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.