July 29, 2014

From the Editor

I’d like to tell the story of Greater Naples Leadership (GNL), an organization with a DNA so perfect for Naples. It’s no secret that this town attracts retired superstars of medicine, business, education and more … all landing here still energetic, still wanting to be impact players of some kind, often lost in how to connect with their new community.

This is where GNL comes in, bringing talented and concerned people together, clueing them in to Collier County’s needs and turning them loose, proudly, to use their skills and hearts to help the less fortunate. Members now hold more than 340 positions on more than 120 local nonprofit boards, says GNL President Jennifer Walker.

Meet Bob Morantz, for example. For 25 years in Kansas City, he operated as an enormously successful neurosurgeon. Beyond his private practice, he taught as a professor at the University of Kansas, served on hospital boards and contributed significantly to government commissions examining issues in his field. “I was used to a vigorous schedule,” he says. So when he arrived here five years ago in full retirement mode—and eager to engage vigorously with his new surroundings—he wasn’t certain on how to proceed. “A friend told me about GNL,” he recalls, “and it was exactly what I was looking for.”

Each year since 1996, GNL takes a class of 40 outstanding individuals and from October through April puts them through a boot camp of 10 rigorous, all-day sessions. They go face-to-face with the policymakers and those affected in such arenas as local government, culture, environment, social services, healthcare, law, education and economic development.

Bob says he was taken with the commitment of Bill and Nancy Lascheid to treat patients with top care and dignity at the Neighborhood Health Clinic, and impressed with David Schimmel and the David Lawrence Center in helping people turn their lives around. After graduation, he signed up with the Neighborhood Health Clinic and the David Lawrence Center and now serves productively on the boards of both. The fringe benefit for Bob and his GNL classmates? The bonds they forge with each other in the boot camp process. So many graduates tell of the ongoing friendships that have come out of their training program. Bob cites Doug Johnson, a retired CEO of a hospital in Virginia, as one of his new pals from the program. They recently went deep-sea fishing together.

Others with very different pedigrees celebrate the boot camp gift of bonding and purpose, as well. Dick Munro, retired CEO of Time Warner, says, “I’m not sure I would have stayed in Naples if I hadn’t had this experience. The program exposed me to the needs and where those needs are being met, and that’s where I volunteer now [the boards of the David Lawrence Foundation and Funtime Early Childhood Academy, plus reading to children in a special program at Avalon Elementary School].”

Dottie Gerrity, former building contractor and partner in a construction company, admits that, “My class became my first family when I moved into Naples in 1997–98. For me, it was the window GNL opened into the lives of so many families and especially children who were barely getting by. Today, I am involved with First Book of Collier County, Funtime Early Childhood Academy, the Chamber of Commerce, CHS Healthcare Foundation and the Community Foundation.”

As Bob Morantz says, “Thanks to the GNL experience, you go from being a visitor to knowing you have roots in Naples.” He recently spoke about his initiative in starting a new healthy lifestyle program at the Neighborhood Health Clinic. Like so many of the 500 graduates of GNL, he’s active and doing good things. Maybe GNL should also stand for Great New Life, not only for those helped but for the helpers, as well.

That’s as good a legacy as you could wish for.

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