They joined former scholarship recipient LaBrawn Saffold in providing words of inspiration about breaking boundaries, regardless of ability or disability.
Before the ceremony, children played adaptive games -- carnival-like activites set up for both able-bodied and physically challenged children -- on the scenic lakeside property of ChairScholars founders Alicia and Dr. Hugo Keim.
Kids of all ages, economic background and levels of ability competed at paintball, drew and created mini-masterpieces, played video games, got their faces caricatured by artists and painted by Junior League of Tampa volunteers.
The Keims founded ChairScholars in 1992 and have awarded nearly 800 scholarships to kids with physical challenges. During his introductory speech, Dr. Keim said that he himself lost vision in one of his eyes and was advised by professors not to finish medical school and become a surgeon. He ignored their warnings and graduated with honors, going on to become one of the nation's top spinal surgeons. He met his wife, Alicia, when she consulted him about the 90-degree curve in her spine caused by scoliosis. Keim helped her gain 5 inches of height before marrying her.
Together, the Keims founded ChairScholars to provide students -- not only financial assistance -- but to give back the hope, support and determination that others gave them when they were confronted by hopelessness over their disabilities.
[image-1]Former ChairScholar recipient LaBrawn Saffold (left) is in his third year at Florida State University, studying toward degrees in history and mass communication. He gave an emotionally charged speech about he was at the brink of suicide after his debilitating car accident but found the inner resolve to move on. LaBrawn told the crowd not to heed the negativity of doctors shared his motto, "If the dream is big enough, the facts don't matter" -- which is printed in on his business card, too. Since receiving his scholarship, LaBrawn has mentored students, given motivational speeches and even gone skydiving in Zephyrhills. His speech got a standing ovation from the crowd.
Labrawn was not the only former scholar in attendance. Each year former ChairScholars students return to cheer on new recipients.
Former Mayor Pam Iorio gave out the awards and was saluted by Dr. Hugo Keim as "Honorary Tampa Mayor for Life" for her contributions to the city and local non-profits.
Ronde and his wife, Claudia, canceled vacation plans to attend the ChairScholars festival. Each year the Barber family (with daughters Yammile Rose and Justyce Rosina) go on vacation for Ronde's birthday on April 7, but they decided to forgo their usual getaway and join the celebration. Claudia Barber is on the advisory board for ChairScholars, and the couple helped sponsor Saffold's ChairScholar award. Dr. Keim led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to 36-year-old Ronde after his speech.
During his speech, Ronde spoke about finding your "defining moment," and later Coach Morris intercepted Barber's theme and added that new scholars shouldn't settle for the scholarship itself being their defining moment -- to work hard and do bigger things.
Thirty-four-year-old Coach Morris, the youngest hired by the NFL, made a fun jab at his slightly senior player by pointing out that he was the only one at the podium reading his speech from a cellphone.
For more information or to donate, visit chairscholars.org.
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