Raising funds for school supplies

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The community was treated to a night of good food and cheer at the Isla Del Sol Yacht and Country Club last month when the Spirit of Tampa Bay Community Choir held its annual Winter Wonderland Gala.

Performing for four years now, the Spirit of Tampa Bay Community Choir spends their time throughout the year giving back to the community and Melrose Elementary School just happens to be the recipients of their generosity.

“This is the choir’s baby,” said Dr. Yvonne Williams who is the founder of the choir.

Melrose Elementary has earned a failing grade for more than the last five years as assessed on FCAT standards. A journalism magnet school in which students receive hands on, real world experience in the journalistic arts such as writing, public speaking and videography.

The school, located at 1752 13th Ave. S., is home to a student population of roughly 88 percent African American. One hundred percent of students, according to Principal Nanette Grasso, receive free or reduced lunch.

“It is probably the highest poverty school in all of Pinellas County,” said Principal Grasso who offers not only free breakfast to every child that walks through the doors of Melrose, but also free dinner to those students participating in the extended learning opportunities after school.

So with families struggling to make ends meet, school supplies are at the bottom of the list. That’s where the members of the Spirit of Tampa Bay Community Choir come in time and time again to help out.

“This is our fundraiser for the whole year,” explained Yvonne Reed Clayton. Clayton is the president of the choir organization and is also a strong supporter of Melrose. An educator for more than 50 years, she once worked as a third grade teacher at Melrose and knows firsthand the struggles the school has faced in the past and continues to work through today.

In fact, there are other former teachers of Melrose in the choir and even some past students have joined. “That’s really why the school was chosen,” admitted Williams.

Members of the choir are active with other organizations, sororities and even hail from different denominations of churches in the city. Some participants may not even be affiliated with a local church, but all are welcome in the community choir and all who are willing to standup and help out Melrose are welcomed with a smile.

“This is the school we have adopted,” added Williams who is proud to contribute to the education of the students.

More tickets for the fundraising event were sold than expected and at $25 a pop for an evening of music and delicious food, it seems a lot of families will continue to be helped out with school supplies and tutoring assistance.

The Spirit of Tampa Bay Community Choir purchase backpacks, paper, glue sticks, pencils and writing journals that are now needed for all subject areas in school.

“It’s so wonderful because we don’t have the active PTA that some of the other schools have,” explained Grasso. So getting a large amount of school supplies to ensure each girl and boy in attendance has plenty is a blessing. “They load us up with truckloads, kids are just so excited.”

Grasso also uses some of the donated supplies in Melrose’s school store as an incentive to keep behaviors in check. Instead of money, students can earn points for positive behavior and purchase anything from pencils to backpacks.

“They love to get new notebooks,” she said of the students who buy into the program and get a sense of accomplishment from earning their rewards. And Grasso can’t show her gratitude enough to the women of the choir that make it all possible.

“They are doing so much to help so many of those kids,” she said. “We appreciate them so much.”

The Spirit of Tampa Bay Community Choir, under the direction of Armondo Bickum, consists currently of 35 members and performs at various events throughout the year such as Shout St. Pete Shout, Emancipation Proclamation Services, World Day of Peace, Omega Psi Phi Achievement Week Program and various other programs and events.

Eloise Thompson accepted the Founders Award for her dedicated service in front of the 233 in attendance.

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