The learning has begun for the Leadership Marco Class of 2017.
Leadership Marco is a Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce program that provides current and potential community leaders with exposure to the essence of Marco Island. For the next four months, the 14-member group will immerse itself the community’s history, infrastructure, government, hospitality industry, educational providers, media, tourism, parks and recreation, law enforcement, culture, real estate and more.
The program kicked-off recently with the first day of activities, followed by a party at the home of Jim and Allyson Richards, where the participants and their loved ones socialized and took a moment to be interviewed.
Below is the first installment of brief profiles of this year’s participants. The second and final installment will be part of the August 18 issue of the Coastal Breeze.
Mohammed “Moe” Ahmed is a manager at CJ’s on the Bay.
Moe is native of Egypt who has lived on Marco Island since 2005. He initially came to the island for a training program at what is now the JW Marriott Marco Island BeachResort. He worked there as a server there until leaving in 2009 to attend Florida Gulf Coast University, where he earned a degree in hospitality and hotel management.
He has been with CJ’s on the Bay since 2011, where he’s risen from server, to team leader and last year, front of the house manager.
“When I signed up, I thought that after 12 years on Marco Island, that I knew everything and that I could answer any questions,” he said. “But after today, I know that there are some challenges and that there are some areas that I need to visit and I need to know about. That’s what I’m looking for is to cover everything on Marco Island, places that I’ve missed or where I’ve never been. So in the future, if I have any questions about where to go, what to do or anything about the island, I’ll definitely have the right answer.”
Moe and his wife, Naget Khalil, have four children, ages 1 through 10.
Natalia Armstrong has retired twice; once from the U.S.Army, where she attained the rank of major, and also from corporate America. She last worked as director of global logistics for the Bristol-Myers Squibb pharmaceutical company.
Although she lives in East Naples with her husband, Steve Cohen, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, Natalia’s ties to Marco Island are strong. She is president of the Marco Island Sunrise Rotary
Club and involved with the Interact Club, a Rotary leadership development program for high school students that has a branch at Marco Island Academy.
“As such, I engage on Marco on a continuous basis so I’m here all the time,” she said. “One of the reasons why I joined the Marco Island Sunrise Rotary Club is because Marco Island Academy is one of our keystone partners. It’s an opportunity to work with young people, which is a sweet spot for me. I enjoy working with young people and helping to develop young leaders.”
Natalia said she has also joined Marco’s VFW Post 6370, but she wants to become even more involved in the community.
“Although I’ve been able to achieve somethings in community service,” she said, “I think I can make a deeper penetration in the community and help more people. There are other charity organizations or services on the island and I just want to be part of that.”
David Batiato is deputy chief of Marco’s Fire Rescue Department.
After 27 years with the department and residing on the island, Dave’s knowledge of the community runs deep, but in his view, Leadership Marco offers other valuable opportunities.
“I think it’s important that community leaders come together and meet each other and network,” he said. “I think it just makes for a stronger Marco Island. I want to learn about every one of these individuals and see what motivates them. That’s my goal. I’m for the social (aspect), learning and networking.”
Dave and his wife Jennifer have two children, a daughter, Peyton, 18, who’ll be a freshman at the Ohio State University this fall; and a son, Kyle, who will be a junior at First Baptist Academy this year. Stefan Bolsen manages Coldwell Banker Residential RealEstate’s Marco island office. He and his wife Bea live in Naples, moving there so their daughters, Madeline, now 23, and Claudine, now 21, could attend Barron Collier High School. But after moving to the island in 2001, the family called the island home while the girls attended Tommie Barfield Elementary School and Marco Island Charter Middle School.
Stefan was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany.
“I was an attorney there and came over to Marco Island and fell totally in love with the lifestyle and the nice and friendly people and we said, ‘We’ve got to make a move,’ and that’s what we did.”
Stefan said he believes Leadership Marco will provide him with the tools to “get a little bit better connected with the official world on Marco Island.
“When you come to Marco and you live and do business here, I think it’s very important to meet the right people, to meet people who can open doors for you, to meet people who are interesting and people who are of different backgrounds and you learn from them,”he added. “That brings you further in your personal and your professional life.”
Wanda Day Burson is a realtor for the Marco office of Berkshire Hathaway Homeservices Realty of Florida.
Born in Atlanta, raised in southern Georgia, Wanda lived in the Carolinas before moving to the island 28 years ago.
She her arrival, she’s become heavily involved as a community volunteer, working with the League of Woman Voters, Christmas Island Style, the Marco Sunshine
Rotary and, with her husband Gene, the Marco Island Sail and Power Squadron.
“If there’s anything else to learn, I want to learn it,” said Wanda of her participation in Leadership Marco. “It’s a really fun thing to do. It’s a big group and I love participating in the community in any way that I can.”
Gene Burson was a member of the Leadership Marco Class of 2016.
Lisa Conley has been a reporter with the Marco Eagle since June of last year.
A Naples resident, the Middletown, Maryland native said she has heard great things about the program.
“I think it’s a greatopportunity to learn more about the island and all of the different people who make Marco Island what it is, all of the different organizations, the different businesses, it’s just a really great experience,” she said.
Heather Hall’s Marco Island roots run deep.
“I’m one of the lucky few who were raised on Marco Island,” said Hall, the director of membership and marketing for the Island Country Club, where she has worked for three years.
She’s the daughter of Stan and Donna Niemczyk, respectively, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty on Marco and the Marco’s Chamber of Commerce administrative coordinator, who is coordinating the Leadership Marco program.
Heather said she’s participating, in part, because both her parents have been through Leadership Marco.
“My mom is really involved and growing up here, I’m super passionate about everything Marco,” she said. “I brought my own family back here recently to raise our son on Marco. I know it pretty well on the social side of things, but I’m excited to learn more on the professional side.”
Heather and her husband Derrick have a 1-year-old son, Preston, and she is stepmother to Derrick’s son Dylan.