By Noelle H. Lowery – [email protected]
It is no secret working families have been tormented by a stormy economy in recent years.
According to the US Census Bureau, 10.4 million families — nearly one-third of all working families in the US — probably did not make enough money to cover their basic needs in 2011. In Florida, that amounted to 642,000 working families, or 37 percent of the state’s hardworking households. That means a family of four bringing in nearly $46,000 a year still struggled to feed and clothe itself.
“Collier County and Marco Island are not immune,” says Steve Sanderson, Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Collier County. “We have a lot of working poor in this area. Many are one paycheck away from a disastrous situation.”
Enter the Island Country Club Charitable Foundation. Since 2000, the foundation has been a beacon of hope and help for many working families in need on Marco Island. In fact, through its annual golf tournament, the foundation has raised and donated more than $1.1 million to local charities, including Marco Island Healthcare Center, Greater Marco Family YMCA, The Joy of Giving, Habitat for Humanity, Marco Island Charter Middle School and The Shelter for Abused Women and Children.
“This community is a small reflection of Collier County,” explains Wesley Blackwell, the foundation’s chairman of the board. “There is a great deal of wealth, but a great deal of need exists as well.”
Charitable beginnings – The foundation is an offshoot of the Gene Sarazen Foundation, which helped fund the construction of the Marco Healthcare Center with an annual golf tournament at Island Country Club. Sarazen was the club’s storied golf pro from 1981 to 1999.
Upon his passing in 1999, it was decided the foundation would expand, giving rise to the Island Country Club Charitable Foundation. Founders of the foundation included Blackwell, Jack Skoog, Bill Roth, John Hoey and George Tomlinson.
“We felt we should contribute to the community,” says Blackwell. “There is a perception of a country club as elitist and private, and this has been good for the community and the club. It has become a vehicle for club members to give back.”
Today, the foundation and its annual golf tournament are managed by a six-person board of directors, two officers and a six-person advisory committee. Current board members include Blackwell, Bob Furek, Scot Kaufman, Carolee Levison, Chuck Riter and Byron Farrell. The foundation’s officers are Robert Mehmet and Patricia DiComo, and the advisory committee is composed of Craig Carlson, Bob Doretti, Karen Blackwell, Brenda Rhinehart, Corinne Sloan and Ron Rutledge.
Giving to those in need – To date, some 18 charities — and countless families — have benefited from the foundation’s work. Charities seeking funds from the foundation must complete a grant application and submit it to the board for approval.
Take Nicki Davis and The Joy of Giving, a 25-year-old Marco Island-based charity that helps families with gift purchases during the holiday season. Last year, The Joy of Giving raised $80,000 for local families, half of which came from the foundation along with a truckload of turkeys for Christmas dinner.
“The Island Country Club is The Joy of Giving,” Davis gushes. “They don’t just raise the money. The charity is part of them — heart and soul. They man our registers and hand out the turkeys. They show up and work with us.”
According to Mary Ann Green, development and public relations officer for The Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, the foundation has helped with the shelter’s capital campaign, funding the most difficult expenses, “from purchasing computer equipment, lockers for our emergency shelter and upgrading our security system and computer server to new appliances for our emergency shelter and four transitional housing units.
“Their financial support is crucial. It allows [The Shelter] to focus on providing vital programs and services to victims of domestic violence, instead of redirecting funds to support the kinds of operating expenses, necessary equipment and upgrades mentioned above,” says Green.
A future of giving – Many in the nonprofit world agree that local grassroots community groups like the Island Country Club Charitable Foundation will continue to be crucial funding resources for charities helping working families in the future.
“Many nonprofits face challenges today to raising funds like they have in the past,” explains the United Way’s Sanderson. “[These local groups] are very important organizations doing great things at a grassroots level…They help to create a heathy community by recognizing the community need and taking care of it on their own.”
Moreover, notes The Shelter’s Green, group’s like the foundation provide more than just financial assistance. “They generate awareness about the charities they are supporting through the marketing of their annual golf tournament which helps spread the word while also raising funds.”
For Cindy Love, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Marco Family YMCA, it goes back to the foundation’s basic mission: helping those in need. Funds from the foundation’s golf tournament help the Y provide financial assistance to families in its preschool program.
“We may be an affluent community, but not everyone living in our community is affluent,” Love says. “Some of what [the foundation] does is about whether a child can have a meal or a Christmas gift or be in a safe environment. The foundation is more than important; it is critical.”[email_link]