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December 16th, 2011 at Cabrillo Elementary  By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Second through fourth grade students who participate in Deeds by Kids, a nonprofit organization that encourages them to practice volunteerism and philanthropy, saw the payoff for their first project on Friday, Dec. 16.

The reward came in the form of smiles from nearly 200 students of Cabrillo Elementary School in the Point Loma area, where a Deeds by Kids  contingent delivered hundreds of books, enough to strengthen the school’s library and to permit each student to go home with fun reading over the winter holiday.

Based in Carmel Valley  near the San Diego Jewish Academy, where many of its student members attend elementary school, Deeds by Kids is the creation of Lea Soffer, who says that there is a need to teach compassion and character development not only in schools but in everyday life.

Accordingly, she organized the group in November in which students develop good-deed projects through team work and are exposed to such concepts as ethics, values, right and wrong, critical thinking, and taking responsibility for themselves and for others.

In discussing the concept of taking responsibility, Soffer said she drew on the biblical story of Adam and Eve, remarking that because these progenitors did not take responsibility for their actions they were expelled from Paradise.  From discussing the biblical story,  “the kids learn when you don’t take responsibility for your actions the consequences are a lot higher than if they admit they’re wrong and then try to do something to fix it,” she said.

The students not only collected books, they helped to design the project from start to finish.  They memorized a brief talk to give at  doors of  homes where they solicited used books.  They grouped the books they collected by age group, labeled them with  ”Donated by Deeds by Kids. org” stickers,  and then boxed the books.   They created a certificate to send to every person who donated to the drive.   Later, with the help of administrators, teachers and the student government at Cabrillo Elementary School, they distributed the books to students in their classrooms and in the library.

Among participants were  Soffer’s daughter, Sabrina Soffer; Sarah Simmons;  Natalie Lombrozo and her younger sister Denise; and Gail Laska.

“We asked the people in Sabrina’s neighborhood ‘do you have any books that you don’t want because we are collecting them to give to a school in need for books,” said Gail Laska.  She said the young solicitors explained that “we want to make a difference in these kids’ lives.”

Every once in a while, said Natalie Lombrozo, people would contribute books that the solicitors themselves wanted to read, and then the solicitors would trade for that book with a book from their own collections.

They had no unpleasant experiences as door-to-door solicitors, reported Sarah Simmons.  Not only didn’t anyone slam a door in their face, almost everyone responded by saying” ‘wait here a minute’ and then they got the books.”

Sabrina Soffer told members of Cabrillo’s student government that through the project she learned that “five girls can really make a difference in other people’s lives.”

Lea Soffer said the first week the girls asked for books, they received 200, and the third week they received 700.   More than 200 came the last week of the drive.  According to the group’swebsite, it was decided to divide the books between a school in Orange County and one in San Diego County.

The success of the solicitation — and the enthusiasm with which the children went about their project — attracted the attention of other children in the Carmel Valley area, who are signed up to participate in the next six-week project that will begin in January.   That will involve the children spending time with senior citizens, interviewing them about their lives and reciprocating with stories of their own lives.  Eventually what they learn will be published  in a booklet.

In meeting with Cabrillo’s student government, the Deeds by Kids students urged Cabrillo to, in essence, “pay it forward” by starting their own good-deeds project.  They suggested that working with seniors, “who often are lonely” is something that Cabrillo students also could do.

Good deeds have a way of being contagious.  The way Deeds by Kids got into contact with Cabrillo Elementary School was a chance meeting between Lea Soffer and Roberta “Bobby”  Greene,  a retired high school teacher who serves as a volunteer liaison between the elementary school and the  Louis Rose Society for the Preservation of Jewish History.

The latter organization has helped to create a sister-school relationship between Cabrillo Elementary School  and the Grundschule in Neuhaus-an-der-Oste, the river town in northern Germany where Rose–San Diego’s first Jewish settler– grew up in the early 19th century.  In San Diego, Rose laid out the town of Roseville, now part of Point Loma.  The first teacher at Roseville Elementary School, the predecessor school of Cabrillo Elementary School,  was his daughter, Henrietta Rose, who was appointed years after Rose’s death.

When Soffer said she was looking for a school in need of donated books, Greene promptly responded that she knew one that might be perfect.  She contacted Nestor Suarez, Cabrillo’s principal, who got behind the project enthusiastically.

With budget cuts making it impossible for schools to buy books for their libraries — except when they receive special grants from foundations — part time librarian Lauryn Gates said the donation by Deeds by Kids is “oh so helpful, just such a grand gift!”

The donation included many books that were published more recently than those in the Cabrillo school  library, so the program has helped to update the collection, Gates said.

Moreover, she said, “it teaches our children about giving to others and how one or five people can make such a difference!”

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at

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