Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties welcomed over 300 guests to its Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club on November 19, 2022, for its 9th annual Champions for Children gala. This signature event was presented by the Annette J. Hagens Memorial Foundation and recognized Marilyn and Irving Naiditch whose generosity has been instrumental in helping local youth achieve their full potential for nearly two decades. Proceeds will ensure youth across Sarasota and DeSoto counties have access to award-winning programs that foster academic success, strong character and leadership, healthy lifestyles and career readiness.
The gala featured a poolside cocktail reception, a three-course gourmet meal by Culinary Creations by Metz, a silent auction, and musical performances by Club members.
Following a rousing rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” by Club member Isabel J., Board Chair Meghan O. Serrano, Esq. and Foundation Board member, Steve Townsend, kicked off the evening's program, and introduced Whitney Stewart, the 2015 Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year, and Gigi, a current Club member, as the night's MCs. Whitney opened the program by thanking the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties for “being there when her family needed them the most and making all the difference in their lives”. She then went on to thank her Mom who was in the audience for “her endless sacrifices and for the gift that was registering her and her brothers as Club members” and presented her with flowers.
Co-MC Gigi G. helped Whitney welcome Club members, Akiel R. and Johntana N. to the stage for the Pledge of Allegiance and Invocation, which were followed by recognizing the many sponsors who helped make the event possible including, but not limited to, the Annette J. Hagens Memorial Foundation as the Presenting Sponsor; Diamond Sponsor Publix Super Markets Charities, Platinum Sponsors including the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundations, Intertape Polymer Group, Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust, Lee Wetherington Foundation, Steve & Marjolaine Townsend, Drs. Robert & Patricia Gussin, JoAnn Heffernan Heisen; Gold Sponsors; Gulf Coast Community Foundation; Caldwell Trust Company; CoolToday; Blistex, Synovus; Judy Kozlowski, Crews Bank & Trust; Ken & Patricia Freeman, Bowman, George, Scheb, Kimbrough, Koach & Chapman, P.A. , The DeLieto Team at MS&C Commercial, Michael Moulton & Ric Smalley, Shumaker and Meghan O. Serrano, Esq., Nancy Mina, Mark and Kathy Morrison, Alexandra Armstrong & Jerry McCoy, Purmort and Martin Insurance Agency, and Wagner Consulting.
The program was then turned over to Gigi who shared a small piece of her own Club experience. Gigi said; ‘the Club has made my vision clearer; my curiosity broader. It has made my voice stronger; steadierBut what stands out the most, is the confidence that it has helped me actualize. Perhaps I say it best when I say that in one short year, The Club has become home. It is family; an endless cheerleader; a limitless vessel for exploration; and a constant reminder of who I am and who I can become.
Gigi then turned it over to Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties’ President/CEO Bill Sadlo to share some Club highlights and present the 2022 Champions for Children award to Marilyn and Irving Naiditch.
The Naiditches were introduced to the organization in 2011 when Irving joined the organization’s Board of Directors. For over two decades, Marilyn and Irving Naiditch impacted thousands of children’s lives by investing in Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties. Their passion for helping youth achieve their full potential emerged from Irving’s own experience attending Chicago’s Albany Park Boys Club. His dedication to growing the nonprofit into an award-winning provider of youth programs, paired with Marilyn’s passion to provide greater opportunities for youth, has enabled the organization to accomplish and celebrate numerous milestones over the past two decades. Irv was recognized as an Outstanding Alumnus in 2018.
Sadly, Irving passed away in early 2019 but the legacy he built with Marilyn will forever be embedded in the organization’s mission. In 2020, Marilyn took their commitment to Club members’ futures even further when she announced a $1 million gift in honor of her late husband and in recognition of the organization’s 50th anniversary. This transformational capital gift will help to enrich educational, developmental, and programmatic initiatives for thousands of youth at the Roy McBean Boys & Girls Club in Newtown for many years to come. The support is the foundational piece of a major capital renovation and expansion project of the current facility, which upon completion, will be named the Irving and Marilyn Naiditch Campus, home of the Roy McBean Boys & Girls Club. Marilyn also recently pledged an additional $500,000 to name the courtyard in honor of their late daughter, Deborah, who was a dedicated educator.
"His experience at the Boys Club had such a tremendous impact on his life that he continued to stay involved and give back," said Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County President and CEO Bill Sadlo. "Our organization is honored to have been a recipient of his dedication, vast knowledge, love and support for decades. While Mr. Naiditch is deeply missed by our staff and board, his legacy will be remembered forever. ”
Whitney returned to the stage to introduce a special performance of Hallelujah” by Club members, Juliet P. and Patrick E., which featured Juliet on vocals and Patrick on piano. The program then paused for guests to enjoy dinner which included artisan greens with balsamic vinaigrette, a duet of chicken francaise and Alaskan seared black cod filet accompanied by garlic whipped potatoes and braised baby carrots. Patrick continued to play throughout dinner in honor of Marilyn and Irving Naidtich.
As dinner was wrapping up, Whitney resumed the program by sharing her heartfelt journey to success and how the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties helped her find her way. “Before I walked through those doors at 11 years old, I was battling severe depression following my father’s abandonment of our family and the hopelessness and hunger associated with extreme poverty. At my lowest point, I was even beginning to think that the best thing for me to do was end my life.”
“Everything began to change the day my mom took my little brothers and me to register for the Boys & Girls Club. When we got there, she realized she actually didn’t have enough money to send us every month. Seeing the look of defeat in my mom’s eyes as she gathered us up to walk away, the unit director reached out to her saying, “Wait, we can help you.”
“I didn't know it at the time, but it was that decision, that act of kindness, that changed the trajectory of my life. I can still remember how it felt for my family to be welcomed so completely – without any pretense – and exactly where we were.” She went on to close with “this is the impact of the Club. You’ve seen it in this room tonight, you can see it in the stories of my brothers and I and you can see it in your community. Ensuring continued access to these transformative programs for our country’s most vulnerable young people requires action. It requires a village of leaders like yourselves to step up, day in and day out, and ask, “How can we help?”
Bill then returned to the stage to close out the evening and thank everyone for coming and investing in the next generation of leaders.
"We’ve grown tremendously over our 52-year history, and hit milestones that have positioned us to embark on our next step in our journey as a leader in youth development in Sarasota and beyond," he said. "We are at a pivotal point in our organization’s growth and are taking our commitment to youth empowerment even further through key strategic initiatives in Arcadia, Newtown and North Port while continuing to find new and innovative ways to enhance our programmatic efforts and extend our reach to serve more of our area’s children and teens."