Anyone who’s seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” remembers the scene toward the end of when George Bailey, broke and desperate, thinks’ he’d rather die than go on—until Clarence, his guardian angel, shows him what life in Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been around. Bailey goes around town and sees a different place than the town he’d help build: it’s gaudy, bawdy and soulless, just like the greedy banker Henry Potter who, with Bailey’s non-existence, has a monopoly over Pottersville. George Bailey gets some sense knocked into him, decides he wants to live again, and all is well.
Sometimes a single person—the right person—can make a critical difference. Sometimes an institution can make that difference.
Imagine if the Flagler County Education Foundation hadn’t existed for the past 20 years. Imagine if it hadn’t made life easier for thousands of students through half a million dollars in grants to teachers, through give-aways of innumerable supplies for those who couldn’t afford them, through mentoring programs that shepherded students from middle school to college and on to careers that they may not have been able to grab otherwise. Calculate the effect of scholarships that eased the way for students who might not have been able to afford a college education otherwise.
And think of the multiplier effect. A dollar circulating through the economy might generate another dollar or two in economic activity. But dollars—whatever the amounts—are insignificant compared to what a better-rounded students will achieve as she cycles through opportunities she might otherwise not have had. The Education Foundation has been fostering those opportunities for two decades, and Friday night, at a sold-out dinner jamming the Hammock Dunes Club with 175 people, the foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary by way of thanking its supporters and showcasing some of its signature programs.
Jeffrey McDevitt’s “Today’s Today”[media id=101 width=250 height=200]
“It’s a huge thank you to the community for supporting us over the past 20 years,” Nicole Brose, the foundation’s executive director for the past two and a half years, said. “We’ve been focusing on supporting students and teachers with an array of programs where the school district’s tax dollars don’t cover, without our support.”
The Education Foundation was established in January 1990, and in its early years was headed by the late Dell Trayer, who became a school board member. The foundation’s signature teacher-grant program is named after Trayer.
One after the other Friday evening, eight people who’ve been directly affected by the foundation’s programs spoke to the audience about the foundation’s influence and the sort of immediate differences it’s made in their lives. Hunter Douglas, a University of North Florida student who graduated Flagler Palm Coast High School in 2004, described how the foundation’s Take Stock in Children’s mentoring program stepped in at a critical time in his life, after his parents divorced and his mother was left to raise him and his two sisters on a single income.
Rachelle Barthellemy’s “Come See About Me”[media id=99 width=250 height=200]
“I was actually one of two people accepted into that program that year, which is an amazingly small when you think about the children that are in this year,” Douglas said. “I was given a mentor. He was mentioned earlier as somebody who’s no longer with us, Howard Elliott. I had a history with him actually. He came into my first grade class three times a week and read to us, then I was assigned him as a mentor in 7th grade so I was very, very lucky there, and every time I’d do well, straight A’s, he’d take me out to lunch, take me out fishing. It really meant a lot to me to have that friendship, that somebody to talk to. That was one of the best aspects of the program. I graduated with honors from high school in 2004, and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet. Still wasn’t sure. But Take Stock was there.”
Eventually, Douglas seized on his interests in chemistry and physics and took on a double major. “I graduate next fall with my dual major, and I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be teaching or whether I’ll be working in industry or med school, knock on wood, if that works out for me,” he said. “I still hope to complete everything and be able to be in a position in a couple of years to be sitting here with you all as contributors—as mentors or as guidance counselors. I see Mr. DeAugustino, my actual high school guidance counselor, smiling at me over there. But I hope to be an active part of the community and to contribute as much as I can no matter what I end up doing with myself after my college education is done, so thank you all because you all have been a huge part of what I’ve been able to do.”
The Jersey Boys[media id=102 width=250 height=200]
Others also conveyed the foundation’s influence in their words: Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Sarah Reckenwald, who described the foundation’s student scholarship program that had started through the Kiwanis Club; Wadsworth Elementary’s Jill Sterling, who spoke of the newly launched Dolly Parton Library, which puts one free book a month in the hands of every child from birth through kindergarten; Sherri Donchex, a guidance counselor at Bunnell Elementary, who, besides providing a history of Palm Coast going back to its days when it had one traffic light, described the foundation’s Back 2 School Jam, at which more than 2,000 backpacks were handed out, free, and filled with free school supplies to students at the beginning of the year. Belle Terre Elementary’s Catherine Ryan spoke of the reach of the Dell Trayer Grant Program. There were others.
For all the testimonials and the value of those programs, the evening’s highlights, unquestionably, had little to do with the foundation and everything to do with music.
Nicholas O’Connor’s “Imagine”[media id=100 width=250 height=200]
First, it was FPC senior Jeffrey McDevitt’s new song (“Today’s Today”), written for Friday’s celebration, followed by Amy Fulmer’s Formality Ensemble, also from FPC, whose performers included Boyd Fulmer turning “Fly Me to the Moon” into a flirtatious serenade through the dinner audience (including a perfectly timed “I love you” to school board member Colleen Conklin), pianist Nicholas O’Connor’s version of John Lenon’s “Imagine,” Rachelle Barthellemy’s glittery “Come See About Me,” and a 50s medley by the Jersey Boys—Nicholas O’Connor, Alvante Pearson, McDevitt and Fulmer—that had a few people dancing in the aisles.
There were of course, with the Chamber of Commerce’s Patrick Kelly (a foundation board member and past president) doing the honors and most of the evening’s emceeing, all sorts of recognitions of the community’s usual suspects—the big donors and importantly titled, the elected, the richly retired and plaque-worthy. That part of the evening couldn’t compare with its more soulful precedents, though a cash bar, the evening’s single-most popular destination after the bathrooms, made enduring the more obligatory parts easier for most.
For the record: lavish as it was, the dinner was underwritten by the guests themselves, who paid $50 a pair, by two anonymous donors, and by the Hammock Dunes Club, which cut costs for the celebration.