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Bus operator plans trips for poor students

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Tour bus operator Jim Thrasher is bringing others on board to provide field trips to school children whose parents can't afford the trips.

With a jump-start from Thrasher and his company, a nonprofit group was formed to raise funds and provide wheels for field trips to Alabama's cultural and historic sites. A trip to Montgomery for students from Birmingham's Whatley Elementary School on Thursday was the inaugural trip under the new program.

Thrasher, whose buses take gamblers to Mississippi and church groups to gospel events in Memphis and Nashville, said it dawned on him that his company's steady field trip business is always with the same, mostly wealthy, schools.

He said he then realized that it's parents, not schools, who pay for field trips, and in districts where some parents can't even pay for school lunches, there's little chance they have extra money for field trips.

"Imagine being in fourth grade and never having taken a field trip," Thrasher told The Birmingham News.

"That's reality for most Alabama kids."

Thrasher Brothers and the 23 other members of the Alabama Motorcoach Association have formed the Educational Foundation Trust to provide all-expenses-paid field trips for children whose families can't afford them.

Motorcoach association members will offer buses and drivers, and contributions will cover lunches, gas and administrative costs.

The group is parading a $2.5 million, two-year budget proposal before potential donors and envisions one day being able to provide five-day trips to Washington, D.C.

This year's goal is to give trips to 8,500 kids in Jefferson County and then to extend to poor counties in Alabama's Black Belt. The Thrashers hope to spread the program throughout the state as contributions come in.

Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, has endorsed the group and written an open letter of support to encourage donations from companies and individuals.

"We do a lot of field trips for a lot of schools," Thrasher Brothers Vice President Reggie Haslam said. "But now we are going to really make a difference."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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