20 amazing years have passed since the inception of Joy To The Children!
Wow how time flies!
As I reflect on 1995… I was
a Children’s Case Manager at Nassau County Mental Health Center (now Starting Point); while across town there were wonderful conversations that were about to come to fruition. Mike Smith and several of his friends, who called themselves “The Orphans” (because they were empty-nesters, widowed, or divorced), regularly celebrated the holidays together. By the suggestion of Mike, they decided that rather than spending money on each other at Christmas time, they would pool together their resources and help some children in need.
Mike came to us at the Mental Health Center with an interest in identifying children which could use support. I immediately joined the cause and became the person who identified the children who would be our guests at the party. We wanted to offer a party specifically on Christmas Day to children who would have otherwise awoken Christmas morning to a ‘normal’ day, a day that would be like all the others due to their economic disadvantage. Local restaurants donated food for the party, and the children visited with Santa who brought them gifts of clothes and toys.
We have grown over the 20 years, and for a few years now I have been the only ‘original’ still on the board. Our holiday feast is still donated by local restaurants; and there is entertainment which includes live music, caroling, face painting, crafts, pirate invasion, puppeteer, clowns, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. The children receive clothing, a backpack, school supplies, toiletries, books, bedding, and, of course, toys… all purchased specifically for each child based on their age, gender, size, interests, and hobbies. Bibles are also available to the families if they choose to have one.
There is not one single part of JOY that I could say is the best part, other than the underlying beauty of love and giving. JOY is a wonderful experience for both the children, and for volunteers. We have several hundred volunteers which assist JOY in every step of the production. Volunteers coordinate logistics, shop, wrap presents and decorate for the party. 50+ volunteers come on Christmas Day to help at the party; some work in the kitchen, and some we call Family Angels as they are at service to a family for the day. Our board members are volunteers as well, and include: Vice President Stephanie Mooney, Secretary Joanne Wright, Treasurer Susan Childers, Volunteer Coordinator Arlyse McDowell, Dan Morris, Bill Mooney, Hope Harbin, Collette Gray, Sandy Balzer, Cheryl Duttweiler, and Kim Thomas.
We are a non-profit with no paid staff or overhead, all donations go straight to serving our guests. Each year we assist on average 160 children. We serve only children and their families from Nassau County, and for years our families were selected through 17 schools and service organizations. This year we are making a change to how our families are referred to us by coordinating with agencies which monitor and assist the homeless of Nassau County. We always make an effort to cross reference our guest list with other holiday assistance programs to ensure that those we serve are not being served elsewhere.
In addition to the Christmas Day celebration, Joy to the Children also works with FSCJ to provide scholarships for Nassau County graduating seniors. Each year we award two scholarships in the amount of $1500 each. We target students who not only show promising scholastic ability, but who also demonstrate a drive and determination to overcome challenging life circumstances, such as being raised in poverty. Provided the recipients show satisfactory academic progress, they receive the same amount for the second year.
Please consider joining our efforts.
You can contribute financially at Po Box 16404, Fernandina Beach, Fl 32035 or on our website: joytothechildren.org. Or if you’d like to volunteer, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll also find us on Facebook: joytothechildrennassau