New York City during the holiday season is breathtaking, even in a snowstorm. Thanks to a generous local benefactor I was able to take ten young adults to see "A Christmas Carol" during our first winter snowstorm. The train ride, Madison Square Garden and Penn Station at Christmastime are overwhelming. Even with blizzard conditions, people were still filled with the holiday spirit.
One of the striking lines throughout the musical version of "A Christmas Carol" was a line that spoke about "hearts of compassion." Isn't that what the holiday season is supposed to be about: acts of kindness and compassion.
As I rode the Port Jefferson branch into New York City, I listened to a group of young people talk about the holiday season and what it meant to them. Each young person's own story was heartbreaking, but to hear their concern for others and wanting to do something for another was refreshing.
We live in such self-serving times, so it is wonderful to hear young people who want to step outside of themselves and do for others. On Sunday, after the famous snowstorm, a neighbor left me a note letting me know how helpful a few young people from the "House" were during the storm. Her car spun out on Main Street into a snow embankment. She was stuck and frightened. A couple of guys came over and worked for about a half hour digging her out. When they were through, she wanted to give them something for their labor. They refused and with a smile said Merry Christmas and walked away.
There are so many young people who give of themselves, not just during the holiday season, but also all year long. They work in our soup kitchens and food pantries. They volunteer in local sports programs. Some act as tutors, others teach music and dance and the list goes on. They are clearly the unsung heroes of our community. They give of themselves without expecting anything in return. They give because of the joy and peace they receive from the act of giving.
Twenty-two years ago, a dad wanted to teach his teenage children the true meaning of Christmas. He decided that on Christmas Eve he would dress up as Santa and have his children come with him as elves.
A few weeks before, this dad who is a local attorney, became aware of four poor families with children. He and his kids took their wish lists and did the best they could that first Christmas. That experience totally transformed those teenagers. It gave them a totally different perspective on the meaning of Christmas.
That tradition that cold Christmas Eve twenty-two years ago gave birth to what is now known as Christmas Magic. In addition to Charlie Russo and his grown adult children, hundreds of adults, college students and teenagers across Suffolk County make Christmas magic for thousands of needy children in our larger community.
It is a project that begins right after Christmas and culminates on Christmas morning. The list of needy children continues to grow. The stories of deprivation and struggle continue to be mind boggling, but thanks to our "everyday hero," Charlie Russo and hundreds of elves, Christmas Magic happens at least for a moment for countless children and families who would otherwise have nothing.
What is amazing about Christmas Magic in recent times is the countless people who step up to help. This assistance is not merely in giving money, but in shopping, wrapping and ultimately delivering the Christmas presents.
Our economy has been really strained. A lot of people lost jobs this past year. Just to survive with the bare necessities has escalated. Thus the voiceless among us and the poor have grown tremendously. The number of children who are living in our shelters and barely have three meals a day is overwhelming.
Christmas Magic has been bombarded with legitimate requests on behalf of poor and needy families. For the first time in twenty-two years, Charlie, Santa's chief elf is afraid he won't have the material resources necessary to meet all the needs of this year's needy children.
If you don't have a charity to adopt this holiday season, consider Christmas Magic. All material donations are warmly welcomed and deeply appreciated. You can leave word for Charlie by calling 631-265-7200. No donation is too small.
There are high school and college students on both shores in Suffolk County beating the pavement on behalf of Christmas Magic, raising money, wrapping presents and volunteering to be Santa's elves right before Christmas. To see their generous hearts during these very selfish times is inspirational.
As a professional learner, I continue to be grateful for what the people around me are teaching me, especially my students. Their openness, candor and generous hearts give me great hope for tomorrow.
A few Christmases ago I gave a seventeen-year-old boy, who had been living on the streets, a new winter coat since he had none. He came to live at Hope House right before Christmas. TJ was so grateful to have a warm, safe place to live after having lived on the streets since he was sixteen. His parents were killed when he was a junior in high school. He had no extended family, so he was pretty much on his own.
Finally, he swallowed his pride and asked for some assistance. He stayed at our hospitality center for a brief time. While he was there, he befriended an old man in his late seventies who had lived in the woods on the North Shore for over thirty years. This particular winter was bitter cold, so he too asked for some help.
After TJ moved into the house, he asked if he could volunteer at the hospitality center. He wanted to give something back for all the compassion and support he had received.
Shortly after Christmas, I saw that TJ's brand new winter jacket was missing. I thought it was lost or taken, but then I saw it on the old man that TJ had befriended. I asked TJ why he had given his jacket away. He said the old man didn't have one or anything much to speak of. He now had a home and a place that cared for him. From his perspective, the least he could do is give something back.
Although this young man had little or nothing, the little he did have he was willing to share with a tired old man who literally had nothing. He gave that gift unconditionally with no expectations or conditions. His selfless generosity defines compassion and the reason for the season.