CELEBRATE COMMUNITY: Destin Elementary girl is queen of coats

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JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

DESTIN — Most 10-year-olds can’t wait to receive their birthday gifts.

But for Layla Hardy, her birthday was a chance to give back to kids in need. Instead of birthday gifts, she told her mom she wanted coats to donate to the United Way Coats for Kids Drive.

At Destin Elementary School, where Layla is in the fourth grade, School Resource Officer Sonya Shepard started a friendly competition between the classrooms. Whichever class brought in the most coats would get a pizza party. The competition has worked; Shepard has collected about 2,000 coats so far this year.

When Layla brought her 20 coats to school Monday, she said her teacher was “surprised and happy.” No other student had brought in that many so far.

As the temperatures dropped this week, the coat drive was already a godsend to some, Shepard said.

“Layla came in with 20 brand-new coats,” she said. “We’ve already been able to put some of the coats to use.”

Layla had her 10th birthday at Dave & Busters on Nov. 12. She was genuinely excited with each of the coats that were brought to the party. Some family members even sent gift cards for her  to buy coats.

“We couldn’t believe it when she asked us for coats,” said Layla’s mom, Jennifer. “We’re so proud of her. I hope this continues and that she always thinks of ways she can help.”

Because of her generous donation, Layla was made Jr. Deputy for the Day at school Thursday. She was so excited she hardly slept the night before, her mom said.

“It’s a big deal,” Jennifer said. “But even with all of the attention, Layla has been very humble about it. You never hear her brag.”

As Jr. Deputy for the Day, Layla was allowed to assist with patroling and was even treated to lunch from Wendy’s. But the best part of the experience was knowing that she was able to make a difference.

“If you give something, you get something back,” she said. “It made me feel good to help.”

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