“NCEF has made good strides, particularly in Immokalee, in knitting together the network of charities and social services to multiply results. Gaps in services are being filled, and more children are benefiting thanks to collaborative efforts. We are poised to take that step in other high-need areas. For while NCEF has invested millions of dollars helping children in East Naples, Golden Gate and East Naples/Manatee, we have not yet focused on drawing together existing children’s nonprofits and social services and creating new ones. That is now a key element of our grant-making strategy.”
__ John Jordan, trustee, Naples Children and Education Foundation (founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival)
EAST NAPLES — The long lens of the Naples Children and Education Foundation is focused on inland Collier County, to neighborhoods of poverty where children may be lacking basic services.
After focusing much of its efforts on improving the lives of disadvantaged children in Immokalee, the nonprofit foundation is broadening its outreach to at-risk children in East Naples and Golden Gate.
"It's not a shift away from Immokalee to Golden Gate and East Naples but a better understanding of similar needs and the demographics," said Todd Foege, acting executive director of the Naples Children and Education Foundation (NCEF), sponsors of the Naples Winter Wine Festival.
"It's a natural progression of what we have been doing for 10 years," added John Scot Mueller, a longtime NCEF trustee who serves on the foundation's grants committee.
The 2012 Naples Winter Wine Festival is scheduled for this week, Jan. 27-29. The annual fundraiser, started about a decade ago, has transformed philanthropy in Collier County: during this year's event, the $100-million threshold in total dollars raised should be surpassed, Mueller said.
Through elaborate dinners and an auction of wine, travel packages and big-ticket luxuries, the festival has raised more than $94.5 million for Collier County children's charities since 2001.
The heightened interest in East Naples and Golden Gate has come about, in part, because of updated findings in 2010 of a child well-being study. The study, first commissioned by NCEF in 2005, was done by the University of Florida.
The latest report shows how many schools in the urban area receive federal dollars to target at-risk students, Foege said.
Specifically, some of those neighborhoods are off Collier Boulevard and U.S. 41 E. near Manatee Elementary and Middle schools; and off Davis Boulevard and Airport-Pulling Road near Shadowlawn Elementary School. A third neighborhood is east of Santa Barbara Boulevard and west of Collier Boulevard near Golden Gate Elementary School.
Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories about Collier County children’s charities, leading up to the Naples Winter Wine Festival dinners and auction next weekend.
Vann Ellison, president and executive director of St. Matthew's House with shelter programs in Immokalee, Golden Gate and East Naples, couldn't agree more.
"In Golden Gate ... there are many people with just as profound issues of poverty. It's just that there are nicer neighborhoods nearby," Ellison said.
Even so, Immokalee has had one advantage: its geographic isolation has meant social service agencies long ago developed a collaborative way of getting things done, Foege said.
That's something NCEF will be working on this year with agencies based in greater Naples.
"That infrastructure is somewhat missing in East Naples and Golden Gate," Foege said.
Ellison acknowledges that may have been the case a decade ago but said there's more networking lately, in part out of scarcity of money and skyrocketing needs among the children. As an example, he points to how a half-dozen or more agencies in the Naples area have formed a network, Collier Cares, to collaborate on buying goods and conducting events.
Still, he is pleased NCEF wants to help the Naples-area organizations work more closely together.
"It's something we see as a very positive thing and we applaud their effort," Ellison said. "They have done specific targeted outreach because they want to get the greatest impact with their dollars."
One key, Foege said, is being more creative in addressing kids' needs in East Naples and Golden Gate. One example of how that's been done already can be found with the YMCA of Marco Island, he said.
The YMCA saw that after-school programs and summer camps were lacking for children attending Parkside Elementary School near Edison State College and elsewhere. The YMCA went outside of its designated program boundaries to establish those programs.
"They should be commended for doing the right thing," Foege said. "Will it ever produce revenue? No. Is it the right thing to do? Yes."
Habitat for Humanity, which has spearheaded more than 1,300 families becoming homeowners in Collier, is pleased that NCEF will be working more closely with agencies in greater Naples, said Lisa Lefkow, executive vice president of the local Habitat organization.
Habitat isn't a direct recipient of wine festival grants but its families benefit indirectly through the services of other agencies, she said.
"The fact that there is tremendous need (in greater Naples) is truly shocking to many," Lefkow said. "The wine auction has put the spotlight on the critical needs."
That's not to say agencies in Naples haven't been NCEF grant recipients through the years, she said.
"The funding has been well-distributed, it has not all gone to Immokalee," she said. "We want to be collaborative and cooperative and not competing for donor dollars."
Foege backs that up — about $30 million already has been distributed in grants or for strategic initiatives connected to East Naples or Golden Gate.
A second goal for NCEF this year is helping agencies bring more types of services to children in East Naples and Golden Gate that already have proven effective in Immokalee, Mueller said.
"It saves money, time and headache," he said.
At the top of the list is more after-school programs and summer camps, and keeping up the foundation's food distribution program, called Lunch Boxes of Love, in concert with the Harry Chapin Food Bank, among other goals, he said.
In Immokalee, for instance, NCEF has helped foster partnerships between agencies and school locations to offer after-school programs. NCEF's role has been to provide money to pay for after-hours utility bills at the school campuses.
Those types of partnerships can be replicated more in East Naples and Golden Gate, he said.
"If the village is going to be open, someone has to pay for the utilities," Mueller said.Editor's note: This is one of a series of stories about Collier County children's charities, leading up to the Naples Winter Wine Festival dinners and auction next weekend.