BRADENTON -- The contrast could not have been more remarkable to benefactors of Just for Girls, the Manatee County Girls Club.
Margarita Gutierrez, 14, talking about overcoming a home environment rife with gangs and drugs.
An ensemble of third-graders sounding angelic performing Christmas songs.
Together they represented the fruit of the labors by the nonprofit and its supporters who gathered Wednesday at the 2012 annual Volunteer & Donor Recognition Luncheon at the Marriott Riverfront.
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"They reflect what they are teaching in the school," said retired Air Force Col. Kathleen Lesjak, a new corporate board member.
Margarita is an eighth-grader at the Jane B. Pratt Alternative School for Girls.
The ensemble came from the Just for Girls Academy, the new charter school.
"These girls are just amazing to watch," said Mary Middlebrooks, a foundation board member with more than 30 years of service. "Seeing them blossom never gets old. It's
Her words resonated with Becky Canesse, who just celebrated 25 years as the nonprofit's chief executive officer.
The Pratt Alternative School has 46 middle-school students and a faculty of five.
The Academy has 90 students from kindergarten to third grade, room for 143, a faculty of 12 and plans to add another grade each year.
Plans are also in the offing to build a West Bradenton campus.
"We're seeing tremendous progress and we couldn't do it without the continued support of people like these," Canesse said.
Yet the nonprofit's ambitions are not immune to the economy.
"We've seen academic achievement in just 12 weeks at the Academy, but it can be financially difficult. It's why we need partners, a public/private partnership," she said.
Patty Petruff, who's returning after a 20-year hiatus as corporate board president of the Manatee County Girls Club (MCGC), Inc., will help.
"The challenge is make sure the charter school is successful," said the new Just for Girls Academy, Inc., president. "We've taken a big step, it's working out well so far and I want to make sure we keep that vision in focus so it happens."
Three luncheon honorees were:
n Gail Hannah -- MCGC Foundation president for years of leadership and service.
n Mary Middlebrooks -- MCGC Foundation retiring board member, transitioning to the alumni board.
n Ethelene Moore -- Just for Girls retiring board member, transitioning to the alumni board.
For more information, visit www.justforgirlsacademy.org. Or www.justforgirls.org. Or call 941-747-5757.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix