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Community Funds Over $95,000 in 2020-2021 Classroom Grants


The Classroom Grant opportunity continues to impact thousands of students throughout Collier County’s schools, both public and independent. This provides the ability for teachers to experience the support of a community committed to a variety of learning experiences. Even with such an uncertain start to the school year, teachers utilized the Classroom Grant portal to request what they needed for their classrooms, and the community responded graciously.

The 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 immediately.

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


Below are just two examples of the 170 fully funded projects from the 2020-2021 school year:

Project: Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy Through Art

Teacher: Carole Burns

School: Veterans Memorial Elementary School

Grade(s): 1st Grade

Impact: 34 students impacted

Cost: $484.80

Investor: Suncoast Credit Union

“The art comes to life throughout the year in our kindergarten classroom as the students explore key social studies and science concepts and standards through art and language using a process called Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy Through Art.

Each student created water-color crayon resist artwork to represent learnings during the Science and Social Studies curriculum. The students then wrote poems about fall and about USA symbols, accessing descriptive language and literary devices from their paintings.

These pictures provide an example of how essential concepts, important language arts skills, and the arts can be integrated into one dynamic learning experience.”

– Carole Burns, Veterans Memorial Elementary


Project: Close Emotionally – while social distancing – WE DINE TOGETHER, thanks to you!

Teacher: Anna Bowe

School: Lely High School

Grade(s): 9 – 12 Grades

Impact: 1,000+ students impacted

Cost: $999.01

Investor: Perna-Rose Foundation of Hope

In its second year, the “Friendship Garden” at Lely High School continues to flourish.  As a project of the We Dine Together International Club, the students designed and created the garden in the 2019-20 school year as a place of relaxation, conversation and connection.

During this school year, the garden has taken on a deeper meaning as students navigate the COVID-related restrictions and learn how to make this a space to foster connection in the midst of separation.  The students are learning not only how to plan a garden space, but also how to consider others and create a space for emotional growth and healing.


The Classroom Grant portal is currently closed for individual grants, but will reopen in July 2021 for new grant requests for the 2021-2022 school year.

To support teachers’ great ideas and donate to the general Classroom Grants Fund for 2021-2022, click HERE or text “APPLE21” to 44-321.

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Groups work together to provide bikes for college-bound students

Groups work together to provide bikes for college-bound students

Link to WINK News story

Champions For Learning staff and student receiving bikeTransportation is expensive, but especially for young, college-bound students. A car may be out of reach for those who have big college plans and a small budget.

Now, two groups in Collier County are teaming up to make sure that dozens of students have a way to get from place to place.

Three college-bound Champions For Learning students receive bikes


Bryan just graduated from Naples High School. “Learning quality material meeting great people and just getting to live life with like-minded friends,” he said.

There’s no doubt that 2021 high school graduates are ready to spread their wings and fly. But, before they head off to their respective campuses, they need a way to get around.

Dorothy Whipple is a mentor at Champions for Learning. “The students need it. Most of them don’t have the money for cars,” said Whipple.

Some are looking for a way to move about campus and get to class. Others need a way to get to work.

Bikes For Tykes Naples

Djully graduated from Lely High School recently. “The new change having new opportunities to live for myself,” she said.

Todd Geroy is with Bikes for Tykes. “You know, all these students are going to be going off to college, and it will be their transportation,” Geroy said.

Todd Geroy from Bikes for Tykes is teaming up with Champions for Learning to help these new graduates transition to college a bit more smoothly.

Jonh Whipple is also a mentor with Champions for Learning. “It’s really surprising that so many kids that are going to college have never been on a bike they don’t know the front from the back, so we’re giving bike lessons here today,” said John.

Bryan has decided he’s staying local and will be going to FGCU. With some help, he picked out the perfect ride on Friday.

“I was looking at it since the beginning it was kind of calling my name,” he said.

This new ride may not have air conditioning, and only has two wheels but it still makes a world of difference.

“I’m super excited I’m going to be riding it a lot it’s going to be put to great use,” said Brian.

And of course, that’s what matters the most.

This is the first year that Champions for Learning and Bikes for Tykes teamed up to give away bikes to new graduates. Altogether, they were able to give away more than 40 bikes.

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Congratulations Class of 2021!


Congratulations Class of 2021!

On May 6th, 74 impressive 12th-grade students were honored at the Countdown to Cap and Gown Celebration, presented by BMO Wealth Management and hosted by the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.

More than 200 people joined in to celebrate the graduating seniors for their successful completion of Champions For Learning scholarship programs.

As these students prepare for high school graduation and transition into the next phase of their education and then into the workforce, it was a great opportunity to pause and celebrate their successes.

This year, more than ever, we have learned how resilient our students can be. We are so proud of this year’s graduates and we look forward to seeing all that they accomplish.

8th Grade Induction – Moving Forward

On April 17th, Champions For Learning celebrated the induction of a new class of students into our scholarship and mentoring program. These 56 eighth graders, who will graduate from high school in 2025, look forward to forging new pathways and making their college and career dreams come true.

Champions For Learning is committed to working hard to always support the success of these students. But that’s not all. Through the generous support of our donors, each student is promised a two-year tuition scholarship to a Florida state college for once they successfully complete the program. We wish them success!

Scholarships – Help deserving students pay for college

Champions For Learning ensures that students are equipped and prepared for their future learning and career goals through our scholarship and mentoring programs.

Students with good grades and behavior and a desire for achieving post-secondary goals qualify for these programs. Once selected, support is provided to help students apply for college or technical school and to establish their career path and goals. In addition, Champions For Learning works with a range of collaborative partners and a network of volunteers to ensure that students and their families are equipped with key information and resources, empowering students to succeed.

Whether you want to contribute as a mentor or by investing through Champions For Learning, both are excellent ways to help a young person realize their dreams. For many that means going to college, then returning to Naples to serve in health care, education or other professions and raising a family. With over 500 graduates and counting, Champions For Learning scholarship programs are setting students up for a lifetime of achievement.

Join In.

Your gift to Champions For Learning inspires our community to continue to work together. No gift is too small; your gift can be combined with others to support life-changing learning experiences. Text to Give is easy, simply text “Champs21” to 44-321.


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Connecting Tomorrow’s Champions To Their Futures

My name is Jose and I am a 2016 graduate of Champions For Learning’s Take Stock In Children scholarship and mentoring program. While attending Florida SouthWestern State College full time, I’ve also worked for a real estate technology firm for the past two years. This April, I graduated from FSW with my Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree in Supervision and Management. I’ve also recently purchased a home in Naples and have just accepted a promotion at my firm, making me Associate Regional Manager.

I grew up in a family where our financial situation meant that college wasn’t going to be an option without a scholarship. Not only that, but I was preparing to be a first-generation college student, so navigating my future and applying for college just wasn’t guidance that my parents were able to provide. Champions For Learning provided the resources, knowledge, and accountability I needed during high school that has ultimately led to my success today.

For me, the key component of the Champions For Learning program was the mentoring aspect. There was a time during high school that I went through a rough patch. There were challenges within my family and I didn’t know quite how to handle them. My mentor served as a rock during that time, he met me at school every week for lunch and we really bonded. That was a pivotal moment for me, and I truly believe that the stability that my mentor was able to provide led to me making it through.

It’s amazing to me how many community members are willing to give back, people who truly care. The Champions For Learning mentors give not just days or months, but years of their lives to be mentors for students in Collier County. I feel like I was given this amazing opportunity by Champions For Learning, and that those experiences have led to who I am today.

Join In.

Your gift to Champions For Learning inspires our community to continue to work together. No gift is too small; your gift can be combined with others to support life-changing learning experiences. Text to Give is easy, simply text “Champs21” to 44-321.


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Carpenters of Stonebridge Bring Community Need To Light


A Stonebridge community member’s talent for carpentry and heart for giving has transformed the lives of students who lack an essential tool.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the virtual learning that followed soon after, revealed a number of previously hidden needs within our community and nationwide. Across the country, over 9 million students didn’t have access to the internet at home. Over 4 million students didn’t have access to a computer or tablet. But what were kids even more in need of? It turns out the one item that students in Collier County needed most is desks.

Stonebridge Country Club resident Peter Fleming was looking for ways to help throughout the pandemic. After hearing about similar projects in other cities, he banded together a neighborhood team and began building desks to donate to Champions For Learning to distribute to local students in need. The purpose of their project was to give students a dedicated place to study while at home, whether that be while learning online during the pandemic or now that most students are back in the classroom as a place to complete their homework. Their “Desks-By-Dads” project has allowed students to be able to better concentrate on their studies, providing them a space that is their own and separate from potential distractions.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to move online, students were tasked with finding new ways to learn from home – often at a kitchen table, a bed, or even a living room floor. Online learning was challenging enough for children, and not having a dedicated workspace made it even harder to be focused and organized.

With the help of several Stonebridge volunteers, so far the Desks-By-Dads project has provided 57 desks, built to collapse and be put away when not in use, to Collier students in need.

One Champions For Learning eighth-grade student, who has been using either her older brother’s desk or her bed to complete her homework, shared that she is looking forward to having space away from household distractions to organize her schoolwork.

“The demand for student desks has shown that we don’t always know what others in our community need,” said Susan McManus, President of Champions For Learning. “It’s been so meaningful to see the energy of this project, we really can’t thank the team of volunteer carpenters at Stonebridge enough.”

The Champions For Learning students and families that have received desks are also grateful. Thank you messages and pictures from parents who say that the desks “have made homework time so much easier.”

Champions For Learning student Rodrigo says that “the desk has really helped me by establishing a quiet location away from distractions. Now I am able to study and do my homework,” adding, “My words can’t express how fortunate I was to get a desk. This has really made a difference in my life.”

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Alumna Update: Meet Marlene Ruiz-Perez

As I think back on my journey, I am so grateful for the opportunity that the Champions For Learning mentoring and scholarship program has given me. My name is Marlene Ruiz-Perez and I entered the program when I was in my junior year of high school. Last week, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology at Florida Gulf Coast University and will be attending pharmacy school at the University of South Florida in the fall. Without the support that I received from Champions for Learning, I don’t know that my path would have been the same or that I would have been able to attend college debt-free.

I’m so thankful that being part of Champions for Learning meant being paired with a mentor. My mentor is someone that was not only there for me in high school but has continued with me into my next chapter of life, helping with areas outside what my peers were able to. We talk about all different topics, and in turn, have grown our relationship and bond. I have a friend that continuously encourages and motivates me to work hard and stay focused to achieve my goals. Our relationship has gone beyond mentor and mentee and is so strong, to me, I could say she is like family.

I am so proud to be the first in my family to attend and graduate college and to be a role model for my younger brothers. They have been able to see and learn from my experiences and see that they too can pursue post-secondary education debt-free. I am very glad that our single mother has not had to worry about our future. She knows that we have the support of Champions For Learning and has had the opportunity to learn with us throughout this process. She has encouraged and motivated me to work hard to achieve my dreams and now she can watch my hopes become a reality.

Through Champions for Learning, I have learned the importance of getting involved in my community. I have been able to pay it forward by being involved in organizations that allow me to make a difference in the lives of younger students and mentor them to pursue post-secondary education. I have gained new experiences, I have challenged myself, and I have become a greater part of my community by being involved. Through Champions, I have learned that it is never too early to make a difference.

Throughout high school, I attended weekly college and career lab sessions. The Champions For Learning staff provided us a wealth of resources, including how to properly complete college and scholarship applications. During this process I found many parts confusing but was able to utilize the resources provided by Champions to help me along. I learned how to create a proper resume, how to correctly fill out my FAFSA, and important skills for maintaining a budget. I have learned about a variety of careers through the presentations given by members of the community, and about study abroad programs presented by alumni. All of this has helped me feel prepared for my future and where I am now. My achievements and successes are proof that working hard and staying determined leads to achieving greatness. Because of Champions for Learning, I know that I have no limitations.

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Collier County School’s honor all their teachers for National Teacher Appreciation Week


NBC2 News Story: Collier County School’s honor all their teachers for National Teacher Appreciation Week

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.– Each year, a select number of teachers that go above and beyond are presented a Golden Apple Award.

This year, the non-profit organization, Champions For Learning, decided all teachers in the Collier County School District deserve something special during National Teacher Appreciation Week.

For teachers across the country, it’s been a difficult 14 months.

Bruce Mousa, Incoming Chair for Champions For Learning said, “We consider the educators the superheroes and just because they’re dealing with a precious commodity.”

Some teachers thrust themselves into a new world of virtual learning while others worked to maintain a COVID-safe classroom environment.

Kelsey Ruemler, Media Specialist at Gulfview Middle School said, “I wake up every single morning thinking what I can do to help these students be successful.”

“This year, all educators are Golden Apple winners,” Mousa said.

The non-profit teamed up with local sponsors to gift each school a bushel of apples, flowers, and a $2,000 grant for administrators to use however they’d like.

At Poinciana Elementary School, Principal Jessica Davis said her staff decided to put a twist on their mantra this school year.

“….Our Flame of Knowledge Burns Bright and then during Teacher Appreciation Week it is Our Flame of Knowledge Burns Bright Because of You. You being the teachers,” Davis said.

Just like every other day the school decided to put the kids first and use the grant to rent air hockey tables, bring in a food truck, and gift students lunch bags.

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Golden Apples over gold stars: Collier schools celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week amid COVID year

by Rachel Fradette, Naples Daily News

Poinciana Elementary School teacher Judy Ramirez and her second-graders know what it takes to earn a Golden Apple Award.

Ramirez, who took home her award in 2013, gives out her own brand of golden apples when her students go above and beyond with their behavior and learning gains.

One of her students, 8-year-old Jordan Heady, said he’s taken home an apple more than 10 times.

“It’s been a really positive thing for our class,” Ramirez said.

It’s something, she said, that was important to continue, especially this school year amid COVID-19.

“It’s been tough, but man, after this year I think we all feel like we can get through anything,” Ramirez said.

From catered lunch to unique themed days, 58 schools in Collier County are celebrating their teachers, like Ramirez, following a year of ups and downs.

Second-grade teacher Judy Ramirez, center, takes part in a Teacher Appreciation Week presentation with her students, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at Poinciana Elementary in Naples.

Champions For Learning, the county’s education foundation, and sponsors provided funds to schools in lieu of the annual Golden Apple event and awards, which honor teachers for their work.

Every school received $2,000 through Golden Apple sponsors to salute teachers during National Teacher Appreciation Week.

In a year where Golden Apples will be absent, Poinciana Elementary School Principal Jessica Davis said she sees it as just the opposite.

“I think for this particular year it was definitely an additional importance to celebrate Golden Apple as every teacher receives a Golden Apple,” Davis said.

Davis and her staff were recognized on more than one occasion for their work this year and last year. Amity Wyss was named assistant principal of the year in Collier County.

Also at the school, media specialist Kristi Humberger and media assistant Celine Johnson, are Collier schools 2021 nominees for Florida Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the year.

Davis said the school’s staff is remarkable. Wyss said teachers have remained positive while being student-focused.

Poinciana Elementary second-grader Alex Olmos holds a Golden Apple during a Teacher Appreciation Week ceremony, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at Poinciana Elementary in Naples.

Surprises in store for teachers this week

This week at Poinciana is centered around the Olympics. Every day this week will zero in on a continent with prizes and activities sticking to the theme, including scones on Europe Day and synchronized swimming outside the pool.

“We wanted to tap into that it takes a team that collectively wins,” Davis said.

Gulfview Middle School students wrote letters to their teachers that are being delivered as part of Teacher Appreciation Week.

“They’re just the sweetest sentiments that kids need to be here, and they need teachers,” Elizabeth Brown said.

Brown, a reading coach at the school, said the start of the school year was scary, but teachers quickly adjusted to where they are meant to be — the classroom.

“Sometimes showing up each day is a celebration because I spoke a lot to our kids and the emotions and the difficulties that they have to grapple with, but the truth of it is our teachers are going through the same thing,” Brown said.

Other surprises for educators include breakfast, lunches, and treats, according to the school.

Gulf Coast Charter Academy South is matching funding to make this week special for its teachers.

Teachers at the charter school will have breakfast and lunch catered all week, and they will also take home gift cards.

“We’ve definitely seen a large morale ebb and flow as the year goes on,” Will Staros, principal of Gulf Cost Charter Academy South, said. “And as we get into a state testing time and evaluation time this week, in particular, is really strong for us to be able to push for the next four weeks until we get to summer.”

Bruce Mousa, right, board member at Champions For Learning, talks with Gulf Coast Charter Academy South students and staff during Teacher Appreciation Week, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at the school in Naples.

The kindergarten team worked hard to keep their spirits up throughout this school year, teacher Aishia Buford said.

“I think we cope by uplifting each other, reaching out to each other, texting each other, funny memes, dancing in the hallways from a distance with each other, so we’ve been trying to uplift each other,” Buford said.

Kindergarten teacher Beth Staros said teachers have not complained this year because of how much they love their profession, but that did not make it easy.

“If you’re out in the community and you see a teacher, thank a teacher,” Staros said.

The Naples Daily News is a 2021 Golden Apple major sponsor.

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at rfradette@gannett.com.

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Celebrating Our Educators: The Heartbeat of Our Community

This year, the 31st Annual Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers television special honored all educators across Collier County for the extraordinary work they have done in ever-changing circumstances to keep our students moving forward. The program, presented by Suncoast Credit Union and broadcast on NBC-2 on Sunday, April 25th, 2021 and is now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cSqCPmMW0g.

To continue the celebration, and with the generous support of our sponsors, funding of $2,000 has been provided to 58 Collier County schools to help each school community celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week (May 3 – 7). Each of the schools have been so creative in how they will be using the funding this week—from food truck lunches to special decorations to flower arrangements—this is another amazing opportunity to thank our educators for an extraordinary year.

On Tuesday, May 4th, the entire community is encouraged to show their gratitude for our schools and educators. Champions For Learning has also organized a list of teacher appreciation ideas which can be found at https://championsforlearning.org/appreciation.

Each school will be visited by Champions For Learning volunteers and sponsors on May 4th to thank our educators and deliver a token of appreciation from the community. Champions For Learning has also partnered with CCPS Nutrition Services to provide an apple for every student and teacher at each of the 58 schools on Tuesday, May 4th. Apples will be on the lunch menu for students, and bushel baskets of apples will be available for teachers.

The Golden Apple program is presented by Suncoast Credit Union and supported by major sponsors Conditioned Air, Mary Ingram Fund of the Columbus Foundation, Moorings Park, Naples Daily News, Naples Illustrated, NBC-2 Waterman Broadcasting, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, and Stock Development. Attached please find the complete list of Golden Apple sponsors that have made this funding possible for our schools.

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Golden Apples: Foundation, sponsors to fund Teacher Appreciation Week in lieu of yearly awards

Rachel Fradette, Naples Daily News

Golden Apple day in Collier County, with all of its surprises and tearful excitement, is transforming this year to celebrate educators in a new way amid the pandemic.

In lieu of the annual awards and dinner, Champions For Learning announced that 58 Collier County schools will receive funds to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week how they see fit.

Every school through Golden Apple sponsors will receive $2,000 to salute teachers May 3 to May 7 with a special emphasis on May 4 when community appreciation is encouraged.

The county’s education foundation said the pandemic led to a different opportunity and they ran with it.

“We’ve always done well when we’ve listened,” Susan McManus, president of Champions For Learning, said. “I think that was what came across this year.”

McManus said the foundation could not just proceed with their typical program this year; they needed to hear from educators like in every other year.

Foundation staff spoke to Collier school leaders about what teachers were feeling about the unprecedented year and how they might celebrate innovation and hard work in classrooms, McManus said.

“The principals and the selection committee taking the time to be on the phone and talk through all this, you know, it’s inspired us. It’s encouraged us,” McManus said. “I’m so glad we did it. I can’t even imagine right now trying to go through the motions of that, that same process or celebration.”

From coordination with their parent-teacher organizations to creative themes, schools are in the process of developing how their communities will salute their educators, Lisa Church, chief community impact officer for the foundation, said.

“I was just so impressed so far with what I’m seeing around how the principals are engaging so many people in the celebration plan,” Church said.

Church said she hopes to see Collier as a community reflect on what it has meant to have schools open this year and think about ways to say thanks you to teachers and school staff.

Last year, Collier schools hosted the foundation’s annual surprises mere weeks before the shutdown in Florida.

The results of school closings led to the cancellation of the foundation’s annual dinner, which celebrates awardees and other educators.

The coronavirus pandemic also prevented community volunteers from being able to visit classrooms as part of the selection process for the awards, McManus said.

“We did come to that understanding with them that we would make a commitment to helping the community really understand what it’s been like this year, maybe not by picking just teachers of distinction individually but by our organization really committing to putting a whole different process in place,” McManus said.

Lee County’s annual celebration sponsored by The Foundation for Lee County Schools moved forward with safety precautions and measures in place. Six Lee County teachers took home their Golden Apples last month.

In addition to the Teacher Appreciation Week celebration, Collier’s Champions For Learning is honoring educators through a TV special on April 25 that will focus on teaching and learning through the year.

This year’s program is dedicated to Lavern ‘Lal’ Gaynor, a prominent Naples philanthropist who often involved herself with the organization. She died this week at age 97.

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at rfradette@gannett.com.

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