Although 11-year-old Siesta Key resident Hunter Rollins only joined the Sarasota Youth Sailing Program last summer, he couldn’t imagine his life without sailing. So when his mother told him the program might not have enough funding to keep the program going, he refused to let that happen.
“He said, ‘Me? Not sailing? No, we’re going to raise the money,’” said his mother, Lisa Rollins. “I saw something click. He just had this sudden drive and determination.”
Over the course of the next few days, Hunter and his mother made their way to several Siesta Key businesses, where Hunter explained the situation and asked for donations to keep the program afloat. Within a few hours, Hunter had raised $1,200 in donations and raffle items, and the generosity continued to pour in. Hunter’s current grand total is $3,100, and he hopes to have raised $5,000 for the program when everything is said and done.
An inspiration to all
Hunter joined the Sarasota Youth Sailing Program’s Green Fleet last summer at the suggestion of his grandfather, who thought he would enjoy trying something new.
“At first, I thought sailing sounded boring,” Hunter said.
But, he quickly fell in love with the sport and says he loves being out on the water, learning every aspect of sailing. “You learn everything from math to geography. You have to be really precise.”
“By the end of the third day, he said thought it was awesome, so we signed him up for the fall,” said his mother, Lisa.
Hunter currently sails optis in the Green Fleet, where most young sailors typically start, but his coach, Karen Tone, says he’s learning quickly.
“He’s doing great,” she said. “He’s very motivated, he’s learning pretty fast, and he’s moving up through the ranks.”
Tone says financial worries aren’t uncommon in the sailing world, and that with the high cost of equipment, everyone is struggling to raise money. She was happy to hear that Hunter was having so much success raising money for the program, and says his determination has been contagious.
“When someone gets the ball rolling like that, it really helps,” said Tone. “A lot of the kids are raising money now. If Hunter can do it, they feel like they can do it, too. He’s definitely inspiring to everybody.”
On a mission
Hunter’s first stop on his quest to save the program was the Key Spa and Salon near the island’s south bridge. Shortly after their conversation, Hunter and his mother went to the salon to get him a haircut, and he decided to pitch his proposal to his regular hairdresser, Lisa Bouillerce.
“He’s just a charming little boy who has a way of speaking to pretty much anyone,” Bouillerce said. “He has a way of showing his enthusiasm and making you get excited for him.”
Bouillerce agreed to donate a free haircut as a raffle prize, and from there, Hunter was inspired to present the idea to more businesses around the Key.
Despite his young age, Hunter has a polite, mature demeanor well beyond his years — a trait that many of the business owners immediately responded to.
Mason Tush, of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, remembers being impressed by Hunter’s confidence and manners.
“He was probably the nicest, most well-spoken kid I’ve ever seen for his age,” Tush said. “He was really passionate and well spoken. The way he presented it, I don’t think anyone was going to say no to him.”
After listening to Hunter’s pitch, CB’s agreed to donate a half-day rental of a 19-foot runabout boat.
“I know what it’s like to try to raise money,” said Tush. “It’s hard, and it takes a lot of work, so we try to do our part to help, especially if it’s for a good cause.”
Mary Hoff, owner of Sarasota Wind and Water Adventures, agrees that Hunter’s personality made an immediate impression, and as a result, she opted to be his first sponsor.
“He was polite,” Hoff said. “He introduced himself and shook my hand, and he was very enthusiastic about sailing. Anything to do with the water, I’m a sucker for.”
Being a lifelong fan of water sports, Hoff was happy to help, and she believes the sailing program is a great activity for kids to be involved in.
“When you believe in something it’s a lot easier to pitch it,” she said. “He loves sailing, and his enthusiasm was contagious.”
The Sarasota Youth Sailing Program will continue its fundraising at the 2012 Sailfest Regatta on Saturday, May 5 and Sunday, May 6, and Lisa Rollins says she hopes the wide variety of donated items will encourage people to return to the regatta next year.
Hunter says he’s grateful for all the support he’s received and is excited to continue participating in the sport he loves.
“Never give up on what you want,” he said. “If you really want something, don’t quit.”