REDLANDS—In a holiday blizzard of Black Friday sales, gift lists and other material pursuits, Yazmin Hamilton likes the message that the Adopt-A-Family Program sends to her child, a second grader at Sacred Heart Academy.
“It helps them realize how much they have,” she says. “It’s a good opportunity for them to give back, to help those less fortunate.”
The Redlands Catholic school has made Adopt-A-Family a holiday tradition for nearly two decades. The program, done in collaboration with Family Services Association of Redlands, requires each class at Sacred Heart (pre-school through eighth grade) to provide Christmas gifts to a medium sized family. Family Services provides a list detailing each member of the adopted family’s wishes for Christmas and each class then sets about the task of purchasing and packaging those items.
“Our students and their families are often humbled by the very basic items listed - things like warm clothes, household goods and simple toys,” says Leanne Noble, Second Grade Teacher at Sacred Heart Academy. “Often the parents ask very little for themselves - only for their children.”
Jennifer Toursarkissian, who has a third grader and a seventh grader at Sacred Heart Academy, has served as the volunteer coordinator of the school’s Adopt-A-Family Program for the last six years. She meets with Family Services just before Thanksgiving each year to receive the family wish lists. She then distributes the lists to the Room Moms of each class to facilitate the collection of the gifts. In most cases, the class pauses to reflect on the meaning of their participation in the program. Toursarkissian says she does further reinforcement with her own children when its time to purchase the family gifts.
“I always take my boys with me so that they understand,” she says. “I tell them, ‘[this family] is asking for underwear and socks.’ I think it helps them to realize that not everyone has what they have.”
On Dec. 12 each Sacred Heart class gathered their gifts together and brought them to the school’s quad area. Toursarkissian and her team of volunteers delivered them to Family Services later that day. The students and families do not get an opportunity to meet in person but the classes do receive a note of thanks from the family they sponsored.
“It gives them a feeling of being able to help someone,” says Joann Farnam, who has two children attending Sacred Heart Academy. “Who knows when they might need it, themselves.”