By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – There wasn’t snow for his sleigh, but Santa still arrived at Myers Elementary School Dec. 11 to distribute treats and pose for a photo with each child at the school.
Woodhaven Mayor Patricia Odette of Odette Chiropratic Family Health Center, and Tittle Brothers Construction donated the small stockings with treats, and arranged for each child to pose for and receive a framed photo with Santa.
Volunteer Faith Kerekes, whose husband, Jeff Kerekes, personified the magic of the jolly old elf, said she teared up when Santa walked in and she watched the reaction of the children, which she said filled her with joy.
“I am glad that they get to see Santa Claus,” she said. “Some of them are shy, standoffish or not too sure, and other ones are so excited just to get up there.”
Odette, who has been volunteering at Myers Elementary for the past seven years, said watching the children respond to Santa filled her with joy as well. She said Tittle Brothers Construction joined them last year as volunteers and donors, and returned again this year.
Earlier this year Odette Chiropractic and Tittle Brothers construction supplied backpacks, as well as coats, gloves and scarves.
“I love this school,” Odette said with emotion in her voice. “They are happy and excited. I think it tells them somebody loves them out there. I think they know that. I have actually started watching them grow up – seven years is a long time. Every year they are just as excited.”
She said some of the children who have not seen Santa before are understandably afraid of him.
“We can always tell who those are,” she said. “But we’ve got a great Santa and a lot of volunteers here today – a lot of people get into this.”
Literary interventionist Sheila Lee said the annual event brings out the true meaning of Christmas.
“I see it in the children’s eyes,” she said. “A lot of them are from lower income families, so some of them don’t get the opportunities that other children do, because the parents are working two jobs and everything, so they might not get to see Santa at Fantasyland or the Magic Forest, so this is their opportunity to see Santa at school.”
Principal Michelle Hodgekinson said she loves watching the reactions of the children to special events like a visit from Santa.
“It’s a wonderful time of year, just to see the magic and the excitement in their eyes,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”
She said the staff is trying their best to bring opportunities to the children. She said in addition to the backpacks and coats, they are providing Schoolastic books for the students to take home to keep.
“All the kids get a new book, and we have reading programs going on that we didn’t have before,” Hodgekinson said. “We have an after-school program. It’s just amazing all the things that we are doing right now.”
She said it is magical to her to see the smiles and joy on the faces of the children.
“That is what it is all about,” Hodgekinson said. “That is what keeps us going.”
She said the opportunities and events that the school plans are often things that not everybody would have or would be able to do on their own.
Hodgekinson said she recently applied for a grant which she hopes will enable them to take some of the children to a 3-day, 2-night camp this year, and last week the school received a $500 grant from Target to begin to fund the initiative.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of people on staff that just love these kids and that is what we do it for, out of love,” she said. “We don’t go into the education profession because of the ‘high pay.’
“It is because of the joy and the love that you bring, and the difference that you make every single day.”
Hodgekinson said it is events like the Santa visit that help them get through the rough days.
“We all have rough days on our jobs, but sometimes it is a little more rough as a teacher and an educator,” she said. “But days like this your heart is just filled and renewed with joy and hope, and that is what really pulls you through.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)