School: Olympic Heights High in Boca Raton
Hometown: Boca Raton
Luke feels blessed and he blesses others — about 200 a year, for the past eight Christmas holiday seasons. He plays Santa Claus every year, giving away toys and books he and friends buy and collect.
This time, about 200 students at Village Academy School were the happy recipients of 800 toys and 400 books, and this year's new twist included a picture with Luke as Santa. The school has been the most frequent beneficiary of his community service, although other places such as Florence Fuller Child Development Centers in Boca Raton have also received gifts.
Luke and friends put on a bowling fundraiser that made about $800 for the purchase of toys and books. Luke, who also has been an altar boy at Chapel of St. Andrew Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, says the inspiration for giving books came when he was younger, had double, blurring vision and struggled to read, but through therapy, he has overcome that.
"I couldn't read very well, and that's why reading is extra important to me."
Cheryl Bottini, guidance coordinator: Luke demonstrates responsibility with modesty. He never seeks attention to himself but rather tries to put the act as the most important thing. He consistently sought out various organizations in need and developed this charity over an eight-year period with the sole purpose of providing a fun way of enhancing reading at an early age. Incorporating books and toys at the preschool level addresses learning in a positive way.
… His parents explained that when Luke was in third grade, he saw a friend feeling sad all the time at lunch and not eating. When Luke came home from school, he asked his mom to call the boy's mother because he was worried about him. The mom heard about what was happening, and as a result, the boy saw his doctor and received needed medical treatment. Today the two boys are best friends.
Parents, Gina and Howard Barron: I believe Luke has this tendency because we instilled in him early in life that when you can help others, you should, but don't expect anything in return — do it from your heart. … He feels compassion deeper than most his age and wants to leave the world a better place. He hopes to be a psychologist one day to help kids.
… He is an excellent reader and loves books, and when he heard that some of the schools … didn't have the funds for stocking their libraries, he took it upon himself to get donations for new books. Also, when Hurricane Wilma hit, Luke gathered up water, and he and a friend went over to Century Village to help the Red Cross hand out snacks but then went door to door to see if the older citizens needed help.
Luke Barron: When you see a need, you should help when and wherever possible so that society can become better.
… When I was younger after watching a movie, I asked my mom if there were poor people. She explained yes and I wanted to do something about it, so she took me door to door and sold candy and bought a few toys and brought them over to a local Head Start program. Each year, I continue because the need seems to get greater. It is a pleasure to watch the children receive their toys, books, candy canes, cookies and enjoy the musical show that one of our parents provides. These kids are truly grateful.
… When I heard that there were kids out there that didn't have any toys for Christmas, it seemed unreal. I have been fortunate enough to grow up always having things under my tree.
… I expanded the program a few years back to include books because reading has been such an important part of my life. The schools have shared that reading begins early, so if they can get the kids early enough like preschool interested, they will have a better chance of success in elementary school. We received donations of books each year, and last year, we donated several thousand books.
I just want the kids to have a happy holiday. I stress to the volunteers of my organization that it's not about us, but rather putting others before ourselves. I'm sure the teachers are proud, and other students think it is funny that I dress up as Santa, but it's for the kids and they love it. Last year, one of the volunteer parents said they saw kids outside the auditorium laughing and pointing. When he asked what they were doing, they replied, "We remember when he used to come and give us presents; it's cool."
… My grandmother was an orphan, and she has always told me that she didn't know she was poor until someone made her feel that way, so I vowed never to let anyone feel bad about their misfortune, and when I can help, I do.
— John W. Chace