The Beach Kids Foundation hosted its annual Scholarship Awards Banquet at the Lani Kai Island Resort on Monday evening, June 17, where it presented a record 26 “beach kids” with $1,000 scholarships to continue their educational pursuits. Lani Kai owner Bob Conidaris donated the banquet for the roughly 75 attendees at the 6th floor Island View Restaurant.
The 2019 Beach Kids Foundation Scholarship recipients are Sarah Bestrom, Cameron Fancher, Bailey Faircloth, Ben Faircloth, Jacob Franklin, Luciano Christian Gilberti, Alexis Gore, Keara E. Haataja, Ben Hourigan, Summer Ray Johnson, Allison Jones; Aidan Kahn, Josey Mayer, Samantha Muller, Bridgette Myers, Andy Paniagua, Mindy Paniagua, Randy Paniagua, Annie Salyers, Jacksen Sudduth, Mason Sudduth, Austin Tezak, Madison Tezak, Jordan Wallace, Sydney Wallace, and William Holt Wallace. Each received a $1,000 scholarship to continue their education at various universities. Founded in May 1985, the Beach Kids Foundation provides financial assistance for qualifying Fort Myers Beach students through scholarships and educational supplies.
In addition to scholarships, the foundation hosts the Spirit of the Holidays to ensure that all Fort Myers Beach kids enjoy a Merry Christmas complete with gifts; presents the Golden Coconut Award to the Beach Elementary School Teacher of the Year; originated the annual community Easter Egg Hunt now run by the Town of Fort Myers Beach Parks & Recreation Department; hosts the annual Spirit of The Holidays Dinner & Auction each December, along with the Spirit of The Holidays Annual Pancake Breakfast in conjunction with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department; and new this year, distributed Easter Baskets to every Beach School student, along with several other activities to benefit the Fort Myers Beach community. For more information, see its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BeachKidsFoundation.
Prior to the students receiving their scholarship certificates, Captain Matt Herterick, Commander of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office West District, addressed the audience. “It is truly an honor to be here with you tonight, to recognize all 26 of you scholarship recipients, as it makes me feel good to be in a roomful of successful young people! I know that education can be hard and that it takes time, but education is also exciting and I can’t speak highly enough about it, as it will set the tone for your future. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this with you, and I wish you all the best of luck, and I thank the Beach Kids Foundation for making all of this happen for you!”
Following Captain Herterick’s remarks, Foundation Board Members presented the scholarship certificates to the recipients. Foundation President Linda Beasley announced, “Tonight we award 26 scholarships, each worth $1,000 so this is the most ever in our long history. All of this is made possible through proceeds from our annual ‘Spirit of The Holidays Dinner & Auction’ that this year will be at the DiamondHead Resort on Friday evening, December 6, so we hope everyone in the community will buy tickets. We would love to have some of you students involved that night!”
Lexi Gore, who attended the banquet with her parents, Henry and Tracey Gore, received her second consecutive Foundation scholarship. The 19-year-old sophomore-to-be attends The University of Central Florida as a dual Criminal Justice & Forensic Science major.
“I am so proud to receive the Beach Kids Foundation scholarship, as this recognition from my own community of my achievements means a lot, and it is great to know my hometown supports me…I hope that one day soon, when I am finished with school and have my own career, I can give back to my community in just the same way as it supports me now. All I can say is, ‘Go Beach!’”
John Albion was one of the founders of the Beach Kids Foundation almost 35 years ago, along with Fran and Tom Myers of the Red Coconut RV Park. He said that the Foundation has “almost no administrative costs other than paying for our annual audit and one or two other things, so out of every dollar we collect, 100% goes back to the kids in our community,” he said. “When I see their happy faces, those are the most rewarding times! I especially recall last year’s Spirit of The Holidays Dinner & Auction when two of the scholarship recipients here tonight showed up unannounced, just to see how they could help us, and pitched right in, so that is fantastic! That type of interaction will benefit them throughout their lives, and that is part of the advantage of being a member of a small town community, where we get to see and appreciate the results of our efforts.”
“Our main fundraiser each year is the Spirit of The Holidays Dinner & Auction,” related Linda Beasley. “In addition to the scholarships, those dollars allow the Foundation to partner with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department to buy presents so every family on the beach will enjoy a Merry Christmas. We load up a fire truck with bicycles and all sorts of presents, along with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and go from home to home of those in need, and when you see the faces of the parents who are crying and the faces of the kids who are so happy, you know everything we do is well worth it! The Fire Department also cosponsors our annual Pancake Breakfast each December, and when the firefighters sing, it is delightful and hilarious!”
Another way the Foundation gives back, Linda explained, “is through the Golden Coconut Award to the Beach Elementary School Teacher of the Year, where the other school teachers vote for the winner. Last year, during that program, we presented the school with a check for $8,000 for its Reading Program. We also provided the teachers with a $1,000 contribution to split amongst themselves, as we all know that every teacher pays for supplies from their own back pocket. It is amazing how many doctors and lawyers and other professionals get their initial motivation from their teachers. Then there are other things, like when someone stole a Beach School student’s bicycle and that was their only way to safely get to and from school, so the administration called us and told us that, and I went right over to Walmart and bought them a new bike!”
The Foundation has been awarding scholarship for over 20 years: “Last year we provided 18 and this year is a new record of 26,” Linda stated. “It seems to go up every year because the need seems to increase every year. All a student needs to do to qualify is to either live on Fort Myers Beach with an immediate family member, or have one of their parents work at an island business. This year, for the first time, the Foundation offered scholarships to attend trade schools, as a traditional college education is not for everyone, but we had no one apply under that category, so we hope that will change next year. The Board decided it was best to make the funds available to all outlets, to better the students’ educations.”
“The Beach Kids Foundation is like my heart!” Linda explained. “My husband and son are both Beach Kids, and as I look around this room tonight, I watched many of these kids grow up, and that means a lot to me! The greatest thing about the Foundation Scholarship program is that as long as they maintain their grades, these students can apply every year they remain in college, as most scholarships only award funds to freshmen, but how do you pay for your 2nd and 3rd and 4th year? But with us, you can receive a scholarship for those years as well. We touch their lives and they warm my heart, and how do you beat that!”