OUHSD students volunteer for local Toy Drive

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The Ramona School cafeteria in La Colonia on Thursday was full of bright-eyed, smiling children exchanging high-fives and wishes for a “Merry Christmas” with teenage volunteers while each of the school’s 550 students received what, for some, would be their only toy of this Christmas season.

“I like this because they give us great toys,” said Isidro Cejan, clasping a rocket-shaped toss toy.

Isidro, 10, a fourth-grader whose younger brother and older sister also attend Ramona, said he was hoping for a “Nintendo disc” for Christmas.

“We don’t have any presents at home, yet,” explained Isidro, “because my mother and father want to keep it secret and surprise us on Christmas Day.”

Isidro’s 9-year-old classmate, Jenny Morales, smiled shyly and said there would be no presents at home on Christmas Day. But she was happy to receive a tin box with Hannah Montana’s picture on the outside and trading cards inside.

“I have friends who have these cards and now I can trade with them,” she said.

Alexis Garcia, 9, had a package labeled “Catcher Packet.” Inside were two small, loosely strung plastic rackets and a foam ball.

“I like it. It’s fun,” said Alexis. “I played it before with my nephew, Eduardo. My mom has bought us some (presents), but only one each. But that’s better than nothing.

“My dad, in December, has had no job,” she added. “But I will get more presents in April for my birthday.”

The toy giveaway was organized by Paula Phillips, founder of Right Road Kids. The goal of RRK is to help children build character, confidence and self-esteem through classroom sessions at schools and youth organizations throughout Ventura County and nationwide.

Phillips, who formerly worked in the entertainment industry, started RRK after being confronted by an angry teenage boy during the Rodney King riots in 1992.

“He exploded firecrackers in front of my face and said, ‘I’m going to kill you,’” Phillips said. “I was so concerned about the direction our youth were headed that I quit my job and started helping kids find the right road.”

Phillips said she put together the toy giveaway after a session with kindergartners at Ramona School. Because it was nearly Christmas, she also gave each student in the class a small toy. She said one boy was “so overjoyed” with a little race car that he held it close to his heart and smiled for a half-hour.

“The boy sat there looking at and hugging the toy like he’d won the lottery,” said Phillips. “And it was a $1 Matchbox toy. I decided the kids needed and deserved it (a Christmas gift). I wanted to do it for the whole school.”

Phillips found sponsors for a toy drive at the DCH Auto Group and volunteers from Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly Students Against Driving Drunk) chapters at Camarillo and Rio Mesa High schools to wrap about 700 donated toys.

“I got involved with SADD because it does a lot of community service,” said Michelle Fernandez, 17, a senior at Rio Mesa. “I like to see the looks on their faces. We always had gifts when I was a kid.

“I feel like SADD has changed me,” she added. “I care about others more.”

Cory Ellis, a 17-year-old senior at Camarillo High, said that after helping wrap the presents he wanted to see the results.

“I wanted to see the kids’ faces after all that work,” he said. “It makes me feel good to see these underprivileged kids so happy.”

“What was priceless was bringing them around the corner into the cafeteria and hearing their gasps of joy when they saw the decorations and presents,” said Principal Rossana Padilla. “It’s amazing how everyone stepped up to make this happen.”

Alfredo Gutierrez, the school’s community outreach consultant, said it was “amazing how one small toy makes a big difference in a kid’s life.” He said all but one of the school’s students are Latino and children of migrant workers.

“We try to make a positive change in the kids by providing a nurturing campus,” said Gutierrez. “We try to create a safety net for them here so they will feel safe.”

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