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Peter Simmons Is Named Development Director of Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation


Peter Simmons, Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation Development Director

Bonita Springs, FL – May 14, 2018 –  The Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation announced today that Peter Simmons has been named Development Director.

“We are thrilled that Peter has joined the Foundation’s team to increase our capacity to serve Southwest Florida and the state of Florida while helping us build upon and increase our development and outreach, which we have worked on diligently since 2011,” says CEO Brenda Tate.

Peter understands the complexities of different organizations, project development, raising capital, staff management and working successfully with others to make a project come together. Over the past 20 years, Peter has raised millions of dollars for non-profits and political causes.

Peter was elected to the Bonita Springs City Council in 2012, and elected Mayor in 2016. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Florida League of Mayors and is a member of the United States Conference of Mayors.

In September 2018, he appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, FOX, CNN, CNBC and was quoted in The New York Times and The Miami Herald, providing ground coverage of Hurricane Irma.

He was a Division 1 athlete on the University of New Hampshire crew team and is an “honorary deputy” with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. He is a native of the New Hampshire Seacoast, and lives with his wife, SueZahn, and two children, Elizabeth and Peter, in Bonita Springs.

“We are long-time supporters of the outstanding work of the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation”, says Tommye Fleming and Patrick Arnall. “Peter will play a central role in helping the Foundation increase its endowment to $5 million by 2020, along with securing grants and donations to underwrite the expansion of programs such as Earn to Learn FL and Business Building Blocks (B3) for Women.”

For additional information, contact:  Brenda Tate at (239) 908-0301 or


Florida Almost Flunks When it Comes to Working Women


I recently heard one of the most inspiring speeches in my life about the future of women business owners and entrepreneurs in this country. Jennifer Hyman, creator of the multi-million dollar company, Rent the Runway, shared her amazing entrepreneurial story, as well as some personal issues about sexual harassment she endured along the way to building her fashion leasing empire. She was bright, bold and brave and let none of this stand in her way. She’s changing the world for young women, one dress and one initiative at a time. I got goose bumps. For the first time in my 40-plus year career, I thought things are really changing for women.

The very next day my heart sank when Brenda Tate, CEO of the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation shared a new report on “The Status of Women in Florida by County: Employment & Earnings,” which gave our state a grade of D+, down from a C- in 2002, and a ranking of 38th in the country when it comes to women’s earnings compared to men.

The report was commissioned by the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance (FWFA) and produced by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). While the full report can be found at, here are a few highlights, based on 2016 data, on where Florida and the Southwest Florida region rank in terms of employment and wages:

  • In Florida and all states, women working full-time, year-round earn less than men. Median annual earnings for women in Florida are $35,000, compared with $40,000 for men.
  •  Florida women’s earnings vary by race and ethnicity, ranging from a high of $40,505 for White women who work full-time, year-round to a low of $29,878 for Hispanic women, just 59 percent of what White men earn annually ($50,631).
  • Florida has one of the smallest shares of women in the labor force in the country, 53.7 percent, earning the state a ranking of 48th. Among Florida women, those who identify as multiracial or of another race are most likely to be in the labor force, followed by Black women. Native American and White women have the lowest labor force participation rates.
  • In Southwest Florida, it’s a mixed bag with women in Lee and Collier Counties earning a median annual income of slightly above the state average of $35,000 (Lee $35,390 and Collier $35,056). Charlotte is below at $32,537, and the women of Glades earn almost $10,000 less ($25,354) than the state average.
  • The share of women in the Florida labor force went down from 2002 (55.7 %) to 2016 (53.7%). Here in SWFL, it’s even worse with Lee County at 49.10 %, Collier County at 47.80 %, Charlotte County 40.90 %, and Glades 36.30 % – all below the state average. Only Hendry County at 53.30% is near the state average of women in the labor force.

So, what’s up with Florida? While the report outlines a number of policy initiatives that the state could take that would enhance opportunities and wages for women, there may be an easier way.
Maybe Florida businesses and policymakers should simply take a look at the success of Jennifer Hyman and Rent the Runway as a role model. The company has 1,100 employees and 70 percent are women. It has raised more than $190 million in venture capital and now boasts six million overwhelmingly female members who have access to 450 designer brands to rent. Someone’s sure betting on women entrepreneurs, workers and consumers!!


Respectfully submitted by:
Carolyn Tieger
Principal, Tieger Public Affairs LLC
Advisor, Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation


Southwest Florida Women’s Fund Receives $50,000 Impact Grant to Support Higher Education and Financial Literacy for Florida Women


March 26, 2018 – (Bonita Springs, Florida)-  The Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation which was leveraged into $200,000 through matches to support the Earn to Learn Florida Program, an initiative of the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation. Earn to Learn Florida helps low to moderate income students pursue higher education with little or no student debt. It’s a simple formula that combines student savings with financial aid, required financial literacy training and success coaching.

“Our research shows that fewer than 1 in 5 women over age 25 in Southwest Florida have earned a Bachelor’s Degree,” says Brenda Tate, Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation CEO. “That’s why we took action to develop and implement Earn to Learn Florida.”

Last year the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation helped over 42 low-to-moderate income students, like Yuzellie Garcia, save for their education by matching their savings of $500 at an 8:1 ratio. This created a grant of $4,000 for each student to leverage their $500 investment in themselves. The funds are dispersed directly to their college or university to pay for tuition, books, fees and other related expenses. This helps students graduate with little to no student loan debt. Armed with the knowledge gained from the required Financial Literacy Training Program, students graduate ready for success and empowered to improve their economic mobility.

The use of Earn to Learn Florida accounts, in conjunction with success coaching, has been proven as a way to help individuals and families develop productive financial behaviors that increase the likelihood of finishing college with a degree and less debt, as well as be better prepared for post-college careers.

“Earn to Learn FL has empowered and motivated me to become a successful woman in my community and has motivated me to empower other women who do not think it is possible for them to succeed,” says Earn to Learn FL student Yuzellie Garcia.

“When the Southwest Florida Community Foundation learned that our community impact funding could be matched essentially 3 times through this innovative program helping local women through education, we knew that we had to be part,” said Sarah Owen, president & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “We believe that by funding together, our region and programs like this will be stronger and more effective.”

Improving the status of women in Florida requires enhanced educational opportunities, investments in women’s entrepreneurship and steps to narrow the gender wage gap to elevate Southwest Florida women and girls; Visit  to learn more. Social connect at  To inquire email

About the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation

The Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation, serving Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, and Glades counties, is the only non-profit in Southwest Florida focused exclusively on women and girls and was the first to publish academic research assessing the status of women in the area. The Women’s Foundation elevates women and girls by investing in programs that educate, boost security and entrepreneurship, and advocate from a woman’s perspective. For more information, visit email Follow the Women’s Foundation online at and on

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit

For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit


Meet Carleen – How We’re Fostering Entrepreneurship in Southwest Florida

meet carleen - how we're fostering entrepreneurship in southwest florida

Investing in programs that boost entrepreneurship in Southwest Florida is one of our key priorities. Our B3 for Women and Kiva U.S loans programs work to eliminate the barriers to economic and social equality by helping local women entrepreneurs access interest-free capital and entrepreneurial resources. To celebrate Women’s History Month we’re highlighting some of our past program participants and celebrating the work they’re doing to shape Southwest Florida’s business landscape.

Meet Carleen

Carleen is one of our Kiva U.S Loans program participants. She started her business, Imagine Wellness Spa with a $5,000 Kiva loan, which she repaid, and used to establish herself in Southwest Florida. Carleen repaid her initial loan and returned for a second round of funding. Raising a $10,000 interest-free loan to expand her business.

We sat down with Carleen for a brief interview to hear her entrepreneurship story and her advice for emerging entrepreneurs.

Tell us about your business?
Imagine By Carleen is about helping people find and enhance their “best beautiful self”. The Imagine Wellness Spa is my main outlet for this vision right now. As a Wellness Spa, I combine my skills as an Esthetician and wellness advocate along with skills of like-minded professionals, including massage therapy, esthetics, wellness coaching, to provide a single spa-like experience for people to get on the path to their “best beautiful self”. My business model includes a mentorship program to build up the professionals that share my space as independent business owners, helping them also find and enhance their own “best beautiful self” through realizing their full potential as a practitioner and business owner.

How did you start your business?
I started in CT as a makeup artist while seeking new employment in my corporate career during the economic downturn. What started as a small little side gig grew legs and ultimately became what it is now.

What role did the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation play at the beginning of your business?
When I moved to Florida with the idea of rolling my part-time business out to a full-time career I began in a small rental location. I was introduced to the Women’s Foundation as a resource to support me to grow my business through the Kiva loan process. I knew some funding would be helpful but really didn’t think I would qualify through traditional methods since my business was so small and new. The interest-free loan I received was just what I needed to get started!

Tell us about the process of growing your business (Big lessons, challenges, etc.)
The Kiva loan allowed me to move my business to a larger location with better access for clients. I was then challenged with finding practitioners to share the space and managing the growth and cash flow. I drew upon my former corporate background to build operating procedures, business plans and goals. I learned that I needed to think like a CEO, not an Esthetician and focus on all of the parts of my business, hiring help where needed in accounting, marketing, front desk staff, etc. Each step felt monumental and sometimes scary! But, as I looked down Cape Coral Pkwy, I knew if all of those other businesses could do it, surely I could…and I prayed!

“I think the single most lesson I learned is that this was my
calling and when I let God lead me it worked. When I tried to do things without Devine
guidance, they didn’t work out so well.”

What do you think it’s the biggest reason for your success?
First I give all the glory to God. Secondly, I treat the clients individually as each one is the most important part of my day and work hard to be very present with each one and serve them the best way I can. Thirdly, I work with the practitioners that share my space as a mentor and share everything I learn with them.

Do you consider yourself a leader? How do you define leadership?

Yes, I am a leader. Leadership is empowering others to be strong in their purpose and humble in their execution of it.

What has been an obstacle you’ve faced, that has made you stronger?

When faced with outgrowing my second location the best business decision was to purchase the next location. I had no means for a down payment but I pursued the opportunity anyway and through my faith I was able to secure an SBA loan with owner financing for the down payment. Owning this property has enabled me to grow stronger as a business owner and also as a woman responsible for my own destiny. As a result, my business continues to flourish.

What are your goals for this year?

My goals for this year include a new license in permanent makeup, which I just accomplished. To grow the team of practitioners so I can step away from my business more often and achieve some balance in my personal life. To increase the revenue in my business by a minimum of 20% and increase profitability by a minimum of 36%.

What advice would you give to women who are just starting their business?

Don’t underestimate your goals, your dreams, or your ability to accomplish them. This is a huge challenge for women to overcome so seek help in putting these things together, a mentor or accountability coach. You can start a business with little capital, but in order to sustain it, you need to grow and in order to grow it, you will ultimately need some funding.
This is where seeking the right kind of support comes in handy.

As women we are used to doing everything ourselves, try not to get yourself caught in that kind of thinking.

The day only has 24 hours, what tips and tools do you use to stay productive?
First things first. Determine and plan the most important things to do each day, always including self-care in that list (quiet time, working out, etc).

What projects are you working on right now?
Long term project for the year: Documenting all of my protocols, procedures, contracts, business reviews and things I have put in place to run my Space Sharing business model successfully for the spa. I plan to offer a program for others in the industry to license my model.

Short term I am moving to a larger room to a accommodate my new services I am offering personally, and redecorating some areas of the spa for more productivity and an enhanced environment.

How do you balance your business and your private life?
The last five years have been not as balanced as I would like since so much energy goes into growing and building a business. I do keep Sundays sacred for my family and we have date nights and small vacations where possible. This year I am seeing more opportunities for more balance and I am excited about that!

Tell us about one person who has defined your professional life?
I had a Senior Manager way back when I worked for Comcast who was an amazing mentor. He believed in me and my passion for leading people and empowered me to grow. I try to do this for all who work in my space or come to me for professional advice. The road to success is not easy, there will always be many challenges along the way. It’s how you respond to those challenges that ultimately matter.

Your favorite book –
For a long time it was The Prophet by Khalil Gibran but now I spend the most time with my Bible.

Your favorite song –
Edge of Seventeen -Stevie Nicks

What gives you the most joy in life?
My adult daughters and my animals (fur babies) and my husband

How can people learn more about your business? or just give me a call at 239-471-7029

Are you an emerging female entrepreneur in need of clarity when it comes to marketing and growing your business? Join our free online course for entrepreneurs and get the tools you need to grow your business. You can get started today!


Partnership of Women’s Foundations Invests $58.4 Million Over Two Years to Create Pathways to Economic Security for Women and Their Families in America

Partnership of Women’s Foundations Invests $58.4 Million Over Two Years to Create Pathways to Economic Security for Women and Their Families in America

Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation and Partners to Share Impact

During Women’s History Month in March

Naples Florida – To Kick-off Women’s History Month 2018, today the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation joins members of Prosperity Together, a nonpartisan partnership of 32 public U.S. women’s foundations located in 26 states and Washington, D.C., to announce Year 2 (2017) results of its collective five-year, $100 million funding commitment to ensure economic security for low-income women and their families across the country. During Women’s History Month in March, the partnership will leverage social media channels (Twitter, Facebook) each week to share successes and engage the public at #ProsperityTogether.

In Year One (2016), Prosperity Together partners invested a collective $29,170,427. In Year Two (2017), partners invested $29,251,072 for a total of $58,421,499 — 58% of its five-year, $100 million commitment in just two years. The Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation invested over $200,000 towards it’s local $500,000 goal. Collectively last year, partners supported 1,022 nonprofit organizations and impacted over 137,153 women and girls across 26 states and Washington, D.C.   Access the Year Two Impact Report, here.

To achieve economic security for all women, Prosperity Together partners employ a broad, inclusive approach to grantmaking. In 2017, 90% of partners supported workforce development; 81% leadership development and community mobilization; 74% financial literacy and asset building; 74% research; and 74% education.

In 2017, Prosperity Together partners targeted their grantmaking to support programs in many areas:

  • Job Training: Programs that are customized to address the cultural and educational needs of low-income women to secure a higher-wage job in a stable work environment.
  • Two-Generation Programs: Programs that assist parents seeking education, job training, or employment while concurrently placing their children in high-quality education.
  • Asset Building & Financial Literacy: Programs that help women develop and keep wealth.
  • Childcare Access & Quality: Programs that create access for low-income women to culturally appropriate, affordable, high-quality childcare so they can be successful in the workplace and their children can have a strong academic start in life.
  • Research: State and national research to inform best practices and policies that increase economic security for low-income women, build awareness of community-specific issues, and mobilize support for policy change.
  • Policy Change: Support policy change efforts that most affect low-income women, including pay equity, paid family and medical leave, minimum wage increase, improved access to childcare, reducing predatory lending, improving access to childcare subsidies for community college students, and fair scheduling and work-week bills.

Over the next three years, Prosperity Together will continue to harness the collective power, leadership, and proven effectiveness of women’s foundations working together to ensure women’s economic security in America. State by state, the partnership calls upon policymakers, business leaders, philanthropic community, and the public to understand that economic prosperity for all is guaranteed only when economic security and equal opportunity are guaranteed for low-income women.

Prosperity Together members include the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation and 31 other public U.S. women’s foundations located in 26 states and Washington, D.C. Click here for more information on Prosperity Together, full members’ list, national impact, and access to annual reports.

Prosperity Together is a nonpartisan partnership of public U.S. women’s foundations dedicated to improving the economic security of low-income women and their families in America. In November 2015, Prosperity Together announced a five-year, $100 million funding commitment to invest in programs and strategies to create pathways to economic security for low-income women in America. Prosperity Together demonstrates the critical role and power of women’s foundations to drive this work in communities, state by state, across the country. Click here to learn more. Find us on social at #ProsperityTogether.