While no one can truly see the feature, we predict that 2013 will be a year full of cake. This year, 10 of Naples’ most beloved organizations are celebrating major anniversaries, with terrific parties planned to toast their years of service. But, of course, the best thing about these organizations reaching, 30-, 40-, or 60-year milestones isn’t the parties at all. Instead, it’s the impact each has had on the community during its many years of service.
We couldn’t think of a better way to kick-off 2013 than by shining a light on all the great work these groups have done over the past few decades. Here’s a look at the past, present and future of 10 organizations celebrating major milestones this year.
PACE Center for Girls - 15 Years
Fifteen years ago, a girl struggling to make it through high school in Immokalee had few options. All too often, young women started to fall through the cracks, leaving school due to pregnancy, incarceration or to start working. And then the Pace Center for Girls opened a chapter in Immokalee. Since then, things have really been looking up for “at risk” young women.
The center, located just a block off of Main Street, teaches women many life skills and academic skills, but most of all, they specialize in teaching self-respect. The results of the center’s efforts are overwhelmingly positive. For the 2008 to 2009 school year, 98 percent of girls enrolled in the program increased their academic achievement. Ninety-eight percent also stayed crime free a year after leaving the program.
The organization, which has benefited tremendously from the hugely popular “Love The Dress” fundraiser, has big goals for the future. “Locally in Immokalee we would like to see perhaps the potential or possibility of offering after-school alternatives to the girls we serve who are currently enrolled and those in transition services,” says Marianne Kerns, the center’s executive director.
She adds that her other wish would be “to have the resources to hire a physical education teacher, an on-site nurse, and a licensed mental health professional.”
PACE girls attend a day program designed to help them overcome challenges and make good life decisions.
Christ Child Society of Naples - 15 Years
The first fundraiser Christ Child Society of Naples ever held was a lasagna dinner put on by a few neighbors in Collier Reserve. “We made lasagna and invited our husbands and charged them for dinner,” says founding member Lynne Deal.
That dinner netted $500. Last year’s Christ Child Society fundraiser raised $160,000. “It’s just grown so far beyond what I ever imagined,” says Deal, adding, “Originally it was just a group formed from residents of Collier’s Reserve, so that we could give back.”
Today, wherever there are needy children, you’ll see Christ Child Society volunteers. They assist in early literacy programs and bring baby blankets to mothers of newborns. They help furnish the children’s rooms in Habitat for Humanity homes and they put together “My Stuff” bags for children transitioning out of a home and into a shelter. If there is a child in crisis, Christ Child Society of Naples’ goal is to help that child. And that’s a mission that will never change, even as the group continues to grow in membership. “It’s just so heartwarming to see how much women can do when they get together and say, ‘we can do this,’” says Deal.
Avow Hospice - 30 Years
Avow Hospice is one of those organizations that is such a vital, integral part of the Naples community that it’s hard to believe it is only 30 years old. In 1983, Glenna Hayhoe—who, to this day, still volunteers in the Avow Treasures and Books store—had a vision.
The modern hospice movement had not yet made its way to Naples, and she believed Naples’ citizens deserved better end-of-life care. With a few like-minded volunteers, she founded Hospice of Naples, which would be renamed Avow in 2007. “It really was an all-volunteer operation at the beginning,” says Avow Hospice’s public relations manager, Deborah Jonsson. “Everyone was just volunteering their time.”
It wouldn’t be until the 1990s the Hospice Naples would have its campus setting. In 2003 it built Hospice House, which has six rooms. The vast majority of the organization’s patients, however, choose to remain in their own homes. “We have always focused on bringing the care to whoever needed it,” says Jonsson. And that’s what the organization will continue to do. In 2013, Avow anticipates providing end-of-life care services to more than 1600 residents, but beyond that, it hopes to change the way people think about death. “That no one is afraid of hospice and that this is something you plan for in your life like anything else, that would be my hope for hospice in the future,” says Jonsson.
Harry Chapin Food Bank - 30 Years
Once upon a time, The Harry Chapin Food Bank was actually called the Lee County Food Coop.
Designed to distribute government commodities to poor families, the Food Coop delivered food to distribution sites around Lee county. But when it was announced that the government was going to discontinue the program, residents become concerned — there were many families that relied on this food. At the same time, the concept of “food banking” was taking hold in larger cities, and concerned Southwest Florida citizens thought this might be a solution. With help from Miami and Tampa-based food banks, the Southwest Florida Food Bank was born.
In 1994 the organization gained permission from Harry Chapin’s widow, Sandy Chapin to rename the food bank after her late husband, who was a tireless advocate for hunger awareness. “The Chapin family still supports our mission, Jen Chapin was our keynote speaker at last year’s Hunger Summit and his band continues to come down every year to play a benefit concert,” said Joyce Jacobs, associate executive director for the agency. Today the agency is truly doing Harry Chapin proud, distributing more than 15 million pounds of food annually across four counties.
In Collier County alone, the group hopes to distribute 1.5 million pounds of food this year. And the agency is really focused on providing more fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meats to families, using new mobile pantries that can reach even the hardest-to-reach constituents. Meaning the future for hungry families is brighter than ever.
Collier County Habitat for Humanity - 35 Years
The Collier County affiliate of Habitat For Humanity has an ongoing debate with the San Antonio affiliate. Both claim that it was the second-ever affiliate of the organization, which now boasts 1500 chapters nationwide. Incorporated on the exact same day in 1978, Collier’s branch does has one advantage: “Because Naples is on the East Coast, we say that we were the second because the day here started a few hours earlier,” says Lisa Lefko, the organization’s executive director.
Thirty-five years later, Habitat for Humanity of Collier County has built 1500 homes for needy families. And these homes aren’t handouts. Each is sold to a selected family for the cost of building the home, via an interest free mortgage. For the past 10 years, the Collier branch has been the country’s largest-producing affiliate, producing 100 homes a year. “That’s a number we hope to maintain or even grow,” says Lefko adding, “but we’re dependent on fundraising, so it’s been a tight couple of years. Hopefully things will turn around soon.”
Zonta Club of Naples - 40 Years
What happens when you get a bunch of talented, committed women together? The answer: a lot. The Zonta Club of Naples has been changing the world one monthly luncheon at a time. Dedicating their time and service to causes benefiting underprivileged women, over the past four decades the group has helped women both here locally and around the globe. Last year alone, the group worked on projects that benefited the Pace Center for Girls in Immokalee, the Immokalee and Naples Teenage Parenting programs and Miracles in Action, which provides healthier cooking stoves to women in Guatemala. In addition, many of the monies raised during Zonta events fund scholarships for women at local universities.
Best of all, there are big things in store for the coming years. In 2013 the Naples chapter of Zonta International will host District 11’s conference here in Naples. During Sept. 26-28, hundreds of like-minded women will come together in Naples with just one goal: to help other women. It will be the beginning of what will hopefully be 40 more years of service by women for women.
David Lawrence Center - 45 Years
There was a time in the history of the David Lawrence Center where funding and space was so tight, and demand was so high, that counseling sessions were actually held in the facility’s parking lot. Luckily, today with eight locations across Collier County and 270 staff members, parking lot sessions are no longer necessary. Founded in 1968 by Polly Keller, today this mental health and substance abuse treatment center provides more than 20 different programs for residents suffering from addiction or mental illness.
“We’ve grown as the community has grown, but the community still needs more from us,” says executive director David C. Schimmal, adding that one in nine Collier County residents will utilize the center’s chemical dependency programs at some point. And while working to increase funding and capacity is always one of Schimmal’s goals, it’s not the center’s only goal.
On the organization’s agenda for its next 45 years is removing the stigma of mental illness and increasing the ease of receiving treatment. “Part of our future is expanding with technology.
We see a day where you can get services via your laptop or cell phone, maybe even have sessions electronically,” says Schimmal. He adds, “And part of our future is that we want to really focus on all areas of wellness, we’ve separated physical health from mental health for too long.”
Catholic Charities of Collier County- 45 Years
In 1968 a group of Collier County residents saw a need for a faith-based social service agency and formed Catholic Charities of Collier County. Originally part of the archdiocese of Miami, the goal of the group was to help strengthen local families and to meet human needs across the county. Today the organization is part of the archdiocese of Venice, but the mission is unchanged. “Social service remains the central theme to what we do now and what we’ve always done,” says Armando Galella, executive director of Catholic Charities of Collier County.
Galella says that as his organization has grown, so too has the need for the services they provide in the county. This year, he anticipates Catholic Charities will directly touch 20,000 residents with its services. “One area where we do a lot of work is immigration and refugee services. We do refugee resettlement and we offer legal services, employment services and tutoring for refugees. We also provide immigration paperwork assistance and filing services.” And, after 45 years of service to the community, the group says it’s looking forward to at least another 45 more.
“There will always be this bell curve of income in the county, we’re always going to need to provide direct assistance to someone,” says Galella, adding, “So we plan to be here to do that.”
Naples Garden Club - 60 Years
It shouldn’t surprise you that the Naples Garden Club just keeps on growing. Started in 1953 by a few women and men who wanted to help beautify Naples, the group now has more than 200 members. And, they put on one of the season’s hottest-ticket events each year, the annual Home and Garden Tour. “Each year tickets sell out faster and faster,” says Liz Chehayl, club communications chairman. “We started selling them online three years ago and that’s when they started really selling quickly.” This year, by the end of the first day of ticket sales, 85 percent of the tickets had been spoken for. The only thing about the Garden Club that is getting smaller is the amount of homes the tour visits, which, of course, is because the homes are getting bigger.
“We actually had a complaint that it was too tiring, so now it’s only four homes, but they’re big homes,” says Chehayl. In the past few years, the club has been particularly proud of its commitment to education. Not only do club meetings feature renowned speakers, but the club’s endowment also sponsors a fellowship for two FGCU students to conduct research at the Naples Botanical Gardens.
The Naples Players - 60 Years
On March 20, 1953, The Naples Players put on its very first show. “They did ‘I Remember Mama’ and they only did one performance,” says Jim Rideoutte, executive director for the Naples Players. He adds, “Even though it only ran one night, a stringer for a Miami paper reviewed the show and it got a favorable review.” Over the next few years the group, which was formed in a Naples resident’s living room, would continue to put on a few shows a year. Each time the shows ran for only one or two nights. “I asked one of the members why they only ran the show for two nights and he said, ‘well Jim, by then everyone in the town had seen it!’” But as Naples grew, so did the market for live theater. In the 70s the group started renting a venue with 40 seats. In the 80s they moved to an old movie theater with even more capacity.
But when that theater was slated to be torn down, the group thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to have our own space?” A revitalization effort of Fifth Avenue South provided the perfect opportunity, with the city granting the Naples Players the space they now hold, if they could foot the bill for the building. After an aggressive fundraising campaign, the building came to fruition and the Naples Players finally had a permanent home. Today, the group puts on 10 productions a year, each running for either 19 or 23 performances, many of which are sold out well in advance. “I don’t need a focus group to know how we’re doing, I just call the box office and see how ticket sales are,” Rideoutte says.
He adds, “we’re one of the best attended theaters for our size in the nation, and we hope to stay that way.”