Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo
Getting families into Sun-n-Fun Lagoon used to be a chore for Tara Bieling, the education coordinator with Friends of Foster Children.
By the time families made a request and funds could be sent to them to purchase a pass to the North Naples water park, the summer would be half over.
"Now, we can just hand them a gift card — boom. It's done," Bieling said.
Friends of Foster Children, which works to improve the lives of the more than 800 Collier County children removed from homes each year, is one of the first groups taking advantage of the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department's new gift card program. The program was rolled out to the public earlier this summer.
The county actually had paper gift certificates available for purchase for a while, but recently decided to go the gift card route, said Shannon Peters, the operational coordinator with the parks department.
"It makes it easier," she said. "We have parents who want to send money with kids when they come for camp or when they drop them off at the water park. This way, the kids don't have to carry around a bunch of change. They can just use the card."
The cards, which can be purchased at all county parks, can be used for everything from admission to the Sun-n-Fun Lagoon and concessions at the parks to paying for summer camp programs and gym memberships at the parks.
Bieling said it has been a lifesaver.
"We get requests all of the time from families of kids in the system," she said. "It gives us a way to help those families do something together."
Any amount of money can be put on the cards, Peters said, which are also refillable.
"It's no different than a credit card, cash or check," she said. "They are easier than the paper gift certificates."
There also is no administrative fee tacked onto the cards, so they are not revenue generators for the parks department.
While waiting to get into the water park on a recent Friday, Anthony Feliciano, 10, said he would appreciate if someone bought him a gift card to Sun-n-Fun Lagoon.
"I could finally get some Dippin' Dots," he said, referring to the ice cream treat for sale in the water park.
Peters said she expects to see most gift card usage at Sun-n-Fun Lagoon, but the parks department will be keeping track of where the gift cards are bought and where they are used.
For more information about the gift card program, contact (239) 252-252-4000 or visit www.collierparks.com.