Helping Hands

A group of shining stars ages 7 to 18 make it their mission to care for our community—and for one another.

They are a group helping others. The cancer survivor who collects toys for young hospitalized patients. The trio of siblings who make handmade hearts to provide cheer to all. The middle-schoolers who raise money so that no financially strapped classmates are left behind on field trips. The teenager who collects clothing and outfits for the poorest of the poor, all for free. Read the moving stories of these selfless community helpers and prepare to be inspired.

From left: Victoria, Jacquelyn and Gavin Salisbury carry  handmade hearts to give out wherever they go, inspired by the need for love after the Pulse nightclub shooting. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Gavin, Victoria & Jacquelyn Salisbury

After Pulse, they share love via handmade hearts. By Cheri Henderson

BROKEN HEARTS MADE WHOLE: Winter Garden mom Amanda Salisbury wasn’t ready to talk to 11-year-old Gavin, 10-year-old Victoria and 7-year-old Jacquelyn about the Pulse nightclub shootings when the family gathered at home that June evening. She was less prepared for how her children would respond. Gavin, who remembered a sewing class the kids had taken at a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store, had an idea: make and distribute handmade hearts using leftover supplies they had in their garage. “After they did 50, they wanted to do 100,” Amanda recalls. “I told my husband, ‘Yeah, they’re in this for the long haul.’” Her prediction—roughly 4,000 hearts ago—proved correct. Each heart includes a card signed by its creator that says, “Love is free. So are these hearts.’’

NOT-SO-RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS: The kids called their initiative Hang a Heart. They immediately had the support of their mom’s cousin, Orlando lawyer Sancha Whynot, whose neighbor is Pulse entertainment manager Neema Bahrami. Whynot suggested the kids hang a heart on Bahrami’s door. “When he came out of his home and saw the heart, he was very touched and asked if they could make some more to give to the employees and the family members who lost people, and they did,” she says. Bahrami has passed out hearts at various events to celebrities such as Nick Jonas, Kelly Clarkson and Demi Lovato. “What these kids have done has empowered me to push forward and teach our youth and adults to love more,” he says.

A COMMUNITY AND WORLDWIDE EFFORT: Hang a Heart has sponsored several events, often attended by 150 to 200 people, to sew more hearts for distribution. “We’ve become a brokerage for hearts,” Amanda Salisbury laughs. Students at Celebration High School and Lake Mary High have contributed hearts to the campaign, which is awaiting official status as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. According to Gavin, this will give Hang a Heart—which has already distributed hearts to survivors of the July terrorist attack in France and police officers in multiple jurisdictions— more worldwide leverage. “We will get a lot more people’s attention and we’ll have more supplies and more people to make more hearts. That way we will give lots of love to more people in the world, like France or Africa or Australia—everywhere in the world.”

Neillia Nicholas tutors students at Ivey Lane Elementary School, as well as her fellow students at Jones High School. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Neillia Nicholas

She commits hundreds of hours to tutoring and mentoring students so “they can do something better.” By Cheri Henderson

FIRST SHE TAUGHT HERSELF: A senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Jones High School in Orlando, 18-year-old Neillia and her mom, Mellisa Lubin, immigrated from the eastern Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia when Neillia was 2. “I don’t speak Creole to my kids,’’ Lubin says. “But suddenly, in fourth grade, according to Neillia, she started understanding it after some Creole-speaking cousins came to visit. Soon, she was helping others.

HOURS BECAME YEARS: It began in eighth grade, when Neillia would go to Ivey Lane Elementary School to pick up her now 10-year-old sister, Sealy. “I would see one of the kids needed help with his homework. I like to help people. So I would help them with their homework and have fun.”

AN ACHIEVER—AND OVERACHIEVER: A year later, Neillia officially became a tutor with the Mercy Drive Achiever’s Club, which offers tutoring and mentoring at Ivey Lane. Now serving five days a week there, Neillia has racked up more than 200 hours tutoring students. including those who speak Creole. She also tutors fellow Jones students in math and biology while serving as senior class treasurer and a school athletic trainer. “She’s one of those kids who goes back and gets somebody’s hand and pulls them along,” says school counselor Alice Gordon. “Her smartness is she reaches back and helps somebody else.”

DO UNTO OTHERS: Neillia says she gives the support she wishes she had gotten. “When I was growing up, my mom worked a lot, so she couldn’t really help me with my homework. I’m giving students the help they can’t get at home,” she says. “She puts herself in their situation,” Lubin says. “They click with her right away.”

INSPIRING HER MOTHER: In the evening, as Neillia goes over her school work with her mom, she inadvertently tutors her in math, Neillia’s strongest subject. “She’s kind of thinking about going back to school. It makes me proud to know I impacted her to think she can do that,” Neillia says. 

SHOWING KIDS ‘A WAY OUT’: Neillia, who plans to pursue sports medicine, encourages girls not to give up even when school seems too hard. “You need someone to tell you how it is. I don’t sugarcoat anything. I say, ‘Look at me. I’m heading for a good future.’ They don’t have to stay in the community where they are. That’s not the endpoint. They can do something better.”

Grey Chapin with her older sister, Blair. “She has so much courage, just like every other child with Sanfilippo, and I think that’s incredible,’’ Grey says of Blair. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Grey Chapin

She takes a stand to help find a cure for her sister’s neurological disease. By Cheri Henderson

A FAMILY’S STRUGGLE: Grey Chapin’s sister Blair, 15, was diagnosed in 2006 with Sanfilippo Syndrome, a progressive neurological disease. “Blair needs 24-hour care including feeding and all self-care skills,” explains Susan Chapin, the girls’ mom. Despite that, 13-year-old Grey “has never complained of being bored or questioned our need to take care of Blair first.” In fact, Blair inspires her little sister. “She has so much courage, just like every other child with Sanfilippo, and I think that’s incredible,” says Grey, who hopes to become a genetic counselor “so I can help families like ours.”

HOPE BY THE GLASS: When Grey was 6, she decided she needed to do something to help Blair and other kids like her. So she launched a Purple Lemonade Stand. “My kindergarten class had a lemonade stand to raise money to save the manatees,” Grey recalls. “That gave me the idea that we could do the same thing for Blair. I decided on purple because it represents her disease and courage.” She distributed flyers and promoted the stand on Facebook and via email. Since that first event in 2011, Blair has held one each year in her neighborhood, raising about $125,000 and inspiring the launch of Purple Lemonade Stands worldwide to fund research into finding a cure. Through the global fundraising effort, the first clinical treatment trial took place in 2015.

AN AMAZING RESPONSE: Every year, friends and family members contribute baked goods, and the crowds just keep coming. A soccer player, Grey was thrilled to see several Orlando Pride players in line at her last event. “When people come to our lemonade stand for the first time, they are so surprised at how big it is and how many people come. Three years ago, a lady living in our neighborhood was walking by and gave us a check for $1,000. She also attached a card that said, ‘Grey, thank you for changing the world,’” Grey says.

A FAMILY LEGACY: The granddaughter of former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin and local citrus grower and philanthropist Jerry Chicone Jr., “Grey has a history of community involvement on both sides of the family,” her mom says. Linda Chapin says of her granddaughter, “Even as a tiny girl, Grey was a comforting presence. In all our pictures, she has her hand on Blair’s arm or shoulder. I find it very meaningful that she’s growing up to be a staunch advocate as well as a loving sister.”

Caring is all in a day’s work for members of the NCLB Club, pictured at their fall car wash. They have raised more than $8,000 over the past four years. (EMILY JOURDAN )

No Classmate Left Behind

Middle-schoolers ensure field trips for all. By Megan Padilla

SHARING A MESSAGE: There’s a time-honored tradition in College Park that takes place on a Friday afternoon each fall: The Edgewater High School Homecoming Parade. Neighborhood schools show their unified spirit and toss candy to the spectators while marching up Edgewater Drive. In 2016, a group of kids wearing matching T-shirts handed out something else: A flyer stating their mission and promoting their fund-raising car wash being held the next day. 

GET THE JOB DONE: No Classmate Left Behind (NCLB) is a school-sponsored club at Lee Middle School, created by students Lily Corso and Emily Marshall in 2013 to fill a need: paying for the big 8th-grade school field trip for classmates who couldn’t afford to go. Lily, now a junior at Edgewater High, remembers the first fundraiser was a Popsicle stand in her front yard. 

ANTI-BULLYING MESSAGE: “Our goal,” says Lily, “was to recruit as many kids from as many different groups to join the club. We didn’t want it to be just all of our regular friends.” Seventh-grader Lesley Roberts explains why she participates, “I know I’m helping someone who wouldn’t be able to go with friends on a field trip. It matters a lot.” Eighth-grader Delaney Culbreth has participated since sixth grade and adds: “I feel like what we’re doing is anti-bullying. Just because someone doesn’t have money doesn’t mean they can’t be your friend.” 

THE DIFFERENCE: Why is this group unique? Explains teacher sponsor Diane Hodgman: “Other groups such as band and athletics raise money to support their activities. This group raises money for others, with no direct recognition. They never know to whom the money is given. Just that they are helping.” NCLB has raised $8,125 doing car washes and candy sales during the past four school years to help 122 students go on the end-of-year 8th-grade field trips. 

FULL CIRCLE: Corso kept up with the club after she graduated from Lee. “In 9th and 10th grade, I helped at the car wash. This year as I went by, I saw so many kids working and I realized that No Classmate Left Behind is off and working on its own. It is firmly established as a real club that does something important at Lee Middle School.”

HOW TO HELP:  You can donate directly by contacting Lee Middle School teacher sponsor Hodgman at

Angelika Santaliz created Angie’s Forever Angels in the spring of 2015. “I’d always been around, and loved, community service since I was small,” says the 15-year-old. (JULIE FLETCHER)

Angelika Santaliz

She makes smiles, one outfit at a time. By Megan Padilla

POP-UP SHOP WITH A PURPOSE: Two Saturdays a month, 15-year-old Angelika Santaliz and her mother, Rebeca, rise before the sun to cart their haul of donated kids clothing to Orlando Children’s Church, where Angelika operates her free boutique, Angie’s Forever Angels. Her rolling racks and tables are set up and thoughtfully filled with clothing that Angelika has washed and her mother has pressed, arranged by gender and size. Buses begin arriving at 9 a.m., carrying 200 young passengers from across Central Florida – “the poorest of the poor” says OCC’s Pastor Peter O’Driscoll—who are brought to the church for breakfast and fellowship. Many make a beeline for Angelika’s inviting boutique, where she greets each child as a valued customer and helps them select an outfit, some to be worn immediately, as well as a bag of clothing to take with them. 

EARLY THREADS: Angie’s Forever Angels has been serving kids since April 2015, when Angelika opened her first pop-up shop at OCC with her own clothing. “I’d always been around, and loved, community service since I was small,” says Angelika, whose family are active members of Florida Hospital Church. “I thought creating a store could make a bigger impact than what I was already doing.” The clothes went fast and the children were asking for more. So she reached out within her own communities to ask for more. She’s set up her shop more than 30 times and each time gives away most of what she’s brought. 

HOOP DREAMS: Angelika remembers one boy who’d never had his own basketball jersey. “We had several that people had donated,” she says. “When he saw our rack and realized he could choose one, he was jumping up and down, totally overwhelmed with joy,” she says. “That opened my eyes to see that these kids appreciate the smallest things.”

THE ROAD AHEAD: “My dream is to have a permanent location that is always open and stocked with plenty of clothes,” says Angelika, a student at The Master’s Academy. Her mother seconds the dream. “Some of these kids sleep in tents, cars, hotels. They have no permanent residence, so when they get nice, clean clothes, they get excited. To see their faces, you wish you had more to give to them,” says Rebeca Santaliz. “Angelika needs her own place because our garage is completely full!”

YOU CAN HELP: Says Pastor O’Driscoll at OCC, “That this mother and daughter swung in with a gracious heart of love is just amazing.” If you can donate children’s clothes in sizes 4-18 in new to good condition, or want to help with the Saturday boutique, reach out to Angelika on her Facebook page, Angie’s Forever Angels.

Luke Rosser’s message for youth is “put down the video games’’ and get moving. He’s working toward getting a bike track built in his hometown of Oakland. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Luke Rosser

Triathlete teen with type 1 diabetes champions fitness. By Nancy DeVault

DEFEATING ODDS: On February 8, 2015, Luke Rosser swam his personal best though his mother, Meredith, said she knew “something was off.” The energetic triathlete had been fatigued for weeks and that night became gravely ill with flu-like symptoms. The surprising diagnosis was made in the ER: Luke had type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, and was experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious condition that can cause diabetic coma or death. 

A MISSION TO MOVE: Doctors credited Luke’s miraculous survival and recovery to his exercise regime. A study has found that people with type 1 diabetes who did aerobic workouts had better blood sugar control, used less insulin and had fewer high blood sugar events than those who did not exercise. “My activity level kept my body strong enough to withstand. Exercise is vital to (type 1) existence,” Luke, now 14, explains. He is committed to championing diabetes awareness with an emphasis on youth exercise. 

WAITING FOR A CURE: “I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. Making good choices can save lives, like it did mine,” says Luke, who volunteers with the American Diabetes Association. “Luke raised over $25,000 in a year’s time to benefit diabetes efforts in our community,” says Nicole Donelson, ADA’s area executive director. Equipped with his insulin pump, this homeschooler delivers lectures at schools and challenges kids to “put down the video games” and get active for their health. He’s pushing before-school exercise programs and is also making fitness more inviting for youth in his hometown of Oakland in west Orange County. “I spoke to the mayor and commissioners and we’re designing a pump track, like a dirt bike track, for mountain bike and DMX-style riding. A lot of kids don’t like to work out, but this is a fun way to get kids moving.”

ADVOCATING FOR EDUCATION: Luke plans to lobby during Florida’s legislative session to introduce a bill to increase diabetes education among physicians and families, similar to one that gained traction in North Carolina following a deadly misdiagnosis.

PODIUM POISED: Though his training now includes frequent blood glucose monitoring, Luke is proving that diabetes doesn’t have to sideline aspirations. Over the summer, clocking in at 32 minutes and 8 seconds, Luke won his division at USA Triathlon Youth and Junior Nationals, completing a 200m swim, 10k bike and 2k run. What’s in the future? “I want to compete in the 2024 Olympics and also become the world champion at the Ironman Triathlon level. After I retire from that, I’d like to work in sports science with children.” 

From left: Yoseline Rodriguez, Paula Sabas, Cristina Rodriguez, Leslie Arreaga, Hannia Barbosa. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Sin Fronteras

Supporting the community—and one another. By Laura Anders Lee

THEIR MISSION: In 1971, Sister Ann Kendrick with two fellow Roman Catholic nuns came to Apopka to assist migrant workers. Today, through the Hope CommUnity Center they serve 6,000 immigrant families through a variety of services and programs. One such program is Sin Fronteras, meaning “without borders,’’ where 100 high school students have found a common bond. “We talk about our lives, how we’re growing and how we can get better,” Leslie Arreaga, 15, says. “We deal with social injustices and immigrant rights.”

COMMUNITY SERVICE: The youth group serves fellow immigrants along with the entire Apopka community. “It’s important to get involved,” says Paula Sabas, a volunteer. She says it’s important for the community to know who they are and how they’re affected by immigration issues. Sin Fronteras hosts various activities throughout the year, from an affordable Christmas toy sale to a Thanksgiving dinner, food drives and a summer camp for kids. 

WHY THEY CAME TO AMERICA: “It’s a great country,” says Hannia Barbosa, who arrived from Mexico when she was 2. “My mom came here for more opportunities and for us to get a better future.” Cristina Rodriguez agrees. “I came from Puerto Rico, and there are no jobs and barely any money to buy things. There’s a lot of violence. …My parents wanted a better future and to get us an education.” 

THE BIGGEST ISSUES THEY FACE: While the students are here legally under President Obama’s executive order DACA, there is no path of citizenship for their parents or even for them once they graduate. “It’s scary every day waking up,” says Yoseline Rodriguez, 17. “My parents are undocumented—I’m more protected because I’m a student. That worry is always there in the back of my head. Here (at Sin Fronteras), I’m very welcomed—I’m not judged. I’ve met a lot of people who are undocumented like me.” With immigrant issues spotlighted in the recent presidential election, it’s been harder than ever. One school guidance counselor was transferring out the Mexican students, telling them they didn’t need an education since they could just be maids, recalls Sister Ann. “There’s been unleashed a meanness that’s really scary. It’s an unsafe place if you are ‘other’ in any way, shape or form.”

WHAT THEY DREAM ABOUT: “I dream of change,” says Cristina. “I don’t want my friends to be called undocumented or illegal aliens. I want them to be called human beings. They came here when they were 3 years old. They are more American than me, but then again I’m the one who has papers; I’m the citizen. I feel like we should all be treated with equality and joy. That’s my dream.”

Brother-sister team Tyler and Nicole Youtz provide toys to children at Arnold Palmer Hospital as well as toys and supplies to children at an orphanage in Haiti. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Tyler & Nicole Youtz

Toys From Tyler spreads joy to ill children. By Jennie Hess

IT BEGAN WITH 11 TOYS: Tyler Youtz wasn’t quite 5 years old in April 2005 when doctors treated him for stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system. When he was released from Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to celebrate Christmas, Tyler decided to take a gift to his still-hospitalized pal, Joey. He wound up taking 11 presents, one for each child in the hospital’s oncology unit. That was the beginning of Toys From Tyler, Inc., a nonprofit that has grown each year, with Tyler at the helm as CEO. In 2015, the group provided 3,500 toys and 75 personal wish grants for hospitalized children. 

BROTHER & SISTER PARTNERSHIP: Nicole Youtz joined her brother’s mission to “give back” when she began wrapping gifts at age 6 as his “elf assistant” and organizer. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to understand a lot more about the situation these kids are in,” says Nicole, now a 14-year-old Odyssey Middle School student. 

A GROWING CAUSE: The brother-sister team, with help from mom, Angela, conducts toy drives at schools and churches, with Boy Scout troops, sports teams, and other organizations. As the holiday draws near, families can shop for toys at the hospital and email children’s requests directly to Tyler. In 2013, the charity expanded to provide toys to ailing and orphaned Haitian children. “Our mission has always been to give back,” says Tyler, now a 16-year-old Freedom High School junior. “Every year the charity grows, I feel I’ve met our goal.”

THE PERSONAL TOUCH: “There are some kids in ICU who are too sick to meet,” says Tyler, who sets up Tyler’s Toy Shop at Arnold Palmer Hospital by the second week of December. “But I try to hand over most of the toys myself.  Having been in the hospital before, I remember it’s very easy to lose hope. Each kid that I meet impacts me in a different way.”

A 2016 TWIST TO THE MISSION: Though Tyler has been cancer free for 11 years, his medication routine prevented him from traveling in November with Nicole and Angela on their first international mission. The mother-daughter team packed four 50-pound suitcases with toys, diapers, formula, and other supplies for the Children of the Promise Orphanage in Haiti, run by one of Tyler’s former nurses. Nicole looked forward to cuddling babies and comforting children. “It will be life-changing,” she said before the trip. Tyler didn’t mind. The Disney Dreamer & Doer award-winning philanthropist, children’s book author, and college scholarship winner was gearing up to top his gift-giving goal for 2016.


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