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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 3, 200712:00 PM EST


by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Coming full-circle has been a very good thing for the Otis Smith Kids Foundation, according to its executive director, Bonnie Upright.

When Smith founded the organization that serves elementary-school children community 17 years ago, its headquarters was Downtown. After a few years, it moved to Baymeadows, then later to Mandarin and eventually to Avondale. Six weeks ago, the foundation moved back into office space Downtown at Independent Square.

“Downtown is where we want and need to be,” said Upright. “So many of our corporate supporters and sponsors are Downtown and it makes it easy to stay in touch with them. It’s also a central location that allows our staff to be anywhere in town in 15 minutes or less. That saves a lot of gas money and when you’re a not-for-profit like we are, little expenses can really add up quickly.”

Upright said another advantage of being at Independent Square is she can see nine of the foundation’s “Big Cats for Kids” from her office window on the 33rd floor.

This month begins the busiest time of the year for the staff as they implement more programs for youngsters including after-school tutoring for 250 students.

They are also planning the annual Career Days that will be held at Rutledge Pearson, Pine Estates and Rufus Payne elementary schools. Upright said it’s one of the most popular initiatives among the children.

“We bring in a diverse group of 15 or 16 professionals and they tell the students what it’s like to do their jobs. We don’t bring in professional athletes, because that’s not the real world.

“It’s sometimes surprising which jobs excite the kids. One year, we invited an insurance salesman to the schools and the kids all said that was the career they wanted. He explained to them that if your car is stolen, he’s the guy who gives you a check to get a new one, so they saw him as a real hero. Another time, we had the person from the National Weather Service who get to name the hurricanes each year.”

The foundation’s staff is also getting everything lined up for the four-week summer “Dream Camp” program that will begin at the end of the school year. Upright said this year, 150 students will be able to attend the camp.

“Otis came up with the name in 1990. It stands for Dedication, Responsibility, Education, Ambition and Motivation. That’s everything you need to succeed in this world,” said Upright.

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