When the idea for a Marco Island Academy grassroots fundraiser was formulated, Chairperson Jane Watt knew just the person to headline the event, held at Paradise Found in Goodland on February 12.
Brooke McBride, a rising Nashville recording artist, was on the island for a private event for the academy the following evening.
“We kind of brought her in for that,” Watt said. “Then we thought, ‘Well, as long as she’s here, let’s do two nights.’ So that’s how we came up with this idea. Actually, Mark Melvin, who is the steering manager for our capital campaign, was the one who suggested, ‘Hey, why don’t we bring her in for a second night?’
“Construction is underway,” Watt continued, “It just started. We’re all just really celebrating that. We have a lot of donors who came. I thought it would be more parents—but it’s so hard for parents to get out. Especially on a school night with kids. All of the stuff they’ve got going on. It ended up being more of our donors that don’t even have kids at the school who were here tonight. That’s really cool, too. We have such a nice base of people who are supportive of what we’re doing here. Honestly, I was shocked. Oh my goodness, there are a lot of people here who are from our advisory board and our regular board. People that I wasn’t expecting to show up.
“This is very different for us,” Watt said of the event. “Something that was more casual and relaxed. We invited, basically, anybody who is affiliated with the school to come out. Sometimes the events have a ticket price on them and not everybody can afford to do it. We wanted to make it so it was affordable for everybody. We wanted everybody to be included. Normally we do something like a golf tournament. This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this, where we just brought in somebody who plays music and had a fun night out. It’s kind of unique for us.”
Mark Melvin’s background is in information technology. He has offered to match up to $1 million in donations toward the academy’s ultimate goal of $13.8 Million. They are currently $3-Million shy of that total.
“I’m super-excited about everything we’ve been able to do so far,” said Melvin. “We’ve got to make that last push and get the $3 million in. I feel confident we’re going to get there. We’ve had a lot of support from the community. We need some more. With that support, we’re going to get there. Small donations, big donations, have all come in. From people like Marianne Iordanou who donated a million, to others who have donated a little bit more. We’ve had small donations here tonight. A couple bucks here, a couple bucks there. Twenty dollars, fifty dollars, one hundred dollars. They all count. It’s been great. We had a good turnout tonight. A lot of really good people here. A lot of good donations. We’ve had people coming up and asking a lot of questions. That’s perfect.”
Marianne Iordanou, the academy’s capital campaign chair, was grateful to McBride for donating her time and talents for the fundraiser.
“That was so nice of her to do that for us tonight,” Iordanou stated. Iordanou also praised local talent Billy J and Tony Smith for donating their time for the academy’s fundraiser.
“I moved to Marco Island at the end of 2013,” Iordanou began. “I had done a lot of philanthropy. I built a soccer field at a high school—I did some at the University of Virginia with my daughter. I came down here, my husband’s still working, traveling all over the world. I was crazed. I’m from New York. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I went to the bank to open my checking account and I said to the girl, ‘I need to get involved. I need to volunteer.’ She said, ‘Well, I met this woman named Jane Watt. I know she’s looking for volunteers.’
“I said, ’Awesome, I’m going to call her.’ So, I called her. She said, ‘Come over, I’m going to show you the school.’
“I went over to the school and I said, ‘Let me see what area I can help you in.’ We walked over there. The wood was falling in. The trailers had holes in them. I said, ‘You need help everywhere. Let me help you.’ So I started getting into events. I got on the board. She said, ‘We want to start a capital campaign.’ I said, ‘I’ll try.’ Slowly but surely, over the next couple of years, I wined and dined. And little by little, the money started to come in. Then one week, the donations started to roll in. We got $5 million in one week. I was jumping around like a crazy person I was so happy. It’s been wonderful for me. My husband says he’s never seen me so happy.
“It really touches me when I go to see these kids. They have to sit outside. They have an old microwave to heat their food. This is just beyond what I could fathom for these lovely kids. When I saw the wealth on this island, I said, ‘This has got to change. This is embarrassing for an island of this caliber to have kids going to school here.’
“I see the kids working at all of these charity fundraisers,” Iordanou pointed out. “They volunteer for everything. They’re really working hard to help out. This is a home for them. The kids sell themselves. They’re such wonderful kids.”
“Tonight’s goal is just having fun and getting the word out about the school,” Watt said. “We were hoping that there would be people here tonight that weren’t really that familiar with the school who were going to be interested in knowing more. So we really didn’t have a dollar goal in mind for tonight. It was more of a ‘just come out and have fun and celebrate where we are right now.’
MIA Principal Melissa Scott was happy with the grassroots fundraiser and the fact that construction is underway on the campus. She has been the school’s principal since 2014.
“Yes, we need to raise $3 million,” Scott stated, “but we want people to know that every dollar counts. Goodland is part of us. We have kids from Goodland. Goodland is Marco. This is such a beautiful location. The owners—of Paradise Found—are wonderful. We wanted something that was family-friendly, fun and very low-key. We did a raffle and donations, but it was just ‘come, check out the venue, check out the entertainment, just be a community.’”
As the evening came to an end, the winner of the fundraising raffle was announced. The winner was Greg Pucci, one of the largest Stanley Steamer operators in the country, who splits his time between Marco Island and Michigan. But Pucci, much in concert with the spirit of the evening, donated his winnings to the Marco Island Academy’s capital campaign.