Newsome High School students helped their Criminal Justice Teacher, Carlos Somellan, fulfill his daughter’s dying wish.
“In 2013, unfortunately, I lost my daughter who was 29 years old to cancer. Prior to her death, she made me promise her that I would do something to help the children that are stricken with this dreadful disease,” Somellan said.
Christina lost her battle to cervical cancer. She left behind a 10-year-old son. “She said to me, and I’ll never forget because it was one of the last things that she said to me, she said, Dad, I know the pain and the hurt that I went through, I can’t imagine a kid going through this. I made a promise to her. My kids allow me to live that promise out,” said Somellan.
Somellan had been coaching baseball at the school for five years. When the lieutenant retired from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office last year, he began teaching at Newsome and launched a toy drive in memory of his daughter. This year, he once again rallied his Criminal Justice students to donate toys to kids with cancer at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital - and students delivered.
“I love doing this all for Coach and for the kids. It’s a special moment. It means a lot of him. It kind of brings me to tears, knowing how much this means to him,” said Newsome Senior Quintin Sumpter.
“It’s amazing to see how many toys we have, because it’s a lot more than last year, and it’s just nice to know that everyone cares and wants to see other kids happy,” said Katie Rothley, a Newsome Junior.
“There’s tons of books, which is great, there’s Barbie dolls, and toy trucks, and there’s infant toys this year, because we didn’t have a lot of those last year, so we made a big importance to get a lot of those this year,” said Newsome Sophomore Angelina Defelix.
Students tallied the toys as they boxed them up. When they added the numbers, they revealed they collected 528 toys – twice as many as they donated last year. The classroom erupted in cheers and Somellan fought back tears. The outpouring of support was overwhelming.
“You’re not only going to impact Christmas, but you’re going to impact a birthday, a special occasion, you’re going to make a whole year. Right now, a bunch of them are getting treatments and tonight, they get to smile. That’s because of you,” Somellan said.
For many students, the toy drive is personal. “My little brother had cancer. He had a brain tumor. So, seeing 530 toys that are going towards kids and families that can’t afford getting toys because of the treatments, it’s awesome,” said Jesse Wombacher, a Newsome senior.
“I’ve had family members that passed away because of cancer. It just feels great to be able to do something for the kids who have it,” said Madison Ballou, a Newsome sophomore.
On a Friday after school, instead of starting their weekend, students made a very special delivery to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. They unloaded toys by the car-full and hauled them into the hospital’s lobby.
“I know a little girl who’s in the hospital right now, just laying in bed all day and being hooked up to all of these IVs. It’s really hard to see that. These toys will really make a difference,” Rothley said.
“I am absolutely the luckiest teacher in this county. I teach about 300 of the best students there that are in this county. Police work isn’t always just all about arresting, always about handcuffing and chasing in a car. It’s about seeing a person that’s in need,” Somellan said.
Students do take away a valuable lesson: compassion and caring for others.
“With how important it is to Coach, it’s really important to us, because he’s such a big influence in our every single day lives,” said Defelix.
“He’s been there for me through a lot, so I love seeing him enjoy himself during moments like this,” said Sumpter.
While the students didn’t meet the patients, the hospital insists the donation will make a big impact.
“These toys not only will go to our holiday shop that we do host annually for those in-patient close to the holiday, but also year round. We often give out birthday gifts, or end-of-treatment party gifts, or recognize just milestones in patients’ treatment,” said St. Jospeh’s Children’s Hospital Child Life Supervisor, Hadley Trull.
Trull said the toys will also help stock the hospital’s play room. It’s a safe place where the patients can go to feel like kids and not talk about their treatments.
“It really is a huge, huge help that we just don’t have the funding to do without wonderful donors like them,” said Trull.
Trull told Somellan and students, “We want to cheer for you guys,” and gave them a round of applause for the donation. Christina’s son, who is now a student at Riverview High School, was also there for the delivery.
Somellan said he knows his daughter would be proud.
“Tonight, I get to hit my knees and let her know that I continued to fill one more promise, and she smiles. I can feel it. Tonight, she smiles,” said Somellan.
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