It doesn’t take long to figure out that Pull for a Kid Tug O’ War, held every January in Howard Coffin Park, is a little different.
Security is provided by Cub Scouts, who do their best to look intimidating. Their arms crossed on their chests and perfectly executed scowls and squints would earn the admiration of the most seasoned law enforcement officers. But they set the mood — from the moment one walks onto the event site, it’s clear that this event is about the kids.
Casual attire, mostly fitness wear and cold-weather gear, is the order of the day, and, instead of being subjected to hors d’oeuvres with hard-to-pronounce names, attendees will be able to nosh on chili and sip hot cocoa, both generously donated by Kate Buchanan of Indigo Coastal Shanty.
Pull for a Kid was established eight years ago by Brent Nichols, after learning of the plight of Jerry Sandoval, an elementary school student who was savagely attacked by a man while sitting on his front porch in Brunswick with an 8-year-old friend. Sandoval’s injuries were so severe he required several days of hospitalization at Shands Jacksonville. Now a high school senior, Sandoval is a good student and hard worker, Nichols, a licensed professional counselor in Brunswick, said.
It’s kids like Sandoval who pushed Nichols to begin the annual Pull for a Kid event, which raises money to send kids to summer camp. In fact, Sandoval was the sole recipient of the first fundraising effort, and was able to attend summer camp — including every field trip — at the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Georgia that inaugural year.
“It’s the only nonprofit that puts 110 percent of their money into the kids,” Nichols said, adding that many of the volunteers spend their own money.
Nichols said his organization is a low-overhead nonprofit. Even the venue is donated by the city of Brunswick.
“We have a rope and volunteers show up,” he said.
The actual tug o’ war competition will be limited to 18 teams of five people each. Nichols expects a fair amount of returning contestants, especially the CrossFit team and their captain Todd Thompson, the defending champion.
Two teams from the U.S. Coast Guard, sponsored by the Coast Guard Auxiliary will be on hand to vie for the championship, as will a team of first responders recruited by Laura Ginn of the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency.
Participants will range in age from high school students to people in their 60s, Nichols said, and both Brunswick High School and Glynn Academy are fielding teams, as well as the Brunswick High School rugby team.
Following the event, there will be an after party at Indigo Coastal Shanty that will feature saxophonist and vocalist Michael Hulett and a silent auction.
Everyone is welcome to attend the event and the after-party and participate in the silent auction.
Through his work with Pull for a Kid, Nichols has learned of some new programs from which area kids can benefit. He’s recently become acquainted with an after-school program hosted at Burroughs-Molette Elementary School.
“I’m going to start plugging kids in after the pull,” he said.
It’s the kids Nichols serves that also set the program apart from others. Thirty-two handpicked youngsters from working poor households were able to attend summer camp programs — at the Boys and Girls Club, or through the county recreation department — in 2016 because of Pull for a Kid and its associated fundraisers.
“These kids wouldn’t necessarily run the streets, but they’re latch-key kids,” he said, using the term for young people who return home from school to empty houses while parents work.
Coming from an era during which outside recreation was something nearly everyone participated in to some degree, Nichols touts the benefits of sending the kids to summer camp.
“It’s the best bang for the buck,” he said. “This is a lot more therapeutic than sitting in a room talking, although that’s good too.
“They need to get out in the fresh air — kids can’t play outside like they used to. That’s just not how the world works.”