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From the Editor: The Making of a Leader, by George

David SendlerYou call this logic? imagine what the perfect credentials should be for running a regional philanthropic organization. And then consider this about Mary George, current acting CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County: studied food and nutrition at Ohio State University. Worked as a dietitian’s aide. Got a degree in fine arts at the University of South Florida. Taught art at a museum in Boston. Was education director at the Orlando Science Center and the Collier Automotive Museum.

Maybe it’s not so by-the-book, but here she is after 16 years as a formidable force at the community foundation. She allows that the art training, at least, might have been helpful in seeing the big picture of things. But really this seems more about proving that what’s in your heart can count more than what’s on your resume. Her career surely parallels the surge of the philanthropy movement in Southwest Florida. (For the story of another foundation’s CEO, see p. 48.)

Kids, kids, kids

Significantly, Mary’s first job at the foundation was as a program officer to provide money for early childhood education. And when you ask her for the most moving moments she’s had over the years, she cites a first-ever shopping trip—through a foundation initiative—for 12 young girls from less fortunate families. “They were so thrilled,” Mary recalls. “They’d never had such an experience.” And she remembers supporting a program for getting high school degrees for pregnant teens. “What a big difference a small grant can make in a girl’s life,” Mary says. “I struggled growing up in a community in Columbus, Ohio, where kids didn’t go on to college and this is why I’m so passionate about kids and education.”

Currently hot

Mary’s held just about every job at the foundation (including seven years as CEO) and has seen its assets rise from $5 million to $65 million since she arrived. The secret is innovative thinking about needs (and, of course, raising the dollars)—and Mary’s very excited about some of the newer initiatives. Collier 211, a 24-hour phone service begun in May 2011, is one. It handles 3,000 calls a year—responding to needs for food, childcare, information on rentals, utilities, job possibilities and more. It directs people to appropriate sources for help. And, as for the dollars, the program’s funded for the next three years.

Moving on ahead, says Mary, “partnering can make a huge difference.” The foundation, for example, is collaborating with J.P. Morgan on its housing rehab program. And Mary is a believer in working with government. On an Immokalee initiative directed by the foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture collected data and helped the Initiative target the problems and work to solve them.

Her Heroes

Mary credits Dottie Gerrity, a onetime chair of the board, with “putting the community foundation on the map. She is a true philanthropist. She does it all from the heart. She’s so eloquent.” Mary also thanks a Minneapolis businessman who patented scaffolding. Heine Albrecht and his wife, Betty, fell in love with Southwest Florida and helped found many early nonprofit organizations here. In his quiet, low-key way, he got things going, immersed himself in a number of worthy causes and emerged as a strong role model for community service.

Fun time

Mary’s time at Collier Automotive might not have been perfect for career-path purposes, but that’s where she met her husband. Scott George, president and curator of the private collection since 1988, is as obsessed about his work as Mary is about hers. He takes the collection’s cars all over the world, and Mary is thrilled to join him for the jaunts to Pebble Beach, Paris, Amsterdam and other wonderful spots. “It’s such a joy,” she says, “and we’ve made friends everywhere we go.” But Mary’s dedication to the foundation is never far away. You’ll often find her, after a hard day’s work, up at midnight reading publications from maybe a dozen other groups, trolling for leads and synthesizing her findings for the board. Mary’s passion has never respected the time clock and never will.

In the July story “6 Who Can Change Your Life,” a sentence about Tom Moran and Bob Edwards should have read: “They can tell you how their funds beat 10-year LIBOR averages.” That same story should have said that golf instructor Jim Suttie runs his training academy out of the TwinEagles Golf Club.

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