A graduate of Class XVII, Gary Personette received the Distinguished Leadership Award on Thursday, March 14, at a luncheon at the Naples Sailing & Yacht Club.

Gary’s legendary contributions to Collier County’s educational system began when he met GNL classmate Susan McManus of Champions for Learning.  Always passionate about mentoring young people, he was a natural to become a mentor for the Take Stock program and soon joined the Champions for Learning board.

In 2013, Gary met the creators of the Incubator EDU program at Barrington (Illinois) High School and was most impressed.  The Incubator EDU program offers students an authentic entrepreneurship experience.  In this program, students have the opportunity to create and develop their own entrepreneurial idea.  Real entrepreneurs and business experts serve as volunteer coaches and mentors, guiding students through the process of developing hypotheses about a business concept, testing those hypotheses, adapting and continually learning and improving.  This cycle of experimentation is combined with foundational business concepts such as marketing and finance.

Gary began promoting this program in Collier County, convincing Superintendent of Schools Kamela Patton to bring a team to Barrington to observe it firsthand. The Incubator Curriculum was implemented in eight of the nine Collier County high schools in 2015 and has been extremely successful. Gary continued his efforts by recruiting mentors for Golden Gate High School, Naples High School and Immokalee High School.  He has worked with Incubator teachers to ensure that they have enough mentors and specialists to teach different areas of the Incubator curriculum.

As a result of his efforts, in 2016 Gary was one of nine people recognized as a Champion for Education and Mentor of the Year by Champions for Learning.  Though no longer on their board, he continues to be involved with the organization and is an example to us all in fulfilling the GNL mission of using our personal skills to better our community.