The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce returns to its in-person business luncheon format on Wednesday, Oct. 13, featuring guest speakers Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, and Birgie Miller, executive director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS). The meeting will take place in an outdoor tent at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel Island starting at 11:30 a.m. Face masks are requested.

 

Vector & Ink is sponsoring the luncheon and will be unveiling the cover for the chamber’s 2022 annual visitor guide at the meeting.

 

The “Ding” team will bring chamber members up to date on the expanded education staff and their latest efforts both onsite at the refuge and through community outreach, such as the new WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) mobile classroom experience.

 

“Our education mission is based on our belief that you can’t solve environmental issues without including all people in the conversation,” says Westland, who joined the refuge team in 2002 as a conservation educator and in 2009 was promoted to her current position overseeing visitor services, education, and other facets of refuge operations. “WoW is allowing us to spread that word in places and to an audience that otherwise would never get to experience the refuge.”

 

She has received a number of awards along the way, including a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Director’s Award for her curriculum design and proactive approach to resolving student transportation problems to the refuge. With the help of DDWS and philanthropic contributions, she arranges private busing for thousands of kids each year, a private-public partnership program that will continue once pandemic guidelines allow. In 2008, Westland accepted the Florida chapter of The Wildlife Society’s (FLTWS) 2018 Outstanding Educator Award.

 

Miller will touch on events and activities planned through 2022 as DDWS celebrates its 40th anniversary. She served on the DDWS board of directors for three years before accepting the position as executive director in 2010. A Sanibel Island resident for more than 20 years, Miller brought two decades of nonprofit experience to “Ding” Darling.

 

Raising millions of dollars through donations, fundraisers, and grants, Miller has overseen the acquisition of several parcels of new refuge lands and the implementation of more than a dozen new exhibits, improvement projects, and research studies for the refuge. She launched signature annual fundraisers such as Go Wild for “Ding” and the “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament. Most recently, she and her staff raised capital for and helped the refuge design and institute the WoW project, including hiring and supporting staff and bilingual interns to operate the program.

 

“Ranger Toni and Birgie bring a lot of energy to their mission and to their chamber presentations in the past,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “I’m anticipating a highly charged update on how the islands’ major attraction is raising awareness and ultimately bringing visitors to our business community.”

The chamber business lunch is a monthly networking opportunity held at various member locations. The chamber strives to provide speakers to discuss relevant business topics for the membership. Sanibel-Captiva chamber members will receive meeting invitations by email. Cost for luncheon attendance is $30 for chamber members only. Advanced registration is required to attend; walk-ins are not accepted. Attendance will be limited as per federal guidelines. Register by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, at sanibel-captiva.org or by calling 239-472-8255. Payment is due at time of registration.

 

ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.

 

For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact Landen Drake, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or Landen@sanibel-captiva.org.