Social media project helps local children

OKEECHOBEE — Nowadays, social media is blamed for everything from divorce to rioting to cyber bullying, but once in a while it can be the source of something good. Recently the town of Okeechobee, Fla. came together via Facebook to make the first day of school special for children who normally do not have a lot of special moments in their lives.

It all started with a post by Lisa Carr Fino, on the Okeechobee Bartering/For Sale board. Mrs. Fino posted that since it was almost time for school to start back, she would like to buy a new set of clothes for a child who might otherwise not have anything new. She challenged others to join her in this endeavor because she feels that “every child deserves to go to school dressed as nice as the others in their classroom, and it could possibly change their lives.” Mrs. Fino raised four children by herself and remembers what it was like to have to choose between food and clothing for her children. It is her wish that no mother would have to make that choice, and she felt that God wanted her to do something about it.

Stephanie Teddars, an instructional coach at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, and her husband Ryan, an ESE teacher at the same school, saw the post on the Barter board, and they decided that this was a project they could get behind. Mr. and Mrs. Teddars have recently gone on mission trips to Nicaragua and Haiti. Although they were happy to have been able to help in other countries, they explained that “God tugged on their hearts.” They believe that God wants them to not only serve people in faraway lands, but also here, in their own community.
Krystal Richbourg, 18, a friend of the Tedder’s family, and Tracy Phillips, a fourth grade teacher at Seminole Elementary spent three weeks talking to teachers from local schools. Their goal was to find students who truly needed help, and they received assistance with this from Lupe Sanchez, a migrant advocate at North Elementary School, Rosa Ruiz, a migrant advocate at Seminole Elementary, and the reading coach from the Freshman Campus.

Some of those helping with the Threads project included Ryan Teddars, Stephanie Teddars, Tracy Phillips, Krystal Richbourg and Jenny Tyson.

Some of those helping with the Threads project included Ryan Teddars, Stephanie Teddars, Tracy Phillips, Krystal Richbourg and Jenny Tyson.

Mrs. Tedders and Ms. Richbourg created a Facebook page entitled Threads Project. They compiled a list of 122 children, and listed them by first name only on the page. They were very careful about the information on the board because they wanted to maintain privacy for everyone involved. Each of the children was matched with a sponsor who agreed to purchase at least one brand new outfit for their child. There were approximately 115 sponsors. Some donors sponsored more than one child. Some children were sponsored by Sunday school classes, some by churches, some by clubs or groups, and some by individuals. A retired kindergarten teacher chose to send a cash donation and plans to send money every month for the child she is sponsoring. She explained, “having taught for 38 years I have seen a lot of children and parents who sometimes need a hand up.

When I saw Stephanie’s project I knew I had to contribute. I am donating every month because there are often things that come up during the school year such as new crayons, school t-shirt, yearbook, field trip admissions, ice cream on Friday that every child wants to participate in. Often the children have what they need at the beginning of the year but need help during the year.”

Timothy and Danielle Craig made a cash donation because they are always looking for a chance to help any child in their community. They believe people waste money on things they don’t need and that the act of giving to the less fortunate is a much better use of their money. Tina Boyd, who no longer lives in Okeechobee, sent a cash donation and stated, “The reason why I sent what I could is because I wanted to make a difference in a child’s life or children. You see I know what it’s like to go to school and maybe just have 1 -3 outfits all year long, and hand me downs at that.”

The names of several children were posted on the Threads Project board each day and on most days were sponsored as fast as Mrs. Teddars and Ms. Richbourg could post. In one case, a family with three children was listed. Two of the children were selected almost immediately, but the third child was not. Their mother contacted Mrs. Teddars, concerned that this one child would be left out. Mrs. Teddars assured the mother that she would pray about it, and that “God would take care of it.” Mrs. Teddars says that within two minutes, that child was sponsored.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was finding a drop-off location for the clothing. They wanted someplace that would be conveniently located for most people. This hurdle was quickly overcome when Jenny Tyson offered her business, Serenity Coffee Shop, as a drop-off site. Serenity is located on S.W. Park Street and is open Monday through Saturday. This made it a very practical solution. Mrs. Tyson said that there were bags everywhere as people kept coming in to drop off their donations. She enjoyed meeting new people who had never been in before and was very happy to be a part of the project.

Candy Nelson and her church, The Church of God of Prophesy joined in on the fun by donating backpacks, school supplies, and toothbrushes for every child.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, Mr. and Mrs. Teddars, Mrs. Phillips, and Miss Richbourg spent the day at the More to Life Church office on Park Street passing out clothing, backpacks, and school supplies to the families of the sponsored children. Every single person who contributed to or benefited from the Threads Project became involved because of Facebook.

All in all, the Threads Project has had a positive impact on everyone involved, and if not for social media, it might never have happened.

Cathy Womble is a freelance writer.

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