Giving back: Middle school students create care packages for Naples Senior Center residents
The messages affixed to the 25 gift bags were succinct yet heartfelt.
“You are awesome.”
“We wish you are okay.”
“We care for you.”
“You are special.”
Inside the bags were flash lights, face masks, hand sanitizers, magnifying glasses and night lights.
The donors were a group of Golden Gate middle-schoolers who participate in the Grace Place for Children & Families literacy program. They prepared the “care packages” for residents of Naples Senior Center.
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The care bags were delivered Friday morning to the Center at 5025 Castello Drive, but, unfortunately, sans the middle school kids who created the project and made it happen. COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from personally presenting the gifts they put together.
“They are disappointed they can’t attend,” said Chrissie Missal, development relations manager for Grace Place, 4300 21st Ave. SW, Golden Gate.
“The contents of the packages will be very important to them,” said Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, president and CEO of Naples Senior Center, of the older Naples residents who will receive the gift bags.
About 80 sixth- to eighth-graders, all from Golden Gate Middle School, participate in what Grace Place officials call its service learning program aimed at teaching the students who receive help from the nonprofit themselves to turn around and lend helping hands to others.
“One of our goals, because we are a nonprofit organization, we want the students to give back,” explained Jaquela Cameron, middle school site coordinator at Grace Place, who brought the bags to the senior center Friday. “We have a student advisory council."
"At the beginning of the year we came up with community projects that interested the students. They thought of care packages for the elderly themselves.”
Briana Petit-Frère, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, was one of the children who participated in the care package project but could not attend Friday’s gift giving at the senior center.
“We’re giving packages to old people because they probably need them so it can help them survive if they’re sick,” she explained. “We want to be generous and helpful to them. It’s our way of (offering) love.”
The service learning concept is not simply aimed at helping others. It also is designed to teach the Golden Gate students the value of doing good themselves.
“It gives me an opportunity to help elderly people who might not get to see their families that often,” said Roodnelsa Lemorin, another 13-year-old seventh-grader. “It taught me that you could always care for other people even if you don’t know them.”
While Grace Place is primarily a literacy program for adults and children, it integrates human values, among them service to others, into its agenda.
“Service learning is a huge component of our program,” said Missal. “The students are coming up with their own ideas now” for projects like the care packages.
The middle schoolers not only suggested the care package idea, they also solicited donations from Ace Hardware and Collier Cares and put the gifts for the seniors together themselves.
“I think it’s a great way for students to give back and spread love in times that are very hard for all of us, during the pandemic,” said Cameron. “Showing someone you care can turn around their day.”
Some middle schoolers have been in Grace Place programs since they were 2 or 3 years old, often getting their first exposure to the nonprofit when they accompanied their mothers. The literacy program run by Grace Place is aimed at parents and children.
Now as teenagers, they have the option of whether to participate in Grace Place’s after-school programs, which takes place at Golden Gate Middle School.
The students expressed satisfaction that they not only can benefit from attending Grace Place programs, but that they also can use their experience to share with others.
“I think it teaches me how to be generous to people and to help other people who are sick who might have a condition,” said Petit-Frere. “I can help them so they can feel happy and loved."
Faffer said the gift bags will be taken Wednesday by volunteers to individuals who are part of the senior center’s home food delivery program.
She expressed the hope that seniors might be able to reciprocate in the future by offering tutoring services to the Grace Place teens.
"We often talk of developing inter-generational projects,” she said.
And Cameron related that the middle schoolers hope to continue offering service to the elderly in the Naples community. “
We have kids who want to work with seniors,” she told Faffer.