For the past seven years as a school counselor at Valdosta High School in Valdosta, Ga., Brian Law has collaborated with the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and coordinated a program to help needy families and children in the district. With the help and input of the school community, Law identifies families in the school district who could benefit from gifts and food during the holiday season. Calling this responsive program VHS Santa’s Elves, Law asks faculty, staff and student organizations to donate food for the family and help wrap presents. The recipients remain anonymous by using a number system for each gift. On the day before Christmas break, Law delivers the food and gifts to DFCS, which then delivers the presents to families ensuring a bright holiday.
This year, after personnel changes at DFCS, the program was not able to continue. However, the caring faculty and staff at Valdosta High requested for Law to look at other avenues for helping local families. Many faculty and staff members felt strongly about doing class projects that instill compassion and character in their students. Law knew of students who had lost their parent and were now being supported by a grandparent. Under Law’s leadership, the school pulled together many gifts for the children, food and gift cards for the caregiver.
For the teachers in grades 10-12, Law was able to coordinate with Lowndes Commission for Children & Youth Family Connection to sponsor a military family whose parent served in the National Guard with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and recently lost a job in the community. With the support of Georgia National Guard Christmas Assistance Program, the participating students, teachers and the support of the school principal, who personally understands the needs of military families, Law collected gifts for the children and food for this special, struggling family.
As the school’s winter break comes to a close, Law reflects on the many positive things that came from this school gift collection. Families received help from the community. Students practiced compassion and examined a greater meaning of the holiday season. In addition, as the school counselor, Law was able to build meaningful relationships with struggling families while talking to the parents and student guardians and delivering the gifts. He felt the economic barriers breaking down and the families feeling a little more connected to the school community.
Law did all the communicating and coordinating with the receiving families, as well as the shopping and wrapping, outside of school hours. Law even finds the time, year after year, to collect data for this effort allowing him to track the perceptions of student and faculty who participate. Although they have a few months to tackle next year’s holiday effort, Law and Santa’s Elves are already looking forward to spreading the holiday cheer in a meaningful way once again.