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We cannot suppress our joy over the best things we discover about Southwest Florida—nor can we fit them all into the prescribed space in this issue (see p. 78). Thus, we editors offer this bonus, singling out here both the marvelous contributions from our youngsters and the impressive creations and additions to our arts and cultural gathering spots. 

Best Fountain of Youth
Our region’s minors stepped up as a major force over the last year. Some of the most impressive moves? Estero’s Taylor Bouchard, 17, launched nonprofit Ducklings Travel with her mom to help families afford the cost of travel for their children’s medical care. She hatched the idea after her own medical condition took her far from home to a surgeon in Colorado 15 times in seven years.

Six-year-old Gianna Winton, of Fort Myers, and 5-year-old Solei Bourgeois, of Naples, were cast to share the role of Lulu in Broadway musical Waitress for its eight local showings this February on its tour of the U.S.

Golden Gate High School student Aubrey Garcia, 17, sold blocks of advertising on her prom dress as a way to fundraise after Hurricane Irma. She ended up with more than $1,500 from eight companies, which she donated to the Guadalupe Center in hard-hit Immokalee.

At age 10, Naples’ Landen Grey earned the title of “toad trapper” as he and his father roamed neighborhood streets at night to help capture the invasive and poisonous cane toad, which poses a particular threat to cats and dogs.

The winner of Jeopardy’s annual Teen Tournament, which aired in November, was none other than Bishop Verot Catholic High School senior Claire Sattler—meaning the 17-year-old walked away with a $100,00 grand prize. She said she planned to put most of the money toward her college education (she hopes to become a biomedical engineer) and a couple of charities.

Not only did 15-year-old Oklahoma native Isabella Stapp convince her parents to move to Naples so she could pursue her marine biology passion, but the Seacrest Country Day School student also subsequently was asked to join Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran on a shark-tagging mission with the University of Miami, as part of a program that ran during the Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week. The invite came after Isabella impressed the university’s scientists on a school field trip.

Fort Myers is on its way to getting a much-needed sidewalk, thanks to the request of 8-year-old
Girl Scout Penelope Bianchi. She appealed (successfully) to Fort Myers City Council after seeing multiple pedestrians walking unsafely along Hanson Street.

An incredible bright spot for Max Hatch along a difficult physical and emotional journey that has included foster care, a heartwarming adoption, 20 extended hospitalizations and 31 diagnoses: The 19-year-old Naples High student was honored last May  at a career training and transition banquet for students with disabilities, having been hired as a greeter at Publix and secured a volunteer position at Paragon Pavilion on a work path trajectory that keeps moving upward.

Best Cultural Enhancements

We hardly consider construction noise to be harmonious, but these enhancements to our arts and cultural institutions are, well, music to our ears.

The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples is about to unveil its new “Inventioneer’s Lab,” encouraging visitors to build, experiment, solve problems and—most of all—develop all those creative, collaborative, communicative skills that cellphones are threatening to crush. (Whoops, did we just editorialize?)  Starting this summer, “makers” can earn badges for developing new skills in: woodshop, coding and electronics, textiles, and engineering and design.

Hurricane Irma did a number on The Baker Museum at Artis—Naples, but the there’s a post-storm rainbow at last on its way. The museum is getting a new façade—and also getting re-clad in a new stone and metal design because the organization does not want to live through another Irma-like experience. The museum’s redesign includes a new second-floor event space and a third-floor gallery overlooking the campus. The campus is undergoing a transformation, too, with an expanded Norris Garden and a 17,650-square-foot addition to create three new flexible spaces that will accommodate a variety of art forms.

We nominate the Naples Design District for best “reboot.” This modest downtown neighborhood has long been a go-to stop for boutiques and locally owned eateries, but the district’s board intends to command front-and-center attention with new landscape design, signage, improved lighting, public art and more parking.

We may be nowhere near “curtain time” for Gulfshore Playhouse’s $45 million theater and education complex, but founding Artistic Director Kristen Coury and her crew are working on the project with the intensity of an opening-night extravaganza. This year is dedicated to the design phase, and groundbreaking at the Goodlette-Frank Road-Third Avenue South site is tentatively scheduled for fall 2020.

Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers is transforming its 2.2-acre campus with a new 8-foot-wide sidewalk running along McGregor Boulevard, lighting, landscaping and the Caloosahatchee Water Wall, a public art piece by Michael Singer that both pays homage to the nearby Caloosahatchee River and filters stormwater runoff.

The New Phoenix Theater made its debut this season. The 100-seat hall, located in a small commercial strip on McGregor Boulevard, is a labor of love for a group of thespians who want the actors onstage to better reflect the community at large. Expect to see more minority performers, actors with disabilities and other demographic groups who don’t always get to appear as leading men and women.

We could use someone of Thomas Alva Edison’s genius to stop the citrus greening disease that’s killing Florida’s signature crop. We’ll settle instead for the new citrus grove at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. When complete, the grove will consist of about 50 trees representing different varieties of citrus and harkening back to the inventor’s interest in agriculture. Also planned: the restoration of the Ford Caretaker’s Cottage and introduction of the Citrus Cafe. Sweet!

Refreshing

Ever wishing to bring you continuing delight each time you pick up an issue of Gulfshore Life, we offer a redesign of our pages starting with this issue. You’ll note the fine hand of new Creative Director Jerry Pomales in the creative type treatments, splendid photography and clean overall look of the magazine. Enjoy.

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