Is it terrible to admit that I have spent a large part of my adult life wishing I lived somewhere else?
This is not to say that I don’t like Naples or Florida — I do. But honestly, I miss experiencing the seasons — especially spring and fall. And I miss the softer grass you get in northern climes, the gentler trees. Tropical gardening and plants are beautiful, but also an experience unto themselves — many plants have thorns and pokey leaves, not to mention the prolific red ants and all kinds of critters crawling (and slithering) around. So for these and other reasons, I have continued to long for a cooler climate, a more mountainous terrain — anything less hot, humid and generally swamp-a-licious. But something shocking has happened.
I am falling madly in love with my local community.
I have the sense of finally coming home to the place I already live.
What is this magical experience?
I signed up for a program through the Chamber of Commerce called Leadership Collier (I live in Collier County). At this point, I can’t even remember what drew me to apply. But I was accepted and in January this year, met the other 41 people in my class. They said it would require one day a month, taking the form of day-long field trips during which we would learn about our county.
I suspected I would meet interesting people and make valuable contacts (and I have), but I could not have imagined how my perspective would shift.
Through these days of learning, I have come to see the well-organized infrastructure that supports our entire county—everything from the highest form of government to human services to the way our refuse is stored at the landfill. I have toured national and state parks I never even knew were here.
I have lived here for 23 years. How could I not know the parks that were here?! Kind of embarrassing.
I have learned about our environmental issues and needs, plans to manage and facilitate growth and development, the focus that is being put on our economy. I learned that of the 1.4 million acres comprising our county, 1.1 million are preserved in some way.
I also realized that residents here LOVE our community. They love our natural resources and our citizens, from people to panthers. I have volunteered to help local organizations over the years, but never in all that time have I seen the depth, breadth and soaring heights to which our community will go to protect and nurture our county.
In a way, I have been reborn as a brand new resident of Collier County.
Everywhere I look are opportunities to get involved and to connect with other like-minded people. On the heels of our experiences in 2020, what a comfort and what a relief! Never mind my 41 new best friends and classmates. I feel connected to them in a way that is hard to put into words. We’re all having this collective epiphany and being bonded together in ways that will last for the rest of our lives.
For me, it was easy to fall into a daily grind — get up, go to work, raise my kids, manage my household, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat. Somehow I stopped seeing the beauty around me, without even realizing it. And when you’re in that cycle, it’s rare to make new friends. Now my eyes are filled with wonder and my phone is filled with 41 new (beloved) contacts.
On every level, this leadership program has changed my life. I am filled with gratitude and a desire to be more involved, at home, right here where I live.
I, Lisa Kahn-Allen, am finally ready to bloom where I am planted.
That feels so good to write. A sanctuary moment if ever there was one.
I wish I could gift this experience to everyone. If this sounds interesting to you and you live locally, Leadership Collier is accepting applications for next year right now—the deadline is April 16th, 2021. If this sounds interesting and you don’t live locally, check with your Chamber of Commerce. It turns out that these programs are very common and almost every chamber runs one.
Did I mention I went on a swamp walk through the Everglades with water up to my knees and that I saw a live, giant Burmese python? Not at the same time, thankfully.
So tell me — how do you bloom where you are planted?
With love and gratitude,