About 370 benefactors including community leaders, mentors, educators and "board buddies" were personally welcomed by the Immokalee Foundation Executive Director Liz Allbritten and joined by dozens of deserving Immokalee students at the Ritz-Carlton Naples on Nov.16 for the organization's seventh annual Charity Classic Celebration.
It was preceded by a pro-am golf tournament earlier in the week, during which 25 teams including some of the world's greatest golfers paired with Naples most philanthropic players.
"Neapolitan players are the most philanthropic-minded of anywhere in the country," declared tourney chairman Kevin Johnson, who, with Golf Channel analyst Mark Lye, recruited players.
Event co-chairmen Don Gunther and Peter Negri were everywhere, the former proudly introducing Joel Garcia, his board buddy. Negri said, "I'm thrilled with the turnout and love watching the kids displaying the confidence the TIF programs have inspired in them."
Distinctive in orange T-shirts and khaki slacks, the Immokalee youngsters easily held their own in mixing with the casually attired guests — only jackets, no ties requested. Educators abounded: Collier County Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton; Jeff Allbritten, Edison College district president for five counties; Bob Jones, Naples Edison campus president; and Russell Watjen, Edison vice president for student affairs.
During the opening reception held in the main ballroom, all had a chance to examine auction displays, savor drinks and passed hors d'oeuvres and listen to Manny Tourón, TIF mentor and Soccer Pit on acoustic guitar as well as musicians Chedeline Frederick, Mario Trejo and Jesus Segura before adjourning to the Vanderbilt Ballroom for dinner served in the "Enchanted Garden" ambience created by the Ritz.
Student vocalist Diana Sanon touched all with her "God Bless America" rendition and then it was on to the "Fund A Dream" live auction conducted by auctioneer Scott Robertson. Adding impetus to this special auction, several students shared their very emotional stories. The six "dreams," directly benefit students in fulfilling their educational and career ambitions and are 100 percent tax-free.
This was the third year Louise Penta has chaired the dream program.
"It was my idea back in 2010 and only 199 kids were involved. It was a big chance but that first try raised $600,000. Two years later we reached $1.2 million and served an amazing 1,300," she recalled.
Lively performances by student artists the "Unique Chapters" led to almost everyone heading onto the dance floor, irrepressibly gyrating to the sounds of the South Florida Gypsy Lane Band.
An early estimate put total net proceeds from the Classic Celebration and Pro-Am at $1.35 million. This sum included ticket sales at $550 per person, all auction proceeds and sponsorship and patron donations.