Students donate toys to honor teacher's daughter

ON THE ROAD: Teacher donates toys to cancer patients in daughter's memory

Five years ago, Carlos Somellan joined Newsome High School as the baseball coach. Two years he moved into the classroom.

“They’re incredible. They have re-instilled a lot of faith in this country and where it’s going,” the retired Hillsborough County sheriff said from behind his desk. “They make my day, every day. I am the luckiest teacher in this county.”

Somellan teaches criminal justice classes at Newsome. It’s become the passion in his life.

“I live two minutes away and I wish it was one,” said Somellan.

The students have attached themselves to their “favorite teacher."

Senior Jesse Wombacher is trying to make the decision between law enforcement and a career as a firefighter. Somellan is helping guide him towards the right field.

“Coach lives by the live, laugh and love quote,” said Wombacher. “He says it every day.”

He shares everything with his students – even his pain.

“I always feel like I’m going to cry because it’s just so sad,” said sophomore Elizabeth Williams. “I always feel bad for him.”

Carlos lost his daughter, Christina, in 2013 at the age of 29. Cervical cancer stole her away.

“I was a single dad for 15 years,” he said, fighting back tears. “She was my prize.”

One of the final conversations the two had included a promise. Christina asked her dad to vow to help some of the little kids in the hospital who were dealing with the same disease. He agreed even though he didn’t know how he’d do it.

The answer came in the classroom.

“We are going to need more boxes,” said one Newsome student as he packed toys away in a cardboard box. Dozens of students jammed Somellan’s classroom to pack donated toys away for kids.

“It was great,” said Wombacher, recalling the experience of delivering the toys. “I drove my girlfriend there and it was her first time doing it. She left and she looked at me and she said ‘I’m glad that I got to do this’.”

The Newsome students donated 528 toys to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. The hospital staff applauded them for their generosity. 

Somellan’s promise to his daughter was fulfilled for the second year in a row. In 2016, the first time he challenged his students to donate toys to cancer patients, they collected about 250 toys.

This year, they more-than-doubled that total.

“It was a big thing for all of us to do this,” said Miller.

It warms the heart of the teen’s favorite teacher.

“I miss her every day,” he said, near the photo of his daughter that is a permanent fixture in his classroom. “Nothing fills it but by God, they come close in this classroom.”

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