A local restaurant made the Christmas wishes of several Lake Wales High School students come true this holiday.
Through the use of a red and white fishing-themed Christmas tree and the generosity of their guests, The Crooked Bass Grill and Tavern was able to make wishes come true for 24 students in the Lake Wales High School “Students In Transition” (SIT) program.
The first name and three wishes for each of the 24 students were written on tags that were placed on the tree and guests who dined in the restaurant were asked to consider “adopting” one of the students for Christmas.
The response was overwhelming. “We have known since we opened and have gotten to know many of our customers quite well that they are awesome people, but we saw just how incredible they are when we began asking them to help with this project,” stated Tammy Bracewell, co-owner of the restaurant with her husband Tim.
“Some of them took not only one, but two or more names and came back with armloads of gifts,” she added.
In addition to collecting the gifts, the restaurant also collected $1,125 in gift cards and cash that could be used to help fund other needs of the program, which assists students who are without a permanent nighttime residence or who are living in substandard housing.
The SIT program is funded totally by private donations from area churches, businesses and individuals. Therefore, Bracewell hopes that, by doing projects like the Christmas tree giving project, awareness of the program can be increased and, in turn, more donations can be raised to fund two major needs that have been identified – housing, such as a home or multi-unit residence that could be used as transitional housing where the unaccompanied students could live in a safe environment with a house parent, and transportation.
During the 2015-2016 school year, over 100 students qualified for this program and the number has continued to grow in the 2016-2017 school year. Of these 100+ students, 45% live doubled-up with friends or relatives, in a motel or in a car; 40% live in substandard homes with no water, electricity, etc; and 15% are unaccompanied by either parent and are considered as “couch surfers” in others’ homes.
Despite their living conditions – which would cause many people to simply give up – these students continue to attend school and give their best effort to earn a high school diploma.
The students in the SIT Program are great kids who, for various reasons beyond their control, have been dealt a hard hand in life. Most of them, despite the challenges, maintain A’s and B’s on their report cards, have no attendance issues and they love school. They realize the value of education and are fighting with everything that is within them to rewrite their future.
With the help from others, the program can continue to supply them with their basic needs, a safe and secure haven in which they can land to catch their breath and – most importantly – the love that they so desperately need.