MANATEE — Last year, when Braden River Middle School consumer science teacher Jill Bergeron and her students learned another teacher at their school had been diagnosed with cancer, they stepped in to try and help.
Bergeron, an adviser for the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, and her club members all participated in the local 2009 American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
Orchestra teacher Betsy Gough lost her fight with cancer Sept. 12. But the club’s efforts helped raise about $3,000 to help find a cure for others.
For her leadership, Bergeron recently garnered the FCCLA 2009 Spirit of Advising Award. The honor is bestowed on only one club chapter adviser from each state, according to FCCLA, a nationwide organization with 5,300 members. It focuses on building strong families, leadership skills and community service.
“It’s a big honor,” said Bergeron, who has been Braden River Middle School FCCLA adviser for eight years and is also a district adviser for seven counties. She received the award for working behind the scenes with patience, humor and skill to ensure her students’ success.
“You’ll find Jill to be one of the most compassionate and enthusiastic teachers we have on staff, someone who goes the extra mile to help our school and community,” Braden River Middle School Principal Randy Petrilla said Friday. “She’s a wonderful teacher ... kids just love her.”
Bergeron and fellow FCCLA adviser Elaine Bowling, who teaches at Lakewood Ranch High School, escorted students from Braden River Middle School, Lakewood Ranch High School and Southeast High School to the national conference in Nashville just before school started. Eight students also garnered medals.
Rebecca Stroll and Jasmine Bridges, who both attend Lakewood Ranch High School, earned a silver medal for a chapter Service Project Display. They created a shoebox for needy seniors and collected items for them last Christmas.
“Some were gifts like crossword puzzles, and some were slippers and soap because some didn’t have families,” said Bridges, who is a Florida FCCLA district officer.
Bridges, who previously attended Braden River Middle School, called Bergeron a dedicated club leader and an excellent mentor.
“She takes a lot of her personal time and helps us out,” she said.
Bergeron’s club has grown from 35 to 50 members.
Every year, each school chapter picks a topic on which to focus — encouraging seat belt safety, for example, or hosting a food drive to feed the hungry.
Two summers ago, the school lost another staff member, Carol Williams, to cancer. That’s why this year, in memory of Williams and Gough, Bergeron’s club will participate in the Relay for Life again.