By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to take hold of the world, Ponte Vedra Beach resident Olivia Estes has found a way to help in her own community. The Beaches Gymnastics owner noticed a group of children who needed extra food and supplies in the neighborhoods surrounding her business in South Jacksonville Beach. Estes, whose husband is active duty Navy in the Middle East for a year, posted a message on March 13 to the 750 families on the Beaches Gymnastics VIP Parents Facebook page asking for donations. Within three hours, Estes raised $4,000. She has been serving the neighborhood children ever since March 15 with plans to continue as long as necessary. She purchased food and supplies, made 60 bagged lunches and has a staff member who lives in the area cooking hot meals on a daily basis and serving the food in her own home to the children. Estes said there is something powerful about a hot cooked meal. She added that this staff member, who has three children, is the real star of the group.
Estes is also using the money to buy food for families in need who have called her from Nocatee and other nearby areas. She just meets people in grocery store parking lots and delivers the donations. As money continues to be donated, Estes said her mission will continue with the strong support of her members and the community. Once it is no longer needed, all donations will be given to a local food bank and to a local elementary school in an effort to erase lunch debt.
Q: What made you decide to help the children around your neighborhood?
A: Whenever a crisis arises, the first thing you think about is who can you help? We are so blessed here with amazing members and a great staff. There are parents out there who are struggling with childcare, food and basic daily things that most of us take for granted. We are committed to make sure they have food for as long as they need it. We have such an incredibly tight knit community. Ponte Vedra Beach and Jacksonville Beach families really came together and showed so much generosity. People call and Venmo me every day. People I do not even know. It has been so incredible, and I am just so grateful to the community.
Q: What has been the response from the families that you have helped?
A: The overall emotion is relief. It gives the kids comfort and a sense of normalcy. These kids are so great and so appreciative. It just takes one thing off the shoulders of someone struggling, especially a single mom or anyone with a hardship. It removes that sense of fear.
Q: Where are you from originally and where did you attend school?
A: I was born in Jacksonville and raised in Ponte Vedra Beach and Neptune Beach. We moved to Alabama when I was school age, and I attended a boarding school called the Alabama School of Math and Science. I attended Birmingham Southern College, and then moved back to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2010.
Q: Why did you decide to buy Beaches Gymnastics?
A: I was supposed to take a job in accounting, but then I realized that I could not sit in a cubicle all day. My real passion is gymnastics, and I have been involved with it since I was two years old. I actually started taking lessons in Jacksonville Beach at NancyDance Studio near Cinotti’s Bakery-Sandwich Shop before we moved to Alabama. I was coaching in Alabama, so this existing business (Beaches Gymnastics) felt
like a natural fit. If you are someone who loves children, you get to see their growth, potential and share life lessons. We see children from age three to 18. The absolute best part of my job is to watch my members turn into totally different people and to grow. They grow up to be very disciplined and really to be the best humans. It is incredibly rewarding.
Q: What is the most important lesson that you teach?
A: Perseverance. Gymnastics is one of those sports where you have to try a thousand times before you succeed at a skill. We also follow the Character Development program “Powerful Words” by Dr. Robyn Silverman, a friend of mine. It is a system of personal development tailored specifically for afterschool activities. This month’s word is “indomitable spirit” which seems so appropriate with everything going on in the world right now. Every month we focus on a different building block of character development. The parents, children and coaches focus on a common goal and work in tandem. We use worksheets broken down by age groups and use the “no quit never give up” attitude. We are still teaching our members through Facebook Live and holding staff meetings with our 16 staff members through Google Hangouts and Zoom. It is so important to keep everyone moving. Our priority is to also keep the members of our community safe and to be socially responsible.
Photo courtesy Olivia Estes
Olivia Estes with her husband.