“A Refuge Community Christmas,” coordinated through The Refuge (formerly known as The Refuge Community Centre), is gearing up its outreach that leaders anticipate this year will help parents to bring the holidays to 500 children, most of whom are in East Cleveland households.
In its first two years, The Refuge has partnered with qualifying families to provide Christmas to 800 children.
“Our mission is to meet the needs of families in Cleveland and Bradley County by not just giving a hand out, but by offering a hand up,” said Kelli Kyle, director of Community Involvement whose nonprofit organization opens its doors to anyone in the community, but whose root cause is the lower income neighborhoods of East Cleveland.
The Refuge is located in the heart of the areas it seeks to serve — the Family Support Center operated through the Family Resource Agency on Blythe Avenue. The facility, which houses a handful of nonprofit organizations, is the former Blythe Avenue Elementary School.
A limited staff at The Refuge works with a growing number of volunteers and community partners to teach families in need how to fend for themselves through education, training and opportunity.
“We do this through our literacy programs, job search assistance and several special events that are all focused on families, on the children and on initiatives that help neighborhoods and community,” Kyle cited. “We are also concerned about helping families meet basic needs; therefore, we offer programs that not only meet needs, but also give hope.”
Building self-esteem empowers struggling parents to “take life by the horns,” thereby creating greater opportunities for their impressionable children, she said.
The Refuge gained instant community respect when it launched “A Refuge Community Christmas” because it provided a “shopping experience” for parents who wanted to give their kids a reason to believe in the holidays, but who had limited means to make it happen.
“Through ‘A Refuge Community Christmas,’ we provide gifts for children in our community,” Kyle explained. “However, our program is a little different. It is set up as a shopping experience for parents.”
“Shopping experience” means parents — and their children — are given a hand in making Christmas gifts available in a way that heightens the opportunity for the entire family and strengthens the connection between its members.
“While the children are wrapping gifts for Mom and Dad, and are being entertained in one area, parents are shopping for the kids in the gym here at the Family Support Center,” she explained. “We set up the gym here in our building as though it were a toy store and allow parents to choose gifts for their children — two free gifts for each child.”
This year, a partnership with the Santa Project is enhancing the moment.
“A generous donation from the Santa Project through S.A.F.E. (Stuffed Animals For Emergencies) is allowing each family to pick out a stuffed animal for each child as well, so this will mean three Christmas gifts under the tree on Christmas morning for each child,” she said.
That’s only one aspect of this third annual Christmas project.
Another is a tent sale where parents have the option of purchasing a fourth gift for each of their children.
“This area is part of our hand up to empower our families,” Kyle explained. “Parents pay 10 percent of the price of the item, which means it’s a 90 percent off sale. Many of our families are especially appreciative of this aspect of the program because it offers prices on items they can afford.”
Proceeds from the tent sale go toward purchasing items for next year’s Christmas program. Only new toys and gifts are provided by “A Refuge Community Christmas.”
“We offer free gift-wrapping for all gifts that are selected,” she said. “Our parents are allowed to select gifts personally, have them wrapped, put their names on the gift tag, and then place the wrapped presents under the Christmas tree at home.”
Kyle added, “The children only know that Mom and Dad bought them gifts. We feel that this builds self-esteem, family unity and a sense of accomplishment for our parents.”
“A Refuge Community Christmas” debuted in December 2010.
“We believe this is a family-building event as parents who normally would not be able to afford these types of gifts are now able to have them for their children,” she said. “This develops pride and joy in our families as the parents have the joy of giving to their children, and the children have the joy of finding gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.”
The program is coordinated through The Refuge, but Kyle pointed to community partnerships that make it possible.
“This isn’t just a Refuge event,” she said. “It is a community event and it takes the whole community supporting, volunteering and donating to make this possible for our families. The Refuge is very thankful for the generosity and involvement of our community. Our partners — the community — are making this possible.”
“Fill A Child’s Heart”
to support project
This year, to support “A Refuge Community Christmas,” the nonprofit has established a fundraising opportunity called “Fill A Child’s Heart.” Sponsorship levels are simple and affordable — $2, $5 and $10. Through these donations, The Refuge purchases gifts for the Christmas project. Donors’ names are placed on a “Christmas Heart” that is displayed publicly as a thank-you, Kyle said.
The drive is themed “From Your Hand to Their Heart: Making Christmas Possible for Children in Cleveland and Bradley County.”
These “Hearts” displays can be found at the locations of several businesses and organizations that have partnered with The Refuge. They include CiCi’s Pizza, Southern Roots Hair Salon, American Trust (both locations), First State Finance, Casa Nachos, TJ Maxx and the Durkee Road Church of God of Prophecy.
Along with its “Hearts” display, CiCi’s Pizza is sponsoring a fundraiser for “A Refuge Community Christmas” on Thursday, Nov. 15, from 4 to 8 p.m. A percentage of sales during this period will be donated to The Refuge for the Christmas drive. The event also will include face painting, and the jolly ol’ elf himself — Santa Claus — will be on hand to entertain the children.
As it has done the past two years, The Refuge has set up donation barrels for new toy donations at several locations in the community. So far, the donation barrels can be found at American Trust, Big Lots, Christ Way Church Youth Group, First State Finance, Lakeview Church of God, New Covenant Church of God, Southern Roots Hair Salon and Yates Primary School.
New partners, donors
are always welcome
In its third year of operation, The Refuge continues to expand its growing list of business, church and organizational partners.
“Any church, business or group that would like to help us by hosting a donation barrel, or to accept donations for our ‘Fill A Child’s Heart’ campaign, are invited to contact us at 423-584-5211 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone wishing additional information about The Refuge may also visit the agency’s website at www.therefugecommunity.com.
now under way
Registration has begun — effective today — for qualifying families seeking assistance from “A Refuge Community Christmas.” Families can register at The Refuge office in the Family Support Center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. now through Dec. 7.
Additional information may be obtained by calling The Refuge office.