December 12, 2008
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
More than 220 Gulf county children are in for a pleasant surprise this Christmas, thanks to a partnership between Gulf Correctional Institution’s staff and inmates, the Gulf County Fire Department and North Florida Child Development Inc. (NFCD). Those kids will be getting bikes and trikes that have been collected by the Fire Departments countywide, repaired by inmates at Gulf Forestry Camp and distributed by NFCD, a non profit early child development program serving Gulf, Calhoun, Liberty, Wakulla and Madison Counties.
The bike program is the brainchild of Gulf CI Warden Randy Tifft, who approached Sharon Gaskin at NFCD with the idea, and she ran with it. Five inmate elves at Gulf Forestry Camp do the repairs throughout the year, with Major Ronnie Segers overseeing the project and Correctional Officer Michael Stringfellow supervising the inmates and assisting with re-building the bikes for the kids. Gaskin solicits donations of bikes, paint and supplies for the project through newspaper ads, and Harold’s Auto Parts donates many supplies at cost. Gaskin also works closely with Gulf county school guidance counselors, churches and local organizations to determine which children get which bike.
“The bikes are selected with specific children in mind and the counselors label each with the child’s name. So if one child likes red, he gets a red bike,” said Warden Tifft. “They concentrate on giving to children who wouldn’t ordinarily get a bike,” said Tifft, who noted one mother thanked him last year for her child’s bike, saying it was the only gift her child would receive that year. “That made it all worthwhile,” said Tifft.
When the inmates get the bikes, they sand, paint and repair them. They also replace their tires, handles, pedals and grips, and even add stickers once the paint dries. “By the time they’re finished, it looks like a new bike,” said Warden Tifft.
Gaskin agrees, noting “They look like they just rolled out of Walmart. And the inmates are so proud of those bicycles, it is just really humbling. I hope they realize how much we appreciate what they did.”
When the bikes are turned over to Gaskin, she arranges their distribution with all her local contacts. This year, the bikes will be presented to their eager new owners at the “Lights in the Park” ceremony at Lake Alice Park in Wewahitchka on December 20, 2008 starting at 10 a.m. Central. The event is sponsored by the city of Wewahitchka and the Gulf Federation of Women’s Club of Wewahitchka.
Reporters interested in taking photographs of the bikes or in conducting interviews concerning this project may call Gretl Plessinger at (850) 488-0420.