SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Broad Rock Middle School student Tasslen Matteson, who has declared to be non-binary, found support in the mission of the Haus of Codec and its dedication to assisting members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I have a very personal connection to them because my Girl Scout troop did a collection for them,” the 12-year-old wrote recently in an essay for a contest sponsored by the South County Women’s Club.
“We gathered pillows and T-shirts for Haus of Codec. As an LGBTQ+ kid myself, I know how hard it is to come out and how heartbreaking it could be to be kicked out of your house by the people who raised you,” Matteson told club members in the essay.
These thoughts came as in an essay contest called “The Spirit of Giving.” About 200 local sixth graders recently explained their understanding of selflessness by naming organizations that help others, including illegal immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and children waiting to be adopted.
“These stories were very inspirational,” said Terry Schimmel, coordinator the South County Women’s Club annual essay contest. This year the club asked these young students choose a non-profit deserving a $200 donation and asked the students to explain their reasons.
It focuses on the club’s commitment to philanthropy and from the hundreds of submissions ranked four as most appealing to the contest judges.
Those selected for the 2022 honor were: Bella Vieira who wrote about Thundermist Health Center, Matteson who focused on Haus of Coden, Elanor Speredolozzi who discussed Adoption Rhode Island and Sophie Song who selected the national Alzheimer’s Association.
“In many ways I find that it engages students when writing about these organization. It’s not only educational to them, but also to our members who also may be learning about them,” explained Schimmel.
The writers are all students at Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown, but the women’s group also reaches out to other sixth graders — to whom the contest is also open — at Monsignor Clarke Elementary School and Narragansett Pier Middle School.
In the one-page, single-spaced narratives, students provide substantial detail about their choices and reasons.
Matteson, for instance, explained, “If I were a business owner, the charity I would choose to give $200 to would be the Haus of Codec. The Haus of Codec is a homeless Shelter in Providence for LGBTQ+ young adults who are displaced and need a place to live.”
“I think this charity is really important because everyone deserves love and support, regardless of who they are or who they love. They have a food and clothing pantry, as well as self-service kitchen for the residents at to teach them how to be self-sufficient,” Matteson said.
Matteson also noted a personal experience had at the age of 10. “When I came out, I asked my mom to come upstairs so I could tell her I was non-binary. At first she didn’t realize what that meant and thought it was just a phase,” the student wrote.
People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common.
“After I explained, she saw me for who I was. I was lucky, compared to many kids. A lot of LGBTQ+ kids are kicked out. The Haus of Codec aims to end homelessness for LGBTQ+ young adults by building a community through the arts of educational empowerment,” Matteson said.
Another student, Bella Vieira, wrote that local Thundermist Health Center should get a donation. “Thundermist Health Center helps all people with or without money. They serve people with or without health insurance and they have a sliding-cost model. They help all people regardless of their immigration status,” she said.
Her experience with that aspect is real and “they may have even saved my father’s life.”
She said that her father was severely injured at work and had to go a hospital’s emergency department. He was given a bill of thousands of dollars that he really struggled to pay, but he didn’t have insurance because he was afraid to talk about his then illegal status in the county.
“Although, it was not his fault that he was living like this, as he was waiting for years for his paperwork to be processed, he still could have been brought to a special type of jail for illegal immigrants and deported to Portugal, if the government found out he was living here,” she said.
“He lived in constant fear and wouldn’t see a regular doctor until he and his family discovered Thundermist Health Center,” Vieira wrote. Her father has since received recognition of his legal status, according to the club.
A beloved grandfather and his fading memory was Sophie Song’s topic.
“My grandfather was already forgetting his life by the time I was born. Over 44 million people in the world have Alzheimer’s disease and half of seniors die in America from this disease and other kinds of Dementia,” she said about wanting to support the national Alzheimer’s Association.
“I saw it firsthand and what it has done to him. He started to develop the disease when he was around 40 and has gotten worse ever since. He wasn’t treated properly and the disease started to get worse,” she said.
This student wrote how she saw him lose his memory of his family as well as ability talk and walk.
“Seeing this from my point of view as a small child, it was terrible to imagine other people living with this disease. I saw him suffer from strokes and heart failures and saw him forgetting everything around him. He got lost many times, as well as forgot what he was doing,” she said.
“No one deserves this in their life. Alzheimer’s disease has completely changed my family’s life and will forever haunt our memories,” Song wrote about the profound influence on her young life.
For Elanor Speredolozzi, it was personal as well. Two of her four older sisters are adopted and she remembered how important coming into a home was for them and her family. Her $200 would go to Adoption Rhode Island.
“I have lived with them since I was three and I can’t remember what it was like before they came,” she said. “I do remember that when they came into my life we needed help adjusting to the big change.”
She wrote about the assistance that came from ARI. “We had counseling and now are a big family. ARI impacted my life in so many good ways and I really appreciate it. They would host fun game nights for our family to go and meet other families like us,” Speredolozzi explained.
“ARI was organized in a way that made it easy for everyone to adopt. ARI also helps children find foster homes while they wait for someone to adopt them. ARI made sure my sisters were fed, clothed and healthy before they came to my home,” Speredolozzi said.
The organizations the students wrote about each get $200 from the club. The students get a $20 gift card each to Brickley’s ice cream store in Wakefield and Narragansett, and the winners also were recognized at a luncheon Tuesday at the South Kingstown Land Trust headquarters. It will donate one family membership to a selected student.
The students’ teachers each will receive a $20 gift certificate for their use for purchasing classroom supplies. In addition, the club will give a certificate and one large pizza from Kingston Pizza to other students.
Honorable mentions went to the following students writing about selected non-profit organizations: Sofia Lawless (Make a Wish Foundation), Hamza Resk (American Cancer Society), Violet McNally (The Audubon Society), Lindsey Lewis (American Cancer Society), and Josephine Daly (Wings of Freedom Animal Rescue).
These are heart-warming stories for anyone to read, said Schimmel, a writer and novelist herself, adding anyone reading them can find lessons within the words.
“I think it helps the members understand through this initiative we are fostering a spirit of giving and developing an understanding that young people are very capable to developing a spirit of giving in their community and elsewhere,” she said.
“We see these young people are hope for the future because they will carry on the spirit of what our organization is all about —philanthropy and giving,” she added.