$6K donated to meet needs of disadvantaged students


On May 29, representatives of Mission to End Student Homelessness (MESH) and the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra (RCPV) presented a $6,000 check to leaders at Valley Ridge Academy (VRA) in Nocatee. The money will help the school cover the growing needs of its financially disadvantaged students, some of whom are homeless.

Over the past two years, VRA has experienced a significant increase in the number of students in need. The majority of them have a home but lack the financial resources to cover “out-of-pocket” school-related expenses. Others meet the federal McKinney-Vento Act definition of being homeless as they either lack a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence or do not live with a parent or legal guardian and are thus considered to be “unaccompanied youth.”

VRA Principal Angie Fuller said that, in the past, school staff and concerned neighbors stepped up to help, but now the need has outgrown their resources. Fuller estimates as many as 100 VRA students now need some kind of financial assistance to get through the school year. To make matters worse, available federal funding that could be used to address these problems has now expired and will not be available in the 2024-25 school year.

After learning about MESH’s role in providing money (rather than commodities) to address time-sensitive needs of homeless or otherwise impoverished students in the St. Johns County School District, the RCPV established a “Save Our Students” (SOS) initiative that collected more than $20,000 for the cause. The club’s foundation (the Ponte Vedra Rotary Foundation) is granting that money to MESH, which is, in turn, donating 60% to VRA and retaining 40% for its legacy activities. The $6,000 donation to VRA on May 29 — which was presented by MESH Chair and Rotary club member Dr. Tony Kazlauskas — is the first installment of what is expected to be a total gift of at least $12,000 to the school.

“I’m thrilled to have Valley Ridge Academy partnered with the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra and MESH to help us meet the everyday needs of these students,” Fuller said. “This partnership, with its accompanying financial support, will allow us to continue to provide things like school supplies, extended day tuition, field trips, help with medical expenses and transportation to doctor appointments, school T-shirts, prescription eyeglasses and even housing for this growing population of students at our school.”

“Our club recognized that since the pandemic the financial stress for many students in Nocatee has been on the increase,” said SOS Co-Chair and Rotary club member Denny Baldwin. “Partnering with VRA (where student poverty is especially acute) and MESH allows us to help those kids who need it right in our own backyard. We couldn’t be happier to practice the Rotary motto of ‘Service Above Self’ through this effort.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the ongoing SOS effort may do so by sending a check to the Ponte Vedra Rotary Foundation,101 Marketside Ave., Ponte Vedra, FL 32081 (referencing “SOS” in the memo line), or by clicking on the donate button for the Ponte Vedra Rotary Foundation at the club’s website (www.pontevedrarotary.org).