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Scene & Heard

Happy Day
It had to touch your heart. for the 16th year in a row, the supporters of the Wishing Well Foundation threw a party for disabled children at HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers last December that featured delicious foods, holiday crafts, Christmas carols and Santa Claus himself. Volunteers work all year to grant wishes and good times to chronically sick kids, and the climax to this party was the kids telling Santa about their wishes and then getting to “go shopping” in a Toy Land there. Vicki Torbush was the force behind this event and gets special credit for twisting the arms of all her good friends in the Bonita Bay community for toy donations. I got the idea of what this means to participants when Vicki told me, “I invited one mother this year with a severely disabled child when I passed her in the hospital hallways. She started to cry, saying her son had never been invited to a party before.” Well done, Wishing Well.


Cookies Count
The Cookie Diva of Naples, Shelia Davis, has struck again. Shelia’s known for her legendary Christmas cookie exchange to support the scholarship program for the Community School of Naples. Moms pay $300 just to get in and then bring and exchange dozens and dozens of cookies. In December, Shelia joined forces with Simone Lutgert and Linda Malone to stage a holiday cookie exchange for 45 guests that raised $14,000 for the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. Sweet. And the Cookie Diva promises more of the same next Christmas.


Early Bird
It’s not only the weather that changes—but weathermen, too. If you wake up early with NBC2 News Today, you’ll notice meteorologist Robert Van Winkle now delivering the forecasts. He’s shifted to the early slot so he can spend more time teaching students about his passion, the science of weather. He tells me he doesn’t mind leaving work now while the sun is still shining. I’ll miss him because there’s no way I’m getting to the station at those early hours he’s now keeping.


Creative Fundraising
Call it the attack of the flamingos. The pink plastic birds (and one yellow) are turning up in Naples neighborhoods and, believe it or not, they’re part of a 14-year-old’s efforts to fight cancer. The lone yellow bird out there is to honor Katie Doerr, who recently died from cancer. Her dear friend, Donna Solimene, will be launching a fundraiser this year called the Bucket List, auctioning off inspiring trips and experiences to fight cancer. Donna’s son, Nick, wanted to help, too—so beyond the bake sales and lemonade stands, he gathered his friends to “flock the hood.” In the dead of night, they moved the birds onto lawns—and if you don’t want them there, well, you’re going to have to pay for their removal. Right on, Nick! A born fundraiser. Donna, of course, tells me that a lot of the people want to keep their flamingos. But I’m sure they’re paying anyway.


Turning The Tables
The chef sits and the guests cook. That was the deal for those 22 lovers of Italian food who gathered at the Gordon Drive home of Hope for Haiti President JoAnne Kuehner and her husband, Karl, last November. The visitors—including businesswoman Sandy Stilwell, and voice-over artist Peter Thomas and his wife, Stella—were students of a cooking class at Campiello restaurant. And they prepared the dishes for their tutor Chef Vincenzo Betulia, his wife, Ann, and sommelier Jason Zadorski. The smiles all around suggest the students passed with flying colors and tasty offerings.


Gritty Woman
True grit. Jill Conner Browne, colorful author of those Sweet Potato Queens books, is one determined woman. Two weeks after hip surgery, she traveled three days by car to get to Fort Myers last December as the featured speaker for the inaugural Mad Hatter Tea Party, benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County. The good old girl said it was no problem, if it meant helping “the chirren” (that’s Mississippi-speak for “the children”). Her words were beguiling, and Deborah Liftig, chief professional officer at the Boys & Girls Clubs, reports that the event raised thousands of dollars. Hats off to the well-hatted, well-heeled guests and the Sweet Potato Queen herself.


Proud Marchers
It was dramatic, and it was so right when The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples called on its employees for the emotional climax to the December celebration of its 25th anniversary here. When Vice President and Managing Director Ed Staros introduced them as “the cornerstone of this resort’s success,” some 140 workers from all corners of the hotel came through the ballroom doors and—to the tune of Puttin’ on the Ritz—marched proudly up the center aisle to take their seats. They got a standing ovation from the 200 business and community leaders present. Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller was still choked up when she came to the podium to address the attendees. This was a classy show, appropriate indeed, for The Ritz-Carlton brand that has contributed so much to our community.

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