JUPITER, Fla. — Edna Runner is a mom to three and grandmother six times over, but if you ask her, she has 127 children; the children who attend the tutorial center named after her in Jupiter.
Since the 1980s, Runner has had a hand in shaping the lives of thousands of children growing up in the Limestone Creek area of West Jupiter
Runner’s parents moved her family to the area in 1955 from South Carolina to look for work.
Her father was employed working to build Florida's Turnpike.
Growing up to eventually raise children of her own, Runner’s home became a place where youth always gathered.
She motivated them to do good in school by agreeing to give them a ride to JTAA’s youth programs if they completed their homework.
“It doesn’t take much to be kind. I’m telling ya, and I tell everybody, kindness will go a long way. And just being polite to people, it comes back to you,” said Runner.
What Runner has given to countless children does come back. The love, appreciation, guidance and hope they felt spending time at the Edna W. Runner Tutorial Center stays with them for years to come.
“We even see kids who are like in their 40s come back and say, ‘oh when we came to the center’, and I go what? But you know they come back and say all the time Miss runner has really shaped and mold me to who I am today,” said Travis Conway who is the Program Director at the Runner Center.
Conway is actually one of those kids.
He was taken under Runner’s wing when he was 8 years old after his mother suffered a brain aneurysm in church.
He spent that summer at the center, a summer he calls the best of his life.
It’s a place that began with Runner’s vision in 1986 as a small space in the back of the Jupiter Church of God where 16 kids could go after school for tutoring and safe play.
Today, it has grown into a lifeline for families in the community.
The physical space is a beautifully renovated and expanded building in Limestone Creek encompassing “smart” classrooms, a brand new garden, music room and recreation areas.
“This community just wouldn’t look the same without Miss Runner. I would say the Limestone Creek population, just the graduation rates and all that stuff just wouldn’t look the same. A lot of kids would be failing out of school. You’d see a lot of kids on the streets selling drugs. A lot of our parents work during the day so they’d be out on the street just doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” said Conway.
Runner’s program includes pick-up of students from three elementary schools and two middle schools.
They are brought to the center to work on homework, be tutored and then play.
“You’ll see the love, you’ll feel the love and then ultimately you have to give the love. But learning comes first or else play won’t come at all,” said Conway.
Runner’s support reaches beyond the children.
She points out that a majority of the students are being raised by their grandparents.
She has made it a priority to support the families beyond the walls and daily hours of her center.
Her phone is always open to principals, teachers and the family members looking for support for the children.
She recently implemented a “grandparent program” that consists of social and educational events for them.
The center is a non-profit organization with a very involved board of directors.
Runner says what she would do wouldn’t be possible without that board and the generosity of the Jupiter community.
One member recently came in to educate the students and guardians on financial responsibility.
They learned about banking, savings accounts, the stock market and how to manage retirement funds. Conway says “their wheels were turning”.
Runner’s passion for helping children succeed can be hard to sum up in words.
Perhaps the small actions of her heart can at least scrape the surface.
Conway recalls a time she recently helped a construction worker who was at the center working to renovate it.
“Her shoes had holes in them and we walked by and we saw them and it bothered Miss runner so much that she had holes in her shoes that we were on our way to a meeting and we had to stop by Walmart so she could pick up a pair of shoes. We had to come back here to give the lady the shoes and she cried for such a long time saying I needed a pair of shoes so bad,” said Conway.
Runner has received notable recognition over the years, most recently being nominated as Woman of the Year by the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce but she says her biggest accomplishments are those of the students who have graduated and moved on to successful, professional lives.
“Just love doing what you’re doing. That’s the most important thing. If you don’t love what you’re doing it won’t succeed. Because I love doing what I do,” said Runner.
You can learn more about the center and how to volunteer or donate by visiting its website, https://www.ewrunnerctr.org/