NAPLES — There was no raining on this parade.
At the Naples Botanical Garden on a soggy Sunday, 20 agencies received checks totaling $6 million collected during the Naples Winter Wine Festival.
The Naples Children & Education Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2010, bouncing back after a down year in 2009, and distributing the grants that serve as a lifeline for many nonprofits in Collier County.
Valerie Bostic, executive director of the Immokalee Child Care Center, said she woke with the Barbra Streisand Song “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in her head Sunday morning. As fat drops of water pounded the canvas tent where roughly 200 people gathered for a check presentation, Bostic sounded buoyant, and unfazed by the literal rain clouds unloading themselves over Collier County.
“Nothing has stopped you,” Bostic said to the trustees and benefactors who helped funnel $175,000 to her agency. “You haven’t let anything rain on your parade in the last 10 years — not a bad economy, not anything.”
The prime fundraising event of the foundation, the Wine Festival auction raised $8.2 million in just a few hours in January. That was $3 million more than the year before, but the total still stands in the shadow of the record $15.6 million raised in 2007.
But for a slate of agencies still struggling to serve Collier County’s poorest families in a tight economy, the checks distributed Sunday were a godsend.
“We thank you very much for helping us to surface when we were drowning and helping us build a home when we were homeless,” said Franny Kain, executive director of Fun Time Early Childhood Academy in Naples, which accepted a $105,000 grant this year from the foundation.
Kain’s sentiment was echoed 19 times over as the leaders of sister agencies stood on the podium, oversized checks in hand, to thank the trustees. The foundation’s goal has always been to help Collier County’s youngest residents get a leg up in life, through proper dental and medical care, literacy initiatives, tutoring, disability outreach or crisis counseling.
And while the foundation is still trying to regain some of the staggering monetary presence it commanded just a few years ago, it is expanding its initiatives.
A special auction lot — one of 61 — at the January auction was a love offering of sorts toward one such new initiative. Volunteers passed around a bucket, and invited attendees to write a dollar figure on a business card and drop it in the bucket. Unlike other auction lots, there was no tactile benefit for pledging a dollar amount, but the money donated goes toward an unprecedented initiative in Collier County, called the Collier HUGS initiative. In all, $603,350 was collected for that purpose.
It stands for Health Under Guided Systems, but fundraising chair Anne Welsh McNulty said the exact meaning of the acronym is not what’s important, it’s the intent behind it. HUGS seeks to identify and treat mental illness in Collier County’s children by streamlining the process and eliminating the stigma behind mental illness.
“In many ways, mental illness is where cancer was 20 years ago,” said McNulty. “It’s not talked about.”
A study commissioned by the foundation with the University of Florida and the University of South Florida found that more than 20 percent of children in the community may have a diagnosable mental illness, and roughly 20 percent of those children are actually receiving treatment.
Screenings will take place in schools, through the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and through the 20 agencies the foundation supports, McNulty said. In turn, several wine festival beneficiaries will align with community partners to provide education and treatment: the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Collier Health Services, Youth Haven, the Sheriff’s Office and the David Lawrence Center.
She said the agencies will work together to form a safety net, catching children with treatable mental illnesses who may be falling through the cracks.
“There’s not really an overall system of collaboration,” said McNulty. “If successful, we’ll be one of the few places to do this.”
Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale