Community Voices

Coral Reef High students present gifts at school Adopt a Family event

Student volunteers Rachel Rodriguez and Aileen Roa, dressed as Disney characters, at the annual Adopt A Family event held at Coral Reef Senior High with their adopted family, the Coffies.
Student volunteers Rachel Rodriguez and Aileen Roa, dressed as Disney characters, at the annual Adopt A Family event held at Coral Reef Senior High with their adopted family, the Coffies. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Students and teachers at Coral Reef Senior High brought plenty of smiles to needy children and parents at the annual Neighbors 4 Neighbors Adopt a Family event held at the school.

Presents were opened as a string ensemble played, and the students, some dressed as favorite Disney characters, shared in the joy of giving to others.

“I had a lot of fun meeting the families, and I loved to see how happy they were when they received their gifts,” said Coral Reef volunteer Rachel Rodriguez, 14, a ninth-grade student. “The way a community can come together to help a family in need so they can have a wonderful holiday shows the true meaning of Christmas.”

Rachel dressed as Elena of Avalor as part of the school’s Happiest Stage on Earth drama club. Her friend Aileen Roa, also a ninth-grade student, dressed as Pocahontas for the meet-and-greet with the families.

Coral Reef orchestra students who performed were Aaron Pueschel, Alessandro Miotti, Nicolas Guerra and Nicolas Adler.

Organizer Charles Mahoney, who teaches three classes of honors United States history and two classes of honors world history, has been at Coral Reef High for 19 years. He also taught at Campbell Drive Middle School in Homestead for five years.

“I have been the organizer for the Adopt A Family through Neighbors 4 Neighbors for over 10 years now,” he said in email. “Prior to joining up with Channel 4, I would ask my students to provide gifts for families through other organizations such as Chapman Partnership in Homestead and South Miami Head Start program where we delivered presents.”

He said he first started asking students and teachers to get involved in 1993 when he started teaching at Campbell Drive. They went to a shelter for battered women to provide presents to the mothers and their kids.

When he transferred to Coral Reef, he said, he found other organizations “to help provide for families while the students would gain important skills and knowledge of how other families lived.”

“We switched to the Gift Party that we host when we switched to Neighbors 4 Neighbors. We expanded the number of families every year, reaching our peak these past two years at 29 families adopted,” Mahoney said.

The only years the school has not been involved was 2010 when Mahoney was deployed to Afghanistan, and 2012 after he injured his back with the Air Force Reserves during that summer.

He said he would have to find another teacher to fill in for him this year as he will be deployed back to the desert in August, returning in February or March.

“The teachers and students really are the stars as they rarely disappoint once they take on this task,” Mahoney said. “And they gain much more than the kids who get the presents.”

To learn more about getting involved for the 2017 holiday season, or to simply donate a gift card to help, visit


In 1931, Dolly Gamble, an energetic young blind woman, called to order the first meeting of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Helen Keller and the Miami Lions and Rotary Clubs helped her with the group’s formation.

The independent agency started off in a little bungalow house on the corner of Southwest Sixth Street and Southwest Eighth Avenue in the neighborhood we now call Little Havana.

Each year, the group assists more than 15,000 persons of all ages who are blind and visually impaired. The mission is to help them achieve independence.

Continuing this vital work is attorney Louis Nostro, who has served two terms on the agency’s board of directors and has provided pro bono legal counsel. He will now lead as chairman of the Miami Lighthouse board of directors.

“Lou’s pro bono counsel and guidance as a board director has been such a blessing to us in recent years,” said Miami Lighthouse President and CEO Virginia A. Jacko in a release. “His forward-thinking leadership will help us accelerate our progress as we serve ever more people in our community.”

Nostro, a founding partner of Nostro Jones South Florida estate planning law firm, is a specialist in taxation and wills, and trusts and estates. He frequently speaks at “estate planning seminars sponsored by the American Bar Association, the Florida Bar, the NYU Tax Institute, the Oregon and Washington Tax Institutes and regional estate planning and planned giving councils.”

He also was named one of the top 100 estate planning attorneys in the nation by Worth magazine, and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America.

“It is our pleasure to welcome Lou into this leadership position at Miami Lighthouse,” said outgoing Board Chairman Ramon Casas in a release. “We look forward to working with him over the next two years as Miami Lighthouse fulfills its goals as a Center of Excellence in Low Vision and Vision Rehabilitation.” To donate and learn more about Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, visit or call 305-856-2288.


Members of Florida International University’s men’s basketball team got involved in community service by spending time and shooting hoops with 20 blind and visually impaired children at a special winter practice camp.

Organized along with The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, the event helped the players connect with the children, ages 5 to 12, both on and off the court. The FIU players and the children worked on their game at the FIU Arena.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at