Susan McManus of Naples, a former fourth-grade teacher, has been involved with Champions For Learning, The Education Foundation of Collier County, since it was founded by community and business leaders 30 years ago. She spent the first three years on the board of directors, followed by 27 years as executive director and president, pursuing the nonprofit’s goal of creating life-changing learning experiences for Collier County students.
What drew you to working for Champions For Learning?
I realized I could be a teacher in the classroom, but in a not-for-profit organization, I could work alongside community leaders. The impact I could have was broader. I could build some of those programs.
How has the mission evolved over the past 30 years?
High-quality teachers can impact a student’s life. That’s our core belief. The more we worked with teachers, they encouraged us to directly serve students and families. Our role became very clear that we could make a change in the student’s life through support of the community. We started mentoring students, providing college and career programs. Two hundred juniors and seniors each week come to work on essays, college applications, work on SAT scores, get financial aid forms filled out. We help them not just lay out a career pathway but also a financial pathway.
How important are partnerships with community leaders?
What made this organization unique is the commitment from local business organizations. They understand that in order to have great employees, you need great schools and great teachers. I’ve learned from the business leaders in the community and always appreciated that wealth of talent. We became the backbone of a collective impact model, Future Ready Collier, helping over 60 organizations all work together. Helping to engage the community became our single most important role.
What are your goals for the future?
We know we’ve been successful in sustaining and growing our education fund. In the next 30 years, we want to build an endowment so that it’s here forever.
How do you garner support from residents of Collier County?
We have a vision of a community that is 100 percent engaged. Not that every- one will volunteer, but that everyone in Collier County will understand that we have wonderful schools here and value education when they look at their tax bill.
What type of students participate in Champions For Learning?
The students who come to our programs are competitive, respect their mentors and take advantage of the help opening every possible door they can for their future. I’m hiring on staff some of our [former] students. That’s really fun. They’re paying it forward. It restores your faith in the future.
Are you having special events to celebrate the 30th anniversary?
We decided this year to recognize past board chairs at our key anniversary event, Night of Champions on Feb. 7. (For tickets, call (239) 643-4755 or click here.)