Kroc Center aquatics program receives $25,000 donation in response to East Falls parent’s winning essay submission

The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center’s Aquatic Center accepted a donation of $25,000 from the Ford Motor Company Wednesday to enhance the center’s competitive swimming program.

The donation was made on behalf of East Falls resident and swim team parent Verna Weeks, who submitted an essay in July to Ford’s “Random Acts of Fusion” program, a campaign designed to promote the redesigned Ford Fusion through a nationwide series of what organizers termed “random events.”

Standing beside the center’s Jimmy Moran Competition Pool on Wednesday afternoon, Weeks and Salvation Army officials accepted an oversized check from Tiffany Williams, event coordinator from 42 Entertainment, which represented the Ford Motor Company.

“We were looking for a submission that would give back to the community,” said Williams, “and we found that with Ms. Weeks’.”

‘Whatever I can do to help the kids, I will’ 

“It wasn’t anything spectacular,” said a humble Weeks of her essay.

She had first heard of the contest through an email generated by comedian Steve Harvey’s website, which coordinates the Hoodie Awards, an event recognizing neighborhood-based leaders.

“The email asked if you had $25,000 to give back to the community,” she recalled, “what would you do?”

Weeks received the email on July 25, and submitted a brief, 250-word essay describing the swim program at the Kroc center, highlighting the work of the team’s head coach, Jim Ellis. Weeks said that Ellis was so highly regarded by her two children, Badia and Zion, that she relocated to Philadelphia from Delaware in 2011 in order to be closer for their lessons.

Six days later on July 31, she received the notification. Two days after that, she was on a flight to Las Vegas to accept her award.

“It felt great,” she said to explain her response to being selected. “I told (Coach Ellis) that whatever I can do to help the kids, I will.”

It was this altruistic motive that helped steer her submission to the top.

“Her submission was fantastic,” said Williams. “Simple but perfect”

How will the money be used?

Ellis, director of the Kroc Center Aquatics program, was delighted with the potential impact of the donation.

In his opening remarks, Ellis referenced the diversity of the center’s swim team, and said that his swimmers are starting to make waves both locally and throughout the tri-state region.

With the funds, he hopes to acquire state-of-the-art training equipment, which will allow Ellis to train the team’s 50 swimmers using an electronic monitoring system. The price tag for the sensors and communications equipment: $25,000.

“We need to be in the game like our competitors are in the game,” Ellis said.

Should the equipment not be attainable, Ellis said he hopes to use the funding for scholarships.

Regardless, he’s hoping to solicit sponsorships and grow the program to 100 swimmers – all to prepare to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“As we say here at the Salvation Army,” Ellis concluded, “teamwork makes the dream work.”

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