by Karen Coney Coplin
Twenty years ago, I was introduced to the Immokalee Child Care Center upon moving to Naples. Many of those committed to its success then remain key players today, as it continues on an ambitious journey with two exceptional newer programs (START and FIT START – Science, Technology, Arts, Reading Together and a preschool fitness and wellness program.) Along the way (in 2004), it has also received national accreditation in early childhood education.
Although it has grown far beyond the gift baskets which marked its beginnings in the 1960s, the same underlying commitment of the care of children (and expansion into curriculum development) is unchanged, though enlarged. Because of the Immokalee Child Care Center, the children of Immokalee’s working families have a safe and nurturing place to grown and learn.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Suess
Because the organization is celebrating its 50th year, it is helpful to take a look at its origins, which stemmed from an utter lack of services for children of migrant farm workers in Immokalee. The Church Women United from Naples collected holiday baskets to distribute to the farm workers’ families.
When these baskets were delivered, they saw bleak, unimaginable conditions where children went without regular meals or had to fend for themselves (even as toddlers) while their parents worked. Infants came to the fields in boxes. Because this need was year round, not seasonal (whether for the holidays or the harvest), the Church Women United raised the seed money needed to lease a building for a nursery in Immokalee.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Suess
The Immokalee Child Care Center, a 501(c)(3) organization, pays homage to its early days with a celebratory Green Tea held in honor of its founders. (Another popular fundraiser held in support of this organization, the “Stay At Home Tea,” typically is held in the springtime.) And, this year, the Immokalee Child Care Center will hold a Gala 50th Anniversary Celebration, “It’s a Wonderful, Whimsical World” at the Port Royal Club on December 4, 2014, from 6 – 10 p.m., to commemorate a half-century of service and the supporters who made this possible.
True to its mission, Gala guests will be treated to a festive holiday party together with a presentation by a leading childhood educational specialist (a path taken later in life), David Lawrence Jr., who was once honored as “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Red Cross. He has stated:
“My life since retiring from newspapering [as publisher of the Miami Herald] has focused on children – ALL children – especially in the early childhood years. Powerful research tells us … that there are windows wide open during those early years and never again will so many windows be open quite so wide….I came to understand that
ALL children need a blend of health and education and nurturing – and that all must be high quality because only real quality leads to real outcomes.”
As if taking a page from Mr. Lawrence’s lead, START instruction at the Immokalee Child Care Center is an ambitious and cutting edge education program bringing core skills literally into the hands of the young children at the Center, via iPads and interactive lessons. The “jump start” for these preschoolers includes literacy and language skills, exposure to the dramatic arts, and tutorials in math, science and technological development so the students’ kindergarten year begins with a well-rounded foundation. (Children can be enrolled in the Center until they begin Kindergarten.)
The new FIT START program also begins with teaching healthy behavior. Children learn about the choices they make and how these decisions are linked to health and wellness. They gain an awareness of the positive consequences of exercise and healthy eating, which, in turn bolsters self-esteem.
A golf invitational is another popular Center fundraiser. This year the Mike Ditka/Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Invitational will be held on April 10, 2015.
For information about the December tea, the upcoming Gala, or golf, please contact the Center at 239.261.1774. The Naples administrative office is located at 3775 Airport Road N. Unit B, Naples, FL 34105. The Center itself is at 415 Colorado Avenue, Immokalee, Florida, 34142. Tours of the Center can also be arranged for current or prospective supporters.
The website, immokaleechildcarecenter.org, has a wealth of information about ways you can support the mission of the Center through donations, including in-kind, or to volunteer your time. “Half a century ago…a wonderful start began that day. We’ve worked together. We celebrate those fifty years; we raise our glass and give three cheers to our supporters in our work and play; it’s our pleasure to share this golden day. Happy 50th anniversary!” – Joanna Fuchs
Email Karen at NaplesKCC@gmail.com to suggest an organization for a future Heart to Heart column. Special thanks to Beverley Vining, a long-time Board member who, in 1994, first brought this worthwhile organization to my attention then and kept up with me throughout the years.