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Octifest to raise funding for initiatives

By Staff | Apr 2, 2019

The Sanibel Sea School is getting ready for its major fundraiser, which helps fund scholarships for educational activities, outreach programs for landlocked youth, free day camps for students and more.

Celebrating its 13th year, the annual Octifest on the Beach will take place on April 13 at 6:30 p.m. under a big top tent on Island A of the Sanibel Causeway. With tickets priced at $150, the bayside event will feature sunset views, a cocktail hour and dinner, new scavenger hunt, two auctions and more.

“This night is crucial to us being able to offer education to our community,” co-founder and Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill said, noting that about half of the funds required to support the initiatives come from philanthropy. “We would rather have one very large event than six or seven smaller ones.”

The scholarships cover summer camps for children.

“We also have home-schooled groups that come out for field trips,” he said.

Dr. Bruce Neill

Neill added that the organization works on an honor system, open scholarship policy.

“All anyone has to do is say they can’t afford it – the only thing we request is that they pay something,” he said, explaining that the “pay” can be non-monetary, such as donating baked goods, jigsaw puzzles, children’s toys or such. “We just want people to have some skin in the game.”

In addition, the Sanibel Sea School works with several groups to teach underprivileged and at-risk children and teens about the ocean; some who live within 20 miles of it, but have never seen it.

“Years ago we started working with non-profit organizations, predominately, and schools in Lee and Hendry,” Neill said. “We recognized there was a need for everyone to have an ocean experience.”

“We either go to them or they come to us,” he added.

PHOTO PROVIDED The Octifest 2019 live auction items will feature an evening of guided stargazing with astronomy enthusiast Robert Hunt.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the organization held a free Hurricane Camp for parents whose children were out of school. Due to the great response from the community, the Sanibel Sea School has continued to offer camp days to families when it is not a normal work holiday, but students are off.

“They are totally free,” Neill said, noting that about six were planned for this year.

Within the last month, the organization cemented a new outreach initiative. Working in partnership with the Lee County Library System, the Sanibel Sea School will start visiting libraries throughout the county to provide educational programs for youth – particularly in Fort Myers – and even adults.

“We’re trying to reach kids who really wouldn’t get it,” he said.

“It’s about educating kids for the future,” Neill added.

PHOTO PROVIDED Guests enjoyed sunset views at last year's Octifest on the Beach.

As for Octifest on the Beach, the evening will start off with a cocktail party and hors d’oeuvres. Attendees will have the chance to take part in a silent auction and donate in a give-to-give.

“Give-to-give is an opportunity to learn about what we do and what we need,” he said, adding that there will be information and asks for different areas, like programming, research and more.

For example, Sanibel Sea School participants do a lot of ocean artwork, which requires supplies. One give-to-give may ask for art donations. The organization is also focused on the safety of its clients, which means having fully-stocked first aid kits and keeping up with basic maintenance on its vehicles.

“This is going to be a give-to-give like they’ve never seen before,” Neill said.

For the silent auction, some of the items up for grabs include a four-hour fishing charter with Sanibel Custom Charters, three-night stay at the Sanibel Moorings, private wine class at Total Wine for up to 20 people and $500 gift certificate to Mark Loren Design.

PHOTO PROVIDED Octifest 2019 is sure to be a fun and festive event.

“New this year, we’re also going to have three of our partner vendors come,” he said.

Point Ybel Brewing Company will offer samples of craft beer, while MANG Gear will have shirts available for purchase – it plants a mangrove for every product sold. Bishop Stand Up Paddle Boards will have its boards on display, along with informational material and its representatives available.

In addition, astronomer Robert Hunt will have his telescope set up for stargazing.

While attendees mix and mingle, they will have the change to participate in a scavenger hunt for a grand prize – another first for this year. Neill explained that they will be given a card with a checklist of fun trivia and tasks to complete on site. There might be questions about the ocean or the islands, wine tastings, group photo challenges and more.

The completed cards will be placed in a bowl, with a winner drawn at the end of the night.

“It’s a treasure from our partners at Congress Jewelers,” he hinted of the prize.

A sustainable dinner will be served by Jordan Webster, of Jordan Webster Catering.

There will also be a live auction, with auctioneer Tommy Williams.

“We usually have about six or seven items,” Neill said.

Some prizes to bid on will include four tickets to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Beer in the Bushes, paired with round-trip transportation provided by a Sanibel Sea School staff member; a ros tasting and three-course dinner for 10 at the new The Hampton Social in Naples, with round-trip transportation provided; and 14-karat gold opal and emerald octopus pendant from Congress Jewelers.

There is also a cast aluminum piece by renowned metal artist Don Drumm; an evening of stargazing led by Hunt, paired with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres; sunset cruise; and happy hour on the tiki trailer.

The public is encouraged to reserve tickets and help support meaningful ocean experiences.

“And it’s one of the few outdoor fundraising events,” Neill noted. “This is the most integrated island lifestyle fundraiser. If you want the authentic-ism of Sanibel, this is it – so kick off your shoes.”

For more information or to buy tickets, visit octifest.org or call 239-472-8585.

Island A of the Sanibel Causeway is the one closest to the toll booth.