5 Young Locals Leading the Charge

These Naples superstars shape the future through hard work balanced with fun times

NI Fresh Face, Dominic Blanco, Photography by Vanessa Rogers
Photography by Vanessa Rogers. Shot on location at Paradise Coast Sports Complex

Dominic Blanco

“I was born with a baseball bat in my hands,” says Naples-born Dominic Blanco, who signed with the Seattle Mariners at 18. After three years in Seattle, he played for two more for the Minnesota Twins. He attributes his professional success to his parents, who left Cuba and landed in Naples just before Blanco’s older brother was born. When Blanco was three, his grandfather made him a batter box with a ball dangling from the ceiling on a string, and he would swing for hours. He made the varsity baseball team as a freshman at Gulf Coast High School and got drafted a week after graduation. “I will never forget that feeling,” he says. “I got that day tattooed on my arm.” The next day, he flew to Arizona for training.

Now, at 25, his professional baseball career is in the rear-view mirror, but not far behind. He’s back in Naples, now at the helm of his own sports agency and a 501(c)(3) charity. Blanco started his own nonprofit foundation in 2019 to inspire kids through art, music, and sports. 

Blanco taps his entrepreneurial side with the same gusto and dedication he put into baseball. Even as a Little Leaguer with Golden Gate National, Blanco paid attention to his team’s skill. He was always at least two or three years younger than his teammates. “Playing with older, stronger, and faster kids made me a better ball player,” he says. “It forced me to compete.” It is also one of the reasons he feels strongly about community service. Throughout his professional years, Blanco called his agent about local charities that worked with youth sports. “It is important to give back,” says Blanco, who sent his own bats and gloves to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and sports camps in Naples. 

Blanco also lived in Los Angeles for three years, where he launched the sports agency and his foundation, and extended his professional network. “I still wanted to be involved in the game,” he says. “Sharing my experiences and connections with other athletes at the start of their professional career was the right move.” 

Home was calling and he came back to the Gulf Coast. “I moved back to gather myself, dig deep, and think of how I want to impact this earth,” he says. Shortly after his return, Blanco recruited Rick and Amy Lademann, strength coaches at Beyond Motion in Naples, who’ve trained some of the world’s top athletes, to host a week-long conditioning camp for professional baseball players at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort. Blanco is also working on putting on his second charity golf tournament and fishing tournament next summer to raise funds for local youth sports. Last fall, his organization donated more than 200 units of school supplies to Avalon Elementary School in Naples.

With a real estate license under his belt, Blanco is also working on his general contractor’s license. “Real estate is my favorite investment; that’s something I’ll do my whole life,” he says. To unwind, he fishes near Cape Romano. He loves that everything in Naples is 20 minutes away.  “I can go from wearing boots and riding a horse in the Estates to driving west and watching the sunset on the beach.” —Yelena Alpert

NI Fresh Face, Jeannette Dera-Seraphin, Photography by Vanessa RogersNI Fresh Face, Jeannette Dera-Seraphin, Photography by Vanessa Rogers 1

Jeannette Dera-Seraphin

Naples native Jeannette Dera-Seraphin points to her third-grade after-school program at Shadowlawn Elementary School as the spark for her interior design career. Sewing pillows and other creations during the class revealed her joy in artistic projects. “From there, I was always seeking things that would allow me to create,” she recalls. “I was always wanting to leave an environment or a space better than the way I found it.”

Despite Dera-Seraphin’s talent, her parents were hesitant about her pursuing her passion in college. Coming from a family of 12 children, she was following a different path from her four older siblings’ more traditional careers—and art school was expensive. Ultimately, her parents gave her a year to try the residential diploma program at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. With that, Dera-Seraphin says, “I had nowhere to go but up.” Her awards and accolades not only convinced her parents and herself that she belonged in art school, but showed her younger siblings that they, too, could follow their dreams.

A subsequent design position in Atlanta opened her eyes to the art and culture of a big city, but the 2008 recession decimated jobs and brought her home to Naples after earning her bachelor’s degree. She now reflects that the move helped her weather the storm and pursue her next steps: teaching design and earning her master’s degree from Miami International University of Art and Design. Through her experiences, Dera-Seraphin connected with students whose parents also questioned their artistic careers. “It was important for me to allow my students to know that if they’re here, and their heart has led them here, to trust that,” she explains. In 2015, an opportunity to teach in Paris for four months at the Paris College of Art further developed her art and career while solidifying her family’s support for her chosen path.

Dera-Seraphin initially had no plans to return to her hometown, but says her heart led her full circle. After meeting her now-husband Melex in Naples in 2017, they’re raising their 3-year-old son near her family while she realizes her dreams of working in design, which she has combined with real estate. Coming back helped her appreciate the town from a new perspective, letting her “see Naples as the gem that it is.” Now, the 39-year-old translates this view into her design work to deliver the retreat and recharge her clients seek. Whether she’s showing a property’s potential or designing a space, she lives for the final walkthrough when clients proclaim, “This is exactly how I envisioned it.”

Outside of work, when she’s not enjoying the beach with her family, Dera-Seraphin gives back to the community through nonprofit work. In one project for the Ronald McDonald House in Fort Myers, she helped create a room where parents could stay while their child was in the hospital. She also mentors young women through her church. In introducing them to career options and inspiring them to pursue their dreams, she hopes to impact their lives just as her third-grade teacher did for her. —Erika Klein

NI Fresh Face, Julie Van Tongeren, Photography by Vanessa Rogers

Julie Van Tongeren

Julie Van Tongeren has dedicated her career to issues ranging from education to accessible green spaces to children’s health. Now, at age 35, she combines those experiences at the Community Foundation of Collier County, where she supports all of the area’s nonprofits—and their missions—at once. When she joined the foundation after moving to Naples in 2019, she wondered if she’d still feel a connection to the issues she’s passionate about. She set those concerns aside quickly after she started at CFCC, explaining, “I feel it even more.” Through collaborating with local organizations, she says, “I’m learning more and more that I’m the type of person that, when there’s a need, I want to fulfill it.”

Van Tongeren’s Jesuit education at Boston College ingrained its mantra, “men and women for others,” which she has kept throughout her career. During a 2008 trip to China to support her sister, who sailed in the Beijing Olympics, Van Tongeren was exposed to the need present in the world through traveling around the countryside. After returning home to Detroit, she began working with a family foundation focused on rebuilding the city. She then worked for a range of organizations and issues until she and her husband, Drew, moved to Naples for his job.

As the Community Foundation’s vice president of development, Van Tongeren regularly engages in her favorite part of philanthropy: “matching the need with the person who’s passionate about it.” She’s noticed that when Naples residents learn about local issues, they often want to get involved. Soon after beginning her position, she helped launch the “Your Passion. Your Collier” campaign, bringing together more than 100 nonprofits to address community needs including mental health, education, and disaster relief. Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation helped fund nonprofits that couldn’t hold normal events and distributed funds to food pantries. “One of the major roles that we play in the community is this kind of philanthropic first responder,” she notes.

Despite the difficulty of building a network in a new town, especially during a pandemic, Van Tongeren is now graduating from the Leadership Collier program and successfully reached her two-year milestone at work. She has found Naples to be a generous and accepting community. Even with the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic—starting, for her, when she and her husband closed on their new home the day everything shut down—she feels blessed to be in Naples. Besides at first feeling like she was on “perpetual vacation,” she has enjoyed exploring the area in their boat and playing tennis, and is considering joining the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club.

Van Tongeren hopes to instill her community and family ideals in their first child, Hollis, born in July. She and her husband recently indulged their love of travel and exploring the outdoors with a babymoon to Montana for hiking and snowshoeing. They’re looking forward to their new adventure, beginning with introducing their son to their 8-year-old shepherd mix, Tilly, and then seeing him grow up and leave his own mark on the world. —Erika Klein

NI Fresh Faces, Danielle Viens-Payne, Photography by Vanessa Rogers 1NI Fresh Faces, Danielle Viens-Payne, Photography by Vanessa Rogers

Danielle Viens-Payne

When she was younger, growing up in different towns along the East Coast and in the Midwest, Danielle Viens-Payne lined up her American Girl dolls for pretend lessons or to play teacher with kids she babysat. Studying education in college at the University of Maryland, everything seemed on track for her to achieve her dream of having her own classroom. Then, an instructor gave her some unexpected advice: Don’t do it. “She said, ‘You are the type of person that wants to catch the kids that fall into the cracks,’” Viens-Payne recalls. “‘You’re not going to be happy.’”

The words were a “wake-up call” for Viens-Payne and left her uncertain about her next steps. Struggling with her career goals her senior year, she chanced upon a nonprofit position—and found her purpose working to motivate and empower Hispanic youth in Baltimore. In 2016, she moved to Florida for the warmth, sunshine, and to be closer to her mom. She quickly got a job at the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, where she’s been ever since.

Now, at age 33, she’s the leadership development coordinator working at the Naples and Immokalee locations. Viens-Payne enjoys creating a community for kids and providing experiences she missed as a child. “I was that kid that would come home alone after school, do my homework, and wait for my mom to come home,” she explains. “I wish I had a Boys & Girls Club when I was growing up.” Many of the kids attend the club from kindergarten through senior year, and some may spend more time at school and at the club than with their families. Viens-Payne says she loves watching them grow and seeing the spark in their eyes as they discover their talents. She expresses pride that all her seniors this year are not only graduating during a pandemic, but have a plan for their future.

Her future goals? “One of my 2021 goals is doing more of what makes my heart happy and brings me joy,” she says. It’s no surprise that this means volunteering. Part of her work already involves serving on the board of the Alliance for Period Supplies of SWFL, which distributes period products to local women. Their efforts meet a need that Viens-Payne has realized is prevalent. With peace of mind from the supplies, she notes, recipients can “go to school or work and know that their biological needs are taken care of.” Next, she hopes to improve animals’ lives through volunteering with the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center or the Humane Society.

When she’s not helping others, Viens-Payne enjoys beach nights with friends, dancing, and meditation. To prepare for her day, she follows a morning routine involving yoga, stretching, and a message of empowerment—and teaches kids she works with to do the same. She believes her success with the kids results from her actions coming from a genuine place. “I’m not just telling them to walk the walk,” she explains. “I’m actually doing it myself.” —Erika Klein

NI Fresh Face, Philip McCabe Jr, Photography by Vanessa Rogers

Philip McCabe Jr.

Most 5-year-olds skip school to watch cartoons, but Philip McCabe Jr., now 25, played kindergarten hooky to shadow Naples’ legendary hotelier and developer Phil McCabe Sr.—also known as Dad. By the time he was in elementary school, young McCabe had a delicious taste of hospitality. As a 10-year-old, he was already behind the scenes at the now-closed McCabe’s Irish Pub on Fifth Avenue. “I was in the kitchen cutting carrots way back when,” he says. “In the heat of the operation, being a little devil, probably.” As a motivated high-schooler, the budding developer worked summers as a concierge at The Inn on 5th in the Club Level. “I genuinely want to make people happy, to give them an experience,” says McCabe, who oft recommends The London Club to clients looking for a cocktail and good jazz. Fast-forward a decade and McCabe is at the helm of The Vine Room, a speakeasy set to open this fall.

For a time, McCabe traded his hospitality skills for tennis—he played competitively at Barron Collier High School and was recruited to play for four years at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he studied economics. “Tennis really helped cultivate a teamwork mentality, something to take with me as I move into my career in hospitality and development,” he says. 

After spending his junior year studying abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland, the hospitality hub of Europe, then graduating college, McCabe moved back to Naples to work on capital investment and operations projects for the family business, Gulf Coast Commercial, two years ago. The Vine Room is one such project. “I really wanted to open up my own speakeasy restaurant,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to travel the world and experience some extraordinary hospitality, from hotels to restaurants to cocktail bars,” he says. “All of those are driving my vision.” McCabe likens this venture to something out of Narnia: once you walk through the ivy-covered door, you’re transported to the roaring ’20s. The speakeasy will also serve an espresso martini called McCabe’s Irish Coffee to honor its beloved namesake.

The hope is to turn the Vine Room into a destination “you have to go to when you’re in Naples”—much like the legendary McCabe’s Irish Pub that drew in locals and tourists alike for 16 years with its Dubliner decor and chicken pot pie.

 When McCabe isn’t catering to clients, he unwinds with live music; he’s even trying to learn the piano. “I am working on one of my favorite piano pieces of all time, Clair de Lune by Debussy,” he says. “It is therapeutic for me to play.” He also ventures out to Artis—Naples, Naples’ Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Gulfshore Playhouse, and the Naples Players, where he once sang a Cabaret solo—lederhosen and all. To entertain his taste buds, McCabe favors Bleu Provence for its orange and Grand Marnier duck confit and Chardonnay from Meursault, poured by friend and sommelier Clément Cariot. For McCabe, Naples wouldn’t be Naples without its sunsets, noting that he would think of the golden sky to ease homesickness while he was away in the rainy, frigid Northeast for school. Today, he runs along the beach daily. “There is nothing quite like it,” he adds. —Yelena Alpert

Story Credits: 

Hair and makeup by Julianne Lofendo of J.A. Styling

Men’s styling courtesy of élevée by Rickey

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