Students give thanks for what they have by giving to those without


Tara Pagliarini of Family Promise of Brevard accepted a check for nearly $2,186 collected by students at Manatee Elementary School ― including her son, Jake ― to help the charity provide shelter for homeless families.

photo courtesy of Aimee Koshlap

Children at Manatee Elementary School in Viera gave thanks for a home of their own by putting money into tiny houses to help children without a roof overhead.

The inaugural “gratitude initiative” started a week before Thanksgiving with students in grades four through six collecting donations in tiny houses they had crafted and decorated, and on Dec. 15 presented $2,185.88 to charity recipient Family Promise of Brevard, the group that houses intact families at area churches until they can be placed in permanent housing.

For sixth-grader Madison Calvert, the Houses for Change project was an eye opener.

“I did not realize there were children and families that needed food and clothing in our area, let alone shelter,” Madison said. “I wish everyone could have a home and a healthy, happy family like me and not have to worry about where they sleep or what they will eat.”

Older students helped the homeless families, while those in second and third grades helped children who live with their grandparents, and those in kindergarten and first grade helped homeless pets in shelters, all a part of the new Manatee Gives Back effort.

“As this was our first outreach effort of this kind and magnitude, we wanted to support organizations with whom we have existing relationships and that directly affect our local (school) community,” Manatee PTO president Nicki Hensley said. 

A Manatee teacher, a grandparent volunteer and a parent volunteer with affiliations with Family Promise and the two other charities, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and the Central Brevard Humane Society, lead the individual collections.

 “The youngest children were very inspired to help pets in need, the ones a bit younger could appreciate the value of helping grandparents raising their grandchildren, while the oldest among them have the empathy to help peers their own age and their family members to obtain the basic needs that children might otherwise take for granted if they were not exposed to the needs in the community,” Hensley said. 

Each second- and third-grade class “adopted” two children affiliated with Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and purchased items on their holiday wish list, from bicycles to baby items. The youngest children collected materials, food and supplies for the dogs and cats and encouraged families to consider opening their homes to a furry new member.

According to Family Promise director Tara Pagliarini, families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Making children aware of the need and getting them engaged in action is a huge step in the right direction, she added.

“During last school year, over 2,200 students were coded as homeless, which doesn’t account for those children birth to 5 years old. Since becoming operational just over a year ago, Family Promise of Brevard has received nearly 900 calls from families in crisis,” Pagliarini said.

“The project, students with houses helping students without, is a great step toward ending family homelessness.”