Living Well is happy to report that the Giving Tree was back for the sixth year, and it was a smashing success. It’s hard to imagine, but people with disabilities who do not have family or relatives often go without visits or gifts during the holidays, which can leave them feeling lonely and isolated. At Living Well, we believe everyone deserves a little something under the tree or a treat to bring a smile during the most wonderful time of the year. So, each November we call on volunteers, including businesses and individuals, to donate holiday gifts to people who live at our homes but do not have family to celebrate with. The Giving Tree was created to fill this void, and the volunteer response blows us away each year.
This year’s list was long, and we are delighted to let you know that each holiday wish was granted. Over the span of a few weeks, we received over 160 gift donations, and presents were delivered to the homes this week. Because of the generosity of donors—five groups, including one church and four corporations, and four individuals—36 people at 21 homes received up to six gifts each. There is a lot to celebrate knowing that no one will be left out on Christmas this year!
We are blessed with the most amazing volunteers ever. They shopped till they dropped, wrapped till the tape ran out, and delivered gifts to over half of our homes. Board Member, Tony DeRose, delivered gifts on Wednesday dressed as a Christmas tree. He had a blast and said, “Each house welcomed me with big smiles by the staff and wonderment and excitement from the people we serve. The real fun was seeing the expressions on the people’s faces trying to figure out why this silly bright green tree was in the house.” Tony thought the costume was perfect, and that it created a lot of buzz, fun, laughter, and memorable conversations.
Hannah Wilkum first found Living Well from the opportunities posted on Hands on Twin Cities when she was coordinating a volunteer event for her team at work. They did several yard clean-ups before she learned about the other services and opportunities with Living Well, such as the Giving Tree. “Although my team didn’t have room for any additional events, I jumped at the chance to be able to provide gifts myself because I want everyone to have something special on the holidays. I enjoyed it so much last year that I knew I wanted to participate again,” Hannah said. When asked what it means to her to volunteer in the community, she replied, “My parents instilled the importance of volunteering in me since childhood by always finding opportunities to give back. Since moving to Minnesota, it has been fun to work with new organizations, either through work or on my own. I have been extremely fortunate in my life and want to give back to others. Volunteering also makes me feel more connected to my community.”
Jennifer Rak volunteered with her work team at Minnesota Urology for the second year in a row as well. When we asked her how it feels to provide holiday gifts for someone who might not otherwise get a present, she told us, “Making sure that someone gets a holiday gift who may otherwise not receive anything brings us joy. While we know not everyone will get something this holiday season, partnering with Living Well Disability Services allows us to help in a little way to bring a little piece of happiness to someone during the holiday season, so they know they are not forgotten.” And their response to the question, how does it feel to know you are having a positive and immediate impact on the lives of people living with disabilities, was just as tender, “It’s such a small action that we can take to bring a bit of happiness to someone. The holidays can be an emotional time and can be harder when we don’t have loved ones around us. Being able to provide someone with a gift they are requesting is both heartwarming and unique. It is a refreshing experience to see my co-workers get excited to sign up to bring gifts for people at Living Well. While we may be giving the gifts, we are truly getting the most out of the holiday season as our souls are being recharged by being able to help.”
Board Member Dawn Kessler also got in the spirit by donating gifts and delivering presents to the houses with her husband, Paul. She says, “Volunteering in my local community is important to me. It represents a sense of responsibility and connection to those around us. It is a reminder that we are part of something larger than ourselves, and the collective effort to make a positive impact is both fulfilling and inspiring. Adding, “Providing holiday gifts for someone who might not otherwise receive a present is a particularly heartwarming experience. The fact that these efforts directly contribute to enhancing the quality of life for individuals facing unique challenges makes it even more rewarding. Knowing that a small gesture can bring happiness to someone’s life and make their celebration a little brighter is what the holidays are all about.”
It’s official, we have the BEST volunteers in the WORLD. Thank you, Jennifer Rak and employees at Minnesota Urology, Michelle Landon employees at RGA, Janine Vesper and employees at Miracle Ear, Ivy Dang and employees at Field Nation, Scarlett Riley and members of River Hills Church in Burnsville, Dawn and Paul Kessler, Deb Music and Jenni Buskirk, Hannah Wikum, Cal and Kris Robertson, Chris Reiten, Darrin Janisch, Karla Kosel, Lisa Adelmann, Fran McCloskey and Peggy Mehan, Michael and Marge Morrow, Tony DeRose, and Vince Opat—for helping with the Giving Tree this year.
We are beyond grateful for all who have supported us this holiday season, and all year long. Every gift, meal made, yard cleaned, delivery made, and connection created has a direct impact on the quality of life of someone supported by Living Well. THANK YOU!
Happy Holidays, indeed!
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