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Community supports walk-a-thon fundraiser
Memorial scholarship honors Jackie Gilliard-Henderson and her love of children
Commissioner Gary Gilliard thanks participants during the first-ever walk-a-thon event in honor of Gillards mother Jackie Gilliard-Henderson to raise funds for local high school scholarships. - photo by Photo provided.

Jackie Gilliard–Henderson loved children.

So much so that her son, Gary Gilliard, created a memorial scholarship for high school seniors in her honor, raising more than $4,000 to give several scholarships to deserving graduating seniors from the class of 2012.

A seven-mile walk-a-thon on May 21 hosted by Georgia Coastal Youth Inc. and Seven Ministries allowed residents to participate by walking and/or making a donation to honor Gilliard-Henderson’s memory. A 10-team softball tournament also took place in conjunction with a Platinum 40/40 Social Club fish and chicken sandwich fundraiser for the event.

"We grew up in a single parent home in government housing (on) Rebecca Street. We didn’t have much, but everyone came to our house because my mother loved children," said Gilliard, who lost his mother to renal failure and dementia. "Her funeral was the largest non-dignitary funeral in the county’s history, which is a testament to how loved she was. My family, some friends and I thought it would be good to honor her memory by creating a foundation that would continue her love for the youth of the county."

Gilliard said 120 walkers signed in, but he estimated around 150 people showed up for the event. Donations rolled in from churches, individuals and businesses, and people constantly are giving.

"Our goal was to raise $4,000 so that we could award four $500 scholarships to each of our county’s public high schools," Gilliard said. "We’ve met our goal and donations are still coming in."

Chris Stacy, Riceboro councilmember and CEO of Georgia Coastal Youth, joined the walk-a-thon as a tribute to the woman he personally knew and adored.

"I thought it was a great thing. When we partner with someone who wants to work for the kids, it’s always a win-win situation," Stacy said. "She was always a loving, kind, giving person, but real to the point. She would just look you dead in the eye and tell you just the way it was going to be. That’s the type of person she was. But she was a fun person, too. But she said what she meant and she meant what she said."

Stacy said the event, including the presence of three mayors, showed just how much Gilliard–Henderson was loved. The councilmember said he remembered her as being the one who always would feed her son’s friends after softball games, treating every child as if they were her own.

Because the event was so positive and successful, Gilliard said planning for next year’s event already is under way. He said it will include three days of festivities, including a meet-and-greet social, a walk-a-thon and a co-ed softball tournament, one of Gilliard-Henderson’s other loves.

"There are several groups that give scholarships already, but we feel that there’s no such thing as too much good," Gilliard said. "Awarding eight $500 scholarships will help eight deserving seniors further their education. While $500 is not a lot of money, it can buy a few books and get the kids off to a good start."

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