It’s All About Kids Holds First Fundraising Banquet

May 26, 2007

Town ‘N Country – Shortly before the patrons arrived, Wanda DeLaRosa took a dozen children from her etiquette program and gave them one last pep talk.

“Tonight is not about us adults,” she said. “It’s about all of you. Everybody wants to see you today. We’re going to use our magic words: please and thank you.”

It’s All About Kids hosted its first fundraising banquet on May 18, at the Event Factory, 7565 W. Hillsborough Ave. The banquet was meant to supplement the organization’s budget for the 2007-08 school year.

It’s All About Kids works with after-school programs throughout the county, hosting literacy campaigns and children’s etiquette courses targeting at-risk, academically challenged kids.

“This event is a presentation of our services to our corporate sponsors,” said DeLaRosa, executive director for the program, which she founded seven years ago with her husband, Larry.

The banquet featured a presentation of major sponsors, a jazz band and a silent auction.

DeLaRosa chose the Event Factory, a 50,000-square-foot, themed meeting space in Town ‘N Country, complete with a castle ballroom, because she wanted something different. “The place is very animated,” DeLaRosa said. “It makes our jobs easier not having to decorate a community center.

“We have come here because of the great need in our community for the type of enrichment programs that we provide,” she said. “All of this tonight is to raise awareness about what we do.”

It’s All About Kids’ motto is “It’s better to prepare a life than to repair a life.”

“We visit schools, community centers, churches and some housing developments,” Larry DeLaRosa said.

Currently, the program has set up shop in the Carlisle Lakes development in Tampa, where the DeLaRosas were given two small apartments from which to work. By embedding themselves in the neighborhoods they mean to serve, they hope to reach those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Wanda DeLaRosa teaches the etiquette courses, with a focus on improving social skills. “We show them how to be good citizens, how to properly eat, how to help at home,” she said.

“We teach them how to dress, how to conduct themselves,” added her husband.

RaJshawn Scott was on hand with her two children, Chemyia, 6, and Willie, 4, both members in the etiquette program. They had come to show off the benefits of the classes.

“We went to the free demonstration,” Scott recalled. “When I saw how the children responded to it, I said, ‘Wait a minute; I’ve been trying this for years!'”

Scott liked the idea of her children working together on something.

“They’re not growing up with a spoon in their mouths,” she said. “We want to prepare them for a good job one day.”

“What’s unique about us is there aren’t too many organizations doing what we do, teaching manners, teaching kids to love reading,” Wanda DeLaRosa said. “It’s more and more difficult these days to get parents involved.”

Courting patrons from various agencies and corporations is also critical to the survival of the program.

At the evening’s start a silent auction was held, with items donated from the community. There were signed balls and tickets from The New York Yankees, the Devil Rays and the Buccaneers. Patrons also could bid on framed-crayon drawings made by kids in the program.

“We need companies to adopt us and supply us,” Wanda DeLaRosa said. “Right now we’re short in books and in supplies.”

It’s All About Kids is in its third year of its Buzz into Books literacy campaign, where a bee mascot, named Buzz, tours schools and communities for book give-a-ways.

Erica Perez, 30, a volunteer with the Buzz into Books campaign, is a graduate of the University of South Florida seeking a master’s degree in library sciences.

“I typically work with kids, ages 4 to 10,” she said. “We do puppet shows; we read to them, we hand out free books.”

Perez spent her early 20s working and didn’t start college until she was 24. “I come from the same environment as these kids,” she said. “I love reading because of what it does for you in terms of opening your mind.”

The DeLaRosas have lived in Tampa for 17 years. Getting their programs into the schools was only half the battle.

“The schools want us, and now we have to come up with the funds to bring the programs to them in the future,” Wanda DeLaRosa said.

For DeLaRosa, mentoring a child, introducing a positive character into a home environment, can steer that person back in the right direction.

“That is why we go all the way to the root of the problem, their home life,” she said, citing external pressures such as divorce, single-parent homes and economic instability.

The DeLaRosas plan to host an etiquette camp next year, along with a sports program at Carlisle Lakes, if they can get the funding and the help. The programs run on volunteers. The mentors comprise trained professionals – many employed in the education, social work and law enforcement.

It’s All About Kids is partially funded through The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, a tax-funded program that has a $30 million budget and funds about 178 children’s charity programs throughout Tampa Bay.

It’s All About Kids can be reached at (813) 269-4402 orwww.itsallaboutkids.org.

Reporter Stephen Hammill can be reached at (813) 865-1523 or atshammill@tampatrib.com.

"It's better to prepare a life than to repair a life."