Each year, ODA families collect donations to create full Thanksgiving meals for over 70 families at Gocio Elementary. This year, a former student shared a personal account of the impact of projects such as these on the recipients.
Ms. Marya Annicelli, Assistant Principal at Gocio Elementary School, and Elija Zuchelli, a sixth grader at Sarasota Military Academy and former Gocio student, addressed the entire Uihlein Campus student body this week during Ovation. Ms. Annicelli spoke about the importance of the relationship Gocio has with ODA, and how the assistance the Out-of-Door community lends has deeper meaning to those who receive it. She talked about the Thanksgiving meals we provide for their families, as well as books for their library and other essentials. "It is through peoples’ stories that we can understand and connect to others," said Ms. Annicelli, as she invited Elija to the podium.
Elija stoically told his heart-wrenching story, sharing the challenges his parents faced due to drug dependence, being moved to foster care when he was in second grade, and how he and his sister were eventually adopted by a wonderful family. He reflected that the activities run by ODA student volunteers such as the Family Sports Night, were events in elementary school that made his rollercoaster childhood feel more normal. Elija talked about the importance of giving back, and how even when you don't necessarily see the direct impact your actions are making, it is important to know that there are others that truly appreciate them. Elija's honest, soul-baring words were moving and inspirational, prompting the entire Thunderdome to their feet in a standing ovation.