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Students converge to help children

Ashley asked the little girl where she wanted her sock puppet's nose to go. The sock puppet, which the girl appropriately named Puppet, has three eyes and an orange nose.

Actually, nearly every piece of art the children created last week at the Child Abuse Council had an abnormal amount of eyes, white plastic ones with floating black pupils.

Ashley Thomas is 12 years old, and a seventh-grader at Tampa Preparatory School. Twenty-three of her classmates were at the Child Abuse Council too, volunteering as part of Tampa Prep's day of community service, called Terrapin Day after the school's mascot.

Terrapin Day was hosted by the school's Diversity Committee, a group made up of faculty members, parents and some students. The committee was established to ensure that the school maintains a connection with all aspects of the community. Every year committee members try to do something different, and this has been their biggest effort yet.

All 680 students were split up into groups and assigned to one of more than 20 locations. The Child Abuse Council's child care center was one of them. Students also went to Francis House, Horses for Handicapped and America's Second Harvest, among others.

"A lot of these kids haven't had much exposure to these things," said Joe Fenlon, director of middle school at Tampa Prep. "This is a chance for them to do something out of the ordinary for them."

The child care center is one of five that the council runs. Each provides day care for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Some of these children are in foster homes, and at this particular location, all but one come from single-parent homes, according to the council's director of human resources, Angeleah Kinsler.

The students from Tampa Prep sat around a table with the kids, looking awkward but not at all uncomfortable in the kiddie chairs. They helped them make sock puppets and other art projects. Their main job was to glue on the eyes. Out on the playground, students pushed the 4- and 5-year-olds on the swings and played basketball with them.

Joel Greenbaum, a Tampa Prep student, wouldn't leave 5-year-old Zjay Herrera's side until he stopped crying, and Olivia Butler read to a group of spellbound 3-year-olds. One student made a crown, pink and blue with the child's name written big and bold across the front.

Some of these students aren't strangers to community service - the school makes sure of that - but the hope is that a few will feel moved by the experience and want to do more. Choosing to help so many different organizations gives the students an idea of how many ways there are to help, whether by doing landscaping at the zoo or sorting and organizing donations at a thrift store.

Back at the center, the little girl was not happy with where Ashley placed Puppet's third eye. She took it off and put it exactly where she wanted it. A satisfied smile finally spread across her face.

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