A place for a dream
It's a common vision shared by nearly everyone at some point in their career: the dream of retirement ~ a point in your life that's free from stress and filled with family and friends. rest and relaxation.
For many, Greene County has become the ideal place to realize that dream. Here, you can find seemingly endless golfing opportunities, lake activities. unique shopping, places of pampering, fine dining and various cuItural and social events.
But on the other side of the county, a comfortable retirement is the least of some residents' dreams. Here, you can find struggling single mothers, unemployed workers and young people who only dream of going to college. These are some of the people that the Kellys want to help.
But this diverse county is exactly where one Lake Oconee couple wanted to live out their dream of retirement - a single dream that has splintered into 54 different dreams for 54 very different students.
A dream is born
Tom and Kathy Kelly met 38 years ago. Kathy's older sister married Tom's childhood friend and from there, their dream began. Originally from Philadelphia, the Kellys raised their three children in Florida where Kathy served as the first female mayor of Clearwater, Fla., in the mid '80s after a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Tom worked with the healthcare company Baxter International and retired at 56 as president of the cardiovascular devices division in California.
Their careers had taken them around the country, but their retirement would take them close to Atlanta where two of their three children and two of their three grandchildren lived. A relaxing "retirement" was not on the agenda for the Kellys who knew early on that the end of their careers would bring them into the hearts and minds of young students wherever they ended up.
"We had a plan all along that whenever retirement came, we'd like to get involved with children and do something to help some children get an education better than they might otherwise get, because in our mind, that's the best way to help people," said Kathy.
For Tom, he became sold on the value of education after delving into various civic programs in the different cities his family called home. "We started a program in Clearwater. a boxing club for young boys, and it didn't take a whole lot of time to realize that education is the key for these kids," said Tom. "I knew I wanted to get out of the business world at a certain time and help kids and I learned education was best way."
Kathy shares Tom's passion for solid educational opportunities and is a testament to its success. "Neither of my parents went to high school, but all of their children went to college,” she said. "They just made it such a priority. Even if they didn't understand what the name of the class was you were taking. you better get an A in it and they'd do anything they could to make that happen."
As Kathy's parents enjoyed success later in life, they continued to instill those same life lessons in other children through giving and encouraging them to gain an education beyond their own.
"I feel like this is something I really have to carry on and I know it makes such a difference,” said Kathy. “I know my parents were bright people, but just couldn't afford an education and that's a sad thing if someone has the ability."
So, the Kellys found a way to ensure that, for a group of 54 local students, if they have the ability and the desire to continue their education after high school, finances will never keep them from their dream.
Dreaming into reality
After much research, Tom and Kathy Kelly approached Greensboro Elementary Principal Joan Antone with a plan. The Kellys pitched the idea of taking a group of first-graders and providing a long-term education support program throughout the students' 16year school career with the guarantee of tuition assistance upon completion of high school. Not surprisingly, Antone jumped at the chance.
The Kellys chose to affiliate with the national "I Have a Dream" Foundation, which was created in 1981 for economically disadvantaged children in New York, and in 2000, the Kellys sponsored their own program - The Greensboro Dreamers. It became the first rural "I Have a Dream" program in history.