The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5
If all you knew about Giving Tree Project 2017 was that 9 Christmas trees full of tags, each tag representing a foster child’s wish list, were fulfilled by our church folk, then probably you would be sufficiently impressed. After all, there were 758 tags hanging on those trees, which means that 758 foster children received the gifts they hoped for this Christmas. And that is impressive and amazing and light-bringing for all involved.
But to see it, to arrive at the church on Saturday, Dec. 16, between the hours of 10am and 1pm, and see the hundreds of children, along with their guardians and families, making crafts, hearing the Christmas story, eating treats, decorating cookies, taking pictures with Santa, and of course, receiving gifts, was a wonder to behold. There was even a petting zoo out in the parking lot!
The Giving Tree party was the brainchild of Mary Youngkrantz, Unit Coordinator for one of the Family and Protective Services Adoption Prep Units and member of University Methodist Church, along with Jessica Caccamese, Director of Hospitality here at the church. Not long after Mary joined the church in 2016, she and Jessica began working on the Giving Tree Project 2016, which provided gifts for over 500 of the children in the Adoption Prep Program by asking our congregants to pick up a tag and go shopping for a child. Even without the party, with children simply coming to the church to pick up their gifts, it was wildly successful.
Mary and Jessica dreamed of a celebration that would give all of these children, and those who are caring for them, more than gifts this year.
Children in the Adoption Prep Program are awaiting adoption into forever families. These are children for whom reunification with their birth parents is no longer an option, and so their case workers tirelessly search for relatives and recruit for their futures. Some children are living with kinship families, a relative who has been given guardianship. Others live with “fictive kin”—a teacher, coach, neighbor—someone who knows and loves them. Still others live with foster families or foster-to-adopt families. Mary and Jessica dreamed of a celebration that would give all of these children, and those who are caring for them, more than gifts this year. The hope was to give them an opportunity to laugh, smile, relax and have fun together.
With the help of many volunteers, this feat was achieved. From the cheerful greeters welcoming families to the students helping children make ornaments, from church member and gifted storyteller Mary Ross telling the Nativity story (over and over!) to folks making snacks in the kitchen, this party was a monumental effort and beautiful expression of the light and love of Jesus.
As I walked around and spoke with some of our guests, I kept hearing the same words: “Thank you. This is amazing.” Tim Gebel, Program Director for Child Protective Services, was excited to see all of the families enjoying the day: “I appreciate that people in our community recognize the importance of these children and families and made such a special Christmas for them.
"I’d like to use these events—Christmas and maybe Easter and Back-to-School—to bring awareness to foster care and the need for folks to get involved."
Mary says she “hopes to see this event grow into a huge partnership between the CPS Adoption Prep Unit and University United Methodist Church. I’d like to use these events—Christmas and maybe Easter and Back-to-School—to bring awareness to foster care and the need for folks to get involved."
To be part of any future collaborations with the CPS Adoption Prep Unit or to learn about other ways to serve this community, email Assistant to Outreach, Cathe Skinner, .