August 2009

HawkFest 2009 / Strive to Excel

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr.

This year, Strive to Excel celebrates its tenth year in the business of selling hope to the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton youth by providing them with the skills and support to move on to college and beyond. Strive to Excel (S2E) is a non-profit corporation offering programs for students in need of academic, financial, or emotional support and serving as a liaison between the student, the parents, and the school administration. In its first decade of service, S2E has succeeded in helping 97 percent of its students move on from high school to a four-year college. This month, you can help support S2E by setting aside Saturday, August 22 for you and your family to enjoy Hilton Head’s only community festival dedicated specifically to supporting the kids: HawkFest 2009.

First, a little more about S2E. The inaugural class of 1999 consisted of 18 students, 16 of whom were high school seniors. Today, S2E works with sixth through twelfth graders and has plans to expand that to fourth through twelfth starting next year. All of the seniors from that first class went on to college. “Every year since then we’ve been above 90 percent with getting our seniors into college,” said Tim Singleton, S2E’s executive director. “Our goal is to create a path. We work with them on everything from public speaking skills, to goal setting, SAT prep, ACT prep, interviewing skills; we take them on about 4-6 college tours per year and work with their parents on finding financial aid,” said Singleton. “We help them make informed decisions about their post-secondary education life.”

The program’s popularity has grown significantly thanks to its 10 years of success. “We used to have to twist arms to get some kids to apply. Now, we have to turn some away,” Singleton said. Although he would like to see S2E get to a point where it does not have to turn away applicants, Singleton says that, as is often the case with these types of programs, funding does not permit it at this time. S2E derives all of its revenue through sponsorships and fundraising activities, the most visible of which is the annual HawkFest.

“HawkFest really came to life with a group of football parents and some Strive parents sitting down to discuss how we could raise more funds to support kids. We took it to the administration, but they didn’t think it would work, so we decided to take on ownership of it at Strive to Excel,” said Singleton. “We believed, at that time, that Hilton Head did not have a true community festival with kids in mind. So we put together a plan to have some youth activities, bring food vendors and craft vendors together and have some live entertainment.”

The 5th Annual HawkFest will be held Saturday, August 22 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Honey Horn. This year, it will include some attractions not seen in previous years, including a mechanical bull, fishing chair fighting and Magic Marc from WTOC. Martin Lesch is also expected to perform. A lineup of food, beverage and craft vendors will be on hand, as usual. According to Singleton, there will be approximately 24 attractions altogether. There is also a 5K run in the morning. “It’s a great way to get more people involved,” said Singleton. “The biggest thing is the volunteer support. I can’t say enough about the HawkFest committee, the parents and volunteers who assist us. Without them, we couldn’t get it done.”

The event raises funds for Strive to Excel and other school-related programs. The Hilton Head Island High School football and other sports programs, as well as the middle and elementary schools and the PTSO all benefit from HawkFest, as do partners not directly tied to the schools such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Island Rec Center.

The money is raised primarily through ticket sales, and vendors donate 30 percent of their earnings at the event. From that, each of the public school’s sports teams is guaranteed $500, with the rest going to S2E and the other participating programs and organizations.

“The first HawkFest was incredible,” said Singleton. “We grossed a ton of money that first year, and it’s gotten better every year. We grossed about $82,000 last year.” But, Singleton notes, the economy has had an effect on HawkFest this year, and sponsorships are down roughly 50 percent from a year ago. “We’ve got to work three times as hard to get close to the levels we’ve achieved in previous years.”

So a strong turnout is more important than ever, and Singleton is urging anybody and everybody to come out on the 22nd. “HawkFest is a great day for families, and it’s not just a football fundraiser,” he said. Singleton mentions that fact because his role as Hilton Head Island High’s head football coach might lead some to the mistaken belief that HawkFest is strictly for the football team. “It’s not. It’s about helping young people,” he said.

For more information, contact Strive to Excel at (843) 689-4982 or

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