Pan-Florida Challenge Director, Maura Plante

We met Maura when she reached out for some help with the Pan-Florida Challenge. The riders all together raised $140,000 in year one and that will buy 490,000 meals for hungry kids. What inspires a person to give up their life in the corporate world to step aside, drop everything to follow a heart-felt calling? If you ask Maura she will tell you she had searched for love and happiness for 40 years, and she is listening to that call and has found it in her life now.


“I used to volunteer and teach a class on identity to Middle School kids and mentor in the summer. You could breathe good roots into their lives.” Each summer her church, Christ Fellowship, would take 800 kids to Belle Glade, Florida to summer camps and feed and play and encourage those with nothing all day.

“We would sleep on floors, we would feed them, and put on sports camps all day long for the neighborhood kids. We saw such extreme poverty but also the strong potential in these kids. Once you see suffering and experience extreme poverty first hand – you cannot ignore it any longer. You just don’t complain any longer.

But one day a grandmother dropped off their 2.5 yr old from 8am-4pm with a beer can in their hand and on their breath and things changed for Maura. In the arms of a formerly homeless child (now adopted a son of Maura’s friend and a teenager) who she mentored – who’s tough heart cracked open in love to this broken boy that week…


Love conquers hunger!


“Experiencing that first hand was indelible and right up the road! It really has been my journey with my faith though that made me do this.”

What was she doing before you ask?

“I had been laid off with a corporate job. I am an innovator and the cycle was complete for my position. I applied for big jobs and those cycles go 3-4 months to run all international products for the company I was applying for. Someone else inside the company was awarded that job and I had been volunteering at the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County and had helped here and there. Going into winter months I found I had this extra time.”

She decided she would work for them for a few months. She helped put together an event with 250 walkers called Walk the Walk to End Homelessness. She put together a flash mob to show what 180 homeless kids look like, the number of homeless kids coming in for help each week. The event raised $25,000 in 60 days.

She decided to pack meals to feed hungry kids in a non-profit helping kids in Haiti and became interested in how to make a lasting impact there, as well as for hungry kids across Florida. She teamed up with Ed Mullen, Founder of the Pan-Florida Challenge and Jim Willey to bring the ride event to life in Florida based on the effective fundraising model of the Pan-Mass Challenge.  The Pan-Mass Challenge started 39 years ago, raised $41 million in 2014 from a 190 bike ride across Massachusetts with 5,500 riders and funded over $500 million in cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since its inception.

What happens for cancer research when there aren’t strings attached to how the money can be used is that the scientists can be creative and do what they do best: imagination breeds solutions without restrictions that make breakthroughs. In contrast, much NIH and federal grant money has stipulations that are restrictive in their use.

The fundraising models that activate riders into advocates and evangelists for the cause to their network of friends and family is highly effective and generates enormous passion. In the Pan-Florida Challenge the same is true: the money raised, 100% is used very effectively and efficiently to get nutritious food directly to the hungry children who need it who may have fallen through the cracks of other forms of support.

The Pan-Florida Challenge Rider Fund is funding 490,000 meals across Florida and Haiti. In Florida, they are funding thousands of PFC Power Packs with 13 meals in a bag  inserted into local elementary school children’s backpacks on a Friday afternoon to take home and last the weekend long for kids living in hunger.  

1 out of 4 local kids in Collier, Lee & Hendry Counties are going hungry at some point this year. This is intolerable- these children are our future. How can a child thrive, learn and grow in school without food in their belly? We want to solve for hunger in kids in Southern Florida. We will keep riding our bikes until we do. We intend to end Childhood hunger, 1 meal at a  time. Until Not one is left. Not 1.

Join us! Volunteers needed. Riders wanted. Sponsors and donors invited. 


“We intend to end Childhood hunger, 1 meal at a time. Until Not one is left. Not 1”



The Pan-Florida Challenge Rider Fund is funding 490,000 meals across Florida and Haiti.


In Florida, PFC is funding thousands of Power Packs with 13 meals in a bag inserted into local elementary school children’s backpacks on a Friday afternoon to take home and last the weekend long for kids living in hunger.

Meet Mike Russo of Less Taxing Services

Mike is one of our fantastic volunteers who helps the race go smoothly behind the scenes. His help is a great reason why the Gobble Gobble continues to be a holiday tradition for everyone at Venetian Village on Thanksgiving. When he isn’t handing you your Packet Pickup he’s preparing your tax return at his business Less Taxing Services.

Mike’s site asks: Do you love accounting, bookkeeping, and taxes? We didn’t think so.

168178_1824030804315_5273205_nMike came to us through his fiancée Marci Seamples who is the reason he moved to Naples who works for the Naples Zoo. She had participated in the Gobble Gobble event before and loved it and previously been an employee at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts. Mike grew up as a tuba player and attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. As a professional Tuba player and then as a music teacher, he learned quickly that you have to be able to make and communicate complex concepts and techniques in ways that children or young adults can grasp. That skill has served him well as he has started his own business and helps explain what’s on tax returns to absolutely anyone. Mike takes the time to get to know his clients personally so that he understands how to help them best and understand what their expenses mean and how to maximize potential refunds. It’s that practical and easy way he communicates with humor and in laymen’s terms that helps him help you get all the deductions you deserve and report it correctly and accurately.

“When I first started teaching music, I didn’t know how to explain balance and blend. I had to learn to take complex things and put them into plain English. When I did the kids would figure it out and start to see their own progress. Now its amazing to me to see a client’s tax returns from a prior preparer who just didn’t take the time to get to know them well enough to understand them and avoid mistakes depriving them of a potentially higher refund.”

He is also able to do everything remotely and save you the trip to the office or via phone with the latest secure technologies via computer. If that’s not your thing he’s happy to take care to have you come meet in person.

We sure are grateful for all our volunteers and I don’t mind endorsing strongly Mike’s work at Less Taxing Services. For my own family’s return, he was thorough and able to make sense of our complete financial picture. He was very attentive and helpful and understood the complexities of all our various income, hobbies and professional responsibilities. It made it very convenient to be able to deal with everything remotely from our standpoint. The encryption methods he used were as secure as are available. His advice was also excellent in dealing with further security issues for peace of mind. Our conversations are ongoing and his council has been very helpful indeed. Mike has a great sense of humor and that made the process hassle free.



It was so nice to catch up with Debra Orringer, a Nutritionist who you may have read about at Fit Nation if you have followed her articles. My personal favorite was the building of her standup paddleboard

“DebO” as she is affectionally called, has run the Gobble Gobble and is a big fan of how fun and laid back it is Thanksgiving morning. The fact that it’s so non-intimidating is great for her in her field as she’s always trying to encourage better fitness and nutrition for her clients and when she is speaking at conferences.

Debra was drawn to the field by her own struggles with weight issues.

“I was always chubby, but not necessarily overweight growing up. After I got my first part time job, I started gaining weight. By the time I got to college, I put on 50 lbs my first year and by my last year in college at age 21 I had put on 100 lbs. I was depressed.” That was when Debra had the epiphany after working in upstate NY cleaning out dorm rooms to turn over and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and didn’t like what she saw and said,“I’m done.”

That low self-image after looking at other girls in sports bras and shorts and seeing herself in heavy sweat pants prompted her seeing a doctor. In the next 8 months, she lost the first 50 pounds. She eventually lost the entire 100 pounds back that she had gained.

Later on while she was at the gym she noticed a sign advertising “so you want to be an aerobics instructor..” She decided to attend a class as she enjoyed teaching fitness. This eventually ended up drawing her into clinical exercise physiology and low and behold she found herself as a new fitness pro teaching. That still wasn’t enough. She started going to conferences eventually and gave presentations about proper nutrition. One of her specialties was on how to make sure your balance of PH equilibrium was in order. Fast forward to a 10-year contract of working with NASA at Kennedy Space Center working with astronauts on getting them to their peak nutrition and health.

After that contract expired and budget cuts to the space program ended her term there, she looked on a map for somewhere on the coast of Florida to move to. Her finger ended up along the coast of Southwest Florida in sunny Naples. She started her position at Tiburon Golf Club part time and as of this year in January she has left and has decided to go full time into her own business. She described her clients as ranging the gamut. She learned to find creative ways to try and align people’s goals with what they are able to give up and what they aren’t.

Like many that suffer depression or self-esteem issues at some point in their lives, Debra went through some dark patches. At one point, she said, “I didn’t get out of bed for about a year.” She had some intellectual property that she wasn’t given proper credit for. There were unkept promises and her concept and brainchild was developed into a successful project without her and it was devastating at the time.

“I talk to everybody—everyone has some kind of struggle—they aren’t going to change their lives—I try and listen to people and try and find a way to help them. It’s not always me that can help—so I will direct them to someone that fits them if I can.” In her case, she recommends something as simple as self-esteem affirmations, “just wake up and name one thing you are grateful for every day.” That eventually gave Debra the clarity she needed to reset her own future. Her mental and physical health were rejuvenated by just getting back out there.

Deb has worked with an organic supplement company that she is passionate about as well and it’s one she’s made great relationships and friendships through. She can provide more detail from her website or email and you can read more about Debra here

Heard a lot of debate about the nutritional value of eggs lately? Watch this short video and DebO’s take

In her spare time, she enjoys coaching kid’s swimming ages 6-12 years old. When she chats with mothers they typically start asking how to incorporate nutrition for their growing athlete into their regimen. We have such fantastic resources in Naples for everyone to make healthy choices and enjoy better lifestyles. Be sure and get to know DebO the nutritionist. You’ll be glad you did!

A young girl with talent and a promising future

I was recently at St Matthew’s House after corresponding with Fawn Volkert, the Director of Development there. She told me there was someone she wanted me to meet and talk to. She “used to play the viola” and having had a discussion about the Gobble Gobble with her and finding out that the Race Director was in the Naples Philharmonic she had reacted with great interest.


Chelsea at St Matthew’s House with Race Director Matthew Sonneborn

I sat down in a chair and was introduced to a beaming, optimistic, charismatic articulate young 27-year-old individual named Chelsea. What happened next I can only begin to describe after I simply invited her to tell her story. Fawn and I were in tears for a good part of the interview. I had no idea how much of her story had direct ties to some of my colleagues and workplace, and what a seemingly bright future she had in front of her. As a member of the Naples Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, she was selected as a soloist and performed with Naples Philharmonic on several occasions.

In addition to having considerable talent as a musician, she was also a ballet dancer and had danced with Miami City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. She also at one point had danced with the Boston Ballet in a summer program.


Things were not completely what they seemed

In her school years, problems were with an eating disorder which she didn’t attribute to the pressures of being a ballerina (which can be considerable) but from a character trait she became aware of later. Her self-esteem and body image issues that she had felt warranted this type of behavior, but early on largely slipped under the radar.

It wasn’t until she graduated with this glimmering bright career ahead of her, already having shown considerable talent in music and dance as a gifted artist that she made her way to her first 6 months of college at Kent State.

“I found myself quickly in relationships that darkened me being betrayed and affecting my self-esteem.The pain was too much and I just wanted to feel numb. I was not the type of drinker that wanted to have one beer or even to enjoy alcohol. I wanted the quickest route to not feeling anything there was and being extremely petite it took very little for me to black out.

That was all it took for what follows in the next part of life to open up a rabbit hole she has been trying to crawl back out of ever since. I wish I could tell you, she slept it off, got up the next day went to school and became the Principal Violist of the Cleveland Orchestra or is now a member of the Juilliard String Quartet on tour in Japan.  Life was not like that.  Try to believe in the possibility of a much better life for Chelsea now, that forgiveness is possible and that these miracles happen for people at St Matthew’s House over and over again.

Things take terrible turns for the worse. Addiction and consequence.

Chelsea was in and out of failed relationships and that lead to binge drinking to numb the pain.
“I found myself driving the wrong way on highway 41 in the rain barely bypassing a lake and cannot remember how I got myself to my boyfriend’s house after at the time.”
As she puts it, “I almost wish I had gotten a DUI then.” Three months later on December 27 of 2009, she had her first tangible consequence as she drove while blacked out trying to numb her pain. Chelsea’s DUI involved nearly killing two pedestrians. It was not only a miracle they lived but that they testified in her defense to not serve a significant prison sentence. She bonded out of jail only to experiment with more drugs. She felt so much shame and humiliation. She couldn’t understand why she didn’t get hurt nor could she remember. As she put it, “I began dissociating and became clinically insane at the moment when using: it was like visiting hell. I didn’t love myself or who I was. I was stuck in a stronghold in a pit.” She couldn’t logically understand why she would want to revisit and keep repeating this process that was making her miserable, but the cycle did just that.

“Not long after, I was caught driving with a suspended license, I faced 17 years in prison, but was able to get out after 9 months with 5 years probation. I became pregnant with my first child. The hardest thing was having my first child in prison. When I left the hospital I called my family who cared for the baby and I just had to leave him. My mom took him and luckily my mom is a nurse anyway.”

Transitioning to freedom with addiction.

Though it was a great start, giving her the freedom after she had done her time was not enough:

I fell into drinking and back into bad habits.I found myself now with a child and another on the way. I went into counseling and got some help. I felt the pregnancy was the reason for me to get straight. I managed through AA and Southwest Florida Counseling to stay sober to have the child in July of 2014. My addiction still proved too difficult to manage with children. I found myself arrested for child neglect. The arrest was a blessing and yet another wake-up call. I had no contact with them. When I was in jail was when I heard about Justin’s Place. It has been the best thing I have ever done. My life is committed to Christ, my kids are back in my life.

Her mother has been caring for them in the meantime. That was back on December 1st of 2014. She will graduate from the program within the next few months. Currently, she is a barista at St Matthew’s House’s M25 Cafe and had prior experience as one in her youth for many years and is helping to train others.

The unwritten chapters that lie ahead..

Her goals now involve getting back to her viola. “I feel I have a God-given talent and that I can inspire others. It is pure joy. Music is eternal. God forgives me. I just want to play for God’s glory.” She hopes to play at the celebration of hope with her sister who is a professional violinist who went to Kent State where Chelsea’s scholarship was.

One of her goals is to someday run in a half marathon and complete it. Running has been one of the most positive things in her recovery. We want to help Chelsea do that. We will be calling on our resources and follow up with her to get her an entry and a training schedule and check in on her progress towards achieving her goal. She has already entered the Gobble Gobble Four Miler with Development Director Fawn Volkert so we look forward to the celebration of seeing them this Thanksgiving together at the race crossing the finish line. We also send regards from members of the viola section of the Naples Philharmonic who send their best wishes and are so proud of her for her efforts in recovery.

The coming chapters are yet to be written. We wish the best for Chelsea knowing that the odds are not necessarily in her favor. It takes the right influences habits and faith that stick a lifetime to complete her journey. At St. Matthew’s House they transform lives.

I can report a happy ending so far for our friend and Justin’s Place graduate Jonathan Hargrove who ran the Gobble Gobble last year and we will check in with him for a full report. Wedding bells, employment, clean and happy is the spoiler alert.

Jonathan and Brittany

Please consider donating to Director Fawn Volkert and Chelsea’s page to raise funds for St Matthew’s House or when you register for the Gobble Gobble.

We’ve Got Answers! Everything you wanted to know about parking but were afraid to ask!

Getting In Early?

If you are on the early side, we have a lot of space in La Mer which is 250 yds from the start line. Nice!

Carpooling with 4 or more?

If you happen to have four or more in you vehicle, park at Venetian Village directly in the Carpool Only lot—Sweet!

Want to save your energy for the race?

If that is too far a walk, Park at Northern Trust or Trianon Center (across the street from Northern Trust) and hop on one of the 3 continuous shuttles — no waiting, practically door to door service. (It is a little under a mile if you decide to walk/jog if you prefer that. On Race Day that is a perfect warm up for serious runners). Practically Door to door!

Don’t mind a little walk before the race?

If you want to try and park at St John’s Episcopal at Crayton and Parkshore before 7 it is less than you would walk to a subway station in New York perhaps. Approximately .4 Miles walk. Fuggetaboutit..I’ve got this!

Biking it in?

Be green and use the bike valet. Show up having gotten a nice bike warmup in and leave whenever you want, no worries as our free bike valet personnel from Trek Bicycles of Naples get you your bike. Anyone who has done this has absolutely loved it!

Friendly Reminders

A gentle reminder that under no circumstances is it OK to park on neighborhood lawns. Please be respectful to area residents.

As with any race we always recommend you getting there on the early side to feel warmed up, have time to pickup your packet if you didn’t get to or register, use restrooms, find your start areas and get acquainted with your surroundings.

Packet Pickup on Race Day starts at 6AM. Have a friend or family member that can pickup your packet early on Wednesday 11/26, or can you be there? We highly recommend this option. (see packet pickup info here)

Northern-TrustTrianon St-johnsparking

It is a privilege to announce that with the help of Naples Velo, Tish Kelly, and yours truly (Matt Sonneborn, Race Director) an effort is launching to help those in need in our County. The Re~cycle project wants to re-purpose your gently used bicycle equipment for those in need here in Collier County.


While the Gobble Gobble Four Miler™ champions green initiatives through cup free racing and encouraging participants to ride their bike to the race, we are very aware of the current local bicycle safety issues. One of the “hot spots” for accidents in Naples is near one of our charity recipients, St Matthew’s House.

Residents of St Matthew’s House must often utilize bikes as their principal form of transportation. We want to make sure that this necessity is also safe choice. A great start to this is providing them with helmets, ways to be visible, using lights at night, and bikes that are well maintained. We are asking people to donate your gently used bicycle equipment for those in need in Collier County. This could be anything from helmets and chains to pedals and wheels. There are many in need in our community to consider: many depend on their bikes for transportation to work, commuting during hours without daylight.

Look for the bins at most area bicycle shops within the week. Trek Bicycles of Naples managing our bike valet once again this year and sponsoring the Gobble Gobble.

We will also collect these items at Packet Pickup at Fit2Run and at the Gobble Gobble race day at Venetian Village. As always if you have canned goods or can take a look at their current needs page here! Please do bring an item for St Matthew’s House and we’ll make sure and get it to them after the race.

The bigger conversation we need to have on bike safety will be ongoing. Our state has the unfortunate ranking of being the worst and deadliest in that category at that moment. Let’s remember to give our friends and neighbors out there a couple of extra seconds to pass safely and respectfully in a motor vehicle. To cyclists, let’s continue to be smart, courteous and respectful so we can be good “spokespeople.” We can all learn a bit more about what the laws in place are.

Let’s show them that Naples cares! Pitch in that gently used old gear to make a potentially life changing difference.

Fit 2 Run Packet Pickup
Gobble Gobble Packet Pickup is at Coastland Center Mall at Fit2Run on Wednesday Nov.26th from 10 am-6:30 pm

There will also be Race Day pickup, if necessary, at Venetian Village on the day of the race. Early Pickup for friends is greatly encouraged. Be sure to park on the Fleischmann Blvd side as pictured above (click image to see enlarged detail).

Attention Foodies!

We are proud to announce that Chef Brian Roland and Chef David Robbins have teamed up for a truly amazing Fundraiser prize! This year’s winner of the Fundraising Challenge will have an amazing meal prepared in their home by these great Chefs. You must raise at least $1000 for the charities to be eligible, the top fundraiser takes the prize.

Setting up a fundraising page is simple.

Visit this link and follow the instructions:
We invite everyone to set up a page and compete! Everybody wins, all donations are linked directly to the individual charity’s accounts.

Chef Brian Roland

Chef Brian Roland

The celebrated Executive Chef of M Waterfront Grille in Naples, Chef Brian owns two new innovative businesses: He is president of Florida Food Consultants, a networking concept designed to improve the restaurant industry. His second endeavor, “Crave Culinaire by Chef Brian Roland”, introduces an ultramodern take on catering.  Crave Culinaire’s elegant services span from full event planning, catering events, to chic, artistic private meals prepared for the most prominent palates.

Visit his site for more information:

David Robbins

Chef David Robbins

David works with FoodSense Culinary Consulting and Concierge Services (Including: Professional Consultant to Mereday’s Fine Dining at Naples Bay Resort, rated the #1 restaurant in Naples, FL 2014 – Gulf Shore Life) 
Visit his site for more information:

In the words of Emeril Lagasse, let’s “turn it up a notch” to help our local charities. Thanks in advance to these Naples Top Chefs!

Matt Reedy of Leapfrog Athletics recently posted about the three types of Recovery. Every runner should know about, and be incorporating, these key principles.

Check out this short video or visit the full blog post at Leapfrog Athletics.


We feel privileged to once again have Elite Events as an official sponsor of the Gobble Gobble Four Miler, helping us manage equipment and the finish line. Their assistance and professional expertise is invaluable. I sat down to chat with Jaeden Hamernik and asked him to tell me how Elite Events came to be.

“I used to come back from college in the summers and there was really only a 4th of July event during those months. My family all loves to race so we decided to start a summer series back in 2010. We were really just trying to fill a void in the community during a time there were no other events scheduled.”

In addition to family events, they also saw a need for triathlons and duathlons since there were so few of these types of events in and around Naples. During the first year, Elite Events had around 400 participants and have since grown to a number of over 4000 participants annually, amazing in so short a time span.

“At our events, we like to have music, and create a festive and social atmosphere. We go 5 deep with awards, and take great care and thought to make our website user friendly. We even developed our own registration system.”

Naples Fall Classic Half Marathon

Since then, they have added mud runs, a marathon, and a second half marathon. It has been a labor of love for the Hamerniks. Their Inaugural Naples Fall Classic Half Marathon on November 23 should be a gorgeous new course:

“The New Naples Fall Classic Half Marathon features miles of scenic waterfront views, brand new nature trails, bridges and so much more.”

Bridge Elite Events

“The scenic course will showcase the brand new Isles of Collier Preserve neighborhood, Naples Botanical Gardens, East Naples Park, and Sugden Regional Park while finishing in front of the lake front stadium amphitheater full of fans inside the beautiful Sugden Regional Park.”

Half Marathon start

If you decide to enter the Half Marathon event, we will provide you a code to save 10% on the Gobble Gobble when you register for both events. Simply email your registration number to us at and we will provide you the discount code.

Why the Gobble Gobble Four Miler?

The Gobble Gobble is special to Jaeden, as it was the first race he ever ran in Naples. He loves the festive and friendly atmosphere, the beautiful course, and ongoing traditions with this event at Venetian Village.

Jaeden and Elite Events jumped in to assist the Gobble Gobble in 2013. Thanks to Jaeden and Elite Events’ assistance, the 13th Annual Gobble Gobble was still able to give nearly $25,000 to area charities last year, even with registration limited by construction in the area. They are dedicated to supporting this event, acting as sponsors and partners to make sure everything is professional, exceeding the quality you have come to expect from this fantastic event. They are also big fans of helping out charities on this special day, doing the right thing for their community. That has always been the focus of this event.

You can learn all things Elite Events at their website here: