“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” – Norman Vincent Peale, author
Give with your heart this Christmas. Sponsor one of Cherokee County’s many foster children this Christmas. It will make some child happy, warm your heart, and reflect the meaning of the season.
Christmas Season Within the Foster Care System
Dedicated people work tirelessly year-round in Cherokee County to help innocent children in the foster care system. No matter how we may see it as outsiders, children want to be with their parents, so Christmas creates awkward and difficult situations for these kids. Executive director Marcie Smith of The Children’s Haven, a nonprofit that works with foster children, recalls one of the foster kids writing on her wish list that all she wanted for Christmas was to see her mom. Marcie explains, “Children love unconditionally. That’s who they are. Because of their vulnerability, the community must step in and as a last resort remove children when the home is no longer safe for them. All we can do is rally around them to give them the best Christmas possible under the circumstances.”
It is quite a challenge, yet year after year, Cherokee County has stepped up. The task is growing, though. Marcie says in years past the number of children in foster care has hovered around two hundred. In 2021, there were nearly three hundred, and the projection for this year looks like there will be almost four hundred children in foster care during the holiday season—twice the average of a few years ago. The rise of substance abuse in our community, which often leads to child neglect, seems to be fueling the rising number of children in need of foster care.
Cherokee Secret Santa
At The Children’s Haven each child fills out a wish list that is sent to Cherokee Secret Santa. Each one includes a profile of the child listing their hobbies, favorite colors, music, and more. Penny DePuy, the organizer of Cherokee Secret Santa, says, “By connecting the sponsor with the child personally, they feel more like family. We are more than a toy drive—not that there is anything wrong with those—but at Secret Santa, we are trying to make the experience more intimate for the donor and the child. We want the child to feel like their gifts were chosen specifically for them. We also want the gift givers to have a good experience and feel like they made a difference to a child they have gotten to know, even though they haven’t seen their face.
“In a crushing world, to see the community come together at Christmas and care for these kids is amazing.”– Penny DePuy, Cherokee Secret Santa
Cherokee Secret Santa allows sponsors to request the age and gender of the child they would like to sponsor. Although this perk adds a lot of work for the elves at Cherokee Secret Santa, Penny is adamant that it is well worth the effort, “Some of our sponsors may have never had a little girl and want to buy little girl things. Or perhaps their children are a certain age, and they want to involve them in buying. Or if someone has lost a [child]—for them, it could be therapeutic to buy [a Christmas gift] for a child the same age and gender.”
Marcie and Penny shared many great examples of how sponsors have gone above and beyond for foster kids, including the story of one young man who was aging out of the foster care system and joining the military the following year. He wrote a bit of his story on his wish list and added that he would love some swag from his favorite sports team. With great care his sponsor bought a winter coat with the emblem of his favorite team with his name monogrammed on it. The sponsor also contacted a reserve member of the branch of service the young man was joining. The reservist visited the young man’s foster home and delivered his gift in person along with a prayer medallion from their shared military branch. What a special Christmas that must have been!
Another little boy in a foster home loved pet rocks, so his sponsor got rocks and painted them with cute sayings. Yet another sponsor heard about the project and built a personalized rock box with the little boy’s name on it.
Arylessence, a corporate sponsor, made bottles of perfume for the girls in foster care. Each bottle featured a personalized label. Marcie smiles as she recollects, “Those girls were absolutely beaming. They had something no one had: a perfume made just for them. Although their Christmas was traumatic, they will never forget that special gift.”
The staff at The Children’s Haven also gives the foster children the blessing of being able to give during the holidays. With the help of volunteers from the SmileUp! Charitable Foundation, the staff set up a “Shop for Your Grown-Up” store in 2021. There the children could choose something for an adult in their life who was important to them. Marcie says, “Helping the kids be able to enjoy giving a gift is empowering for them in a time when everything in their life seems out of control and chaotic. It is also great for the kids to see how important giving is.”
SmileUp! volunteers will decorate The Children’s Haven on Friday, November 25. Visit SmileUpFoundation.org for more details.
Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, another local foundation for children in foster care, is home to around forty young men in foster care ranging in ages from eight to eighteen. The goal of the staff at Goshen Valley is for each boy to know the “safety of a home, the love of a family, and the hope of a future.” At the ranch the boys live in family-modeled homes with house parents. When Christmastime comes, sponsors can help make holiday magic possible by purchasing gifts from Amazon Wish Lists available online at GoshenValley.org/WishList. Gifts purchased from the Wish Lists will be wrapped and ready to open on Christmas. Wish Lists are available for the Goshen Valley Boys Ranch; Goshen Homes, for sibling groups in foster homes; and Goshen New Beginnings, a program that helps older youths transition from foster care to independence as young adults. Wish Lists are also available for year-round basic needs.
Josue, one of the boys at Goshen Valley, shares the story of his first Christmas at the ranch with his eyes twinkling like a child. “The first Christmas I ever [celebrated] was when I was sixteen, and it was at Goshen Valley Boys Ranch. It was amazing. Volunteers came and decorated the inside and the outside of our house. I got Christmas presents picked just for me, and the sponsors donated their time and their love with the presents and things they did for us. All the people who helped make our Christmas are godly examples for us boys at the ranch.”
Marcie from The Children’s Haven says this experience is true for other kids she sees in foster care as well. While it may seem shocking to most families, some of these kids have never celebrated Christmas before.
When talking to all the people working to provide a good Christmas for children in foster care, you can hear the excitement in their voices. This task is not a duty; it is pure joy for these people. Reach out to The Children’s Haven and Goshen Valley for wish lists and make this a special Christmas for a child who is hurting. You never know the effect your kindness may have on someone’s life, but in your own heart you will most certainly feel the joy of giving.
THE CHILDREN’S HAVEN
1083 Marietta Highway, Canton
GOSHEN VALLEY BOYS RANCH
387 Goshen Church Way, Waleska
CHEROKEE SECRET SANTA
1300 Univeter Road, Canton
Leana Conway has been a Cherokee County resident for 22 years. Leana is originally from Canada but calls the South her home now. When she’s not writing about the fascinating neighbors she meets for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine, she’s busy as a full-time caregiver to her husband. Leana is also a blogger, mom, and new Oma (grandma in Dutch). Her life philosophy is “Find your calling, and you will find joy.”