Homelessness a problem at middle school, so student finds way to help

Tiger’s Den closet at Umatilla Middle School dispenses free hygiene items

UMATILLA, Fla. – Middle school is a time when most students struggle to fit in. But it's also a time when you begin to learn about life.

Jayden Aciego's lesson inspired empathy, self-reflection and a plan to make a difference.

The 12-year-old started the Tiger's Den closet on the campus of Umatilla Middle School, where underprivileged kids can discretely get items, including soap, deodorant and shampoo.

"Last year, I saw a child bathing in the bathroom and it made me very sad," Jayden said.

He said it never occurred to him that others around him might be struggling.

"Some families don't have enough money and some of the families they try to make ends meet, but they can't," Jayden said.

Umatilla Middle School Principal Brent Frazier said as a Title 1 school, a large percentage of his students live with economic challenges. Frazier said 23% of the students are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Frazier said the Tiger's Den project has helped raise awareness with other students that one person can make a difference.

Jayden began collecting toiletry items last summer. He then reached out to the community, asking friends on his soccer team to join him. His mother, Marilyn Aciego, estimates he's collected around $1,000 worth of items so far.

"This is a lot to take on for a 12-year-old," she said. "This is a lot of initiative to say, 'Hey, there's a problem and I have to figure out how to fix it.' And that's what he did."

Located within the Family Engagement Center office, the Tiger's Den offers a collection of items you would normally find in a bathroom cabinet. The items sit beside clothing, backpacks, shoes and school supplies that are also there for those who need them.

"Jayden is a fantastic young man," Frazier said. "When you have a child who sees a need and they try to meet that need and they try to do that on their own, that's the ultimate of what you want in our society."

Jayden was nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by his mother and family friend Roger Ballas.

"He continues to grow into an amazing positive young man," Ballas wrote in an email. "Now, many more have joined him in his work to make sure students in need are served."

Jayden received a personalized plaque and $100 cash as a part of the Getting Results Award designation.

Marilyn Aciego said with her couponing skills, she can turn that into double the amount of items for the Tiger's Den.

Anyone would like to donate money or items to the Tiger’s Den is asked to contact Umatilla Middle School at 305 E. Lake St. The phone number is 352-669-3171.

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