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Strides for Education 5K to be held in February

Participants can register for in-person or virtual race

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Dec 30, 2020

Those wanting to support the Foundation for Lee County Public School’s Take Stock in Children’s program have the opportunity to do so this February either in person, or virtually through the 10th annual Take Stock in Children Strides for Education 5K Run/Walk.

The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower said since the first 5K was held at Florida Gulf Coast University 10 years ago it has become one of the area’s largest 5K fundraisers, which is helping kids succeed in life.

All of the proceeds from the race will go directly to purchasing scholarships for the Take Stock in Children program. Last year officials were able to purchase $30,000 in scholarships through the Florida prepaid program, which holds them until the scholarships are assigned to students once they enter the program.

This year the event will be held Saturday, Feb. 6, at Florida SouthWestern State College, 8099 College Parkway. The start time is 7:30 a.m. with 6-foot intervals where participants line up. As individuals cross the start line, the next set of runners will begin. Registration, which ends Feb. 5, at 11:59 p.m., for both the in-person and virtual 5K, is $30 and can be done at  https://bit.ly/363Zw55.

“We will practice all the rules of the CDC has in place. We don’t want to expose anyone unnecessarily,” Bower said, adding that besides the COVID-19 guidelines, the race will be like all the previous ones with “teachers, students and families out there helping to raise funds to purchase scholarships.”

As far as the virtual 5K, he said it can be done wherever the participant wants to run.

The in-person race will be held outside with masks and social distancing being practiced. He said they will not have registration the morning of the race to discourage large gatherings and the pre-race packet pick-up will be held at the foundation office, 2266 Second St., in Fort Myers, on Feb. 2, 4 and 5 from 12-6 p.m.

Bower said they wanted to hold the packet pick-up at their office to make sure masks and social distancing takes place.

He said the good news is since the foundation put word out about holding the Strides for Education 5K, there is a lot of excitement. Bower said the fact that people understand that they are helping out the greatest asset in the community — students — makes the race that much more exciting.

“A lot of people are excited about doing it face-to-face,” he said.

Bower said it is important that participants choose what they feel most comfortable with, in-person, or virtual. He said down the road when the pandemic is behind us, the kids’ future will continue to be promising and rewarding as they break the cycle of poverty to go to college, or a technical school through the Take Stock in Children program.

The program is one that is very near and dear to Bower’s heart because it offers opportunity for students that might not otherwise have a chance to go on to college to fulfill their dreams. He said it also allows the student to come back as strong members of the community.

“I actually got involved with this foundation years ago through the Take Stock in Children program,” Bower said after searching for a program that helps students make better decisions. “It brings in all factors of the community — the families, teachers, students and mentors working together for one goal, for the students to succeed.”

Young adults are invited to apply in either their 6th, or 9th grade year to be considered for the Take Stock in Children program. When accepted, they sign an agreement with the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools to be crime and drug free, as well as good citizens who get good grades.

Bower said the important component of the program is they are assigned to a mentor, a positive role model, who guides them to make positive decisions. He said if the student accomplished all of these things, they are awarded a four-year scholarship that pays for their tuition upon graduation of high school. The scholarship is for any college in Florida.

“It opens up all kinds of opportunities for them,” Bower said.

There are currently around 180 students in the Take Stock in Children program. Last year the foundation was able to bring in 50 new participants, which they hope will increase every year.

Since the program’s inception, almost 900 students have been given the opportunity to continue their post education after they graduate from high school.

“A large part of it is due to the outpouring of the business community and that the community understands the importance of education,” Bower said.

Although COVID-19 has changed the way things are done, the foundation has “pivoted” how it operates by offering everything virtually.

“What it has done here at the foundation is it just deepens that respect we have for our educators,” Bower said of the affects of COVID-19. “If you think about it, they really had to turn their lives upside down to continue their mission for teaching students through distance, face-to-face, both models or 100 percent virtually. We had to pivot with our mentoring programs. We are doing all of that virtually. We are setting up computer time with our mentors and students.”

Through it all he said he has been “awe struck” by how the community has stood behind education for students and teachers.

A perk of doing things virtually is the foundation has experienced more support from the community. For example, the State of our Schools Breakfast, which was held virtually live, attracted more than 5,000 people who tuned in to watch, which is more than the 400 who typically attend the event.

Just like many other nonprofit organizations, the foundation has also had to tighten its belt during the pandemic, although it was already frugal in spending.

“You have to be very wary of being able to go forward with your mission in an impactful way with less funds,” Bower said.

With that said, the Strides for Education 5K is very important as it raises a significant amount of money to purchase scholarships, as well as shining a light on all the aspects of the Take Stock in Children program.