Maria smiles as she places a few children’s books into her shopping cart. This will be the first year she reads Christmas stories to her two children Antonia (3) and Jose (5). When she enrolled Jose in the Bright Beginnings program at Grace Place for Children and Families a little over a year ago, Maria not only helped her son off to a great start in life, she also helped herself by participating in the adult education program to improve her own literacy skills. While she may not have much to place under the tree this year, she is extremely grateful to pass on the gift of literacy to her children thanks to the generosity and support of Grace Place donors and volunteers.

It has been an exciting and transformative year for Grace Place as well. The 10,000 sq. ft. campus is ultimately slated to expand to 30,000 sq. ft., providing much needed room for educational and community outreach programming at Grace Place.

In December, the organization will open the Van Domelen Education Center, a 6,333 square foot two-story multi-use classroom building, which will be home to four fully equipped early childhood learning classrooms and the upper level will serve as programmatic office and meeting space.

In early 2016, construction will begin on the 6,919 square foot McNamara Family Learning Center, which will house four fully equipped classrooms for educational programs and an upper level that will provide office space for Grace Place’s administrative team.

Overall, Grace Place seeks to raise $9.4 million for its campus expansion campaign, of which $4.2 million has already been raised. To help reach this goal, Mr. and Mrs. William Schoen are challenging the Naples community to match their $350,000 gift from their foundation to benefit the Campus Expansion Campaign. This matching gift challenge extends until December 31, 2015.

“The Schoen Foundation is thrilled to be in a position to offer this matching gift challenge to benefit the children and families at Grace Place,” Mr. Schoen says. “We believe that this opportunity will provide donors even more reason to invest by having their dollars stretch further.”

Three donors have already responded to the Schoen’s challenge. After witnessing the value of Grace Place first hand as a student mentor, Dr. Stephen Anderson and his wife Cynthia have pledged to support the organization’s mission and campus expansion. The Andersons are Naples residents who support various charities in in the Winston-Salem area and Naples. An accomplished artist, Cynthia even held a show of her work last year and gave a portion of the proceeds to Grace Place.

Two Board Members at Grace Place have already shown their support as well. Donald Grandi, current Board Chair, and Robert Furek, past Board Chair, have each pledged toward the Schoen Challenge. Mr. Grandi, who also serves as a student mentor and Friday Food Pantry volunteer, says, “Grace Place is special in the sense that the children and families don’t come for a handout. They come to empower themselves to improve their futures. I am glad to be in a position to help these folks out.”

For the past 11 years, Grace Place has been striving to help families help themselves. The Campus Expansion Campaign will enable the organization to extend its services to even more families like Maria’s and improve its learning environment overall. For those looking to facilitate lasting change, please consider investing in the lives of local families this year when considering ways to give back this holiday season. For more information about how to maximize your contribution through the Schoen Matching Gift Challenge, contact Barbara Evans at or by phone at 239.234.2403.

Grace Place for Children and Families is a nonprofit education center whose mission is to put faith into action – providing pathways out of poverty by educating children and families in Golden Gate City. Working across the life spectrum, Grace Place currently enrolls over 800 individuals in its educational programs: Bright Beginnings (a Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy Program), two School Age Programs and an Adult Education program. Although education is the core focus of the organization and its mission, Grace Place’s Friday Food Pantry also serves over 2,000 families a year. Additionally, Grace Place works extensively with community partners to provide medical and mental health screenings, as well as referrals for other services for Golden Gate City. For more information, visit