Learning the joy of givingClutching a boxed Barbie doll and a set of Hot Wheels cars, 7-year-old Haley Eide surveyed a table of gifts, searching for the perfect gift for her grandmother.
By: By Pamela Knudson, Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
GRAFTON, N.D. — Clutching a boxed Barbie doll and a set of Hot Wheels cars, 7-year-old Haley Eide surveyed a table of gifts, searching for the perfect gift for her grandmother.
“This is for my sister,” she said, holding out the Barbie doll. She chose Hot Wheels for her brother because “he likes race cars.”
Next to her, Emma Johner, 5, held packages of colorful markers and notepads for her brother and sister. She too was on the hunt for one more gift — this one for Dad.
“It’s fun,” she said, her dark eyes gleaming.
They were among dozens of children who streamed into Choice Financial’s community center in Grafton Wednesday to buy Christmas presents for family members.
The event, “Kids Shopping with Santa,” is a project of Community Helpers, a volunteer group made up of residents of the North Dakota Developmental Center in Grafton and others in the community. Also helping are staff members of the center, which supports those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Dianna Denault, lead senior residential supervisor at the center, organized Community Helpers and began the annual event four years ago. The group started with six members and has grown to more than 50.
Part of community
“Usually in July, I start hearing, ‘Are we were going to do ‘Kids Shopping with Santa’ again this year?’” she said.
Preparations begin in earnest in September, she said.
About 35 residents of the developmental center are involved, doing everything from mailing letters inviting participation by area businesses, to decorating and delivering donation drop-boxes at eight locations in the city.
In the months leading up to the event, center staff also brings residents to visit with businesses and promote participation, Denault said.
Integrating the developmental center’s residents into the community is one of the goals of the project, she said.
Community Helpers also participate in other events throughout the year, including setting up luminaries at the annual Relay for Life and entertaining at the nursing home in town.
For her work, Denault was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Grafton Chamber of Commerce in November.
Joy of giving
Besides integrating center residents, “Kids Shopping with Santa” also offers children a chance to experience the joy of giving, instead of always being on the receiving end, Denault said.
On Wednesday, Cindy Fuglestad of Minto, N.D., brought her grandchildren Alexis Perez, 3, and Daniel Perez, 4, of Grafton. They were buying presents for their mom, dad and each other.
“I think they learn a little, ‘cause usually they don’t share,” Fugelstad said.
The event was open to children in the fourth grade and younger, and Denault said she has seen more than 300 children attend past events.
Sponsorships are available for those in need.
For some families, these may be the only gifts they exchange, Denault said.
Children arriving to shop are greeted at the door by Community Helpers, who offer to help them select a gift. Each child can purchase up to three items for $1 each.
Lindy Beyer, who Denault called “one of my biggest helpers,” was one of the greeters.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I like seeing the looks on their faces.”
Amber Bragg kept busy wrapping gifts that she decorated with bows and other ornaments.
“I’ve been doing this for four years,” she said. “I like seeing the kids’ faces, seeing them light up.”
Shannon McGillivray said she volunteers for the event every year “because I love kids, I like to help other people out, a lot.”
The three are residents of the center.
For them and other residents that volunteer, “there’s a sense of self-fulfillment, a sense of pride they get,” Denault said. “A person with disabilities is often on the consuming end. This puts them on the contributing end. People are recognizing them for contributing rather than for being different.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”