Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Festival shows program's success

Kari Heideman, 17, of New Orleans, left, chats with Alonso High student Britney Ebersole, 21, of Town ’N Country at the 13th annual ChairScholars Festival on Saturday.


Kari Heideman, 17, of New Orleans, left, chats with Alonso High student Britney Ebersole, 21, of Town ’N Country at the 13th annual ChairScholars Festival on Saturday.

The recent afternoon picnic was a bit different than most others.

Hundreds of kids sang karaoke, painted a giant mural, shot paintball targets, slurped snow cones and ate barbecue.

Many in wheelchairs.

Of those picnickers, 33 were there to receive college scholarships. Another 95 were previous recipients, back to celebrate their achievements.

The Saturday gathering was the 13th annual ChairScholars Festival at the Odessa home of retired orthopedic surgeon Hugo Keim and his wife, Alicia. The founders of the ChairScholars Foundation have one goal: to raise money to help as many disabled and disadvantaged students go to college as possible.

"Lots of organizations help with physical needs,'' said program director Carroll Vick. "We are one of the few that helps with educational needs. People don't realize the financial impact a severe disability places on a family.''

With 1,000 guests and 100 volunteers listening in a gigantic tent, Tampa Bay Buccaneer football legend LeeRoy Selmon talked about some of the obstacles he overcame to reach his potential.

Prepaid tuition to Florida schools — two years of community college, followed by two years at any university in the state's system — is awarded to elementary and middle school students in Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Sara Gaver, 15, of Port Orange is the first Volusia County recipient.

"Sara and the others will be assigned a mentor through the Take Stock in Children program who'll meet with them weekly until they graduate from high school," Vick said.

Ask Carlos "C.J." Garcia, 13, how he'll use his scholarship and he answers, "Computer science or mechanics.'' The Turkey Creek Middle School student with spina bifida "wheels a mile in 12 minutes,'' according to his father, Carlos Sr.

"Three doctors told me to have an abortion,'' said his mother, Tammy Garcia.

National scholarships provide $5,000 a year to any U.S. four-year college. Three of those recipients attended the picnic, including Kari Heideman, 17, of New Orleans, who will attend Tulane University.

"For that, they need a very high GPA, good SAT scores, a record of community service, as well as great financial need," Vick said. "We get a couple hundred applications a year and usually take about 10 percent."

The Keims started the foundation 17 years ago in New York, when Keim was chief of spinal surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Their compassion for living with physical limitations stems from his having an artificial eye and her suffering from severe scoliosis. "We started with two students,'' said Keim, "and to date, we've sent 641 to college and raised $7 million."

Amy Scherzer can be reached at or (813) 226-3332.

Festival shows program's success 04/30/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Remember that ffamous Fred McGriiff TV commerical? He's back, in a parody


    If you've ever seen Fred McGriff's TV commerical for Tom Emanski's Defensive Drills video it will always be fresh in your mind, with the deadpan delivery and famously ill-fitting cap.

  2. Fennelly: Is Charlie Strong the anti-Freeze?


    The Hugh Sleaze era at Ole Mess is over.

    Hugh Freeze resigned as head football coach Thursday to avoid being fired by Mississippi school officials. For those of you who had NCAA violations and investigations in the pool, you were wrong. Nor was it the defamation lawsuit filed against the school by former Rebels …

    FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2016, file photo, Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze pauses during a timeout in the team's NCAA college football game against Florida State in Orlando, Fla. Freeze has resigned after five seasons, bringing a stunning end to a once-promising tenure. The school confirmed Freeze's resignation in a release Thursday night. Assistant Matt Luke has been named the interim coach. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) NY176
  3. Editorial: Just another crazy week for Florida government


    This is your state government at work this week:

  4. What to watch this weekend: 'Ozark,' 'Insecure,' 'Midnight, Texas'


    This side of Hell: Midnight, Texas

    Yvonne Orji and Issa Rae in Insecure.
  5. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 17: Think 11 miles of nothing but straight trail and open, flat fields sounds easy? Think again.


    Day 17: Villarmentero de Campos to Lédigos: 33.5 km, 10.25 hours. Total for Days 1-17 = 394 km (245 miles)