UCARE Giving Tree brings joy and gifts to local children

Photography Courtesy of Robert Varney

Courtney DuChene

coduchene@ursinus.edu

 

Ursinus students helped provide Christmas gifts for children in the ACLAMO Family Center after-school program during the annual Giving Tree gift drive the college held last week. The gifts, which are purchased by Ursinus students based on tags that give the child’s name and age, are given to the children during an on-campus holiday party that occurred on Saturday Dec. 2.

ACLAMO, which stands for Accion Communal Latinoamericana de Montgomery County, is a nonprofit that provides educational programs and social services for families in Norristown PA. Turek spoke about the mission of ACLAMO and their after-school program. She said, “ACLAMO Family Center… provides educational programs, social services, and health access to members of the community.  The children at ALCAMO’s after-school program range in age from 5 to 14 years old (kindergarten through 8th grade).  The majority of families who participate in the program have moved to this area from Latin America, and their primary language spoken at home is Spanish.”

According to Katie Turek, the assistant director of UCARE, the Giving Tree tradition began in 2010.

“I honestly do not know where the idea initially came from,” she said, “but I imagine it was a combination of student initiative and community interest in partnering [with] the program.  Ursinus students have volunteered as tutors and mentors with the ACLAMO after-school program for many years, and this project is one way we have been able to show our appreciation and support of the program in a different way.”

Setting up the Giving Tree and sending out emails to notify students is managed by the UCARE Service Fellows. Turek described the process of setting up for the event. “The tree is decorated with paper ornaments, each listing the name and age of a child . . . Ursinus students, faculty, and staff are welcome to come to UCARE and sign out one or more ornaments from the tree.  They are asked to return each ornament with a wrapped gift for that child.  The children receive their gifts at an on-campus holiday party that takes place in early December.”

Turek explained how the Giving Tree process is different from the other volunteer opportunities that connect Ursinus with ACLAMO.

She said, “The process of donating to the Giving Tree is different from the other in-kind donation drives we usually coordinate (such as food drives, clothing drives, etc.), because each donor is ‘matched’ with an individual child and is given that child’s first name and age. The care that goes into picking out a special toy for a child brings about a feeling of connection, even if you may never meet them in person.”

Turek also said, “Personally, I appreciate the Giving Tree because it is an annual reminder of the generosity of the people around us and of what can be accomplished when many people come together for a cause.  The Giving Tree is a unique way for college students and other members of the Ursinus community to connect with children and families in the area.”

Emily Thomas, the Ursinus student site coordinator for ACLAMO, spoke about the experience of purchasing gifts and attending the holiday party.  “I have bought presents both last and this year for particular kids I work with [and] any extra kids that needed them . . . [and] I have been to two ACLAMO Christmas parties! This year, along with Jamir Mallory, [the student cite coordinator for America Reads], and Jess Vadaketh, [another student site coordinator for ACLAMO] [I] was the event coordinator [for the Christmas party]. The experience of this party is one of the most important events for not only the kids but for the volunteers who work with these kids. They come onto campus, which they think is crazy and cool, and then they spend three hours being kids.”

She continued, “Often these kids don’t have the chance to just be themselves and make crafts or run around and dance. The positive energy is so high and there are nothing but smiles!”

While the deadline to donate gifts has passed for this year, both Turek and Thomas mentioned what a positive experience donating has been.

Thomas said, “It not only helps [the] students, faculty and staff purchase gifts for these wonderful kiddos, but it is a gateway for [the kids in the ACLAMO after-school program] to see how Ursinus values community engagement, and how we as a campus tries to live that out.”

Turek agreed and encouraged students to seek out other volunteer opportunities. “I would encourage students who feel inspired by their experience with the Giving Tree to consider volunteering at one of the many community organizations we partner with, whether that is the ACLAMO after-school program or another organization that serves children and families.  College students have many gifts they can share with the community, and the tangible ones we collect for the Giving Tree are one small but meaningful way to give back!”

Students who are interested in volunteer opportunities at ACLAMO after-school program can email Katie Turek at kturek@ursinus.edu or stop by the UCARE office and speak to a service fellow.