IslandWalk of Naples
Florida Communities of Excellence Family-Friendly
Initiatives Winner, Larger Communities
the Work and Fun
by Kathy Danforth
IslandWalk of Naples is the winner of the Family-Friendly
Initiatives division of the Florida Communities of Excellence contest, as well
as being the Homeowner Association “Community of the Year 2011.” This community
of 1856 homes has always enjoyed a focus of providing activities for all ages.
Bonnie McNeill, Activities Director for the past eight years, exclaims, "I
love children!" Her enthusiasm is shared by many volunteers in the
community and has been contagious to others, resulting in a broad involvement
in family-friendly activities.
The Town Center is the hub of most activities at IslandWalk.
"We have events all day, every day," Bonnie observes. "There are
tennis courts, a putting green, a clubhouse (with four large areas for
activities), pools, bocce courts, a fitness center, and several commercial
establishments. This is where the people congregate."
Volunteers are the backbone of the activities, with 30
people on the Activities Committee and many more in other interest groups who
also help sponsor events for kids and expand the opportunities in the
community. The association does provide a small community event fund for events
such as outdoor concerts, community coffees, and entertainment—such as the
Polynesian fire dancers from Orlando. Most activities are self-funded—those who
attend pay to cover the costs. However, a number of IslandWalk clubs will
sponsor/fund activities for the children, provide volunteer help, and join in
"We have seasonal parties, but most of the kids' activities
are in the summer," McNeill reports. "We have a Year-at-a-Glance
schedule so volunteers, parents, and grandparents can all make plans. The
summer kicks off with Miss Brenda, a ventriloquist with life-sized puppets.
She's a wonderful way to start the summer season," McNeill comments.
Summer classes include Bake with Bonnie, Cool Crafts,
Marvelous Manners and Mama Bosso’s Cooking Class, Cuckoo for Coconuts, and a
Frondzoo art class. "For the Frondzoo art classes, our maintenance man
collects the hard part of palm trees and the kids make elephants, tigers,
zebras, and other creatures. They're so imaginative and the end result is
absolutely adorable," McNeill explains. "In Marvelous Manners we have
a PowerPoint presentation and accompanying booklets we comprised on manners. Then
we cook a whole meal. The Cuckoo for Coconuts art class makes coconuts into very
colorful fish and tropical birds, and they look as good as the ones that sell
for twenty dollars in local gift stores," she adds.
The community will be holding their eighth annual Kids'
Fishing Tournament, with the IslandWalk Fishing Club taking the lead in
assisting youngsters at the community's main lake. Grandparents, parents,
children, and the many volunteers join in the fun. The Men's Golf Group has
organized a Golf Rodeo for three years, attracting over 40 children. "They
teach them golf games at the Town Center putting green and then they move to
the improvised indoor putting green area, finishing the night with a pizza and
ice cream party and prizes for every child.
Adding to their many adult educational activities, the
Nature Safari group hosts an annual event geared for families and children.
"They bring in local environmental professionals from Rookery Bay, the
Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and Corkscrew Sanctuary to give a
presentation with live animals for the children to see and sometimes touch,"
states McNeill. "They've brought in tortoises, reptiles, and birds."
The Bingo Group is another adult organization that has taken
the children under their wing. "There are 180 residents who participate
weekly, and they chip in and contribute for the holiday parties, summer art
camp, and end-of-school and back-to-school festivities," McNeill explains.
"Off-site trips are a hit with all ages," says
McNeill. Though parents or grandparents must accompany their children, the
advantage of negotiating a group price and the fun of going together makes each
outing a great event. “Amazing discounts on boat rides are available in the
summer." McNeill recalls. Other trips include visiting the Shy Wolf Sanctuary
and the Kowiachobee Animal Preserve, with their tiny horses and big wild cats
that were a hit with the children.
“Kids Against Hunger” is a project organized by the Naples
Rotary Club which feeds the disadvantaged youth and families within the Collier
County area. This $4500 fundraising event produced 35,000 nutritious meals and
was accomplished by 150 IslandWalk volunteers. “We literally had every age group
busy working side-by-side—children four years old up to seniors 90 years old. It
was a huge project, and we sponsored this big event two years in a row.”
Other activities which include children are the annual flea
market, bake sale and book sale, dog parades, family movies, the Easter Egg Hunt
with an Easter bunny, a Halloween pizza and games party, and the December
holiday activity party. McNeill notes, “Once October arrives, the programs are
geared largely for adults, with activities such as dinner dances, variety
shows, plays/musicals, bus trips, cruises, luncheons, casino events, fitness
classes, educational presentations, and more.”
Recruiting volunteers and generating interest are two
challenges in keeping the community life vibrant. IslandWalk found that the
parents who originally moved in volunteered for a number of years, but as their
children aged, they dropped out. McNeill has found, “The new parents are busy
and just literally don’t have the time.” IslandWalk has filled the gap by
recruiting active retirees, who have become very involved and dedicated. “A
good example of our retired volunteer help would be the Chairperson of
Activities, a retired school teacher who really enjoys working with the
IslandWalk youth,” McNeill explains. “She not only chairs the busy Activities
Committee, but she chairs each large holiday event with approximately 100
children and 300 adults in attendance. Additionally, other dedicated retirees
volunteer for every youth/family activity held throughout the year. This
volunteer support is invaluable to the Activities Director,” McNeill indicates.
IslandWalk also encourages youth to assist with programs.
“We have a few high schoolers and several 9–11 year olds who are serving
as youth volunteers. They are given responsibilities and the younger kids see
that and want to become youth volunteers someday, too!” McNeill states. They
receive recognition and a big thank you during the Activities Director’s
presentation on Volunteer Appreciation Night at the annual homeowners meeting. The
youth volunteers attend also, and this meeting is televised to all the
One aspect contributing to the success of their activities
is keeping everything in front of the residents. McNeill relates, “That visual
impact helps. Communication for all events streams from the centralized
community. Whether residents are picking up their mail, having lunch in the
café, or visiting the Town Center, they see posters and bulletin boards
advertising upcoming events.” Additionally, McNeill explains, “We send e-mails to
the residents about upcoming activities as well as place a banner on the bottom
of the screen of one of our TV channels dedicated to updating
the community on events. Special brochures are printed twice a year for youth
activities geared for the spring/summer and fall/winter.”
“There’s really good communication at IslandWalk,” according
to McNeill, “but the main thing is the environment. I love kids, and the Activities
Committee, IslandWalk staff, and board have been very supportive. The residents
have been willing to work together and volunteer their time. I truly love this
place and the people!” she exclaims, and that helps create a situation that
others love, too.