Beach Elementary has been working directly with Beach Kids, affecting, on average, 120 children each gift-giving season. The students of interested families provide their desired gifts on a wish list; frequently, the requests made by some students are not extravagant. “There are toys on the lists, but some of the kids lists socks and sheets first. We get that for them, but we get toys too. Too often, that’s what they want, socks, a jacket. Kids ask for shoes,” Fran Myers, Chairman of the Board for the Beach Kids said.
The Foundation takes initiative year round for the local youth, in part by awarding anywhere from ten to twenty scholarships annually. The funds for these scholarships come heavily from the annual auction held in December to help with the Spirit drive. With such a surge of support around the holidays, often the money raised at the auction is enough to finish the Spirit shopping, and to put towards scholarships and other Foundation programs.
In 2014, their silent and live auctions raised $17,000 for their cause. Due to “more than compassionate support” from the residents by purchasing gifts off the wish lists, the money raised in such sumd is able to be divided out for various Foundation benefits. “I can’t tell you how much the island comes together. It’s like, whatever we seem to need, the town buys. We put up some trees with tags that have the wishes of an anonymous participant on them, and people pick them up and they’ll go above and beyond to help,” Myers said. The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District also gets involved, delivering the gifts for the foundation, in full holiday costume, extending the delight for children across the island.
As part of their effort to promote an educational foundation strong enough to sustain through adulthood, the Foundation is working with Beach Elementary to get all kids reading on grade level, an area of difficulty for many students. The goal is to ultimately provide every student with their own Chromebook within the next five years. The Chromebook provides instructional educational programs to progress students from behind to on level, and from on level to higher. “It’s not just about Christmas, it’s about every day, affording these kids opportunity. By having a better grip on language skills, reading, analysis, and other school topics, they have more confidence that’ll last their lifetime, that’s a real life skill,” explained Judy Haataja, the Foundation member heading up the Chromebook initiative. As of now, there are enough Chromebooks for the entire second grade class at Beach Elementary. “We’re working with the school to determine what’s best for our students here on the beach. It’s probably the Chromebooks, as we’ve seen greatly significant results in the students using the books just one year. Our goal was to get every kid graduating on their reading grade level, and we realized too many weren’t. It’s a great school, and a great staff. Until every student can have a Chromebook, they still need every opportunity they can get. Some of these children are truly smart, but they may not have the same opportunity or support as others. That’s the biggest impact. We can increase ability.” While Haataja does not feel that there’s necessarily a lack of support at home for some students, it does seem that not all of them have the resources needed for true learning at such a young age.
The Foundation is also responsible for gathering new or gently worn clothes for the students in need at Beach Elementary. “The school knows. They know if a kid needs a jacket or a backpack or supplies or pants, they call us,” says Myers. “It’s just good to know that any child on the island who may need something, regardless of how big or little, we can help, or we can at least try to help.”
For the first year, the Foundation has partnered with Sunset Beach Tropical Grill and Playmore Tiki Bar for their annual Spirit of the Holidays Dinner Auction. The event will be held on Tuesday, December 8th. The dinner and silent auction will take place from 6- 7:00 p.m., following the 5 o’clock cocktail hour. The live auction will begin at 7:15 p.m. Auction items this year feature a guitar signed by the music group Alabama; a shirt signed by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp (former defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then for the Oakland Raiders); and a jacket, hat, and football signed by Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. There will also be a raffle held for a YOLO brand stand up paddle board. Raffle tickets can be purchased for $10, as well as tickets for the dinner and auction priced at $35, at Red Coconut RV Park, and Century 21 Tri-Power Realty, both located on Estero Boulevard. The raffle winner will be drawn at the auction. The annual pancake breakfast will be held on Saturday, December 12th, from 7-11 a.m. at the Red Coconut RV Park Clubhouse, located at 3001 Estero Blvd. The Spirit Wrapping Party will be Sunday, December 20th ,starting at 3 p.m. Donated items for the auction can be accepted and picked up. For more information on events, or how to get involved, visit beachkidsfoundation.org, or call (239) 463-7200.