Cherished: Friendships and Giving

Five Naples women who find joy in philanthropy and treasured friends

This month, we are thrilled to introduce you two five strong women who make philanthropy a priority and work tirelessly to make Naples a better place to live and work. We asked them about their work with non-profits and also how friendships feed their success and well-being.

Melissa Saracino Lamont

Executive Director, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center

Melissa first volunteered with the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center in 2008 and has stayed involved because she believes everyone with physical, social and mental health needs deserves to live their best life. “I started riding at age 8, and my love of horses and belief in the difference NTRC makes has only grown during my 14-year tenure. Since 2018, I have served as Executive Director. As we prepare to launch our $6 Million ‘End the Wait’ Expansion Campaign, it is my goal to continue providing a safe and effective therapeutic option in Collier County while adding the needed facilities and resources to address the growing demand for our services.”

For Missy, her mother will always be her first and best friend. Professionally, Karen Conley has made a lasting impact on her. “As one of the original NTRC founders in 1997 (formerly known as Naples Equestrian Challenge), Karen’s positivity is inspiring, and she has the gift of seeing the true potential in everyone. Her friendship, care and encouragement has continued to motivate me to strive for excellence. Today, as the founder, president and CEO of Charity for Change, a nonprofit organization currently helping 10,000 afterschool, summer school and in-school K-5 students, Karen remains committed to serving the community.”

Mary Brandt

Proprietor, Hotel Escalante and Veranda E

Healthcare, children and education are issues that get Mary’s attention and she looks for local charities that help make our community stronger. “As a former nurse and healthcare executive, I look for organizations that make a difference in a person's life like Bosom Buddies. This is an all-volunteer 501c3 supporting local breast cancer survivors. I’m also active at Seacrest Country Day School. I’m a big fan of their art and sustainability program and getting that exposure to children at an early age is so important. NPAC and Naples Players both amazing organizations to support to help promote the arts for our local youth."

Mary says she is blessed to have many dear female friends, including her mother. “It’s a tough task to only pick just one to mention who has made a difference in her life. “I read that one is considered lucky to go through life with 5 true friends. My closest friends in my life are the ones I met or hail from Indianapolis or Naples. They are remarkable women,  self-accomplished, wise, non-judgmental, and they make a difference in the world every day with acts of kindness. They are preset throughout all life experiences both successes and challenges and always ready for encouragement or sound advice. Distance may separate us from time to time but when together it seems no time has passed. I’m truly thankful for my fantastic female friends!”

Judith Liegeois

Judith Liegeois Designs

The NCEF (Naples Children & Education Foundation) has a mission to improve the physical, emotional, and educational lives of the disadvantaged children in our community. “It is a privilege to collaborate and share our time, treasures, and talents with the like-minded individuals who have become trustees,” says Judith.”It is a wonderful organization that I am proud to be actively involved with.”

Judith says many of her friendships with strong women date back to her schooldays, contributing to the person she has become. One woman, however, stands out. “I met her when I came to the US. I had no family or friends here at the time and she organically became somewhat of a guide and mentor to me. She was candid and straightforward but also very kind. From her I learned the delicate balance of patience and perseverance, to be thoughtful and live life with intention. She has passed but I think of her often and am so grateful to have had her friendship.”

Dawn McKenna

The Dawn McKenna Group

Dawn is a Chicago Board member of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which leads the search for treatments and a cure for sports and military-related brain trauma conditions, especially CTE. “I chose CLF because our kids have been very active in contact sports at all levels and we have a son in the Air Force.  We know firsthand that the benefits of contact sports come with the risk of brain trauma,” says Dawn. Also Dawn donates time to Girls in the Game.  “I love their mission of helping girls develop confidence and strength through sports, health and leadership programs.”

Her most important friends are her mother, Barbara, and daughter, Fiona. “Though she passed away years ago, my mom remains my biggest inspiration. Fiona is simply my best friend. I also treasure my friendships with a number of women in the real estate world, including Liz Gehringer (Coldwell Banker), Pam Liebman (Corcoran), Jade Mills (Coldwell Banker), and Carrie Wells (Coldwell Banker). I not only call these wonderful people for business and professional advice, but also when I just need a laugh or a cry.”    

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