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Are You Ready For Be Future Ready Day?

On Saturday, March 25, 2023, students in Collier County will have the unique opportunity to attend Be Future Read Day at Coastland Center Mall hosted by Future Ready Collier.

This event will allow students an opportunity to receive an instant admissions decision to a local college, be able to start and complete their FAFSA, and can be the first to apply to the JumpStart scholarship. All in one afternoon!

This event is for students that may want to go to college, haven’t made college plans yet, or are realizing they want to seek a certification or degree.

Be Future Ready Day was designed as an idea through Future Ready Collier to help high school seniors in Collier County be ready for life after high school.

Champions For Learning is proudly supporting Future Ready Collier to help coordinate this day to help the class of 2023 no matter their future plans.

Champions For Learning will be tabling at the event to promote the JumpStart Scholarship to provide Collier County students an opportunity to earn extra financial assistance.

To support Future Ready Collier, Champions For Learning volunteers and staff will be on site to assist students and families in completing Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications.

Future Ready Collier is inviting local colleges Florida Gulf Coast University, Keiser University, Florida SouthWestern State College, and Lorenzo Walker Technical for instant admissions decisions and admission fee waivers for students. This means that a student that brings their transcript, ACT/SAT, and CCPS student device could get their decision right there, a great move in the right direction for these students.

Future Ready Collier volunteers will be on site to help student seniors complete their FAFSA.

This is an important step to ensure students have the funding they need to pay for what degree or certification they are seeking.

The JumpStart scholarship will open that day at 11 am which totals 30-credit hours (a full year at a state college). This scholarship will be a first come first serve priority. No essay required.

Students will be asked to bring their FSA ID, social security numbers, 2021 Federal Income Tax Returns, CCPS laptop, and high school transcript.

We are so excited to help get Collier County students ready for their future!

Click here to access the flyer for more information Be Future Ready Day

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Day of Service

During Spring Break, Champions For Learning hosted Day of Service, a dedicated day to give students the opportunity to volunteer out in the community. This unique opportunity is another example of how Champions For Learning prepares students for their future.

Thanks to the C’MON Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples and our own volunteer program managers, students gained a better understanding of what organizations look for in their volunteers and how the actions of others create positive impact on non-profits all across Collier County.

After lunch, students traveled to the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC), to see firsthand how volunteers can serve our community. They learned how volunteers are selected and trained to work alongside the horses and riders at NTRC. All of the students were wowed by the experience and some who had never seen a horse up close gained a better understanding of the important role they play in helping others.

Juliana, a sophomore attending Lely high school shared, “My favorite part of today was petting the horses. I feel that it is very important to give back to our community due to how much the community gives to us. It’s really important for me to give back to my community knowing that they give constant support to me, my family, friends, and community members.”

In the afternoon, students visited Meals of Hope where they learned what it takes every day to deliver meals to people who need them most in our community. They were so moved by what they learned the group of 38 students packed 20,520 meals in two hours, a new record for Meals of Hope! In twenty-four hours that followed the visit, those meals were distributed throughout areas of Collier County.

Julia, a freshman attending Gulf Coast high school shared, “My favorite part of today was helping package meals for Meals of Hope for the Southwest Florida community. It felt really great working with others to get the project done.”

She continued, “Volunteering is important to me because it is helping me towards college and helping others. I like helping others and it makes me feel good to know I am making a difference.”

Thanks to our community partners and supporters, our students made a big difference during Day of Service. And we aren’t done yet!

April 29th Champions For Learning will be working with Meals of Hope again this time with a team motivated to continue giving back! More information about future volunteer opportunities will be available soon.

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Financially Supporting our Educators following Hurricane Ian- A letter from Barbara Evans

On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian destroyed parts of Southwest Florida. Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) was unable to resume school on Monday, October 3, 2022, because of staffing shortages not because of structural issues of the schools. Dr. Patton expressed deep concerns about the retention of the CCPS educator workforce. Due to the storm, our educator workforce is facing serious challenges with housing and transportation.

The Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions For Learning leaped into action to help address the CCPS retention challenges. We joined voices with the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations to secure an initial $350,000 gift from the Volunteer Florida Foundation’s Florida Disaster Fund which set our strategy in motion.

Champions For Learning has extensive experience in selection processes. We leaned on our experiences and developed a grant application, borrowing from a disaster relief nonprofit to build our Hurricane Ian application. Our grant application was posted on the CCPS website, and our application window was November 11, 2022 through November 30, 2022.

Eligible applicants must work for Collier County Public Schools (including CCPS Charter Schools). Applicants must demonstrate that they have sustained damage to their home or vehicles due to Hurricane Ian. Applicants were required to document all financial information related to all insurance claims and possible temporary living situations and temporary transportation solutions.

Champions For Learning put together a selection committee 100% composed of dedicated members of our community to make the award decisions. The committee utilized a selection rubric designed to identify educators with the greatest relief needs while removing any opportunity for personal biases. The committee maintained the goal of anchoring the Collier County educator workforce with intentionality, consistency, and fairness in their methodology for awarding.

As we gleaned a deeper understanding of the individual needs and shared our methodology and process, securing additional funding was less of a challenge. Champions For Learning secured a $587,830 gift from the Collier Community Foundation. We worked with Consortium of Florida Education Foundations to approach Governor and First Lady DeSantis for an additional $250,000 from Volunteer Florida Foundation’s Florida Disaster Fund.

The committee reviewed 179 applications, and we are providing funding to 177 applicants. Two of the applicants are no longer employed by Collier County Public Schools.

On Friday, January 20, 2023, Champions For Learning began distributing the funds to educators and staff. This funding will help with 1) deductibles for homeowners, flood, and car insurance, 2) rental increases for those who had to change rentals due to the storm, 3) first last and security deposits for those who had to move due to the storm, 4) those whose homes or mobile homes were not insurable and they experienced a total loss, 5) those whose homes or mobile homes were not insurable and they experienced a partial loss and were displaced, 6) storage expenses incurred for items that were salvaged, 7) household items (furniture, etc.), and 8) home repairs not covered by insurance. Our efforts are affording Champions For Learning to allocate more than $1.2 million for our Hurricane Ian response.

The Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions For Learning has been committed to ensuring that these funds that have been entrusted to us for distribution achieve the goal of our donors to assist educators in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. We are proud to be the conduit to ensure that our educators are anchored. We are proud that our donors invested in our Hurricane Ian response due to the integrity and intentionality of our selection and award process. We are proud that we can assist with ensuring Collier County Public Schools with their most pressing issue around educator retention. We are proud to be champions for learning. Education is everything.

In gratitude,


Barbara Evans, CFRE

President and CEO

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Champions For Learning Participates in Give Where You Live Collier for Ninth Consecutive Year

The ninth annual Give Where You Live Collier is a Collier County-wide movement to celebrate and increase philanthropy, from noon on February 15, 2023, until noon on February 16, 2023.

Built upon the idea that everyone can be a philanthropist, this project provides an easy way to support the education and basic needs efforts of 37 nonprofits through a 24-hour, online fundraiser. Champions For Learning is proud to participate in this community wide effort again, this year.

For more information on how you can help, please email Jason Kurek at JKurek@ChampionsForLearning.org or give him a call at (239) 687-1373.

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Teacher of Distinction Breakfast 2023

Teachers from across Collier County gathered for Champions For Learning’s annual Teacher of Distinction breakfast on January 5th, graciously hosted by Adams Foods/McDonald’s, Inc. at the Shoppes of Pebblebrooke. The 2022- 2023 Teachers of Distinction came together to kick off the new year and the next phase of the Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Program.

This is always a special celebration for the teachers, as McDonalds prints tray liners with the photos of the Teachers of Distinction and each teacher is provided a framed copy. Additionally, Adams Foods provides teachers with a branded tumbler. This year, a fifth grade Entrepreneurship class at Eden Park Elementary, that manages the Bobcat Boutique – a student run business that designs and cuts vinyl items- made the tumblers, which made the gift even more special for the teachers.

“The Golden Apple program is a wonderful way for the community to celebrate and elevate the amazing teachers in Collier County Public Schools,” said Amy Snyder, Executive Director of Educator Programs, Champions For Learning. “The teachers make a difference in their classrooms day after day and having a morning outside of their classrooms, being celebrated by the community, is always special.”

The Teacher of Distinction McDonald’s breakfast is just one component of the Golden Apple program. In addition to several celebration and networking opportunities, the community-based selection committee learns about and observes the Teachers of Distinction best teaching practices, which leads to the selection of the Golden Apple recipients.

Click HERE to view pictures from the event!

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Etiquette Luncheon

Naples Yacht Club graciously hosted an Etiquette Luncheon to prepare seniors involved in programming at Champions For Learning for Night of Champions. Eagerly awaiting this signature event, the students arrived at Naples Yacht Club where recent Glass Slipper recipient Brenda O’Connor and former City of Naples Mayor Bill Barnett facilitated an informational etiquette class instructing basic techniques and formalities.

This special event not only prepares our students for Night of Champions, but more importantly, it gives them skills for a successful future. Champions For Learning cannot thank Brenda, Bill and the Naples Yacht Club enough for their support.

A few students shared their perspective and what they learned from this opportunity.

Hector R. shared, “The luncheon was very nice and professional. This practice is needed for someone that doesn’t normally eat so formally. I learned a lot and it was nice to learn how to be more proper at a table. I am very excited for Night of Champions!”

Adriana S. explained, “For my final JROTC project, we learned about etiquette, but this event was helpful because I was able to learn new things. I am happy Champions hosts events like these. Learning proper etiquette is very important especially for the kids that are not exposed to this kind of dining experience. I feel more comfortable knowing what to expect at Night of Champions.”

Champions For Learning is proud to provide this unique experience to our students, so they feel prepared and confident not only at Night of Champions but also in their future.

Boone N. shared, “I was a bit nervous coming to the luncheon because I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very comfortable going there. I learned plate etiquette and how it is used to make other people feel comfortable. They gave good insight and how this is beneficial for our future and for job interviews. I’ve never had the opportunity to do something like this, but I am glad I went, it was something new.”

Thanks to the generous support of Naples Yacht Club, Champions For Learning students were taught the proper etiquette for attending a formal dinner. Champions For Learning offers these unique experiences to students to prepare and educate them beyond the classroom.

The next step for students in preparation for Night of Champions will be a networking reception opportunity February 7th and 8th hosted at Champions For Learning.

Champions For Learning’s signature event, Night of Champions will be held on February 25 at the Naples Grande Beach Resort.

The following honorees will be celebrated that night: Gary & Kim Price, Serge Ecityan, Braulio Colon, Pat Botthof, Ritch Cuvier, Marti & Gordon Watson and Heart of the Apple: Gary Personette.

For more information and ticket purchases visit our website.

Lindsay Lydon is a graduate of Champions For Learning’s Take Stock in Children mentoring and scholarship program. She is currently a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University studying marketing and advertising and is working part-time with Champions For Learning.

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“It’s Life Changing For These Families, Especially in Rural Areas.”

Collier County is home to eight high schools with thousands of seniors eager to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and excited to hear back on college acceptances. There are many community resources in Collier County, including Champions For Learning that offer FAFSA assistance, but that is not the case for other communities.

Recently, the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations received a rural county grant through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help bring support and assistance through peer-matching, to help this issue.

Through this grant, Glades County became the receiving rural county and Champions For Learning was partnered as the peer match through the Consortium to offer support.

Together, Champions For Learning and Glades Education Foundation hosted a FAFSA completion event where Jessica Manchette, Champions For Learning’s Chief Programs Officer, went to Moore Haven Middle-High School to assist the senior class.

“When it came to light that Glades wanted to focus specifically on helping their students get their FAFSA completed, that is something that is close to both the mission of Champions For Learning as an organization and to me personally,” shared Jessica. “We don’t limit our resources to just the students we serve here in Collier County. Our best practice is that we share opportunities and resources openly and widely at no cost to students and families as well as our community partners across the state.”

Glades County is home to one high school with less than one hundred seniors enrolled. With more than half of seniors in attendance, 30 completed their FAFSA and plan to pursue higher education this fall. Champions For Learning is proud to support neighboring communities with these events, this is an amazing accomplishment.

Manchette shared just how tailored this event was towards Glades County. “We walked the student’s question-by-question to fill out the FAFSA. The Education Foundation of Glades County also helped to provide translators because we had many parents that did not speak English.”

“After completing the FAFSA, students and families can instantly see what Pell grant they qualify for. Students of high-economic need have a higher chance of qualifying for needs-based opportunites, like the Federal Pell grant,” said Manchette.

More than half of the students at Moore Haven Middle-High School demonstrate economic need and qualify for a needs-based grant. Completing the FAFSA is very important for these seniors and is one of the first steps in them reaching their post-secondary and career goals.

Manchette shared, “The biggest barrier for many families is the cost of what college truly is. If we can remove that cost prohibitive barrier – whether that means getting a student to a technical college, a state college, or even a state university, we’re enabling them to get that certification. That degree will help them earn a very solid living wage, right here in our community.”

“It’s life changing for these families, especially in these rural areas. These kids do not have as many opportunities. Being able to bring this opportunity to them — to get a solid education and really pursue a meaningful career – is so incredibly rewarding.”

This FAFSA completion event has gifted Glades counselors, with knowledge that they will now be able to share with the countless seniors that will graduate from Moore Haven in future years.

Champions For Learning is proud to be a supporter for education and to fulfill our vision to offer a community one-hundred percent engaged in support of student success. Champions For Learning is determined to be a catalyst for change, to reach all high school seniors and offer assistance so students can complete the FAFSA with as much assistance as needed.

The FAFSA can be a difficult application to complete, especially for students completing it for the first time. As the Education Foundation in Collier County, Champions For Learning serves as a community to inform, assist, and celebrate students and their achievements in preparing them for college and career success.

Are you a student that needs assistance in completing your FAFSA? Visit our website for step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA.

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Honoring Lavern Gaynor

Lavern Gaynor understood the importance of an education and how transformative it can be. Her personal passion and leadership around education and the difference it makes for individuals, families and our entire community was evident in all she did.

Mrs. Gaynor made such a positive impact not only on Champions For Learning, but also Southwest Florida. It is because of Lavern’s heart and dedication that we honor her on December 20th, her birthdate.

This December 20th, Champions For Learning encourages those in Collier County to #LeadLikeMrsGaynor. The idea of leading like Mrs. Gaynor came about last year as a way to honor her memory and everything she has done for the community. Leading like Mrs. Gaynor can look different for everyone, but all are encouraged to participate in acts of kindness, just like Lavern would.

Some examples of acts of kindness are below:

  • Bake cookies for the elderly
  • Help at a veterinarian office
  • Give someone a compliment
  • Make dinner for a family in need
  • Hold doors open for people
  • Thank a teacher with a gift
  • Plant a tree
  • Walk a neighbor’s dog
  • Donate some of your clothes
  • Write an encouraging note to someone you know

The list of acts of kindness is endless. Whatever act of kindness you choose to display on December 20th, be sure to use the hashtag #LeadLikeMrsGaynor when posting on social media.

Lavern was a supporter of the Champions For Learning Take Stock in Children scholarship and mentoring program. This program continues to have an impact on students within Collier County to this day through Mrs. Gaynor’s estate gift.

The impact of Mrs. Lavern Gaynor’s leadership and the legacy is seen today throughout Collier County. It is because of Mrs. Gaynor that Future Ready Collier (FRC) partners have the opportunity to collaborate and strive for the collective success of our entire community.  Champions For Learning is the backbone organization facilitating the collaboration of more than 60 partners in education through FRC.

Read more about Lavern Gaynor:

Lavern Gaynor’s generous spirit, keen intellect, and natural curiosity, combined with the small-town values instilled by her parents, was a recipe for living a purposeful life.

Her parents, Lester and Dellora Norris, primarily raised their family in the small farm town of St. Charles, Illinois.

Her father, Lester, was a renowned cartoon illustrator and the family had the opportunity to travel quite a bit.

While a family of means, giving was always at the heart of what her parents did. Their lesson was, if you think enough of a community to live in it, you should do what you can to support and invest in that community to make it a wonderful home for all.

That lesson, along with honesty, fairness, understanding, and volunteerism, guided Lavern in her life.

While attending Northwestern University in 1942, Lavern volunteered on the south side of Chicago, tutoring and mentoring teenage boys whose fathers were drafted into WW Il and mothers had to go to work. She began to understand the struggles children were facing and without volunteer support, they had a higher chance of being negatively impacted.

The Norris family has very deep ties in Naples. In 1945, Lavern joined her parents on her first trip to Naples where they invested in the Keewaydin Club and later bought five miles on Key Island to preserve it.

Lavern was proud of her family’s efforts to help shape the entire community of Naples.

Lavern married George Gaynor in 1946. When George was promoted at Texaco, he transferred to Belgium with the entire family, their son was four and daughter six.

Lavern’s experiences as a foreigner living in Europe helped her understand firsthand, the challenges of immigrant parents trying to educate and raise their children in the U.S. when English is not their native language.

In 1976, after many years overseas, Lavern and George returned to the U.S. and settled in Naples permanently.

Lavern has watched Naples grow from a sleepy fishing village to a fast-growing and thriving community.

Just as her parents taught her, Lavern dedicated herself to making Naples a wonderful home for all.

Having grown her own understanding and advocacy for children through her experience as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, her passion for education, and the opportunities it brings, is one that has made the difference for thousands of children.

And, her value for learning, and listening to understand one another’s perspectives, has been a significant influence on the culture of our community.

“I know in my heart,” said Lavern, “that these children, teenagers, and families are well prepared to be successful in their future educational endeavors, careers and lives, and will eventually be the ones giving back in a meaningful way and ensuring the future success of the community.”

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Champions For Learning Honors 2022-2023 Glass Slipper Recipients at Luncheon

Champions For Learning honored the 2022-2023 Glass Slipper recipients at a luncheon Thursday, December 1st at The Club at Olde Cypress. The honorees are Brenda O’Connor, Dr. Kamela Patton and Tammi Pittaro (see below for bios).

Each year, the Glass Slipper event is held to honor female leaders for their dedication and service to the children of Collier County. This event and recognition program benefits young ladies who are graduates of Champions For Learning scholarship and mentoring programs and helps meet their needs as college students. Since the inception of the Glass Slipper event in 2004, $167,000 has been raised, providing 32 young women the funding needed to complete their degrees.

This year, $26,790 was raised to provide scholarships for women who have completed 60 semester hours but need additional scholarships funds to complete their postsecondary education. The Glass Slipper Scholarships helps Champions For Learning ensure that graduates from the organization are not just getting to college, but through college.

$2,500 was raised at the Glass Slipper Luncheon event through a wine pull in honor of Myra Daniels. Mayra was a 2013 Glass Slipper recipient. These funds will go towards a scholarship in her name.

This year’s event was co-chaired by Gina Lostracco and Dottie Whipple, both previous Glass Slipper honorees. The event was sponsored by Naples Daily News and Naples Illustrated, and hosted by Stock Development.

Pictures from the luncheon can be viewed here.

Meet the 2022-2023 Glass Slipper Recipients:


Brenda O’Connor is an unsung hero in many ways.  She has supported children and education for many years in numerous ways.  Each year she hosts and sponsors the CFL students at Naples Yacht Club for their etiquette class/luncheon which has proven to be so successful at CFL events.  She has not only supported Champions for years, but also serves as Chair of the Women’s Foundation and has served on the Board of Youth Haven.  It is wonderful to have Brenda as a member of the Glass Slipper Sisterhood.




Dr. Kamela Patton is currently in her 12th year as  is the district’s first female superintendent in Collier County Public Schools history. She has spent the past several year tackling some of biggest obstacles Collier County has faced to date, springing into action to see our students and educators through a global pandemic and two major hurricanes with a “whatever it takes” attitude. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Dr. Patton has always prioritized communications and transparency and has worked diligently to strengthen the connection between the school district and our amazing community. This past year, Dr. Patton was selected as the Florida Superintendent of the Year. She will be capping her 35-year career in public education this spring and, for all of her service to our community, is truly deserving of this recognition.



Tammi Pitaro has served in many volunteer roles in support of Champions for Learning over the years.  She is an experienced Mentor with Champion’s Take Stock program.  She has been on the Golden Apple and Classroom Grant Selection Committees.  And as a Student Programs volunteer, she has helped with resume writing, personal statements, networking and as a financial aide coach helped students and parents prepare FAFSA Applications.  Tammi is always willing to pitch in and embodies the spirit of the Glass Slipper award

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Gary Personette Honored as Champions For Learning’s Heart of the Apple Recipient

Champions For Learning is honored to announce Gary Personette as the 2022-2023 Heart of the Apple recipient. Each year, Champions For Learning awards the Heart of the Apple in recognition of sustained and committed leadership in support of building the culture of learning in our community through the mission of Champions For Learning.

Helping young adults achieve their greatest protentional is something Gary excels at. Gary has been a volunteer with Champions For Learning for over ten years, starting with the Golden Gate High School pilot program. During his time, he has mentored five Champions For Learning students. Gary has been a Board member, an Ambassador, a selection committee volunteer, a financial aid coach, and an event volunteer.

Gary was instrumental in bringing the successful Incubator EDU Entrepreneurship program to public schools throughout Collier County, preparing young people in an ever-changing global environment to be creative and resilient problem solvers and critical thinkers. Through his unwavering spirit, Collier County Public Schools implemented the program. It was first established in all of the Collier County public high schools where it soon after was to all middle schools. This year, the program has been expanded all to way to our elementary schools.

Due to the of the success and expansion of the program, Champions For Learning now provides support to the entrepreneurship program and program volunteers. This is an amazing opportunity for Champions For Learning to further support entrepreneurship in our community. As a former Wealth Manager for Wells Fargo, Gary exemplifies excellence both in the community and professionally.

“We are proud to honor Gary who has had a significant impact on the youth and education of Collier County. His dedication to entrepreneurship and helping the next generation has impacted countless lives,” said Barbara Evans, CEO of Champions For Learning. “Gary truly embodies the Heart of the Apple award.”

Gary was honored at an intimate reception on November 16, 2022, at Royal Poinciana Golf Club. Through the support shown at this event, it is evident the community recognizes the impact Gary has had on education and the youth of Collier County.

Gary will be honored again at Champions For Learning’s signature event, Night of Champions on February 25, 2023 at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, along with this year’s Champions. Opportunities to sponsor and attend the event are available. For more information on event sponsorships and ticket sales contact Jason Kurek at JKurek@championsforlearning.org.

View additional pictures from the Heart of the Apple Reception by clicking here.

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