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Episode 116: “Christmas for Kids” Giving Hope and Help to Teens in Need Over the Holidays

Every year the Jordan Education Foundation provides holiday gifts for teens who would otherwise go without in the Jordan School District community through an event called “Christmas for Kids.”

On this episode of the Supercast, we find out how the event helps teens in need who are struggling over the holidays. Also, find out why “Christmas for Kids” volunteers say shopping with the teens is an experience they will never forget, one that brings true meaning to the holiday season.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello, and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host,  Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. Every year, the Jordan Education Foundation provides holiday gifts for teens who would otherwise go without through an event called Christmas For Kids. On this episode of the Supercast, we find out how this event helps teens in need who are struggling over the holidays. Also, find out why Christmas For Kids volunteers say shopping with the teens is an experience they will never forget. One that brings true meaning to the holiday season. 

We have two guests today to talk with us about Christmas For Kids. I'm going to let them introduce themselves.

Mike Haynes:
My name is Mike Haynes. I'm the director of the Jordan Education Foundation. 

Brian Synan:
And I'm Brian Synan. I'm the President and CEO of South Jordan Chamber of Commerce.

Anthony Godfrey:
First, let's talk with Mike. Mike, you are the newly installed director of the Foundation. For those who may not be familiar with the Foundation, just tell everyone a little bit about what we're all about.

Mike Haynes:
Oh, the Foundation is a great resource for the District. We engage the community to provide resources for those students and teachers that have needs that exist in public education. There's some gaps and we step in and help fill those gaps with the public's help.

Anthony Godfrey:
And Mike is key to creating those partnerships and connections to the community and not only bringing in the donations and the support, but also helping everyone out in the community understand better what we do as a district and what those needs are for students and for teachers.

Mike Haynes:
Well, thank you. Yes, our goal is to help spread the word and to try to provide opportunities for people that have a desire to help. We have a great community with a lot of great people and once they hear about what we do at the Foundation, it doesn't take long for them to engage and want to get involved.

Anthony Godfrey:
And you do a remarkable job of drawing those folks to Jordan School District and helping connect those who want to help with opportunities to make a difference.

Mike Haynes:
Well, thank you. I don't think there's a better place on earth. The Jordan School District is the best, and we've got the greatest kids, greatest teachers and administrators, and it's a lot of fun to get out and spread the word.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, it's been exciting to see how much you've expanded what's happening in Jordan District and in the Foundation, even just since July. Which by the way, Mike has actually been with the Foundation for as long as I can remember. Way back, well over a decade as part of the board. So you're not new to this, just to the position.

Mike Haynes:
That's right. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Now Brian, tell us a little bit about Christmas For Kids itself. First of all, you're the President and CEO of the South Jordan Chamber of Commerce. Why is it that you are involved in this?

Brian Synan:
Well, you know, a lot of it's about connecting business with community. Really businesses like to give back, they wanna give back, they just don't know how to give back sometimes. I'm also on the board for the Foundation, so that's another option for them to help with the projects that we do with the Foundation. But this event is unique. It helps so many kids in the district and it helps the chaperones. The people that come and actually participate and shop with those students. They have just as much fun and get just as much out of it as the students do. Actually this will be our eighth year doing it. For our first seven years, we've helped nearly 2,500 students. Amazing. Just amazing.

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. Now I ask, why are you involved in this? But to anyone who's ever done it, it's absolutely obvious why you're involved in it. You talk about the impact that it has on those who help in addition to the students that receive assistance. Tell me about how it impacts the people that get involved as adults.

Brian Synan:
You know, I tell people a lot of the time, it's like a mentoring event. You're gonna give that positive vibe to that student for that hour, hour and a half that you're spending with them shopping. You're gonna get to know them. These are business leaders, educators, city officials, police, fire, the community, that all come together, roughly 500 students the last few years each, and probably again this year. So there's a lot of time to get that positive influence and for that student to go, wow, I can own my own business or I could be a police chief someday. You know, kind of something to strive for. These are deserving students that might not otherwise have an opportunity to meet with some of these people. So that's what I think makes it unique. Plus this event is for middle and high school students. You know, we say it all the time that the elementary kids get taken care of a lot, but sometimes the middle and high school students get kind of lost in the shuffle and people don't know that there's a need out there for 'em. And that they're deserving of the same things. And if they might not have a Christmas, we want to help them have a Christmas.

Anthony Godfrey:
So donations come in and then those who volunteer are able to go shopping with a student so that they have some things for Christmas that they would not otherwise be able to purchase. 

Brian Synan:
Correct. We want them to get the needs and some wants. The chaperone piece and the donation piece are great because what I always say is if you're gonna donate, you have to register because you're hooked. If you register to be a chaperone, you're gonna be there almost every year. I mean, we have people from the first year where we had 40 students and that's all we had is 40 students. We still have some of those people chaperone. Chief Carr, since he became the Police Chief in South Jordan, has done it every single year with his wife. It's just a big community piece in helping the entire Jordan School District middle and high school students out.

Anthony Godfrey:
It’s a great way to celebrate the holidays in a very personal way. It's not simply a donation when you donate and then are able to be a chaperone. Then it, like you said, it creates a connection and that hour, hour and a half of one on one time as you shop, not only are you able to mentor the student and get to know them, but you also start to understand their situation in a way that you really wouldn't be able to without spending time with them directly. Right? Mike, you've participated in this for a long time. Tell me a little bit about what that's felt like for you.

Mike Haynes:
You know, I've gotta give Brian kudos. He is Christmas for kids. 

Anthony Godfrey:
He is <laugh>. Yeah.

Mike Haynes:
I look at him and that's what I see. From day one he's been involved and he's got a passion for it. Thank you, Brian. You are a great example to the community and I know the kids and the volunteers look to you every year and appreciate the work that you do. Not only are we drawing volunteers to support this event from the Jordan School District, volunteers come far and wide. Last year I think we had several from Utah county, many from Salt Lake and even north of Salt Lake into Davis county. So it is an event that spreads. The word spreads, and people want to get involved, but it does mean a lot. 

I remember every year we ask some volunteers to share experiences, and when these volunteers are tearing up about an experience they had with a student, when a student says, is it okay to buy a pillow? I've never had my own pillow, or just a number of things. 

Brian Synan:
He wanted the lamp, a huge floor lamp, and we were wondering what was going on. We asked the chaperone afterwards and said that he wanted to read in his room, but didn't have a lamp in his room. Right. So those are, those are the stories that you hear every year., and it's just amazing. 

Mike Haynes:
It is very heartwarming, and it kind of takes you back a little bit to realize, wait a minute, I take a lot for granted in my own life and here's a student trying to do the best they can in life with their conditions and circumstances that they're in. And then the sincerity when these students ask if they can spend a portion of their money on gifts for others. ‘Is it okay to buy my mother a gift with this money? I've never been able to buy my mom a gift.’ 

Brian Synan:
Right. You know, that's funny because we never thought about that when we started this event and Marilyn here at the school district, this is a perfect example. It was the first or second year and she came up to me and, and said, “he's putting in a toaster and a doll and things like that. What do I do?” And she said, “can I go over the limit and pay for it myself?” And I'm like, wow, um sure? We had no idea. And she did that and it was just amazing. We have people that actually budget now, over that $115 students get from the donations to be able to help more. A couple of years ago, Walmart didn't have what the student wanted. So the person said, get some other stuff, and then she went online and got it from walmart.com and then delivered it to the school to get the student. I mean, it's just, it's insane. What great things happen at this event. And that's why I always say, if you come, you're hooked. It's just amazing.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now we've had a number of corporate sponsors over the years. Most recently the shopping has happened at Walmart for the last few years. And like you said, Mike, I just picture Brian at Walmart down in the holiday section, as we kind of reconnoiter during the event, throughout it, making sure that everyone's taken care of. So tell me about those partnerships and the partnership with Walmart and with others.

Brian Synan:
Yeah, sure. So this all started when Steve, the previous director, and I got together and he said he wanted to do some type of event. So we kind of just threw some ideas out. This kind of came to fruition. We wanted to get the community and businesses involved. I was at Gordman's at the time, so we hosted it there. Then when I left Gordman's we went to Kevin, Steve and I did, and said, would you have any chance, maybe wanting to do this? He's like, are you kidding me? I was trying to figure out how to steal it from Gordman’s <laugh>. So, he's been a great partner, Walmart's been a great partner. They give a lot to the event. Not only money, but time and resources, which is phenomenal. And businesses are doing a lot of great things. One of our newest members, Alpha Warranty, is doing a donation drive right now. And they're doing fairly well right now, already. So they got about another week left on that and then we should be able to go out and get the check, Mike, and I even go out there, maybe some other people. So, a lot of businesses are getting into it and really seeing the value and giving back to the community and giving back to the students.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's a very personal thing, ultimately when you're shopping directly with that student. So it doesn't just feel like they've been given an amount of money. They have someone helping them shop, connecting with them, and that's really where people get addicted to it and, and look forward to it. It's just a part of a lot of people's holiday celebrations in December.

Brian Synan:
And a lot of people say that is their holiday, that that really makes their holiday. I'm a proponent of long lines, and I actually got beat out this time. As the chair of the event you think you have a little bit of pull, but the committee decided we can't have those big lines anymore. I enjoy those because then those students and those chaperones are talking and mingling with those other students and chaperones. So yeah, you gotta wait an extra half hour in line, who cares? What you're doing is even more important in that line. So we'll have some lines, but we've changed it up a little bit this year. So it'll be less as we're going through, with people in the store at the same time, especially with COVID still an issue.

Mike Haynes:
It's not just these chaperones that enjoyed that experience. At the end of the event, we interview chaperones and students and I remember numbers of students that would say, when they were asked, what was your favorite part of the experience? And they would say the time I got to spend with so and so, the adult, and very good experiences, these students love that time. 

Anthony Godfrey:
If someone wants to volunteer, how do they go about doing that and how do they go about donating?

Brian Synan:
So, they can do them both on the website, jefchristmasforkids.org that's  jefchristmasforkids.org. And they can either hit the chaperone part and then fill that out or donate part. Or like I said, hit the chaperone, and after that hit, head over to the donation piece and every dollar helps. We're looking at nearly 500 students again this year, which is great, but it also means that there's a lot of need out there. Yeah, absolutely. 

Mike Haynes:
A lot of times for some of these kids, English is not their first language. So our volunteers come in with the ability to speak different languages, and we connect those volunteers with students who speak that language. It makes a big difference.

Anthony Godfrey:
I guarantee you're gonna have a great experience if you participate in this, there's just no way not to. Everybody does.

Mike Haynes:
Christmas, community, connection. I think those are the three C words I think we just talked about. 

Anthony Godfrey:
And kids, but that's a ‘K’. Kids. But yeah, it's a great time. So jefchristmasforkids.org. Sign up to volunteer or sign up to donate. Thanks to both of you for all the efforts that you put in to make this possible and to change the season for so many kids and so many chaperone volunteers. So thank you very much.

Brian Synan:
Thanks for having us. Yeah. Very nice. Thank you.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, find out how you too can be part of Christmas for Kids and how it just might impact your own holiday happiness in ways you never imagined.

Break:
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Anthony Godfrey:
We are really excited to have one of our Foundation Board members and frequent Christmas for Kids volunteer Tina Rothe. Oh, and I forgot, former Jordan School District teacher. The list is long. Your connections to Christmas for Kids and to Jordan School District,  and just your history of taking care of kids in various ways throughout your life. Tell me about what it's like to volunteer at Christmas for Kids.

Tina Rothe:
Well, just so you know, it's addicting. You come once and you never want to miss it again. I was saying that last year, three days before Christmas for Kids, I was positive for COVID and so I couldn't go, and my Christmas was different. There was a hole missing because I didn't do Christmas for Kids. Once you go once, you never want to miss it.

Anthony Godfrey:
I've heard that so many times from people who have participated. Because like you said, it changes you and it changes the season and it sets the tone for the season. Can you think of some specific experiences you've had with kids over the years?

Tina Rothe:
Well, there was one boy that we had, that I had and very first thing he says, ‘I wanna, I wanna shop for my mom.’ And I thought, you know, this young man, who's here for a reason and we don't ever know what those reasons are. But I said, “Look, this is for you. Whatever you want for your mom, I will buy, but I want you to get for you.” So first off, he went and found a cute little sweater for mom. So I thought, you know, that's sweet. We don't know the situation they come from, but that was what he wanted to do was buy for mom right off the bat. I don't think there's a chaperone that goes through that checkout line that doesn't actually take from their pocket and say, you know, we don't tell 'em that up front, but we just whatever the bill is, we'll cover the rest. It's just you in that spirit, you know.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's very different when you're right there beside the person that you're helping, as opposed to donating anonymously and not seeing the impact of your donation. Tell me about the connection that you feel even during that brief time as you're shopping with a child.

Tina Rothe:
Well, I just think they are so grateful, you know. My grandchildren, they, we all have so much. We just want them to have that confidence. As a teacher, I think I've mentioned this before to you that, as a teacher, I wanted them to do well in math and the end of the year test and all that stuff. But my goal was always to walk out the door with more confidence to take them for the rest of their lives. So when you lift these kids out of different situations and give them a chance, you know, pick 'em up a little bit. Especially now the things that are going on in the world, these kids, bless their hearts. There's so much negative and darkness. If we can lift them up for an hour of shopping and they can meet Santa Claus and it's just positive and people are happy to be there. How can we not come away without being lifted ourselves?

Anthony Godfrey:
With my own kids I've always appreciated when there was an adult outside of our family, who they could connect with and who they knew was interested in them and cared about them. So that they could see that they had some value outside of those people who are required to value them, or because relationships automatically are expected to value them. But when someone outside of that circle takes the time and spends resources and really connects with them, then that really does lift a child and make them feel important.

Tina Rothe:
Yeah. And us too, as we have that experience every year, it lifts us too for the rest of the season and for a long time, that's why we come again. So it's the shared lifting on all parts and just the joy that you feel that people are just excited to be there. It's not like, oh boy, 6:00 in the morning. Why am I here on a Saturday? You know, it is, I've got to have this for myself, be selfish. This is something I want to do.

Anthony Godfrey:
There's a real sense of purpose when you're there. What would you say to someone who's considering volunteering or donating?

Tina Rothe:
I'll pick you up. What can I do to get here? You have to do this. I think of two years ago when I was able to go and just the lineup of people wandering, winding in and out of the aisles, getting ready to find who they're going to shop with. Just the excitement, waiting to find that person. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, thanks for everything that you've done to support the foundation, and Christmas for Kids, and students in Jordan for decades. I remember in particular you used to have students do a marathon every year, didn't you? And they did it, bit by bit.

Tina Rothe:
Yes. The first six weeks of school and we ran 26 miles.

Anthony Godfrey:
26 miles in the first six weeks. Which is a great lesson to teach them. A little bit at a time and you make a cumulative effort, but that really adds up. The same is true of Christmas for Kids. It's one morning, it's one donation, but the cumulative effort and the impact that has going forward for a child is just immeasurable.

Tina Rothe:
It is. It's wonderful.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, I'll see you then, looking forward to it. Thanks Tina. 

If you or your organization would like to donate to Christmas for Kids or provide adult volunteers for the event on Saturday, December 11th, please visit jefchristmasforkids.org. Thanks for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you out there.

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