JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–They come from abusive homes. Many live in poverty. For some, each day has been a new nightmare.
But for a couple of hours on a recent Wednesday night, the children from the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Jackson, Tenn., were able to forget about reality and enjoy a Christmas fantasy.
Students, faculty and staff from Union University hosted 33 children with whom the center works, ranging in age from 6-12, for the annual “Carl Perkins Christmas Special.” They ate a meal with the children, played games and provided each child with a stack of Christmas presents.
“We look forward to this night every year,” said Lisa Schmidt, one of the center’s staff members. “It’s like the highlight of our Christmas season for the children. Many of the children we work with otherwise would not have Christmas.”
Academic clubs, athletic teams, dorm rooms, fraternities and sororities, social clubs, staff and academic departments – people from all across the Union family participated in the event.
“It was incredible,” said Union senior and Chi Omega member Kerra Kunce. “These girls are so sweet. They love everything we got for them. They were so appreciative. It just makes me feel good to do something like this around the holidays. We always have so much, so it’s so nice to give.”
The children went home with presents like bicycles and basketballs, with radios and dolls, with new clothes and new friends. For many of them, the Christmas presents they received will be the only ones they get this year.
“One of the kids was saying she hadn’t even made out a list, because she said it wasn’t even worth it,” Kunce said.
After they opened their presents in the university’s gymnasium, the children spent the rest of the time playing games with the Union students. They played basketball and football and duck-duck-goose. Some of the Union students helped the children operate new toys like remote-controlled cars.
Mark VanderHaar, Union’s director of student programs who organized the activity, said the event is designed to be an outreach to the community. But it’s even more important than that.
“Events like this really do pull the student body together,” he said. “It makes you a little more selfless. A lot of people peg college students as pretty self-indulgent. I think this shows the reverse.”
For Chris Hale, associate professor of mathematics, the Carl Perkins event is a chance for him and his wife, Kelli, to teach their three children about helping others. This was the fourth year their family has participated.
“It is a great way to get our kids involved,” Hale said. “Instead of us going out and getting something for someone they don’t see, or someone that’s not around their age, they get a better understanding and get more excited about it.”
But the experience isn’t just for his kids. Hale said it also provides him with a sense of thankfulness.
“We just see how much our kids are blessed, how much we’re blessed,” Hale said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I get out of it.”
Schmidt said she was thankful for Union’s involvement in the Carl Perkins Center, and added that the gifts for the children weren’t the only contribution from Union students.
“It’s not only just the gifts, it’s the students and their willingness to be a part of these children’s lives even for a short amount of time,” Schmidt said. “It’s so wonderful to get to watch their faces to see how thrilled they are with the attention. They realize when they’re there that they’re important. It’s such a boost to their self-esteem.”