Culture Worthy of your calendar

More than 400 Florida families will have a happier Christmas because of the creativity of one sixth-grade student.

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  • | 5:14 p.m. December 21, 2011
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Creativity takes many forms — especially during the holidays, and often that creativity works hand-in-hand with a generous spirit to make the holidays better for those in need. Such a story is my holiday message to my readers.

It begins with 12-year-old Kayla Bowers, a sixth-grade student at East Ridge Middle School in Clermont, Fla., who entered a national contest called “It’s Up to Me to Be Drug Free.”

The contest was created by Informed Families, the nation’s largest drug prevention campaign that reaches more than 6,000 schools throughout Florida every year, and 80 million people nationwide. Informed Families (IF) is a 29-year-old nonprofit dedicated to helping kids grow up safe and drug-free, and is the statewide sponsor of the national Red Ribbon Campaign, helping communities take a stand against drug abuse and its consequences for all Americans. “As schools celebrated Red Ribbon Week this year, our new contest helped students take the message home,” said IF President Peggy Sapp. “By entering the contest and decorating their homes together, families carried the message to their communities.”

Students throughout Florida entered the contest by decorating their homes and mailboxes and then uploading photos to IF’s website and Facebook page. Kayla Bowers was voted the winner of the contest, winning a $1,000 prize for East Ridge Middle School and an iPad 2 for her family.

But that is only the beginning of the story.

East Ridge Middle School suddenly had $1,000 to spend — as the Holidays approached.

"During one of our leadership meetings,” said Assistant Principal William Roberts, “we addressed the fact that many of our students may not be able to enjoy the holidays due to financial hardships. Since we were so fortunate to have Kayla win the Red Ribbon Week contest and bring the $1,000 prize to East Ridge Middle School, we decided to use the money to help our students on free lunch, which is nearly half of our student population.”

The school decided to turn Kayla’s prize money into gifts the students could select to give to one of their family members, thus re-enforcing the idea of sharing … especially during the holiday season. But $1,000 would only allow the school to purchase gifts valued at $2.50, so the administration shared the giving idea with the faculty.

During these difficult economic times, the idea of Kayla’s giving turned into an incredible outpouring of support from school clubs, teachers and community members who turned the $1,000 prize money into $3,600. While accepting the contributions, the school’s bookkeeper and counselors worked tirelessly to identify the students who will participate in what they called the "Spartan Season of Sharing" and shopped to purchase more than 400 gifts.

This means that more than 400 students will have the opportunity to select a gift for a family member and take it home to share with their family during this holiday season. “The gift to our school from Informed Families comes at a crucial time, and we are very appreciative at East Ridge Middle School,” Principal Charles McDaniel said.

Kayla’s mother, Lisa Bowers, added, “This really encouraged parent involvement and created the opportunity to have this dialogue at home about such an important issue for families. Parents from throughout our neighborhood were informed, and the message spread everywhere.”

More than 400 Florida families will have a happier Christmas because of the creativity of one sixth-grade student. Thank you, Kayla. Not only have you earned the title of artist, but your artistry has already inspired hundreds of people at this special time of year.