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Daily Pilot

Rea Elementary kids team up for charity

Students at the Costa Mesa school organize a carnival to raise money after a month of donation challenges.

By Jeremiah Dobruck

3:58 PM PST, February 13, 2013

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Rea Elementary students and parents know how to give until it hurts, the Costa Mesa school's principal said Wednesday.

Anna Corral stood on the blacktop amid her students while they ran their own carnival.

They'd developed games and sold tickets, with all proceeds going to the ASPCA.

"They want to save the puppies," Corral said.

The festivities were the finale to a monthlong program run by the Irvine-based nonprofit Team Kids.

Program Director Jamie Havig said Team Kids was cautious about coming to Rea, a school where the vast majority of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches under Title I.

Having run the program in affluent areas of Irvine and Newport Beach, he wasn't sure what the response would be when he challenged less fortunate students to donate time and money.

There were no problems, he said.

"It was a slap in the face for even thinking otherwise," he added.

Every Wednesday for the past four weeks, Havig issued a challenge to kids to donate toiletries for a local homeless shelter, make Valentine's Day cards for seniors, or write letters to troops overseas.

He said Rea students had a level of commitment he'd seen nowhere else.

They set a goal to write 400 letters to soldiers and doubled that number. Even with 500 students writing 800 letters, they were more heartfelt than he normally sees, he added.

"Some of the letters I have actually saved," said Havig, a veteran himself who reads the letters before they're sent.

Team Kids' goal is to give students ownership of their charity, capping off the program with a carnival organized by kids for kids.

That's what the students were enjoying Wednesday.

"My favorite part is I'm trying to make this game fun," Joycie Montillo, 10, said of her shoe-flinging game, which was part of the carnival.

Kids won candy based on how far they could kick off their footwear.

Fourth-grader Vanessa Cornejo rated her busy bean-bag toss a success.

"The kids are having fun and winning prizes," she said.

Nearby, some students painted nails in exchange for tickets or got a look at Costa Mesa fire trucks and police motorcycles that stopped by.

"It's just really cute to see how much they've planned on their own," Corral said. "I'm very proud of our kids."

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck