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A Summer to Remember

Taking the high road toward summer excursions

To no one’s surprise, the summer of 2020 will be one to remember.

We’re giving this season an èXtra dose of love by looking on the sunny side of an unprecedented solstice.

Literally and figuratively, we’re taking the high road in èXtra Chapter 9, covering local getaways and fishing, RV excursions and a look at the best of “glamping.” Even our recipe brings to light campfire cooking and a nostalgic nosh. (Pudgie pies, anyone?)

Learn why two ladies who serve hard-hit Immokalee are Hometown Heroes and why a college instructor yearns to be back in the classroom.

We offer ways to help the local community, too, and present a cultural spotlight that will make you want to sing.

On and off the road, we wish you wellness and travel mercies this season.

Glamping in Style
Fighting a Crisis within a Crisis

No Plane, Much Gain

Florida destinations for your summer vacation fix

by èBella èXtra staff

As we ease into the “new normal,” people are venturing out a little more and judiciously reimagining their summer travel plans. Many of these plans involve locations close to home.

Here, we offer some gas tank-friendly Florida excursions — some iconic and others off the beaten path.

Amelia Island

Located just off the coast of northeast Florida, Amelia Island’s landscape is filled with Spanish moss, quaint architecture and 13 miles of beautiful beaches. From its historic downtown area to the popular Fernandina Beach area, this barrier island has long been a beloved Florida destination.


Devil’s Den Spring

Grab your snorkeling gear and dive back in time at Devil’s Den Spring in Williston, Florida. Swim in the crystal-clear water of a cave full of history, amid fossils that date back to the Pleistocene age. Pitch a tent, bring an RV or rent one of four cabins located on site.

Mount Dora

Known for its small-town, Southern charm, this 100-year-old village is located in the heart of central Florida 

near beautiful Lake Dora. The quaint downtown area features antique shops, outdoor cafes and the Modernism Museum Mount Dora ( Housed in a 1923 fire station, the Mount Dora History Museum ( documents local history and an extensive collection of classic cars on display at the Museum of Speed. 

Also known as the “Bass Capital of the World,” Mount Dora is a great place to go fishing.

St. Augustine

Put the car in park in the nation’s oldest city for a vacation full of culture and fun for the family. Stroll along the 450-year-old cobblestone streets and explore quaint cafes and an array of local shops. Watch a famous reenactment in the historic Colonial Quarter and


discover the oldest schoolhouse in the United States.



Located in Florida’s Big Bend region, Steinhatchee is a charming fishing town, often referred to as “The Best Kept Secret in Florida.” With some of Florida’s first settlements and miles of tranquil country roads and bike trails, it’s a place to enjoy untouched nature.

Combining the ambience of the 19th century with the conveniences of the 21st century, Victorian homes, nestled under Spanish moss-covered towering live oaks, provide a picturesque scene. While a sunset cruise on the river is the most romantic excursion in the area, visitors can also explore the town by bicycle, horse-drawn carriage or pontoon boat.


St. Petersburg

A vibrant city with something for everyone, St. Pete is ranked as a No. 1 arts destination, featuring a collection of famous museums and galleries. Surrounded by 244 miles of shoreline, St. Pete is also a hub for some of the nation’s top-rated beaches.

Brooke Stiles contributed to this report.

Fueled by Empathy
‘I Miss Campus’
Layers of Silver Linings

Fueled by Empathy

As the Collier County Resource Center’s only employee, Marioly Soto continues to work tirelessly to help others

When Marioly Soto moved to the U.S. to support her family in Cuba, she faced a new world alone.

Skills necessary for success in America — driving a car, building a line of credit — were mysteries to her, spoken in a language she had yet to learn.

“There were times I felt lost,” Soto recalls. “But I never gave up. I knew I must be brave and follow my dreams.”

And now, she provides case management to vulnerable adults and children as the Collier County Resource Center (CCRC) program coordinator.

“I knew from the first meeting that she had the gift of empathy and determination, coupled with a strong work ethic,” says CCRC founder Nina Gray.


“When I heard the story about how she came to the U.S. and what trials she endured, I came to understand what she means when she says, ‘I never give up.’” Gray says.

Those struggling to find human assistance call the CCRC. At the other end of the line is Soto, connecting them with services that can help meet their needs, including paying for rent and utilities, employment, child care, diapers and prescription medications. These are omnipresent needs, but they have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

As the center’s only employee, and now working remotely without her team of 15 volunteers, Soto is the sole responder to these calls for help. Still, she’s grateful to continue the work, especially now.

Similar to what Soto faced when she first came to the U.S. five years ago, her callers don’t know where to go or what to do.

“I am diligent about listening to every client carefully,” she says. “Each person has different needs, and everyone is special to me. I search to find the help necessary to improve their quality of life,” she says.

“For me, compassion is a state of constant giving of the self for others.”

How Readers Can Help

‘I Miss Campus’

FGCU instructor mourns being at the mercy of COVID-19

by Glenn Miller

I last strolled across the Florida Gulf Coast University campus on a Friday the 13th.

That was in March.

That was my last time in a classroom, the last time standing in front of students, the last time leading an in-person discussion, enjoying the company of bright young people.

Like every other school in the country, and perhaps the world, the pandemic compelled FGCU to switch to online learning.

It’s not the same. Yes, students adjusted gracefully to remote learning.

But nothing can replace the dynamism of vibrant classroom discussions, the give and take, the aside from the instructor, the knowing nod, the raised hand here, the shake of a head there or the astute questions.

The spring semester was my fifth as a preceptor in FGCU’s journalism program for a class called News Literacy.

I miss campus.

Oh, I don’t mean Parking Garage 1, where I stow my red 2003 Toyota Camry. It’s a lovely garage, as such places go.

I miss strolling along a path from Sugden Hall to the library. The walks take me past two ponds, pine trees and along a fringe of the Library Lawn, where students fling Frisbees, listen to music, study, hold rallies or campaign for student government. I miss the library and lawn. Most of all, I miss the energy and idealism of the students.

My first stop is often the library, where one can still find print periodicals such as The New York Times and Rolling Stone displayed on shelves. Though I rarely see students pick up a print newspaper or magazine, I miss sitting in an upholstered chair and spending a few minutes with an actual print publication.


I miss the newspapers.

I miss campus and the walks.

Most of all, I miss the students and the faculty.

Ten of the students in my recitation were strangers to me in early January. The 11th was my T.A., a bright freshman who was in my recitation last fall. 

Over four months, I got to know the 10 a little and grew fond of them.

They’ve now scattered to their homes and don’t know when they will return to the campus.

Neither do I.

Nobody knows.

All I know is this: I miss campus.


Career journalist Glenn Miller is a part-time Florida Gulf Coast University journalism instructor.

Taking it to the Street

First-time RV renters get tips for avoiding bumps in the road

by Paige Bouma

With states slowly opening and summer just around the corner, people across America are easing back into the world of travel. But the reality is, summer getaways might look a little different this year, and considering many people aren’t ready to fly to their next destination, road trips are making a big comeback.

RVs give you the option to truly have a home on wheels, and they’re ideal for social distancing. Don’t have an RV, but still want to take a trip this summer? Renting an RV could be the perfect option for you.

Check out some of these tips for renting an RV for the first time.

Select the RV Type

There are so many types of RVs out there, it can be hard to choose which is best for you. But let’s start with the basics.

You’ll need to ask yourself if you’d like to tow or drive the unit you want to rent.

• Travel trailers are towable RVs that you can hitch to the back of your vehicle.

• Class A, B and C units are drivable and don’t require towing.

You’ll also want to consider the group you’re traveling with. RVs come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to make sure you have enough room to accommodate everyone.

Compare Pricing

Once you’ve decided on the type of RV you want to rent, it’s time to select your perfect rental. Price is a big factor to anyone looking to rent, and you’ll want to compare RV pricing and find one within your price range.

Book Early

Road trips will most certainly be on the rise this summer, so you’ll want to book your RV rental in advance to make sure you are locked in for your trip.

Find the Perfect Destination 

Now for the really fun part: Selecting your destination. Your rental can take you just about anywhere, and you won’t have to worry about hotels along the way.

National parks and state parks are some of the most popular attractions for RVers and they typically have campgrounds nearby. But you’ll want to keep in mind that some parks have size restrictions on RVs. Be sure to check the park’s website.

Plan Your Route

A GPS can usually get you to where you want to go,


but RVing is all about enjoying the ride. Most of the time, a GPS will give you the fastest route to your destination, but what if you want to take the scenic route or make pit stops along the way?

Planning your route before you hit the road is recommended, and Roadtrippers is a great app to help you do just that. Roadtrippers can help you find amazing places along your route that you never knew existed.

Book Your Campsites in Advance

Campsites tend to fill up quickly in the summer and even more so if you’re going to a popular destination. You’ll want to reserve your site well in advance so you don’t have to worry about searching where to park your RV for the night.

RVs Are Much Different Than Cars

RVs are much larger than the average car and you need to take your time out on the road. Practice parking, and take a quick test drive with the owner before you head out, so you can hear their tips, tricks and safe practices.

Make a Packing Checklist 

Packing an RV is a little different than the average trip. You need to think about all the essentials you’ll need out on the road. Check to see what your owner offers and then plan your packing checklist accordingly. It’s also a great idea to stock up on food and snacks. Many RVs have full or partial kitchens that you can take advantage of to save money out on the road.

Don’t be intimidated by renting an RV for the first time. It’s a lot easier than you might think. Traveling in an RV is an incredible way to see the country while social distancing. It’s also a good litmus test to see if you’d actually like to buy an RV of your own in the future.

Happy traveling!

Paige Bouma is the vice president of RVTrader (, an online classifieds site for buying and selling recreational vehicles. 

A Virtual Choir

Gulfshore Opera creates a three-part project to connect the Harmony Choir from afar

The Harmony Choir, Gulfshore Opera’s free youth development program that instills confidence and cooperation through choral art, is keeping students singing with its new Virtual Performance Program. The three-part project contains videos for singers to follow along, creating a virtual practice for a choir performance.



Part 1

The project begins with vocal warmup videos led by one of three of the choir’s trained vocal instructors.

Then, singers read the provided sheet music and lyrics of “Lean on Me,” by Bill Withers.

 The third step is to determine suitable vocal range. To help singers choose, teachers demonstrate each part via video.

To complete Part 1, musicians sing along to a provided practice track.


Part 2

Part 2 repeats the guided warmup process and is finished with a rehearsal video guided by the choir’s conductor so that students can rehearse the final product.


Part 3

Follow the link to learn more about Part 3 — the final performance.

Women Tackle Saltwater Fishing

Learn the how-tos of local fishing, from lures to fish fighting, with area experts

If you’ve wanted to learn to fish, but you’re not sure where to start, “Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing!” is a great introduction.

The rescheduled seminar is set for Saturday and Sunday, June 27-28, at Bass Pro Shops in Gulf Coast Town Center, Fort Myers. Hosted by the nonprofit Ladies Let’s Go Fishing Foundation, the Saturday event offers classroom instruction from local experts and hands-on fishing activities from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Sunday, attendees can partake in an additional guided fishing charter.

For registration and more information visit


F LLGF FTM Class shot1.jpg

Campfire Pudgie Pies

A nostalgic campfire treat

by Sharon Hood

When my friend, Diane, first introduced me to pudgie pies, I was intrigued. Who knew you could make a fabulous hot ham and cheese sandwich over a campfire? When we got to the dessert pies, I knew this was a decadent treat I never should have learned about.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pudgie pies are grilled sandwiches made in a long-handled, double-sided cast iron tool (kind of like a waffle iron on a stick), held over a campfire. And if you’re camping, a couple pie irons are well worth the investment. Create your own concoctions — the only limitation is your imagination.

Here are a couple recipes to get you started:

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Sandwich



2 slices soft bread


Cheddar cheese slices

Sausage links or patty



Butter one side of both slices of bread. Place one slice of bread, buttered side down, in one half of the pie iron. Press the bread down to make a pocket.

Beat egg in small bowl. Pour egg into the bread pocket. Place a slice of cheese over the egg, then add sausage over the cheese. Top with second slice of bread, buttered side up. Close and latch the pie iron.

Cook until the egg sets and cheese melts, turning frequently.

Tip: Turning the pie iron and frequent peeks inside it are keys to perfect pudgie pies.

Dessert Pie



2 Slices Soft Bread

3 Tbsp pie filling of your choice



Butter one side of bread. Place one slice of bread, buttered side down, in one half of the pie iron. Press the bread down to make a pocket.

Spoon pie filling into the bread pocket. Top with second slice of bread, buttered side up.

Close and latch the pie iron and cook over hot campfire, turning frequently, until pie is hot and golden brown, about four minutes depending on how hot the campfire is.


Relax by the fire and enjoy!

No Plane, Much Gain
Taking it to the Street
A Virtual Choir
Women Tackle Saltwater Fishing
Campfire Pudgie Pies

Fighting a Crisis within a Crisis

Nonprofits work to protect citizens in Immokalee who are being hit particularly hard by COVID-19

As the world watched reports about COVID-19, it became clear that no one is safe from the virus and its disastrous economic offshoots.

Pandemics don’t discriminate, but certain populations are more vulnerable to their effects, such as Collier County’s rural farmworkers in Immokalee, where COVID-19 is rapidly spreading. 

“We’re about to approach the benchmark where 50% of positive cases in Collier are all in Immokalee,” says Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center, which provides early education and other resources to Immokalee families.

In Immokalee, quarantine challenges are persistent, she explains. Because of housing situations — multiple families living in one unit … a home with one bedroom for multiple family members — isolating after contracting the disease is virtually impossible.

And these workers in the community simply can’t afford to miss work.

“There wasn’t testing for many months, so asymptomatic people were still going to work,” Montecalvo says. So were sick people who needed to put food on the table.

“It’s the challenges of being an impoverished community. Many are fortunate that we can work from home and be paid. When you’re in the service industry, and hotels and restaurants are closed, you can’t work from home. You can’t be paid. What does that do to the families?”

Nonprofits in Immokalee, including the Guadalupe Center, and heroes like Montecalvo who run them, strive to meet growing needs, providing food and funds to


Dawn Montecalvo

contain an economic crisis that has become an epidemic of its own.

It was when Collier County schools and Guadalupe Center were forced to close that Montecalvo led an initiative to get parents the resources they needed — internet access, laptops and lesson plans — arming them with the tools necessary to be their children’s primary teachers, guided by the teachers themselves.

“Our teachers have done an incredible job working with parents, providing them resources so the kids can continue learning at home,” she says. “My philosophy is, we need to help provide as much support to our families as possible so that they can focus on school. If they’re worried about rent or food, we can help meet that need,” Montecalvo stresses.

“Our families know we’re here for them. We’re using our time and talent to connect them to the right resources.”

Layers of Silver Linings

How staying at home can lead to creative discoveries

From starting an at-home exercise routine to breaking out the old Singer sewing machine, we’re seeing silver linings everywhere as folks become increasingly creative at home.

èBella Creative Design Manager Kerry Fischel has found layers of silver linings, including dusting off his exercise equipment and giving it a twice-daily workout.


He’s also happy with his new coworker: his wife, Vanessa. The two had always wanted to work from home together and relish the opportunity.

KF Silver Lining IMG_2075 (002).jpg

Video chats inspired Fischel to host a different kind of family event. Rather than sending a text or posting on Facebook, he used Zoom to stage a 40th birthday party for his brother in New York.


Heartwarming Handiwork

Naples resident Mary Cooper threads a different take on creativity.

“As we headed into the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought this would give me many hours at home to work on all the necklaces I regularly sell for my home-based business. But when our granddaughter was accepted to the University of Miami, I dragged out my sewing machine to make her a mask with University of Miami fabric I found locally. This led to creating five U of M scrunchies and about 25 other masks for family and friends, some elderly, who didn’t have masks.” 

Printed fabric allowed her to customize masks with other logos and photos, too.

Now that the sewing machine is undergoing well-deserved maintenance, Mary has returned to her beading.

For now. 

How Readers Can Help

Organizations need community support to help those at risk — near and far

Though the COVID pandemic has paused many aspects of life, certain things persist — like cancer, poverty and mental illness. Locally, nonprofit organizations are still fighting to support people facing these crises within a global crisis. Here are some ways you can support them.

Cancer Alliance of Naples (CAN) has seen an increased need for rental and utility assistance due to family members losing jobs because of the pandemic. The community can support CAN by donating food cards in increments of $50 and gas cards in increments of $25. Or, register CAN as your charity of choice with Amazon Smile, so that when you shop, a portion of your purchase goes to CAN. You can also donate by shopping CAN’s Amazon’s wish list, which can be found here

NAMI Collier (National Alliance on Mental Illness) needs donations of food for its pantry, including canned goods (vegetables, beans, tuna, chicken), Chef Boyardee, one-pound bags of white rice, granola bars, shelf-stable milk, pasta and pasta sauce. New household supplies, furniture and décor, as well as partnerships with decorators, interior designers and furniture outlets are needed when NAMI is able to find housing for homeless members. To learn more, visit


Hope for Haiti is accepting donations for its online auction and encourages people to follow the organization on to help spread the message. The organization also seeks medical professionals to conduct one-on-one or small group training sessions with its Haitian health care team. Medical professionals, working specifically on COVID-19, are also invited to join Hope for Haiti’s weekly health care call as guest speakers. Visit the link to learn more:

Glamping in Style

Luxe camping vacations for the adventurous at heart

by Connie Moody

“Glamping,” or camping in style with a luxury tent or camper, is the best combination of comfort and the outdoors, and it appeals to pretty much everyone.

The luxury tent might be on a river bank, in a tropical forest or off-grid in the middle of the bush, but they all have three things in common: the best in lodging, fine cuisine and wine, and a destination that is appealing to all outdoor enthusiasts.



On the other side of the San Juan mountains from my favorite summer destination, Creede, Colorado, you will find the old railhead town of Dolores, and the Dunton River Camp, a frontier-style base designed for exploring the wilds. 

Eight luxurious tents located beside the river or in the mountains are complete with stoves, king-size beds, marble sinks and six-foot soaker tubs.

Elsewhere in the meadow, there’s a spa tent, riverside sauna and the farmhouse: a cozy cabin-like building from the early 1800s. After a day of exploring the mountains or fly-fishing on the Dolores River, relax on one of the comfy sofas or antique rocking chairs, sipping a well-made cocktail or a glass of fine California wine. 

Other options for touring are Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, deep in the Navajo reservation and the sculpted wilderness of the Valley of the Gods. 

To enhance the luxurious experience, the resort is all-inclusive with meals, premium wines and spirits and a half-day guided group activity daily. The entire resort can be reserved for a maximum of 16 guests, making it an ideal destination for corporate retreats, family reunions and weddings.

Costa Rica

The Nayara Tented Camp in the Arenal Volcano National Park provides Naples residents a natural travel journey in an eco-friendly environment.

The recently opened camp features 18 luxury tents, 12 that are linked together to form two-bedroom

accommodations, ideal for families. The air-conditioned tents are set high on a hill with spectacular views of the Arenal volcano, with outdoor showers, wooden floors, a canopied, four-poster bed, and a spacious bathroom with an oversized tub. 

Activities include whitewater rafting, canopy tours, hiking the volcano or strolling through the rain forest on hanging bridges. Visit the hillside Sloth Sanctuary, also home to tropical birds, reptiles and amphibians.


&BEYOND Bateleur Camp is scheduled to reopen Aug. 1. Situated in the Kichwa Tembo private concession, it borders the Masai Mara National Reserve.

With abundant wildlife — elephant, giraffe, buffalo, lion, hippo and cheetah, alongside the migratory wildebeest and zebra — the reserve is a paradise for photographers and naturalists. Leopards are frequently encountered, and you may have a chance sighting of the endangered black rhino. 

The Kichwa Tembo private concession lies directly in the path of Africa’s spectacular Great Migration. The camp attempts to recreate the great tented safari ambiance of the 1920s and ’30s and consists of two camps with nine tents each.

Each tented community has its own deep, refreshing pool. Delicious meals are served in memorable settings under the stars. Butlers serve each tent, and romantic sundowners on the edge of the Great Rift Valley offer the ultimate African experience. Each tented suite has an en suite bathroom with copper tub, and its own deck overlooking the vast game-filled plains of the Masai Mara. 

Public rooms are filled with fine antiques, leather chesterfield sofas, books and crystals transporting guests back to the heyday of classical safaris. Because the camp is in a private concession, guests can enjoy bush walks and night drives.

Included in the price are twice-daily game drives, Masai dance, Masai talks, and an Africa Foundation community program visit. Bush functions include breakfast, dinner and sundowners. Hot air ballooning and a visit to a Masai Boma and Healing Earth wellness treatments are available for an additional cost. And just so you are not totally out of touch, WiFi is available in all tents and guest areas.

Try glamping at one of these luxury camps or one of several others located in the U.S., Europe, Central America and Africa for a truly memorable getaway.


Connie Moody is a cruise specialist with Preferred Travel of Naples. She has hosted more than 80 cruises to 102 different countries.


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