. So, let’s act in good faith and let them all know how we feel.
Now listen, we won’t all become masters, but that is not the point – the point is that we become the masters of our own community instead of others making the decisions without us. If a good portion of our fellow 130,000 took a tiny bit of time and started fighting to advocate for the things WE want and need, our entire community would change so much for the better. Your voice counts! Stop being silent and wishing for better. Start taking control of what happens in your neighborhood, and you will be amazed at how quickly the positive change we all want becomes a reality.