Four civic philanthropists discuss successful season

Kelly Capolino, Penny Rambacher, Sue McNaghten and Tiffany Kuehner share their experiences from a successful philanthropic season in Southwest Florida

Erik Kellar

Kelly Capolino, Penny Rambacher, Sue McNaghten and Tiffany Kuehner share their experiences from a successful philanthropic season in Southwest Florida

Car carriers are heading back down U.S. 41 in a steady stream and Southwest Florida’s seasonal residents are following. Though the fading bustle means that season is waning, the effects of the boom on the philanthropic community will last. In achievement, change and finances, the philanthropic scene has been transformed this season.

Sue McNaghten, chairperson of The Founders Fund, has felt the excitement and gravity of these changes. The Founders Fund, which provides financial assistance to Collier County students seeking post-high school education or training, has granted more than $2 million in scholarships since 1991. Their biennial golf tournament on Monday, April 2 raised $340,000 alone.

“I am so gratified that The Founders Fund trustees, all volunteers from Club Pelican Bay where The Founders Fund was initiated, mobilized the support of club members and the greater community to assure our student scholars of continuing financial assistance not requiring repayment,” McNaghten said. “I was so excited by the success of the event that I was sleepless for two nights afterward.”

This season also concludes the celebration of The Founders Fund’s 20th anniversary and brings an end to McNaghten’s service. After seven years of volunteer work and two years as chairperson, the first female chairperson of The Founders Fund Board of Trustees is retiring.

Meanwhile, Tiffany Kuehner is just beginning her new role as president and CEO of Hope for Haiti, an organization that helps provide for the poor in Haiti by working directly with people who are already successfully ministering to them. Though Kuehner has been a volunteer with the organization since she was 15 years old and has spent much of her time in Haiti, she is now carrying the torch lit by her grandmother, JoAnne Kuehner, who is the founder, chair, past president and CEO of Hope for Haiti.

This season, Hope for Haiti raised more than $1 million at their annual gala, the most they’ve ever raised, all of which will go toward helping the people of Haiti take control of their future.

“We’re just extremely grateful for the generosity and the time that Southwest Florida residents are giving to our organization,” Kuehner said. “We appreciate everybody’s time, talent and treasure that they share with us and hope that we continue to create an environment where people feel excited, engaged and connected to our programs in Haiti.”

Kelly Capolino, founder of the Diamond Volunteer Award Program, created change in the philanthropic community when she went forward with the Festival Trees at Venetian Village benefiting The Boys and Girls Club of Collier County. Capolino, with the help of the community, planned the event in about three months.

“If I was told once, I was told 20 times: ‘It takes two years to plan a festival. Don’t be too disappointed, Kelly, if you can’t pull it off,’” Capolino said.

As chair of the event, she proved her naysayers wrong by helping to net more than $30,000 at the festival.

Capolino also helped the ninth annual Fore the Kids golf outing in November raise over 20 percent more than the prior year.

“My surprise was ‘more.’ More volunteers, more players, more money and plain old-fashioned more participation and more happy giving,” Capolino said.

Miracles in Action has also been able to make a great impact this season aided by the continuing generosity of the Southwest Florida community. Founded by local resident Penny Rambacher, Miracles in Action has built 37 schools in Guatemala in seven years. Thirty-three of the schools are the result of donations from the Southwest Florida community. Miracles in Action builds schools in the poorest neighborhoods of Guatemala in the hope that education will help solve poverty. This season, they are in the process of building school 38.

“My mom planted a seed in funding that very first school back in 2005 and she left a legacy of learning by building that school,” Rambacher said. “Others who are hearing her story from me are inspired and they want to leave a legacy as well.”

Miracles in Action also provides income for Guatemalan mothers by selling their handicrafts which include charms, ornaments, pins and bracelets. People who purchase them are helping to give women the ability to stay at home with their children instead of working hard labor in the fields.

Rambacher does a great deal of public speaking on behalf of Miracles in Action. Her last event this season at Naples Lakes resulted in the sale of more than $5,000 worth of handicrafts and over $5,800 in donations to build a school.

With these accomplishments in mind, Rambacher feels optimistic about the future of Southwest Florida’s philanthropic community.

“Despite the decline in the economy, it seems that Southwest Florida people are still making contributions, buying handicrafts, volunteering their time and caring about others,” she said. “I think that the people they’re caring about are certainly suffering a greater impact by the economic decline, and they see that, and they’re still generous despite the decline in our economy and their situation.”

These examples are just a few of the many changes, achievements and celebrations that took place in the local philanthropic community this season.

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