Giving back, giving thanks

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When Ryan Fletcher graduated college in 2008 the world lay before her until a week after graduation when she learned she was pregnant.

“There went the career path,” she said.

Facing a challenging future, Fletcher moved back home with her parents and had a son in 2009. She worked at Kroger and Wal-Mart while living with her parents but moved out in February 2011.

Fletcher continued working but did not earn enough to meet her expenses especially since she went back to graduate school in 2010.

“I couldn’t get anywhere with a bachelor’s degree,” said Fletcher.

To augment her income, she also received help through food stamps, Medicaid and assistance paying rent. Another source of help was Christmas for Kids created as a ministry by the late Amanda Fessant to assure Edgar County children have gifts to unwrap on Christmas morning.

Christmas for Kids supplied Fletcher’s son with a Christmas during his first three years – something she was not capable of doing on her own.

“It takes a lot of humility to say I need help,” Fletcher said, adding some people may make other choices, not always good ones, rather than ask for help.

Through perseverance, Fletcher received her master’s degree in 2012 and got what she called her first real adult job. She continued working and moved into a new job in 2014. She was doing well enough at that time financial assistance was no longer required.

In 2015, Fletcher made another move in her health related field and believes she is now in a position from which she can not only build a career but where she can stay until she is ready to retire.

“Overtime, seeing where I was at absolute bottom to where I am now is amazing,” Fletcher said.

Her gratitude toward Christmas for Kids brought her back to the organization as a volunteer. In 2017, Fletcher, and son, Jaxson, delivered gifts to families on the Christmas for Kids list.

“This organization is amazing,” she said, noting children generally receive around seven gifts. “I could only take two or three families at a time because the bags were so big.”

Fletcher said it was important that her son understand the importance of helping those who are struggling. She added many of the homes where they delivered gifts had children in school with her son.

She recalled one mother in particular seemed embarrassed about accepting the gifts. Fletcher spent some time talking with her and explained how she once was on the receiving end and tried to alleviate some of the pain of being in a difficult situation.

“The great thing about kids is they don’t judge,” said Fletcher. “It was exciting for him knowing what other kids were getting for Christmas, and he told them they were going to have a great Christmas. For him, it was the joy of making other people happy for Christmas.”

The mother-son team is back this year volunteering with Christmas for Kids. They are helping pull items from storage rooms to match what is on the wish lists children submit. They also plan to assist with the home deliveries.

Fletcher appreciates the various agencies that provided help when she was down and wants others to know there is light at the end if people are willing to look for it.

“I encourage everybody who needs help to get it, but to also try harder to improve their situation,” said Fletcher. “People need to understand that getting help is a stepping stone, not an end.”

Dawn Kirby of Christmas for Kids agreed.

“Christmas for Kids is not a handout but a hand up,” said Kirby. “Christmas is a small dream. When kids see that Christmas dreams can come true, they can work on bigger dreams.”

The organization, now in its 12th year, served 700 children in Edgar County in 2017. Kirby said the Christmas for Kids philosophy holds that unwrapping toys is important but the organization looks to fill other needs. Gifts also include books and board games.

“We are trying to promote family interaction with games and reading,” said Kirby.

Christmas for Kids also tries to meet unique needs a family may have. She recalled one mother asking for comforters because the family lived in an old, drafty house and did not have enough blankets to stay warm.

The next big fundraiser for Christmas for Kids is 6 p.m. Nov. 27 at the Paris Veterans of Foreign Wars Post with a toy auction by Tolka Bros. Christmas Auctions. Those attending can purchase new toys for their own Christmas giving or donate them back to Christmas for Kids as they wish. Proceeds from the event provide financial support to Christmas for Kids.

Families needing assistance in giving Christmas presents to their children may obtain a Christmas for Kids application at any Edgar County School or the agencies where they are already receiving support such as WIC at the Edgar County Public Health Department.