A college president who brought athletics back to his school, a woman whose focus, passion and work is about improving the health of her community and another woman who is devoted to helping children and adults dealing with the grief of losing loved ones are The News-Press finalists for 2016 Person of the Year.

The News-Press is honoring Florida SouthWestern State College president Jeff Allbritten, Lee Health System Health & Wellness Strategic Partner Christin Collins, Valerie’s House founder and president Angela Melvin as Person of the Year nominees, as well as finalists in seven other categories as part of our 30th People of the Year awards.

This is a special time of year for The News-Press to honor those who have made tremendous community impacts and changed, transformed and saved lives along the way. Besides Person of the Year, we are recognizing individuals and groups for Business of the Year, Trailblazer of the Year, Hero of the Year, Rising Star (top student achievement), Public Official of the Year, Young Professionals of the Year and People to Watch for 2017. Our Rising Star finalists were selected by The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools. There also will be a $1,000 scholarship given to the winner.

Our luminary winner for lifetime achievement will be announced by The News-Press on our various digital platforms and in the newspaper on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

In honor of our 30th year of recognizing the community’s best and brightest, we will be announcing a special lifetime achievement award in the coming weeks for a person whose vision, business and community involvement has been extraordinary.

The winners will be announced, the Luminary and the 30-year achievement award winner honored during The News-Press awards breakfast on Feb. 21 at the Cohen Center Ballroom on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Our featured speaker will be FGCU president Wilson Bradshaw, who will be retiring in June.

Tickets for the event are available online by going to news-press.com/POY.

Here are the finalists:

PERSON OF THE YEAR

Christin Collins

We received over 25 nomination letters for Collins, who not only is an ambassador for health and wellness, but also active in raising funds for Golisano Children’s Hospital and also involved with Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, the SWFL Wine & Food Festival, the Women’s Foundation, the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, the PACE Center for Girls and the American Heart Association.

But it’s her work at Lee Health, which is celebrating 100 years, that is truly a game changer. She is co-chairing the second Million Mile Movement, creating an awareness for health and wellness and the movement for community members to log 1 million  miles over a three-month period. She was instrumental in creating the health system’s Healthy Lifestyle Approach to Wellness and Prevention, focusing on purpose-driven living, physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress management, mental and behavioral health.

She created a national speaker series, bringing wellness leaders from around the world to Southwest Florida. Last month, she was part of a four-person team asked to present wellness initiatives at a national conference for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Her influence also resulted in the the children’s hospital reaching its $100 million goal, with the final $1 million coming from the SWFL Wine & Food Festival, where she is the co-chair. Her work also has inspired raising funds for pediatric mental and behavioral health, a department which does not yet exist but is needed at Golisano.

In one of the nomination letters, Lee Health CEO Jim Nathan and Cape Coral Hospital CAO Scott Cashman said: “She has helped make an impact locally, spreading regionally and influencing nationally. She embraces and inspires so many community leaders.”

Angela Melvin

She is helping grieving families in immeasurable and unprecedented ways. That’s why she created and opened Valerie’s House in Dean Park this year to help children and other family members deal with the pain of loss. She is the first in Southwest Florida to form such an organization. She experienced the unthinkable pain of losing her mother a month before her 11th birthday. It was almost unbearable for her after hearing “your mother is dead” from her father. She screamed for hours after the traffic accident that claimed her mother’s life in Fort Myers in 1987.

At Valerie’s House, children in similar situations are comforted but also “encouraged to speak about their loved one with happy memories,” said Melvin, 40, and a graduate of Estero High School. There is a special memory wall where children hang their favorite picture of the person they lost.

Valerie’s House, which is based off the great work going on at the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Ore., conducted its first session for grieving children on Jan. 11 and she saw immediately how great the need was and how important it was going to be to expand and do it quickly.

The need is great, not only for children, but also older men and women who are not only dealing with the grief of losing a child but also must now take over the responsibility of raising their grandchildren. Besides the house in Fort Myers, Melvin has opened a place for people to share their thoughts in Cape Coral at Cape Christian church. She also will expand to Naples. She is working with the Lee and Collier school systems to speak to counselors about what Valerie’s House offers. She also is starting a session for grieving grandparents.

“Valerie’s House has been the most life-changing place for our family,” said Ashley Sanders, one of many emails received from one of the 80 families helped this year.

Besides school counselors, she also wants to expand workshops to school nurses, pastors, non-profits and others dealing with children in grief. Valerie’s House also will offer education programs for those who lost a spouse and are raising children alone and want to return to school, creating a will, developing physical and mental wellness, as well as cooking classes.

In her nomination letter, Gail Dolan said:  “She has busted open the taboo subject of grief, opening up the kept ‘under the rug’ conversation of death, what it means for children, and what needs to be done to help them heal.”

Jeff Allbritten

FSW’s president has returned the college to academic credibility and enrollment increases after an academic scandal several years ago threatened the school’s accreditation and reputation. This year was literally and figuratively ground breaking for the school. Anchored by Allbritten’s leadership, the school restored athletics after discontinuing a 34-year athletic program in 1997. With baseball and softball returning first, the school unveiled its new men’s and women’s basketball teams in the fall and opened Suncoast Credit Union Arena to a full house of 3,300 Buccaneers fans last month. In December, the arena will host the highly successful Culligan City Classic national high school basketball tournament.

But there also is exciting news academically. The college leads the state in Florida Flex Training Grants with over $6 million the past six years to train 3,500 new hires. Its healthcare programs, especially in nursing, ranking among the highest in the state for pass rates on national exams. Its enrollment this year of almost 22,000 students is the third highest in school history.

Under Allbritten’s watch, the school also has created an academic partnership with Western Michigan University for aviation and healthcare programs on FSW’s campus in Charlotte County.

The school broke ground in June for the Education Hall at Hendry/Glades Curtis Center in LaBelle.

FSW won the Chrysalis Award for Sales & Marketing from the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau..

It developed EXCEL-IT, a program supporting new certificate programs at the school.

All of this was being done while the school was going through a rebranding effort the past two years after changing its name from Edison State College to FSW.

During his interview with The News-Press editorial board this summer,  Allbritten said: “This isn’t a government. You are here because you want to be here. We are mission driven and that aligns with performance funding. This is what we should be doing and be of value to the community.”

BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

Wicked Dolphin and Big Blue Brewing

Maybe more than another other business owner in the recent history of Cape Coral, owner JoAnn Elardo has made an impact and created a culture in the city of 174,000. People want her rum and will travel for many miles to get it. It also recently launched its first Wicked Dolphin vodka.

Her new Big Blue Brewing, which opened earlier this year in Cape Coral, has become a social gathering place for people of all ages, sampling the craft beers and enjoying the food and weekend entertainment.

Her business model of creating a rum product dedicated to unique flavors and top quality rum also has made national impact. Wicked Dolphin was named the No. 1 Craft Rum Distillery by our parent paper, USA TODAY.  The American Distillers Institute awarded the business Best in Class award and Wicked Dolphin received gold and bronze awards from the American Craft Spirits. It also was named Distinguished Entrepreneur by the Lee County Horizon Council.

Walmart brought the rum into 55 stores. Riz Hotel in Key Biscayne also is offering the rum. Wicked Dolphin also started a catering business for groups and parties. Food Channel chef Art Smith features the rum in his Orlando Restaurant.

Over 20,000 people have visited Wicked Dolphin this year.

Besides the success of the businesses, Elardo also is leading an effort to build Cape’s first animal shelter, which could open over the next year. Over $100,000 has been raised to build the facility.

Best Home Services

The family-owned business for electrical, plumbing and air conditioning services, has operated in Southwest Florida for 36 years. It recently expanded for the first time to over 100 employees, continuing to add new technicians and other staff to help with business growth in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

At the heart of its service also is community involvement as employees are involved in causes for disadvantaged youth, cancer awareness and hunger.

In his nomination letter, Randy Mitchelson, vice president of sales and marketing for iPartnerMedia, Inc., said: “In a world of big box marketing, multi-chain franchises and slick young companies more focused on making fast dollars, Best Home Services understands that nobody cares more about you than family. At its core, their company is just a family who takes care of other families.”

Sanibel Captiva Community Bank

The bank is not only about the services it provides, its expansion to four other locations in Lee County, but also its local commitment and investment as 91 percent of its business is with individuals and businesses within Lee County.  The rest is mainly in Collier and Charlotte counties.

Its home loans increased from 235 in 2011 to 534 in 2015, totaling $131,718,000. Over the past year, the bank rocketed from 21st to third among the most profitable banks chartered in Florida. Independent Banker magazine ranked its total assets of $150 million to $300 million as 18th nationally among the most successful community banks.

Keeping it local also extends to its employees as 97 percent of the 69 live in Lee. The bank hired 10 new employees this year and over the past five years, increased its employee count by 64 percent.

Those employees also contribute to more than 85 non-profit, education and cultural causes and they also give of their time and have leadership roles on many civic groups and charitable agencies. The bank’s charitable contributions and sponsorships have totaled $120,000 so far in 2016.

In her nomination letter, Jennifer Hamilton, associate partner with Gravina-Smith Matte & Arnold, said: “The bank isn’t just concerned about a bottom line; they are committed and invested to Lee County and the surrounding region.”

TRAILBLAZER OF THE YEAR

Carolyn Conant

A long-time volunteer, Conant had a vision to offer Cape Coral cyclists, runners and walkers safe and separate pathways near busy roads to enjoy the outdoors. Her efforts helped create 90 miles of wonderful pathways called Cape Coral Bike-Peds. Conant, along with many other volunteers and community leaders, and fueled by tremendous fund-raising efforts, created these nationally-recognized city jewels that wind through the city.

In her nomination letter, Dawn-Marie Driscoll, emeritus Executive Fellow for Business Ethics for Bentley University and a Cape Coral resident, said: “And in this post-election malaise, I think it would be well to honor someone who shows that people can come together outside of partisan politics, work on an important issue together to improve our communities and accomplish much.”

Barbara Manzo

She led an effort to inform Lee County residents of saving the county’s most important environmental program, Conservation 20/20. She was chairwomen of the Yes on Conservation 20/20 group, driven by the purpose to make sure voters in the November election approved the referendum to continue the land buying, management and conservation program, which started in 1996.

The group organized in six months and implemented a plan that started a local political committee, raised funds, established a social media campaign and a Facebook page to inform the people of the importance of this referendum.  They also created a speakers bureau to meet with various groups across the county.

In her nomination letter, Holly Schwartz said: “This was not a group of professional campaign staffers – just a core group for grass roots citizens including some members of the original group that helped to pass the first Conservation 20/20 initiative … “

Kathryn Kelly

If you want to blaze a trail for children, open a school. That’s what president and CEO Kelly and the Heights Foundation did this year. The Heights Charter School, which “operates under the philosophy that children are most motivated to learn, and learn best, when they feel safe and protected, when they experience success, when they feel connected to a larger collective identity, and when their individuality is recognized and encouraged,” according to Kelly, opened in August.

There are 28 enrolled in kindergarten and first grade. Over two-thirds are learning English as a second language as they speak Spanish, Haitian Creole, or Portuguese at home. More than half of the students are being raised by single parents or by individuals other than their parents. Some walk to school, some come by car, and one student arrives every day on the handlebars of his father’s bicycle, according to Kelly.

“The Harlem Heights Community Charter School has already made great progress toward creating a community of learners with focused and developmentally appropriate direct instruction in which all students are valued, accepted for who they are, supported in the development of core academic skills and encouraged to challenge their learning toward excellence,” Kelly said.

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR

Jan-Erik Hustrulid

The Business Development and Community Outreach Coordinator with the Owen-Ames-Kimball Company, he keeps a hectic and productive pace as chairman of the board for the Heights Foundation and Heights Center, as a board member for the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County as a board trustee for The Cultural Center of Charlotte County, a board member for the Harry Chapin Food Bank and as a executive committee member and programming co-chair for the Southwest Florida Urban Land Institute.

His leadership efforts in various events have helped raise over $200,000 for various organizations and at-risk children. He also served on the first The News-Press Young Professionals Advisory Board this year.

As business development and outreach coordinator for the company, Hustrulid also develops new project opportunities.

He also helps mentor students at FGCU

In her nomination letter, Jeanette Baldwin of Owen-Ames-Kimball said: “He and his colleagues at Owen-Ames-Kimball Company actively support more than 50 local organizations each year by giving of their time, talents and resources.”

Marc Devisse

The Bonita Springs resident is the owner of Tri-County Construction, which is in its 10th year, has 11 employees and specializes in renovation and remodeling.

He also loves his community. He leads a fundraising event, called the Tri-Town Classic, which going into its eight year, raises money to build shade structures over Southwest Florida playgrounds to help reduce skin cancer possibilities. He raises the money for the Passion Foundation, which was started by a friend after the death of his wife from melanoma. Devisse’s company also invests thousands into the tournament each year.

Devisse also started the Bonita Kiwanis Young Professionals, recruiting other area young professionals to invest in serving the community. Devisse also supports Valerie’s House, Eva’s Closet and the Christmas toy drive for the Midwest Food Bank.

He ran for the Bonita Springs City Council last year.

In her nomination letter, Carolyn Rogers, vice-president for development and communications for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, said: “I have never seen such a dedicated and multi-faceted young professional. He is giving, caring, humble, bright and brave.”

Melissa Cofta/Kelsey Griffin

Cofta and Griffin are co-founders of Leadership NEXT, a young professionals group that works in conjunction with the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. The group represents advancing professionals from various business and industries in Southwest Florida. They are pursuing opportunities to develop new skills, establish working relationships with colleagues and engage in programs and discussions to improve their careers.

Cofta and Griffin also use this group to partner with non-profits to help bring awareness to their causes.

Cofta is marketing and public relations account manager for Priority Marketing. She also volunteers on the board of directors for PACE and the Fort Myers chamber.

Griffin is a forensic CPA and certified fraud examiner for Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company’s forensic accounting and mediation services team. She is on the board of the Fort Myers chamber and is chairing the 2017 Valuation, Forensic Accounting and Litigation Services Conference for the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

In her nomination letter, Jessica Walker, marketing and public relations manager for  Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, said: “These two young women have been YOUNG PROFESSIONAL leaders and TRAILBLAZERS in our community for many years, and we as a collective group would like to express our pride and admiration of their dedication, drive and compassion in every aspect of their lives.”

PUBLIC OFFICIAL OF THE YEAR

Larry Hart

His elected title is Lee County Tax Collector, but the former Fort Myers police chief is making a difference in lives throughout the community each day.

Hart believes in community service and he lives it. He is currently one of six co-chairs for the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee fundraising campaign. He also was recently appointed the United Way Mission United Sponsor for a new program started by the agency to get active military and veterans who call United Way 211 the right help.

He is vice-chairman of the board of directors for SalusCare and serves on the Hope Hospice board of directors, on the FGCU Advocacy program, the Children Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida, the FBI National Academy Association, the International Police Chiefs Association and the Downtown Rotary Club. He also is chairman of the Florida Tax Collectors Association.

Hart and his staff at the tax collector’s office have been more active this year with community outreach efforts, especially in Lee County public schools. For the second year, the office engaged with the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools and all of the elementary schools in a program called Kids Tag Art, where fourth and fifth graders created original artwork that can be purchased as plates for the front of vehicles. Money collected from the sales of those tags goes back to the schools’ art programs to help buy supplies. The program has raised about $48,000 in two years.

His office staff also started handling applications for concealed weapons permits this year and has been active in meeting with groups to explain various programs within the tax collector’s office.

In her nomination letter, Lee County Clerk of Court Community Relations Manager Rita Miller said: “The Tax Collector’s Office provides varied services in an effective and fiscally responsible manner. Larry is a tireless community leader.”

Curt Clawson

He leaves his elected post in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 19th Congressional District, which includes parts of Lee and Collier counties this year, knowing he made an environmental difference for Everglades restoration and water storage efforts.

His sponsorship of the Everglades Land Acquisition Act would set aside $500 million for the Department of the Interior to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee for storage and to help restore the natural flow way to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

About one million acre feet of storage is needed north and south of the lake to help reduce harmful discharges of water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

He also has led a bi-partisan team, which introduced legislation to expedite repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake.

At the time he introduced the acquisition act, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg, said: “Congressman Clawson clearly understands the need to reconnect Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. By storing and sending water south, Mr. Clawson’s constituents will see a significant reduction in the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee that cause economic and ecological damage.”

Ita Neymotin

She is the regional counsel and head of the office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel for the Second District of Florida, which has an office in Fort Myers. She guides 140 employees and contracted vendors for a district, which stretches from Dade City to Naples.  According to her nomination letter, from Lori Wagner Kane, who is the finance and accounting director in the office, Neymotin encourages employee growth through in-house training and seminars.

Her community involvement extends to working with Fort Myers mayor Randy Henderson and Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann to form a “Sister City” partnership between Fort Myers and Gomel, Belarus to build reciprocal business opportunities.

She is frequent guest speaker at the annual Child Protection Summit, at the Ave Maria School of Law and Rotary Clubs.

Neymotin is a member of the Florida Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and has been appointed to the Florida Supreme Court’s Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health issues in the courts.

HERO OF THE YEAR

Christa Hicks

Born into generational poverty and prostitution, she was a victim of sex trafficking and abuse. Hicks was raped for the first time at age 13. She became addicted to heroin. But she found a way out of that horrific life of physical and mental abuse and is changing and saving lives.

Hicks received her master’s degree in mental health counseling in 2012 and started Jordan Ministries, helping other women find new ways to better lives after abusive treatment. She councils them, educates them, finds them shelter and builds their self-confidence.

In her nomination letter, Linda Biondi, of Cape Coral, said: “She is truly an inspiration, not only to victims but to all who hear her. I personally had the privilege to hear her speak and was truly moved by her courage, her faith and her willingness to give in order to help others.”

She makes little more than minimum wage but subsidizes her income through cleaning jobs with her teen daughter after hours.

Her work helps includes teaching parenting classes, training rescued women to become yoga instructors in order to find employment, sitting in court to support women, babysitting, providing transportation, grants, academic scholarships and food. “She is a genuine hero,” said Diane Strack in her nomination letter.

Benjamin, Sharon and Jerry Miller

Sharon and Jerry moved to Sanibel from Texas about six years ago. They were the parents of four, two with disabilities. Their son, Robert, passed away in 2005 and son Benjamin, now in his 40s, is one of the oldest living persons in the world with Peroxisomal Biogensis Disorder: Zellweger Spectrum Disease. Most with the condition only live to about age five.

Because Robert loved camping, the Millers decided to create a camp for adults with disabilities in Texas, coordinating 20 camps there. The Millers brought the idea here and created the first and only such camp in the region, called Trailways Camps.

They have organized 30 camps, helping over 1,000 adults. The overnight and week-long camps in Alva help reduce the social isolation experienced by adults with special needs, as well as their families and caregivers. The camps include talent shows, arts and crafts, dancing, canoeing, fishing and water skiing.

At the camp site, the Millers encountered a problem with a steep slope to the water that prevented many in wheelchairs from being able to fish. This year, the Millers worked with volunteers to build an ADA compliant walkway/ramp to the water.

The Millers partner with the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to donate and raise funds and hired Goodwill to run the program to allow them time to provide the necessary support to the adults.

“They fill a great need here in our region,” Carolyn Rogers said.

David Brown and Anjali Van Drie

They saw a need to help families dealing with autism presented their ideas  last year at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s Compassionate Shark Tank and then created the nonprofit Family Initiative Inc. They gathered feedback from families dealing with children who had autism to gauge what programs were available to help children. They started with two children, applied for a grant through the community foundation and their Saturday program has grown to an average of 20 children per week.

They met three years ago – David was director of programs for the Children’s Network and Anjali worked for behavior management analytic services. David’s agency contracted with Anjali’s for services for parents and foster parents. They developed a friendship and through that saw the need gap for those dealing with autism.

Now, David works for the Youth Law Center as a contract employee doing national advocacy for kids in foster care. Anjali provides home support services for families with autistic children.

Through coaching and training at the community foundation, they have secured a $2,500 grant for their autism and art program as part of a collaboration with the Alliance for the Arts and are working on another $5,000 grant.

In her nomination letter, Carolyn Rogers said: “Their long-term hope is to create a center or gathering place to provide support services and create an ecosystem with different providers in the community through collaboration and sharing for families with children with autism.”

RISING STAR

Helena Robertson

A senior at North Fort Myers High School, Helena Robertson is a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist, an AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) student, and a member of the National Honor Society. Helena currently has a weighted 5.29 GPA and is dual-enrolled full-time at Florida SouthWestern State College.

Helena has earned multiple awards as a violinist, including 1st violinist for the Florida Music Educators’ Association All-State Orchestra Honors, Principal 2nd Violinist in the Lee County All-County Orchestra, and Orchestra Council President for the North Fort Myers High School Orchestra. Her community involvement consists of volunteering at Cape Coral Hospital, being a counselor at Violin Camp, performing in the Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Church Choir, and teaching violin lessons.

Outside of academics and music, Helena is actively involved in North Fort Myers High School athletics. She was on the Junior Varsity Soccer team, Junior Varsity Cross Country team, and the Varsity Track and Field team.

Thalia Fernandez

A Cape Coral resident and Ida S. Baker High School senior, Thalia Fernandez is currently serving as the Varsity Cross Country team captain, JROTC Drill Commander, and an active member of the National Honor Society. With a weighted GPA of 4.88, some of her successes include serving as a previous class president for two years in a row, an AP Scholar in 2015, and the Teacher’s Choice Award from 2013-2016. She has also ranked in the top 10 of her class of over 400 graduating seniors.

Thalia is very involved in her school’s JROTC program, where she serves as the current Drill Commander. She has been in the JROTC all four years of high school and in Raiders XO through her junior and senior years. Most recently, she was named Area Commander, which is the number one cadet in charge of all of Lee County’s JROTC programs, including more than 6,500 cadets. She has been named “Super Cadet” for the past three years.

Thalia is passionate about volunteering, with some of her most notable hours spent assisting nurses with feeding patients at Lee Health, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, providing a Veteran’s Day ceremony for nursing home residents at Coral Trace, and presenting the colors for the Southwest Military Museum Parade and for a Lee County School Board meeting.

Joshua Rivera

A Fort Myers High School senior, Joshua Rivera is ranked 8th in his class and carries a weighted 4.92 GPA in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. He is also involved with Mock Trial, Math National Honor Society, History National Honor Society, Model UN, and Student Government, while currently serving as the Treasurer of the Law Club and President of the Science National Honor Society.

Joshua’s passion lies within the Youth in Government program at Fort Myers High School where he has been an active member for the past three years and now serves as a student mentor. He was an attendee at the 2016 Conference on National Affairs, the State Director of Legislative Affairs for the Department of Financial Services, and the 2015 Chapter Legislative Coordinator.

Joshua learned to speak English when he was six years old and attributes much of his success to overcoming bullying at a young age, which gave him the drive and desire to be who he is today. Joshua works almost 30 hours a week to help support himself and his family while he works toward achieving his goals.

PEOPLE TO WATCH FOR 2017

Derrick Diggs

More than any chief before him, Diggs, the new Fort Myers Police Chief, is tasked with the responsibility of ending violence and restoring trust between his department and the community.

Violence, especially homicides, have increased over the past several years and trust has eroded in a community where residents in the violent prone neighborhoods are reluctant to report crimes.

Diggs has been visiting with residents and meeting with community residents to build a plan. He has created a gang task force and plans an extensive training program for his officers, combining new technology with improved community policing.

Francis Rooney

Rooney, a successful businessmen with extensive international experience, will succeed Clawson in the 19th Congressional seat in January. The Naples businessman and noted fundraiser and donor for the Republican party beat Republican challengers Chauncey Goss and Dan Bongino in the primary and Democrat Robert Neeld and a pair of write-in candidates in the November general election to win the seat.

In 2017, his role will be similar to Clawson’s:

Continue to listen and work with Southwest Florida residents on issues important to them like health care, education and water quality.

He must be a champion for the environment, continuing to push for funding to continue Everglades restoration and water quality and storage projects.

Syd Kitson

He is the architect of the largest community development projects ever created in Southwest Florida – one that will take shape and see its first residents in 2017.

Kitson bought the entire 145-square mile rank – bigger than the city of Cape Coral – and sold most of it to the state for preservation. But Kitson and Partners can build on about 10 percent of it and what will be on that land is truly something to watch in 2017 and for years to come.

The first solar-powered city could contain 19,500 homes – mainly in Charlotte County – over small and large lots (up to five acres) over 50 square miles, a quarter mile downtown area, environmental components that include walking and riding trails, lakes and views of native wildlife. Kitson also is giving 300 of those acres to Lee County to build about 40 ball fields at a cost of about $70 million  to taxpayers so that the organization Perfect Game can run tournaments there. The area also could include a residential development, a commercial base of lodging, restaurants and a convenience store, and create over 2,000 permanent jobs.

The first home plans for the first 193 home lots were unveiled in September.

Plans are develop to improve State Road 31, the main artery in and out of the huge the huge community and to widen and replace the Wilson Pigott drawbridge.

BREAKOUT

PEOPLE OF THE YEAR AWARDS BREAKFAST

When: 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Where: Florida Gulf Coast University, Cohen Center Ballroom

Tickets: Buy your tickets at news-press.com/POY.  RSVP by Feb. 13, 2017.

Table sponsorships: Now available. Contact Karin Cherwick-Skala at kcherwick@gannett.com or 239.344.4761.

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