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5K race to stretch beyond Westchase

It's a townhouse complex that likely strikes Westchase residents as ordinary.

For a bus load of Just Elementary students, however, the condominiums spurred a wide-eyed reaction last year as they rode past. They told principal Carolyn Hill the homes were so much nicer than the apartments where they lived.

The amazement grew as they rode further into the suburban community, passing expansive homes on their way to a 5K road race that would benefit their inner-city school, which abuts North Boulevard Homes in Tampa.

Hill marveled as they drew inspiration and made certain the kids realized education could fuel their aspirations.

"You should have seen their eyes as they rolled into that community," Hill said. "I know it made a great impression."

Hill hopes to repeat the scene when another group of Just students ventures out to Westchase for the Great West Chase 5K on Oct. 29. The race raised $19,000 last year to help fund literacy programs at Just.

The greatest part of the Great West Chase goes beyond dollars. Christopher Barrett publishes World of Westchase, a community newsmagazine that stages the races.

Barrett and Tracy Urso, the magazine's advertising director and business manager, could have channeled race proceeds toward Westchase Elementary and Davidson Middle, where their respective children attend school.

They choose, however, to look beyond their own needs. It's an opportunity to show their kids a world where students have larger concerns than getting the latest iPhone.

"I'm so blessed to be able to raise my kids in such a beautiful community," Barrett said. "But I don't want them to think this is how the whole world lives. We have a responsibility to reach out and help other people."

Barrett is not alone. At a cookout Hill orchestrated for faculty and staff, Barrett met members of Idlewild Baptist Church, who have stepped in to mentor children, adopt homerooms and provide supplies at Just, a school where 99 percent of the children receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Hill knows the challenges the students face.

As a child, Hill's mother squeezed school between morning and afternoon work in tobacco fields. As an adult, Hill's mother cleaned homes.

She vowed, however, that education would guide her children to a better life. Hill graduated from Middleton High with honors and then earned a degree from Florida A&M University. She returned to Tampa in 1971 and spent her entire career with the school district, before retiring in 2008.

In retirement, she traveled to Las Vegas, Alaska, Europe and the Bahamas but eventually found herself watching too much daytime television, a la Jerry Springer.

So she came out of retirement for Just in 2009, answering the call to help the school address its FCAT struggles.

In 2010-11, Just's FCAT grade rose from F to C.

"I hope it's been a blessing to the kids because my heart is here," Hill said. "This is what I love to do."

Hill's contagious enthusiasm and educational wisdom surely helps, but she also speaks glowingly of the partnerships with the Great West Chase, Idlewild and others.

"They care about children, and they care about the community," Hill said. "They want to see other children have what their children have."

More than 1,000 people will race down Linebaugh Avenue Oct. 29, but the Great West Chase is really about a far more important finish line.

That's all I'm saying.

5K race to stretch beyond Westchase 10/20/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:51pm]
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