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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Beach Blast celebrates 27 years taking students to the shore



Thank you to the Panthers - Ted Ginn, Jr. and Kurt Coleman for joining this years Beach Blast.

BY KAREN SCIOSCIA

Dick Keffer has enjoyed going to the beach for years. He knew his kids loved going, too.

“About thirty years ago, my family and I were on vacation at Wrightsville Beach, when an old bus from Whiteville, N.C., pulled up filled with kids from a Sunday School class. The kids jumped out of the bus and ran around like crazy. They were just so excited to be at the beach,” said Keffer, whose name is familiar due to his car dealerships in the region.

He found out that even though Whiteville was only about 50 miles from Wrightsville, these children had never been to the beach or seen the ocean. Keffer said he thought about how much we take for granted in life and how spoiled we can be.

“I knew there must be children in Charlotte who had never had the opportunity to go to the beach, and so I decided I’d figure out a way to help them have the experience, too,” Keffer said.

The South Park Rotary needed a new project at that time, and Keffer said he’d pay for the venture if they’d get involved. The rotary agreed, and a meeting was set up with the superintendent of schools to formulate a plan.

“I especially wanted to help kids who were high dropout risks, show them there was more to life and that someone cared,” Keffer said. “I’ve had a lot of assistance with this event from my right hand, Bonnie Hunter, all these years, too.”

From that meeting, the “Beach Blast” was formed. May 2 was the 27th year in a row that, each year, up to 500 underprivileged children of middle school age have been treated to a day – including lunch – at the beach. Dick Keffer paid for the first 26 years of the event.

Every year, 10 to 12 buses have been filled with excited children, teachers and Rotarians, who serve as bus captains. Keffer also supplies a private plane to take a Carolina Panther or two who go as a special treat for the children. This year, Panthers Ted Ginn Jr. and Kurt Coleman went.

“The children love the event, and so do we,” said Julie Freeland, a Rotarian.

She, along with Curt Oliver, chaired the Beach Blast again this year and also were bus captains. The Myrtle Beach Sunrise Rotary is involved with this project, too. They provide the entire barbecue luncheon, and chauffeur those who ride on the plane back and forth to the event.

Schools from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system select students to go on the one-day trip.

Beverly Mauldin, Coordinator of Court and Student Discipline, has been key to the project for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“Students need something positive in their lives. Some of our students don’t even have permanent housing. This trip is often used as incentive for good grades, attendance and behavior,” Mauldin said. “Mr. Keffer is really a visionary. He also instigated the Beach Blast Scholarship program in 1998. The scholarship awards the winner(s) up to $5,000 a year, renewable for three years if the criteria is met and kept.”

Janet Newton is president of the foundation for the scholarship.

Keffer, 82, is a father and grandfather. He said he enjoys taking the children every year and exposing them to something fun and educational.

The children have shown an eagerness to learn North Carolina geography during the drive, much to the delight of their teachers.

“I’m so happy we’ve been able to keep this project going for 27 years,” said Keffer. “I hope it continues for a long time.”

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