Joanne Wyss co-founded First Book-Collier County in 2005 and has served as its chair ever since. She saw the need when she and her husband, Karl, were tutoring pre-K children at Manatee Elementary School. They quickly discovered that most of the children had no books at all at home to help them develop their all-important reading skills.
— Florida Weekly – November 14, 2013
They bought some books as gifts for the children in their classroom but they knew there were thousands more Collier County children in this same situation. To help fill this gap, Joanne and a small group of women launched the Collier County chapter of the award-winning national First Book nonprofit. They have a single mission: to provide books to children in need, addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy — access to books.
Over the past eight years, First Book-Collier County has become the leading chapter of First Book nationwide, distributing more than 380,000 books to children living in poverty in Collier County. More than 7,000 local children in pre-K through third grade now receive a book a month from First Book-Collier County. Book distribution is through Head Start and Title I school classrooms and through programs serving children such as the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, The Shelter for Abused Women & Children, Friends of Foster Children and Boys and Girls Club of Collier County.
Every book is brand new, targeted to the child’s classroom work, and has the child’s name written inside the front cover. The children take the books home to keep — to read and re-read and share with their families.
Teachers note a big increase in the children’s reading skills and their enthusiasm for reading. Parents express heartfelt gratitude to First Book and report that family reading time has become a cherished nightly tradition. Habitat for Humanity families now need bookcases to house growing libraries.
Joanne says seeing the impact of First Book has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
She and her younger brother grew up in Long Beach, New York, in a close-knit family living just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. “Now I’m so lucky to live near the Gulf of Mexico in the winter and the Lake of Zurich in the summer, with my Swiss husband of 37 years,” she says.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in English and a minor in art history, she moved to New York and went to work as a picture editor at American Heritage Publishing Company. Next she joined Chanticleer Press, a publisher of award-winning illustrated books. Her favorite assignment: “Yellowstone: A Century of the Wilderness Idea,” a celebration of the national park’s 100th birthday.
Wanting to have more impact on real-life situations and decisions, she joined the international management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company, starting as an editor in the communications group and rising to become director of communications. After her 25th anniversary at McKinsey, she formed her own firm, Communicating for Results, which was committed to helping senior corporate executives and nonprofit leaders create powerful, results-oriented communications to achieve their goals. After she and Karl bought a home in Naples in the early ’90s, Joanne wondered whether the communications, strategy and leadership skills she had developed could be of use to nonprofits on the Paradise Coast. She was happy to discover that the answer was “yes.”
For her many contributions to the community, Joanne was named a Woman of Initiative by the Community Foundation of Collier County and received Greater Naples Leadership’s highest honor, the Parke Wright III Distinguished Leadership Award.
Talking Points with Joanne Wyss
Mentors: I have learned the most from my parents, who imparted timeless values, and from my husband, who inspired me never to give up on a goal I wanted to achieve.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? A psychologist or a journalist. In my work in communications strategy, I actually found a way to combine the two.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? If I had more talent, I would have made a life in music. I’ve played classical and jazz piano my whole life. I would have loved to be a singer — that is, if I could carry a tune.
Guilty pleasure: Coffee ice cream.
One thing on your bucket list: I love traveling and have visited more than 60 countries with my husband. I’m especially interested in Asia. Still on the list: Indochina, Mongoliaand the “Stans” (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.).
Something that’s been on your mind: I’m deeply disturbed about our dysfunctional political system in the U.S.
Something you’ll never understand: Cruelty.
Something people would be surprised to find out about you: I have two tattoos — small and tasteful, of course.
Favorite thing about the Paradise Coast: The beauty of the surroundings.
PROFILES IN PARADISE
Bob Harden is the producer and host of “The Bob Harden Show,” airing from 7- 8 a. m. weekdays at www.bobharden.com.