By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
BREVARD -- Two years ago, while Louise McLean was taking care of odds and ends around her house, a "60 Minutes" special on homeless children in Seminole County caught her attention.
"It made me wonder what was going on in Brevard County, so I called our school system the following day," said Mrs. McLean, a Realtor. "I was told that we had 964 identified children in Brevard, who are homeless."
The estimation hit Mrs. McLean hard, with a determination to help those in her community.
Mrs. McLean sent an email blast to the nearly 3,000 members of the Space Coast Realtors. The blast caught the eye of Leigh Selig, the CEO of the Space Coast Realtors Association, who suggested Mrs. McLean speak with the association's board of directors.
"I asked them, 'How many of us walk into a house and see the notches going up the walls, measuring children's height?' or 'How many pink and blue rooms do we see in foreclosed homes?'" Mrs. McLean recalled. "Did the board, as well as us Realtors, realize that some of the children, whose height has been measured on these walls and whose colorful rooms are now empty, could possibly be homeless?"
Equally moved like Mrs. McLean, the Space Coast Realtors Association allowed Mrs. McLean to hold a small fundraiser amongst fellow Realtors. This initial fundraiser brought in $12,000.
So excited by the success of the first fundraiser, the Association's Board of Directors decided to come up with a new fundraiser, and appointed Mrs. McLean to be in charge of forming a committee, called Brevard Children in Need. The committee is made up of Realtors, mortgage brokers and appraisers.
"When we sat down and ran the numbers, we knew we would have to get a substantial amount of corporate sponsorship in order to help the homeless children in Brevard County," Mrs. McLean said. "Tom Williamson, who is the general manager of Courtyard by Marriott and the Hampton Inn, is also the president of the Cocoa Beach Area Hotel and Lodging Association. Mr. Williamson wanted to partner up with the committee to help the needy children."
On Sept. 27, 2012, in partnership with the Cocoa Beach Hotel and Lodging Association, the Brevard Children in Need Committee hosted its first fundraiser to benefit Brevard's homeless children.
"The Hilton provided space, while the Hotel Association contributed food," Mrs. McLean said. "We sold 400 raffle tickets at $100 each, and the tickets went like crazy."
The night was so successful, the Brevard Children in Need Committee raised $41,000 and donated it in January 2013 to the Brevard County School Board, which used the money to purchase a range of items for its homeless students.
Wanting to outdo the unprecedented success of last year's event, the Brevard Children in Need Committee is hosting its second annual fundraiser to help the nearly 1,600 homeless students in the Brevard County Public School system.
The Fundraiser to Benefit Brevard's Homeless Children is Friday, Sept. 20, from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront. Only 400 raffle tickets will be sold at $100 each.
"There will be many prizes up for grabs, including vacations in Tampa, Orlando, North Carolina, local 'staycations,' artwork, tickets to some Jacksonville Jaguars football games, season tickets to the Brevard County Manatees, as well as spa gift certificates," said Debra Green, of the Cocoa Beach Hotel and Lodging Association.
The grand prize drawing is for $10,000, with second prize receiving $2,000 and third prize receiving $1,000.
"A lot of people don't know how many homeless kids are here in Brevard," Mrs. Green said. "We need to support our local children and their families in their time of need."
The Brevard Children in Need Committee, which donates the money from the fundraiser, said the school board uses the donation to purchase clothing, shoes, gas cards, laptops, as well as temporary housing, in order to get students off the streets.
"You don't always think about things like a toothbrush, shampoo and such, as we are lucky enough to just go out and buy those things when we need them," Mrs. McLean said. "But these kids can't because they don't have money for the simplest things."
Mrs. McLean said that the children the committee helps need to know that someone out there cares for them and wants them to succeed.
"The help that we provide makes an impact that changes lives," Mrs. McLean said. "Never discount a child. If you just show that you care, their entire lives change around. It doesn't matter if they don't have money -- they can do whatever they want."
The Fundraiser to Benefit Brevard's Homeless Children, sponsored by the Space Coast Realtors Association and Cocoa Beach Area Hotel and Lodging Association, is Friday, Sept. 20 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, from 5:30-10:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 each.
Book a room for $99 per night and the Hilton will donate 10 percent back. Ask for the "BCN Promotion."
For more information or to purchase tickets, call Cyndi Honkonen at (321) 452-9490. To book a room, call (321) 799-0003.