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Socks, socks, socks; Middle-schooler collects for needy.

Byline: Ellie Oleson

AUBURN - Kiara Valdes, 13, is hoping community members will step up and help with her "Show You Care, Donate a Pair" sock collection, going on now at Auburn Middle School.

"I know there are a lot of kids out there who are deprived. Helping them would mean a lot," she said.

She is collecting new children's socks for toddlers to teens. The socks will be donated to the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory in Brighton.

"My goal is to collect as many socks as I can. I especially like bright-colored socks," Kiara said.

She was introduced to the charity when she was chosen to represent Auburn as student ambassador to Gov. Deval L. Patrick's Project 351 event in Boston on Jan. 26.

Joseph T. Gagnon, principal of Auburn Middle School, said faculty and staff chose Kiara to represent the town and fully support her sock drive.

"She's a great student who well represents our school's spirit of giving and community service," he said.

Mr. Patrick founded the annual day of caring during his second inaugural in January 2011 in memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with the goal of inspiring the next generation of leaders to focus on community service.

This year, under the personal guidance of the governor, Celtics power forward Jared Sullinger, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference and Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder, 351 eighth-graders representing every community in Massachusetts met at the State House and then volunteered at various charities, including the Greater Boston Food Bank, Pine Street Inn, Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester and Cradles to Crayons.

"I packed bags at Cradles to Crayons. It was really satisfying and a lot of fun," Kiara said.

Cradles to Crayons provides needy children through age 12 with essentials, from clothing and toys to arts and crafts supplies. Social service agencies request items for a specific child, and then volunteers sort through donated items and create individualized "KidPacks," which are picked up and delivered by the requesting agency.

On Jan. 26, a small army of Project 351 ambassadors joined volunteers at the charity to bag KidPacks.

This was nothing new to Kiara, who often volunteers with her mother, Lisbel Ocasio, a paralegal assistant for Worcester lawyer Alida Howard, and father, Felix G. Valdes, district loss prevention manager for TJX Cos. Inc., parent of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores.

"My dad starts a lot of fundraisers at T.J. Maxx stores to help charities. I go with him," Kiara said.

She also performs with the Auburn Middle School chorus, dances nine hours a week at the Joan Yankauskas School of Dance in Worcester, and has studied gymnastics. Kiara is also an altar girl at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Worcester, where her mother sings in the choir.

Kiara said she might try out for the Auburn High School cheerleading team next year, and eventually hopes to attend Dean College to study dance as well as marine biology and child psychology.

"I love animals and the ocean, but I also love kids and want to help them," she said.

For now, she hopes that her fellow students and other community members will help her collect socks for needy children by "donating a pair."

To encourage her schoolmates, Kiara has organized a challenge to see which Auburn Middle School team can collect the most socks this spring.

Kiara also hopes to reunite with the many friends she made while serving as an ambassador to Project 351.

"A spring greening reunion is planned for April. Every ambassador who does some volunteer work can go," Kiara said.

To help her with her sock drive, new children's socks in their original packaging can be dropped off at Auburn Middle School, 10 Swanson Road, during school hours.



CUTLINE: Kiara Valdes of Auburn Middle School shows off some of socks she has collected for Cradles to Crayons.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 8, 2013
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