Inspiring Okeechobee: Community support of graduating seniors is inspirational

OKEECHOBEE — I know it’s only March, but this month brings about a flurry of activity for our kids who on May 26, will no longer be considered kids. The class of 2017 will walk across the stage at the Agri-Civic Center and life as a child will be no more. They are excited, anxious, scared and likely have a host of other emotions, as the world of “adulting” hits them head on!

We parents, loved ones and friends who have walked that same path know the trepidation of this crossroad. As I was talking with the parent of a senior this week, I thought about the wonderful things our community does to send our kids off into this great world of ours.

It inspires me that year after year people step forward and make higher education possible, support vocational education, and support kids who choose to go into the military.

The Okeechobee Education Foundation along with many generous community donors ensure that there are numerous local scholarships available to our graduating seniors. This week, seniors were busily preparing their scholarship packets. If you have ever had the pleasure of helping with this task, can I just say, “Overwhelming”?

However, this process separates the “men from the boys,” the “women from the girls,” because it is WORK. It should be work though. Students must obtain letters of reference, obtain information about their grades, community service hours, write a résumé, write a story about themselves and tell why they deserve scholarships, along with specific scholarship requirements, like individualized essays. For a community to make available nearly $1 million dollars to high school seniors, is incredible, especially from a community the size of Okeechobee.

On Wednesday of this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a dedicated group of individuals who work together to ensure that our graduating class has a safe “after graduation party” and for nearly 30 years, our community has hosted this party. While the faces around the table have changed over the years, there is still this commitment to continue this tradition. This year the party will be hosted by the Rotary Club and Our Village Okeechobee.

In Okeechobee, since the inception of this all-night graduation party, there has never been the loss of life of a graduating senior on graduation night! This is something that our entire community can be proud of. We budget between $15,000 and $20,000 for this event, making sure the kids are treated to a great event and graduates each leave with some type of door prize.

Then I thought about the expenses of having a graduating senior. One year, Joe and I had two kids! That year, they almost broke the bank! One of these activities where there is a large expense is prom. The Building Relationships Among Teens (BRAT) Club renewed an effort to obtain prom/formal dresses for those who need a dress for these special occasions. BRAT Club representative Tammi Kelly and I corresponded back and forth (obviously, I am much older), I told her I remembered many years ago, that the Episcopal church gathered dresses for girls in the community. I am so thankful that she had the vision get the BRAT Club involved to renew this effort for kids in our community. Many of our families with children live at or near poverty, thus it is difficult for them to add this expense to an already tight budget. Tammi noted that since they began the project, they have been able to grow this project and sustain it year after year. She pointed out that there are no financial questions asked. If a girl needs a dress, she gets a dress! How wonderful is it that everyone can be part of their high school events because of this project?

This is what inspired me this week. If you would like more information about helping with any of these projects, please send me an email at lsuarez40@gmail.com, and I would love to connect you to these great folks that help make our high school seniors’ memories, great ones.

Would you like to nominate an inspirational person or organization to be featured in this column? Email okeenews@newszap.com.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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