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Wings of Hope

Florida Gulf Coast University 'Wings of Hope' Program


“Building bridges of hope for wildlife and the natural world
with education, research and awareness.” 

The “Wings of Hope” program is an integral part of the FGCU Environmental Humanities curriculum and service learning requirement. University students are introduced to native Southwest Florida wildlife, their habitats, and water conservation. They bring this knowledge to students in 4th & 5th grade with science-based environmental education programs. Elementary school students are bussed to FGCU for the program - both public and private schools in Collier and Lee Counties..Wings of Hope

Breaking News!

Wings of Hope Takes 1st for the Campus Compact Florida Award!

The Wings of Hope program at Florida Gulf Coast University was recognized as the 1st place winner for the 2015 Campus Compact Florida Award!  This award recognizes the outstanding campus-community partnerships that produce mesureable improvement while enhancing higher education.  In the above picture from left to right: Jessica Rhea - Director Service-Learning, Ricky Pires - Director of Wings of Hope, President Wilson Bradshaw - Florida Gulf Coast University President. 


Ricky Pires honored by the Florida Panthers Hockey Team!

While the Florida Panthers are having a stellar year on the ice, the endangered Florida panthers, off the ice, haven’t been so lucky. The Florida Panthers hockey team honored FGCU Wings of Hope Director Ricky Pires during the NHL team’s Conservation Night, recognizing her for her efforts to help save the endangered Florida panther species.

“It is dear to my heart,” said Pires, who was honored as the Community Champion as part of the NHL team’s #MoreThanAMascot campaign. “It’s just a big partnership that makes this work. A lot of people help us out because it’s a lot of work.”

Click here to read the full article!


Thank you Defenders of Wildlife!
Elizabeth Fleming and Lisa Ostberg take a ride in our "Panther Mobile" after donating education supplies for the Bear Brigade.

Thank you to our new Bear Brigade Partners, Defenders of Wildlife, for their generous donation to our new and quickly growing Program. The Bear Brigade is making an impact in our greater community every day! Beginning in Fall 2015, we will be educating six Orlando elementary schools, approximately eight hundred students,  in critical bear habitat about Florida Black Bears and how we can all co-exist.

 Co-existing with Florida black bears

Florida’s black bear population has recovered from historically low numbers in most areas of the state, while at the same time the number of people has increased in and around where bears live. As a result, bears and people encounter each other more than ever. Keeping bears wild and away from the places where people live and work is a responsibility we all share. (FWC information)

Bears do no stay in neighborhoods if they do not find food. Properly storing or securing garbage cans and outdoor grills is a proven method of preventing bear conflicts.

The FGCU “Wings of Hope” program's new outreach team is gathering data on the different types of garbage cans on campus, and whether or not they are bear or wildlife proof. Phase two starts in the fall semester with presentations in many classrooms and events, educating FGCU staff and students about:
• Bear behavior and you.
• Discouraging wildlife and bears from visiting campus.
• What to do if you find an injured or orphaned critter.
• Who to call?   NOT a TV station!!

Ricky Pires

Nancy Payton Preserve in Collier County Opens!
May 28, 2015

Our Board of Advisor, and dear friend, Nancy Payton was joyous May 22nd when the Nancy Payton Preserve in Collier County was finally open to the public. This 76 acre plot of land was unanimously named after her in recognition of all of her hard work on behalf of native wildlife including the endangered Florida Panther.

The property, located at 1540 Blue Sage Drive in rural Collier County, was purchased in 2005 by Conservation Collier, Collier County’s conservation land program.  The preserve property is managed by Conservation Collier land manager Christal Segura. There are trail markers, benches, a picnic table and an educational sign built by Eagle Scout Trey Blackmon. The Collier County Audubon Society donated a sign identifying the woodpeckers found in the Preserve.

The Nancy Payton Preserve serves as an important wildlife refuge within Collier County’s urban fringe for many native plant and animal species. Wildlife known to occur or directly observed include the bobcat, cotton mouse, gopher tortoise, eastern gray squirrel, Florida panther, nine-banded armadillo, raccoon, spotted skunk, Virginia opossum, white-tailed deer, Big Cypress fox squirrel, red cockaded woodpecker and at least six different woodpecker species.  Florida black bear are known to be in the area. 

Manley Fuller and Briana Stiehl



                   Wekiwa Elementary                                         Heathrow Elementary

Introducing the 'Wings of Hope' Bear Brigade!
May 20, 2015

The Wings of Hope Program is proud to announce the creation of our Bear Brigade Environmental Education Program! Like the Panther Posse Program, the Bear Brigade was created, and is directed, by Ricky Pires. This program will target fourth grades in Orlando and will connect with the Panther Posse students here in Collier and Lee County.  The Bear Brigade will begin in the fall of 2015, four target schools will be used to launch this program and the focus will be on the Florida Black Bear. Wings of Hope will be partnering with FWC, Wekiwa Springs State Park and the University of Central Florida.  In the photo above is Biologist Dr. Dan Smith of UCF, who is supplying us with the latest bear research, posing with some of our fourth grade elementary school teachers of Orlando! For more information about the Bear Brigade, click Here.

Briana Stiehl


Saving Pennies for Panthers!
May 12, 2015

As the 2014-2015 school year is nearing its end for both collier and lee county grade school students, our Panther Posse fourth and fifth graders have went above and beyond in raising money and saving their pennies for panthers for the FGCU Wings of Hope Program. These funds are now being used to purchase a new infrared motion camera to capture pictures of our endangered Florida Panther, as well as, other critters that also call Florida habitats home. This includes, Florida Black Bears and more elusive animals such as the Grey Fox and Coyote. We are so thankful to our Panther Posse students for taking initiative and helping the success and perpetuation of our program for future generations. Together we will help save the Florida Panther and its habitat!

Briana Stiehl