November 24, 2014

2011 Philanthropists of the Year

We are blessed. admit it. many of us, regardless of economic riptides, are in an enviable place. And that isn’t necessarily a monetary location.

Yes, some have bulging checkbooks and are kind enough to put them to use. But others give something just as precious—their time. And when it came time to honor those who’ve given so much to this community with our 2011 Philanthropists of the Year issue, we were fascinated by the variety of reasons people give. For some, it was just how they were raised; for others, it’s a passion born from a chance encounter; for others still, it’s a pragmatic view—where there’s a need, make a difference.

As a sampling of those we’re celebrating in this issue, you’ll meet 93-year-old Eleanore Kleist, our 2011 Lee County Philanthropist of the Year. She and her late husband, Peter, were so devoted to giving away their millions over the course of their lifetime that they hadn’t thought to provide for Eleanore should he pass away first. When he died in 2009, there was a last-minute scramble to make sure she had enough to pay her bills for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness she’s a low-maintenance gal.

Proving that you’re never too young to start giving back, 17-year-old Daniel Guzman spends five days a week after school tutoring math to elementary students at the Guadalupe Center. Perhaps his giving will inspire the kids he’s helping.

We’re also introduced to the accounting firm of Myers, Brettholtz and Co., where all of the employees volunteer as drivers for Meals on Wheels. So, if you see them pull into your driveway, have questions about your 1040 Schedule D at the ready.

There are many more just like them on the upcoming pages. We hope they serve as an example and as inspiration.

                                                                                              —Michael Korb

 

Michael T. BiondoMichael T. Biondo
Outstanding Philanthropist —Collier County 

During the final months of his brother’s life, Michael T. Biondo spent much of his time at his side, experiencing first-hand the difference superior hospice care can make. “At that time, I had heard of a hospice—the people who come in and help you when you’re dying—but that’s about all I knew,” he says. “When I saw what they did for my brother, I’ll never forget it. When I got back to Naples after [his] passing, I thought, ‘I need to go visit the people [at Avow].”

That visit has since translated into six years on the Avow Hospice board of directors and more than $1 million contributed toward its Promise Campaign. Biondo singlehandedly led his community of Pelican Bay to raise that sum to speed the way toward the hospice’s $10 million goal. Formerly the senior group vice president of St. Regis Corp., a billion-dollar packaging and consumer products corporation, Biondo leveraged his extensive marketing experience into building and running a campaign cabinet, executing a “mega concert” for more than 1,400 attendees and organizing a No-Go Gala, which invited event-weary residents to stay home and send a check instead.

Though many doubted his ability in the beginning, including his late wife, Harriet—“When I announced it, she said, ‘You really need to go see a psychiatrist,’” he says with a chuckle—Biondo exceeded his goal far ahead of the campaign’s projected end date. The funds raised will go toward the cost of operations and construction and sustaining the future of Avow.

Biondo is far from finished. He plans to use the strategy he developed so successfully in his Pelican Bay campaign—to inform, educate, motivate and ask—to further support his cause. “As my involvement has deepened, my passion for the work they do has grown tremendously,” he says. “If I looked at all I’ve accomplished in my life, my work with Avow is right up there at the top. I feel the strength it’s given me, and I couldn’t want to do anything more.”
           —Jennifer Freihofer

 

Dwight RichardsonDwight Richardson
Outstanding Volunteer—Collier County

In a seventh grade classroom in northern Missouri, Dwight Richardson picked up his first French horn, and his life changed forever. He fell in love and continued to play through high school, college and during his time as a Marine in Korea with the Marine Corps Band.

That experience was his only paid professional musical position; the rest have been solely as a volunteer. Richardson, who formerly held a series of management positions with AT&T, has been involved in various roles with several groups including the Naples Orchestra and Chorus, Naples Paradise Brass Quintet and the Naples Music Club. The Naples Concert Band holds special significance for Richardson—he and his wife, Angela, a clarinet player, met there and have been married 17 years.

In addition to performing, Richardson heads committees, chairs fundraising drives and writes articles. His current focus is on the development of the Bayshore Cultural and Performing Arts Center, for which he acts as secretary. Now in its preliminary planning stages, the center aims to serve as a home base for local performance groups. For now, the focus is on fundraising and gaining visibility. “(The center) is one of the missing ingredients in Collier County,” he says. “It will provide not only a home but a venue for the community to go to performances at a reasonable cost. It’s a win for everyone.”
           —Jennifer Freihofer


On the job: Jason DeAngelis and Jolene Chimento, front, take a break from their jobs at Moorings Park with Anne Fredette, instructor for Collier County Public Schools in charge of Project Explore.Moorings Park
Outstanding Business—Collier County

In this economy, job experience can seem like the golden ticket to the land of the employed, particularly for a disabled person who might face greater scrutiny. That’s what Moorings Park’s Project Explore aims 
to accomplish.

The retirement community formed a mentoring program to serve adults with disabilities, in partnership with the Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology in Naples, giving them the chance to gain valuable experience in fields such as physical therapy, culinary work and nursing.

Project Explore, now a decade old, places students in real-world scenarios, teaching them job, relationship and communication skills. Each year, 25 adult students with disabilities ranging from blindness to Down syndrome to ADHD are awarded mentorships.

“To see the commitment that they make to Moor-ings Park to serve our residents and make our community everything it is, is extremely inspirational,” says Steve Brinkert, vice president of resident services at Moorings Park.

Anne Fredette, who acts as the link between Lorenzo Walker and Moorings Park, says the magic of Moorings Park is the community’s ability to build self-esteem in students.

“The biggest attribute Moorings provides for them is self confidence,” Fredette says.“They’re given the confidence to work in the real world; their belief in our students is huge. Our students feel that.”

           —Kristie Aronow 

 

Pay back: To repay his own good fortune, Daniel Guzman spends his afternoons tutoring students at the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee.Daniel Guzman
Outstanding Student Volunteer—Collier County

Needy families often don’t have outlets to repay the mountains of philanthropic kindness cascading their way in Collier County. Or at least Daniel Guzman didn’t think he did.

“People have given my family so much,” the Immokalee High School senior says. “I didn’t have the money to pay
them back.”

At first, he used the help as an added reason to study hard. He’s a straight-A student who gets up early, sometimes at 5 a.m., to bike to school to study before classes start. He also is an aspiring environmental engineer.

But when he heard about a tutoring program at the Guadalupe Center, the 17-year-old saw an opportunity to pay forward the generosity of others, and build on to his accomplished high school resume.

Now he spends five days a week after school helping elementary students learn math. He’s put in more than 250 hours of community service since the start of his junior year and plans on continuing this fall.

“It makes you feel good,” he says of the work. “I’ve been there. It was a struggle when I started school because I didn’t know English. I’m helping kids that are just like me.”

        —Jonathan Foerster

 

Eleanore KleistEleanore Kleist
Outstanding Philanthropist—Lee County

“I’m just plain lucky.”

That’s how Eleanore Kleist describes herself. And there is no point in arguing with the 93-year-old Fort Myers resident. (I know, she looks great, doesn’t she?) Even though she lost her husband of 68 years, Peter, in 2009, and their son, David, later that same year, she knows that over the long haul, she’s been blessed. Humble beginnings tend to help keep things in perspective.

It seems that when you grow up the only child of German immigrants, saddled with the responsibility of caring for an invalid mother during the Great Depression, you realize how important it is for people to reach their potential. Peter felt the same way, creating a scholarship in the name of a professor who had helped him—even before he had graduated from college.

As their construction business grew into an empire that stretched from Ohio to Florida, they consistently gave to others. “Peter used to say that money was like manure,” says Kleist. “Pile it up and it stinks; spread it around and things will grow.” To that end, the Kleist Foundation has certainly fertilized its share of fields, donating millions of dollars for scholarships, housing and other educational pursuits locally and the world over. And since Peter’s death, Eleanore has continued to focus on giving.

“Our scholarships never go to geniuses,” says Kleist. “There’s always a scholarship for a genius. Ours go to B-students in need.”

That should tell you all you need to know about this woman, who could be living in a massive faux-Tuscan villa and driving a foreign-born status symbol but instead loves her unassuming one-story riverfront home and her Chrysler minivan with a few miles under its steel-belted belt.

“Things don’t interest me. They never have,” says Kleist.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all so lucky?

            — Michael Korb

 

Dr. Steve MachizDr. Steve Machiz
Outstanding Volunteer—Lee County

If you’re fortunate enough to be invited to the house of Dr. Steve Machiz, rest assured that he’ll greet you with a smile and a glass of wine. And trust us, it’ll be good wine. (Not surprising from the guy whose passion turned into the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest.)

But as much as he enjoys sharing a fine bottle of wine with friends—or even complete strangers—he won’t let you make it to the kitchen table without visiting a sideboard loaded with photos of his family, his wife and their blended families. (It’s the second marriage for both, as they each lost their first spouse unexpectedly.) Between them, there are four daughters and 12 grandchildren, and frames filled with beaming faces—or of Machiz on one of his adventures. He’s been to all seven continents in a never-ending quest to experience all the world has to offer.

That table full of pictures encapsulates what it means to be a family. “Life is fragile. Live it to its fullest,” says Machiz. But part of living life—at least for Machiz—is giving back to the community and striving to make a difference.

So when the Fort Myers resident retired early from his urology practice, thanks to some smart investing, he decided to reacquaint himself with his local Rotary Club. That’s where a seed was planted to help the children of Southwest Florida. In just seven years, Machiz has taken the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest from a fledgling newcomer raising $75,000 to a “must attend” event netting a whopping $1.6 million earlier this year—much of that going to The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

When Machiz and other organizers presented the check this year, they stopped by the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “We didn’t realize that the night before, a teenage mother had come in and delivered twins that were four months premature,” says Machiz. “When we saw those babies—they each weighed less than a pound—it was overwhelming.” Thanks to Machiz, other families will have need for more
picture frames.—Michael Korb


Building bonds: With the hope of creating lasting friendships, Meghan Collins (center) founded a peer-mentorship program between Lee County high school students and girls in the PACE program.Meghan Collins
Outstanding Student Volunteer—Lee County

Meghan collins wanted to help. But she wanted to blaze her own trail.

So the 17-year-old Fort Myers girl set out to add a new element to the successful PACE Center for Girls in Lee County. The girls in the program have plenty of opportunities to interact with adult role models, but often they didn’t have a strong peer support group.

“We’re all going through the same teenage stuff,” Meghan says. “It’s important to talk to someone who knows what you are going through.”

So Meghan started PACE Sisters, an outreach program that pairs girls in PACE with girls their own age. As with any pilot program, things didn’t always go smoothly.

“We come from different worlds,” Meghan says of her team sisters. “The beginning, it was a rocky start.”

But after an initial getting-to-know-you period, the girls have formed bonds strong enough that other PACE centers are thinking of copying the program.

“These girls have really inspired me,” Meghan says. “They’ve made it this far without the kind of support I have in my life.”

       — Jonathan Foerster

  

Santa’s little helpers: The entire staff at Myers, Brettholtz and Co. pulls together to deliver special holiday memories for families in the area.Myers, Brettholtz and Co.
Outstanding Business—Lee County

The group-giving vibe permeates the halls at Myers, Brettholtz and Co. Every employee at the Fort Myers accounting firm gives of his or her time, money and talents in service to Southwest Florida.

“It is really part of the firm’s culture,” says Lori Wilson, a shareholder with the firm. “We work with nonprofit organizations, and we realized there was a need to get more involved on a personal basis.”

During the summer, when the CPA business slows down, the entire staff volunteers as drivers for the Meals on Wheels program. The office annually adopts a family to support throughout the holiday season, often giving families the best holiday they’ve had in years with new bicycles and Nintendo Wiis waiting under the tree.

On the business side, the company offers a discount to all nonprofit clients and holds seminars year round addressing issues such as fundraising and board leadership.

“It’s not just that we’re accountants and CPAs and we work with our clients and we help our clients as professionals,” Steve Brettholtz managing shareholder says. “It’s that old expression, ‘Walk the walk and talk the talk.’”

          —Kristie Aronow