On Christmas Eve as the Browns faced the Texans in Week 16, Pelican Larry's Raw Bar & Grill for the Naples Browns Backers chapter was filled to capacity. They had a special guest at this event, Browns alumnus Brian Brennan in attendance.
"In the five years that I've been the president I've tried every year to get an alum to come down," Robert Hamilton, president of the Naples chapter, said. "It was the first Browns player we had. And so finally to be able to give – because my members give so much to me and to Avow – to finally give them something to where they could get autographs especially at Christmas time, it was really cool."
It wasn't the only first for the chapter. The Browns officially announced the Naples Chapter as the Browns Backers' annual Chapter of the Year by Browns Backers Worldwide, awarded to a chapter that embodies its passion for Browns fandom in their corner of the world, while also completing influential charitable efforts.
"To be this far from Cleveland and to be honored with this is probably the biggest thing," Hamilton said. "When I was at the (Presidents' Summit) last year, they presented the new trophy and I told everybody at my table, 'I want that trophy.' We just busted our (butts). And I'm big in the community and my leadership team is big in the community."
The award is officially voted by the Presidents Leadership Council, which consists of the top 10 chapter presidents, and an internal vote from the Browns. There were 346 chapters this year a part of Browns Backers, including 12 international chapters.
The Naples chapter was first established in 2011. Hamilton, who has been a part of the Naples chapter since 2015 and became the chapter president in 2017, has seen the chapter grow over his time. When he first became president, they had 130 members. This year, they are up to 286 members.
Hamilton said that they average about 120 people per week for each game. Yet, for the last two regular season games and the playoff game, Hamilton said they had almost 300 people at their events for games.
"A lot of people from Northeast Ohio are moving to Naples and Florida in general. So, it's nice to have a place where we can you know get together and watch our Browns," Hamilton said. "We have friendships that have grown, and I now hang out with these people and call them family. And what we do in the community, which was always my focus and where I took the group, I couldn't be more proud of."
Since Hamilton became president, his focus in the local community of Naples has been centered around kids. Through his childhood experiences and through his adult life, Hamilton had strong bond to helping underprivileged kids, and he used that to build their focus in the community around.
About three years ago, they partnered with Avow Kids, a program designed for children ages 5-17 to provide support and companionship to children who are grieving, processing and healing from all types of loss. Avow Kids is part of Avow Hospice, which is a Florida-based nonprofit healthcare organization that provides hospice care, non-hospice palliative care and grief and loss support.
The Naples chapter held numerous events and fundraisers to raise money and support of the program, such as a trivia night and their annual cornhole tournament. They also buy holiday presents for the children in the program, as well as purchase grocery gift cards for the families so they can have a holiday meal. They've also helped provide the therapy department of Avow Kids with equipment to assist in therapy sessions for the kids.
The members of the chapter are heavily involved in the support of Avow Kids. Hamilton said that they participate in the 50-50 raffles, and many will give a portion of the money as a donation. Around Black Friday and in preparation for the holidays, Hamilton said members will get together and shop for gifts for the kids.
"So, there's a bunch of the older ladies in the group that are that loved to just go to Walmart and all the different stores with us and we buy all the presents," Hamilton said. "And about two weeks later, we have a party at Avow where we wrap everything. And we have people show up, play Christmas music and have little hors d'oeuvres and then wrap all the presents."
As a chapter, they raised nearly $10,000 in the last year for Avow Kids through their fundraisers and events. The Browns also announced that the Cleveland Browns Foundation will award a grant to Avow Kids, on behalf of Naples Browns Backers and their efforts to support Avow Kids.
The Naples chapter will be honored for their efforts in the community and commitment to supporting the Browns fandom in Florida with a party in February to celebrate the achievement. Browns alumnus Hanford Dixon and Chomps will be in attendance to take part in the festivities. Hamilton is excited to share the announcement with his chapter and celebrate their community of Browns fans.
"To have that honor, I mean we I got the call the other day, I was over the moon," Hamilton said. "It was awesome."