The single mother of three also looks out for hundreds of at-risk youth.
There is compassion, and then there’s Lisa Bechtold.
At work, Bechtold spends her days building relationships with area nonprofits to serve more than 220 low-income students in Sarasota County. At home, she spends her time caring for the three boys she’s been raising alone for the past two years.
Bechtold hasn’t always been a single mom, and it wasn’t until after her husband died that she became the mother of her oldest son, Jeremy.
Take Stock in Children, the nonprofit for which Bechtold serves as the Sarasota County executive director, brought Jeremy into her life six years ago. TSIC offers a program in which local low-income and at-risk students are mentored by community volunteers and college success coaches. When they met, Jeremy was a fifth-grader at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, one of the first elementary schools to be a part of the program that typically targets students in the sixth through 12th grades.
Bechtold was immediately drawn to the small boy who winked at every woman who walked by. After learning more about his story, she knew she wanted to be his mentor.
The two forged a deep connection throughout the next two years, during which Bechtold met with him once a week to bring him lunch and give him a chance to speak about what she calls “kid things” — things that are hard to talk about in a household that often requires children to act beyond their years.
When Bechtold’s husband died in 2014, just 18 months after he was diagnosed with cancer, her life changed drastically. In an instant, she found herself raising a 8-year-old and an 11-year-old on her own.
About a month after her husband’s death, her life changed yet again when she received a text message from Jeremy asking if he could live with her. Jeremy had sat down with his mother and grandmother and decided that, if he wanted a shot at the future he envisioned, he needed her full support.
Bechtold agreed, and her two sons were eager to welcome him as their new adopted brother.
“What’s amazing, having two kids and having just lost my husband, I had absolutely no idea how much he was going to change our lives,” she says. “My boys think that the sun rises and sets on him.”
Jeremy raised his GPA to well above a B average. Now, he’s a junior at Venice High School with his eyes on a college football scholarship.
“If he stays focused and he keeps doing what he’s doing, there’s no question that he will do whatever he wants to do,” says Bechtold.
Jeremy is just one of many children whom Bechtold has helped through the gift of mentoring and education. TSIC is a statewide nonprofit that gives low-income children mentors and full-ride post-secondary school scholarships if they maintain a 2.5 GPA.
As the first member of her family to attend college, Bechtold is a firm believer that education is the one thing nobody can take away from you.
“If we can educate students, not only academically but also in what else is out there, it’s going to make for a better Sarasota, a better Florida and a better U.S.,” she says.
The love that Bechtold has for her job and her employees is boundless. She speaks highly of her fellow TSIC staff members, and she cites a deep-rooted belief that every child’s story deserves to be heard as her driving force. It’s her own story, however, that’s previously gone unheard.