A Couple of Holiday Stories to Consider, as We Start the New Year
Our Kids Network wrapped up 2017 by taking a look at our numbers in the 2016-17 Collective Impact Report. In the report, we gathered our research statistics, attendance evaluations and survey results and we saw how the data confirms that we are making progress towards the Halton 7 (the conditions of well-being for children and youth), our common agenda. If you missed it, you can read it here.
As the year wound down, we were happy to see that the data revealed our positive progress towards ensuring that all children thrive, but we also thought about the strong relationships behind those numbers. We could see that, although it is known for its use of outstanding research, OKN is also becoming known for making progress through the power of our relationships.
Going forward into 2018, you’ll be hearing more and more from OKN, our Asset-Building Table, and our partners about how relationships – from the smallest gesture to support a child to a community taking collective action on behalf of many children – make all the difference.
Here are two stories to consider as we go forward into 2018 continuing our work to ensure that all children thrive.
Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager
The Greatest Gift of All
By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager
I asked my eight-year-old niece what she wanted for Christmas. Her answer surprised me. She said that Santa and her parents were taking care of most of her gifts, but what she really wanted was some alone time with me.
I quickly re-organized my Saturday and we spent the afternoon making cookies and decorating a wreath. We even fit in little shopping for gifts that she wanted to buy her family. We wrapped them together so she could put them under the tree when she got home.
It was only an afternoon of simple (but meaningful) activities with her, but my time with my niece was precious and very well spent. And it was the greatest gift of all for both of us.
Building relationships does take time but it doesn’t always have to be a lot of time. Take a moment today to take someone out for tea, send a meaningful email, or just play with a child in your life. For more relationship-building ideas, visit http://www.ourkidsnetwork.ca/Public/Relationships-Matter.
Toys for Tots at the Aldershot Hub
By Sheila Slattery-Ford, Our Kids Network Aldershot Hub Coordinator
For all families, Christmas can be a stressful season. Children can have high expectations and want the latest and sometimes costly toys. No parent wants to disappoint their child. They want to provide joyful memories for their children to hold onto for the rest of their lives. It can be a time of grand preparation, baking, entertaining, school concerts, cleaning, decorating, and shopping. Parents who struggle to pay the rent and put groceries on the table throughout the year can be overwhelmed with thoughts of providing gifts and treats during this season.
Aldershot is known for community spirit and the strong partnerships and relationships that foster that spirit. This is where the Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) steps in. The police and the Aldershot Hub have been working hand in hand addressing families’ Christmas needs for eight years. The community at large gives unwrapped new toys to the police starting at the Santa Claus Parade. Also, corporations and groups donate to the cause throughout the year. The result is a warehouse full of gifts to be sorted according to ages and themes. These presents are distributed through the Salvation Army and other non-profit programs, including the Aldershot Hub, to be given to families recognized as being in need. Many Aldershot families make their needs known to the Hub, because they know it can help in accessing programs and opportunities for all families.
The police and their volunteers do the sorting – a massive time consuming task which lasts throughout December. Parents register for help providing confidential information about their families. The Toys for Tots program is interested in each child’s wishes so that the gifts can be appropriately chosen. This way soccer balls are not given to gymnasts and aspiring dancers. Each family description with only gender, age and interests is given to the police with anonymity. Through multiple emails, texts and phone calls during the month a strong relationship is built between the HRPS Toys for Tots coordinator and the Hub coordinator. We both know that we are working with respect for families and with attention to detail to prevent any disappointment. This requires diligence and time – making a list and checking it more than twice. The program was designed for children up to 12-years-old, but since Our Kids Network serves children 0 to 18-years-old, the police adjusted their age limits. Each “Hub family”’ youth between 12 and 18-years-old is given gift certificates for the mall, movies or fast food.
The reward for the often painstaking details, clarifying with parents, taking into account children who change their minds close to Christmas, last minute donations, repacking bags and changing records is pick-up day. Hub volunteers are standing by awaiting the arrival of the Toys for Tots truck. The program includes uniformed and plain clothes officers, and their own volunteers. The job of bringing the often heavy and awkward bags off the truck and into the Hub, sometimes through a loose assembly line is so clumsy, quick, but somehow very joyous. There are lots of hugs and laughter as the Hub volunteers mingle with the officers and their representatives.
The Hub volunteers start offering their time as early as September. Anyone who has been a volunteer once, insists on returning again. Some are themselves “Hub families” and they want to participate and be a part of the work. Some take time off work and change medical appointments in order to be available on the day.
After the bags are in the Hub, the Toys for Tots folks drive away in their truck. The four morning volunteers, some of whom are only connected through this annual project, sort the bags and put them in numerical order, from wall to wall to wall, to expedite the distribution. We break for lunch and some volunteers return to the Hub where others join us for distribution. Though parents are welcome to come between 1 and 7 p.m., there is always a line up starting long before 1 pm. These parents are known to the Hub but most are not known to the volunteers. The Hub coordinator checks the records and calls out each number. The volunteer retrieves the bags, giving the parents a chance to catch up with the Hub coordinator and have a few private words. There is always a box of tissues handy as some parents are very emotional when they receive their children’s gifts.
Yes, the parents – and ultimately the children – are usually delighted by the quality and quantity of the gifts, but those who make it happen seem to enjoy the comradery, know that they are appreciated, and always look forward to next year.