We've had an amazing week or so since our last post and we cannot wait to share it with you, so without further ado, I give you: Gainesville, Orlando and New Port Richey, FL.
When we left Pensacola after our wonderfully fulfilling visit to the U-Turn Ranch, we headed back to my old stomping grounds, my college town of Gainesville, FL: home to the University of Florida and the Florida Gators. We arrived after exams had wrapped up and most of the students were back home for Christmas, but luckily a majority of my friends are now past college age and are in Gainesville to work, so we got to meet up with all of them (and have a great place to stay -- thanks Marcus!). We started our visit at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center, where I had worked and spent most of my free time. After saying hello to a few familiar faces, I showed Dan around campus for a bit, we stepped into the Florida Gym, which was where 99% of my classes were for my Junior and Senior year, Dan drew some lovely chalk-artwork and then we faced Gainesville rush hour traffic (which actually is a real thing) and met up with my old boss/current mentor, Melissa.
Sadly, Mothers was closed for a staff holiday party, so we gave Mary the funds for our next RAK in case we did not get to see her again and headed back to The Swamp Restaurant for a few beers while we caught up with Marcus.
The next morning we received a message from Mary letting us know that she was free to meet up for coffee and chat about the young lady who would be the recipient of our next RAK, so we put on our shorts (hooray Florida winter!) and walked downtown to meet Mary at Starbucks. While we were putting in our drink order, we handed out some more Starbucks Gift Cards to unsuspecting people waiting in line (RAK #37).
We sat down with Mary, with whom I attended both high school and college, and had contacted us earlier this year about a girl who she felt could use a RAK. Mary coaches gymnastics in Gainesville and one of her gymnasts has shown a ton of promise this year, something that none of the coaches thought would be possible.
The young gymnast, Mary explained, was physically able to complete competition-level stunts, but had a huge mental block -- which is something that can really hinder a gymnast's career since half of the battle with gymnastics is believing that you can complete fantastic flips and balancing acts. This particular girl comes from a large family, who sometimes struggle to find a way to allow all of their daughters to participate in gymnastics. Throughout the year there are various invitational competitions, which are a must for gymnasts who hope to one day compete at a collegiate level. These invitationals, however, come with the costs of travel, lodging, food and other fees.
The gymnast that Mary contacted us about recently had a major breakthrough and was showing an unbelievable amount of progress -- so much that she qualified for an upcoming invitational in Las Vegas in January. However, the amount that it cost to attend the competition was simply out of her parent's financial reach. So, Mary asked if we would be able to contribute anything so that the girl's parents would be able to send their daughter while still getting some Christmas gifts for their kids this year. So we contributed $300 to cover a large part of the remaining competition fees.
After meeting up with Mary, we headed back to campus, took a nap outside of Library West, snapped some must-have photos of Dan with a gator statue and then Dan headed back to Marcus's apartment to get some work done while I ran some stadiums in UF's football stadium,The Swamp.
|See, Dan LOVES the Gators.|
|Our crew for the night, minus Hendrik. They also happen to be some of my favorite people in the world.|
We committed another RAK (RAK #39) at a gas station when we spotted a van full of Navy sailors. Dan walked up and gave them $30 of Starbucks gift cards and thanked them for their service. We then went on our way after filling up the tank -- unsurprisingly one of our more frequent activities.
Our first stop in Orlando was to my cousin Lindsey's adorable apartment, where she, her husband, Evan, and their four month old bundle of love, Ian were waiting. We devoured some Publix Subs and chatted in their cozy home (which looks like everything that you've ever wanted to make/purchase from Pinterest combined. It's incredible.) and then headed to bed so we could get up at a decent hour to get our next RAK ready to go!
Lindsey works in the youth department of her church, coordinating Sunday school activities. I reached out the her a few weeks ago to see if she knew of any families that might enjoy /deserved a fun day out to Disney or another theme park. She did some brainstorming with her co-workers and got back to me with three options: a young girl and her single mother who are struggling financially and may not have a lot under the tree this year, a teenage boy and his single mother, who Lindsey has worked with personally because he is constantly volunteering with the youth department and is exactly the kind of hardworking person who deserves a little good, and finally, a family of five kids whose single mother could use some money for groceries.
Dan and I chatted and decided that in the spirit of Christmas, we should give a little love to all three families. So, we purchased some gift cards, gathered up some gift bags and tissue paper and utilized Lindsey's crafty skills and cardstock to write up some letters (thanks again for that, Linds!). We created three gifts comprised of the following:
1. Younger girl and single mother: A giftcard good for two tickets to a Disney World park of their choice
2. Teenage boy and single mother: A giftcard food for two tickets to a Universal Studios park of their choice
3. Five kids and single mother: A giftcard to Publix Grocery store and an additional giftcard to the local movie theater (Dan's mom had asked that we give a family similar to theirs -- one with a lot of kids -- a fun day out, so this was perfect!)
|Adorable giftbags, right?!|
After we created our RAK for the day, we set out for City Walk since Dan had never been there. The original plan was just to walk around and enjoy the day, grab a happy hour margarita and then drive over to our friends Kyle and Krista's apartment. However, we aren't one to stick to plans all of the time, so at 5pm we purchased tickets to Islands of Adventure, even though the park closed at 8pm. It was an excellent decision. We enjoyed not standing in any lines longer than fifteen minutes, rode everything that we wanted to ride, slurped down some butter beer, avoided dinosaurs and had a really fun evening in the park.
The next day we grabbed some gourmet burgers and french fries smothered in blue cheese and bacon (yep), and set out to New Port Richey a day early to surprise my mom and enjoy some good old fashioned Holiday fun.
I'll tell you all about it soon! If you like what we're doing and want to contribute, you can do so right here.