When Marco Island Academy founder Jane Watt first met Marianne Iordanou, she had no idea the whirlwind she was about to enlist to her cause. Just a short 5 years later, the ambitious Iordanou is in charge of the school’s capital campaign fund and is now heading up the school’s Blue Diamond Gala, scheduled for March 27, 2021, at Hideaway Beach Club.
“Marianne came to us through a mutual friend,” remarked Watt, the Board Chair for Marco Island Academy. “She came to the school and looked around. I think she thought it was going to be a smaller undertaking. I don’t think she knew what she was getting into.”
“I thought I was building a gym,” Iordanou said with a laugh. “I come from a sports-oriented family. I thought, ‘Come on, these kids need a place to play. They have nowhere to play.’ We rolled into that. That was Phase 1. Before you know it, we were doing well raising money, and Phase 2 came in. While we were going along, we thought, ‘Let’s finish it up and do Phase 3.’”
Originally, Marco Island Academy was supposed to be completed in three phases. Because of the success of Iordanou’s work with the capital campaign, the entire school and athletics facilities were able to be built all at once.
“She came to the campus the very first time and said, ‘I want to help,’” Watt recalled. “She wanted to get involved. It started out small and started to grow. She joined the board. While she was on the board, we decided to launch a capital campaign. We had to do it; our facilities were falling apart. We needed someone who was willing to step up and really take charge. I told the board, ‘We’re going to need a lot of help.’ Everybody in the room sort of darted their eyes, looking down. Not making eye contact with me. Then, from the corner of my eye, I see this hand going up. I said excitedly, ‘Marianne! Would you like to do it?’ She said, ‘I think we can do this. I would like to help. I’ll help.’
“The next thing you know she’s running full force, running the most successful capital campaign ever. She’s helped raise $11 million, plus the property, that’s valued at $3-4 million at this point. On top of that, as all this is going on, we’ve got the pandemic. She’s juggling that.”
“Now we’re planning our 10-year event,” said Hilary Noyes, who is in charge of our donor relations. “We needed to find the right person; this is going to be a big celebration for our school.”
Noyes is a professional fundraiser. She is the former Executive Director of the American Heart Association in Naples.
“I want to start it out properly,” said Noyes, who has been with MIA for one year. “With the inaugural, we need to have a true gala committee, with a chairman, to have it continue year-after-year. I wanted the right person to recruit properly.”
“Hilary wanted to have the right person,” noted Watt. “So, we thought, ‘Who can we have do it?’ Immediately one person came to mind.”
“We felt bad,” Noyes added, “because Marianne’s already running the capital campaign.”
“And I’m also building an addition on my house.” Iordanou laughed. “And I own Marco Island Candle Company, too; but I like it.”
“We extended the offer and she accepted,” Watt said.
“It’s worked out really well,” Iordanou said, “with Hilary’s help and Jane leading the way. I live on the island, but Jane has all the contacts, and Hilary does everything. I say, ‘Help,’ and she’s right there—Saint Hilary. We’re very excited about this. It’s the Blue Diamond Gala, a 10-year celebration of Marco Island Academy’s inception.”
“There is a reason why it’s called Blue Diamond,” Noyes explained. “We wanted to create a theme, a title, and decide how we were going to do it. The blue diamond is an extremely rare and unique stone. We feel as though MIA is actually a very rare and unique school for our students and our community. The diamond represents 10 years in an anniversary. So, it’s the Blue Diamond Gala.
“And you have the blue as our school color,” Watt added.
“It’s a celebration of our school’s 10 years,” Iordanou said, “and a celebration of all the kids who went there, and a celebration of all the people who have helped to bring Marco Island Academy to where it is now. It’s such an unbelievable place. I just drove by there on Wednesday. I hadn’t been there in a week. It looks amazing; the design is beautiful. It’s all seeming to come together at one time. The front of it, with the circular that’s going to be all glass. I just keep looking at that. It’s going to be so stunning.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. There’s been times in this journey—for Jane especially—where she’s been down in the depths. I think our Blue Diamond Gala is the culmination and celebration of all of the hard work.”
“You know what’s funny,” Watt reflects, “I brought up starting this school at a martini party at Kim Polley’s house with all these other moms. At that point, our kids were in kindergarten or first grade. Her father, Larry Jodsaas, gave the school one of its first major gifts ever. It was $5,000; it was seed money. We had absolutely nothing; literally nothing. What’s interesting is one of our first-ever events that we had was called “Under the Sea.” And it was held at Hideaway.”
“And now we’re celebrating the new Hideaway Beach Club,” Iordanou said.
“These are some of the things we’re going to celebrate at the gala, to tell these stories,” Noyes said. “People are coming out of the woodwork now. They said they’ve been watching from afar. They saw Jane struggling. They’re saying now is the time.”
“It is a black-tie optional event,” stated Iordanou. “I’m from New York, so we’re going to try to make it like it’s in New York. We’re going to try to raise as much money as we can for the student success fund. We’re going to have auctions. We’re going to have a history of the school. There’s going to be a band, a cocktail reception in the new ballroom at Hideaway, delicious food; it’s going to be a true celebration. We’re expecting 175-200 people—that’s the capacity of the ballroom. So, we’ll be sending out save the dates soon. It’s invitation-only because we have limited space.”
“It’s going to be an elegant, first-class celebration,” Noyes said. “We’re doing it right. As Executive Director of the American Heart Association, I’ve got all this fundraising experience. The Heart Ball is one of the oldest balls in the Naples area. That’s basically the kind of philosophy of the ball/gala culture that I want to introduce here. And Marianne’s perfect because she knows all of that from New York. We’re so fortunate to have that sophistication right out of the chute with our inaugural gala. We have the expertise and best practices already in place so we’re able to start off right to ensure a successful event to raise money for our kids.”
The purpose of the Blue Diamond Gala is to fund the student success fund. It is completely separate from the capital campaign.
“The whole purpose for doing galas and events is to raise money to support the student success fund,” Watt said. “Every year, we always start from scratch. Because we don’t charge any tuition to attend our school, there is a funding gap. It costs about $3000 per student, more than we get, than we’re taking in, so we have to bridge that gap; somehow, someway. So, the purpose of the Blue Diamond Gala is to raise a lot of money to support our students. This does not go to the capital campaign. This event is for the student success fund. We have to raise $690,000 for our student success fund. On an annual basis, it’s always run between $2500-$3000 per child. It’s a little more this year because of the PPE we’ve had to get and all the cleaning we have to do.”
The student capacity of Marco Island Academy is currently 230. The new school can accommodate up to 400 students.
“Our magic number will be 350,” Watt said. “From an economic standpoint, it will be closer to 400. Anywhere in between that. We count on these events to raise money for the students. We couldn’t do it without these events. Traditional schools receive more funding than we do. Because of that, we have to do fundraising to survive. This gala will really drive our student success fund.”