Do You See Rays of Light on the Horizon?

by Jeff Lytle

The darkness cast by the pandemic for more than a year, reshaping so much of our lives, invites the question. The arrival of vaccines flips the light switch, and other Rays of Light flood in as well. For example, non-profit organizations that deliver so many essential services are working hard to reinvent fundraising with virtual auctions and even galas – and many of the efforts bring strong responses.

The Naples Winter Wine Festival reported early returns of $7 million from online donors. Give Where You Live and Give to The Max, championed by The Community Foundation and Habitat for Humanity respectively, were Rays of Light featuring the time-tested power of matching grants.

Every time I see a concert band or theater group do a show incorporating social distancing for audiences as well as performers, I see Rays.

I see Rays when banks report strong earnings from 2020, with helping businesses cut federal aid red tape and writing mortgages for a surge in Northern transplants. In addition, there is civic movement on affordable housing and mental health.

I even saw Rays when Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk went beyond the call of duty and looked past the pandemic for goals for his fourth term in office, such as keeping pace with growth, technology and balancing toughness on crime with courteous civic service.

But, that’s just me.

Do other voices in Naples see Rays?

Penny Fisher

Penny Fisher, editorial director at The Naples Daily News, offers a highly personalized view.

“My approach to life is different after my Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis three years ago,” she relates. “It changed my perspective to appreciate the little things. I try to look for Rays of Light in everything.

“This pandemic forced me to re-focus on things that really matter, both personally and professionally. I’m even more conscious about how precious life is. I’ve enjoyed the slow-down from the hustle and bustle of the life of a working mother. Sheltering in place allows me to spend quality time with my son (6) and daughter(8). I have a renewed appreciation for the community. Its generosity and compassion are unmatched. I’m consistently inspired by the number of people who go above and beyond. We’ll come through this together and we’ll be even stronger.”

Sheriff Rambosk offers a thankful note. “We have weathered this pandemic together as a community. Our tireless medical personnel, our first responders, businesses and non-profit organizations have partnered with one another to pull us through to this point. And now, with vaccinations rolling out and our community continuing to work hand in hand, it feels like we are making progress.”

Mike Reagan, a member of many civic boards and former Naples Chamber of Commerce CEO, invokes the spirit of Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

“A bright laser is at the end of the 2021 tunnel,” he writes. “Slogging through, it will brighten with the promise to economically reboot, socially rebuild, innovate, gather, work, shop, study and sing. In 2022, together, we will joyfully advance our safe and beautiful community.”

Paul Hiltz, NCH Healthcare System president and CEO, speaks from the frontlines. “Despite the challenging times our community has faced, we have worked together. For the first time since the beginning of 2021, we are seeing lower positivity rates, a decline in hospitalizations and expanding vaccine access. Hope is on the horizon.”

“Even though we have seen some positive signs, we must all still remember to do our part to be vigilant,” he continues. “Wearing masks, physically distancing, maintaining good hand hygiene, and getting the vaccine are all safety practices we have in place today that continue to make a difference in helping us to overcome the pandemic tomorrow.”

The Community Foundation’s Eileen Connolly-Keesler sees Rays of Light in how Naples citizens wrote checks to keep support groups going. “Those nonprofits are the backbone to the people who need them,” she says. “There also was support from many who continued to volunteer their time and put themselves at risk to help others. That is what our community is all about!”

She says another Ray of Light is from a public/private partnership with the county for housing for essential employees, veterans and seniors at reasonable rates.

Meanwhile, she reports, the food organizations have done an amazing job with distribution at an extremely difficult time.

Connolly-Keesler concludes with the Women’s Foundation of Collier County’s work with homeless senior women, finding homes for 13 women who were living in cars. “We still have about 70 women in cars, but it is a start,” she says.

Phil Wood

Phil Wood, CEO of John R. Wood Properties, has his finger on the pulse of the booming residential market. “While much of the country has been on lockdown,” he says, “SWFL has been able to mostly continue with many of the enjoyable activities, such as dining out, shopping, golf and tennis, boating, going to the beach, and more. Although our area has a fair amount of the population who are over 65, and this has created some vaccination challenges, things are improving as I have an increasing number of friends who have been successfully vaccinated.”

Harriet Heithaus

Harriet Heithaus sees Rays of Light streaming full force from the arts and entertainment scene she covers for the Naples Daily News. “It could not have been a week after Florida gatherings were banned before Naples Players was devising free virtual concerts, yoga and online classes to keep a cooped-up public connected,” she observes.

“Those were followed closely by Gulfshore Playhouse, with its Broadway conversations. Within a month, arts advocates were working on virtual concerts, plays ondemand and online art tours. We saw outdoor candlelight performances, and Opera Naples even flirted with the idea of al fresco performances from a flatbed truck.

“Serendipitously two new outdoor venues — Baker Park and Paradise Coast Sports Complex — were finished during the pandemic to keep this arts-loving community in music.

“More than Rays of Light, the arts in Naples are producing an entire sunrise.”

Kamela Patton, superintendent of Collier County Public Schools, uses a wide canvas. ““Silver linings shine through COVID’s clouds,” she says. “First, the pandemic accelerated our goal to assign each student his or her own laptop for Internet connectivity and assure all students continue to learn when away from campus. CCPS prioritized Instruction through Digital Innovation (IDI) in our Strategic Plan, which resulted in a third of our instructional staff already trained in IDI practices prior to the pandemic.

“Other Rays of Light come in many forms and in unsuspecting moments, like when I see an elementary school student skipping to school in the morning; when a teacher shares a moment of breakthrough with a child learning to read; or when a recent graduate shares a story of success in life. Those are the Rays we remember.

“CCPS opened in August 2020 and all schools have remained open by following health and safety measures developed in conjunction with the FL DOH-Collier and local medical professionals. The Light we see daily is a testament to the resilience of our collective community.”

Jackie Faffer, CEO of the Naples Senior Center, sees a rainbow of Rays, including:

  • We recently had the largest philanthropic response to Give Where You Live, especially important as so many organizations are struggling during the pandemic when the needs of those served are increasing.
  • The continued development and expansion of Artis-Naples will give our community the opportunity to enjoy cultural opportunities as we emerge from our isolation.
  • CEO Paul Hiltz continues to position NCH as a collaborative community partner. It has truly become “our” hospital.
  • After being inside for so long we appreciate, even more than before, our beaches, the Conservancy, the Zoo and Baker Park.
  • And, without being self-serving, there is a 30,000 square foot, state-of-the-art senior center being built in North Naples.
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