Attempting this year to provide toys and gifts for 572 children, most of whom live within lower income neighborhoods of East and Southeast Cleveland, The Refuge is a widely respected 501(c)(3) nonprofit that not only stands on its own, but has also shared in community partnerships with quality organizations like United Way of Bradley County and Salvation Army-Cleveland Corps, and others.
Like the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund and the Cleveland Christmas Party for Children, The Refuge will also host its annual Community Christmas on Saturday. The gathering, which will be held in the gymnasium of the Family Support Center on Blythe Avenue, brings a unique twist.
Families who have qualified for assistance from The Refuge will attend the event. However, the young children will be dropped off to an arts, crafts and play area of the FSC (which is the former Blythe Elementary School) to allow parents time to shop from the lines of gift-laden tables on the gym floor.
Parents are allowed two large gifts and one small gift per child. They are not charged a price and before leaving, they are helped by volunteers to wrap the presents. If parents want it to be a complete surprise, volunteers even load the gifts into awaiting cars, for those families who have cars, before the children are retrieved from their separate play area.
The strategy comes with purpose.
It has to do with the doctrine surrounding the work at The Refuge. At the nonprofit, neighborhood families are aided in countless ways — computer training, adult literacy, financial literacy, employment, parenting skills, counseling of various types and job skills classes, among others. It’s all a part of The Refuge’s Access 180 program which is dedicated to helping neighborhood families learn to be self-sufficient.
It’s all about empowerment and building self-esteem. In the lives of parents, both traits are pivotal to strengthening families. In the eyes of their children, it is critical because youngsters crave the attention of their parents. Gifts of love, and gifts of material possessions, from parent to child can create an everlasting bond.
This is the premise behind The Refuge Community Christmas. Parents shop for their children from items contributed by community donors or items that were purchased by The Refuge from community dollars.
The shoppers make their selections, and they are allowed to present them to their children either as gifts from Santa on Christmas morning or gifts from Mom and Dad. It’s the choice of the parents, depending on family tradition.
Another unique twist to The Refuge Community Christmas is a tent sale. Here, shoppers are allowed to actually buy gifts for their children at deep discounts. Proceeds from this part of The Refuge event are used to purchase items for next year’s tent sale.
The idea behind The Refuge’s work, whether it comes at Christmastime or another time of year, is to strengthen bonds between family members. Such initiatives come in December. Most come January through November.
The point is this. When children feel a genuine love from Mom and Dad, or within a single-parent home, it is paramount in taking step one to reverse the cycle of poverty that so many face.
Saturday’s family observance is one such vessel whose sails gladly open to the winds of change.
In the hearts of the parents, The Refuge Community Christmas is a priceless experience.
In the eyes of the children, it is a time, it is a place and it is a moment, all of which are so very, very special — especially to youngsters who are unaccustomed to some of the simplest joys of Christmas.
Saturday’s memories are also made possible, not just by community donations, but by a thoughtful fundraiser that The Refuge calls “Fill A Child’s Heart.” Paper hearts bearing the name of a child registered for the event are sold for $10 each. Buyers are then recognized as sponsors.
In its short lifespan, The Refuge’s commitment to surrounding neighborhoods — as well as to the entire community — has been unconditional.
This weekend’s festivities not only will be heartwarming, they will be life-changing.
We salute The Refuge.
We credit this fine nonprofit for making a difference ... because that’s what credible people-first organizations do best.