In the true spirit of the holiday season, dozens of Tulsa area residents, businesses and churches banded together in 2011 to give to their less fortunate neighbors. Those who participated in the Family & Children’s Services Holiday Assistance Program made the holidays happier and the future brighter for more than 200 abused children, mentally ill individuals and families in crisis.
It’s an honor and privilege to share some of the stories of those you helped.
Middle school is tough for most kids – and for Jessica* in particular. A frequent target of bullies, 13-year-old Jessica’s self-esteem and grades plummeted. After a few months of counseling, things were just starting to turn around for Jessica. Then, her mother was laid off.
Forget Christmas, right? Wrong. A donor stepped forward and overwhelmed the small family with his outpouring of generosity.
Jessica’s mother said she has a renewed sense of hope, and she and her daughter now share a common goal. When they become more financially secure, Jessica and her mother plan to help another family in need enjoy a brighter holiday.
The Rodriguez Family’s Story
There was nothing underneath the small, artificial Christmas tree set up in the Rodriguez family’s duplex. Monica simply couldn’t afford to buy presents for her 8-year-old son, Aaron, and his 5-year-old twin brothers, Jaime and Juan Carlos.
But courtesy of a generous donor, Christmas came to the Rodriguez household. Monica and her Family & Children’s Services caseworker arranged the brightly wrapped presents underneath the tree while the boys were at preschool. Monica couldn’t imagine how surprised her boys would be when they arrived home. But the surprise was on Monica, when she saw that she too had received gifts.
“No one had to buy me presents,” said Monica, with tears in her eyes.
Max’s short life has been filled with challenges – including nearly two years in state custody. Max’s mother, a recovering drug addict, just completed the work to reunite with her 8-year-old son and two younger daughters. However, Max’s father is out of the picture. In every sense, the family is just getting by.
Max and his sisters wouldn’t have had a traditional Christmas, had it not been for the help of a generous donor. The family was incredibly appreciative of their gifts – warm clothes, toys, books and housewares. But the most important gift was the knowledge that someone else cared.
Rhiannon came to Family & Children’s Services for treatment of a serious mental illness. Rhiannon’s condition prevents her from working, so the family – which includes a 12-year-old daughter with special needs and an 8-year-old niece taken in after her parents died – scrapes by on her husband Richard’s income. The family’s medical expenses are high, and they struggle to make ends meet.
Initially, Rhiannon and Richard refused Holiday Assistance, thinking others might be in greater need. However, the hesitancy was quickly replaced with excitement and gratitude. Due wholly to a stranger’s generosity, their girls would have presents to open on Christmas morning!
One day, the family may also have the donor to thank, at least in part, for Rhiannon’s recovery. She’s now more committed than ever to treatment. Says Rhiannon, “I can’t wait until I get better and back to work, so we can do this for someone else’s family some day.”
Charlise and Charlotte’s Story
A crockpot in which they can cook dinner for their children. School uniforms for the oldest child. These are the gifts that sisters Charlise and Charlotte, and their children, Jeremiah and Shayla, value most.
Charlise was so touched that someone would want to help her family, she cried through tears while answering questions about her needs. Both tears and smiles were plentiful, too, when the family opened their gifts on Christmas morning.
The Garrison Family’s Story
Other than four empty stockings, there were few holiday decorations hung at the Garrison household. There were no gifts under the Christmas tree…in fact, there was no tree. What a difference the family’s donor made!
Not only did the Garrison family’s donor provide beautifully wrapped gifts for each of the four children, but she even brought the family a Christmas tree strung with twinkling lights. And candy and small trinkets were delivered to stuff the empty stockings.
Delia is thankful for the support she’s received during her substance abuse treatment and thankful for the bounty of gifts and good cheer given to her children.
The Boland Family’s Story
Terry Boland works hard to manage his mental illness. He’s making great progress, but financial burdens weigh heavy on Terry and his wife. While thankful for others’ help, the Bolands also are hesitant to accept handouts and want to improve their lot in life.
Terry came to Family & Children’s Services a few days before Christmas to pick up gifts donated to his family. He was overwhelmed by the number of presents given and couldn’t wait to show them to his wife, 4-year-old daughter and teenage son. Terry held his emotions in check – almost. While loading the last of the packages in his car, a single tear rolled down Terry’s cheek.
“I can’t tell you how much pressure this will take off of our family,” said Terry.
Doctors believe that 3-year-old Daniel has only 10 or 15 years left to live. The child suffers from a variety of serious, chronic medical conditions – and, ironically, the medications that keep him alive have strong side effects that nearly killed him a few months before Christmas.
With so few holidays to spend with her son, Melissa wants to make every one special. But caring for Daniel is exhausting and expensive; there isn’t much time or money to spend. And then a donor stepped forward to fill the role of Santa.
In addition to toys for Daniel, the family received groceries, gifts for Daniel’s siblings and – best of all – memories to cherish. When asked what he liked best, Daniel said it was getting to meet new friends (the donors). Daniel’s mother reported it was by far the biggest and best holiday the family has enjoyed.
* names changed to protect clients’ identities.