Monthly Archives: December 2013

Gifts from the Heart for the New Year

Guest post by DCF Central Office Communications Director Carrie Proudfit.

Gifts for Jay from Physical Therapy Specialists - thank you!

Gifts for Jay from Physical Therapy Specialists – thank you!

When Mark MacGregor, owner of Physical Therapy Specialists in Central Florida, reached out to me he had one simple question – who can we help this holiday? My first thought was Jay*, an Orlando resident who was immediately in need of help.

Jay is no stranger to the Adult Protective Services Team in Central Florida. Case managers in the area regularly check on the senior, now in his 80s, who requires the use of a wheel chair for mobility.

This year, the holiday was expected to be especially difficult for Jay after he was served with an eviction notice – effective Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. The home was beyond repair. So with just a short couple of weeks before the move date, adult protection case managers went to work, looking for the best possible living arrangement for the senior. Originally, the plan was for him to move in with a loved one, but when that fell through just days before Christmas, adult protection had to come up with backup plan. The set back was coupled with some of Jay’s ongoing medical needs requiring him to be hospitalized. While adult protective service team members worked on Jay’s basic needs, a complete stranger, with the help of a few little elves, hoped to help make this holiday just a bit brighter for him.

Mark MacGregor and his partners, who own several physical therapy clinics in Central Florida, have made it their mission to help others through their work, but this holiday they wanted to reach a bit beyond the daily job that they do for others. MacGregor and his family, team, as well as patients, decided to forgo the traditional Santa exchanges among the office. This year they were looking to make a difference in the life of another, perhaps someone who hadn’t even asked. Word spread at Physical Therapy Specialists and response from the team as well as patients was amazing.

While DCF’s Orlando Adult Protective Services Team worked to secure new housing for Jay, Physical Therapy Specialists took on those extra little things to make him more comfortable: new socks, new clothes, food, and all the other daily necessities that might require trips to the store, which isn’t so easy for him. In addition to the items, a note, man to man, from Mark MacGregor – expressing thanks for the opportunity to give Jay a hand up, grateful to be in a position to help. PTS is but one example of how many businesses are now incorporating philanthropy into their portfolio.

Today, after being released from the hospital with no possessions other than his hospital gown, the DCF team delivered the gifts from PTS. Now Jay, with a new home and new belongings, feels the promise of a New Year and has hope for the future.

*name changed for privacy reasons. 

The true joy of giving

Guest post by Bunchy Gertner.

Every year for the last 16 years, as the South Florida summer heat scorches my soul, I turn my attention to the annual task of preparing my “North Pole.” I store, wrap and distribute thousands of toys destined for all children who continue to live in the foster care system in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Each year, beginning in August, this Toy Drive becomes top banana for me! I start calling friends, family, and donors to raise money and collect presents for the thousands of foster children in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.  Working with the staff and volunteers at Our Kids, the community-based care lead agency that provides foster, adoptive and related services to children in Miami and the Florida Keys, we’re able to collect, wrap and deliver thousands of presents to children throughout the holiday season!

I sometimes feel that all 3,600 foster children are mine (thank God I didn’t give birth to all of them!). I worry that they won’t receive a gift for the holidays and this thought propels me to try harder and make sure each and every child has a gift to open at holiday time.

It takes months to put together the team that greases the wheel and allows the project to take on a life of its own. Working with our sponsors, the team at Our Kids and numerous volunteers, we make sure every foster child in Miami-Dade and the Keys receives a quality, age appropriate gift in time for the holidays.

This year, there are 135 foster children who will be aging-out of foster care and who will embark on their newest and most profound challenge: learning to live on their own for the first time in their lives. The road to independence has many potholes and we are trying to pave the way. We created the Good Housekeeping gift of much needed household items that includes a comforter and sheets, 2 pillows, hand and bath towels, service for eight to include dishes, flatware and glassware.  Pots and pans were added last year and this year, a microwave oven.

Once we collect the gifts, we get to work wrapping! It takes serious manpower and even more tape to wrap more than 12,000 presents!

Bunchy_2Of course none of this would be possible without the generous contributions of friends and sponsors.  We have more than 50 supporters and sponsors who make valuable financial contributions and/or donate gifts to insure that all children in the system have something to open for the holidays!  Some of these sponsors include Florida Power & Light, the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. District Court, The Continental Group and the Village of Gulfstream Park.

As I review my list of donors and sponsors, I realize that I have become a beggar! I get down on my hands and knee and plead for contributions from everyone I meet.  I write letters, I make phone calls and ask people if they will help or if they know others who might be moved to help. I remind everyone that for some of these children, their gift from our North Pole might be the only present they will receive.

Despite 16 years of collecting toys and gifts, I remain overwhelmed with a joyful feeling, knowing that no child is left behind or forgotten. After months of collecting, stacking, sorting, wrapping, and tagging thousands of gifts that will be delivered to the foster youth, when I finally lay my head down to rest, I know that I have fulfilled my mission: no child in South Florida will go without a present this year!  And that, dear friends, is the true joy of giving!

For more information and to get involved, please contact Bunchy Gertner at:  anniegee77@aol.com.

Random Act of Kindness Project

Guest post by Dena Sokolow, a Florida mother, attorney and Cwazy Town blogger.

Jenna putting quarters on a candy machine as a part of the Random Act of Kindness

There is nothing like experiencing the holidays through a child’s eyes, with all of its magic, joy and tradition. This is the first year my 3-year-old daughter, Jenna, seems to genuinely understand Christmas/Hanukkah (we celebrate both in our house) and it makes this holiday season that much brighter. In this time of overindulgence, it is important for me that Jenna learns to appreciate what she has and understand that not all children are so lucky. This is a big concept for a 3-year-old. I decided it would be easier for her to grasp if she was actually participating and doing charitable deeds. So I started the Random Act of Kindness Project for our family. Every day in December we do at least one nice thing for someone else without wanting or expecting anything in return.

We started small. First, we took carts from people in the parking lot at Walmart and pushed them back to the store for them. We also picked up toys on the toy aisle that were on the floor and put them back (Jenna did amazing at this). Jenna also wanted to contribute to the Salvation Army bucket. We both walked away that day in such a good mood and for the first time EVER Jenna did not ask me for one of those tiny princess dolls they so brilliantly place at the checkout aisle.

Jenna putting a note and present in the mailbox for the mail carrier

We kept going. Together we made a “kindness list” of things we could do.  Once I gave her suggestions Jenna came up with a lot of ideas on her own: draw pictures for her favorite teachers, hand out candy to kids in the park, bring cookies to the firefighters she met on her recent field trip, give blankets to people who are cold.

The next day Jenna asked me for a quarter for a piece of candy from a gumball machine.  I asked her if she would rather leave surprise quarters for other kids to find.  She loved the idea and taped quarters to the gumball machines herself with a note saying how we were celebrating the holidays by performing random acts of kindness (RAK). She giggled the whole way home about how some little boy and girl was going to be “soooo happy” when they found those quarters.  She never did get a piece for herself. I could see she was enjoying the thought of surprising another child.

Jenna brought cookies to the firefighters and left treats and thank you notes (drawn and decorated by Jenna) for our mailman and the garbage collectors. She handed out candy canes to kids in the park (after first asking permission from their parents) and gift certificates at the grocery store. She delivered holiday goodies and a picture she drew for the servers at her favorite restaurant. Every RAK is greeted with surprise, enthusiasm and gratitude.

Now Jenna wakes up every morning and asks, “what are we going to do nice today?”  Our “kindness list” of ideas grows every day. This project has turned into so much more than I anticipated. It has become a wonderful way to spend quality time with my daughter while teaching her an important lesson of charity and generosity of spirit. The feedback we have received has been overwhelming. People are so touched and grateful. I love hearing how people are adopting this tradition for their own family or “paying it forward” after receiving a RAK. It is what the holidays are all about.

For more information or ideas about RAK please visit my blog, Cwazy Town. There is also a download on the blog for our RAK card that we leave behind.

Toy Safety

Guest post by Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade.

recallsEach year, thousands of children age 14 and younger suffered serious eye injuries, even blindness, from toys. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 251,700 toy-related injuries in 2010 throughout the United States.

You can prevent toy injuries by following some simple tips when choosing toys as gifts. Look for labels that assure you the toys have passed a safety inspection – “ATSM” means the toy has met the American Society for Testing and Materials standards. Choose age appropriate toys by following the recommended age labeling on the item, and inspect all toys before purchasing.

GUIDELINES

Under 3 years old

• Avoid buying toys that may have small parts that pose a choking danger.

• Avoid marbles, balls and games with balls

• Avoid toys that have sharp edges and points.

 Ages 3 to 5

• Avoid toys that are constructed with thin, brittle plastic

• Do not give crayons and markers unless they are labeled “nontoxic.

• Teach older children to keep their toys away from their younger brothers and sisters.

Ages 6-12

• Consider safety equipment toys for sports

• If you buy a bicycle for any age child, buy a helmet, too. • If buying a toy gun, be sure the barrel, or the entire gun, is brightly colored so that it’s not mistaken for a real gun.

 For more information on Toy Safety visit: www.toysafety.mobi

The Genesis

Guest blog post by Isabella Glazer, Bella’s Group Founder. Bella’s Group was chosen as a featured “Hope for the Holidays” organization and is in need of laptops, gift cards for household supplies, food, clothes and toys, and resources for group family events: http://flpartnersforpromise.com/hope.shtml

Gabriella and Isabella

Gabriella and Isabella

When my sister Gabriella and I were in grade school (I was in 4th grade and Gabriella was in 3rd grade) we went to live with our grandparents, Drs. Ira and Marietta Glazer, because there were difficulties with our family. It was strange at first, but Noni (Italian for grand mom) and Grandpa were so loving and caring, we soon found life to be “normal.”

Noni is VERY active. She’s been a volunteer with several area charities. My sister and I found we were being invited to attend some of the charity events, so you might say we learned about the non-profit work while we learned about math, social studies and history in school.

Although things were going along nicely, I felt it would be neat to meet other young people who were being raised by their grandparents. We looked for a support group – and we looked a lot! We asked around at school, church, on the Internet, but couldn’t find anything. We did find out that in Broward County there are about 35,000 children being raised by family members that were not their parents; sometimes uncles and aunts, and some were being raised by their great grandparents. But no support group where we could socialize.

Bella - girls at teaseSo with Noni’s encouragement, Gabriella and I started Bella’s Group in 2009! We came up with a plan. We would give free parties so that the children would have a really fun time and get a chance to meet other kids that were in similar situations. It would help the kids realize they aren’t the only ones not being raised by their parents. Noni then suggested we invite people who worked at social service agencies so they could give the adults some advice, help them find resources, guidance and receive support by meeting other caregivers, all while the children are playing.

Things have worked out well. We give a few parties a year – pool parties, an afternoon of bowling at Manor Lanes, and what has become an annual holiday party.

But we are not just parties! Here are some of the things we do to help people in our community:

  • We have partnered with other non-profits like the Pantry of Broward, encouraging children and adults to bring canned goods and food to our events.
  • We are very proud of is our Back-to-School Backpacks which we have been doing for the past few years. We have a back-pack drive where people drop off new school supplies and back packs as well as donations and we deliver fully loaded back-to-school back packs to agencies in Broward County.Our Bella Bags are special packages for children who are leaving their homes because of domestic violence or other difficulties. Many times they have to leave without being able to pack some essentials like tooth brushes, hair brushes, personal care items. We also include a ‘cuddle blanket’ and sippy cups.

Bella - Girls for BettyOh, yes — Noni and Grandpa adopted us about five years ago. We are both members of the Florida Youth Orchestra, where Gaby plays the Violin and I play the flute.  We take ballet and have a black stripe in Taekwondo. We also actively participate at our school nativity, where we are altar servers, sing in the choir, attend lectures and sometimes usher. I play basketball and Gaby is a cheerleader. We are both members of the drama club and this year we are doing “Sussical the Musical” – I am the “Cat in the Hat” and Gaby is “Mazy.” We make good grades, go to Walt Disney World once a year, take really amazing vacations with Noni and Grandpa and know we are blessed and are surrounded by love!

Note: Bella’s Group was chosen as a featured “Hope for the Holidays” organization and is in need of laptops, gift cards for household supplies, food, clothes and toys, and resources for group family events. Visit “Hope for the Holidays” to help them this holiday season.