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Supporting Champions For Learning

Classroom Grant Helps Build Relationships Across the Lunch Table

Thanks to a Champions For Learning classroom grant, Anna Bowe, a 9th-12th grade teacher and the sponsor of the We Dine Together club at Lely High school, has been able to provide safe space for students to combat social isolation and bullying.

We Dine Together, a nationwide student-led organization, was founded on the belief that lasting relationships and impact happen over the dining table. By bringing students together around four key areas of resilience, acts of kindness, advocacy, and awareness a more inclusive environment is created while ensuring no one eats alone.

Mrs. Bowe requested a Champions For Learning classroom grant to fund “Dine, Decorate, and Enjoy”. Every Wednesday during lunch, Mrs. Bowe opened her classroom and gave students an opportunity to do craft projects while meeting others who likely would have eaten alone.

“Even students who tend to be withdrawn and do not easily socialize with others benefit from showing their skills, or learning skills from others, while engaging in hands-on activities,” said Mrs. Bowe. “Decorating brings joy to the eyes and to the soul, gives purpose, provides a sense of well-being, and bonds by watching and learning from each other.”

Champions For Learning’s grant allowed Mrs. Bowe to purchase canvas bags, T-shirts, markers, and wooden carvings for students to decorate. The time in Mrs. Bowe’s classroom gave students the opportunity to sit together, have conversations, meet new people, and encouraged them to bring their friends.

Mrs. Bowe shared, “It is refreshing to observe young people leave their cellphones on the side, and engage in conversations and jokes, acknowledging each other’s presence.”

This is not Mrs. Bowe’s only classroom grant from Champions For Learning. In 2022 the Friendship Garden at Lely High School was designed and built thanks to funding from Champions For Learning. Mrs. Bowe purchased mulch, potting soil, spray paint, bird seed, planter pots, and several plants for the garden. Student volunteers and members of We Dine Together help maintain the garden.

Champions For Learning is proud to serve as a catalyst for educational success by investing in Collier’s students and educators. Charitable gifts to Campions For Learning allow us to continue to fund these unique learning experiences for Collier County students. Applications for the 2023-24 school year will become available later this summer. Until then, you can view a list of last year’s funded classroom grants by clicking HERE.


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Champions For Learning Prepares Graduates for College

On Thursday, June 8th, Champions For Learning hosted its Senior Send-Off and provided our 2023 high school graduates with refurbished bicycles and laptops to use at college as well as a Wal-Mart gift card for each student. Because of the generosity of Bikes for Tykes and North Naples Church, we provided these recently graduated seniors with the tools they need to succeed in college.

Some graduates from Champions For Learning will not have a car in college. With college campuses being widespread, having transportation is crucial. Bikes for Tykes refurbished 25 bikes to help the 2023 Champions For Learning graduates who are in need of transportation in college. Students were also provided with helmets and bike locks.

“We have an annual event with Champions For Learning, a place where I also mentor children. It’s a bike giveaway for the graduates as an award for those who are going to a campus that may be too big to walk around. So we offer our bikes,” said John Whipple, Champions For Learning mentor and Vice President of the Bikes for Tykes board.

If transportation is not an issue for students, but technology is, Champions For Learning provided 25 refurbished laptops to 2023 program graduates who do not have a computer or tablet since turning in their Collier County Public Schools device upon graduating. These laptops have been donated and refurbished by community members.

“Today they [Champions For Learning] provided me with a laptop and a bike which is one of the many things I do need to be successful when I go to FSU. I need a bike to travel around from class to class so I’m not late because you know they preach punctuality here, so they are helping me a lot,” said Tanya Raphael, 2023 Champions For Learning graduate. “They gave me a laptop which I am very thankful for so I can get my assignments done. There is no excuse not to get my assignments done because I do have a laptop now. They have really given me the foundation that I need to succeed while I am in college.”

In addition to a bike or laptop, each Champions For Learning 2023 graduate was given a $20 Wal-Mart gift card, courtesy of North Naples Church, to help them purchase school / dorm supplies needed. Champions For Learning recognizes that each student has different needs when entering college. Through the support of the community and various organizations, Champions For Learning is able to be the conduit and meet the needs of our students.

“While we are celebrating our 2023 graduates this year, we are already thinking about our 2024 graduates, what they will need and how the community can be a part of their success story. We are already looking forward to those graduates, these graduates coming back and being the future of our community,” said Jessica Manchette, Chief Programs Officer, Champions For Learning.

To support Champions For Learning’s student programs, you can make a gift here.

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Classroom Grants Inspiring Future Leaders in the Classroom

Collier County teachers make a tremendous difference in their classrooms by implementing new tools and teaching methods thanks to Champions For Learning Classroom Grants. This school year, more than $200,000 was invested in 56 schools in Collier County through the Classroom Grants, which is open to Collier County educators in traditional public, charter and private school classrooms.

One of the teachers awarded a classroom grants is Maureen DeLacy at Lely High School. Maureen’s students in the Criminal Justice Academy at Lely High experienced what it is like to investigate a crime scene because a classroom grant was funded.

Using measuring tapes, compasses, walkie talkies, theatre blood and more, Mrs. DeLacy conducted an outdoor crime scene for 170 of her students to investigate. To investigate the evidence behind the unsolved case, students engaged in this hands-on activity using critical learning skills and strategies taught in the classroom. This practice scenario gave students an opportunity to use real-world materials to investigate a made-up crime and draw conclusions from their findings. Requiring a 100X100 ft grid and non-human artifacts, this outdoor crime scene allowed students to learn about the sciences involved in investigating and how to document, preserve, and secure evidence.

“My students have learned that solving crimes involves a wide range of scientific fields and expertise. I believe my students have greater confidence in the Criminal Justice system based on their study of the relevant professions and sciences that are used,” shared DeLacy.

From this Champions For Learning Classroom Grant, DeLacy was able to purchase the necessary materials to make this interactive crime scene a fun learning opportunity while implementing realistic data collection tools.

“Students increased their knowledge of the sciences used in a crime scene investigation   and had lots of fun while engaging in these interactive activities,” said DeLacy. “Many of the skills my students learned are transferable to other disciplines and areas of their lives.”

The impact this classroom grant will have does not stop after this school year, the materials from this project will continue to impact more students each year as DeLacy continues teaching this experience.

Having received multiple grants from Champions For Learning over the years, DeLacy continues exposing her students to Criminal Justice activities that motivate and inspire students. DeLacy organized a First Responders Field Day on the Lely High School campus. First responders from Greater Fire Rescue, Collier County EMS, Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and Naples Police Department facilitated interactive, educational activities for students. This service event exposed students to different interactive courses including CPR First Aid training, law enforcement physical ability, firefighter physical ability, 911 communications, Fatal Vision DUI impairment goggles, and ananthropological dig for bones. These activities allowed students to learn about each of these agencies and their role in the Criminal Justice System.

These experiences are bringing excitement into the classroom, encouraging students and inspiring future Collier County student leaders.

Classroom Grants for the 2023-24 school year will be available for funding in August of 2023. Until then, you can view a list of last year’s funded classroom grants by clicking HERE.

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Because of Our Volunteers

At Champions For Learning, volunteers are the changemakers that fuel the success of the organization. Because of these changemakers, Champions For Learning is able to create life-changing learning experiences for students and educators in Collier County.

Each year, nearly 400 changemakers dedicate thousands of hours in support of Champions For Learning’s mission. These members of our community volunteer their time in many different ways.

More than half of the volunteers at Champions For Learning serve as mentors for our Take Stock in Children program, dedicating countless hours during the student’s high school years. Becoming part of the students’ support system, mentors are excellent listeners and trusted advocates who want to see their mentee succeed and accomplish great things. Because of volunteers who choose to mentor, students’ lives are forever changed.

New this school year, the INCubatoredu entrepreneurship program within Collier County Public Schools is composed of volunteers. Champions For Learning manages the recruitment and stewardship of mentors, coaches, and judges. These volunteers bring real world expertise into the classroom and not only help students grasp business concepts, but also help students hone critical life skills such as public speaking and interviewing. Because of volunteers, students gain confidence and an entrepreneurial mindset.

Hundreds of volunteers serve on our 15 different community-based selection committees at Champions For Learning. Selection committees serve a critical role in the selection of students to access scholarships and programs offered through Champions For Learning. Volunteers review applications and allocate funding for classroom grant as well as serving on  the Golden Apple selection process. This year, a new selection committee was formed to distribute much-needed hurricane relief funds to Collier County educators and staff.

Often unseen but no less valued, are the volunteers that help with clerical tasks and event details. From assembling event invitations, to stuffing nametags or manning the reception area these detail oriented volunteers make our organization shine.

It is clear that without volunteers who serve as changemakers, Champions For Learning would not be able to have as wide of an impact on education in Collier County. As volunteers are celebrated across the community, Champions For Learning honors our changemakers who give willingly of their time to help better our community through education.

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Making a Lasting Impact – Mentoring at Champions For Learning

At Champions For Learning, to be a mentor is to serve as a trusted advocate and listener to a student.

Chelsea Pittman has learned this firsthand since becoming a mentor last spiring when she was paired with her current mentee, Leidy.

“Leidy moved to the United States from Cuba as she was entering the seventh grade. She was beginning to learn English, the American school system and transitioning into high school, all at once. It was a big transition for her,” shared Chelsea.

Mentors, like Chelsea, in Champions For Learning’s Take Stock in Children program are paired with students at the beginning of the mentee’s freshman year of high school, to ensure students will have guidance and leadership during these crucial next four years.

“She is very smart, so smart. Our first year was us talking through how she adjusted to high school in America. She was balancing her classes both English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), learning about high school football, clubs, and participating in the Champions For Learning program. Her plate was very full,” said Chelsea.

Because Chelsea and Leidy are close in age they have found it easier to connect and relate to one another.

“I feel like an older sister to her [Leidy], where I can coach her though it all. We are both very lucky that we have each other,” said Chelsea.

Not only is Chelsea making a difference in Leidy’s life, but Leidy is impacting Chelsea in ways she never would have imagined.

“I have learned so much about her. Leidy has taught me about her culture and just how different things are for her family still living in Cuba. It makes me feel very grateful to be here and to be afforded the opportunities of living in Naples,” Chelsea explained.

Wanting to make a difference and give back to her community combined with being familiar with Champions For Learning’s mission, Chelsea knew mentoring was the best way to get involved.

“Naples is a highly philanthropic community, with many ways to give the gift of time and treasure. People my age aren’t in the position to donate financially but can make a difference by donating time. Being a mentor is a fun and easy way to give back to your community without digging into your wallet if you can’t afford it,” Chelsea shared.

For those in Collier County that may want to find ways to support others and give back, Chelsea explained, “Look around, you will see the kids in this community that need our help. It doesn’t take much to be an advocate and listener as you help a student reach their goals for post-secondary education and develop life skills along the way.”

Champions For Learning currently needs mentors to serve students who will attend Golden Gate High, Barron Collier High, and Palmetto Ridge High next school year. If you are interested in learning more, join us for a virtual All About Mentoring Session! Dates and times can be found on our website!

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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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Classroom Grants Still Available for Funding

Teachers and students across Collier County are enjoying life-changing learning experiences through classroom grants that have been funded from generous donors just this school year! On Classroom Grant Delivery Day this school year, Champions For Learning awarded a record-breaking 280 grant checks that totaled $166,288 to 55 schools in Collier County. These checks provided teachers with the funds needed to implement creative and innovative learning experiences for their students.

Since Classroom Grant Delivery Day in October, even more classroom grants have been funded and various classroom have already received their supplies to fulfill their grant request.

Ms. Marks, a fourth-grade language arts teacher at Veterans Memorial Elementary, received a subscription to four different magazines for kids, which she previews with her students each month to engage them with the content.

“We have received two issues of each of our four magazines so far. We will continue to get new issues throughout the rest of the school year. The kids absolutely love reading the magazines. They get so excited when I bring in a new issue. They love reading them together and discussing the different topics. They also love finishing their work a little early so they can go over and check out a magazine,” said Marks.

Marks says these magazines keep students up to date on current events. For students who may be too overwhelmed to choose a large novel to read, they can engage with shorter articles, which may spark their interest and lead them to seek out books on the same topic.

Ms. Cholka’s class, a special needs class at Lely High, is also benefiting from this school years classroom grants. The funding this class received has helped support rewarding student success in Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is an internship program at NCH Baker Hospital for students with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 18-22. Students participate in three unpaid internships in different departments of the hospital throughout the school year. The goals of the program are for students to explore a variety of career paths, learn marketable job skills, and obtain meaningful employment either at NCH or within the community by the end of the year.

This funded classroom grant allows for Ms. Cholka to provided consistent rewards to her students for reaching their employment goals at the internship. This helps take the place of a paycheck and gives students incentive to continue to work hard.

“The Perna-Rose Foundation for Hope has generously funded our grant request two years in a row, and we are so thankful!  This has allowed us to continue our reward program by providing gift cards for our weekly raffles.  The students get so excited when they win a gift card, which in turn motivates them to do their best.  We truly appreciate your support of the Project SEARCH program at NCH Baker Hospital,” said Cholka.

Much like the classroom grant projects listed above, there are still plenty of grants waiting to be funded by generous community members. By funding a classroom grant, you are helping provide a life-changing learning experience for multiple students within Collier County.

Click HERE to view the classroom grants that still need funding for this school year.

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Champions For Learning Releasing Over $1M in Ian Relief Funding to Collier County Teachers & School Staff

 177 Collier County teachers and school staff will be receiving over $1 million in Hurricane Ian relief funding from Champions For Learning. This funding allows Champions For Learning to meet 177 educators’ housing and transportation needs as they rebuild post-Ian, thus keeping them anchored in Collier County Public Schools. Our community has come together to assist in securing our community’s educator workforce and should be so proud.

The damage caused by Hurricane Ian has brought a heightened awareness to the lack of housing for school staff in Southwest Florida. Some teachers were unsure where they would live, their homes either leveled by Ian’s 150 mph winds or uninhabitable due to the storm surge that flooded large portions of Southwest Florida. Yet despite having lost their homes, their cars, their belongings, teachers have not lost hope. Educators and school staff in Collier County went back to school within days after the storm, welcoming students with compassion and care.

Following Hurricane Ian, the Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions For Learning was awarded a $350,000 gift from Volunteer Florida Foundation’s Florida Disaster Fund, a private fund initiated by Governor and First Lady DeSantis to assist Collier County educators facing serious challenges with housing and transportation. This funding was intended to help teachers and school staff get back on their feet.

“The need was overwhelming.  After sharing the needs of our employees with Champions For Learning, their team took immediate action. What they have done is nothing short of life-changing,” said Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli, Interim Superintendent of Collier County Public Schools (CCPS).

Since the initial gift, Champions For Learning has also secured additional funding beyond the original $350,000. Collier Community Foundation, through their Collier Comes Together fund, has invested $587,830.15 to the relief efforts. The Governor and First Lady directed an additional $250,000 affording Champions For Learning to allocate more than $1 million for our Hurricane Ian response. This additional funding means being able to meet more educator needs as they rebuild, thus keeping them anchored in Collier County Public Schools. Our community has come together to assist in securing our community’s educator workforce and should be so proud.

“We are proud to have earned the community’s trust in our Hurricane Ian relief efforts. We take that trust seriously and will continue to help our community rebuild and repair through our Collier Comes Together Fund,” said Eileen Connolly-Keesler, President and CEO of Collier Community Foundation. “Teachers and school staff are integral to our community, so it was an easy decision to commit these funds to Champions For Learning to address the housing challenges our educators face.”

“Knowing that our partners have invested in our Hurricane Ian relief efforts due to the integrity and intentionality of our selection process is a source of pride,” said Barbara Evans, President and CEO of Champions For Learning. “We are grateful for their investment that affords our ability to anchor Collier County Public School educators and staff. The Education Foundation of Collier County is proud to be a conduit for these funds.”

Although outside their typical scope of work, Champions was tasked with distributing these funds to public school educators and school staff facing transportation and housing challenges due to Hurricane Ian. In November, Champions For Learning created an online application and disaster intake form that was made available to all public school educators in Collier County; assembled a selection committee of volunteer community members passionate about education in our community, and developed a scoring 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.

“Champions For Learning would like to thank our selection committee for their work. This was not a typical selection process for our organization,” said Barbara Evans, President and CEO of Champions For Learning. “This committee fully embraced this sacred work and were committed to being thorough.”

These funds are being distributed as qualified disaster relief payments. Champions For Learning is able to fund 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) awards for those whose homes or mobile homes were not insurable and they experienced a total loss, 5) awards for those whose homes or mobile homes were not insurable and they experienced a partial loss and were displaced, 6) awards for storage expenses incurred for items that were salvaged, 7) awards for household items (furniture, etc.), and 8) awards for home repairs not covered by insurance.

“It is hard to put into words how grateful I am to Champions For Learning and how much this will mean to the CCPS family members whose lives were changed by Hurricane Ian. This support demonstrates how committed Champions For Learning is to ensuring our teachers and staff remain here and continue to educate our students,” said Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli, Interim Superintendent of Collier County Public Schools, adding, “I know this monumental task was unexpected, however Champions for Learning staff, board, and volunteers handled it with transparency and compassion. Thank you also to the Collier Community Foundation for its support immediately after the hurricane and in this long-term recovery effort.”

Collier County educators that have applied for funding were made aware on January 18, 2023, that a decision had been made regarding their award, but will learn of the amount of the award when they receive the funding at Champions For Learning. Funds will be ready for pick up beginning the afternoon of January 20, 2023, by appointment only.

Champions For Learning in the News
Read more about the funds released to Collier County teachers and staff by clicking the links below:
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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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