Church Group Amplifies Spirit of Giving with Donations to Coconut Creek Nonprofit
Seven-year-old twin sisters Ava and Olivia Spence and their brother Henry Guertin, 10, are members of Cason Kids Care, a social service club at Cason United Methodist Church in Delray Beach, Fla. The club donated nearly $300 to Food For The Poor. {Photo by Brianne Guertin}

By Sharon Aron Baron

On International Youth Day, a church youth group from Cason United Methodist Church showcases the impact of giving back by supporting charities, including Food For The Poor, located in Coconut Creek.

Ask 10-year-old Henry Guertin what he wants to be when he grows up, and he doesn’t hesitate. “I want to be president of the United States,” he said. “Then I can help Food For The Poor.”

Henry speaks from personal experience. Alongside his 7-year-old twin sisters, Ava and Olivia Spence, he has already helped Food For The Poor (FFTP) and other charities, thanks to their involvement in Cason Kids Care, a social service club at Cason United Methodist Church in Delray Beach.

In January, they donated nearly $300 in proceeds from sales at their lemonade stand to FFTP, and they’re aiming to do even more this fall. The children, ages 6 to 11, are learning life lessons on commitment and generosity.

This year on International Youth Day, observed annually on August 12, FFTP is spotlighting the generosity and achievements of Cason Kids Care. The United Nations created the awareness day to draw global attention to the positive contributions that young people make to their communities.

In addition to supporting FFTP, the students raised money for pediatric cancer research, supported agencies addressing local hunger, made blankets for children in foster care, and assembled food/hygiene kits for the homeless and hungry. Club membership is open to all and doesn’t require a specific church affiliation.

“It’s incredible that these young people are focused on helping others at such an early age,” FFTP President/CEO Ed Raine said. “They are showing that age is not a factor if you want to assist people in desperate need, and we commend Cason United Methodist Church for giving them the opportunity to show how much they care.”

The church’s pastor, the Rev. David M. Schmidt, is also pleased with the club and its emphasis on helping children develop a spirit of service.

“When you focus on others, you realize there’s a benefit to helping people who are in desperate need,” Rev. Schmidt said. “You realize you’re not as bad off as you thought and that you have a lot to give people.”

The club was established last August by retired teacher Emily Popolizio, the Cason’s interim director of Children’s Ministries, to get more children involved in church programming.

Popolizio, who taught elementary school for 41 years, introduced the children to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) for Childhood Cancer, founded by the late Alexandra “Alex” Scott, who was diagnosed with childhood cancer. Alex sold lemonade to raise money to help children with cancer. Although she succumbed to cancer when she was 8, Alex’s family continues her work through the foundation.

Inspired by Alex’s story, the Cason Kids built their own lemonade stand and went to work. Last October, selling lemonade for $1 per cup at the church’s Pumpkin Patch, they raised $500 and donated it to ALSF for pediatric cancer research.

Following their first taste of success, the students began exploring other nonprofits and learning about global hunger, which led them to FFTP.

An FFTP video about a girl in Haiti whose family was struggling to survive touched all the children, including 11-year-old Kayla Higgs, who is part of the program with her 9-year-old brother, Alex.

“I felt bad for her,” Kayla said. “But Food For The Poor helped her family get food and the stuff they needed.”

In addition to donating proceeds from their holiday sale of lemonade in December, Popolizio asked the children to pretend they were CEOs of the charity and decide how they would spend $500 on items in the FFTP gift catalog.

“They decided what they would purchase for a family, whether it was a goat for milk or chickens for eggs,” said Henry’s mom, Brianne Guertin. “It wasn’t real, but to see them think about what they would give that family was great.”

This fall, the club will raise funds for FFTP in a Cards and Cookies campaign at the church’s annual Pumpkin Patch. To generate income, they will sell lemonade and handcrafted banana bark cards created by artisans in Haiti. Every customer will receive a cookie baked by the children as a thank-you gift.

Church Group Amplifies Spirit of Giving with Donations to Coconut Creek Nonprofit
John Thomason (far left), Food For The Poor Volunteer Program Associate, and Pennie Stagnitta (far right), FFTP Volunteer Program Coordinator, visited members of Cason Kids Care to thank them for their support of FFTP on International Youth Day on August 12. {Photo by Food For The Poor}

Learning about FFTP was an eye-opener for 11-year-old Antonio Caycho, a talented artist and athlete who wants to be an archeologist, a gamer, and a professional basketball player.

“I learned how easy life is for us and how hard life is for (other people),” Antonio said. “I feel bad for them because they don’t have enough money to get stuff they need to live.”

Antonio’s sisters, Ciela, 9, and Francesca, 7, are also in Cason Kids Care. Their mom, Melinda Caycho, is pleased with the project and its impact on her children.

“They learned how privileged we are – how privileged most people in this country are,” she said. “Some people don’t have water to drink, and we just turn on a faucet, and there it is. To get them out of their own headspace and help others in need is wonderful.”

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Sharon Aron Baron
Sharon Aron Baron
Sharon Aron Baron is a Parkland resident and editor of Talk Media. She has been covering Parkland news since 2012. Parkland Talk was created to provide News, Views, and Entertainment for the residents of Parkland.