The Junior League of St. Petersburg and the Juvenile Welfare Board celebrated 70 years of working together at their "Putting Children First" reception at the Museum of Fine Arts.
"I always tell everyone in this town if you want to get something done ask the Junior League," Bill Heller, a dean at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and former legislator, said to a group of guests early in the evening.
"We get the job done," laughed Georgia Mattern, Junior League member.
Elise Minkoff welcomed the large crowd of Junior League volunteers of all ages, JWB staff and community leaders. Minkoff, a former JWB board chair and past Junior League president, said devotion to bettering the lives of children is the common bond of both groups.
Over the decades Junior League members have volunteered with hundreds of JWB projects and collected resources.
The league's first assistance to the board was in 1947 when it conducted a survey to determine the needs of St. Petersburg children. Those needs have changed over the years and the JWB has added programs and changed as well. Last year it was involved with 52 agencies and 70 programs that helped children.
Just one example is the Summer BreakSpot program, which provides lunch to students during the summer when they cannot get meals through their school. Many have no food at home. Last summer, lunches were available at 181 sites across the county, in schools, churches, libraries and recreation centers.
Octavia Teharte, who heads the JWB's South County Community Council, said if she had to name a program that had great impact it would be the Early Learning Coalition, which helps parents find quality childcare.
Other guests included Gabby Gramling, Heather O'Neill, Mary Evertz, Rosie Stovall, Michelle Curtis, Gentry Adams and Mary Reed.
Kendrick Hills, Brian Johnson and other middle schoolers with strong handshakes and direct eye contact welcomed guests into the Vinoy's Grand Ballroom for Academy Prep's Breakfast for Scholars fundraiser.
When asked what they liked about their school, they had plenty to say.
Studying philosophers John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft is exciting. There are "cool classes" like art and typing.
"I like the teachers because they take their time to help us during their lunch time, and we can call them for help with homework up until 9 o'clock," said Kishaun Watson, age 12.
"There are more hours in the day and that gives us more time to learn," said Harvey Woods, who turned 11 the day of the breakfast, which was sponsored by Tech Data.
The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders attend Academy Prep up to 11 hours a day, six days a week learning much more than curriculum. Teachers and school staff are an extended family, following their progress and challenges through high school and beyond. Parents are involved, too, collectively volunteering more than 4,000 hours a year at school and in the community.
The Academy Prep formula proves to be working. In an area where fewer than 60 percent of residents have high school diplomas, 98 percent of Academy Prep students graduate. Of those, 75 percent go to college and 8 percent join the armed forces.
Gina Tanase Burkett, head of school, shared some success stories including that of Da'Quan Person. He started Academy Prep not thrilled to wear a uniform and attend school for extra hours, but grew into a dedicated student and earned a scholarship to Canterbury School for high school. This year Person was elected the first African-American student body president in Canterbury's 48-year history.
Academy Prep teacher Hugh Culbreath told the packed house about the strength of students who overcome challenges beyond their making to excel. Culbreath, who is the grandson of the late community and business leader H. L. Culbreath, said the experience has changed his life and invited anyone in the community to visit the school and see for themselves.