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Charity focuses on Cape kids

Cape Coral for the Children working to aid youths impacted by homelessness

By CJ HADDAD - | Mar 28, 2024

Just because you don’t see a problem day in and day out, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

A Cape Coral based non-profit has been working for more than a decade to lend a hand to children who are homeless in the city, by providing toiletries and scholarship money to help further educational journeys.

“Cape Coral for the Children” was started in 2012 and founded by Julie Lombardi after hearing a 17-year-old’s story at a Do the Right Thing recognition. The teen lived day-to-day with the help of a friend, and slept at various homes when possible. His father was incarcerated, and his mother deceased. Despite his hardships, he maintained a 4.0 GPA while holding a job and was accepted into college.

“When they started reading (the young man’s) biography, I just went to pieces,” Lombardi said. “I’m sitting there going, ‘This should not be.’ I have four children and three step children, and I’m sitting in the audience crying wanting to take him home. The more me and a few friends investigated, we thought there was more we could do in Cape Coral.”

According to the most recent information from the School District of Lee County, there are a total of 2,419 students identified under “Project ACCESS,” with 493 active in West Zone schools, which encompasses Cape Coral, Pine Island and much of North Fort Myers.

According to the Lee County Homeless Coalition, Project ACCESS is a program in the district that is funded by the McKinney Vento Homeless Education Act. The goal of the program is to “ensure a successful educational experience for homeless children and unaccompanied youth in Lee County by collaborating with parents, schools, and community.”

The Federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act states that children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless. If, due to a loss of housing, a child must live in a shelter, motel, vehicle, or campground, on the street, in abandoned buildings, or doubled-up with relatives or friends, then he/she is eligible to receive services provided under the McKinney-Vento Act. School District spokesperson Rob Spicker told The Breeze the district focuses on keeping students in the same school for stability, regardless of where they might be temporarily relocated.

Working with the Lee County Social Service Agency in the local school system, Lombardi learned that the schools and teachers provide students with dignity by opening the schools early in the morning and having toiletries available for the children to clean up prior to the school day.

“We were told they were in desperate need for toiletry products of all kinds,” Lombardi said. “We agreed to work with them, and we put out the word to our friends to (help collect items).

“We told them we will make sure they will get where they need to be, and we’ve been doing this since our inception.”

Thus began the first of several programs; the school children toiletry program put on by Cape Coral for the Children.

Wanting to do more, the 501(c)(3) decided to raise money to provide scholarships for students who were dealing with homelessness or displacement.

Cape Coral for the Children started out giving $500 scholarships, then to $700, and the last few years, the non-profit was able to distribute seven, $1,000 scholarships to Cape Coral high school students who qualified. To date, the organization has awarded $72,000 in scholarships.

“If we had more funding coming in, we could probably increase that number to ten,” Lombardi said. “Checks are made payable to the college, not to the child, for their continued education.”

Cape Coral for the Children’s main fundraiser takes place each fall, as they put on a fashion show where all proceeds go towards funding scholarships. The charity organization is fully run by non-paid volunteers. Cape Coral for the Children also hosts a luncheon the second Wednesday of each month where participating establishments provide gift cards for the charity to raffle off at the fashion show.

Lombardi said being able to make a difference in the lives of children struggling and living an atypical lifestyle is what makes it worth it. As a single parent with all of her children attending college, she felt many financial struggles along the way, but said she was fortunate enough to remain employed.

“I can tell you that it’s all about the kids,” Lombardi said. “I’m a firm believer in education, because that’s how you break the welfare cycle.”

This year’s annual Charity Fashion Show and Luncheon will take place in October at Palmetto Pine Country Club. Fashions are provided by Anthony’s Ladies Apparel. Special raffle prizes, gift baskets, cash raffle, and more will be available to attendees.

With Cape Coral and Southwest Florida known for being a generous and, in many areas, affluent community, Lombardi said helping local children is a cause that should be at the top of the list.

“When I look around… we’re all mostly living in nice homes, go to nice restaurants, but we have this problem that nobody knows about,” Lombardi said. “I’ve lived in Cape Coral for 26 years. I’ve seen the changes. I love the town. People that I have met have been wonderful. But we as a community, we have a bigger problem, and it’s not just the traffic. Whatever educational journey it is for these kids, they can do something to enrich their lives and the life of their family.”

Tickets for the fashion show can be purchased in advance. Those interested in taking part in the monthly luncheons can stay up-to-date by sending an email to ccfclunchbunch@comcast.net.

For more information on Cape Coral for the Children, visit capecoralforthechildren.org.