Liszak named humanitarian of the year
Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President chosen in Observer's Best of the Beach reader's poll
Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President and Sea Gypsy Inn owner Jacki Liszak was named humanitarian of the year based on the nominations of readers and businesses in the Fort Myers Beach Observer’s Best of the Beach section.
In her fifth year since taking over the chamber in 2016, Liszak has had no shortage of challenges to confront – from the 2018 red tide to the 2020 red tide, a deadly shooting that split the community, uncertainty over Margaritaville and related court challenges and the coronavirus pandemic.
Through it all, Liszak has maintained a positive outlook while addressing the realities on the ground and helping to guide businesses through the tough times. During the worst stages of the pandemic when businesses were shut down on the beach, Liszak steered many to available resources such as how to apply for Paycheck Protection Program funds (of which Liszak is gearing up for another round of), federal grants and loans.
“We have lots of resources here. If anybody is struggling, reach out,” Liszak said. “Don’t be too embarrassed to ask for help.”
Liszak has also worked to lobby state and federal officials to focus on water quality programs and through the chamber has supported educational programs for improving water quality.
Liszak said the award is “very thoughtful” but said her work is part of a “team effort. There are a lot of people on this island who work very hard,” she said. “I feel very humbled.”
Fort Myers Beach Art Association Director Pam Flaherty, a Chamber of Commerce board member, said Liszak has an “unbridled enthusiasm for all of the businesses and community members.”
Flaherty gave credit to Liszak for being “inclusive” and remaining “upbeat despite challenges such as the red tide and the pandemic.”
Flaherty described Liszak as “innovative” and “very easy to work with.”
Liszak has been able to guide the chamber and local businesses through some of the toughest times this year. A sign that the outlook has improved was evident over the holidays with a busy beach on Christmas and New year’s weekend exemplified by busy traffic and full hotels.
“People are definitely coming. It doesn’t hurt that the weather up north is cold,” she said. She fields calls from those looking to visit who want to know what the rules are for masks and other social-distancing measures.
“We’re an island of (about) 6,500 people or so but we’ve probably got 15,000 to 18,000 people now so of course the (coronavirus numbers) are going to go up,” Liszak said. She hopes the vaccine being introduced will prove effective in turning the tide of the pandemic.
Liszak said businesses have to “continue to clean,” ensure employees are wearing masks and stay “vigilant” during the pandemic.
Liszak said she recently visited Illinois where a lot of businesses are closed. “The way it is here is not everywhere else,” she said. “We’re very blessed because of where we live,” she said. “We are in a little bubble.”
The chamber president has made it a priority to get the ears of state political representatives and those running for office. Several of those running for Congress this year stopped by the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce office to hear from business owners and residents.
Liszak said that political attention is important because the chamber’s legislative priority is improving water quality. “We want to make sure they fund out reservoir projects,” to help stem future runoff from Lake Okeechobee which has contributed to red tide surges. “It’s critical we stay on top of that,” she said.
Liszak grew up in Cleveland and her family wintered in Fort Myers Beach. She worked in sales for Medline Industries – a medical supply company, before moving to Fort Myers Beach full-time.
“I love it’s vibe,” Liszak said about the island. “I love that people from all over the world come to visit and some stay and live here. I love that people are passionate about it. I love the water, I love the animals, the back bay It’s so diverse.”
Liszak said that even in times when the community disagrees over certain issues, it comes together in the end.
“No matter what people are deciding to do, they have it in their hearts that it’s the best for the island,” she said.
Of course, Liszak also is a fan of the beach itself.
“We have the prettiest sand anywhere,” she said.
Beth Coon, who sits on the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce Board, said Liszak is “an amazing woman.”
Coon said Liszak has “really turned the chamber around for the good.”
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said Liszak is a “hard-working lady. She wears several different hats. She gives a lot to the Beach. I’m happy she got the award.”