Release Date: 12/1/2011
Clarksville, Ark. --- In 1992, Ozarks teacher education professor Dr. Carol Yandell encouraged members of University of the Ozarks Women to help out with a new community Christmas project. Partnering with Joy Wilson, from Children and Family Services, and with the Helping Hands organization, UOW helped make that a brighter Christmas for 30 children in the county.
Fast-forward ninteen years: the humble Christmas Angels program has grown exponentially, and this year UOW will bring Christmas joy to 876 children in Johnson County.
The Christmas Angels project kicks off in November each year, when the applications turned in to the Department of Human Services are returned to UOW. Volunteers help create coded labels from the list of children, affix each label to a Christmas Angel ornament, and then either setup Christmas trees decorated with these ornaments, or distribute the ornaments to various locations.
Heather Dickerson, Chair of the 2011 Christmas Angels committee said help from volunteers is always critical to the project's success. She said that this year UOW has received help from many students on campus. Volunteers came from almost every Critical Inquiry class to help setup trees and tape boxes; students from the education department helped die-cut the angels; and residents in Smith and MacLean Hall added the ornament labels. "The student work is very important…the majority of our work is actually done by the students," she said.
Each ornament contains an anonymous code that links the angel to a specific family, as well as information about the child's age, gender, color preference, and sometimes a request for a specific toy. Once these ornaments have been distributed, people are encouraged to adopt one or more of the Christmas Angels, purchase clothing and an age-appropriate toy, then return the gifts to a designated drop-off location.
The donated gifts are ultimately taken to the Johnson County Fair Building where UOW members and other volunteers sort them and get the family boxes ready for distribution. "I got to go help last night," said Sherrie Arey, Ozarks Dean of Students. "It was amazing. They have an awesome, efficient system going, so every kid gets what they want and maybe even extra."
The project works because of the generosity of the local community. "We have wonderful community support," said Wilma Harris, former Christmas Angel committee chair. "Right now, we have a business that is challenging other business to do more with the angels. The realtors have done a toy drive, and a local auto parts store has done a toy drive." She said that community angel trees have been setup at Walmart, Atwoods, and First Security Bank, and a number of other local businesses are collecting gifts and monetary donations for the project.
Should there be Christmas Angels that haven't received all the basic items, a grant from the Johnson County Community Foundation and a Community Grant from the Wal-mart Foundation, along with donations from individuals, help cover the costs of purchasing the remaining gifts. "We've made a commitment that each child on our list will receive at least one outfit, and one major toy," Harris said. "There are many children in this program who won't receive any toys at Christmas, other than the ones they get through this program."
While the Christmas Angel gifts will be distributed on December 8, there is still time for you to help out. UOW has extended the deadline to drop off gifts for angels to Friday, December 2, and will accept monetary donations toward the project at any time during the year. If you'd like to make a donation to the Christmas Angels project, contact Carolyn Walker, UOW President, at 479-979-1431. Remember that every gift, no matter how large or how small, helps make a difference in a child's Christmas!
Students from Phyllis Johnson's CI class help setup the Christmas Angels tree in Mabee Administration Building.