Philanthropists of the Year 2010
Southwest Florida’s 2010 Philanthropists of the Year may have different charities of choice, but they share one thing in common: an endless capacity to give of themselves to improve the quality of life for those less fortunate.
This year’s honorees include a woman whose own past connected her with troubled teens to change their futures, a couple who’ve put their hearts and souls into helping families get a home of their own, and a couple whose support of children and education has earned them a special lifetime achievement award.
Our list celebrates a woman who, literally, doesn’t slow down from her many volunteer commitments, a company that increased its charitable giving in a down economy, and a man who organizes services for healthcare, housing and education in Immokalee. We honor one student who sent supplies to an elementary school in Rwanda and another who volunteers as a tutor at the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee.
All of those recognized were nominated by their peers and selected by Gulfshore Life in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Collier County and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
Please join us in celebrating their generosity at Gulfshore Life’s annual Honored to Give Awards Reception from 6:30–8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, at the Villa Navona model in the Tamworth neighborhood of Quail West in Naples. For more information, call (239) 449-4154 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig and Patricia Jilk of Naples are so proud of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County that they gush like new parents. “It has been just a wonderful experience. We bore our friends to death,” Pat jokes.
Through contacts made during her participation in the Greater Naples Leadership program in 2004, Pat toured a poverty-stricken area of Immokalee and met a woman starting a new life in a Habitat home.
Although the Jilks’ community involvement includes the Community Foundation, Ronald McDonald Care Mobile and the Shelter for Abused Women & Children, Habitat became their charity of choice. Craig is on the Finance Committee, and both are on its Board of Directors, Development Team, Media and Communications Team and Selection Committee, for which they visit applicants. “Many children, it’s the first time they can have a bike, have their own place to sleep,” Pat says. The couple has funded 18 Habitat homes, and they attend dedications of homes for families they help to approve. “There are tears of joy at that time,” Pat says.
“It’s a work of joy,” Craig says. “I don’t know that there’s been anything this rewarding.”
Helping a child realize his or her potential is critical, not just for the child’s future but for society’s. That philosophy drives Tom and Sandi Moran’s passion for supporting children and education.
In their 30-plus years in Southwest Florida, they have given time, expertise, leadership and money to organizations committed to improving the quality of life here, from Youth Haven and the Naples Alliance for Children to the United Arts Council of Collier County and Opera Naples, of which they are founding patrons.
“If [children] are not given support and direction, there is so much that’s lost, and Collier County has a great need,” says Tom. Education in arts as well as academics is the key to tapping that potential, which is why they are committed to acquainting children with the arts, including opera.
They’ve been rewarded by seeing several children in the Opera Naples program pursue theater and music careers—and by knowing their efforts are helping individuals as well as the community. “Most important is to give time, money or expertise—whatever you can,” Tom advises. “We’ve done all three at different stages of our lives.”
As the Florida sales manager of Owens Illinois’ packing division, William Laimbeer Sr. spent many days in the fields of Immokalee, negotiating with Collier County’s agricultural workers. Those workers, he says, built his career, as he later became president of Owens Illinois and founded his own packaging company in Detroit.
So when he retired to Marco Island, he began returning the favor. “I found out how things were going, and I found out they were poor, poor, poor,” he says. He joined the boards of the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, the Community Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, focusing on any organization that helps children.
“What you have to recognize is, in Collier County, we have the poorest children in Florida.”
Laimbeer joined RCMA for its preschool program and Ronald McDonald for its healthcare services, and when too many Immokalee organizations were duplicating each other’s services, Laimbeer was a founding sponsor of the Community Foundation’s Immokalee Initiative that organized services for healthcare, housing and education. “It’s just a way to give back,” he says.
Gail Markham’s involvement with opening a PACE Center for Girls in Fort Myers was nothing short of fate. The founder and president of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, P.A., was already active in the community when she answered Judge James Seals’ call in late 2005 to help bring the statewide nonprofit program for at-risk teenage girls to Lee County.
She gathered like-minded women early the following year to tour Immokalee’s PACE Center, which offers counseling and education for girls ages 12 to 18 who have been abused, abandoned or neglected. “When we walked in and the girls grabbed us and showed us around, we melted,” she says. “It took our hearts.”
When Seals told Markham to chair the new PACE board, she confided, “I am a PACE girl.” As a child, Markham was sexually abused by her father. Seals said divine intervention led her to this project. She is chairman of the board and coordinates fundraising for the center, which opened in 2007.
“My past became public. That’s OK,” she says. “It’s been a tremendous healing process for me. I went on a speaking circuit with Judge Seals. I always had somebody come up to me afterward and say, ‘Thank you for sharing your story.’”
Markham says her accounting firm’s partners—Joni Norton, Karen Mosteller and Randy Wright—also deserve credit for this philanthropy award. “What I do in the community is because they’ve always supported me.”
After eighth grade, Joseph Brueggen was looking forward to taking a “two-month break before this massive thing called high school,” he says. His mother had other ideas. She recommended, as mothers sometimes do, that Joseph consider volunteering as a tutor at the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee. He acquiesced. “Thanks to her, it was one of the greatest choices I ever made.”
He spent the next four years, while a student at Immokalee High, as a tutor for students enrolled in the Center’s Afterschool Program. Joseph hands out meals for poor families on Thanksgiving and distributes toys during Christmas. He also spearheaded a fundraising effort after the earthquake in Haiti (Have a Heart for Haiti) that has already garnered $2,500.
This year, Joseph will chase his passion for education to the University of Central Florida, where he will study to become a teacher. And he will continue to serve where needed. “The opportunities are there,” he says. “A lot of people just don’t take advantage.”
When Nancy Near’s husband, Jim, passed away 14 years ago, the Bonita Springs resident, a retired teacher, took some advice that changed her life: When you focus on others’ needs, you don’t focus on your own.
It just so happened that a Bonita Bay committee Jim had served on finally raised enough money for an educational daycare center for the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee. When they approached her about naming a center wing after Jim, she got involved.
“That was my first big volunteer commitment with the soup kitchen and the daycare center,” she says. “That opened other doors, and I found that was the most important thing in my life—being with others, being inspired by others.”
Near also supports American Red Cross, the Bonita Springs Community Foundation, The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, Shelter for Abused Women & Children and Bonita Springs Community Prayer Breakfast, among others.
“In season, that’s my life,” she says. “I do admit, I have brushed my teeth in the car, going from one event to another.” —Denise Scott
Home-Tech has long supported Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald Charities and others, but when the economy forced other companies to slash their donations, this 29-year-old Fort Myers-based business stepped up. “This community has been very generous to us,” says CEO Steve Marino. “We’ve grown here for so long that we have a responsibility to help shore up these charitable and community organizations.”
CFO Sonya Sawyer, Marino’s daughter, took Home-Tech’s philanthropy chair, giving time and money for PACE and Go Red for Women. An autistic grandson spurred Marino’s support for Eden Florida. The death of Sawyer’s mother-in-law, at 52, triggered her involvement with the American Heart Association. Both have danced in the Red Cross’ StarStruck competition—which is where Marino met his wife.
Plus, Home-Tech thanks customers by donating in their names to a charity of the month. Customers love it.
For employee-owned Home-Tech, “When $1 is contributed, it comes out of every stockholder’s pocket, but that also creates a real sense of pride,” says Marino. “I think they enjoy working for a company that has a community consciousness.”
Thanks to a Cape Coral teenager, elementary students in Rwanda have paper, white boards and other school supplies. Christian Cousin raised $4,000 to supply a school in Rigali built by Builders without Borders, which is headed up by a local businessman. “The children use the pencil boxes as lunch trays,” Christian says. “You’d never think of that here. You’d think, ‘I don’t have pencils, so I don’t need a box.’”
Christian, then a Cape Coral High School freshman, took up the challenge for an Eagle Scout project, dovetailing with his brother’s efforts collecting textbooks for the school. His success earned commendations from Oprah Winfrey and former Presidents Bush and Carter.
As Key Club vice president, Christian volunteered for March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, UNICEF and others, and is active in his church. Now 17, he scored a perfect 800 on his math SAT and begins this fall at the University of Florida, studying for a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.