Ellis family brings Christmas to Whitney Elementary

For the sixth consecutive year, the students of Whitney Elementary School enjoyed an enlightening Christmas party thanks to the continued support received from local automobile business executive Bobby Ellis and his wife, Sandy.

Bobby Ellis, owner of Snap Towing in Henderson , spearheaded the drive by generating roughly 800 gifts valued at about $50,000 for students of the school.

Whitney, an at-risk school situated near Boulder Highway and East Tropicana Avenue, has been recognized nationally and internationally for its efforts to help young students. About 85 percent of the school's more than 600 students are homeless.

"We couldn't do this each Christmas without Bobby's help," said Principal Sherrie Gahn, now entering her ninth year as principal of the school. "The majority of our funds donated is spent trying to pay rents, utilities, food and also provide medical attention, so the money goes quickly.

"For the past six years, we have known that Bobby and his friends make Christmas possible for our students, many who would not have good memories of the holiday season without the generous and thoughtful efforts."

The gifts provided to the school's students included shoes, sweatshirts and toys. Each student received a pair of tennis shoes, sweatshirt, T-shirt along with a brand-new toy.

The shirts and swearshirts were screen-printed by Cabinet Ink, a Reno-based business that employs at-risk youth through its nonprofit agency The Children's Cabinet.

The Ellis family annually brings with them notable Las Vegans to experience the work being done at Whitney, which most recently received cash donations and help from television show host Ellen DeGeneres and entertainer Justin Bieber.

News of the Whitney story expanded dramatically about three years ago when Jim and Dani Denton helped arrange a visit to the school by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons. The story advanced to several television shows and to the desk of CNN, which took the story to new heights.

Among the many locals who attended the Christmas party this year was Jim Livengood, director of athletics for University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"This has been overwhelming," said Livengood, who was making his first visit to Whitney. "It's such a tribute to see these people get together to make sure that these kids have a memorable Christmas. You can tell how much they appreciate this just by the looks in their eyes. It's very neat. This is what it's all about."

Others in attendance included Julio Freier, senior associate athletic director at UNLV; Las Vegas District Court Judge Susan Johnson, a former student of Whitney; Nev. Senator Mark Manendo and Nev. Assemblyman Richard Carrillo.

Together with gifts and cash donations, the Ellis family has provided about $500,000 to Whitney over the past several years.

Anyone interested in helping support Whitney Elementary should call 702-799-7790.