Coral Reef High School senior Bruna Decerega started a Red Cross Club at school to help the homeless. Her interest was sparked by an unlikely friendship with a Pinecrest homeless man named Antonio.
“I work at a local tennis store called GT Sports,” she says. “A local homeless man came in and he offered me food to eat. He offered me a banana. He said he had leftover food “and I was wondering if you want it.’”
Since then he comes in the Saturdays that she works and asks if she wants breakfast.
“I always say no but he always volunteers,” she says.
Many people would feel intimidated and even frightened when approached by someone who is homeless. But Decerega says she did not feel threatened by him at all.
“In the mall, a lot of people don’t look at him,” she says. “I admit I was one of them at first. Once he offered me this banana, I became curious.”
Decerega says Antonio started his life in Mississippi where he went through school without learning to read and write because he could play basketball. He was promoted every year because they were counting on him becoming a basketball star. In his senior year, he became rebellious and didn’t graduate.
He lived on the streets in Mississippi for a couple of years. He came to Miami with a friend who was supposed to have a job and a place to live. When that fell through, he ended up on the streets again.
“With all his information, he’s kind of confused with time,” she says.
Even so, he made sense when he suggested that she join an organization to help the homeless because she wouldn’t be able to do it on her own. So, Decerega joined the Red Cross and started the Red Cross Club at Coral Reef.
“We have over 400 members,” she says.
She has tried to help him as much as possible. She’s asked if he wanted to go to a shelter but he feels more comfortable living on the streets. She says he’s the guy who is looking out for other homeless people and protects them from harm.
Although she hasn’t been able to convince him to leave the street, she does help him and the other homeless by teaching them about preparedness if there is a disaster looming, such as a hurricane.
Red Cross Club members also spread the word to kids on what they can do to prevent a tragedy.
“What we do, at the Red Cross regionally, we’ll have drives,” she says. “The main effort of our club is to get money for relief efforts. We do services within the American Red Cross that will help locally, nationally and internationally.”
“We have a goal, we have to reach $2,500 every year,” she says.
Decerega is captain of the girl’s tennis team and a member of the National Honor Society, the French Honor Society and Key Club.
She volunteers with the Hemophilia Foundation. She has a personal connection to the organization. Her housekeeper’s son has hemophilia and she is doing all she can to help.
“I spread the message at my school about the events we have,” she says. “We have an annual event at the zoo and we have picnics. Every year I started a drive at the school, a Chapman Partnership for the Homeless shelter drive. We collect items and we take them to the homeless shelter.”
She applied for early decision and was accepted to Dartmouth where she wants to double major in economics and journalism.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld