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FHS grad winner of the Alabama Kiwanis Foundation Jean Dean Reading Scholarship

Lee Stewart, a 2020 graduate of Florala High School, is the winner of the Alabama Kiwanis Foundation Jean Dean Reading Is Fundamental Scholarship for 2020.

The “RIF Kid” scholarship was announced Aug. 13 during the Alabama Kiwanis District Convention held virtually via Zoom.

The son of Bucky and Paula Stewart of Florala plans to learn about heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College’s MacArthur Campus in Opp.

He began his formal education in preschool at Florala Head Start, a participant in the RIF reading and book distribution program spearheaded for almost 30 years by Kiwanians around Alabama.

This scholarship program was started in 2016 in honor of the 25th anniversary of Kiwanis service to children through the Jean Dean Reading Is Fundamental program, a signature service project of the Alabama Kiwanis Foundation.

The scholarship recognizes students who participated in RIF readings in preschool settings such as Head Start, where Kiwanis members visit and read books to the children. Kiwanis service clubs throughout Alabama raise funds to buy the books, and each child gets three free books to take home each year.

Stewart remembers enjoying the books he received from Kiwanians in Jean Dean RIF distributions. He says the books gave him “quality reading time with my parents, enhanced my imagination and empathy, and inspired me to further my education.”

He has always helped his schools and community. While a member of the Kiwanis K-Kids Club in the fifth and sixth grades, he helped with Kiwanis pancake breakfasts, painted playground equipment at Lake Jackson, and planted flowers and cleaned flower beds at Florala Head Start.

In high school, he played baseball and basketball all four years, worked in a tree-trimming business on weekends, helped referee youth basketball at W.S. Harlan Elementary School, and helped the staff at Florala Head Start clean inside and outside the center.

Previous winners of this statewide Jean Dean RIF scholarship are Javier Figueroa (Cullman) and Avery O’Neill (Florala) in 2016, Justin Wilson (Montgomery) in 2017, Jylexus Williams (Troy) in 2018, and Nyah Vincent (Dothan) in 2019.

Cathy Dean Gafford of Opelika, executive director of the Jean Dean RIF Program that is named for her late mother, said she is proud of the RIF scholarship winners and the many other students who participated in Head Start, received books from Jean Dean RIF and Kiwanis, and are now enrolled in colleges and still enjoying reading.

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