Making Strides to Help Children

A new study shows how much the organization behind the Naples Winter Wine Festival is helping the community.

BY August 26, 2016


A little over a decade ago, the trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival decided to take a hard look at their community and the conditions in which its children were living.

Behind Collier County’s veneer, the picture was grim: The 2005 study, by University of Florida researchers, revealed, among other things, that 41 percent of children lived in low-income households; 25 percent of newborns had lacked prenatal care; 17 percent of children did not have medical insurance; 31 percent had no dental care; and thousands suffered from vision and hearing deficits. A quarter of incoming kindergartners were deemed not ready for school; and half of the elementary and middle school students who needed afterschool academic support were not receiving it.

Out of that study was born the Naples Children & Education Foundation’s strategic plan, laying out seven broad categories for filling health care and education gaps. Wine festival dollars—$146 million since 2001—are directed to nonprofits fulfilling those needs.  

On Thursday, the NCEF released its latest research, a new social impact report titled “Filling in the Future.” In it, there are reasons to celebrate:

  • The number of children entering kindergarten “on grade level” has increased by 42 percent, largely due to increased funding for early childhood education.
  • School suspension rates have decreased by 65 percent.
  • The graduation rate for at-risk youth has improved by 20 percent.
  • Juvenile arrests in Collier County have decreased by 62 percent.
  • 94,000 at-risk and underprivileged children have visited the NCEF Pediatric Dental Center, and 3,000 children were screened through a special mobile clinic.
  • 8,000 children have participated in afterschool, summer and holiday programs designed to ensure their supervision—and close the academic achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers.

NCEF’s chief executive officer, Maria Jimenez-Lara, says she’s proud of the work of the foundation and its partner organizations. To nudge the needle in academic matters is no small task, says Jimenez-Lara, a former educator.

“It’s a huge investment in consistent, high-quality programming, and I feel very proud, but at the same time, I realize we have such a long way to go,” she says.

The latest research didn’t identify any new gaps or needs, but it did point to a growing percentage of children living in poverty. A top priority in coming years, Jimenez-Lara says, will be to work with partner agencies to increase capacity.

“We appreciate the support of the community and of our patrons and our donors… it really does take a village,” she says. “But we urge everyone to understand the need is still there.”

To learn about NCEF and the Naples Winter Wine Festival, visit its website.


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