“One Last Hug”: Community Steps Up to Help Students

By: Quinton Allen, CCPS Communications Specialist

Paying for the car behind you when going through a tollbooth, leaving more than the basic 15-20% tip when dining out at a restaurant, or donating essential goods to someone who really needs them…now add picking up yearbook costs to examples of kindness sure to bring smiles to faces.“No act of kindness is ever wasted, and has a long-lasting effect,” said Sandra Lee Buxton, Director of Community Engagement for The Arlington. Mrs. Buxton led the fundraising effort at The Arlington to help provide Lely Elementary School’s 2020 fifth-grade class with a yearbook of memories to take with them.

Tammy Brown is Lely Elementary School’s principal, and like many Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) principals, she and her staff tried to make memorable moments despite campuses closing after Spring Break. She wanted all her fifth-grade students to leave with a yearbook; however, financial difficulty coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic put this tradition in jeopardy. “I had only sold 20 books, but we get 300 of them,” Lely third-grade teacher Pam Rivera remembered. She immediately reached out to a nearby community partner for help. The Arlington, a non-profit retirement community in Naples, helped raise half the money — more than $850 —toward the yearbooks.

“We are really grateful for the people at The Arlington,” Principal Brown said. Ms. Rivera was also overjoyed with the much-needed help. “I reached out to Sandra Lee and she just jumped on it! It was important for us to give our fifth graders something in a challenging year to feel good about.”The other half of the donations came from anonymous donors from Facebook. In May, when students returned to campus to collect personal belongings from a year without traditional closure, fifth graders opened bags and found yearbooks tucked away inside.

Those annuals of memories not only serve to remind of the good times, but also to remember a classmate lost to tragedy earlier in the year. In October of 2019, a student drowned in a pool while at a classmate’s birthday party. “It was really just a tremendous and unfortunate loss,” Principal Brown sadly remembered. That beloved student will be remembered forever with a yearbook tribute page created just for her. Other teachers like Mrs. Hilda Lewin and Mrs. Kirstin Stockwell also wrote personal messages to each of their students to commemorate the year. Mrs. Buxton added, “There was definitely an interest and passion to help these children.” A sentiment Principal Brown echoed, “I think our students will be happy to have those tangible memories the year book provides, it’s like one last hug.

The people at The Arlington and the other donors made sure that happened.” The emotions of it all, also hit home with Ms. Rivera, “It was so heartfelt that this all came together, it feels really good to know our students get their yearbooks.” Mrs. Buxton says it is essential for local businesses to help our schools, “In a time when individuals and businesses have suffered losses, if you have been impacted, then so have they. This is the time to step forward and extend or provide an act of kindness.” In a non-traditional year, this serves as a classic example of neighbors helping their neighborhood public school with a gift sure to remind students of the resilience displayed in the spring of 2020.

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