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Although "Cheers" may officially be the place where everybody knows your name, the same can be said of Marco Island. It’s one of the things Samantha “Sam” Kopren likes best about the island, and one of the reasons why the Naples native is eager to learn more about the tight knit community in which she now works.

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“I’ve lived just over the bridge my entire life, but working on the island is very new to me,” she said. “Naples is a bit bigger than Marco, and the sense of community and feeling that ‘everyone knows everyone’ isn't quite as strong there, so that’s one of the things I like most about the island.”

Kopren graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2016, earning a bachelor’s degree in human communication with a minor in mass communication, and returned to Naples where her parents and other close relatives live. She soon got a job as the store manager of United Church of Marco Island’s Bargain Basket.

“It’s my job to manage the volunteers, maintain the trust and satisfaction of our customers, keep the store up to date with current technology, and ensure that we continuously fulfill our mission to benefit charitable organizations in our community,” she said.

Bargain Basket is the island’s only thrift store, and is one of United Church of Marco Island’s many mission programs; it’s been assisting families in need for almost four decades by donating some of its proceeds to charitable organization, including: Grace Place for Children and Families; Meals of Hope; Marco Island Academy; Marketplace Mission Learning Center; Liberty Youth Ranch; the Shelter for Abused Women and Children; the Greater Marco Family YMCA; and Our Daily Bread Food Pantry.

In fact, Kopren recently helped organize a “Christmas in July” promotion for the store in which shoppers brought in canned goods for Our Daily Bread and received a $3 gift certificate in exchange. 

“During the summer, we slow down, donations as well as customers,” Kopren said in a previous interview, but families need to eat year round, and summers can be particularly difficult for families that take advantage of the free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch options offered at schools.

Helping families is just one of the many things Kopren loves about her job.

“I love catching up with our regular customers, I love seeing how many missions we are able to support through the donations that we receive, and I love getting to work with so many talented volunteers,” she said.

As it just so happens, it was a volunteer who first suggested that Kopren join Leadership Marco, 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.

“Jean O'Neil, one of my amazing volunteers suggested Leadership Marco to me while we were attending an After Five social together with the Chamber of Commerce,” she said. “Pastor Mark Williams, head minister of the United Church of Marco Island, is a Leadership Marco 2016 alumni. Both Jean and Mark raved about the program and thought it would be a great opportunity for me to connect with the community.”

It's also a great chance to connect with the program’s other participants, she said.

“I'm most looking forward to connecting with my fellow Leadership Marco classmates,” she said. “It's also a great opportunity to network with those you may not ever get the chance to otherwise.”

More than anything, though, she's looking forward to learning more about the island.

“I think, especially for those like me who are new to working on the island, there is so much to learn about the area and its people,” she said.

The 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.

Leadership Marco Class of 2017 will meet every other Wednesday through November before its graduation ceremony on Jan. 27. 

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