Crossley student nabs Ruby Award

Allana Wayda, left, with Tessa Piccolo. Wayda is the lead teacher volunteer who assists with the breakfast program. VOICE PHOTO


Tessa Piccolo honoured for school’s breakfast program start-up


The community of Pelham has another gem added to its collection of the Welland-Pelham Chamber of Commerce Ruby Award recipient list.

Tessa Piccolo, a Grade 12 student at E. L. Crossley Secondary School, was recently named the Youth Citizen of the Year at the Chamber of Commerce’s yearly gala. Piccolo received the community honour for her volunteer and leadership initiatives.

A major school initiative Piccolo undertook was establishing a daily breakfast program for E. L. Crossley students.

After doing some research, Piccolo said that E. L. Crossley was one of the few schools in the area that didn’t have a breakfast program and for her this was “wrong.”

“I feel honoured,” Piccolo said. “It is a nice feeling when someone thinks that you’re deserving of an award.”

For her, the award is a “definite reassurance” that she is making a positive impact on the community.

“I really wasn’t expecting it. It is difficult for me to compare my accomplishments to anyone else’s because I believe that no one’s achievements are ever better than someone else’s, they are simply different.”

“Looking at the other amazing nominees, it could have been any of us,” Piccolo said. “It was definitely an exciting moment.”

She began the process of establishing the program in August 2016, when starting Grade 10.

“It took about four months to organize, and the principal, at the time, Mrs. Simpson, was supportive of the idea.”

Funding was received at the beginning of the school year to help launch the program officially in early November. Although E. L. Crossley applied after the deadline, Niagara Nutrition Partners was still able to provide assistance to get the program started.

“They are now our main supporters of the program and are amazing,” said Piccolo.

E. L. Crossley is one of 200 Niagara school- and community-based programs, assisting 17,000 children and youth each day.

This is an umbrella program of Community Care, established in 1998, that promotes the connection between healthy food choices and improved learning through the provision of breakfast, lunch and snacks at school or community-based programs.

“Just because we live in an area of privilege, doesn’t mean that there aren’t those kids who need it,” Piccolo said. “It’s also not just for kids in need, but also those who come early from long bus rides from Wainfleet and West Lincoln and attend team practices. And there are just some kids that don’t have time for breakfast in the morning at home.”

Another reason Piccolo started the program was so that the students were not at a “disadvantage” by not having a nutritious breakfast before they started the school day.

The morning breakfast varies daily, offering students a variety of items to choose from including oatmeal, cereal, apples, hard-boiled eggs, bagels, vegetables, hummus, and yogurt parfaits.

The program also receives support from other areas of the school.

The school has a horticulture program headed by Aaron Belding, and the program incorporates the cucumbers grown whenever they are available. The horticulture program has recently expanded to include cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

The Foods Class makes muffins. Students from the Specialized School To Community program assist with laundry services and various preparation.

“One person alone can’t make a difference, it must be a team,” said Piccolo.

Piccolo says the program is well received and “from talking to students [in general] it’s very appreciated.”

For Piccolo, starting the program was a way for her to make a difference in the community.

“Whether it be locally or internationally, I try to help in any way I can. This was a way to work towards an amazing initiative.”

Piccolo extends her gratitude towards the rotating group of nine, including teachers, led by Allana Wayda and Grade 12 student Kenzie Varga-Thagard. They arrive early to prepare and distribute the breakfast items. Mrs. Sirriani, one of the school’s administrators assists with ordering the necessary items and keeping track of finances.

E. L. Crossley Principal Janice Sergeant commended Piccolo and the school staff volunteering their time for the initiative.

“It’s well-organized and in a perfect location of the school. Fueling the brain for learning first thing in the morning is really important.”

Along with a partnership with Niagara Nutrition Partners, Piccolo says that E. L. Crossley has received great support from the community, including DeVries Fruit Farm, which provides apples, Sobeys, and Food Basics. This year the program also received a boost from the President’s Choice Children’s Charity grant.

Undertaking an initiative such the school’s breakfast program taught Piccolo that perseverance is what drives success. Although it began with just a handful of students using the program, Piccolo says “not giving up” is what makes it the success it is today, with about 70 students use the program daily.

Piccolo is also the Prime Minister of the school’s Student Council, President of the Interact/We Club, a member of the Eco Club, a member of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, and the Youth Representative for the Pelham Seniors Advisory Committee.

With her role in the Eco Club, Piccolo established the School’s Veg Fest, a week in which students learn about eating properly in a sustainable, environmentally way that’s fun and interactive.

When Piccolo isn’t busy with school and community initiatives she enjoys playing in the marching and concert bands, photography, reading and writing. Her sport of choice is curling. “And, yes it is a sport,” she said, laughing.”

Piccolo’s future potential goals include working with causes at the international level in some capacity. Next year, her journey will begin at McGill University, where she will study international development.

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