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Sanibel Sea School’s ‘Octifest’ takes to the Causeway Island beaches March 28

By Staff | Mar 18, 2015

Field trips provided by the Sanibel Sea School are afforded from funds which are raised during the Sanibel Sea School’s “Octifest”, which is Saturday, March 28, on the Sanibel Causeway Islands. A group of Heights Center kids who took a Sanibel Sea School field trip to the Causeway Island A in late February included: (L to R) Bethsada Valentin, Tamiese Goodman, Sanibel Sea School instructor Nicole Finnicum, Jailaya Thomas, Edwin Marcos and Amaya Mendoza. BRIAN WIERIMA

The Sanibel Sea School will be holding its most important fundraiser with its annual “Octifest on the Beach” event Saturday, March 28, on the Sanibel Causeway island, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The setting is more than suiting to help celebrate what the Sea School has to offer to both youth and adults, with guests enjoying the feel of sand between their toes, the relaxing sounds of surf and the amazing sight of a Sanibel sunset acting as the featured performer of the evening.

“It’s a nice evening for people to come out and support the Sea School,” said co-founder and Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill. “It brings a new meaning to ‘Cause-way’, because it’s for a great cause. It’s our single largest fundraiser of the year and the funds we raise from it, makes up half of our annual budget, with the other half coming from enrollment.”

The fundraiser is a nice microcosm of what the Sea School is all about. It is set right on the Causeway beaches, under a large tent, with Mother Nature being the guest of honor.

“The focal point of the event is everyone sitting and watching the sunset,” Dr. Neill said. “It’s about being outside, because that’s what we are all about.”

Octifest will no longer have a live auction, but will have a smaller silent auction. But guests can donate directly to items used by the Sea School and will know exactly where their money is going.

“We’ll have ‘Give to Give’ tables set up, in which there will be items we use throughout the year featured and the cost of it listed,” Dr. Neill said. “People can donate directly to buying a certain item, such as surfboards, microscopes or nets.”

There will be a trivial pursuit game played, as well. Guests can also purchase a pastel-painted coconut for $50, in which they will be released in the currents of the Gulf. A message will be on the coconuts for people who find them, to call the Sea School with the location it was found.

“The first coconut found, that person who purchased it, will win a prize,” Dr. O’Neill said. “We’ve had fun doing this in the past and have had coconuts found as far as Deerfield, Naples and Marco Island.”

There will be a seated dinner served and a short film shown to tell of what the Sea School is all about, with pledges accepted throughout the evening.

“Then we’ll hit the dance floor and dance the rest of the night away,” Dr. Neill added.

But operating costs are not the only funds needed by the Sea School. Funds raised during Octifest will also help build scholarships to those youth who otherwise cannot afford to attend a camp run by the Sea School.

In other words, the Sea School wants to share the ocean and what it has to offer with everyone who wants to join them.

“We do not have an application for people to fill out if they can afford to go to a Sea School camp or not,” said Sea School board of directors member Jodi Rienzo. “People usually just call and say they can’t pay the whole amount. We’ll ask if they can pay a portion and the rest will be covered.”

The Sea School is also starting to work with organizations from the mainland to offer their services to youths who otherwise could not experience the ocean. One of these organizations is the Heights Center in Fort Myers, which has had several groups take field trips to Sanibel hosted by the Sea School.

“A lot of times, the kids don’t live far away, but due to their circumstances, they never get a chance to come over that bridge,” Rienzo said. “Some don’t have bathing suits, or a way to get here. Usually when they do get here, some are totally mesmerized, but at the end, they are having a blast.

“The Sea School is about the lovethe love for the ocean, the love for the kids and the love from the counselors.”

A featured aspect of what the Sea School offers are the counselors, who bring strong knowledge to the kids and adults who are enjoying a week with the organization.

“The counselors are so very kind and for scholarship kids who come out, the counselors learn from them, as well,” said Sea School board of directors member Jennifer McMillen. “They are exposed to a kid who is from Florida and doesn’t know what the ocean is all about, and they see that and get to teach those kids, it’s life changing.

“My daughter is a counselor and it’s eye-opening to watch your child change after working at the Sea School. It’s magical.”

Rienzo also sees firsthand what kind of influence the Sea School has on kids, since she is a former attendee and now her kids are enjoying the experience for themselves.

“The counselors are all very educated, and they bring so much,” Rienzo said. “My kids love attending the Sea School because the knowledge is phenomenal and challenges them and pushes them out of their comfort zone.”

There are also programs for adults who want to experience the details of what the ocean has to offer, as well, which just goes to show the excitement and passion the people of the Sanibel Sea School want to share with others.

Octifest is a big part of that sharing and it aids greatly in helping those who otherwise don’t have the chance to learn what the ocean offers.

That has become more prevalent with the Sea School’s satellites at South Seas Resort on Captiva and their new expansion into the Sun Dial Resort on Sanibel.

“Our goal is always to bring new people in who don’t understand what the Sea School is all about,” McMillen said. “The reach of the Sea School is much broader than most people realize.”

Event tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased online at octifest.org. There are also different sponsorship levels, which includes an array of benefits which comes with each one. They go for $10,000; $7,500; $5,000; $2,500 and $1,000.

“The proceeds from Octifest allow us to operate,” Dr. Neill said. “Our goal this year is to raise $150,000 and hopefully that increases each year. We are planning on offering more programs to more people and rely less on donations.

“Our goal is always to keep tuition costs down and keeping it to just asking us, as our scholarship policy.”

Octifest tickets and sponsorships can also be purchased by calling the Sanibel Sea School at 239-472-8585 or email at info@sanibelseaschool.org.