Collier County Public Schools – Moving Forward with the 2020-21 School Year

By: Quinton Allen CCPS Communications Specialist II

 As the sun rose in Naples on Monday, August 31st, Laurel Oak Elementary (LOE) principal Dr. Brian Castellani, a long-time Collier County Public Schools administrator, stood alongside his colleagues and welcomed back bright-faced students – albeit masked – on this first day of school for Collier County Public Schools (CCPS). “For the past six months, we have been doing things differently, but to see the kids here this morning has made it so exciting,” shared a very happy Castellani.

     Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Kamela Patton, started her day by visiting the home of the Balan Family, one of the District’s families learning virtually. The Balan’s youngest children, son Alex (kindergarten) and daughter Adriela (second grade), started the year via CCPS Classroom Connect. “It’s an incredible day,” said Patton, “to be able to offer a virtual learning option for students. It takes an enormous amount of work and coordination, along with a technology department that is second to none, to provide these choices for parents.”

     Students and staff returned to school campuses that looked a little different this year, with health and safety being a top priority as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the changes include students and teachers wearing masks at all times when on campus, social distancing (at least six feet apart), classroom desks separated to the greatest extent possible, water fountains disabled, and hand sanitizer strategically placed throughout schools. These changes, along with other safety measures, will help the District provide a safe learning environment where our students will be able to grow and succeed.

     As CCPS bus drivers began their routes, a familiar sight returned to the roads of Collier County. The freshness of a new school year was in the air, and you could feel that first-day excitement. Throughout the District, schools like Osceola Elementary decorated their campus with balloons. Veterans Memorial Elementary staff anxiously awaited the arrival of students, smiling ear-to-ear as students exited their bus or parents’ car. Dr. Patton, as she does every year, visited several CCPS schools throughout the day. Each stop confirming what she already knew – students were excited to be back at school! While things will no doubt look and feel a bit different this school year, the District is motivated to continue to build upon the strong parent and community relationships that already exist.

     Dr. Castellani shared his optimism as he greeted his LOE students on their first day: “I hope we learn a lot about each other, and learn that we are resilient people. I hope that we help each other and will be respectful. In the end, we will come back to normal – whatever that means. It might be different than we are used to, but we will come out learning so many things about each other, about technology, about psychology – and that we are gritty people.”


When Myra Janco Daniels read about all the cuts to arts programs in our schools, she wanted to make sure that the arts were supported in the Latchkey Children’s curriculum. Upon opening the Fran Cohen Youth Center on The Salvation Army campus, she participated in developing their programs to include dance, music, art, theater, pottery, culinary pursuits and communication  classes.

The Center has a large music room which houses three pianos, ten keyboards and private lessons are given on these instruments along with bass and guitar by our volunteers. They have a choir and drama classes. They have performed for their parents and volunteers at various events.

In the Child Development Center, the children are encouraged to participate in  Kindermusik, which is a wonderful program to help learn new skills and discover new ways to explore and develop their own creativity. The Center has its own pottery wheel and kiln and the students are taught by Joan Eshkenazi, a well-known potter and artist.

Latchkey League volunteers work closely with the children to create pottery. They are very proud of their pieces and displayed them at our Latchkey League meetings. A full commercial kitchen is available and classes in culinary cuisine are taught by Miss
Beth. They learn food preparation and the components of healthy diets. Added to these opportunities is a dance studio, art room and a computer lab for homework and creativity.

Tutors are also available for school assignment help. In the main room is The Book Nook, a very popular spot with the children. Children explore the wonders of reading, can borrow books and volunteers are on hand to help with their selections and/or read to them. Many of the books have been donated by individuals and by Books for Collier Kids.

Another very important component of the program is recreation. The Salvation Army has built a large playground on their campus for this purpose. The fence around the play area is to be decorated with acrylic butterflies in different sizes and colors. Latchkey Members and their friends have been given the opportunity to purchase one with their name or name of a loved one imprinted on them.

The largest butterfly is 15” x 10” and is $500; middle size is 15” x 8” and is $250. The smallest butterfly is 11” x 18” and is $100. If you are interested in supporting this project, please call Judy Tedder, President of the Latchkey League, at 239-254-0843.

Your support of these Latchkey Children is important to their futures and to ours because today’s children are our future.

Educating Summer Camp Kids on Americanism

Since 1914 the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary has united Americans from all walks of life with a common purpose to improve the lives of veterans, for service members, their families, and our communities.

The Naples area VFW Post 7721 was organized on 16 December 1971 and chartered by the VFW National Headquarters on 25 November 1976. The Post 7721 Ladies Auxiliary was chartered on the same day.  The National Department realized the importance of uniting the Men’s and Women’s Auxiliary therefore the Auxiliaries were combined, and the new charter issued on 21 August 2015. Programs offered bring needed services, information, and assistance to different groups thru both national and local programs.

A few of the programs offered:  Veterans & Family Support, Americanism – conduct patriotic programs with thousands for students and the community, Buddy Poppy Programs, VFW National Home for Children, Hospital Support – visits with hospitalized Veterans, Legislative – assist to pass or block legislation that impacts the veterans and their families, Scholarships for children – offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for our nation’s youth, Youth Activities.

Recently VFW Post #7721 and Auxiliary presented a special program on Americanism to the summer camp at the Fran Cohen Youth Center, located on the Salvation Army Campus. Over 60 kids and their teachers were part of the presentation of the Colors, Folding of the Flag, meaning of the thirteen folds, a history lesson about WWII.

All the kids then went into smaller groups where Veterans taught them learn how to fold the flag correctly.

Auxiliary members Alice Kuskin, Betty Bailey, Theresa Mook, Mary Ellen Cash and Daryll Davis (member of Post Ritual Team) along and Post Ritual Team members: Jim Burch, Dick Miller, J B Holmes, Jack Fulmer, Harvey Sturn, Gary Asztalos, Jordon Tompkins, Erle Taube were part of the presentation.

It was a wonderful day of education, smiles and dedication by all who were part of this special program. Each child was given a flag, pledge of allegiance bookmark and information on respecting the flag to take home. The VFW has been asked to do this again sometime later this year for children attending after school programs.

Membership in the VFW Post #7721 is open to all Veterans of Foreign Wars, the VFW Auxiliary membership open to Veterans who served stateside and all family members who served in active duty, for membership contact Betty A Bailey, bann652@aol. Com for more information.



2021 Naples Winter Wine Festival “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

2021 Naples Winter Wine Festival “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” will be Highlighted
by Televised Fundraiser to Support At-Risk Children in Collier County

The Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) announced that it willpresent a virtual 2021 Naples Winter Wine Festival “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” on Saturday, January 30, 2021, celebrating the dedicated community of partners who have helped deliver life-changing services to the underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County.

The Naples Winter Wine Festival enters its 21st year, impacting more than 45 of the most effective nonprofits in the local community and providing more than 275,000 local children with the services and resources they need to excel. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the annual event has been re-engineered to prioritize the health and safety of all NCEF donors, patrons and partners.

A highlight of the event is the first-ever televised fundraiser, courtesy of WINK-TV. This one-hour broadcast will be an opportunity for NCEF to build community awareness of the organization and the systems of care it has built to support children. It will weave together live and pre-recorded segments offering inspirational success stories, personal stories from parents and beneficiaries, reflections from NCEF founders, and the measurable impact that NCEF has had in Collier County.

Throughout the broadcast, NCEF will ask the community to join together in this important work by making a pledge of support either via text or online. In addition, the popular online auction will be available for all to participate and will remain open for bids until Tuesday, February 2, 2021.

Plans are coming together for another successful event thanks to the leadership of the 2021 Festival Chairs Darlene and Don DeMichele. This year’s theme “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is particularly prescient during these uncertain times and reflects NCEF’s enduring determination and achievement in impacting the lives of thousands of underprivileged and at-risk children.

“Thanks to the commitment of our Trustees and the generosity of our donors, we have been able to build systems of care with 45 of the most effective non-profits throughout Collier County,” said Darlene and Don DeMichele. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created even greater need within our community. Our response requires creative thinking, flexibility and building new community partnerships in order to meet the soaring demand for these vital services.”

Don & Darlene DeMichele

The DeMicheles take on the role as Festival Chairs after three years as NCEF Trustees. Darlene DeMichele is the former President of QVC U.S. Commerce, where she was instrumental in the company’s exponential growth and diversification of its sales platforms. More recently, she has served as President of Multi-Channel Management Group LLC, a consulting firm advising retailers and manufacturers on digital platform strategies. Currently, Darlene DeMichele is the Executive Director of Ikatu International, focusing on impact investing in the areas of sustainable agriculture, affordable housing for the working poor and micro finance for impoverished women in rural communities. A former executive with The Proctor & Gamble Company and Ocean Spray, Don DeMichele is Co-Chairman of Triaxia Partners, a consulting group focused on the strategic planning and building of customer-centric, multi-functional teams in Fortune 100 organizations.

“We are grateful for the support we have received over the past 21 years building the Naples Winter Wine Festival, from our vintners to our celebrity chefs, bidders, sponsors, volunteers and our beneficiaries who are doing the work in our community,” said NCEF Chief Executive Officer Maria Jimenez-Lara. “Our priority is the health and safety of all our supporters. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 data into the Fall to determine if any other features can be added.”

For updates on the 2021 Naples Winter Wine Festival, visit

About Naples Children & Education Foundation

The Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founding organization of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, is improving the educational, emotional and health outcomes of underprivileged and at-risk children. Through its annual grants and collaborative strategic initiatives, NCEF has impacted over 45 of the most effective nonprofits in the community, providing more than 275,000 children with the services and resources they need to excel. NCEF’s unique approach, which emphasizes collaboration between organizations and bridges public and private resources, has become a blueprint for how to transform a community, one issue at a time.

About Naples Winter Wine Festival

The Naples Winter Wine Festival, one of the world’s most prestigious charity wine auctions, offers a weekend of unforgettable memories. Guests enjoy world-class food and wine during intimate dinners in private homes and are invited to bid on once-in-a-lifetime travel and wine experiences during an electrifying live auction. Since its inaugural event in 2001, the NWWF has raised more than $212 million, making a profound difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

For additional information on the Naples Children & Education Foundation or the Naples Winter Wine Festival, contact Lisa Juliano at or 239-514-2239.


Naples Children & Education Foundation Launches “Drawn Together. Creating Hope.”

NCEF Chief
Executive Officer
Maria Jimenez-Lara

The Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) has launched a community-wide campaign to engage both children and adults in an effort to draw attention to the valuable work that the organization does to improve the physical, emotional and educational lives of children in Collier County, especially in light of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

The “Drawn Together. Creating Hope.” campaign invites the community to draw or color on one of four downloadable illustrations representing the four NCEF service categories of Child Advocacy, Early Learning, Medical/Healthcare and Out-of-School Time.

As part of the campaign, NCEF also is offering virtual Zoom backgrounds that can be downloaded from its website for free.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, but it has had the greatest impact on the underserved and underprivileged members of our community,” said NCEF Chief Executive OfficerMaria Jimenez-Lara. “Children have been hit the hardest, deprived of nutrition and after-school care along with a range of essential services. The work of NCEF is now more vital than ever.”

To help change a child’s future, supporters are encouraged to visit There you can download and print a coloring template or save the image to your tablet or phone.

After creatively coloring in your vision of a better tomorrow, you can share your creation on social media with the hashtag #DrawnTogetherCreatingHope or email it to and NCEF will share your illustration on its page.

Participants also will have the opportunity to make a donation to help NCEF fulfill its mission in the supporting these investment categories:

  • Child Advocacy: Child advocacy refers to a range of individuals, professionals and organizations that speak for and protect our community’s most vulnerable children. These agencies provide children in need with a voice, shelter, crisis counseling, mentorship and the essentials to help them overcome the challenges they face.
  • Early Learning: A child’s early years lay the foundation for their lifetime. Enriched learning experiences stimulate a child’s growth in all key developmental areas. An environment with well-educated and caring staff, high program standards and a curriculum based on a child’s developmental needs is critical to that child’s long-term success.
  • Medical/Healthcare: NCEF grants provide children in need with essential medical and healthcare services that have measurable outcomes and a life-changing impact. Therapeutic intervention modalities include applied behavioral analysis, counseling, equine therapy, speech and language therapy, and therapeutic recreation.
  • Out-of-School Time: Programs that operate during after-school, holiday and summertime hours improve engagement in learning by helping young people build stronger relationships with adults, foster better work habits and increase feelings of personal efficacy.

“The goal of this campaign is to increase awareness, involve the community in our work and create hope for the future,” said Jimenez-Lara. “Whether you’re a child or an adult, you can help bring NCEF’s work to life.”

About Naples Children & Education Foundation The Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founding organization of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, is improving the educational, emotional and health outcomes of underprivileged and at-risk children. Through its annual grants and collaborative strategic initiatives, NCEF has impacted over 45 of the most effective nonprofits in the community, providing more than 275,000 children with the services and resources they need to excel.

NCEF’s unique approach, which emphasizes collaboration between organizations and bridges public and private resources, has become a blueprint for how to transform a community, one issue at a time.

About Naples Winter Wine Festival The Naples Winter Wine Festival, one of the world’s most prestigious charity wine auctions, offers a weekend of unforgettable memories. Guests enjoy world-class food and wine during intimate dinners in private homes and are invited to bid on once-in-a lifetime travel and wine experiences during an electrifying live auction.

Since its inaugural event in 2001, the NWWF has raised more than $212 million, making a profound difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

For additional information on the Naples Children & Education Foundation or the Naples Winter Wine Festival, contact Lisa Juliano at or 239-514-2239.

Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Foundation Presents 2020 Awards Virtually

Recipient of the 31st Annual Winged Foot
Scholar-Athlete Award, Malaya Melancon.

The Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Foundation announced the selection of First Baptist Academy Senior Malaya Melancon as the recipient of the 31st Annual Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award.

Melancon, who has signed to play soccer at Florida Gulf Coast University, becomes the first Winged Foot winner in the private school’s history.

The Winged Foot selection committee made its decision virtually and the award was presented to Melancon at a small ceremony since the annual awards banquet, scheduled for May 21st, was cancelled due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s keynote speaker, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, has agreed to return for next year.

“Congratulations to the graduating class of 2020, with special recognition to the Winged Foot Scholarship Foundation finalists,” Bilas said in a prepared statement. “This honor is reflective of your great character, leadership and accomplishment in athletics and academics. As excited as we are to celebrate your success, we are even more excited and inspired to celebrate all that you will accomplish in your very bright futures.”

The Winged Foot Scholar Athlete Award began in 1990 at the Collier Athletic Club as a vision to recognize the top senior scholar-athlete from each of the high schools in Collier County.

The first award was presented to Terry Dean of Barron Collier High School at a banquet featuring well-known sportscaster and Basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale.

The Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award has become the most prestigious award a high school student can receive in Collier County.

In addition to Melancon, the list of 2020 Winged Foot award finalists included: Araceli Anzualda, Immokalee High School Jay Beshears, Community School of Naples Lauren Faremouth, Marco Island Academy Christian Garcia, Palmetto Ridge High School Isabella Garcia, Seacrest Country Day School Brady Gibson, Naples High School Samantha Hussey, St. John Neumann High School Andy Martinez, Golden Gate High School Justin Mattia, Gulf Coast High School Victoria Novotny, Lely High School Drew Powell, Barron Collier High School Each of the public and private high schools nominates its best senior scholar-athlete.

Finalists receive a $5,000 scholarship. The winner, selected by a panel of Winged Foot Committee members and local citizens, earns a stunning trophy and$10,000 scholarship.

Major Sponsors of the Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Awards include Barron Collier Jr. Foundation, The Lutgert Companies, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, Gallagher Lutgert Insurance, Grant Fridkin Pearson P.A., IBERIABANK and Dr. Charles Karpas.

Planning already is underway for next year’s Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Awards banquet to be held on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

The event typically begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. with the dinner and awards presentation to follow around 7 p.m.

Tickets will go on sale in the spring of 2021 for $275 per person.

A number of sponsorship opportunities will also be available. All proceeds from the banquet go toward the scholarship program.

To learn how you can support the program, call 239-262-7171.

Schools and Students on the August Ballot

by Chad Oliver, Executive Director, CCPS Communications and Community Engagement

The School Board of Collier County voted, on April 21, 2020, to submit a tax-neutral referendum for
placement on the upcoming August 18 Primary Election ballot. Although it will not result in any increase in tax, the referendum will help maintain and improve our elite status as an academically high-performing district. The success of our school district and students directly affects our community at large.

Historically, state funding has not covered the costs of education. Twenty Florida counties have passed tax increase referendums to help with the funding crisis. These twenty districts represent 65% of all the students in Florida. Although education funding has been an issue for a long time, CCPS has never proposed a tax increase referendum. To be clear, the August referendum will be tax neutral.

Public school districts utilize two types of funds — buckets, if you will — capital and operating. Local, state, and federal taxes fund  both, with laws restricting how the money is used. Capital funds pay for projects like facilities, equipment and debt payments.
Operating dollars allow us to recruit and retain a high quality staff and pay for student transportation, athletics, supplies, utilities, etc. Funds from the capital “bucket” cannot be used to support the operating “bucket” without approval from the public.

In 2008, CCPS proposed its first tax neutral referendum. Voters allowed the District flexibility to utilize capital funding to support
operations. In 2012, voters renewed the referendum, which provided greatly needed flexibility and aided our sharp focus on the
needs of individual students. The tax neutral referendum ended in 2016. Without the flexibility of funding, CCPS utilized a reserve budget for shortfalls. The money set aside has supported CCPS students the last four years; however, it will run out.

Especially given the uncertain nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need flexibility to use capital dollars for operating expenses to meet the needs of students. The referendum —spanning up to four years, beginning July 2021 — will accomplish four things. It reduces ad valorem taxes up to .35 mills for capital funding and shifts ad valorem taxes up to .35 mills for operating expenses. It also provides charter schools with their proportionate share, as required by law, and maintains high quality staff and programs – all without increasing taxes.

CCPS enter this new decade with a proven record of providing equity of learning across Collier County’s 2,300 square miles. In 2011, CCPS ranked 33rd in Florida and today is tied for 5th. Collier County’s high school graduation rate has never been higher at the current rate of 91.9%, which is 19.4 percentage points higher than in 2011. Our entire community will benefit by keeping the positive momentum going. Whether you cast your ballot in person or Vote-by-Mail, today’s learners and tomorrow’s leaders will be on the August 18 ballot.

Books Leave a Lasting Impact on Grieving Children

Loss is all around us. Grief has become especially prominent over the past few months with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be missing your old routine or longing to see family members after plans were put on hold. We are all finding ways to manage the grief we are experiencing right now. The children and families of Valerie’s House know this process all too well. They have been working on learning the tools to cope with the grief of losing a parent or sibling long before our “new normal” became a reality.

Valerie’s House opened its doors in 2016 when CEO and Founder, Angela Melvin  recognized the lack of child bereavement service in SWFL. Inspired by the loss of her mother as a child, Angela started her campaign with the sole vision that: No Child Will Grieve Alone.

Valerie’s House is a safe space for children, teens, young adults, and caregivers to openly explore their grief in a group setting. Through peer lead groups, the grieving families of SWFL connect through their personal experiences of loss. They learn together ways to manage their feelings so they can go on to lead fulling lives despite their loss.

Biweekly group nights take place in Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, and Naples. Groups have been meeting virtually since the start of the pandemic. With in-person groups resuming in August, Valerie’s House is working hard to provide a safe and secure setting for their families to meet. They are also gathering resources to provide additional support for grieving children.

The moment a child steps into Valerie’s House, they are asked to pick a comfort item to carry with them through their journey in the program. Items include stuffed animal, quilts, and journals. Families are also encouraged to select a grief book from the Valerie’s House library. It is important to take something tangible with them from the house as a memento to remind them
they are not alone and help them along their healing journey.

This is where you can help!
Valerie’s House is asking for support from the community in the form of donated grief-related books to provide to new children and families when they enroll. Books can be purchased through the Valerie’s House Amazon Wish list and sent directly to Valerie’s House Naples. This contact-less donation method is for your convenience and to ensure everyone’s safety.

These books are priceless to the Valerie’s House families, and they provide a sense of comfort when all hope seems to be lost. The recommended books on their list have guided children, teens, young adults, and caregivers through their grief journeys with tremendous results. This is such an essential part of what Valerie’s House has to offer. Through the generosity of the community, Valerie’s House has been able to remain fully operational during the pandemic to continue to ensure that “No Child Will Grieve Alone.”

To purchase a book on the Valerie’s House Wish List Book, please visit:

If you would like to learn more about ways you can donate to Valerie’s House, please visit:  or contact their Development and Communications Coordinator, Sarah Desrosiers at (941) 203-9046  or

Ready when you need them…Golisano Children’s Hospital of SW Florida

We know it’s an ugly word as adults. Now imagine it’s your grandchild or your child. Every day in America 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. The average age is just 6 years old.

This number isn’t just something that’s national or a fancy statistic. It’s real. It’s happening 40  miles away from Naples at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. Since March 1, there have been 23 new diagnoses of pediatric cancer in local children and young adults at Golisano. 23 kids in four months is a lot. In 2019, for the entire year, there were 49 new diagnoses.

“We don’t know why there are more cases right now,” said Dr. Craig MacArthur, Director of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. “From time to time there are spikes like this. What we know is we have more children than expected being diagnosed and more families in need of assistance. Their worlds are upside down because of COVID -19 and a loss of jobs, incomes, changes in how their kids go to school and now they have a child with cancer. It’s not an easy pill to swallow for anyone under normal circumstances. These are different times, hard times.”

At Golisano Children’s Hospital there is an entire floor committed to pediatric blood disorders and oncology. This unit, which rivals centers of excellence in other states is in part thanks to 25 years of philanthropic fundraising led by Barbara’s Friends and Frank Haskell. Haskell who’s 90 years old and lives in Fort Myers lost his daughter Barbara to cancer at age 36. Her dying wish was that no child suffers the ills of cancer like she did. Frank and his wife made it their life’s mission to help kids in SWFL.

To date Barbara’s Friends has raised more than $20 million, which has all stayed local, to fund the program taking place on the 5th floor of Golisano. On this floor are a dedicated team of five pediatric oncologists, specially trained nurses, two dedicated child life specialists and a dedicated social worker. Philanthropy and Barbara’s Friends fund additional and necessary resources to support the daily work of caring for kids with cancer including a child psychologist assigned to just hematology and oncology, a hospital school teacher, a music therapist, and technology resource therapist who uses technology to help kids conquer treatment through virtual reality and play.

Currently there are more than 70 kids in SWFL on active oncology treatment. Another 322 local children are in the pediatric after cancer experience program, meaning their cancer is in remission but they are still being monitored and watched for a relapse. All of these children visit The Barbara’s Friends the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Outpatient Center at Golisano which sees more than 400 visits a month.

The team at Golisano will continue to monitor these children until they are 30 years old. Research shows that any young adult diagnosed with a pediatric cancer has up to a 30% higher rate of survival when treated under pediatric protocols. This new research has led to an expansion of the program to treat young adults and adolescents. Last year there were 7 diagnoses in young adults ages 18-30 at Golisano.

Care close to home is critical for all children but especially those undergoing cancer treatment. Golisano is the regions children’s hospital, serving five counties and seeing over 30,000 children a year. Newly designated as a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Golisano, is the only hospital treating pediatric cancer between Tampa and Miami. At minimum, a child diagnosed with leukemia will be in treatment for two to three years, needing regular infusions, weekly visits for blood counts and checkups and will have a series of regular inpatient visits lasting for a week to weeks at a time. There’s also the risk of any fever over 100.4. This means an immediate trip to the hospital for inpatient care to monitor an infection which could be life threatening. With the way Golisano is set up, children with pediatric cancer can simply call the outpatient clinic and are routed directly to the inpatient unit –all on the same floor, bypassing the ER.

“Everything about our unit at Golisano was designed with the child and the best care in mind. Driving two hours to Miami or Tampa for every visit isn’t practical,” says Dr. MacArthur. “We are fortunate to have the funding of Barbara’s Friends which provides us the resources to give our kids every advantage of any other center of excellence. Kids don’t need to travel out of state. We are part of COG (The Children’s Oncology Group) which means we can do the same
clinical trials and have access to the same research and treatment protocols that are globally recognized as the best of the best.”

Cancer takes a toll on the entire family. It’s not uncommon for one parent to lose their job while taking care of a sick child. The routine clinic visits and hospitalizations also take a toll on siblings. Barbara’s Friends helps provides support for the whole family. There is free counseling for any member of the family, meals are provided for the parent while the child is inpatient so they don’t have to leave the bedside. If insurance won’t cover a medication, Barbara’s Friends will. The fund also helps cover basic needs to ensure there is a stable environment for the child at home and in the hospital.

“We take care of more than just the medicine. Right now it’s a lot we are providing. The family’s needs are greater than before with the current pandemic and loss of jobs and incomes and yet we’ve lost about half our philanthropic funding due to canceled events. The challenge is very real. The need is there, cancer didn’t go away because events and the world stopped for a pandemic,” said Dr. Emad Salman, Regional Medical Director for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and pediatric oncologist.

COVID-19 halted the majority of events and the 25th Anniversary celebration for Barbara’s Friends. In total, losing about half a million dollars of expected funding. “The challenge now is that virtual fundraising doesn’t have the same connection to our mission and lacks that personal human touch. We can tell a story with video but there is something
about meeting a child, talking with their family and connecting at the human level with our team that does make a difference. That’s the reason we used to give tours of our pediatric hematology and oncology floor at Golisano Children’s Hospital. When you see the bright colors, smiles, the way our staff knows every detail about a child and how much of a family we all are, it changes things from being a static hospital to being about the child. It’s always been about the children.” said Dr. Salman.

“This is a very difficult year, said Armando Llechu, Chief Administrative Officer for Golisano Children’s Hospital. All of our programs rely on philanthropic community support. You don’t go into caring for children to make a profit. Kids don’t have jobs or insurance, more than half of the children we treat are underinsured, on Medicaid or have no form of payment. For our young oncology patients, thanks to Barbara’s Friends, no child is denied treatment because of their  family’s inability to pay for services.”

Barbara’s Friends has a 25-year history of helping kids with cancer. To date, more than 8,000 children – all local have been served by the program. Overall the survival rate for pediatric cancer at Golisano Children’s Hospital is higher than the national average – 84% vs the national average of 80%.

Barbara’s Friends is the local answer for kids with cancer. If you’d like to learn more or make a donation to help children


Valerie’s House a Place to Heal

Although the world around us is changing every day, the vision of local nonprofit, Valerie’s
House, remains the same: no child will grieve alone.

After losing her mother, Valerie, when she was only 10 years old, Valerie’s House Founder and CEO, Angela Melvin, was determined to establish a place in Southwest Florida where children could come together to talk about grief and learn loss doesn’t have to limit their dreams. Recognizing a local need, Angela decided to focus her life’s work on establishing a children’s bereavement center that would be a haven for grieving children and their families.

When Valerie’s House first launched its peer support groups in Fort Myers in 2016, the need for children’s grief services across all of Southwest Florida quickly became clear. Valerie’s House expanded its services to Naples in March 2017 and, after initially holding groups at North Naples Church, opened the doors of Valerie’s House Naples in September 2019. In 2019, groups also began meeting in Punta Gorda at First United Methodist Church. The future includes plans to break ground on a “forever home” for Valerie’s House headquarters in Fort Myers in 2021 and the dream of a permanent location to serve Charlotte County families.

The 2020 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) reveals 1-in-13 children in Florida will experience the loss of a parent or sibling by the age of 18. Children who have lost a parent or sibling desperately need an outlet where they can discuss the heavy topics surrounding death and where they can express complex emotions, without the fear of making others feel uncomfortable. At Valerie’s House children and caregivers gain a sense of belonging in a safe place where they can share their feelings with others who truly understand. Those who have experienced loss know how lonely the journey through grief can be. Through peer grief support groups that utilize creative outlets and play therapy techniques, Valerie’s House has helped more than 1,200 individuals to date. Program participants learn healthy coping skills and receive tools that help them go on to live fulfilling lives.

This March, when it became clear it was no longer safe to meet in person due to Covid-19 concerns, Valerie’s House transitioned to virtual groups using the HIPPA-compliant platform, Zoom Healthcare. Continuing programming throughout the pandemic has been essential to meeting the needs of grieving children and families. After already experiencing great personal loss, families reported the circumstances surrounding the pandemic intensified their feelings of isolation and anxiety. Seeing friends virtually and continuing progress in their grief journey has provided a sense of safety and security during an unprecedented time. Following the school district’s lead, Valerie’s House plans to reopen its doors for in-person groups in August and will adhere to all necessary safety precautions and social distancing guidelines.

Since loss never stops, neither does Valerie’s House. The Valerie’s House team is focused on meeting the needs of every grieving child through their free grief services which, in addition to peer support groups, now include the Val’s PALs mentor program, individual therapy, school-based support, and personalized family care.

Loss does not have to limit your dreams and Valerie’s House is living proof. Although the foundation of the organization is grief, its mission is built around love, understanding, strength, and hope. Those are the things it strives to share with the Southwest Florida community.  Valerie  herself would be proud. Her legacy lives on inside the walls of Valerie’s House and through each child that walks through its doors.

Ongoing community support during this uncertain time has enabled Valerie’s House to continue providing support to grieving children and families. If you would like to support Valerie’s House or schedule a tour of Valerie’s House Naples or Fort Myers, please visit  or email Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jennifer Clark, at or Development and Communications Coordinator, Sarah Desrosiers, at

Valerie’s House is hosting its 2020 Sunset Soiree on Thursday, October 29, 2020, with virtual and in-person options. The main event will be held at the Quail West Golf and Country Club in Naples at 7 pm. To purchase tickets and learn more about this special night, please visit

To help share the mission and stay connected, follow Valerie’s House on the following social media platforms:





To learn about volunteer opportunities, please visit or contact Assistant Director of Group Support, Ally O’Brien, at