News | February 22, 2016


Wings of Hope honored for community partnerships

FGCU’s Wings of Hope Program, which educates area schoolchildren about wildlife and environmental issues while giving college students hands-on teaching experience, recently won Florida Campus Compact’s Campus Community Partnership Award.

Community Engagement and Service-Learning Director Jessica Rhea, left, and Wings of Hope Director Ricky Pires present the Campus Compact Award to President Wilson G. Bradshaw.
Community Engagement and Service-Learning Director Jessica Rhea, left, and Wings of Hope Director Ricky Pires present the Campus Compact Award to President Wilson G. Bradshaw.

Founded and directed by FGCU alumna Ricky Pires, Wings of Hope aims to fill a gap left in area schools by the elimination of environmental education due to budget cuts. Pires developed its curriculum collaboratively with Lee and Collier County elementary school teachers. It connects the decline of the Florida panther population and the concept of sustainability with environmental science topics typically taught in the fourth and fifth grades in Florida.

More than 4,000 students in those grades are bused to campus each year to participate in the Wings of Hope “Panther Posse Program,” a hands-on interdisciplinary experience that teaches them about the endangered puma, other wildlife and their habitat and water conservation. Reading, writing, science, geography, math and research skills all are enhanced through the exercises they do.

Since its inception in 2000, Wings of Hope has touched the lives of more than 120,000 Southwest Florida students from elementary school to college.

“Wings of Hope guides the students to be kinder people, not just to the natural world, but to each other,” Pires says. “Its mission is to build bridges of hope for wildlife and the natural world with education, research and awareness.”

In addition to the local school districts, 14 community partners are involved in the program, including Audubon of Western Everglades, Arthrex Inc., the Martin Family Foundation, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther team, The College of Life Foundation, CREW Land & Water Trust, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Naples Zoo. The FGCU Foundation also supports the program.

“This program continues to excel because of the support of this community of cross-sector stakeholders that are willing to invest long term,” Pires says. “Wings of Hope demonstrates a strong and sustainable commitment to the community while enhancing higher education and instilling civic and social responsibility in students. It also exemplifies cooperation among education, community, government and business leaders – working collaboratively to have an impact.”

Florida Campus Compact is part of a national coalition of college and university presidents committed to the public purposes of higher education and to helping students develop the values and skills of active citizenship through participation in community service. FGCU has been a member since 2000 and won Campus Compact’s award for the most-engaged state university in 2007 and 2011.

Campus Compact awards recognize people “who are leaders at their institutions and have been carefully evaluated for their impact in the areas of engaged scholarship, service-learning, community service and innovative approaches to solving community problems,” the organization says.

  • For more information about Wings of Hope, call Director Ricky Pires at (239) 777-1108.