Salut! / The Headquarters

Home Sweet Home

After 22 years of providing much-needed services to kids in Collier County, NCEF plants roots with a permanent base.

BY January 1, 2022
(Photo by Anna Nguyen)

The handsome, two-story building on Goodlette-Frank Road is the physical manifestation of a declaration: We are here to stay.

Shouting that are the trustees and staff of the Naples Children & Education Foundation. Even with its age (22), its accolades (ranking as Wine Spectator’s top charity wine auction 13 times) and a trove of affirmational data (including an astounding 93% graduation rate in Immokalee), a sense of impermanence shrouded the foundation, which has bounced around Collier County, living in rented space, since its founding.

Two years ago, the organization’s leaders made a different declaration—Enough!—and launched a $7 million capital campaign to build a forever home. “This building represents what we are all about, and it says we’re going to be here for a long time helping these kids,” says trustee and board chairman Paul Hills, who with his wife, Barbie, chaired the capital campaign. “We needed a place,” Barbie says. “We needed a home.”

(Photo by Venjhamin Reyes)
NCEF debuted its 13,500-square-foot permanent home with a ribbon cutting in November. (Photo by Anna Nguyen)
(Photo by Venjhamin Reyes)

The approximately 13,500-square-foot building has both the comforts of a home—cozy meeting nooks, a sunset terrace, a trustees’ lounge—and the pragmatic features the organization sorely lacked. The building includes storage space for the foundation’s trove of festival-related decor and materials; a professional kitchen allowing NCEF, at last, to host its own functions; and a loading dock. CEO Maria Jimenez-Lara calls that last feature a “godsend.” Pallet jacks, she explains, don’t fit through regular doorways. Try moving a festival’s worth of supplies without such equipment.

Efficiency and economics were among the factors driving the decision to build. “We have moved about every three years. As the festival and the organization grew, we found ourselves always looking for ways to carry out our work more effectively,” Jimenez-Lara says. Having a permanent home base translates to cost savings in the long run, she adds.

(Photo by Venjhamin Reyes)
(Photo by Venjhamin Reyes)
In addition to a kitchen, trustees’ lounge and cozy nooks, the headquarters has a 2,600-square-foot multipurpose room that NCEF partner nonprofits can use for collaborative meetings. (Photo by Venjhamin Reyes)

The building’s most important attribute is the 2,600-square-foot multipurpose room that dominates the first floor. The space accommodates up to 125 people for a sit-down dinner and can be divided into three separate, smaller spaces. NCEF does not merely hand out grants to Collier County nonprofits. Instead, it serves as a central hub for child-focused organizations, offering training, advising, resource sharing and other services. Its entire model is based on building coordinated systems of care to address seven strategic needs. The NCEF staff intends to roll out a full slate of programming and make the space available to other area organizations.

Collaboration appeals to Julia Van Domelen, a trustee, member of the board of directors and a primary donor to the capital campaign. “It’s truly one of the community’s backbone organizations,” Van Domelen, who also supports children’s causes through her own Bill and Julia Van Domelen Foundation, says. Over the years, she has watched NCEF unite nonprofits through a common cause. The new building, she says, promises to strengthen the bonds between organizations and provide more opportunities to work together on behalf of Collier’s kids. “For the future, I see only more successes ahead,” she says. “I see more children being served by better nonprofits, and I’m always of the mindset that when you help children, you’re helping families, you’re helping schools, and you’re helping the community. That makes this a better place for all of us to live.” 


Barbie & Paul Hills (Photo by Anna Nguyen)

Barbie & Paul Hills

Co-Chairs of the Capital Campaign 

As if planning the nation’s largest charity wine auction wasn’t enough, the trustees of NWWF agreed that building a new headquarters required a separate capital campaign to not divert auction proceeds from children’s services.

Barbie and Paul Hills needed no coaxing to take the lead. They have been involved in NCEF for most of its existence. “A home symbolizes security and strength,” Barbie says. “It sends out a message that we are ‘here to stay for the kids.’” The couple wants Collier’s children to have the same access to education, healthcare and extracurricular programming that their own four children enjoyed.

They acknowledge parents’ efforts and know many are trying to raise children while working multiple jobs. Community nonprofits, they say, can ease families’ burdens and transform young lives. “These parents are trying, but we’ve got to give these kids a leg up,” Paul says. “Because what’s the end game? These children will grow up to be responsible citizens and part of the fabric of America … So, let’s get busy. Let’s help these children. Let’s educate them. To me, that’s the American Dream.”

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