The checks flowed like fine wine Wednesday as the organizers of the Naples Winter Wine Festival handed out more than $17.3 million to nonprofit groups serving the neediest children in Collier County.
The amount of the grants set a single-year record and more groups received money this year than in any other.
Under the glow of chandeliers at the Ritz-Carlton, Golf Resort at Tiburon in North Naples, the trustees of the Naples Children and Education Foundation gave a total of 28 grants. Checks worth $6.5 million went directly to 24 children’s charities for use right away.
Several agencies participating in longer-term projects received another $10.8 million.
The money comes from the three-day wine festival, which this year raised $14 million under the auction tent.
This year’s theme was “Inspiring Tomorrow’s Heroes.”
The festival has become known around the world for its elaborate auction lots that include fast cars, rare wines and exotic trips. One lot this year included tickets to the 2008 Academy Awards, a walk-on role on “Desperate Housewives” and an unwinding trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico -- that lot brought $1 million.
Don Gunther, the Foundation trustee and 2008 festival chairman, called the check ceremony “truly our favorite day of the year.”
“Each and every one of you work unselfishly to provide services to the children most at risk in this community. You are truly the heroes that inspire us to do what we do. And you are the heroes that inspire the children today to be tomorrow’s heroes,” he said.
The Boys & Girls Club of Collier County received the most money, two grants worth $7.35 million. Most of that money _ $6.5 million _ will go toward building a new campus in Immokalee.
“It’s a huge day for Immokalee,” said Terry Flynn, chairman of the Boys & Girls Club.
The grant will cover about $3 million in construction costs. Another $500,000 will go toward planning, permitting and design for the new building, and about $2.5 million will help cover operating costs in the first three years.
The grant has given the club a “great leap ahead,” Flynn said.
However, the organization still needs to raise at least another $3 million for construction.
“It’s like we were running the 100-yard dash and they were letting us start at the 50-yard line,” Flynn said.
The club’s other grant will allow it to continue an all-day summer program that serves 800 children a day at its campus in East Naples. As part of the program, it serves 38,000 meals.
The second-largest grant, $2,329,065, will be used for the development of an in-home early learning network in Immokalee. Early learning is one of four strategic initiatives for the Naples Children and Education Foundation. The others are medical/oral health, out-of-school programs and social care.
Trustees also awarded $2 million to the Isabel Collier Read Medical campus in Immokalee to expand its pediatric clinic by another 13,000 square feet and add maternal services.
“It’s truly a wonderful partnership because it brings together so many entities for such a great cause,” said Perry Fulkerson, a vice president for the Florida State University Foundation.
Florida State University and Collier Health Services worked together to establish the medical campus, which also offers training to medical students.
Other grants will provide everything from books and counseling to eyeglasses and language class to needy children.
The Fun Time Early Learning Academy, which serves some of the county’s poorest kids living in River Park in Naples, received $100,000.
It was awarded an $800,000 grant last year for a new building, $700,000 of which was reserved for construction. With that grant, matching money was required by the academy.
“A year ago, this incredible foundation took a gamble, and they took a gamble on a group that banded together to save an organization that has provided early learning and day care for 46 years in this community. They took the gamble, and it succeeded,” said Peter Manion, a co-chair of Fun Time’s board of directors.
Dirt will start moving soon on the new building and it should open by summer, he said.
Other grant winners included Catholic Charities, Child Care of Southwest Florida, the Immokalee Child Care Center, the Marco Island YMCA, St. Matthew’s House, Youth Haven and Vision Quest.
The Immokalee Child Care Center received $200,000 that will enable it to provide scholarships to 60 more children, with matching money.
About 170 people attended Wednesday’s event.
John Scott Mueller, trustee and the 2008 grant committee chairman, said the ceremony was a celebration of the children the foundation serves.
“Ours is a special partnership, one from the heart, a special bonding for the benefit of the kids that we serve and love,” he said, addressing the dozens of nonprofit groups represented in the hotel ballroom.
Since its inception in 2001, the Naples Winter Wine Festival has raised more than $69 million for needy children.
Last year, it gave out $14.4 million in grants.
Planning already is under way for the 2009 festival.
Grant applications and more information can be found at napleswinefestival.com.
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The following organizations received grants from the Naples Children and Education Foundation, organizers of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, on Wednesday:
Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, $850,000
*Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Immokalee campus, $6.5 million
Catholic Charities, $50,000
Child Care of Southwest Florida, $182,000
Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, $265,000
Collier County Child Advocacy Council, $450,000
ELLM program, $246,000
First Book of Collier County, $50,000
Foster Care Council of Southwest Florida, $300,000
*FSU/CHSI Isabel Collier Read Medical Campus, $2 million
Fun Time Early Learning Academy, $100,000
Guadalupe Center of Immokalee, $700,000
Immokalee Child Care Center, $200,000
Immokalee Non Profit Housing, $300,000
*Immokalee Early Learning Initiative, $2,329,065
Marco Island YMCA, $100,000
Naples Equestrian Challenge, $200,000
PACE Center for Girls, $100,000
Redlands Christian Migrant Association, $350,000
Shelter for Abused Women & Children, $250,000
Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board, $165,000
St. Matthew’s House, $55,000
Step-by-Step Childhood Education and Therapy Center, $315,000
Tutor Corps, $116,000
Vision Quest, $50,000
YMCA of the Palms, $700,000
Youth Haven, $300,000
* Indicates grants made for long-term strategic initiatives