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Help sponsor a bench to keep kids safe

September 25, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A nonprofit organization is seeking the community's help in protecting children this school year by continuing the momentum of placing benches at school bus stops throughout Lehigh Acres.

The Southwest Florida Shield Foundation Founder James Branham said the young lady who was running Benches For Our Babes merged with their organization because they became a 501c3 organization in June. Now the program is called Shield4Kids.

"We are trying to provide bus stops with a bench for the kids, so they are not standing in the road. Two little girls were killed last year. They weren't visible. That's where this program came in," he said. "We are collecting donations and grant money to buy benches for these kids."

So far 75 benches are scattered throughout Lehigh Acres with the hope of placing another 30 throughout the community.

"Everyone has to stick together. You don't have to have kids to care about human life. Our biggest motto, move over for life, period," Branham said.

The program began by individuals calling and making requests for certain bus locations. Branham explained that the priority revolved around high risk areas, bus stops with special needs and sponsors and adoptees.

"We did it on a priority. If you were a sponsor you got your bench put out first. If you adopted a bench, then you were at the top of the list," he said. "Once supplies were available, we placed the benches out there."

When the foundation took over the bench program there were some adjustments made.

"If you would like a bench at your bus stop someone has to adopt it. Someone has to take the responsibility that the grass is trimmed and the bench is maintained. If a hurricane comes make sure it is secured," he said.

Branham said benches at bus stops is only a temporary solution while the organization begins their planning for more permanent solutions. He and his board members are working on three prototypes that they hope to showcase to Lee County commissioners after the New Year.

The prototypes include a concrete base, so it cannot be picked up, as well as a shelter overtop to keep the kids out of weather and solar lights that are motion detected. In addition, the prototypes will include concrete poles to protect the bus stop structure, as well as the children.

"These are the types of solutions we need to get away from the benches all together. Something like LeeTran has, that is what we need. Something very similar," Branham said. "We are putting together the ideas and getting the drawings made up, so we can go to some sponsors in the area to help us build these prototypes. That way we can get a cost factor to see how much it will cost. Then we can say this building cost $1,500 from start to finish," he said.

The community is encouraged to get involved with the Shield4Kids program. Branham said the hope is to put together a committee because they cannot be everywhere at all times to look out for the benches that are already in place to make sure there is no damage made to them.

"We don't want to turn this into a bad thing by letting things go because we are not aware of damages. The committee can be a watch committee," he said adding that they can also help in putting ideas together to grow and cover more of Lehigh Acres. "They just have to take that step and have the want to better the community and help protect the children."

A painting contest is currently being held to beautify the benches that are in the community.

"We have one bench that was done as a Pokemon bench," he said, adding that the family who painted the bench has agreed to paint a few more that will be raffled off.

The idea is to add some beautification back into the community by turning an ordinary bench into artwork.

Donations are also being accepted. A bench sponsorship is $100, a logo is an additional $100.

"If every parent donated $10 for every child (of theirs) going to school, we could have this bench program knocked out in no time," Branham said.

Sponsorship packages can be customized to a particular business.

"We can mix and match and make up something specific, so everyone is comfortable in what they are doing and everyone feels like they got what they expected in the end," he said. "I understand that those on a fixed income don't have a lot of money to start with. I would rather have you volunteer your time, than you go without food, or electric because you spent your money on these kids. Your time is just as valuable."

Adoption opportunities are also available, which is free.

"I don't have children, but I am out there protecting everyone else's kids. I see an importance. Our kids are the future," Branham said.

A fundraiser, a trunk or treat and car show, is also being held from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at Mugs N' Jugs Family Grille, 5512 8th Street West, Lehigh Acres.

To participate in the car show, anything with wheels can join. It is a $20 donation to enter. The event will also feature a costume contest for kids and adults, bounce house, hay ride, karaoke and trick or treating. Florida Country Magazine will have its monster trucks present as well.

The event is being hosted by Shield4Kids, 239 Toyz, SWAT 4x4 Club and Mugs N' Jugs.

Vendors are also being sought for a $20 donation. All vendors, but food, will be accepted.

"It's all about the kids. We are a 100 percent volunteer organization. We put everything we raise back into the community," Branham said.

In addition to the Shield4Kids program, the organization also touches upon many other safety features. Once a month they put out a brochure packed with information regarding a variety of safety tips, such as Halloween trick or treating dos and don'ts, move over and slow down and Christmas tree safety, which is always sponsored by a business.

"Eventually we would like to raise enough money to put up a youth center for the kids," he said, which is in the long term plans.

Branham said they would also like to be involved in putting in some sidewalks.

"I have been running with it," he said of the organization he began. "It has turned into something phenomenal. This is my legacy to Lehigh."

For more information, visitwww.swfloridashield.com, or visit its Facebook page.

 
 

 

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