For the 8th year, HandsOn Jacksonville has brought A Visit From St. Nicholas to some of the First Coast’s most challenged (Title 1) elementary schools. It’s so hard to convey in mere words the joy this day brings – not only to the students but also to the volunteers who make the magic happen.
One of the 12 schools visited this year was Englewood Elementary School. This school’s visit was sponsored by the University of Phoenix. Volunteers from UOPX came out in force to decorate the school with gold tinsel and carefully place backpacks filled with new books and toys at each child’s desk on Thursday night. They arrived bright and early on Friday morning to witness the joy and fun the children had upon their discovery, and to visit each classroom and read to the children. St. Nicholas also made his rounds to share “kindness coins” with each class and promote the value of being kind to one another.
As always, the response from the children was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. One third grade girl held up her old tattered backpack in one hand and her brand new HOJ backpack in the other. She thrust out her old backpack. “This is so going in the trash now!” she beamed. Another beautiful second grade girl asked if she could use her kindness coin to buy something to eat.
Principal Kenya Griffin said of this day “The value of kindness is so important. A Visit From St. Nicholas lets the children know that special things can happen to you. No matter what your situation is at home, you can come to school one day and see tinsel everywhere and a gift on your desk. It’s an important part of being a kid.”
The volunteers who participated know all too well the great joy you experience when giving to others. “I really enjoyed watching the faces of the kindergartners light up with every word I read to them. They were really happy when they opened their book bags full of gifts and toys! Hearing them talk about their gifts and showing each other what they got made me feel like I was a little kid again.” James Tooley Jr., Enrollment Advisor for UOPX.
Dan Macferran,Campus Director of University of Phoenix was delighted for the college to participate as a sponsor for the 8th year. “Elementary school is the foundation for the community. A Visit From St. Nicholas helps to promote literacy, reading, critical thinking skills and gives kids gifts and an opportunity to enjoy the holiday season. We know that for some of these kids, these are the only gifts they will receive. It also lays a foundation for other people to pay it forward – to take the joy they’ve received back to their homes and community.”
HandsOn Jacksonville thanks all of you who made this day possible. Your gifts of money and time have made a difference in the lives of nearly 6500 First Coast kids. We wish you the happiest of holidays!