The memo on the checks said it all: For the Children.
It was all about the children Tuesday, as the founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival handed out more than $7 million in ceremonial, over-sized checks to more than 20 nonprofit groups that reach out to the poorest children in Collier County.
The checks flowed quicker than the wine did during this year’s festival, which raised a record $16.5 million in one weekend in January. The event included a charity wine auction and 18 extravagant private dinner parties at some of Naples’ most exclusive homes.
The Naples Children and Education Foundation, whose trustees hosted the festival, set its record for the largest amount of money given in any one grant cycle. The rest of the money is going into reserves for long-term projects in targeted areas, including early childhood education.
The foundation announced this year’s grant winners at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in North Naples, in a simply decorated ballroom packed with dozens of festival trustees and other supporters.
“There are pockets of poverty throughout Collier County,” said trustee Jim Malone, co-chairman of 2007 wine festival, in a statement. “This year’s grants will reach deeper and farther than ever, benefiting not only impoverished and at-risk children in Immokalee, but also East Naples, Golden Gate city and other communities.”
Before the foundation handed out the checks, tears welled up in his eyes.
“I won’t get through this without crying,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”
He said all the money in the world doesn’t make a difference without the people who are dedicated to transforming the lives of others.
He thanked the charities for all their hard work and dedication.
Before calling each winner to the stage to make a short presentation on what they’ll do with the money, Bruce Sherman, the grant committee chairman, quoted the great Rabbi Hillel.
“‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” he asked.
He answered his own question to when, saying the time was now because he was going to give out the checks. The first check went to the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, which received the largest grant, a hefty $845,000.
“If it weren’t for the Naples Children and Education Foundation all of the organizations here would be serving a lot less clients,” said Terry Flynn, the club’s board chairman. “This is really unique.”
- VIDEO: See the check presentation.
The grant will help the club serve 1,000 youngsters in a summer program this year that will provide breakfast, lunch and a day full of activities Monday through Friday.
“It keeps them off the streets,” Flynn said of the program. “It keeps them out of trouble. It gives comfort to their parents.”
The organization has received money the past few years from the foundation.
“I don’t know what we would do without their help,” Flynn said.
Many of the grant winners have received money in the past. But nine new charities were added to the list this year.
“It’s the most amazing thing that happens in Naples,” said Suzie Lount, chairman of the board of trustees for the Shelter for Abused Women & Children. “And we are the beneficiaries.”
The charity received $200,000 this year, which it will use to pay for five new counselors, three in Immokalee and two in Naples.
“Our whole idea is to stop the cycle of violence,” she said. “This is what we are doing. Hands are for helping, not for hitting.”
The Redlands Christian Migrant Association received a check for $500,000, which it will use to complete a playground, add counselors and upgrade the technology at its charter school in Immokalee.
“They’ve changed our whole programming,” said Maria Jimenez, RCMA’s director of charter schools. “Thanks to them we’re providing programming of higher quality and we’re also able to provide extended day and extended services for special needs children.”
Other grant recipients this year include Catholic Charities, Children’s Home Society, Foster Care Council of Southwest Florida, Guadalupe Center of Immokalee , PACE Center for Girls, St. Matt’s Kids Camps and Fun Time Early Childhood Academy.
Peter Manion, Fun Time Academy’s co-chairman of the board, said the grant received Tuesday will give the organization the rest of the money it needs to build a new center.
The early learning program is run from a dilapidated 35-year-old double-wide trailer that was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Wilma, and has been patched up to continue serving impoverished children in the River Park community.
Once built, the center will be able to serve 75 kids, 25 more than it has been, Manion said.
A nine-member committee chose the winners.
“We don’t necessarily give 100 percent of what the requests are for,” Sherman said. “Sometimes we give more and sometimes we give less.”
In choosing the grant winners, the foundation looks at a number of factors, including program costs, return on investment, the organization’s financial health and how it has spent previous grants.
The review includes an on-site visit to the charity.
The foundation turned away some charities because they did not meet the criteria. The foundation does not give money to start-up organizations, political campaigns, private or public schools or religious organizations. It won’t contribute to annual campaigns, or give money to individuals or toward scholarly or medical research.
With an additional $7.2 million taken out of reserves from past festivals, the foundation is disbursing more than $14 million this year.
It has awarded $7.2 million to a group of organizations that are partnering to build a pediatric dental center and an early learning center at Edison College’s Collier County campus.
About $8 million from this year’s festival has been set aside for future long-term projects.
Grace Place for Children & Family in Golden Gate applied for a grant, but didn’t get money because of its religious ties.
The center offers afterschool programs for elementary and middle school students that include mentoring, tutoring and help with homework. It targets poorer students, many of whom speak English as a second language. All of the students quality for free or reduced lunch.
The programs include going to chapel. It’s Christian oriented, though it’s non-denominational.
Stephanie Munz Campbell, the center’s executive director, said she understands why the center was turned down.
“I’m not critical of them at all,” she said. “That is their guidelines.”
She hopes maybe one day the guidelines will change. The center is looking for $800,000 to upgrade its property and add classrooms so it can reach more children.
Organizations awarded 2007 grants:
Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, $845,000
Catholic Charities of Collier County, $50,000
Childcare of Southwest Florida, $250,000
Children's Home Society, $275,000
Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida, $100,000
Collier County Child Advocacy Council, $430,000
Collier Health Services, $500,000
ELMM Program, $350,000
Foster Care Council of Southwest Florida, $300,000
Fun Time Early Childhood Academy, $800,000
Guadalupe Center of Immokalee, $700,000
Immokalee Child Care Center, $200,000
Immokalee Non Profit Housing, $50,000
Marco Island YMCA, $100,000
Naples Equestrian Challenge, $150,000
PACE Center for Girls, $650,000
Shelter for Abused Women & Children, $200,000
St. Matt's Kids Camps, $25,000
Step by Step-Childhood Education and Therapy Center, $370,000
Tutor Corps Program, $84,500
YMCA of Collier County, $150,000
Strategic Initiative Grants:
Early Childhood Development Initiative, $1,650,000
Pediatric Oral Health Collaborative Initiative, $5,850,000