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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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Champions For Learning’s Class of 2023 Prepares for Graduation

As high school graduation for Collier County Public Schools approaches, Champions For Learning celebrated the 2023 graduates of the organization in a separate ceremony on May 2nd. This graduation, Countdown to Cap and Gown, was hosted at Artis – Naples and was a fun opportunity for the 80 graduating seniors, their families, and their mentors to come together and celebrate all the success this class has accomplished so far.

The Champions For Learning’s 2023 graduating class has put in countless hours and work to help better themselves as well as our community. Despite the challenging circumstances this class has been faced with over the past four years, a pandemic and a catastrophic hurricane, the graduates of Champions For Learning have persevered and have produced extraordinary results because of it. Collectively, the class of 2023 has accomplished the following to date:

  • 297 applications submitted for college or technical programs
  • 187 college acceptances
  • 67 Industry certifications and counting
  • 6 students will be graduating with their associate degree at the same time as graduating from high school because of dual enrollment

On top of these amazing statistics, the Champions For Learning class of 2023 has collectively served over 10,400 hours of community service.

“These accomplishments are no easy feat. All of our programs’ graduates have done an amazing job utilizing opportunities to meet their goals,” shared Jessica Manchette, Chief Programs Officer, Champions For Learning. “Four years ago, when these students were inducted into our program, we could have never predicted all their accomplishments. We commend their hard work toward reaching their goals for the future.  Each student brings unique attributes to the collective class. We are so proud of our students and excited to see all that they will accomplish.”

The Champions For Learning’s 2023 graduating class is made up of students enrolled in one of the two programs the organization offers, Take Stock in Children or College and Career Preparation.

The Take Stock in Children program is a mentoring program for students, from families with low incomes, in 8th through 12th grades. Students commit to staying drug and crime free, maintaining their grades and meeting with their mentor regularly.

When Take Stock in Children students enter 11th grade, they are dual enrolled in the College and Career Preparation program as described. Upon graduation, Take Stock in Children students earn a two-year state college scholarship.

“The staff at Champions never failed to make me feel like whatever I was going through was going to be okay,” said Hector R., a 2023 graduate from Champions For Learning’s Take Stock in Children’s program. “Having an organization like Champions For Learning care so much about my future and about my success makes me feel so grateful.”

The College and Career Preparation Program works with 11th and 12th grade students enrolled in Collier County Public Schools, charter, and private schools who are working towards high school graduation and postsecondary education or technical training. These students come from households with low incomes and middle-class gap who cannot afford the full cost of post-secondary education or technical training without help.

The program incorporates college- and career-preparation program components that have been proven to be highly effective: academic support, college and career planning, leadership development, college access and visits, coaching, service learning, and financial literacy. College and Career Preparation students may earn an In-Demand Careers or Project STARS Scholarship in this program.

The impact these programs have on students within our community is made possible through generous donors. Consider making a gift to Champions For Learning to support our student programs.

To view more photos from the Countdown to Cap & Gown event, click 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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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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Champions For Learning Announces 2022-2023 Collier Golden Apple Recipients

On March 22, students in six Collier County classrooms received bushels of apples as their teachers were surprised with Golden Apple awards, highlighting best practices in teaching.

Champions For Learning staff, Board members and selection committee volunteers were joined by major sponsors to present the Golden Apple awards to six teachers in their classrooms. Champions For Learning’s community-based selection committee met and visited the classrooms of 60 Teachers of Distinction representing 58 Collier County Public Schools to learn about their best practices. Champions For Learning’s community-based selection committee identified six practices to highlight as part of the Golden Apple process.

Congratulations to the following 2022-2023 Golden Apple recipients.  Click HERE for the full list of Teachers of Distinction.

  • Marlon Alfaro, Manatee Middle
  • D’Nai Bullen,Corkscrew Elementary
  • Sylvie Certa,Gulfview Middle
  • Anne Coots, Osceola Elementary
  • Ashley Crosby, Golden Gate Middle
  • Michael Gonzalez, RCMA Immokalee Community Academy

“Collier County has many educators that make a difference in students’ lives daily. Champions For Learning is honored to be the organization that highlights these teachers for all that they do,” said Barbara Evans, President and CEO of Champions For Learning. “I could not be prouder of our selection committee who spent countless hours learning about the best practices from the 60 Teachers of Distinction. It is clear we have a community who believes Education is Everything.”

The 2022-2023 Golden Apple recipients will each receive a grant ($5,000) to allow the expansion of their best practice. All Teachers of Distinction receive a $250 award, and the Golden Apple recipients receive an additional cash award.

“At Suncoast Credit Union, we believe a community that invests in their educators builds a strong foundation for students, businesses and community at large. Our Foundation was formed in 1990, and since then, we have raised more than $40 million dollars to provide a better future for children. By creating learning opportunities through community grants, Suncoast helps create stronger teachers and students. We are proud to support opportunities for educators to share best practices and to grow professionally,” said Kourtney Berry, executive director of the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation.

“Being able to recognize dedicated teachers who stand above the rest is the heart of the Golden Apple Awards. Our goal by participating in The Golden Apple Awards is that the grants will inspire teachers to continue investing in our students and to develop innovative practices,” said Berry.

Champions For Learning will honor the Golden Apple Recipients, Teachers of Distinction, and Collier County Public Schools Teachers of the Year at the 33rd Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers Dinner on Friday, May 12, 2023 at the Naples Grande Beach Resort.

Champions For Learning would like to thank our Presenting Sponsor Suncoast Credit Union as well as Major Sponsors: Conditioned Air, Mary Ingram Fund of the Columbus Foundation, Moorings Park, Naples Daily News, Naples Illustrated, NBC-2, and Stock Development.

For more information on event sponsorships and ticket sales click HERE.

Families, students, and the entire community are invited to join in the celebration by tuning in to NBC-2 for the Golden Apple television program highlighting quality education in Collier County classrooms.  The program will be aired on Saturday, May 13 on NBC-2 at 8:00pm.

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Emily Budd-Schepperly is Future Ready Collier’s First Dedicated Director

Champions For Learning is pleased to announce that Emily Budd-Schepperly has joined the staff team in the newly created role of Future Ready Collier Director.

In this role, Emily provides leadership, management, and coordination for the implementation of the Future Ready Collier network, administered through the backbone support of Champions For Learning. Future Ready Collier is a collective impact network of more than 60 organizations, businesses, schools, and community members working to ensure every child in Collier County, Florida is ready for kindergarten, every student is supported during their school years, and every young person enters adulthood with a vision, and plan to accomplish that vision. Budd-Schepperly will manage and lead network initiatives and objectives of Future Ready Collier.

As a native of Collier County, Budd-Schepperly brings 10 years nonprofit leadership experience. She comes to Future Ready Collier from the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health (DLC) as their Director of Development. During her five years at the David Lawrence Centers, she was responsible for driving philanthropic revenue to the organization. She has been facilitating a youth mental health awareness program in collaboration with Collier County Public Schools. This work included utilizing DLC donors and resources to support programs within the school settings.

“We are very excited to have a standout leader with Ms. Budd-Schepperly’s experience join us as we continue to grow the Champions For Learning team and affirm Future Ready Collier’s established role in the community,” states Barbara Evans, President and CEO. “Champions For Learning serves a unique role in the community and it’s a continued honor to be the backbone for this collaboration of dedicated partners in education.”

About Champions For Learning™

Champions For Learning™, the education foundation in Collier County, is an independent, community-based, non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization that strives to create life-changing learning experiences for every student. With a vision of a community that is 100% engaged in support of student success, Champions For Learning serves a unique role in bringing the community together to support a culture of learning and innovation. Our organization has been awarded the GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency and Charity Navigator’s highest four-star rating, both demonstrating our commitment to sound fiscal management, accountability, and transparency, as well as achieved the highest distinction as an exemplary Local Education Foundation. Become a Champion for Learning and visit www.ChampionsForLearning.org.

About Future Ready Collier

Launched in 2016, Future Ready Collier is a collective impact initiative designed to build an educational pipeline for college, career, and life readiness. Future Ready Collier focuses on three main goals. Ensuring all children are kindergarten ready. Ensuring all youth are provided support during their elementary and middle school years. Ensuring all young people are career ready by graduating high school on track to obtain a degree or credential. The Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions For Learning is the backbone organization facilitating this network of more than 60 organizations, businesses, schools, and community members that have increased the high school graduation rate to more than 90% in Collier County. Learn more at futurereadycollier.org.

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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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