School: Timber Lakes Elementary School
School District: Orange County Public Schools
City, State: Orlando, FL
Debra Santiago was nominated by her principal, Arlene Carlock.
On Tuesday, November 7th, we surprised Ms. Santiago during a staff meeting at her school as the winner of the 2017-18 LifeChanger Spotlight Award! She received $5,000 to be split between a $2,500 individual cash award and a $2,500 donation to her school.
There are so many adjectives that describe the type of person Ms. Santiago is, such as loving, caring, nurturing, supportive, welcoming, and warm. Ms. Santiago has gone above and beyond as a secretary/bookkeeper in order to make an impact on her students without hesitation. She is a mentor to at least two students each year, and other students and parents know her from her warm smile and caring attitude. She has made a positive impact on many students over the last ten years. Ms. Santiago continues to interact with new students and staff, greeting them with a smile, laughter, and a welcoming hug.
In her position as secretary/bookkeeper, she is constantly handling money, contracts, vendors, orders, hiring of new staff, and many other facets. She has worked towards receiving perfect audits over the years. This is a testament to the kind of responsible and honest person she is, as well as the amount of trust between her and her principal.
Each year, Timber Lakes holds a Multicultural Festival and invites the community to participate through dance, music and the arts of various cultures. Ms. Santiago is the chairperson of this very important and highly attended annual event. The community, teachers, staff, parents, and students come together to share and celebrate diversity. Ms. Santiago organizes, plans, and delegates various tasks that are needed to run a successful multicultural event. People begin their adventure by being presented with a passport and travel throughout the world (school). Attendees start in the USA (the main office) and receive a stamp from every country they visit. While visiting each country, they learn about the history, culture, food and other interesting facts. Once the families have traveled around the world, they move into their final destination – the wolf pup den/cafeteria. They are entertained with acts from families and community members from around the world. Ms. Santiago takes pride in this event from start to finish, and her leadership inspires so many of the faculty, staff, parents and students.
Ms. Santiago is such a positive and uplifting person that one would never realize that she is currently battling colon cancer. During her surgeries and treatments, she has remained positive, uplifting, loving, nurturing, and an inspiration to many. She has shared her personal struggles and story with other staff members who are struggling with medical issues. She has also made herself available as a support system to a teacher that underwent a double mastectomy.
"During this difficult time, if you were meeting Ms. Santiago for the first time, you would never know about her personal struggles because of the positive attitude she carries and portrays to others," Carlock said. "She is a strong fighter who won’t give up."
Ms. Santiago puts others first, no matter what, and that begins at home. She is a mother and grandmother who will always bend over backwards and give the shirt off her back to make sure that everyone around her is taken care of.
"She believes in thinking positive and being positive to make positive things happen," Carlock said. "This is why Ms. Santiago is a LifeChanger!"
Check out Debra's awesome video vignette: