Through fundraising efforts and generous outreach from members of the community, the Richmond Hill High School Odyssey of the Mind teams have raised $12,000 of their needed $18,000 to get to the world finals in Michigan.
Since the trip to the competition is not school sponsored, the teams were faced with coming up with the bulk fee – which is to go toward registration, room and board and bus fees – themselves for 14 students and two parent coaches making the trip.
Two scheduled fund raisers in addition to unexpected donations from individuals and local civic groups have brought the teams close to their goal.
Their first fundraiser was on Monday at the RHHS gym. The teams held an open rehearsal and advertised "come see your state champions perform for the home crowd" and also that donations would "cheerfully be accepted" to reach their goal. The event drew 80 spectators and $930.
The second fundraiser was Thursday at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant. Restaurant owners Doug and Georgia Goolsby sponsored the event which entailed the teams inviting the community to dine there, with the Goolsbys donating 15 percent of the night’s food and soft drink sales to the group’s fundraising efforts.
The Goolsbys said their son Justin’s girlfriend is on one of the teams which brought about awareness of the group’s fundraising needs.
"We were happy to do anything we could to help these kids," said Georgia. "When I was a PTO president in Nashville, I helped initiate an Odyssey program out there, so I know first-hand what a great program it is."
Many in the community came to the dining fundraiser, bringing about a waiting list in order to be seated.
The Odyssey kids spent the night bussing tables, assisting the wait staff and discussing their venture to all interested parties. Squires said that not only did the kids have a good time doing it, but $425 was raised for their trip.
On Wednesday, the Richmond Hill Exchange Club donated a $500 check to the cause.
Exchange Club President-Elect Bob Whitmarsh said the club’s board of directors met last Wednesday with board member Lynn Bennett initiating discussion of the teams’ plight. The directors then unanimously decided to donate the money."We became aware of the costs of the trip," said Whitmarsh. "They did not approach us. We recognized the hurdle that the parents and these bright children were faced with. As a group, we want to support the youth and the community. We felt that this was a very noble cause to extend our reserve funds to."
Whitmarsh added that the club’s reserve funds are accumulated via the group’s fundraisers in order to contribute to worthwhile causes, and they believe this cause fit that bill.
Also on Wednesday, Bryan Bank and Trust donated an additional $500 to the cause. They had previously donated money as well, making a total of $700.
On Thursday, the Richmond Hill Rotary Club donated a $2,500 check to the cause.
Rotary Club President Linda Messinger said that the club, which has created numerous scholarship programs, has education and community service as its number one priority. Therefore, she said, the plight of the Odyssey group became a priority via a discussion amongst Rotary board members on Wednesday.
"These kids are so talented, and they’ve earned the right to go, so we wanted to help give them that chance," said Messinger.
Parent coach Debbie Squires acknowledged that Bryan County Board of Education members Eddie Warren, Joe Pecenka and Jeff Morton have been very supportive of the group’s efforts and have personally donated funds and "some multiple times."
In addition, Warren and Morton attended the rehearsal, and Pecenka and Morton attended the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s fundraiser.
All three men have newly ranked positions on the board and have advocated for a change in the "no out of state travel" ruling. Last week, they voted to challenge the board attorney to come up with a way to allow out of state travel. If a ruling is eventually made in favor of this, it would allow the school system to fund future school teams as they travel to out of state competitions.
The only reason the teams are getting to go to the forthcoming Michigan competition is because they are funding it themselves and are not using any school equipment or administration. One of three qualifying teams bowed out due to the burden of having to come up with the funds. Also in accordance with the ruling, RHHS Odyssey Coach Steve Wilkie is forbidden to participate in Michigan.
"It’s great that they’re getting to go award for all the work they’ve put in," said Morton. "These are some of the best and brightest. I would’ve liked to have seen the system help support the trip more than they have. If it were up to me, I would be voted to let them go this year. When a team earns the right, we need to support them and it’s a bit discouraging that we’re not doing that here."
"We are encouraged by the support of some of the board members that there might be a change in the future, but we also acknowledge that the wheels of change move slowly with things like this."
If they meet their mark, the teams leave for Michigan on Monday, May 21.
No more fundraisers are scheduled for the Odyssey kids, so the group is counting on individual contributions to help them raise the additional $6,000 needed to go to the world finals. To donate, you can do so via an open account at Bryan Bank and Trust or by calling Debbie Squires at 727-3690.