CJs on the Bay is as much a Marco Island icon as the Jolley Bridge or the historical society, and, as the restaurant’s front of house manager, Mohamed “Moe” Ahmed is often the friendly face that greets customers when they walk in the door, making him a Marco Island icon in his own right. Now Ahmed is learning about all of the island’s other icons through the Leadership Marco program.
Leadership Marco is the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce’s 10-week program that gets Marco Islanders together to learn the inner workings of the island and meet their fellow leaders.
The owner of CJ’s recommended Ahmed for the program, and Ahmed said he’s enjoyed getting to know more about the island.
“Marco Island is a small city, but there's a lot history behind that,” he said, “and the people who live on Marco should know most of this information.”
Originally from Egypt, Ahmed has lived on Marco Island for 12 years.
“My favorite thing about the island is its safety, beaches and people,” he said. He also enjoys the ‘island time’ mindset that encourages total relaxation.
As for his job, his favorite part is making people smile, which isn’t surprising since he himself almost always has a smile on his face.
“I enjoy taking care of our guests and making them happy,” he said. “I also like when they leave with positive feedback.”
Ahmed attended Florida Gulf Coast University and earned a bachelors degree in hospitality and resort management. He and his wife, Nagat Khalil, have been married for 11 years, and together they have four kids: Hassan, 10; Hannah, 8; Hallah, 5; and Hayah, 1.
The Leadership Marco program consists of 10 bi-weekly sessions, and gives its members insight into the following aspects of the island: history/museum; media; education/parks and recreation; hospitality/economics; law enforcement; culture/real estate; health care/fire-rescue; agriculture/environment; and government/transportation/infrastructure.
The group's first session was a "get to know each other" day that involved splitting into teams to undertake an island-wide scavenger hunt. To help his team win, Ahmed grabbed dryer lint, a cookie and a piece of string from his own house. Later the group enjoyed a lunch cruise on the Marco Princess and cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at the home of Allyson Richards, member of Leadership Marco Class of 2016.
The next session was History Day on Aug. 9. The day began with a look at the Calusa exhibit at the Marco Island Historical Museum, and then continued with a historical tour of the island, narrated by local historian Craig Woodward. Tour stops included Captain Horr's house, Old Marco and Snook Inn, where the group stopped for lunch.
A brief overview of the Deltona years, which many consider to be the beginning of modern Marco, wrapped up the day.
Media Day was Leadership Marco Class of 2017's next adventure, and provided an inside look at how journalists in the area do their jobs.
The group's Education Day, which included stops at Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology, Lely High School, Marco Island Academy, Marco Island Charter Middle School and Tommie Barfield Elementary, was supposed to be Wednesday, Sept. 6, but was canceled in preparation of Hurricane Irma.
The following two sessions, one of which was supposed to Law Enforcement Day with the Marco Island Police Department, were also canceled and rescheduled for a later date. It's the first time since the program's inception 15 years ago that a hurricane has impacted the schedule, according to Donna Niemczyk, the Chamber of Commerce’s administrative coordinator.
Leadership Marco's next regularly-scheduled session was its Culture/Real Estate Day on Oct. 18. The leaders visited and heard presentations from the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, Marco Players, the Marco Island Center for the Arts and more.
During Wednesday's session the class got an inside look at both the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department and the island's health care facilities. Its next session is Tuesday, which is the rescheduled education day.
The Class of 2017 will meet through early December before its graduation ceremony on Jan. 27 at the Marco Island Yacht Club.