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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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2022-2023 Glass Slipper Recipients Announced

Champions For Learning is proud to announce the 2022-2023 Glass Slipper recipients. The honorees are Brenda O’Connor, Dr. Kamela Patton and Tammi Pittaro.

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. The goal for this year’s event is to raise $30,000 to purchase scholarships for an additional 6 young women.

Join Champions For Learning in honoring the Glass Slipper recipients at a reception and luncheon, held on December 1, 2022 at 11:30 am – 1:30 pm at The Club at Olde Cypress. A presentation featuring the three honorees and students will be followed by a silent auction perfect for holiday shopping as well as a post-event wine bar.

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

Tickets for the event are $75. For tickets, please visit https://championsforlearning.org/news-events/glass-slipper/ or call Champions For Learning at (239) 643-4755.

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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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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College Campus Tours

Entering college can be a scary process for high school students. To ease the transition process, Champions For Learning organized college campus trips for Collier County students to visit five very popular college campuses nearby.

Champions students were invited to go on campus field trip tours at the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. These university trips are significant to Collier students because these are colleges our students tend be accepted into, so having an opportunity to visit in person is a great deal.

Once on campus, students were able to view study halls, campus dining, dorm rooms, classrooms, and most of the surrounding area.

“During Covid, many Champions students did not have the opportunity to experience walking onto Florida campuses. I am so happy these students were able to see the campuses for themselves,” shared Kristin Carolan, Director of Student Success, who attended all these visits.

On these visits students took notes, pictures, and soaked up their new environment. Campus tours are important for high school students so they can have a feel for what college will be as they grow into independent young adults. Many families each year do not find time or have a lack of resources to show their children college campuses. Champions For Learning prioritizes offering students opportunities to help them graduate high school and implements ways to prepare them for their post-secondary journey.

During the visit to the University of Florida students shared how this experience impacted their perception of college life.

“I came on this tour to learn about one of the best colleges in Florida. I learned that even if I don’t make it in as a first year I can apply as a transfer since I am going in with my Associates Degree. Since I plan to go to Law school after my bachelors, I learned that I don’t have to major in Law for my Bachelor degree, which is really cool. This makes me very excited to apply. The best part of the trip was when they talked about the offered club’s diversity. I’m very excited to meet new people,” shared Victoria S., senior at Lorenzo Walker Technical College.

Another senior attending Lorenzo Walker Technical College, Skye S. shared, “On the tour, I got to see more of campus life. I really wanted to see the University of Florida and I’m so happy that I came on this trip, so my parents didn’t need to call off work. I really enjoyed it because I got to see more of the campus, student life, and I got to meet two students that go here. It’s nice to see what they offer and also what I can do for my major. My favorite part was going to the dining hall and seeing the campus as a whole.”

“I am interested in applying to the University of Florida and I am glad I got to see the campus.” Shared Eder R. a junior attending Golden Gate High School.

Champions For Learning is thankful to our donors for allowing us to facilitate and fund these opportunities that will impact our students’ futures. You can 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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Hurricane Ian Update- A Letter from Barbara Evans

Nearly one month ago, Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc on Southwest Florida. Ian tied with several other storms as the 5th strongest hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States. The destruction Ian left behind is nothing short of catastrophic.

As the Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions For Learning – we are uniquely positioned to articulate the needs of our students and our educators. Through our assessment process, we learned that our educators are facing serious challenges with housing and transportation. We joined voices with the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations and have secured a $350,000 gift to assist Collier County educators. This gift is part of the $2 million gift that was made to six education foundations who are facing similar staffing challenges. Click HERE to learn more about this gift.

We learned that many students lost their school supplies during Ian. We quickly shared this need with our generous community and within a week, Champions For Learning delivered nearly 600 backpacks full of school supplies to Collier County schools.

The Champions For Learning office is a CAT 5 rated building equipped with a generator. In the days following Ian, we opened our fully functional office to our nonprofit partners to use as a communication center. They were able to use our power, internet, copier machine and simply sit in air conditioning. Many of our students and mentors have enjoyed and continue to enjoy our space as well. Many students have shared that it is nice for them to have a space where they can work on their college applications.

We remain committed to ensuring that our students’ basic needs are met while being ever so cognizant of their educational needs. We have played the roll of connector for our students whose families have sustained loss. We have helped our students and their families navigate various channels of assistance and quickly saw that each family’s circumstances were very different.

Our next step has been to focus on our students’ educational needs. We are keenly aware of the fact that Collier County schools are burdened with the basic needs management caused by the storm, and we are doing our best to be very supportive of those efforts. Our programs resumed the week after the storm. Our students are meeting with their mentors, they are meeting with their coaches, they are attending FASFA completion sessions, they are submitting college and scholarship applications. We need to do everything possible to ensure that they are on a path to college or career and not derailed due to the chaos caused by the storm. Please click HERE to support our student programs.

Champions For Learning cannot achieve our mission without our changemakers. They serve as mentors, coaches, ambassadors and committee members. We have dozens of committees that help us with classroom grant selections, student program selections, organizing our events and helping us select our Golden Apple teachers. Our changemakers are key in our sound financial management. We have heard from many of our changemakers that they can’t return to Naples due to damages sustained from the storm. We are still in need of changemakers willing to serve as mentors, coaches and ambassadors. If you are willing to give your time, please contact Kristin Peras, Vice President of Community Engagement and Collective Impact, at 239-643-4755 or KPeras@ChampionsForLearning.org.

Together, we will make a difference to our educators and students. Thank you for being a Champion For Learning! Thank you for believing that education is everything.


Barbara Evans
President & CEO, Champions For Learning

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Champions For Learning Receives Post-Ian Relief Funding For Collier County Educators

Governor Ron DeSantis has awarded Champions For Learning a $350,000 gift to assist Collier County educators affected by Hurricane Ian. A total of $2 million was awarded through the Florida Disaster Fund to the local education foundations in the six hardest hit counties and is intended to help teachers get back on their feet.

As the Education Foundation of Collier County, Champions For Learning is uniquely positioned to articulate the needs of our educators. In the wake of Hurricane Ian, Collier County educators are facing serious challenges with housing and transportation.

“Teachers have shown up time and time again to educate our community’s next generation of leaders,” said Barbara Evans, President & CEO, Champions For Learning. “We are proud to be able to receive this incredible generosity from Governor and First Lady DeSantis to support that effort.”

This press conference brought together educators, district leaders, and representatives from each county impacted from the destruction. DeSantis shared, “There are a whole host of things that need to be done, so this will provide some help in that regard. We look forward to being able to do more things for our educators in the days and weeks to come.”

The damage caused by Hurricane Ian has brought a heightened awareness to the lack of housing for educators in Southwest Florida. Some teachers are unsure where they’ll 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.

“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.”

Looking ahead, Champions For Learning will continue to assess the needs of our community’s educators and will provide updates on how these funds will be allocated. Be sure to follow our social media accounts for up-to-date news and information.

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FAFSA Now Open, Champions For Learning Here to Help through Completion Event

Current high school seniors can now apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to help provide financial assistance for attending college. However, in the wake of a devastating hurricane, applying for FAFSA may be more difficult for some students, especially for those who may have lost documents needed during the storm. Champions For Learning is committed to ensuring Collier County students have the resources necessary to apply for and receive financial aid.

A completed FAFSA form opens the door for need and merit aid to be award from the Federal, State, and Institutional level. In fact, over 90% of all private scholarships require the FAFSA to be completed. That is why Champions For Learning will be hosting a FAFSA Completion Event, Saturday, October 22nd from 9am to 12pm at Lorenzo Walker Technical High. There, trained staff and volunteers will be available to assist students and parents in completing their online FAFSA form. Florida SouthWestern State College, Florida Gulf Coast University, and Lorenzo Walker Technical College admissions will be in attendance providing admission application waivers along with some providing instant admission and decisions. The Collier Community Foundation will also be on site sharing scholarship opportunities.

“FAFSA should be included in the first steps in planning for education after high school. The great thing is, you don’t even have to apply or have been accepted into college yet. Students who complete the FAFSA may qualify for aid to be used at a technical college, state college or university,” said Jessica Manchette, Chief Programs Officer, Champions For Learning. “Aid from completing the FAFSA opens the door for not only a high-quality degree or credential, but also the potential for a career in a in-demand industry in our community. The sooner students apply, the more funding is available. Champions For Learning is dedicated to helping students and families across southwest Florida complete this milestone as their first step into post-high school education.”

Applying for FAFSA requires certain documents such as a social security number (student only), previously filed tax returns (for 2021). For students who lost everything in Hurricane Ian, providing these documents could be extremely difficult. Champions For Learning has gathered resources on how to obtain these documents as well as how the storm may have impacted the student’s financial situation if the student is now homeless or if the student is receiving special aid related to Hurricane Ian. Resources can be found here. 

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Champions For Learning Awards Record-Breaking Number of Grants to Collier Teachers

Collier County teachers were surprised by Champions For Learning board members, staff, volunteers and supporters as they received funds for their classroom grants.

During the course of the day, Champions For Learning awarded a record-breaking 280 grant checks that totaled $166,288 to 55 schools in Collier County. The checks will provide teachers with the funds needed to implement creative and innovative learning experiences for their students.

These classroom grants were requested by Collier County teachers through the online grant portal on Champions For Learning’s website. The community can go to the website and fund requests. This online grant program began in 2003 to enable the community to directly support teachers.

“We’re thrilled to be delivering more grant checks than we ever have, a 63% increase in funding,” said Barbara Evans, President & CEO, Champions For Learning. “That says a lot about how much our community supports and appreciates our Collier County teachers, especially while we’re all still recovering from the storm.”

Thanks to a charitable gift from Suncoast Credit Union, which supports the technology and capacity for the classroom grant portal, 100% of community contribution goes into supporting teacher grants.

The following provided significant contributions to fund specific teacher grants: Suncoast Credit Union, Florida License for Learning License Plate Fund, Florida Power & Light (FPL), Harry Debes Family Foundation, Lipman Family Farms, Lucie Jenny MacCarthy Music Fund of the Collier Community Foundation, Naples Luxury Builders, Judith Palay, Perna-Rose Foundation for Hope, Publix Supermarkets Inc, Women In Naples Giving Support (WINGS). This is in addition to numerous contributions from individuals in the community who view and fund grants for which they have an interest.

The community still has an opportunity to provide life-changing learning experiences to students! There are over 100 grants remaining to be funded. Teachers still have an opportunity to submit new grant requests to be considered by the public. Especially now in the wake of Hurricane Ian, teachers may have new post-storm needs.

Click here to fund a Classroom Grant today!

You can also help fund Classroom Grants through the License to Learn Fund (Florida Education Tag). When Collier County residents purchase or renew the Support Education tag, $20 of the annual fee is donated to Champions For Learning and 100% of the funds directly support classroom grants.

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