By Laura Emerson
of the Centennial View
January 5, 2010
During her lunch period, seventh-grader Dulce Avendad read "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Around her, Brinley Middle School students laughed, gossiped and ate their lunches in the Brinley Middle School cafeteria. Dulce, however, was engrossed in her novel.
The world of Truman Capote's main character Holly Golightly in the Upper East Side of Manhattan unfolded before Dulce even as her peers talked about who liked who and what hip-hop song was best. Images of the iconic jewelry store Tiffany and Co. were described by Capote, seemingly magical enough to make Dulce want to visit the Las Vegas version at the Bellagio.
While Dulce was involved in Miss Golightly's Manhattan-based universe, Brinley Principal Sharon Beatty was looking for a hero or heroine of her own.
Earlier in the year, Kellie McKinley approached the Public Education Foundation about an idea she had for a partnership between her company, Seiji Limo, and the foundation.
About 12 years ago, before she owned Seiji, McKinley was a limousine driver assigned to a special client. A 14-year-old boy was involved in an accident and received a cash settlement as a result. He was allowed to use part of the money to buy himself anything he wanted, and he chose to purchase a limousine ride and take his friends to 7-Eleven in the vehicle. McKinley was the driver.
"I swear to you, it's like I was driving an ice cream truck that was filled with ice cream," McKinley said.
When she drove down the boy's street, children swarmed around the limousine and wanted to see inside. McKinley handed out her business card to the children and told them if they did well in school and made themselves a success, they could have a limousine ride when they were adults.
About five years later, one of the boys from that street called McKinley to schedule a limousine ride for his homecoming dance. He had kept her card all those years. "It just really affected him," McKinley said.
Twelve years later, McKinley runs Seiji Limo and wanted to extend that feeling she experienced all those years ago. Through a partnership with the foundation, McKinley rewards children who have overcome obstacles in their lives to succeed in their academic careers. McKinley described the candidate as someone who beat the odds and pulled himself or herself up to their full potential.
Five schools will select one student each to participate in this year's On the Winning Road, including, along with Brinley, Bailey, Fremont, Martin and Monaco middle schools. Each principal determined the criteria for selecting the winning student.
Shari Exber-Scheele, vice president of development and community relations for the foundation, helped to make McKinley's vision happen.
"I think it helps them with their self-esteem and probably motivates them to continue to do their best," Exber-Scheele said.
At Brinley, Beatty looked to teachers for student nominations, but after receiving input from her staff, she didn't feel like she had the right person for the prize yet. That's when she decided she would visit seventh-graders during their lunch hour. Beatty wasn't sure what she was looking for, but when she saw Dulce, she knew she had the right girl.
"I fell in love with her," Beatty said. "People don't sit in the cafeteria and read novels."
Beatty checked with Dulce's teachers and confirmed what she already expected: Dulce was a hard-working student who achieved As and Bs in her classes.
After hearing of her selection, Dulce said, "I felt really special."
Just outside the classroom doors at Brinley, buses waited to take the students home. As young people flooded out of the campus, six girls came to claim their ride in a long, shiny black limousine.
Along with Dulce and five of her friends, Dulce's mom and English teacher Jacqueline Hoak participated in the excursion.
Before the girls piled into the limousine, McKinley gave each an envelope. Dulce's friends each received $20 to cover the cost of activities during the ride, and Dulce received $100 to spend or save.
"I guess I hope in the long run that they'll remember this forever," McKinley said.
With sparkling apple cider and water at their disposal, Kevin McSwiggin drove the eight ladies up Maverick Street so their classmates could see them in the limousine.
"They really had the time of their life," McSwiggin said.
As the sleek car turned right onto Jones Boulevard, the girls did their best Miss America waves out of the windows.
"Just to see those kids' faces ... it's just worth it right there," McKinley said.
During the adventure, McSwiggin stopped at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign for pictures, then at Dulce's request, he drove to the Bellagio. Dulce and the group walked the Via Bellagio shops, but one in particular held her interest. Inside Tiffany & Co., Dulce saw the cases holding diamonds, other gemstones and sterling silver pieces. Just like Capote wrote, Dulce said the store was "sparkly."
After the Bellagio, the girls went to ride the roller coaster at New York-New York and ate a meal at Arby's.
"It was adventurous," Dulce said. "Everybody was a little sad when it ended."
Giving back has been a dream of McKinley's since that day when she first drove the young man and his friends to 7-Eleven.
"It makes me feel so many things," McKinley said.
She said she is thankful she's in a position to share, and she appreciates the students who work hard.
"It's a good feeling to be able to share what I can with the youth," McKinley said. "They're our future."
One thing McKinley wants to receive from this endeavor is a challenge. McKinley hopes to encourage other businesses to give her a run for her money and contribute to the community, as well.
"I want to encourage other students to get higher grades, because good things happen when you do," Dulce said.
On the Winning Road is designed to motivate students by rewarding one young person at each participating school with a five-hour, after-school limousine excursion. The winning students choose the details, but they usually include a ride down Las Vegas Boulevard, a visit to GameWorks, a trip to New York-New York and a meal.
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