Big Hearts, Big Dreams

Be it resolvedBy Karen Coney Coplin

You don’t have to be a kid, have a kid, or even be a ‘kid at heart,’ to help a kid in need! What if you learned about an organization where over HALF the alumni credited their involvement with these words: ‘The Club saved my life’?

The mission of the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as  productive, caring, responsible citizens locally – and beyond. Recently, Captain Winston E. Scott, USN, Ret. had the full attention of club kids, staff and supporters hearing his true-life tales of Endeavor and Columbia shuttle missions, space walks, and more. He did so with such a sense of grace, gratitude and humor, that no one left his talk untouched by his personality and experiences. He was a real ‘downto-earth’ astronaut! As a Miami boys’ club alumni, he had many positive comments about the ways his club experience provided a successful life foundation.

“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” – Paul Brandt

There will be several events coming up in March which provide Naples residents with an opportunity to learn more about the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County located on 7500 Davis Blvd., phone: 239.325.1700 and become involved in making a difference in the lives of local children and teens. Also, stay tuned for details about “Talent and Appreciation Night” on April 8, 2014.

For instance, during March 23 – 29, you are invited to “Open the Door and Take the Tour” – I did, as a preview for this article – I’ll be back! – and learn, firsthand, about our Naples neighborhood club, and how local kids are guided on many levels: with educational, emotional, physical and social development supports. This includes items as simple – and necessary – as a nutritious meal a child or teenager might not otherwise have – and the warm greetings by staff reception as club kids arrive after the school day has ended.

Or there may be more in-depth education and career mentoring, exposure to the arts, and encouragement with sports, fitness, and recreation.

Since the week of March 23, 2014 is National Boys & Girls Club Week, our local club is participating with a very special event: the second annual Youth of the Year Celebration, to be held on Monday, March 24, at Artis-Naples, beginning with a 6 p.m. cocktail reception, 7 p.m. sponsor dinner, and culminating with the 8 p.m. Youth of the Year award program. Featured guests and speakers for this event include Shaquille O’Neal, a Boys & Girls Club alumni who donated $1 million to help build technology centers in Clubs nationwide and retired NBA professional basketball player, and Dick Vitale, noted college basketball analyst on ESPN.

The Youth of the Year Celebration honors club members for a variety of achievements including academic success, peer support, good character and citizenship, embracing healthy lifestyles, and more.

Students are nominated for this prestigious award and must prepare speeches and support their nomination with independent letters of recommendation. This is a tremendous accomplishment which may pave the way to future competitions – the local award winner will compete statewide and have the potential to go on regionally and nationally, for up to $50,000 in college scholarships. To register for the event, which promises to be an inspirational evening, and a soldout one at that, contact Brigette Fahl at the Boys & Girls Club at 239.325.1765, or via email:

This year’s local Youth of the Year Nominees hail from East Naples Middle School, Golden Gate High School, the I-Tech Culinary Arts program in Immokalee, Lely High School, Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology, Manatee Middle School, Seacrest Country Day School, and some also participate in CROP – a College Reach Out Program of Florida Gulf Coast University.

Join me in congratulating this year’s nominees, who have shared insightful, witty, and remarkable stories available on the Club’s website – of overcoming hardships and achieving new and wonderful goals: Christina Arredondo, Dulce Avila, Isaac Burgos. Jerry Chevalier, Jhonnan Desinor, Clairvens Florexil, America Gutierrez, Ashley Hernandez, Wineldo Jean, Emma Jean-Marie, Jasmine Joseph, Thanise Marc, Varsha Nazareth, Rachael Pence, Miltch Pierre, Shana St. Fleur, Jeffrey St. Julus, Julian Vallejo, Jesus Vilas and Essence Wright.

Special congratulations to the four finalists, one of whom will be named Youth of the Year on March 24, 2014: Ashley Hernandez, Julian Vallego, Jasmine Joseph and Thanise Marc!

Email Karen at if you are a

Boys and Girls Club alumni with a story to share or, if you

have another organization for a future Heart to Heart

column. Special thanks to Terry and Christine Flynn

who helped bring the Youth of the Year celebration to

my attention. They’re among the local Club’s numerous

dedicated supporters and Terry, himself, a boys’ club

alumni who have boundless passion for the Club

kids and their futures.

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