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Strides for Education 5K to step off Feb. 2

January 10, 2019
North Fort Myers Neighbor

The community has the opportunity to support the Take Stock in Children program, while getting their 3.1 miles of exercise in during the 8th annual Strides for Education 5K run/walk at Florida SouthWestern State College next month.

The annual 5K will be held Saturday, Feb. 2, with registration beginning at 6:30 a.m. and the race kicking off at 7:30 a.m. There is also a Kids Fun Run, free, after the last 5K runner/walker crosses the finish line.

Registration is $25 for students and teachers and $30 for general participants. The price increases to $35 the day of the race. Online registration is open until Wednesday, Jan. 31, by visiting

The first 1,100 registered participants will receive a long-sleeve dry-fit race shirt, as well as a goody bag.

In addition to the race, there will be face painting and vendors, as well as a bounce house and other activities for children.

The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower said the race is held to support Take Stock in Children, a program that is a win-win for everybody - starting with the student and their family and ending, ultimately, with the community.

"It gives us the opportunity to work with the students that may not otherwise have had an opportunity to get mentors and another positive role model in their life and then go off to college," Bower said, adding that for many of these youths, they are the first in their family to go to college. "It's all about breaking the cycle of poverty and giving students the opportunity to excel through middle and high school."

Every year the foundation reaches out to its contacts at all the middle and high schools, which may be counselors, teachers, or administrators, to get the word out about the Take Stock in Children's scholarship and mentoring program. To qualify, the student has to have a socioeconomic background that puts them in need, as well as other factors that could potentially place them at risk. Qualifying factors range from living with a single parent to a parent being in prison.

Students submits parental financial forms to confirm they meet the economic parameters.

"The students have to apply to come into the program," Bower said. "We want to make sure the kids have skin in the game and really want to be a part of the program."

The applications are reviewed by a selection committee comprised of community and business leaders. The applications are ranked and, based on how much money earmarked that year, a number of students are accepted into the program. On average it ranges from 20 to 50 new students a year.

Students can apply in sixth grade and again in ninth grade. The program kicks off the following year, the beginning of the student's seventh, or 10th grade year.

Accepted students sign a contract with the foundation, as does their guardian. The contract basically states that the student will be crime and drug free, as well as a good citizen while maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA.

"The last and final thing is they meet with a mentor that we assign to them on a regular basis," Bower said. "Mentors range from retired business people to people who are currently in business and want to get involved. People from all different walks of life that want to offer positive advice."

The students meet with their mentor a few times a month at their school during a time that works best for them. Bower said they will not take the student away from their academic time. The mentoring typically happens during lunch, before, or after school, or during some kind of special class.

"They meet for about 45 minutes two or three times a month. They discuss what the child wants to talk about," he said. "It ranges from what should I be studying if I want to be an engineer to I have issues at home, or I have issues with friends."

The mentors are given resources to help the students when giving advice.

"If the student does everything they need to do, by the time they graduate from high school, we provide them with a four-year college tuition scholarship to any college, or university in the State of Florida," he said. "It gives kids motivation."

Once the child is brought into the program, Bower said they purchase a Florida Prepaid Scholarship, which is assigned to the student's name.

"We are matched for every dollar raised locally. The Florida Legislature sets a fund every year based on the size of the school district. That keeps going up every year. We get matched money from the state. That gives us more leeway to purchase more scholarships."

This is why the Strides for Education 5K is such an important fundraiser for the Take Stock in Children program.

"The 5K has been growing every year since we started it. People like to run and like to run for a good reason. We get a lot of supporters from the business community and students that get teams together to raise money," Bower said.

Last year the 5K raised more than $30,000, thanks to the more than 1,300 runners who registered for the race, many of whom were from the school district -teachers, students and even Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins.

"What's really fun for me to watch is the high school kids running this thing, and middle and elementary school students. It's fun being at the end cheering them on. Now they have a sense of accomplishment that they helped others in the community, and running is good for you," Bower said.

He said most of the registration fees goes back to the program, which allows the foundation to purchase scholarships.

The first few years, the race was held at Florida Gulf Coast University.

"We like to do it at one of the two institutions. It showcases the college and university that we have in Southwest Florida," Bower said. "It's going to be an all new route this year (at Florida Southwestern State College). It goes in and around the college."

Florida Southwestern State College, Lee Campus, is at 8099 College Parkway.



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