The annual Power of the Purse luncheon may draw in local ladies with its promise of 25 designer handbags up for raffle, but year after year community members return for the truly powerful inspiration of its speakers and mission. The event, held today at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, benefits the Women's Foundation of Collier County. The women's fund of the Community Foundation of Collier County serves to meet the "current and changing needs of women and girls in Collier County through grantmaking."
This year, keynote speaker Beth Holloway steadily took the stage to share her courageous response to the all-too-familiar disappearance of her daughter, Natalee Holloway, on a high school graduation trip in Aruba in 2005.
"After all I have been through, I have every right to crawl in a hole and never come out," Holloway said to a crowd of more than 200. "But that is not how I want to live my life."
The Women's Foundation also announced its 2016 Women of Initiative: Shelly Church, Stacey Deffenbaugh, Leslie Fogg, Louise Penta, Allyson Richards, Lynne Shotwell, Vi Steffan, Niki Thompson, Catherine Ware and Ann Westerfield.
After months and months of "more questions and theories being raised than being answered," and finally a chilling confession from a young man that he was responsible for Natalee's death, Beth Holloway reached what she calls her transition from victim to victor. A speech pathologist for individuals with special needs for 25 years, she decided to take her education background and teach personal and travel safety. She also lends support to families of other missing persons and established the Natalee Holloway Resource Center in Washington, D.C.
"What happened to Natalee could happen to anyone," Holloway said. "Natalee could be your loved one, and you could be me." Natalee was a bright young woman with a full ride to college and dreams of attending medical school. She let her guard down for only a moment, her mother says. She wants young women today to know that their safety is up to them, wherever they go.
As moving as the keynote speaker were stories from 94-year-old JoAnne Bartolomeo, a recipient of much support from the Jewish Family and Community Services of Southwest Florida, and Chelsea, a young woman who turned her life around with help from the Justin's Place program at St. Matthew's House. Both programs are among those that have benefited from the Women's Foundation of Collier County.
Community Foundation president and CEO Eileen Connolly-Keesler also announced the return of a $25,000 matching grant by Anne Welsh McNulty for the Women's Foundation. She closed the event, simply: "Women and girls need us."