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Spreading love through books

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As Hernando County students return to school, one class will pause to celebrate a well-learned lesson just before the holiday break; a lesson in giving.

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At the end of last year, as in many years past, fourth-grade Teacher Katie Sessa-Milano and her students at Chocachatti Elementary School in Brooksville assembled a mass collection of books to give to children in need. They have collected approximately 70 books from November 1 until mid-December to donate to children that the Hernando Schools Transitional Program serves.

“My students and I collected brand new books for the Hernando County students,” Katie Sessa-Milano said. “My students, each year, buy brand new toys or books to donate for kids.” This collection truly is a team effort.

Sessa-Milano continued, “I coordinate this project with Chocachatti Elementary teachers Kim Moynihan and Karen Como. Our micro coordinator, Silvina Doherty, requires all micros at Chocachatti to do a heart strand. This heart strand allows students and teachers to connect to the community in a giving way. Mrs. Moynihan, Mrs. Como, and myself use this give-back project for our heart strand in our micro. At CES, we choose an organization or business to connect with. We chose our very own students from the county who are in need!!”

The collection drive has genuinely become a tradition at Chocachatti. “Each year, our class and micro heart strand donates to the Hernando Schools Transitional Program,” said Sessa-Milano. “One year we did toys, another year we did poem books, and this year was the books and Locomo coupons.”

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This also proved to be a deeply personal project for the students involved. The fourth-grade teacher shared, “Our CES parents send in books, my students write Christmas notes and make bookmarks. The students and their families go out shopping and choose books based on a variety of reading levels and student ages. A very special parent named April Carritt contributed generously to the book and toy exchange. She is a big help for this micro heart strand year after year!”

Sessa-Milano, who also co-owns the Locomo Dance Skate Party in Spring Hill, added her personal touch to the proceedings. “Locomo (my husband and I own) donated coupons to hide inside each book, too!” she said.

Project coordinators then teamed up with Shanika Figueroa Rodriguez to distribute the collected books, many of which went to the annual Shop With A Cop Program, coordinated by Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, Timber Pines, the Hernando County School District, and Walmart to benefit local kids in need, through the buying and giving of books, gifts, and clothing.

“We partnered up with Shanika from Hernando Schools Transitional Program, and she brought them to Shop with a Cop,” Sessa-Milano explained.

The kids who are giving also benefit just as much as those who receive. “Our students benefit from this giveback project because they learn more about giving than receiving during this holiday time. Most importantly, they tie this project with their micro heart strand. Each child has a micro they work for, and the purpose is to tie real-life world experiences back to the school community,” Sessa-Milano said. “Giving to their peers, they are learning alongside them proves that each child is the same and everyone deserves a magical Christmas.”

Aside from a love of reading, this project spreads a lot of love and sunshine in its wake. Sessa-Milano shared, “The students who receive may not know their peers donated, but they know their community cares and loves for them. That is the real reason why we do it. No recognition, but for the love it spreads.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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