Students at The McKay Academy enjoy 'Flight to the North Pole'

Manatee County Sheriff's Department expands charitable program to bring holiday cheer to more children in Manatee County

Published Thursday, December 21, 2017

BRADENTON, FL – In mid-December, children at The McKay Academy in Bradenton – a private school managed by Goodwill Manasota – were treated to an extra-special celebration in advance of Christmas. The students enjoyed gifts, elves, face painting, and a visit by the famous bearded gift giver, Santa Claus, as part of the “Flight to the North Pole” program.

Started in 1985 by a group of Eastern Airline flight attendants, the Flight to the North Pole program works to provide compassion and goodwill to local families who have children suffering from life-threatening illnesses or special health problems. Each year, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office works in conjunction with the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport Fire Department to orchestrate a special event onsite at the airport. Terminally ill children and their families are invited to attend the event, where they are presented with gifts, lunch, and holiday entertainment. This year, the program expanded into two area schools, including The McKay Academy.

Established in 2004 as Ave Maria Preparatory School, the school serves youths from elementary through high school with conditions including autism, attention deficit disorder, Asperger\'s syndrome, Tourette syndrome, and bipolar disorders. The McKay Academy is committed to providing a dignified and innovative learning experience for students with diverse abilities. Goodwill Manasota took over the business management of the school earlier this year; a name change and the move from Myakka City to 30th Avenue in Bradenton followed.

Students were asked to write wish lists to Santa, which volunteers from the Sheriff’s office then fulfilled using funds raised for the program throughout the year. Sixty-two students at The McKay Academy were recipients of the overwhelming generosity of the Sheriff’s office; overall, 275 area children received gifts through the program.

“It’s an honor to be able to spread a little holiday cheer and help create a happy memory for the kids and their families,” said Sidney Ettedgui of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. \"Plus, it’s always a treat to see the excitement on everyone’s faces when Santa arrives.”

Volunteers work throughout the year to raise funds to pay for the gifts and are the driving force behind the individual events themselves. Over the past 30 years, volunteers have contributed thousands of hours of time to facilitate this annual holiday celebration.

“It was a pleasure to see the joy on the students’ faces as the ‘Flight to the North Pole’ festivities took place,” said Goodwill Manasota vice president and McKay Academy board member Margie Genter. “We are so grateful for the generosity of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and happy the program could be expanded into area schools, including The McKay Academy, this year.”

For more information about The McKay Academy, visit or call (941) 840-5331.


PHOTO ID: (From l-r) Captain Robert Mealy, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office; Sister Gilchrist and Sister Solana of The McKay Academy; and Sandy Garett of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office 

About Goodwill Manasota
Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization that changes lives through the power of work. With the sales of donated goods and philanthropic donations, Goodwill is able to assist people with disabilities and other barriers to employment by providing job skills training and employment opportunities. In 2016, Goodwill Manasota served 28,207 people, placed 755 people in jobs and assisted 240 veterans as they reintegrated back into the civilian workforce. Goodwill Manasota’s economic impact back to the community is worth $92.1 million. Goodwill is one of the pioneers of the reduce-reuse-recycle movement and this past year diverted more than 40 million pounds out of the landfill. We accomplish our mission through a network of Good Neighbor Centers in Sarasota, Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto counties and our Mission Development Services (MDS) around North America. Goodwill Manasota is accountable to a local Board of Directors. Goodwill Manasota, in essence, belongs to this community and is not owned by any individual or company. For more information, visit