Q&A with FISH volunteer and Hillgate Director Blanaid Colley
We detect a lovely Irish brogue. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Dublin – in a typical Irish catholic family of seven kids (four girls and three boys) and Mum and Dad. Most of my brothers and sisters still live in Dublin within a three-mile radius of where we grew up.
At 21, I moved to Brussels for four years to work in the European Parliament where I met my husband and then moved to London and lived with him there for 20 years before moving with my family to Sanibel in 2008.
What brought you to Sanibel?
Twenty years ago my husband and I came to Sanibel for a long weekend (staying at Casa Ybel Resort) both of us having been working in New York in the cold, wintry October – both of us in need of some sunshine. We arrived in the dark and having never been to Sanibel before, woke up the next morning and looked out at this beautiful beach and lovely resort — it was love at first sight!
We bought our first timeshare week the next day and for many years after that we accumulated several timeshare weeks. We visited Sanibel every year, at least once, and usually twice a year, escaping the cold and rainy London winter months. Sanibel seemed to mark the changes and development of our lives over the years — first dating, then marriage, babies, children growing up and eventually settling down full time on Sanibel.
What are some of the differences and similarities between Ireland and Sanibel Island?
Actually there are some striking similarities between the Dublin I knew it growing up and Sanibel today. The way you are always bumping into people you know wherever you go, the friendliness of people, the general sunny disposition that you can often find in Ireland and on Sanibel. Both are islands and I think that makes a difference in how people view life — perhaps we can both be a bit insular in outlook. Both are great places to raise children and are easy places to fit in. I also see some strong similarities in politics — as the daughter of an Irish politician (my grandfather, my father and my sister were members of Parliament in Ireland) I was fascinated by the city council elections last year — and followed them avidly.
What do you appreciate most about living on Sanibel?
The beauty of the island, I love the blending of the natural beauty of the island, Sanibel as a lovely vacation destination and the ability to run a business and be able to communicate to clients anywhere in the world from Sanibel. The beach is a huge draw for me (and for my family) I usually take our dog for a walk on the beach each morning early, and every day I am struck by something different I see, changes to the beach shoreline, different types of sunrise and each day I am grateful that we live on such a naturally beautiful island.
I also appreciate the friends we have made on Sanibel — our neighbors, BIG ARTS Chorus members, our clients, school parent friends — all different, all interesting and always friendly and fun to share a glass of wine with.
What do you see as a challenge for islanders?
In the immediate future I think keeping calm about the oil and believing what the experts are telling us about the very slim possibility of oil hitting Sanibel — making sure that we give Sanibel visitors the best vacation experience that we can. In the medium term I think Sanibel will continue to face challenges in keeping the balance between protecting nature and our beautiful island while maintaining a thriving business community — but I think we are doing a pretty good job of it and hope this will continue.
We hear you wear several hats on the islands including working as a director with Hillgate Communications and volunteering for FISH. Can you share what you do in each of these positions? Any other jobs or unique roles we don’t know about?
Well I am a director of Hillgate Communications — a Sanibel based Marketing and Communications company, I have worked in this sector for more than 20 years but doing this in Southwest Florida is different and is a new challenge for me, one which I enjoy. I was invited recently to become a board member of the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce — a great organization by the way — having worked with many similar organizations throughout Europe; our Chamber is the best I have come across.
Having been a volunteer for FISH since I arrived on Sanibel in 2008, I was invited to join the FISH board in January this year and I oversee the marketing and PR side of FISH’s work on behalf of the Board.
You might also catch me wearing my apron and hat at the Coffee Bar@Bailey‘s, which I started with Richard Johnson last December. Pop by and see us — you will always get a great cup of coffee or delicious smoothie there!
What drew you to become a volunteer for FISH?
I attended a lunch in which Maggi Feiner (President of FISH) spoke to us about the work done by FISH on the island. I was amazed to know that there were some many people on Sanibel and Captiva who needed basic help with things like food, help with finding a job or just getting out of the house to meet people. I approached Maggi and told her that I would like to help. I think I was trained the next week (Maggi moves fast) and then I drove my first client to a hospital appointment within another week.
Why is volunteering so important for FISH?
FISH has over 900 clients now on the island and in order to be able to offer the range of services we do, requires a strong organization with lots of volunteers. It is a very rewarding job – FISH clients are always very grateful for what we do and they are also great fun. I find that I laugh so much when I am driving people to and from appointments; it makes me smile a lot.
How can someone get involved with FISH?
Just call up the FISH Walk In Center on 472-4775 or ask any one of our 195 volunteers.
Any big events or fundraisers for FISH coming up?
Yes, our big fundraising event is the FISH 10K race which will take place on October 16 at 7:30 a.m. at the Community House. We are expecting more than 500 runners this year and we are praying for good weather! We are looking for as many businesses as possible to take a race sponsorship and as many runners as possible to take part.
When you are not wearing all of your hats what do you do in your leisure time?
I enjoy a good meal with friends and a good glass of wine (well probably two, if I am being honest).
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I was educated through Irish (Gaelic) and not English in school – something that was not very common in Ireland when I was growing up. I still speak Irish but I don’t get enough practice on Sanibel to stay fluent – Any more Irish speakers out there?
What are your long/short-term goals?
Our eldest daughter Aislinn is going to university in Boston at the end of August and before she goes I intend to alter her mindset of being the most untidy person I know to becoming at least reasonably tidy. Students are not known for their tidiness: I shall encourage her to be the exception!
My long term goal is to ensure that our 14-year-old son and daughter also reach the university of their choice.
Every time you are spotted out and about you seem to be happy and flashing a big smile. What do you attribute your rather happy attitude to?
Good husband, good friends and fun times living on this beautiful island.