The Naples Winter Wine Festival officially kicked off its weekend of fundraising on Friday morning.
This weekend is the 19th year for the event which raises money for the Naples Children & Education Fund. It was “Meet the Kids” day at the Naples Botanical Garden where kids served by organizations the NCEF funds got to meet festival attendees.
Some of the kids presented visitors with crafts they had made and talked about how the many services funded by the festival have impacted them.
While the biggest charity wine auction in the U.S. usually gets attention for opulent auction with lots with items like Bentleys, trips to the Tony Awards and rare wines, this is the day many of these philanthropists most look forward to.
It’s the day the people bidding under the big tent come face to face with the people they’re helping, says Maria Jimenez-Lara. She is the CEO of the Naples Children & Education Fund.
“The children are able to explain how their lives are different thanks to support from the NCEF and the Naples Winter Wine Festival,” Jimenez-Lara said.
Back in 2001, a group of friends decided to do something to help serve the needs of children in Collier County. Since then, the Naples Winter Wine Festival has grown to raise more than $176 million, all of which goes to programs and strategic initiatives to help fill economic gaps in healthcare, education, hunger and filling the time outside of school.
Twelve-year-old Gabriella Castro-Davile says she spends that time at one of the wine festivals’ beneficiaries: the Boys and Girls Club of Naples.
“I needed to go to Boys and Girls Club because I had no one at home. And, my mom didn’t want me home alone, and once I went there, after kindergarten, I just didn’t want to stop going because it was my favorite place to go," Castro-Deville said. "It was a place to hang out with all my new friends and everything."
This year’s focus is on mental health care, which Jimenez-Lara says uses an integrated care approach.
“It happens in the primary care pediatrician’s office. So, there’s a psychologist in every pediatrician’s office," Jimenez-Lara said. "So, when you go in for your well visit, if the doctor feels like maybe there’s an opportunity to visit with a psychologist, right then and there, there’s a psychologist.”
The mental health care initiative started seven years ago, serving 600 kids. Now, it serves more than 12,000.