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Let's luau

Lani Kai throws hat in the ring to help raise money for the Fourth of July fireworks show

May 18, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Lani Kai - it's not just for tourists anymore.

In an effort to cap off a successful island-wide campaign to raise money for the Fourth of July fireworks show, Fort Myers Beach's party palace hosted a luau for the locals Sunday during a sun-splashed afternoon and balmy night.

And it won't be the last.

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Danielle Pierce, who is the Lani Kai's event and wedding coordinator, leads the hula dancers in a tropical sway during Sunday's luau.

"We'd love to facilitate more of these," said Mike Ensor, the Lani Kai's marketing director, as he arranged donations by local businesses for a silent auction that boasted nearly 100 items totally around $20,000 in value. "These is a huge opportunity for us and it's more evident than ever that this community has come together as a collective. It's a new-found union, a new day. It just goes to show the impact small businesses can make.

"We've needed this for years and we want to be there, front and center."

The silent auction was held in the resort's Deck Bar and featured everything from merchandise and edibles to excursions and lodging specials. Those attending received a fee glass of champagne and the first 100 bidders walked out with a swag bag.

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"This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, silent auction the island has ever seen," said Bud Nocera, president of the Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "It's great how the Lani Kai came with such open arms to the beach community and is doing what it does best - throwing a party."

A party that went on from noon to 10 p.m. Throughout the day, attendees joined hula dancers for free lessons on how to sway to the tropical breezes. By nighttime, tiki torches illuminated the fun.

Jacki Liszak, a local business owner who has spearheaded the fireworks fundraising effort, marveled at how it has all come together. She had already reached $20,000 of her $25,000 goal prior to the event, and now had the luxury of looking ahead.

"Most of this will be able to go toward the New Year's Eve fireworks, which is amazing," said Liszak, who just two months ago raised her hand to volunteer to chase donations when the town considered canceling the shows due to a lack of funding. "The response has really been mind-boggling. That's the only word that does it justice."

And the reaction from the locals was downright giddy. Finally, there was a party for the town and not just those on vacation.

"We deserve a chance for a little fun," said Sharee Streder of Cape Coral. "The locals support the businesses more than people think and it's nice to have an event we can call our own."

Added Christine Rogers, also of Cape Coral, "The locals feel they have to wait every year until season is over - but really, we do want to contribute."

Liszak said most everyone she talked with was tickled by the idea of partying at the Lani Kai.

"They said, 'Wow, I haven't been there for years,' and then they said, 'Count me in, I'll see you on Sunday,'" Liszak said.

Summer Stockton, Fort Myers Beach's vice-mayor, was in attendance.

"I'm glad people are getting to enjoy the Lani Kai - to find out it's not all about debauchery here," she said. "The Conidaris family (the owners) don't get enough credit for what they contribute to the community. For example, when we wanted to start a blood drive, they stepped up first."

Liszak shared in the appreciation.

"I don't think anyone has held an event of this magnitude for the community," she said.



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