Smiles from Caseworkers Motivate Giving Tree Committee

Featuring the work of Kalamazoo DHS Community Resource Coordinator, Juan Ortiz and the St. Ann's Christmas Giving Tree Committee in Augusta, Michigan

 

The Giving Tree Committee at St. Ann's Church in Augusta, Michigan, turns their hearts and minds to children served by the Kalamazoo County DHS office starting the day after Halloween. They start that early because the small congregation fulfills the wishes of over 300 children.

Not a shopper? No problem. "We added a money box at church for those who are too busy to shop or just not comfortable with it," said Kathleen Foldenfour, Giving Tree coordinator. They also have a group of men who aren't parishioners but love helping out financially. "They have saved us the last three years!" said, Ms. Foldenfour.

Small But Mighty

This year, the congregation of only 550 adopted 327 children from DHS alone. This was up from 247 last year and just a few children when they first started over 22 years ago. Walking into the church and seeing wrapped gifts for 327 children is truly breathtaking. Why DHS, and why so many years? "We just love seeing the DHS social workers eyes light up when they come and pick up the gifts," replied Ms. Foldenfour. According to Pat Lawrence, church secretary and committee member for 22 years, the best part used to be delivering gifts to the homes and seeing the parents' faces light up but the project is just too big to do that now.

Having witnessed DHS staff arriving, I can assure you they didn't disappoint. The case workers were like kids as they packed up their gifts and drove them off to the office and Pathway to Potential schools. "This is my third year picking up gifts and my favorite part is seeing how the church opens their hearts to our kids," said Terrell Atterberry, CPS worker in Kalamazoo County. "It's very rewarding to see our kids get to participate in Christmas."

Terrell Atterberry 

How Pathways to Potential Families Benefit

As a community resource coordinator for Kalamazoo County DHS, Mr. Ortiz works tirelessly to build connections that provide additional resources so our families can reach their greatest potential all year round. Of particular concern to him are the families whose children attend Pathways schools in the cities of Parchment and Comstock. "Children in these schools do not benefit from the Kalamazoo Promise because their parents cannot afford to move into the city. Kalamazoo County Transit Authority, the area's public transportation provider, does not serve these towns so residents really struggle with transportation issues. Families with children attending our Pathways schools are really hardest hit," Ortiz explained. That's why his success coaches were two of the giddy staff waiting in line to pick up gifts. They were taking the gifts to children at Comstock High School and Parchment Elementary and Middle schools. Mr. Ortiz and Linda Shierlaw 

Another benefit to working with DHS, according to members of the committee, are the thank you notes. "We always get a big package of hand-written thank you notes that we post up on our bulletin board each year so church members can see that their gifts reach the children and see the children are delighted," said, Linda Shierlaw, retiring Queen Elf. Clearly, Kalamazoo County DHS staff are following a cardinal rule of implementing Pathways to Potential – always say "thank you!"

This article is one of a series highlighting community partners working with DHS to improve attendance in Michigan schools. Through Pathways to Potential, Department of Human Services has placed success coaches and other employees in over 200 schools across the state. These people work one-on-one with families to identify and remove barriers to children attending school. We are always looking for new partners, volunteers and donors. Visit www.michigan.gov/pathwaystopotential to learn how you can get involved.