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Together we will make a difference.

Dear Champion,

When asked why my husband and I support Champions For Learning, I could give a list of reasons. I could answer that I value the mission of creating a life-changing learning experience for every student. I could answer that I relate to the struggles that more than half of Collier County Public School students face. Having moved to this country as a toddler and had a mother who was learning English as I was learning how to speak, I understand the frustration of coming home from school and not being able to turn to my college-educated mother for help with my homework, simply because her command of the English language wasn’t strong enough. I could answer that I value the role of educators as it was my teachers that helped close the gap that I faced with my education. I could answer that as a parent I relate with the desire to have resources available for the education of children. But the real answer is simple. We give because we believe that education is everything.

I have a tremendous respect for the students and families of Champions For Learning. I find there is a reverence for the space and the opportunity that is offered at Champions For Learning. I have never seen a parent participation rate as high as our parents have at Champions For Learning. Education is everything.

Every day I have the great honor of working alongside our dedicated students, and every day I watch them work tirelessly to achieve a path to college and career. I have heard countless stories shared by our mentors who express admiration of their mentees who give all they can to be the first in their families to attend college. Never have I seen a program where 76% of our high school alumni earn a degree or credential after they have graduated from our programs, well above the national average of 50%. Education is everything.

Our community is fortunate to have thousands of educators charged with the education of our future generation. I have witnessed a dedication to the art of teaching as I reviewed hundreds of applications submitted for funding in our classroom grants program. Many of our educators expressed that they will use their own money to meet their budgetary gaps if their awarded grant cannot fully meet their need, to ensure their students had the most meaningful learning experience. Education is everything.

I am in awe of our Golden Apple and Classroom Grants programs that celebrate the best practices of our treasured educators. These teachers are willing to share their best practice with their peers, they participate in peer learning and networking, and have a best practice that results in demonstrable student success. Education is everything.

I cannot thank you enough for your critical partnership. You have helped shape our impact. You have helped provide a path for student success. You have lifted our educators. Will you remain steadfast in your belief that education is everything? Can we count on your loyal support? Together we will make a difference.

In gratitude,

Barbara Evans
President & CEO

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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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Preparing Students for Success through Career Exploration Labs

Students involved in Champions For Learning programming are getting a better look at what their future career could look like. For two weeks, successful business men and women within Collier County have taken the time to visit Champions For Learning and speak with students. Topics range from how they began their career, to what they studied in college to what students should be doing today to prepare for a future career.

Alan is a student within Champions For Learning and has aspirations to study biotechnology. He attended the Business and Entrepreneurship lab because he feels that business is used everywhere, even in the medical field.

“I wanted to learn more about the career path process and how I can develop skills that can help me advance towards my preferred career,” said Alan.

Other session that have been available are Communications, Information Systems, Engineering, Manufacturing, Technology, Business, Entrepreneurship, Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

“I think that when I was younger and starting my entrepreneurship journey, there were not a lot of resources like this. This is a great resources and I love to be a part of the development of young minds. I think that’s a really cool thing,” said Rafael Feliciano, a guest speaker at the Business and Entrepreneurship session.

Tasheekia Harris is an entrepreneur who founded her own organization, Crowning Daughters for Success. Her mission is to inspire and enhance the diverse lifestyle of young girls and women. She dedicated her time to come and speak to students about starting a business and what that looked like for her.

“I believe if we build strong, children, we will not need to repair broken men. That quote is from Fedrick Douglas. This is the building process. We are in the building process together and this was one brick that I believe will make a huge difference in how our young people think, how they act, and how they pursue their dreams,” said Harris.

Each session has been facilitated by a volunteer. These moderators have helped keep the session on track making sure students get the most out of each.

Career Exploration labs continue with session regarding Health Sciences, Technology, and Human Services.

If helping students prepare for a future career sounds interesting to you, join us for a Champions 101. These are information sessions that serve as an introduction to who we are, what we do, and how to help.

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Champions For Learning to Name Five Suncoast Credit Union Scholars in 2023

The Suncoast Credit Union Foundation is partnering with Champions For Learning to offer 5 of $2,000 scholarship awards to high school graduates in the Class of 2023. This year’s  high school graduates in Suncoast Credit Union’s 21-county service territory have the opportunity to apply for financial support to continue their education, thanks to a $116,000 investment in scholarships by the Tampa-based credit union’s Foundation.

Applications will be open now through February 11, 2022 and are available by clicking here.

This year’s Suncoast Credit Union Scholars program represents a continued philosophy of the foundation to support education initiatives and the well-being and potential of children.  Since its inception in 1990, the Foundation has contributed more than $33 million including more than $2.4 million in scholarships.

“We believe the best way we can build better communities is by investing in education and health-related initiatives for children,” said Cindy Helton, recently retired Executive Director of the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation.  “Through the Suncoast Credit Union Scholars program, we have the opportunity to invest in individual human potential, which is particularly rewarding.”

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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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Champions For Learning’s CEO Becomes Principal for a Day

Champions For Learning’s CEO, Barbara Evans, had the pleasure of being Principal Evans for a day at Manatee Elementary School. Evans spent the day reading to students, participating in student leadership meetings and so much more!

The Principal for a Day program was designed to help give community leaders a better understanding of what school looks like within the Collier County schools.

“Our Principal for a Day initiative in Collier County allows us to get different members of the community into our schools to share the good news of what is happening. It allows people in the community to see what is happening on a day-to-day basis. What’s happening in the classroom, with the children. What is happening with our teachers. It helps us spread the good news about our school and get to know the leaders in our community. I was very excited to be connected with Barbara so I could get to know her as the new leader of Champions For Learning,” said Dr. Laurie Mearsheimer, principal of Manatee Elementary School.

On top of all the reading to students, observing classrooms and participating in meetings, Principal Evans quickly won over her new staff with a catered lunch generously donated by Publix.

“Being on the inside and seeing how a typical school day functions is amazing. Our educators and staff do so much for our students. It is comforting to know our students are in good hands. Education is everything,” said Evans.

The title of Principal Evans has now been retired however it is safe to say Manatee Elementary School is in great hands.

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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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Champions For Learning Announces Collier County Teachers of Distinction

Champions for Learning is excited to announce the 2022-2023 Teachers of Distinction for Collier County. As part of the Golden Apple Teacher Recognition Program, each school in Collier County Public Schools has the opportunity to nominate a teacher and best practice to highlight on behalf of their school. From this group of 60 Teachers of Distinction  from 58 Collier County schools, Champions For Learning’s community-based selection committee identifies the Golden Apple recipients (see list below).

Each Teacher of Distinction received a $250 cash award, and now has the opportunity to share their ideas and practices across the county with their colleagues and the community through the Golden Apple process. With a vision of a community that is 100% engaged in support of student success, Champions For Learning creates opportunities for educators that support high impact learning experiences for every child.

Thanks to Presenting Sponsor, Suncoast Credit Union, for the support provided to educators. Generous support is also provided by Golden Apple Major Sponsors: Conditioned Air, Mary Ingram, Moorings Park, Naples Daily News, Naples Illustrated, NBC-2, and Stock Development. The Teachers of Distinction and the Golden Apple recipients will be honored at the Annual Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers Dinner, presented by Suncoast Credit Union, on May 12, 2023 at The Naples Grande Beach Resort.

Several highly visible sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information on event sponsorships and ticket sales, contact Jason Kurek at jkurek@championsforlearning.org.

PDF of 2022-23 Teachers of Distinction










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Disaster Assistance Application Now Open for Collier County Teachers in Need

Many Collier County teachers are facing serious challenges with housing and transportation following the destruction of Hurricane Ian. The Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions For Learning – is uniquely positioned to articulate the needs of Collier County students and educators in times of need. To help, Champions For Learning has joined voices with the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations to secure a $350,000 gift to assist Collier County educators. This gift is part of the $2 million dollar gift from Governor and First Lady DeSantis’ Florida Disaster Fund, divided amongst the six education foundations (Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Collier, DeSoto and Hardee) who are facing similar staffing challenges post Ian.

Champions For Learning has extensive experience in selection processes and has leaned on their experiences to develop a grant application. This application window is now open and is available on the Collier County Public School website (https://www.collierschools.com/staff). Applications are due on November 30, 2022.

“These funds will directly assist our educators who are admirably teaching and supporting students while trying to rebuild their own lives,” said Dr. Kamela Patton, Superintendent of Collier County Public Schools. “We are grateful to partner with our Education Foundation of Collier County, Champions For Learning, to directly support staff who need this assistance the most.”

To be eligible, applicants must work for Collier County Public Schools (including CCPS Charter Schools). Applicants must demonstrate that they have sustained damage to their home and/or vehicle(s) due to Hurricane Ian. Applicants are required to document all financial information related to insurance claims, possible temporary living situations and temporary transportation solutions.

“Champions For Leaning is proud to be the conduit to ensure that our educators are anchored in our community. We are proud that we can assist Collier County Public Schools in resolving educator housing and transportation needs, their most pressing issue around educator retention post-Ian,” said Barbara Evans, CEO of Champions For Learning. “Education is everything.”

Champions For Learning is putting together a selection committee 100% composed of dedicated members of the Collier County community to make the award decisions. The committee will utilize a selection rubric designed to identify educators with the greatest needs while removing any opportunity for personal biases.

Champions For Learning is committed to ensuring that these funds that have been entrusted to the organization for distribution achieve the goal of the donor to assist educators in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. 100% of this gift will be distributed without administrative fees.

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Stress Management Lab

As students grow closer to applying to colleges, they begin to feel anxious, scared, or stressed because of the unknown future. This can be overwhelming. Champions For Learning wants to remind every student that we are always here for them.

To help our students, Champions For Learning hosted a stress management lab teaching students how to manage and cope with their emotions.

“This year is my junior year and I will be taking a lot of different classes. I know these classes will give a lot of homework which can cause me a lot of stress. In the past, I haven’t managed my stress as well as I could have, that’s why I attended today because I felt that this event could teach me”, shared Andrea.

The purpose of this event was to teach our students how to manage stress and learn how to adjust to new challenges that may seem overwhelming. By educating students on mindfulness and coping, Champions For Learning offered a unique opportunity for students, especially to those who do not know what resources to turn to.

“I chose to come to lab today because stress can affect how we feel every day. Sometimes when my stress overfills, I will do something without thinking and get overwhelmed, so it’s important for me to learn how to manage it.” Shared Evansley

Students find their senior year of high school to be the most stressful. By hosting this event Champions For Learning gets feedback from students on how they are doing, allowing us to understand their feelings, granting us insight in how to better serve them. Champions For Learning staff find it important to host these events to provide for the wellbeing of our students.

“Every year is a year closer to college. It will be a lot more stressful during college, so I wanted to come today to learn how to manage stress”, shared Briana.

“One day I want to be a doctor and its important I learn how to manage my stress now. I’m happy that Champions offers this lab because we don’t receive help like this at school”, shared Evansley.

Whether students are in sports, have a large workload, or have responsibilities at home, Champions For Learning knows that life can be challenging. Champions for Learning hosts these events to remind students that we are always here to support them.

“I decided to attend today because I feel that it is important to learn how to adjust to a college-based schedule and in the end, I feel that this is going to help me learn to manage myself and my workload”, Zaden shared.

In high school, many students suffer from mental health conditions most commonly stress and anxiety. The best way to help others dealing with mental health issues is to allow them to recognize the signs and problems, then to offer information, support, and guidance to help them overcome.

We take opportunities like this to share with students how to manage their feelings and encourage them to share their thoughts. This allows us to better understand our students and collectively we learn how we can grow together.

Champions For Learning staff that hosted this lab have a history in counseling students, making them more than qualified to introduce these concepts.

Dani Henderson, (Programs Relationship Manager) had previously served as a Program Coordinator for middle and high school students, providing case management studies discussing life and social skills, as well as leading peer mentoring.

Kristin Carolan, (Director of Student Success) previously had been the program director at NTRC serving for over a decade as a therapist with adults, children, and families in need of mental health services. She graduated with her M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy and has provided therapeutic services to CCPS & Youth Haven.

Jim Gambino, (Counselor for Student success) assists students with a variety of student personnel services. He has a master’s degree in counseling and a masters in school leadership. He has held positions in teaching, personal counseling, and administration. He directly supports seniors in planning their future through financial planning, personal statements, and career exploration.

To help engage in Champions For Learning opportunities or to assist in student experiences, view ways to give on 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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