Members of the BRAVO Club at Bridgewater Middle School are passionate about community service, and they act on that passion by devoting hundreds of volunteer hours to local nonprofit organizations.
“We try to make somebody smile,” said Tamara Zotti, PTSO vice president and BRAVO Club adviser.
The club name stands for Bobcats Reaching Available Volunteer Opportunities, and these students are making the most of every opportunity that comes their way.
“It’s a group of students and their parents who must have a passion to do community outreach, to volunteer to the school and make a difference and go out in the community and make a difference,” Zotti said. “These are our future leaders.”
Members receive a club T-shirt, donated through a local sponsor. Zotti calls them entrepreneurs and is proud of their impact on the community.
A clothing drive last month brought in more than 4,000 pounds of clothes and linens and netted more than $800 for the club. Students collected the items and filled trailers that were going to be sent to either hurricane-stricken areas or third-world countries, Zotti said.
Of the money raised, $500 was split among Miles to Go, Matthew’s Hope, Orlando Rescue Mission and Greyson’s Project, as well as funds established for three Bridgewater Middle projects: landscaping, new water fountains and personal hygiene items for the nurse’s station.
Club members collected 201 pounds of Halloween candy that were taken to Dr. William Fravel’s office to be donated to Soldier’s Angels. They spent a recent weekend pulling weeds and vines from a pasture at DreamCatchers Horse Ranch.
They participated in Random Acts of Kindness Week, writing notes, messages, chalk drawings and more to encourage their classmates to extend kindness beyond just that week. They cleaned pantry shelves and washed vehicles at Matthew’s Hope.
The teachers have benefited, too, from the club’s activities. This year, BRAVO students performed makeovers on three teachers’ lounges by soliciting furniture donations.
“The wonderful thing about this club is the student doesn't have to participate in all events,” Zotti said. “They can participate in what they are connected with.”
The volunteer hours donated by the students count toward requirements for BETA Club and National Junior Honor Society. At least half of the club members are in BETA, NJHS or Student Government, Zotti said.
“They just want to do good,” she said. “I’m just very passionate about these kids and how excited they get knowing they’re helping someone else. Their little piece of kindness is really going to affect someone else in the long run. … They want to be generous, to be kind, just be good kids.”
BRAVO Club is open to all grades at Bridgewater, and membership is offered to anyone who has a heart for volunteering. There are about 100 students involved in the club currently, although not everyone shows up at every event.
“I might not see a kid for seven volunteer opportunities, and then one might come along that it touches them and they want to help,” Zotti said.
Her goal this year is to spruce up the landscaping in front of the school, which is a clean slate after all the dead bushes were removed. Zotti reached out to landscaping companies and received several responses; one is donating toward the project and another is offering planting and design suggestions. Mulch will define the landscaped areas.
This project is being funded by donations from the community and money the club members raise.
“These students have the heart to help, and I am happy to be an adviser for them,” Zotti said.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.