Kids’ Lives Matter
A chapter about young people and what’s important to them
A child’s needs and quality of life are far different today than they were years ago. Why? Because the world has changed, and so have their needs.
We feature a young boy with a caring, philanthropic heart whose annual birthday fund goes to charity as well as three brothers who turn their small business profits into donations for animal causes.
It’s back-to-school time, and as the world has changed, so has the approach to meeting the increasingly complex needs of students. Here, we converse with Collier County Public School officials about mental wellness in the school setting and beyond.
Are the instances of mental illness in children increasing, or are we just more aware of it as the world changes? Psychotherapist Stacey Brown, who specializes in addressing children’s issues, talks with us about integrating wellness into our children’s lives.
Back to school means back to homework, and New Horizons offers a program that provides help with homework and study partners who often become mentors.
Childhood is a brief and intense growing season. Please tend the gardens around you with care.
Young Philanthropists Among Us
It’s never too early for kids to learn the gift of giving
by E. Sue Huff and Kathy Grey
You’re never too young to be a philanthropist. Children who support causes they care about not only experience selfless concern for others but, often, they harness budgetary and financial literacy. Ultimately, these children can help create change locally and in the world.
That was proven in Naples, Florida by young men in the community who worked to raise funds for Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs (GPAWS), a 501(c)(3) organization that promotes independence for combat-wounded veterans and children with life-changing disabilities through partnerships with skilled assistance dogs.
These young people, with their gifts of $2,000 and $388, support the nonprofit’s mission to provide assistance dogs to those who need them most.
Every year for the past four, Brantley Garcia, 9, has raised money for an organization he feels passionate about. That’s how he celebrates his birthday: by helping others.
It started at the age of 4, when he heard about the Harry Chapin Food Bank’s peanut butter and jelly drive. He asked his grandmother, Tonia Fisher, why it was necessary to have such a drive. She explained that some parents don’t have a lot of money, and when school is out for the summer, some kids don’t have enough to eat. It was incomprehensible to Brantley, who immediately said, “I want to help. What can we do?”
For his 5th birthday, Brantley held his first PB&J fundraiser for Harry Chapin and has done so every year since, even using cash donations to go to the store and buy as much peanut butter and jelly as the contributions would allow.
CSM (Ret) veteran recipient Craig Layton and Golden PAWS Service Dog Palmer, Golden PAWS Assistance Dog Founder and CEO Jeannie Bates, Brantley Garcia and U.S Army veteran recipient Reid Erikson with Golden PAWS Service Dog Melton.
This year was a little different. He had already started a charitable fund for his 9th birthday when he and his grandmother saw a service dog demonstration at a gala for Golden Paws Assistance Dogs.
“He was bowled over by it,” Fisher says. “He told me while we were there, ‘This is what I want to do for my fundraiser.’”
His family reports that he has a soft spot for golden retrievers. He also has a soft spot for veterans. The feelings seem to be mutual.
For the Golden PAWS check presentation, Brantley had a motorcycle escort provided by the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (his grandparents are members) and the area VFW. Afterward, Golden PAWS’ puppy class performed a demonstration, and Brantley got a chance to walk Max, a Golden PAWS “cadet,” a pup in training.
Brantley Garcia and Golden PAWS pup cadet, Max
Veteran recipients, CSM (retired) Craig Layton and U.S. Army veteran Reid Erickson, with their Golden PAWS service dogs, Palmer and Melton, demonstrated how service dogs enhance their lives.
Layton presented Brantley with a command coin to honor his dedication to veterans and others in need. It was the first time Layton had “coined” anyone in more than 12 years. But Layton said Brantley is an ideal recipient for the coin bestowed from commanders and command sergeant majors at brigade level and above.
Brantley’s father died when he was a year old, and he is being raised by his grandparents.
“He’s got a huge heart,” Fisher says, “He’s all about everybody else.”
Brantley isn’t alone in giving. Three young, local brothers started Brothers Unleashed, a handmade leash business that’s also committed to providing funding for pet organizations. The three brothers work from home (with some help from their parents) to give back to the community while beginning their journey into the business world.
The young entrepreneurs and philanthropists — Andrew (13), Marc (11) and Nico Sanchez (7) — presented a $388 check to Golden PAWS from their leash sales.
Following the presentations, everyone was offered a tour of The Ken & Susan Meyer Center for Golden Paws Assistance Dogs. The new, 30,000-square-foot North Naples facility will house and train up to 40 dogs at a time, doubling the program’s current capacity, thanks, in part, to the giving nature of these considerate young men.
Sanchez brothers present a check from their small business earnings to Golden PAWS Service Dog Care Manager Ariana Campos
Homework Safe Haven
New Horizons helps struggling students gain confidence
by Martha Perez, Communications Manager, New Horizons of Southwest Florida
Running off the bus, backpacks full of books, smiles grow as children approach the front door. After a long day of school, they are finally home.
But when many students sit down to do their homework, no one is there to help them. Suddenly, the smiles start to disappear. Parents may be working, at second jobs or are unable to assist due to a language barrier. These children are not only met with feelings of frustration but they quickly begin to fall behind their peers.
For over 20 years, New Horizons of SWFL has been a safe haven for children to get the homework help they desperately need. In a small neighborhood in Bonita Springs, the first Super Kids Club — an afterschool club for K-5th grade-students who are struggling in school — was opened with roughly 20 children. The majority came from homes where English was not the primary language.
The founder, a former Lee County teacher, wanted to do more to make sure all students could succeed. Compassionate community members started to line up to support the students by tutoring, mentoring and offering a kind smile.
Today, Vanessa is one of the many “Super Kids” benefiting from time at the club. Since birth, she has faced several health struggles that affected her learning development. Sometimes, comprehension and concentration issues leave her feeling defeated. However, it doesn’t stop her from making her best effort.
“Vanessa always has a smile on her face, even on her worst days,” said Alexia Ramirez, Bonita Springs Super Kids Club director. The contagious smile she proudly wears gives no indication of the difficulties she battles each day.
Vanessa is a dedicated student and, ever since she walked through the doors in first grade, she has been motivated to get her work done. Shy at first, it doesn’t take long for her to open up and share her heart.
At New Horizons, volunteer tutors become mentors for the students, so when Vanessa started asking to work with Ms. Lee, it was no surprise to see Ms. Lee spend a couple hours a week assisting Vanessa with homework and, most importantly, instilling in her a sense of hope. Little by little, Vanessa grew in confidence and even began helping other students. Now, as Vanessa enters third grade, she continues to overcome every obstacle with a sweet smile and positive attitude.
It’s hard to keep a smile when dealing with personal, health and behavioral challenges. Socioeconomic and culturally unique factors can make this even harder. The youngest members of society are often overlooked, but children are brave, and when they have unconditional support, there is no limit to what they can achieve.
Their lives are important because they are the future. The dedicated people who make up New Horizons of SWFL’s supportive community believe this with all their hearts. And by empowering students, they are helping hundreds of children throughout Southwest Florida keep their smiles.
Just ask Vanessa.
The Touch Connection
There’s a science behind stuffed animals, children and stress reduction
Are stuffed animals linked to better mental health for children?
Stuffed animals fall into a broad category of products called “transitional objects.” According to Psychology Today, “Transitional objects allow a child’s inherent sense of self to emerge.”
It’s generally accepted that the development of the human brain in early childhood lays the foundation for sound mental health later in life, a point made by an article published by Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child.
“Toxic stress can damage brain architecture and increase the likelihood that significant mental health problems will emerge either quickly or years later."
Stuffed animals can provide a distraction, whether a child’s stress emanates from fear, an identified illness or pain. Stuffed animals can relieve stress simply because the child is entertained when interacting with them.
Studies have concluded that children who play with stuffed animals after surgery seem to be in less pain than those who don't. This could be explained by the fact that attention is redirected from the location of the pain to another preoccupation.
Emotional Regulation, Nurture
If you watch children interacting with their stuffed animals, you will see that many treat these animals as if they were living beings. For example, some children talk to the animals and tell them things that they may find embarrassing to tell other people, which allows them to vent and release tension.
Stuffed animals can allow children to practice emotional regulation without being afraid that they will be punished or suppressed.
Children are constantly learning from adults regarding how to nurture others. Consequently, stuffed toys help children to role-play and understand the importance of having a loving relationship with animals and other people.
Comfort and Safety
Uncomfortable positions and feelings of insecurity can trigger stress. Writing for Sleep.com, Jonathan Bender cites Dr. Kevin Smith, a Children’s Mercy Kansas City pediatric psychologist about children, specifically.
“For children,” Dr. Smith says, “transitional objects such as a blanket, teddy bear or doll can provide comfort as they transition from dependence to independence at night.
The Jerusalem Post reports that 74 5-year-olds living with their families in bomb shelters took part in a study and were given a toy called Huggy Puppy. The toy had a sad expression and huggable long arms. They were told the puppy was sad because he was far from home, had no friends and needed help from a friend. A follow-up two months later showed that 71% had lost their severe stress reactions.
These findings hold promise regarding whether stuffed animals can be used to assist children affected by other crises, such as illness and divorce.
The PsychologyToday.com piece cites the New York University Psychoanalytical Institute, which notes, “…the transitional object may be conceived of in three ways: as typifying a phase in a child’s development; as a defense against separation anxiety; and, lastly, as a neutral sphere in which experience is not challenged.”
The full version of this article can be found by visiting The Real-Life Science of Stuffed Animals, Children, and Stress Reduction.