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Inspired Educator Finds a Home on Champions’ Classroom Grants Committee

Classroom Grants provide opportunities for educators to share their projects with the community in hopes of gaining financial support from members of the community. This is facilitated through Champions For Learning, but is 100% dependent upon the generosity of the community.

The role of the community-based Classroom Grants Committee is so important to this process. These engaged community members read through all of the grants–scoring each request using a rubric, assist in delivering grants checks and visit classrooms throughout the district to see the grants in action.

The Classroom Grants Committee truly is an amazing way to support our local teachers and students. We’re so grateful to our community for giving of their time and talent in support of this amazing program.

One community member that has gotten in on the fun of the Classroom Grants Program is Dr. James (Jim) Schmotter. Jim has enjoyed an amazing academic career, serving at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Lehigh University, Western Michigan University before his eleven years as President of Western Connecticut State University. In addition to his volunteer work with Champions, Jim currently serves as President of the Naples Council on World Affairs and is a member of Habitat for Humanity’s Family Selection Committee.

Recently, Jim was gracious enough to share his thoughts about his three-year tenure on the Classroom Grants Committee:

Tell us about yourself and why you first got involved with Champions For Learning.

Both my wife Daphne Jameson and I had careers in higher education; we met when we were both working at Cornell University.  She taught at Cornell for 38 years, but I moved around some, serving as business school dean at Lehigh University and at Western Michigan University and as president of Western Connecticut State UniversityIn 2015, we retired to Naples and became Florida residents.  I first heard of the work of Champions from a board member I met at a Northwestern University alumni gathering.  Subsequently, I talked with CFL staff at a Volunteer Fair at the Hilton and attended a “Champions 101” session.  I was impressed by the programs, but even more by the people—volunteers and staff—I met.

What about your background has inspired you to get involved with our organization?

Having been active in volunteer roles with organizations such as Junior Achievement, the United Way, and several community foundations in Connecticut, I was looking for opportunities to apply whatever career skills and knowledge I have to projects in our new community.  Champions For Learning clearly provided that match.  Working all those years at universities convinced me that the education of our youth is a process that extends from pre-kindergarten to high school and beyond.  A solid foundation built early is critical to success.  The programs of Champions for Learning—Classroom Grants, Career and College Prep and Take Stock in Children–all help provide that foundation.  So, I was pleased and honored to be asked to join the Selection Committees for Take Stock in Children and, later, Classroom Grants.

Tell me about what you enjoy most about serving on the Classroom Grants committee?

The creativity and commitment to student success that Collier County teachers demonstrate in their grant applications are inspiring.  What’s especially enjoyable for me is to see how different strategies with different curricular and technological approaches are being applied.  There’s a rich array of educational tools available these days, but often the demands of high-stakes testing discourage their use. As evinced by the number and quality of applications, the Classroom Grants Program counters this trend. It also supplements the school district’s budget, which I know is welcome. But what’s most fun is to receive letters and cards of thanks, often hilariously creative, from students who’ve participated in the grants we’ve funded.

What is it about the Classroom Grants Program that has inspired you to fund various projects?   

We’ve tended to gravitate to projects that match our own backgrounds and intellectual interests.  This year, for instance, we’re funding two projects that provide history students an opportunity to go back in time for virtual tours of the Roman Colosseum and other ancient sites.  But we’ve also funded grants that used classic movies to inspire challenged learners and that provided recorders to all students in an elementary music class.  There are usually around two hundred applications from which to choose, and usually, it’s difficult to decide which of the promising submissions to support.

What do you wish other people knew about Champions For Learning?

I don’t think the average Collier County resident—permanent or snowbird—recognizes the impact that Champions For Learning has on our community.  Literally hundreds of teachers and thousands of students benefit from the programs that Champions, thanks to the support of its donors and friends, is able to offer.  I also don’t think that the wide array of volunteer opportunities Champions offers is well understood.  A key element its mission is providing mentors for high school students, and many in the community value that experience.  However, there are many other ways to become involved in the great work Champions is doing.  Just contact the staff through their website.  They’ll find a place where you can apply your talents.  And—I guarantee—you’ll find it worthwhile!

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Student Helps Others Complete FAFSA to Get Financial Aid

As a daughter of immigrants, I, like many, am the first in my family to have the opportunity to attend college. One of the many struggles faced by first-generation students is the lack of parental support in their education. Though many immigrant parents support the idea of their child going to college, due to the language barrier, many parents tend to take a step back from any involvement related to their student’s education.

As my senior year began approaching, knowing I wouldn’t have any help from my parents, I was dreading completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Luckily, I was able to grasp an understanding of the application after attending the financial aid night offered in my high school. It was finally October 1st the clock had just struck midnight and I rushed to the FAFSA page. Though the webpage crashed, after several attempts I successfully completed the FAFSA application alone at 2 am.

Excited and relieved that I had gotten through the application, I tweeted about my completion. Surprisingly, I received an overwhelming number of messages from peers asking for assistance.  It began with my closest friend, Karen, I sat down with her Spanish-speaking parents and talked them through the importance as well as the process of FAFSA. Word quickly began to spread at school, and I ended up helping approximately 20 families complete the FAFSA form.

I quickly realized that the language barrier is much deeper than just my family, it negatively impacts a multitude of students throughout Collier County.

Until I head off to begin my own college success story in the spring of 2022 at The University of South Florida, I’ll be working at Champions For Learning to help recent graduates and current high school seniors complete the FAFSA.  As part of this work, I’ll be helping to build a webpage of resources and step-by-step tutorials in English and Spanish.  This work is part of a statewide initiative through the Florida College Access Network called Cash For College.

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Champions For Learning Earns Highest 4-Star Rating From Charity Navigator


Strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency have earned The Education Foundation of Collier County, Inc (operating as Champions For Learning) a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator.

This is the sixth time that Champions For Learning has earned this top distinction. The 4-star rating is the highest possible rating and indicates that Champions For Learning adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way.

Champions For Learning is among only 14% of the charities evaluated who have received at least six consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Champions For Learning outperforms most other charities in America.

“Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that The Education Foundation of Collier County exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in your area of work. Only 14% of the charities we evaluate have received at least 6 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that The Education Foundation of Collier County outperforms most other charities in America,” according to Michael Thatcher, President & CEO of Charity Navigator. “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets The Education Foundation of Collier County apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”

“We are extremely proud to be receiving a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator,” says Bruce Mousa, Chair of the Board of Directors. “Our Board of Directors and staff work tirelessly toward the goal of creating life-changing learning experiences for every student in Collier County.”

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Community Partners Provide Laptops to Students Heading Off to College

The majority of Champions For Learning’s 75 recent graduates are headed off to college this fall, in fact several have even begun their next chapter this summer to get a jump on the year ahead.

You might remember back to last summer when Collier County Public Schools launched an initiative to provide all students with laptops for the 2020-2021 school year. The initiative, called Collier Connect, was planned prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic expedited the process so each student would have access to technology to continue learning seamlessly both at school and at home. The program, a major district venture and a huge accomplishment, provided laptops that would stay with the district’s 48,000+ students throughout their time at CCPS.

What many graduating seniors didn’t realize was that their school district-supplied laptop would need to be returned to the school district shortly after graduation, leaving several students in desperate need of this—rather pricey—school supply.

Today, a laptop truly is a necessary school supply for any college student. And at Champions For Learning, we are committed to ensuring that our graduated seniors that are heading to college students have access to any and all state-of-the-art technology available.

Champions was honored to receive a grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County that supported the purchase of nine brand new laptops. A long-time, cherished volunteer, Tom Gamber, purchased and refurbished fifteen additional laptops. In total, twenty-four graduated seniors received laptops, several just in time before beginning their summer semester.

Tracy, a recent graduate of Lely High School who had just turned in her CCPS laptop two days prior, was grateful to the donors who made it possible for her to receive her own laptop before heading to Florida SouthWestern State College in the fall to study Healthcare Administration, adding that “this is going to be a huge help at school!”

Laptops give students the flexibility and freedom they need to work on academic assignments anytime—anywhere, a convenient luxury. No matter where they are, a laptop allows college students the ability to bring their schoolwork with them. And with most college wireless networks, students are able to connect to the internet via their laptop from anywhere.

We can all remember going off to college like it was yesterday. We get our first taste of freedom when we get our driver’s license, but going to college is when we got to really experience independence. Maybe you felt excited, nervous or maybe even relieved. Most likely, you were finally out on your own and it felt great. Now, equipped with the laptops and technology they’ll need to succeed, these Champions For Learning’s students will feel great too.

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Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping 7/31 – 8/9!

The 2021 Florida Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday is happening again this year from July 31 – August 9, 2021. What used to be a tax-free weekend in Florida has been expanded to 10 days!

During these dates, you can purchase clothing, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies without paying the sales tax (6% here in Collier County). The tax-free holidays are part of HB 7061 passed by the Florida Legislature in 2021.

Here are the important details for the 2021 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday in Florida:


Begins on Saturday, July 31, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.
Ends on Monday, August 9, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.

  • Clothing, footwear, and certain accessories (including backpacks) selling for $60 or less per item.
  • School uniforms less than $60 per item.
  • Certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item. Included items: pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks, notebook filler paper, legal pads, binders, lunch boxes, construction paper, markers, folders, poster board, composition books, poster paper, scissors, cellophane tape, glue, paste, rulers, computer disks, protractors, compasses, and calculators.
  • The first $1,000 of the sales price of personal computers or personal computer-related accessories purchased for noncommercial home or personal use.

For more information and a full list of qualifying items, visit https://floridarevenue.com/backtoschool.

It’s never too early to support schools and teachers!

Text “CFLteachers” to 44-321 to support our local educators.

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Attention Teachers! Classroom Grants Portal Opens 7/19

Champions For Learning’s Classroom Grants opportunity allows teachers to apply for up to $2,000 per grant request to create innovative learning experiences for students.

“The impact of this grant will continue to be evident as we
progress through this year and years to come.”
– Kathleen Lawler, Pelican Marsh Elementary School

Champions For Learning’s Classroom Grant online portal allows teachers to request classroom grants that are funded directly by the community to create innovative learning experiences for their students. 100% of these contributions go directly into the classroom for teachers to use with students.

The Classroom Grant portal opens Monday, July 19, 2021. To be considered for dollars from the Classroom Grants Fund, requests must be posted by Monday, September 13, 2021.

For more information, visit https://championsforlearning.org/what-we-do/for-educators-schools/classroom-grants/.

It’s not too early to start supporting the Classroom Grants Fund!

To support our teachers’ great ideas, text “CFLteacher” to 44-321.

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New campaign aims to help Florida students get “Cash for College”

Champions For Learning, as the backbone for Future Ready Collier, has partnered with Florida College Access Network (FCAN) to launch the “Cash for College” campaign to promote Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion as a crucial step as students and their families make plans for education beyond high school. About 4 out of 5 students in Florida use some combination of federal, state, and school-based aid to pay for college, and the way to access that aid is by completing the FAFSA.

Targeting Collier County’s Class of 2020 and 2021, the campaign aims to counteract the impact of COVID-19 on college enrollment. Nationwide, direct enrollment after high school graduation was down 6.9% in Fall 2020, and enrollment declines were 2.3 times steeper for low-income high schools compared to higher-income schools. Research also shows that low-income, first-generation -, and students of color are among the least likely to complete the FAFSA.

More To Come!

Champions For Learning plans to offer special incentives to those that complete the FAFSA, and will be creating a website for students to access free FAFSA and college enrollment resources in the coming months.

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Champions For Learning looks forward to in-person events in 2021-2022!

Champions For Learning looks forward to returning to in-person events for the 2021-2022 season!

Join in Friday, February 4, 2022 at Arthrex One for Night of Champions! 

As Champions For Learning’s signature event, Night of Champions celebrates the community of champions that has changed the lives of hundreds of Collier County students. This important celebration showcases our vibrant community, students and volunteers. Night of Champions includes a reception, three-course dinner, and silent auction.

Several high-impact sponsorship opportunities are available. Sponsorships support our student mentoring and scholarship programs, lifting the barriers that students on the path to career and college face and inspiring them to achieve.

Join in Friday, April 22, 2022 at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort for our Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers!

Beyond simply an event, the Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers showcases our community’s educators’ innovative best practices that are exciting to students about learning and increasing student learning. During this community-wide event, the 2022 Golden Apple recipients, Golden Apple Teachers of Distinction, and the Collier County Public Schools Teachers of the Year are honored for the tremendous impact they make for our young people.

Golden Apple

The Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers includes a reception, elegant dinner, and inspiring presentations celebrating each of the Golden Apple teachers, giving guests a glimpse into their classrooms. The Golden Apple television program is aired on NBC-2 and posted to the Champions For Learning website and YouTube channel following the broadcast. The Golden Apple event and television show lead into Teacher Appreciation Week, culminating in a community-wide recognition and appreciation of educators. Several highly visible sponsorship opportunities are available.

Sponsorship Opportunities are currently available! 

To discuss sponsorship opportunities, please contact Heidi Overman, Vice President of Marketing & Events, at 239.643.4755 or HOverman@ChampionsForLearning.org.

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Philanthropy at the Core of the Kendra Scott Mission

Kendra Scott is celebrating the opening of the brand-new store at Waterside Shops by hosting a special event benefitting Champions For Learning. A favorite of celebrities and fashionistas alike, Kendra Scott has the line of jewelry you’ve probably seen on the necks, wrists, and ears of women all over.

Taking the fashion world by storm, Kendra Scott uses her fame and fortune for a good cause as much as she can. Through the Kendra Gives Back program, the company has partnered with Champions For Learning to host an in-store and online event with 20% of the proceeds going to support Champions.

The in-store event is being held Friday, June 25th from 4:00-6:00pm at the new Kendra Scott store at Waterside Shops. Enjoy mingling with Champions For Learning volunteers and staff and complimentary to-go sips and sweets while you shop. If you are unable to stop by in-store to support, just visit www.kendrascott.com anytime Friday, June 25th and Saturday, June 26th and enter the code GIVEBACK-AACJS at checkout to donate 20% of your purchase to support Champions For Learning.

This is a great way to purchase some beautiful items for yourself and others for a great cause.

Through Kendra Gives Back, the company has been able to donate more than $30 million dollars to various causes throughout the country.

Support Champions For Learning at the Kendra Gives Back event, we hope to see you on Friday, June 25th. Kendra Scott is located at Waterside Shops, 5485 Tamiami Trail, between Sunglass Hut and White House/Black Market. For more information, call Jeff Jerome at Champions For Learning at (239) 643-4755.


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Everyone Has A Story…

Everyone Has A Story…

…yet figuring out how to tell your unique, personal story can be daunting.

Champions For Learning’s rising 12th-grade  students have recently completed draft versions of their Personal Statements – the essays written for college admissions committees showing who you are and why you deserve to be admitted – and are now working towards finalizing their drafts before the start of their Senior year.

Personal essay writing can be a painful and emotional process. Framing your strengths and experiences thoughtfully and with self-awareness—and in just 650 words or less—can be overwhelming. After all, this is one of the most important pieces of writing these students will have done in their lives up until this point. So are they nervous? Under pressure? You bet.

But what they aren’t is alone. To help take some of the anxiety out of the process, Champions For Learning volunteers and staff worked with students to guide them in crafting essays that they’re proud of. These sessions offered students a fresh, objective perspective, and help in identifying what’s working in their essay and what’s not.

Great personal statements bring students’ ambitions, challenges, and personalities to life. This week, students learned to pinpoint one story that best illustrates their brand and how to draw in and engage the reader from the very start. They also learned how to share their story creatively using fresh language and sensory details, honesty and clarity.

Angie Joseph, a 2017 Champions For Learning graduate and recent Florida Atlantic University graduate, was one of the volunteers on hand working one-on-one with students. “I think the most interesting thing I learned today is the amount of fear there is revolving around being boastful. I wanted to assure the students that they could be proud of what they have achieved and own their truths.”

“I wanted them to walk away with a better understanding of how to write a personal statement that was both true to themselves and their personalities. After speaking to them, I wanted them to come alive on the page… I’m excited to see them go for it!”

The college admissions process, and in particular the essay writing process, gives students the invaluable opportunity to delve into who they are and who they’re becoming, but it can be an overwhelming experience. This week, Champions For Learning students were empowered by the experience and, in turn, volunteers were inspired as they watched them grow.

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