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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inspired by windstorm, Spokane teen reaches out to homeless

Tyler Fiorino, a seventh-grader at PRIDE Prep Public Charter School, is one of two from Washington state to be honored in Washington, D.C., Sunday, May 7, 2017, for outstanding volunteer service during the 22nd annual presentation of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. He received $1,000 award and personal congratulations from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps at an award ceremony. He talks about his experience Wednesday, May 10, after returning to school from the trip. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Caroline Hammett The Spokesman-Review

When a windstorm hit Spokane with 70 mph winds that left many residences without power, a fifth-grader directed his thoughts toward those with no home at all.

Jen Fiorino described how the windstorm affected her grandson’s perspective on homelessness. While many were still without power, she took her twin grandsons, Tyler and Dylan Fiorino, to return some books at the library. Inside, they found many families taking refuge inside the heated public building.

While this type of “homelessness” differs from the common conception of the term, Jen Fiorino explained that this exposure made a profound impact on Tyler, in particular. He empathized with the families he saw because they reminded him of his own, and he realized how easily they lost the safety of their homes, even if it was only for a week.

The experience caused him to view homeless people through a new lens and gain a new understanding of the complexity of the causes of homelessness.

He decided to do something.

“On Division (Street), we’d see all these people sleeping on the side of the street or under a bridge,” said Tyler, now a seventh-grader at PRIDE Prep Public Charter School in Spokane. Fiorino decided to try and help whomever he could. He had extra hand warmers from his expeditions with the Boy Scouts in the fall, so soon after the windstorm, he went onto the streets of Spokane to offer them to anyone he could find.

But he didn’t stop there. After distributing all his hand warmers, the 13-year-old, who lives in north Spokane, used his allowance to purchase more supplies. Since that windstorm in November 2015, Tyler has continued giving homeless people hand warmers as well as hats and gloves.

When he first approached strangers on the street, he was apprehensive.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen, but then I knew that I didn’t need to be afraid because these people aren’t violent,” Tyler said.

Tyler said he has never had a negative reaction from a homeless person he has attempted to help.

The best reaction he’s received was from two women he stopped to help under a bridge when he was on his way to school.

“We saw this lady, she was pushing a wheelchair with another old woman in it. We pulled over and asked if they would like some gloves and some hats, and they actually started crying because they were so happy,” Tyler said. “It made me feel so good.”

Last fall, Tyler’s grandmother encouraged him to apply for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, hoping the $1,000 award money could be added to his college fund.

He received a response about three months later.

“I get this letter in an envelope, and I open it and I read it. It mentions a thousand dollars – I’m super happy about that, it’s going to my college fund – but then I read about getting a medal and going to Washington, D.C., and I got super excited.”

He and his grandmother were flown across the country in an all-expenses-paid, four-day trip for the awards ceremony. Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was the guest speaker, honoring more than a hundred kids mostly from the United States, for their volunteer work.

Tyler’s grandmother described the event as a “very intense four days” but also a “fantastic” experience for her grandson and the other children present. She noticed her grandson realize that “everybody here is like me.”

She said he “met a whole bunch of kids that wanted to get out and do it” – “it” being making a difference in society and enacting change now.

At the event, Tyler befriended a girl from Ireland who produces sleeping bags with padded bottoms. He is trying to negotiate with her to incorporate these sleeping bags into his volunteering in Spokane.

Tyler’s brother, Dylan, also has a heart for service. Dylan recently led a partnership between the Guild School and PRIDE Prep. Additionally, their Boy Scout troop toured Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane for the Disability Awareness Badge.

The tour inspired Tyler to help children.

“I want to make a proposal to Shriners and see if I can volunteer there,” he said. “I want to keep expanding and help more people.”