D. LORNE COYLE
“Kids first, Sir,” said Marquise McGriff. Those were the first words spoken to this visitor to the Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center in Wabasso, Florida. It was suppertime at Dasie Hope and the visitor’s mouth had watered at the scent of the barbecue ribs. When the visitor had inquired about a plate, young Marquise had politely but firmly established the priority order for food. Until all the students in the after-school program had eaten, no staff or visitors would be fed. For some of the children, it would be their only hot meal that day.
From Gifford, the eldest of five children, McGriff had been attending Dasie Hope as a student since seventh grade. The Vero Beach High School senior is now a volunteer at the Dasie Hope after-school program. He helps the younger students with their homework, supervises sports activities, and serves in the kitchen. Executive Director Verna Wright calls him “one of the smartest and most positive young men I have known.”
This past school year McGriff met another volunteer at Dasie Hope, a retiree named George “Buff” Weigand. A snowbird in Sebastian in the winter, Weigand retreats to Brackney, PA for the summer. While there, he gives his time to the Susquehannock Camps, a boys and girls sports camp in Brackney. The Susquehannock Camps have been a lifelong passion for Buff and his late wife.
Weigand saw the potential in Marquise. He asked him if he would be interested in being a junior counselor at Susquehannock. McGriff said, “I would but you’ve got to meet my mom first and get her OK.” Weigand did so and Mrs. McGriff gave her support. For Marquise, who had never been out of Florida, it was to be a new world.
He had never flown on a plane. On June 13, McGriff flew from Orlando to his destination, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport. He later said, “Taking off was the scariest part. Seeing the ground disappear was, well, I was just happy to see it again in Pennsylvania.”
Weigand and the camp staff welcomed McGriff and put him right to work with the other staffers in readying the camp for the season. After a week of hard physical work, McGriff went through the training required for all junior counselors. The camp’s philosophy is to encourage the moral, social, and physical development of young campers. Through a combination of athletics, adventure activities, family-style dining, and cabin life, campers embrace tolerance and respect for others, learn how to deal gracefully with conflict, and develop a sense of fair play. McGriff said, “I just loved it.”
“Well, most of it. The first time I had to sleep outdoors in the woods on an overnight all I had was a tarp under me and a tarp over me. I had seen those big spiders. I couldn’t get to sleep. A senior counselor showed me a trick, which was to tie a headscarf around my eyes and ears so the spiders couldn’t crawl in while I was asleep. It worked.”
McGriff had never seen mountains before. He had never looked into a crystal-clear lake and seen the bottom 20 feet down. He had never been cold in the summer. And, he said, “I got to experience that all in a very loving community.”
Summer ended on August 10. McGriff said flying back to Florida was no easier than flying north had been. But he made it back in time to start his senior year at Vero Beach High School and Dasie Hope. Catching him in the midst of McGriff’s busy schedule, the visitor asked him what he wanted to do when he graduates. He said, “I’d like to be a firefighter, like my grandfather, Larry McGriff Sr. He served in Jacksonville, Florida, until he retired. I want to give back to people. That’s what I should do with my life, give back.”
The visitor got so much out of his visit with McGriff. But he never did get any barbecue.
The Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center, 8445 64th Ave. in Wabasso, Florida, was founded in 2001 as a 501c3 non-profit. It is an after-school program and summer camp serving approximately 125 children from kindergarten through high school living in the Wabasso area. The Center offers homework assistance, individual tutoring, computer skills, creative arts, gender-specific programming and supervised outdoor sports in a “clubhouse” environment. To volunteer at the Center, call 772-589-3535. Find it on Facebook.
The Dasie Hope Thrift Shop, 8860 US1 in Sebastian, Florida, supports the Dasie Hope Center. It is open Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 am to 5 pm, and Saturday 9:30 am to 4 pm. Find it on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DasiesDeals.