DAVENPORT – It helps quite a bit, Michael Eckersley admits, to have friends in high places.
That was even more true recently, he added, when he asked a very prominent friend for a favor – and good some great results.
“We were overjoyed,” Eckersley said.
Eckersley runs Sunsplash Vacation Homes, a property management firm in Davenport, and he’s also a founder of and active member with the First Friday Kid’s Support Group. Formed earlier this year, the charitable organization raises money to help children in need, with 100 percent of what the members raise going directly to local kids.
But it’s not always money that’s needed the most, Eckersley noted.
The First Friday members recently met with Wanda Aponte, the principal of Loughman Oaks Elementary School in Northeast Polk County, to introduce her to the group and its mission, Eckersley said.
“When we went to introduce ourselves to the principal as a new organization concerned about children, she told us about a problem she was having,” Eckerlsey.
Like many schools in Central Florida, overcrowding remains an issue at Loughman Oaks, which has relied on portable classrooms to house all the students. That means around lunch time, Eckerlsey noted, the kids have to walk back to the main school building to get to the cafeteria. And as Eckersley noted, the school year started in mid-August, but the rainy season lasted well into October.
That was a combination for a lot of soggy students.
“She had to put all the first grade kids in portables,” Eckersley said. “She had no option but to do it that way. She told us, ‘I’m going to have a terrible problem keeping them dry when it rains, when they go to lunch.’ ”
Eckersley said the First Friday group quickly came up with a solution.
“So we suggested we would help her with ponchos,” he said.
Next step: to get as many ponchos as they could for the students to wear on rainy days. It turned out to be a bit harder than the First Friday gang initially anticipated, Eckersley said.
“We looked at the 99 cent variety, and decided they would not last a day,” he said. “So we decided to approach the theme parks.”
As the manager of a business that operates vacation homes – fully furnished houses rented to tourists on a short term basis – Eckersley had connections at Legoland Florida, the theme park in Winter Haven that is as eager as any other theme park to get visits from Eckersley’s guests. So he contacted Legoland – and found the theme park more than willing to help out.
“Legoland came up with the idea of supplying 300 ponchos to us,” Eckersley said.
The support that Legoland Florida is providing is greatly appreciated, said Marilyn Pullen, a member of First Friday.
This entire program, she said, is run by volunteers who simply want to help the kids.
“We are a fund-raising support organization to help homeless and disadvantaged children,” Pullen said. “As members of the group, we host a dinner party on the first Friday of every month. That money goes directly into our bank account and will help pay for things like presents for the kids at Christmas and a Thanksgiving dinner for them.”
As the group’s Facebook page notes, “The First Friday Kid’s Support Group was formed by a group of local small business owners who want to help underprivileged children in the area to improve their quality of life. We work closely with local school staff who identify those in need of food, clothing, school supplies and other necessities.”
Eckersley said they’re happy to take on new members as well.
“We don’t have a membership fee,” he said.
Currently there are 11 active members, who have reached out to and formed alliances with other local charitable organizations, including Give Kids The World, The Green Bag Project, and East Coast Migrants Head Start Project.
Next month, the group will be providing Thanksgiving dinner to the East Coast Migrants Head Start Project, a program based in Dundee that provides care and assistance for the children of migrant workers while they’re out in the field.
The group hopes to raise even more money when it holds its first annual Charity Golf Tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at the Tom Watson Golf Course at Reunion Resort, which will have an 8 a.m. shotgun start. Call 407-240-4653 to learn more.
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