On a sunny April morning about two dozen Birmingham-area students from Pinson Valley High School stood on the beach as a check was presented to Tommy and Becky Bryant to go toward Molly’s Patrol, the beach safety arm of the Orange Beach Fire Department named after the Bryants’ daughter.
It was a special day where these students and teachers a day before made the 300-mile trek down Interstate 65 as part of the service project for two clubs - FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) and HOSA (Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America).
Some of the students were seeing the beach for the first time but took the time and energy to raise money for Molly’s Patrol, also known as Orange Beach Surf Rescue, to help keep beachgoers safe.
Molly’s Patrol honors 15-year-old Molly Bryant, who drowned in a rip current while on a church group trip to the beach on the Florida panhandle in July 2003.
Seeded with donations from Tommy and Becky Bryant in 2010, the foundation was laid for a successful beach safety program in Orange Beach, which originated under the leadership of retired Fire Chief Forney Howard, City Administrator Ken Grimes and former Aquatics Director Melvin Shepard. Molly’s Patrol/Surf Rescue has since come under the oversight of the Orange Beach Fire Department and now boasts 20 lifeguards and 5 towers at the public beaches from March to September. Additionally, roving lifeguards cover the rest of the beach using 4 Honda MUVs, 2 beach trucks, and one Jet Ski.
Pinson Valley teacher Jane Houchins, FCCLA Club sponsor, said the experience was all about teaching life skills to the students and leaving a lasting impression. While at the beach in Gulf Shores on April 3, the students listened as Orange Beach Beach Safety Division Chief Brett Lesinger talked about the life-saving equipment that is used on Alabama’s beaches, the dangers of rip currents and the beach warning flags system, which is made up of yellow (moderate risk), red (dangerous) and double red (life-threatening - water closed) flags. Gulf Shores Surf Rescue showed the class a beach safety video and shared other beach safety lessons as well.
“Orange Beach Surf Rescue and Orange Beach Fire Department would like to thank Pinson Valley High School for their hard work and passionate donation to us,” Lesinger said. “This money will help provide further education for beach safety and help to provide necessary lifesaving equipment. These young men and women have impacted current and future beach goers without even knowing it.”
Houchins said she had been wanting to help Molly’s Patrol for years as she has a long friendship with Becky Bryant, a former educator and culinary arts teacher. The two collaborated on many field trips and culinary expeditions but this was truly special, Houchins said, especially with the HOSA Club diving right in as well.
Hundreds of beachgoers have been saved in Orange Beach since the formation of Molly’s Patrol and the $500 donation from the clubs will continue to help buoy the program, Lessinger said.
For Pinson Valley High School’s part, the clubs’ donation to Molly’s Patrol may just be the beginning as the HOSA Club sponsors, teachers Stephanie Graham and Jamie Mizerany, plan to bring the project to the state level and petition for it to be Alabama’s statewide service project.
As the students ran off into the sand, some wearing the Molly’s Patrol shirts with “SUPPORTER” on its long sleeves, the Bryants looked on and smiled.
Thank you, Becky and Tommy ... and thank you to Molly.
Read more about Molly’s story and how to donate to Molly’s Patrol on the City of Orange Beach website at www.orangebeachal.gov/departments/fire-department/beach-patrol.