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FALMOUTH — In her annual unit on changemakers, Ellen Santora, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher at Falmouth Middle School, tries to show her students how ordinary, everyday people can make a positive difference.
But until this past spring, even she admits nothing particularly remarkable had resulted from a class assignment in which she encourages students to write letters to businesses seeking donations on behalf of local nonprofits.
All that changed, however, when Bob’s Discount Furniture stepped up and offered a large donation to Furniture Friends, a Portland-based organization that provides free home furnishings to people who need help rebuilding their lives.
The $2,500 donation to Furniture Friends was the direct result of a heartfelt letter written to Bob’s by Carry Rozan, a 13-year-old student, who labored hard over what Santora called “an informative and persuasive” appeal.
And Bob’s didn’t stop there.
The furniture giant, headquartered in Connecticut with more than 90 stores across the country, including one in Scarborough, also pledged to redo the teacher’s room at Falmouth Middle and create a new readers’ nook in the school library.
“I’m so happy; I never knew I could do something this good,” Rozan said. “When I was writing my letter, I thought maybe somebody would read it, but maybe they wouldn’t really care or they’d put it away somewhere.”
Rozan, who’s shy and soft-spoken, said the biggest thing she’s learned through the whole experience is that “even as a kid, I have a voice and I can make a difference.”
“For me, this validates the unit and it’s the fruition of everything I work toward,” Santora said. “It’s great when the kids can really see the power of what they can do and that they can have a positive impact.”
What’s even more important than the monetary donation, both Rozan and Santora said, is that Bob’s has now committed to an ongoing relationship with Furniture Friends that will benefit the organization and the people it serves for years to come.
Cathy Poulin, director of outreach and public relations at Bob’s, said the support for Furniture Friends aligns well with the company’s overall mission, including its commitment to charitable giving.
Poulin visited Falmouth Middle in April to present Furniture Friends with a check and to honor Rozan for her compassion and advocacy on behalf of the local charity.
Santora called that visit “a really great day” and Rozan said the whole thing was “a little unreal. It’s hard to wrap my head around. I thought we might get a couple hundred dollars. I didn’t know we’d get so much.”
Rozan said what moved her most when talking with Jennifer McAdoo, the executive director at Furniture Friends, is that McAdoo “didn’t just say, ‘we need furniture,’ she also talked a lot about the recipients and how grateful they are. It really struck me when she said that some people have no bed to sleep on.”
In her letter Rozan said, “Imagine you’ve moved to downtown Portland, and you’ve opened the door to your new apartment, and … then you realize you have no furniture” and no money to buy any.
“To me, a changemaker is someone who spends their time helping others in need regardless of how they look, where they come from or what they have,” the letter adds. “I decided to write to (Bob’s Discount) because you are well known for your furniture and may be a great resource for Furniture Friends.”
“Thank you so much for taking the time to read my letter and considering my suggestions,” Rozan concluded. “Furniture Friends is a great organization that helps others in need and would be pleased with any type of support you could give.”
Rozan sent her letter to the Scarborough store and then one day a couple months later she learned Bob’s Discount corporate headquarters had agreed to pitch in. Santora said what was so special about Bob’s response is that most of the large companies her students write to never reply at all.
In the past, Santora said, the only businesses that contributed were Dunkin’ Donuts, which made a donation to the Preble Street Resource Center; Trader Joe’s, with gift cards; and Target, which gave pet food and toys to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland.
“I will now use Carry’s letter as an example to inspire other students to follow through,” Santoro said. “By far the donation from Bob’s blows out of the water” any action taken by other corporations her students have contacted.
Carry Rozan, center, a seventh-grader at Falmouth Middle School, found out this year that “even as a kid, I have a voice and I can make a difference.” Thanks to her efforts, Bob’s Discount Furniture made a large donation to Portland-based nonprofit Furniture Friends. Rozan is joined by Jennifer McAdoo, executive director of Furniture Friends, left, and Cathy Poulin, director of outreach and public relations at Bob’s.