James Island Connector Run benefits students with disabilities

Runners are preparing to hit the streets next weekend for the 19th annual James Island Connector Run. All proceeds benefit the Gavalas Kolanko Foundation.

Almost 20 years ago, Nick Gavalas and Dr. Ron Kolanko wanted to form a foundation that would help an under-served area of the Charleston community.

"There are a lot of students with physical disabilities who are experiencing a lot of extra costs that are preventing them from going to college," Gavalas said,

The Gavalas Kolanko Foundation (GKF) was founded in 1999 by the duo to help serve that specific need.

"Since 1999, we gave 165 scholarships and raised almost $1 million," Gavalas said.

GKF serves students at the College of Charleston, Charleston Southern University, the Citadel, Trident Technical College, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Art Institute of Charleston.

Recipients of this scholarship must maintain a 2.5 grade point average if they are an undergraduate student. Graduate students must maintain a 3.0 GPA. Academic integrity is just one of many requirements for this scholarship.

"They have to be involved in the community and they have to be able to demonstrate they've done community outreach. These are outstanding individuals that are not going to be denied success," Gavalas explained.

"It allows me to afford the ability to further my education," current GKF scholarship recipient Tyler Owen said. "Without which I would not be able to."

Alex Jackson is a former scholarship recipient that now sits on the foundation's board. He says the scholarship is about a lot more than just handing over a check.

"We want to make sure the students are doing well in the academic career and outside of school. Making sure they have the resources we need in the community, whether that's getting to school or work, whatever the case may be, they're checking in on us and making sure our overall well being is taken care of,"  Jackson explained.

"With the help of the scholarship, I don't have to worry about those things and that means my mom doesn't have to worry about those things," current GKF scholarship recipient Marlayah Legare added.

"We follow them usually over the course of four-years, they become a part of our family," Gavalas said. The co-founder says this foundation has revitalized his life.

"When you start a foundation like this, you set about trying to change peoples lives. In the end, you know what happens, they change your life," Gavalas said.

For more information about the GKF, click this link. For information on registering and/or volunteering with the James Island Connector Run, click this link.

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