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At-risk kids treated to special holiday party

The GFWC New Tampa Woman’s Club is all about doing good deeds for others.

It’s what they do all year long, but the ones that likely put the most smiles on the faces of everyone involved are those having to do with kids.

That was indeed the case recently when a group of the women descended upon the RICH (Resources in Community Hope) House in the Robles Park neighborhood to host a Christmas party. The event was for at-risk children who come to the center operated by the Tampa Police Department in the high-crime community because it’s a safe haven for having fun and engaging in constructive activities.

This day at the center, however, was devoted entirely to merriment and the place was aglow with happy faces as club members treated the disadvantaged kids, ages 7 through 17, to a holiday celebration that included lunch, games, cookie decorating and crafts, such as making felt ornaments to adorn their at-home Christmas trees.

In addition, each of the 33 youths at the party received two toys, purchased by club members from a list of “toy interest” lists, provided by Tampa Police Officer Susan Bowers, the center’s director.

In turn, their parents — most of whom were present — were asked to take the gifts home, wrap them with the festive paper provided, and place them under their Christmas trees.

Moreover, the kids also took home jackets, shoes, socks and underwear, compliments of the club members, plus toothbrushes donated by an unnamed dentist.

Every family also received the fixings for a healthy holiday dinner, including a ham, thanks to a $750 GFWC One Voice for Children grant club president Jennifer Lee applied for and received through the GFWC Florida headquarters in Lakeland.

Bowers called the women’s generosity “awesome.”

“I want the kids to see that people in the community are doing this for them and I want them to learn as they get older they can pay it forward,” she said.

Tampa Police Officer Deine Penix, who comes once a week to help with the RICH House’s after-school program and happened to be there for the party and gift giving, concurred.

“This is a wonderful thing,” she said. “It shows love and they need to show their appreciation by giving back as they get older.”

Catrina Sistrunk, GFWC Florida’s director of junior women’s clubs, drove down from her home in Williston, to take part in the festivities.

“It’s wonderful to see all the excitement in the children’s eyes,” Sistrunk said.

Ten-year-old Damion Crumpton — who has been coming to the center since it opened in May 2013 and loves having a place that keeps him off the streets and away from drugs and violence — spent much of his time decorating Christmas cookies with red and green sprinkles.

“This party is great and it’s fun to get to hang out with the other kids and meet their parents,” he said.

Lenardo Moadragon, 8, called the affair “cool” as he showed off the red and green felt stuffed pillow he handcrafted and also was allowed to take home.

“We get to eat and get presents and do a lot of other fun stuff,” he said.

Suzanne Hogan, a newbie to the club, kept busy helping the kids make take-home ornaments for their Christmas trees.

“I’m very happy to be here,” she said. “Having this place in this community is a good way to get these kids off the streets and doing things that are good for them.”

Damion’s sister, Felecia Crumpton, 11, took a break from a game of bingo to express her appreciation to the members of the New Tampa Junior Woman’s Club.

“I think the party and getting all the gifts is awesome,” she said. “Everybody gets to leave with something and I even got to see Santa and Mrs. Claus.”

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at joycecmckenzie@gmail.com.

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