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With Gratitude: Beverley Hallman Horton

Champions For Learning, along with the entire Collier County community,  is beyond grateful for Beverley Horton and the Champion she was for education.

Beverley taught English at Naples High and started one of the school’s first mentoring programs for struggling students. Importantly, Beverley and her husband Alan helped Byron Koste, then president and CEO of Westinghouse Communities, and others plan the formation of The Education Foundation of Collier County.

Beverley and Alan’s commitment to education was recognized in 2012 when both were honored as Heart of the Apple recipients through Champions For Learning, one of the highest honors awarded to community members by Champions For Learning.

Her passion and commitment inspired, and challenged, our community to think and act aspirationally in providing relevant learning experiences for Collier County students to gain the skills they need to succeed in life.

Click here to read Beverley’s full obituary and contributions of a life well-lived.

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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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Teacher of Distinction Breakfast 2023

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

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

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

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

Click HERE to view pictures from the event!

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Etiquette Luncheon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information and ticket purchases visit our website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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