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Tennis tournament to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities
November 1, 2017

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It's that time of year again to get out your tennis rackets for the annual "Playing To Keep Families Close" with Lily & Company Jewelers and Nick Bollettieri to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida.

This year's Doubles Round Robin Tournament will be held from 9 a.m to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Beachview Tennis Club, 1101 Par View Drive. Entry fees are $100 per player and $50 per guest. To register, or donate, call Dan Schuyler at (239) 472-2888, or contact Toni Halski at (239) 472-9099.

The tournament is open to 40 tennis players.

In addition to the tournament, the event will also feature a continental breakfast and grilled brunch court side by the Sanibel Catering Company.

Schuyler, Lily & Co. co-owner, said Richard Johnson and the Bailey family are major supporters of the event. He said Johnson is always there lending a hand with catering, setting up and being there "as a backbone."

"You can always depend on Richard. He's like a brother to me. He's a treasure and should be recognized hands down," Schuyler said.

At noon, during the court side lunch a "Battle of the Sexes" match will take place featuring Christie "Billie Jean King" Bradley and Toni "Bobby Riggs" Halski.

"We just couldn't think of a more fun way to entertain everyone than with two tennis experts like Christie and Toni portraying the infamous 1973 match, which King won in three sets," said Schuyler. "It will be an unforgettable day of tennis and for a very worthy cause."

Bradley has served as the director of tennis and fitness at The Sanctuary Golf Club for the past 23 years and is an award-winning professional. Halski, owner of Beachview Tennis Club, brings more than 30 years of experience and is legendary for his "tough love" tennis clinics.

During the tournament, International Tennis Hall of Fame Coach Bollettieri and his IMG Academy team will provide instruction. There will also be a question and answer session, book signing and photograph opportunities with Bollettieri.

Schuyler first met Bollettieri after he attended the IMG Academy and asked about private lessons.

While negotiating the price of the private lesson, Bollettieri discovered that Schuyler owned a jewelry store on Sanibel, which ended in a piece of jewelry being sent to Bradenton for Mother's Day. The idea of doing a tennis tournament on Sanibel came to fruition four years ago with Bollettieri and all the proceeds were donated to F.I.S.H.

The benefactor, now Ronald McDonald House Charities, is one that Schuyler is happy to support because he spent his first two years of life in a children's hospital.

"It means a lot to me to see that particular money for the kids," he said. "I really enjoy donating our funds to the children. To see children recover . . . it's enough to make you cry."

This is the second year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida Executive Director Laura Ragain said they have been involved with the tournament.

"It benefits us greatly because we rely on community support. We are not funded by McDonald's, but we are very fortunate to be McDonald's charity of choice," she said. "The canister donation boxes in 57 McDonald restaurants in Southwest Florida, that all comes to us. It's a wonderful partnership that we have. They graciously host fundraisers throughout the year. It's our community events that really generate awareness and support for our programs."

Ragain said although they host events throughout the year, it is very much appreciated when a third party group conducts an event on their behalf.

"We really appreciate the support from the residents of Sanibel," she said. "We are extremely appreciative of the generous support of our community partners and without them we would not be in this unique position to expand our programs the way we have the past couple of years and hope to continue in the next several years."

One of the programs Schuyler is excited about is the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, which will be launched in Lee County before the end of the year. The program was made possible through a grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities Global. Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida will be the clinical service provider.

"They too will provide the dental screenings, treatments and sealants to underserved areas of Southwest Florida, specifically Lee, Charlotte and Hendry and eventually we will get to Glades," Ragain said. "We are very excited about the second Care Mobile because in addition to the dental screenings, and some medical services, there will also be an optometrist on board because the School District felt very strongly about having the children's vision tested. They felt that was a very important need."

She said there will be several prescriptions available and essentially a child who needs glasses will receive two pairs before leaving the Care Mobile - one for home, and one for school.

The Care Mobile will travel to Title 1 schools, free and reduced lunch schools and low income neighborhoods.

"The beauty of the Care Mobile program everywhere, throughout the world, is it's not a matter of it being parked at the mall Saturday afternoon from 1 to 3 if you need help. It goes right into the areas where the needs are the greatest," Ragain said. "It expands our services beyond the walls of the Ronald McDonald House."

The first one was launched in Collier County more than a decade ago through a partnership with Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, who serve as the clinical service provider for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.

"It is our program. We provide the vehicle and they provide the services. The chapter is responsible for 20 percent of the operating costs annually," she said.

The Ronald McDonald House is the cornerstone program that has served thousands of families in the 21 years it has been open. She said they have served families beyond their five county region because Southwest Florida is a vacation and conference destination.

"It is not unusual to have families here from all over the country," Ragain said.

The six bedroom house is within walking distance of the Golisano Children's Hospital. She said their families are welcome to stay at the house until their child is discharged from the hospital.

"We are currently running at a 92 to 93 percent occupancy year to date, which causes us to think about our future quite seriously," Ragain said. "It is quite possible within the next few years there will be a decision whether or not we expand."

This past year, Lee Health Resources had graciously donated the land that the house sits on, which would help in their pursuit of a house expansion.

The Ronald McDonald House recently underwent a extensive renovation, called Project Design 2016, which included 20 designers, 20 spaces for their 20th anniversary as a gift.

"The whole project brought tremendous exposure of the charity throughout Southwest Florida, which was really lovely," Ragain said.

If families are in need of a place to stay while their child is in the hospital, they are encouraged to talk with their social worker.

Just recently, a Ronald McDonald Family Room, staffed by volunteers, was opened at the new Golisano Children's Hospital. It is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m..

"We now have the three core programs that are offered by Ronald McDonald House Charities. The purpose of the Ronald McDonald Family Room is to be available to all families with children in the hospital. There in the Family Room they can get a lunch. They can eat it there, or take it on the go. They will get a sandwich, chips, fruit, or fruit cup, dessert, a bottle of water, a cup of coffee and they can get right back to their child's bedside," she said. "When your child is sick nothing else matters and quite frankly nothing else should. You shouldn't have to worry about your next meal. Where you are going to get it? Can you afford it? Where is it coming from?"

Schuyler said in addition to the tournament Doron Hakimian, president and chief designer of Doves by Doron Paloma, will hold his trunk show the day before the tournament, as well as providing a nice piece of jewelry for a raffle prize to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

There will be many other items available for the raffle. Schuyler said the individual does not need to be present to win the raffle.

The new tournament sponsors this year include Ruthie and Dan Struble, Brian Johnson with Island Scene Magazine, Breeze Newspapers and the Island Sun.

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