It's not an assembly line that would rival one of the big three automakers in Detroit, but for four Valrico siblings the mission is no less important. • The Diaz kids like to set the production process on their dining room table instead of a conveyor belt. They often manufacture arts and crafts for deserving children and elderly, or fill treat bags for special occasions and functions. • Recently, they spent more than 18 hours painting picture frames and stuffing goody bags for the prom that St. Joseph's Children's Hospital put on earlier this month for its 75 patients too sick to attend a school prom. • They get plenty of help from parents Kelly and Chris, but Christopher, Nicholas, Cameron and Taylor Diaz are really driven by the infectious generosity that first began with their cousins in the Sasso family in Tampa. • The result? The Diaz kids received the inaugural "Super Siblings Award" in March as part of the St. Joseph's Kids are Heroes program. Judges were so impressed with the kids they created the super siblings category just for them.
"We love that our children are so community-minded and that helping those in need has become part of who they are," Kelly Diaz said. "We are so proud of them."
How did it all start? Well, it's all in the family.
The Diazes' cousin, Jennifer Sasso, founded a nonprofit organization, Creative Kids Count Inc., in 1999, when she was 14. When she left for college, the organization was taken over by her younger sisters, Allison and Emily. Creative Kids is a "kids by kids" organization. Its mission is to help children who are sick, abused, handicapped, orphaned or at-risk. The organization has helped more than 30,000 children and raised more than $70,000 in grants and donations over the last 14 years.
Christopher Diaz, the eldest of the four Diaz kids, has led the family's 11-year involvement with Creative Kids, lending a hand since he was 7. A senior at Bloomingdale High, Christopher proved a natural at helping the children at the orphanages and shelters that Creative Kids visited, as well as bringing brightness to the elderly that they visited at assisted living facilities.
"My drive and motivation to do all of my volunteering is, I am able to see the kids I work with smile and to see how happy the parents of the kids are when they see their children achieve their goals," Christopher said. "Just knowing I am making an impact on their lives is so rewarding, but even more importantly, they are making an even bigger impact on my life."
Last summer, Christopher received an internship at the All Children's Specialty Center of Brandon/All Children's Outpatient Center. This internship stemmed from his work with the center since October 2011. This summer he will complete his second internship with All Children's.
The other Diaz siblings often join Christopher in the outpatient and in-patient therapy area, helping more than 75 patients with crafts and snacks to facilitate the children's therapy.
They also volunteer during the summer and on holidays to help the children make holiday-appropriate crafts. Their mom, Kelly, works with the many therapists to see what type of crafts would help specific patients enrolled in food, physical and occupational therapies at the center.
Grants and donations to Creative Kids help with the cost of the crafts.
Nicholas, 13, works well with a young 4-year-old boy, at All Children's Specialty, and has helped him with his social development. Nicholas is calm, patient and very caring. He is on the Student Council at Valrico Charter School and his compassion is apparent when he stands up for those who are bullied or ridiculed at his school.
Nicholas and Cameron, 10, write the Creative Kids newsletter, chronicling all the nonprofit's activities.
Cameron also helps his mom shop for monthly art supplies and maintains the budget for the supplies. In addition to helping the children and elderly with the therapy crafts, once a month he helps his grandfather deliver Meals on Wheels in the Lutz area.
"Working with the elderly is my specialty," Cameron said. "It is a great feeling when I can brighten their day. I enjoy visiting with them as some may not have family, and I enjoy seeing the smile on their faces when I spend time with them."
Taylor, who is only 5 and in kindergarten, attends the Creative Kids meetings and helps the others with crafts. Last year, she gave a speech to her school about Creative Kids and asked her classmates to help with the Creative Kids Book Drive. The club collected more than 400 books.
Kelly Diaz said that each of her children have a unique gift but that the kids and elderly folks they help give as much, or more, in return. The relationship benefits all concerned.
Teresa Slattery Amin can be reached at [email protected]