Enticing aromas wafted out of the Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center last Saturday morning, where staff and volunteers whipped up mouth-watering crab, shrimp and fish dishes at their Seafood Festival and Family Fun Day.
Verna Wright founded the Wabasso-based nonprofit in 2001 to provide quality afterschool academic and recreational programs to latchkey children, ages 5 to 18, who had nowhere else to go. Like the center itself, the festival was a way to pay tribute to Wright’s mother.
“My mom used to work at a crab house years and years ago,” said Wright, executive director. “I figured I’d do this in her memory; she would be proud.”
Wright said that while their first seafood festival took place about 10 years ago, it was put on a hiatus in recent years during some remodeling – the construction of four additional classrooms, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) lab and a basketball/tennis court.
The event was sponsored by Oak Point Development and the George E. Warren Corp., with Judah & Son Fish Market contributing some of the fish and Vero Chemical donating containers, cups and napkins.
Older youngsters earned community service hours as volunteers and even some of the youngest contributed, including adorable little girls who, when they weren’t jumping in the bounce house, sold mango-lemonade slushies.
“They want to raise money for their Diamond Girls Clubhouse; it’s our kindergarten and first graders. They have a little club and they learn table manners and how to get along with each other; how to solve conflicts. That’s the main thing we work on, because at that age, ‘It’s mine! It’s mine!’” said Wright with a chuckle.
“We get to dress up nice,” said Jaleah, when two 7-year-old friends were asked what they liked best. “We get to act like ladies,” added Kamara.
“Funds from this go to our summer camp; scholarships for kids who can’t afford to come to summer camp,” said Wright.
Their seven-week camp, for ages 5 to 14, runs daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29 to July 13. In addition to a hot breakfast and lunch and an afternoon snack, campers are kept busy with athletics, arts and crafts, movies and academics, including in their new STEM lab, where coding will be offered for the first time. There are also field trips to science and historical cultural sites, such as the Orlando Science Museum and the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium.
“We’re growing; we’re doing great things, especially through our STEM lab this year,” said Wright, noting that they serve roughly 80 children in the afterschool program and 125 in the camp. “Yes, we’re an afterschool program, but our afterschool activities lead to opportunities. I’m excited about our STEM lab, because it’s going to lead a lot of kids to a lot of opportunities.”
Wright spoke about a young woman who started with them as a third-grader and will soon graduate high school. She had such a high SAT score that she qualified for a partial scholarship to Florida A&M and is under consideration for a full scholarship. And another student, who hopes to become a pharmacist, will attend a summer medical camp in Boston.
“We try to figure out their goals early and gear them toward that area. We look for opportunities for them to major in,” said Wright. “We’re very proud of that.”
For more information, visit dasiehope.org.