By Sarah Whitman
Herb and Stephanie Roshell believe every child deserves the best things life has to offer, the most important thing being love.
In 2006, the Land O’ Lakes couple founded Operation Unwrap a Smile to deliver hope and help to at-risk youth. They deliver wrapped gifts to youth shelters throughout Florida and act as mentors to the children they meet.
“We want the children who feel they’ve been forgotten to know they are worth the very best,” Stephanie said. “We bring them a gift to let them know they are special and when they open it, they smile. It’s like we’re giving them the world.”
The Roshells are partnered with Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches, serving shelters in Bartow, Bradenton, Safety Harbor and Live Oak. They also serve Sonrise in Zephyrhills, G.A.T.E.S runaway shelter for girls in Tampa, The Children’s Home and other facilities. Together, the shelters support 284 children.
The Roshells receive hundreds of donations a year from businesses and individuals to provide gifts to the children.
“So many children just need someone to say ‘ You can make it. You are Loved,’ “ Stephanie said.
Scott Halbach, program director for the youth ranch in Safety Harbor, said the Roshell’s visits make a huge impact.
“They are dedicated and they’ve been really good with our kids,” Halbach said. “The kids enjoy their visits.”
Stephanie, a former daycare teacher, and Herb, a plant manager at West Zephyrhills Elementary, met and were married in 2005. They both have children from other marriages and a daughter, 18-month old Hannah, together. They were inspired by their own children to help others.
Herb said he also wants to give back because it wasn’t too long ago he was in trouble.
“I was in the 11th grade and I was completely illiterate,” he said. “One teacher reached out to me and helped me. She taught me to read and showed me I could be successful. Now, when I meet kids in that situation, I can help them.”
Herb is also a pastor. He leads Inspirational Praise and Worship, 1110 East Busch Blvd. in Tampa. The church is currently separate from Operation Unwrap a Smile but the Rochells hope to bridge the gap.
“Our long term goal is to open a youth shelter as an outreach ministry of the church,” he said. “Before that, we’d like to open a space where we can have an office and store all of our donations.”
Stephanie’s co-workers at J.P. Morgan Chase recently donated a gift basket of brand new toiletries.
“It’s amazing how giving people are when they hear about what we are doing,” she said.
The Roshells are always in need of donations to give as gifts. Everything from clothing and backpacks, to games and toys are needed.
The Roshells collect new items for children of all ages, but do not accept used items.
“We don’t just want to give a girl a bottle of perfume, we want to give her nice perfume,” Stephanie said. “When a child feels like they have nothing, we want to give them something tangible that will make them say, ‘Wow. This is mine.’“
Herb said the gifts are a way of starting up conversations with the kids.
“The key to helping these kids is getting them to open up,” he said. “I remember when I was a teen and I felt like I was all alone. I was quiet and shut down. When you feel that way, it can feel like a prison. Then, somebody reaches out to help and it changes. When you open up to somebody, it’s like you can finally leave that jail cell, walk out and take a deep breath. When somebody shows they care, it gives you hope.”
For information on Operation Unwrap a Smile, how to donate and volunteer opportunities, visit www.operationunwrapasmile.com.
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