Lakewood Ranch high school students give back to a local charity.
Jessica Ryherd and her four children sat up high in the stands of the Lakewood Ranch High School auditorium. Her son, a 6-year-old named Oliver, munched on a slice of pizza as he sat close to his mom in an oversized, yellow T-shirt.
“We help fill the backpacks,” he said proudly.
Ryherd smiled. “They’re my best volunteers,” she said, looking at all of her kids including 12-year-old twin Alexandra and Caitlyn and 9-year-old Sarala.
Lakewood Ranch high school students came in a close second for her March 12 as they raised money for Feeding Empty Little Tummies at their Student Government Association-organized dodgeball tournament.
F.E.L.T. is a nonprofit in Bradenton that gets kids registered with Project Homeless Education and Resource Team (HEART) a free backpack filled with food home for the weekend. In one of their most recent numbers, F.E.L.T. fed 574 students in 43 schools in the area.
Ryherd, who is the volunteer coordinator for F.E.L.T., said the money the students raised will go toward food donations and buying more backpacks.
The dodgeball tournament ran on a bracket system, with different teams squaring up to eliminate each other and advance on to the next round. Not all the teams were made up of students; one team of teachers played, as well.
Ryherd said that events such as the tournament are vital to raising awareness for F.E.LT..
“As the volunteer coordinator, one of my biggest things is teaching students about empathy,” Ryherd said. “They need to know there are kids around them with a need that needs to be filled that don’t have the same advantages as them necessarily.”
“This is a chance for the kids at this school to get out, do something good and have fun doing it,” Jake Degnan, a freshman who single-handedly won a game for his team. “It’s really fun to see everyone come together and do it for charity.”
Maddie Koczersut, a junior volleyball player at Lakewood Ranch, made the winning throw from her team, bouncing it off her opponent.
“It’s a fun time with friends and it goes to a good charity,” Koczersut said.