Planning and successfully pulling off a 5K fundraiser was only the first leg of the race for Florida Gulf Coast University’s Leadership Through Service Living-Learning Community.
The next stops in the community’s mission to mentor teens with the Quality Life Center in Fort Myers? First it’s back on campus for the educational component of this life-training run as the FGCU students present leadership-theory mentoring to the scholastic kids. Then it’s on to Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend to give those younger students the educational trip of their young lifetimes.
Billed as the “Survive and Thrive 5K and Obstacle Run,” the March 25 race organized by the Leadership Through Service LLC drew what organizers say is the biggest turnout ever for a 5K race at FGCU. Almost 250 people registered and were helped by more than 60 FGCU volunteers — including just about all 22 members of the LLC and nine student mentors — along with 30 Quality Life Center volunteers, all helping the effort to raise $13,000 for the Washington trip.
“It has been absolutely amazing to watch the students come together with the agency for this event,” said Katharine O’Connor, a 2010 FGCU communication grad who, after earning a master’s at Monmouth University, is now in her third year as coordinator of the LLC while she works on a doctorate in leadership and change from Antioch University. “What was great about this 5K is that beyond the experience of staging the race itself, we were also able to use the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the Quality Life Center, bring attention to some of the social issues surrounding the agency and the community where it’s based.
“Also, this strategic partnership we have with the center has an educational component, where we bring the teens on campus for two class periods, have dinner, and host them for leadership-theory presentations facilitated by our FGCU students,” O’Connor continued. “This gets the teens to feel comfortable around our campus and with our students, and builds a great relationship with them for the future.”
The Quality Life Center was started 25 years ago in Fort Myers by Abdul’Haq Muhammed, founder and executive director, who had a vision for uplifting children and young adults through confidence-building programs based on core values that teach participants the tools for a rewarding life. Through early learning, afterschool, arts, teen and summer-camp programs, “The Q’s” goal is to transform lives of at-risk youth and, in turn, bolster the communities in which they live and work.
That goal aligns perfectly with the mission of the Leadership through Service LLC at FGCU, which is a partnership between the Office of Undergraduate Studies and the Office of Housing and Residence Life. The program is designed for first-year students who are interested in community-engaged leadership.
“Katie O’Connor’s group partnering with the Quality Life Center has had a profound effect on the community,” said J. Webb Horton, who’s both assistant director of FGCU’s Office of Community Outreach and a member of the Fort Myers center’s board of directors. “Tutoring, planting a community garden and running this 5K race are only a few ways they have impacted ‘The Q.’”
One of those FGCU students making that impact is freshman nursing major Raliyah Dawson. This LLC member is doing extra mentoring duty by helping the teens get ready for their road trip to the nation’s capital by leading an etiquette class to sharpen their social and dining skills.
Travel plans include visits to the White House and other national landmarks, to historically African-American colleges and universities in the D.C. region, and to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture. Dawson won’t be one of the two FGCU student chaperones joining the 10 teens from “The Q,” But for her, the trip isn’t necessary for her experience to be rewarding.
“For me, it was amazing to see the entire community come together and support something so positive,” said Dawson, who recently earned her own separate trip to Washington after being named Southeast Region Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “This project taught me so many leadership development skills, and how to work with my classmates to get the job done. There were many times we had to grind and ‘go hard,’ as I love to say, to make it all possible, but the look on the teens’ faces — how thankful and appreciative they were — was the reason I never lost sight of why I was so dedicated to this project.”