The holiday season is a time of family, friends and plenty of good cheer. It can also be a time of great isolation for those who don’t have loved ones with which to share this special time of year. Among those often lost in the shuffle? Children in the foster-care system. For this reason, the Darol Rodrock Foundation went out of its way to make the 2016 holiday season one of surprise and joy for local foster-care youth.
On Dec. 8, the Foundation held its Holiday Dinner & Sleigh Ride at the gorgeous red barn at the Lodge of Ironwoods. More than 150 foster youth attended the holiday party – and even the oldest couldn’t hide their smiles when Santa arrived for pictures and fun.
Rodney Sharp and his horses provided “sleigh rides” through Ironwoods Park, as kids cuddled under blankets in the crisp nighttime sky, which was awash with stars. It was just enough entertainment to help the kids work up an appetite for a full country dinner – including fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, and more – from the area’s favorite RC’s Restaurant.
After all the delicious food was devoured (with several children carefully wrapping leftovers to take home), Darol spoke about his own experience in the foster-care system. Darol told the crowd that he understood, from heartbreaking experience, what it means to grow up in the system. He urged his rapt listeners to have respect and love for themselves – and to work hard and get their education. These are the keys, Darol said, to making the most of life.
Then, in the spirit of the season, the children each received a small stocking with $50, so they can treat themselves to something special. It was enough to help start a rousing chorus of Christmas carols – with some of the kids marching from table to table as they sang. A beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” moved several in the audience to tears.
“The kids were so excited,” says Cathy Crist, the Kansas Kids @ GEAR UP (KKGU) Region 2 Coordinator. “The highlight of the party was the sleigh ride and Santa. Often times, foster youth don’t get to participate in holiday celebrations, and definitely not celebrations as large as this. Getting their pictures taken with Santa provides valuable personal memories for foster youth and is absolutely one of the highlights of the evening. When anyone mentions The Darol Rodrock Foundation Christmas party to our KKGU youth, their eyes light up and they know the fun that they will have!”
This is the third year for the celebration, and for some KKGU youth, it will be their third opportunity to have a wonderful dinner and kickoff the holiday season right.
“Recently, one of our foster youth was explaining how fun the party is to a new youth and said, ‘The hayride is with huge horses, and Santa is there for our pictures, too!’ He went on to say that this single event is the highlight of his year. Every year, he looks forward to seeing other foster youth and listening to Mr. Rodrock’s inspirational words.”
This year was no exception, and as the kids happily munched on cookies and candy canes and compared their pictures with Santa, it was readily apparent what an impact the party makes on this special group.
“Many of our youth don’t always respond to the holidays with joy and glee due to their situations,” Cathy continues. “However, with their foster families around them, KKGU, and The Darol Rodrock Foundation, they get this opportunity to have an evening to celebrate the good things happening in their lives as the holiday season gets closer.”
“The holidays are such a special time for children,” says Darol Rodrock. “Kids are filled with so much hope and joy this time of year, and we wanted to make sure the circumstances of foster care didn’t dim that delight for some local kids. Every child should look forward to the holidays. Every child should light up at seeing Santa and eagerly anticipate the surprise waiting inside a brightly wrapped package.”
And as in years past, the Foundation handed out coats, hats, and more, to children in attendance who had nothing to fend off the cold. Thankfully, the Darol Rodrock Foundation warmed both hands and hearts this holiday season!
For more information, visit DarolRodrockFoundation.org