Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lake Jovita couple teams with bank to ensure mistreated, orphaned teens have a special Christmas

DADE CITY — Jerry Perritt ached when he heard what the kids from the Florida Baptist Children's Home wanted for Christmas.

Shoes. Socks. Deodorant. Nail polish. Shampoo.

"They were asking for their own drinking cups," recalled Perritt, 69. "It just kind of tugged at my heartstrings."

Life has been good to Perritt. The former finance professor ran a small but successful investment firm, Perritt Capital Management, before selling it last year. He still does some work for the Chicago-based firm and started a rare coin business on the side. He and his wife, Gail, live in Lake Jovita. They have a special affection for children because they never had any of their own.

They wanted to help last year when they heard CenterState Bank was throwing a Christmas party for about two dozen teens from the group home in Lakeland, which provides safe haven in cozy cottages for mistreated or orphaned children.

Then the Perritts saw the teens' wish lists, practical and modest.

This wouldn't do.

"So we said, 'What the devil, tell the kids to put whatever they would really like at the top of their wish list,' " said Perritt. And he and his wife would personally buy that top item for each and every kid.

It took some nudging to get the kids to dream big. "I basically had to force them to ask for a toy or an electronic device," said Bonnie Krummen, the Dade City CenterState branch manager who launched the annual event a couple of years ago, with numerous employees and customers chipping in with gifts. "I had to encourage them: 'We want you to ask for something a kid your age would want if you could wish for anything for Christmas.' "

Last year many of the kids wanted digital cameras. Perritt watched with satisfaction as the teens spent the last hour of the party giddily snapping pictures of each other.

The Perritts made the same wish list pledge this year. They'd go out and buy the biggest gift on each kid's list, while other donors pitched in with the smaller presents. About 30 kids came to the Dade City bank on Tuesday afternoon for a party, games, dinner at Tom's Restaurant — and of course the gift exchange.

A couple of the older teens wanted items for a new life: A bed they can take when they move into their first apartment, a mini fridge they can set up in their first college dorm room.

Many kids wanted MP4 media players, which can play music and video.

"Thank you so much, I'm so happy," Gilda Ceballos, 15, said as she opened her presents: clothes, perfume, shoes and a hair straightener. "I want to be Santa Claus. I don't know how he does it."

The teens also asked for practical items for their communal homes: high-powered vacuum cleaners, pots and pans, even a weedwhacker. The Perritts bought those items, too, and held a mock auction at Tuesday's party so residents from the different cottages could playfully bid against each other for whatever they wanted.

There was a similar auction at last year's party using play money. But this year the Perritts handed thick stacks of $1 bills to each group to use in the auction. Ultimately that money would get donated to Florida Baptist Children's Home as well.

Jerry Perritt said supporting such worthy organizations shouldn't be a once-a-year event. He and his wife plan to spend more time volunteering at the Lakeland facility and helping with philanthropic efforts.

But there is a special joy in restoring the Christmas dream for kids who have lost so much. Perritt was almost at a loss for words as he saw the kids enjoy their presents.

"We just wanted to, once a year, let the kids know they should get the things they deserve," Perritt said.

Times photographer Steve Coddington contributed to this report.

>>fast facts

Florida Baptist Children's Home

Florida Baptist Children's Homes operates seven residential facilities around the state for abused, neglected or orphaned children. The nonprofit also has several community ministry offices that provide family counseling, service referrals, adoption services and other support to children and families in need.

The Lakeland campus covers about 35 acres, with four "cottages" where kids live in a residential setting with adult caregivers. The facility also has an emergency shelter for children and a home for developmentally delayed women. All told, the campus can accommodate up to 44 children.

CenterState Bank in Dade City held its first party in 2009 for teens from the Lakeland facility, recognizing that older kids are often overlooked in holiday toy drives. Dade City branch manager Bonnie Krummen wanted to do something to help an orphanage.

"My mother was raised in an orphanage, and she was never adopted, so that was kind of near and dear to my heart," Krummen said.

For information on Florida Baptist Children's Homes, visit or call the Lakeland facility at (863) 688-4981.

Lake Jovita couple teams with bank to ensure mistreated, orphaned teens have a special Christmas 12/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 9:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.