DT Anthony McFarland has spent many hours supporting local students since arriving in Tampa
For the past three years, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland has successfully reached Bay area middle school students with his "Booger's Bucs Can Wait" program, helping kids make informed decisions about such issues as smoking, drinking, using drugs and relationships. To connect with his audience, McFarland has fallen back on several considerable assets: his standing in the community as a well-respected professional athlete, his formidable presence and his persuasive speaking ability.
On Thursday, at the Children's Day Rally in Pinellas Park, McFarland used those same qualities to help create greater community awareness of before and after-school child care programs in the state of Florida.
The Children's Day Rally serves as a lead-in to Children's Week (February 29 – March 5), a statewide collaborative effort designed to present a unified and concentrated focus on children's issues to local and state legislators.
At the event, youth from the YMCA of the Suncoast and the R'Club joined parents and several local community leaders in listening to presentations from McFarland, Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler and Pinellas County Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources & Public Affairs Ron Stone.
Mayor Mischler, first to the podium, addressed the need for affordable, professional, quality child care for all children in the state of Florida, emphasizing this year's Children's Week slogan, "Children Today, Leaders Tomorrow."
Next to speak was McFarland, who touched on the importance of providing a foundation on which youth can build. To do so, said the Louisiana State University graduate, we need to make current child-care programs stronger and develop new initiatives to serve the needs of our ever-expanding population. McFarland also stressed the importance of having parents and community leaders involved in the lives of the children in our communities.
"We've all had somebody who helped us when we were little," said McFarland. "We had somebody who presented us with the path to success. Sometimes we had to be led down the path and at other times we just needed to be showed the way. Now it is our turn to lead future generations down the path to success."
Another topic stressed by McFarland: Keeping kids off the streets and in a positive learning environment.
"The YMCA and the R'Club are great organizations and anytime you can provide child care, especially before and after school, it's a great thing," said McFarland. "There are a lot of things going on out there, especially after school, in which kids can get in trouble. I wish I would have had something like this when I was little because I definitely would have stayed out of a lot of trouble. Providing that positive environment is great way to provide tools for success."
Before giving way to Asst. Superintendent Stone, McFarland had one final message for those in attendance. "I just want to tell parents and our community leaders to get behind these organizations and support them," he said. "Because, as in all things, you can have a good idea or program but if it doesn't have the support of the community, parents, teachers and administrators then it's not going to work. These programs can make a difference and if we can continue to support them they will continue to make a difference in the lives of our children."
After the speakers, the students attending the event presented the speakers and members of the Pinellas County School Readiness Coalition with creative handprints that will be delivered to Tallahassee on Sunday, February 29, 2004. The handprints, which will hang in the Rotunda of the Florida Capitol during Children's Week, each represent one child who is enjoying the benefits of before and after-school child care in the state of Florida. The goal is to encourage state legislators to continue funding and supporting children's services programming.
In the end, McFarland was happy to be able to meet some of the students and proud that he could be part of such a worthy cause.
"It's great to be out here, number one to be part of an event with the kids," said McFarland. "And number two, to come out and support such a great cause."