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Buddy Day at Hideaway Beach Dorothy Edwards

Guadalupe Center gives Immokalee second graders fun-filled Buddy Day at Marco Island's Hideaway Beach

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On Monday morning a group of 85 second graders from four different Immokalee elementary schools boarded a fleet of buses, but no, they weren’t on their way to school. They were on their way to Marco Island’s Hideaway Beach for the Guadalupe Center’s 25th annual Buddy Day.

Buddy Day is the Guadalupe Center’s annual celebration of second-grade students from Pine Crest, Village Oaks, Highlands and Lake Trafford elementary schools who have participated in the center’s after-school tutoring program for the past three years.

The students are paired with one or two “big buddies” when they arrive at Hideaway Beach, and together they participate in a wide range of activities.

“Most of our big buddies are Hideaway Beach residents,” said Sheila Oxx, Guadalupe Center’s director of after-school and summer school programs. “It’s their way to help us celebrate these kids and the progress they’ve made through our programs.”

David and Rebecca Shopay are two Hideaway Beach residents who have been big buddies for the past seven or eight years; the husband and wife said they love being a part of the kids’ day.

“It’s just a fun day for everyone,” Rebecca Shopay said, “and it’s a new experience for a lot of the kids who maybe haven’t been to Marco Island before or maybe haven’t even seen the Gulf before, so it’s just a great day.”

“Plus, a lot of the kids who are going through the tutoring program now will grow up and become tutors themselves,” David Shopay added, “so it’s just an all around great program to be involved with.”

Linda Ryan is another longtime big buddy; the Hideaway Beach resident has participated in Buddy Day for the past 10 years.

“The kids are so wonderful, and they love the attention and having a special day all to themselves,” she said, “especially since sometimes their parents work long hours or multiple jobs, so they might not always get a ton of one-on-one time at home.”

Some of the day’s activities included games, crafts, shelling and golf cart rides, which many kids said was the best part of the day.

“I liked the golf cart ride because the one that I went on was decorated for St. Patrick’s Day,” Carmen Lopez, of Highland Elementary School, said, “and my favorite color is green … and pink and blue.”

“The golf cart ride was my favorite because you could see a lot of creatures,” said Bethanie Reyna, of Lake Trafford Elementary School.

But sadly, iguanas weren’t one of those creatures.

“I kept looking for iguanas, but they’re tricky to find, so I didn’t see any,” said Adon Cortes, of Highland Elementary School. “But I did see a lot of birds.”

Birding was also its own separate activity. Volunteers from Big Cypress National Preserve set up a “birding lane” with pictures of different species of birds posted along the trail; once the children found a species, they could check it off their list with the goal of finding all 10 species.

The activity was designed to help the kids learn about the different types of birds living in Southwest Florida.

“We have a lot of critical bird habitats around here,” said Lisa Andrews, education and outreach coordinator at Big Cypress National Preserve, “and it’s important to teach the children about those habitats so they can help us protect them.”

Former NBA player and longtime Guadalupe Center supporter Bill Laimbeer donated a book and stuffed animal for every child to take home.

For more information about the Guadalupe Center, including volunteer opportunities, becoming a mentor, making a donation or taking a tour, call 239-657-7711 or visit www.guadalupecenter.org.

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