NAPLES — If the Mayans are correct and planet Earth is just weeks away from its end, at least Neapolitans can rest easy knowing we went out with a bang. 2012 has been a terrific year. The glittering galas were as fantastic as ever — as if someone forgot to tell Naples that the country is actually in a recession. New venues and themes stole our hearts and our pocketbooks, while tender moments during donation award ceremonies reminded us why it is we party so hard.
In 2012, social life collided with social good in a big way, and we couldn’t let the end of the year slip by without reliving at least a few of our favorite moments. So what do you get when you put a dozen Naples Daily News editors in a room and ask them to agree on their favorite moments from the past year? The answer is a lot of opinions and one heck of a list for the Best of the Best from 2012.
BEST INSPIRING MOMENT
GOODWILL L.I.F.E. ACADEMY’S GRADUATION CEREMONY
In 2005 the L.I.F.E. Academy in Fort Myers opened its doors with just six students. This year, the academy, a charter school serving students with developmental disabilities, graduated its largest class ever with several of the school’s original six students graduating. “It was very bittersweet,” said school principal Lynn Pottorf, adding, “you’re happy to see them move on, but you’ve become so close over the years.”
As each student came up to the stage, another student tagged along. This was the graduate’s “tassel turner,” someone the graduating student had hand-selected to perform this time-honored graduation ritual. “The students start talking about choosing their tassel turner years before graduation,” says Pottorf, “It’s usually done by their best friend.”
NAPLES WINTER WINE FESTIVAL — BELIEVE IN MAGIC
Naples Winter Wine Festival Chairperson, Joan Clifford stewed for weeks over coming up with a theme for the annual event. “It’s the first thing you have to do as chair, but whatever theme you come up with, you have to be able to come up with variations on that theme for the smaller sub events. I dwelled and dwelled on the theme for about two months,” Clifford admits.
But what she eventually came up with was magic. Literally magic.
“I thought about what we do and I thought, we put a lot of magic into a lot of lives. And I wanted to do something that would be kid inclusive because it’s all about the kids,” she says. The “Believe in Magic” theme translated perfectly to the private vintner dinners and the Thursday night VIP party. At the annual Meet the Kids Day, youngsters performed magic tricks for guests wearing the top hats and wands they’d been given by the foundation. “The kids really got into it; there was an autistic child who never spoke and he spoke while doing magic, it was really heartwarming.”
GUADALUPE CENTER TUTOR CORPS MEMBER WINS SURPRISE SCHOLARSHIP
When the entire staff of the Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps program was called into the Immokalee High School Auditorium, no one knew what was going on. The students looked around anxiously, watching for a clue. When Nat Moore from the Miami Dolphins got onstage and announced that Candace Perez, a member of the Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps program, had won a Sun Life Financial Rising Star Scholarship, everyone burst into applause. No one seemed surprised anymore except Candace, who had to hold back tears of joy while she accepted the award.
“Helping to break the cycle of poverty through education in such a personal way has been very meaningful to me. We could not be any more proud of Candace if she were our own child,” says Dianne Ryan, one of Candace’s mentors. The scholarship, which staff members at the Guadalupe Center nominated Candace for, will help her attend college, where she hopes to study sociology.
APOLO ANTON OHNO AT YOUTH HAVEN FUNDRAISER
Sure, Apolo Anton Ohno’s appearance at a fundraiser for Youth Haven raised money — around $300,000 or so — but perhaps more importantly, his visit raised hope. The Olympic speed skater spent the morning before his presentation with the kids of Youth Haven.
“He wore his medal and he gave them all gold medals,” says Carol Shaw, Director of Development for the local children’s shelter. “The kids loved him, they wanted to show him their rooms and the toys they like to play with.”
And the adults attending the event where Ohno spoke were treated to a great speech as well. Shaw said, “The event was lovely and we just thought it was a good match. His message was ‘don’t give up and work hard,’ and I think that really fit.”
BEST NEW VENUE
GOLISANO CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF NAPLES
At the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples’ inaugural Dream Gala, it quickly became apparent to guests that this space was going to be the hot new event space in town. With beautiful architecture and colorful exhibits, even the room full of adults found themselves captivated by the museum’s contents.
“Many people find the Museum to be the perfect venue because of what it has to offer,” says Heather Patton, the museum’s director of external affairs. She adds, “Decorations become nearly obsolete as the Museum offers its own décor. The inviting colors, sounds and architecture leave little room, or the need for, decorations.”
Plus, with indoor and outdoor space and the capacity to hold more that 1,400 guests, we’re willing to bet we’ll see many more events here in the future.
BEST FUNDRAISING CONCEPT
PACE’S “LOVE THAT DRESS”
If you’re a woman and you haven’t heard of the “Love That Dress” events that draw huge crowds each year, we don’t know where you’ve been hiding. The dress-swapping events, which are entering their fourth year, have become so wildly popular here in Southwest Florida, that PACE programs around the state are replicating the events everywhere.
Christin Collins originally came up with the idea for the events, and even she cannot believe how well it has been received. “It was very simple really, I needed dresses to attend functions and once you’d have your photo taken in a dress and in the newspaper, that dress was basically obsolete. I was on a limited budget, so I thought, why don’t I set up an event with my girlfriends where we can share dresses?”
At the first “Love That Dress” event 600 shoppers showed up, and it has only grown since then. “I think the awareness it has brought to the center and PACE’s mission is what I am most proud of,” says Collins.
BEST BALL /GALA
CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CENTER’S “BEACH BALL” AT NAPLES BEACH HOTEL
There’s no shortage of black tie events in this town, which is why a few years ago, the Children’s Advocacy Center decided to change it up a bit. “We wanted to make the event more causal and fun; leave your ball gown at home, more Florida style,” says Jackie Stevens, the CEO of the center.
The event, which happens at the Naples Beach Hotel, is timed to take place right as the sun sets over the Gulf. Attendees are encouraged to come in casual Florida attire and each year the ball “visits” a different beach. “Last year’s event was themed ‘Meet Me In Maui,’ so everything had a tropical Hawaiian theme,” said Stevens, adding that the fire dancers and the Hawaiian-themed menu really helped make the event a success.
THE UNITED WAY’S WALK FOR THE WAY
When Marla Ramsey pitched her new idea for this year’s Walk For The Way to the United Way’s board, she knew she was taking a gamble. Ramsey wanted to make the walk as inclusive as possible, and she thought that by waiving the walk’s entry fee, she could grow community involvement.
But, of course, cutting that revenue source would make meeting the United Way’s fundraising goals for the event that much tougher.
“Before there had been this emphasis on cash versus inviting the community to come in. I wanted the walk to be more about community awareness,” says Ramsey, “I wanted the public to come and see all the good work our agencies do.”
With no entry fee, the walk had its best attendance year ever with more than 3,500 people in attendance. Even more amazingly, it was a banner year for fundraising as well, meeting and surpassing the organization’s
BEST CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTION
NCH HOSPITAL BALL GENERATES 10 NEW NICU GIRAFFE OMNI BEDS
The goal of this year’s NCH Hospital Ball was to raise funds to expand the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), in both brick and mortar space and interior capacity. While ticket sales and auction items raised money to expand the space, the real highlight of the night came during the live auction.
“We showed a video of a young couple telling their story about their twins who were born prematurely and spent time in the NICU,” says Jim Martin, Chief Development Officer for the NCH Healthcare System. In the video, the father mentioned seeing a nameplate on the incubator bed his daughter was sleeping in, saying that in that moment he truly realized that the donor had given the gift of life to his child.
The donors of the bed, Bill and Penny Allyn, were shown the video, and although they couldn’t attend the ball, they sent a challenge out to the ball’s attendees: If attendees could raise enough funds for three beds, the Allyns would fund a fourth.
When the live auction started, it was almost a race to see who could raise their paddle first to pledge for a new bed. “It was this total electric moment,” says Martin. Honorary Ball Chair Lavern Gaynor kicked off the live auction by pledging to fund a new Giraffe Omni Bed; then Presenting Sponsors David and Cecil Wang pledged to sponsor another. Next, the neonatal group jumped in, and the Wang’s said they’d sponsor three more. By the end of the night, 10 new beds were funded. “Our goal was to come out with four, but we came out with 10, it was just incredible; there was not a single person in the room that wasn’t touched,” says Martin.
BEST NEW EVENT
ARTSNAPLES WORLD FESTIVAL
We love when people bring great new art to Naples, and the ArtsNaples World Festival is doing just that. Focusing on the art of different regions of the world, last year’s festival brought artists from Russia and the Ukraine.
“We had a whole week full of performances, there was opera, chamber music, visual art; a different performance every night of the week,” says Merlin Lickhalter, the festival’s co-founder. During the week-long festival held at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra and Russian pianist Philipp Kopachevsky performed, while works by Russian artist Alexander Anufriev were put on display.
Besides the nightly events, Lickhalter and his team arranged a major outreach program bringing the artists into schools in Immokalee and Collier County — something he plans to do again this year.
“Our goal is to further solidify Naples as a world-class culture and performing arts destination. Our festival enhances the community’s reputation and it brings in money to the community. This year we expect a third of our attendees to be from out of town.”
The 2013 festival promises to highlight Latin American artists with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba set to perform.