Nine-year-old Bellamy Fitzgerald watched others from the sidelines of the basketball court. “You had to really urge her to get the ball,” said Aisha Yarn, Bellamy’s mother.
“Our daughter was really shy.”
That changed last December when Bellamy started playing basketball at Girls Place, Inc. — an organization that caters to girls in the Gainesville community and helps them find their passion.
“Where did this confident girl come from?” said Yarn. “She is now speaking up for herself and she is carrying that over to school. She thinks, ‘I can do this and I’m not stuck in one box. I can be whatever I want to be.’”
Yarn not only sees her daughter play basketball at Girls Place, but Bellamy now participates in volleyball and the after-school program, which focuses on homework completion and physical, emotional, spiritual and social wellness.
“Whatever that child needs, we want to be that one stop shop for her, so she can find her thing,” said Girls Place Executive Director Janna Magette. “We want to introduce a girl to her passion in life and then prepare for her to pursue that passion successfully.”
On average 110 girls walk through Girls Place’s doors on a weekly basis, and like many non-profit organizations, sometimes they are stretched thin.
“We have about a 40 person wait list,” said Magette. “We are trying not to say no to anyone else. It hurts our hearts having to do that.”
Yarn said, “You have to realize (at) a lot of these places there is a waiting list and that’s why places like Girls Place need the additional funding so they can expand their facilities to reach out to more families. It is crucial and essential.”
That is where Jim and Karen McElwain’s’ Scramble for Kids steps in. The three-day event helps raise funds for three local children charities: Girls Place, Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County and Children’s Home Society of Mid-Florida.
The 2017 Scramble for Kids took place on February 9-11. In the last three years, the McElwains have raised $400,000 with the event.
“Karen and I understand that we are only as strong as our youth,” said Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain. “Our ability to give back to some of the great organizations here in the Gainesville area is something that is very important to us.”
But, Scramble for Kids predates the McElwains. Steve Spurrier, Florida football head coach from 1990 to 2001, began Scramble for Kids 25 years ago.
“He built a legacy,” said Jennifer Anchors, Children Home Society’s executive director. “We are very thankful for him for doing that and bringing awareness to the needs of the community.”
Since 1992, Scramble for Kids has not only expanded but has adopted the personality of each Florida head coach.
“Every single head football coach that comes through UF has recognized the importance of the event and has put his name on it,” said Magette. “Coach [Will] Muschamp was pretty involved, and now Karen McElwain is pretty much at every meeting and is involved with all the decision making.”
According to Anchors, the McElwains’ mission for Scramble for Kids is one of understanding.
“I’ve seen the community gain a better understanding of what some of the children that need services from these three charities go through and what they face,” Anchors said. “Learning more about the trauma that some children grow up with is really important because they take it with them every day of their lives and it brings awareness to children’s plights.”
The money raised during Scramble for Kids will benefit children in Gainesville almost immediately. Girls Place will look at expanding its reach by adding more classrooms, while Children’s Home Society is using the money to fund services, like providing eyeglasses and mental health services, to Howard Bishop Middle School, their new community partnership school.
“We are taking care of them today with the plan that they will have skills or abilities to be successful adults in the future,” said Anchors.
“You know that the strength of our future is in the hands of our children,” said McElwain. “It is something that we love to do, and we always wish we could do more.”
Photography by Steffanie Crockett and Allison Durham