The presence of presents

Presents give presence. A small wooden horse with a felt saddle, a hand-drawn picture of a grinning snowman or the perhaps more-exciting PlayStation communicate something far beyond the immediate thrill of a new gadget: You are not alone.

For children at Eliada Homes — a 107-year-old child/family services organization providing residential care for abused, neglected and severely at-risk children and adolescents — communicating presence is of paramount importance.

“Each year, one of our big challenges is to find sponsors for all the students in our care,” Carolyn Ashworth, Eliada’s Communications Director, told Xpress. “For children living in residential care, the holidays can be difficult. Many of them don’t have a traditional family structure and will spend their holidays with us. So, for that reason, it’s really important for students to feel that there are people in the community that are thinking about them during this time.”

Eliada offers donors the opportunity to sponsor a child (most of whom are between the ages of 12-15, but with some younger and older, up to age 18) through the “wish list” program.

“We make it really easy to sponsor a child,” Ashworth said. “Most people like to shop for the kids directly. We provide wish lists with information like the child’s favorite color, clothing sizes, general interests and their top needs and wants. The sponsors take those lists, shop and bring the gifts at a reserved time.”

Sponsors are asked to not spend more than $150 per child “to ensure that gifts are equitable amongst the children.” Participants in the wish-list program include children in Eliada’s residential, foster care, day-treatment and child-development programs.

The sponsor-a-child program offers a variety of less direct approaches as well. For businesses (or individuals) that want to offer sponsorship, but can’t shop for the kids, Elida accepts cash donations, which they will use to purchase items.

This year, Eliada is expanding the scope of the wish list, Ashworth said, to items that children may not expressly want, but use every day.

“We are also asking people to consider sponsoring a cottage. Instead of providing for an individual child, we ask people to consider purchasing things that the children use throughout the year that might get worn down. Things like linens and board games.”

Resources that Eliada children often need that you may not have thought of? “We always have a need for luggage,” Ashworth said. “That’s a big need, especially in the foster-care population.

“We have a pretty extensive list for any business that wanted to do a gift drive to help sponsor a cottage,” Ashworth said. (See sidebar for the full list.)

Literal presence is another need this year. “Each year, we ask people in the community to come help us decorate the campus,” she said. “We haven’t yet identified a group that really wants to do that this year. It’s mostly outdoor decorations, things like hanging lights. Eliada is a 200-acre campus; if you’ve hung lights at your home, you know it’s a lot. It’s a big job.

“We really want the kids’ holidays to be full,” Ashworth said. “We have many different programs. If there is someone out there in the community who wants to do something that we didn’t mention — we’re pretty open to any kind of ideas that folks have that may be unique and different, that we haven’t thought of before.”

For more information about contributing to Eliada Homes — including the “Cards for Kids” project and other year-round opportunities — visit eliada.org, or call 828-254-5356.

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