In 2010, the Sarasota Southside Rotary Club had just formed and was considering its very first community service project. They decided that a holiday-themed project would be perfect and opted to “adopt” a classroom at Children First, which provides early education and family strengthening services to low-income families at 13 sites throughout Sarasota County. That first year, Rotarians not only bought gifts for the families to pass along at home, but they also visited with the children – reading, playing, and helping with crafts.
On December 15, the Southside Rotary Club continued its annual tradition of bringing holiday cheer to students at the Helen R. Payne Center of Children First and, as it has for the past three years, they were able to interact with and bring holiday gifts for all 50-plus children enrolled there.
This is the seventh time that the Southside Rotary has contributed in this way, spreading the joy of the season through gifts purchased and donated by club members, and activities in the classroom. The joy at the experience obviously went both ways: children listened intently to stories read by the Rotarians, sang along to holidays songs and chatted excitedly, while the volunteers smiled and laughed through the entire visit.
“The time we spend here every year offers the greatest joy – it’s an hour of pure bliss for all of us,” said Rotary Club member Carter Donovan, who has headed up the project since 2010. “The work Children First does is simply remarkable. They prepare the children for kindergarten in so many ways: in addition to classroom instruction, they reinforce social skills, personal hygiene, and provide good nutrition so that they have an opportunity for a good life. Children First is part of the solution for the families involved here.”
More than 90 percent of families enrolled at Children First live below the federal poverty line of $20,190 annually for a family of three; the holidays can be a stressful time for families who are struggling financially. Children First is grateful for the generosity of time, resources and spirit of volunteers like those from the Rotary Club.
“The support we receive from incredible volunteers throughout the community is remarkable,” said Philip Tavill, CEO of Children First. “Not only do they support Children First with their time, energy, expertise and financial resources, they are passionately engaged in helping all children to have a chance for career and life success. We are so appreciative of groups like the Sarasota Southside Rotary Club, who give of themselves so others can enjoy a brighter holiday season.”
For more information about Children First, please call (941) 953-3877 or go to childrenfirst.net.