SEBRING - More than 500 orphans and needy children in the The Dominican Republic will soon receive backpacks full of school supplies, thanks to Sebring High senior Sarah Rogers.
The International Baccalaureate student took her first trip to the Caribbean nation in December with a local orphan outreach group and she noticed something she didn't expect during the Christmas-season visit.
She and the group had brought toys, including baseball bats and dolls, for the children, who ranged in ages from 4 to 19 years.
The toys and the other items were set up on tables for the children to take.
"The thing that I noticed when I was down there, they always let the older kids go first because they wanted them to have the calculators and dictionaries," Rogers said.
Every kid went to the school supplies table first.
"They would pick up a pad of paper over a baseball bat, and I just thought that was crazy," she said. "No one that I knew would ever do that."
None of the children had backpacks, so Rogers decided to raise money to purchase backpacks and school supplies.
She presented her idea to members of Homeless Orphan Outreach Inc., which supports two schools and orphanages in San Cristibal, the Dominican Republic.
Most of the summer Rogers worked to raise money by talking about her project in church and through announcements on Facebook.
She raised more than $4,000 to purchase and send 525 backpacks with school supplies to the Caribbean nation.
After a recent Sunday service, a group from her church, Memorial United Methodist Church in Lake Placid, helped pack the backpacks with the school supplies.
Rogers visited the Dominican Republic and the orphans a second time in July and plans on going back in December.
"I just fell in love with all the kids I encountered there and all the people I encountered there; they are all so loving," Rogers said. "I remember getting off the bus on the first day and there were 40 boys sitting patiently on the steps waiting for you to come up and give them a hug and they just love unconditionally and they are just in such bad situations."
Rogers' mother, Amberlee, may go with her this time.
"I think I am going to go with her this Christmas just so I can see what her excitement is all about," she said.
Fellow IB senior, Scout Royce, said her classmate is an amazing person.
"I know she is very passionate about these boys and helping them out," she said.
Rogers explained that the group stays at a boys' orphanage. They don't stay at the girls' orphanage because it is in the "worst" part of town.
"They also haven't had girls there in a while, but this year they just got 12 new girls and they came in the summer so in December I will get to go see them," she said.
For her IB community project, Rogers worked with Royce on a Manna Ministries project called Turkeys for Ten Dollars.
They sought donations of $10 or more to provide a needy family with a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Working on the project in November and December, they raised close to $6,000, which paid for nearly 600 turkeys.
Royce and Rogers said there were a lot of good people in the community who supported the effort.
For more information about Homeless Orphan Outreach Inc., go to hooikids.com or contact the Memorial United Methodist Church at 465-2422.