Christmas vacation can have a vastly different meaning for children in foster care than for other kiddos. Not only do children in the foster-care system rarely receive holiday gifts, their Christmas break is frequently interrupted as they’re shuffled from foster home to foster home. (The break is seen as an ideal time to make such transitions, as no school is missed.) In other words, not only is there little holiday cheer, many find themselves in new housing situations where they know no one. The holidays can be frightening, alienating, and downright depressing.
This is only one of many reasons that Darol Rodrock strives to hold his annual holiday party at the beginning of December — offering a bright spot to what otherwise can be a very tough season. Right now the Darol Rodrock Foundation is hard at work planning yet another fantastic Holiday Dinner & Sleigh Ride at the Lodge of Ironwoods for more than 150 foster youth.
As in years past, Rodney Sharp and his horses will provide memorable ‘sleigh rides’ through Iron Woods Park, as kids cuddle under blankets in the crisp nighttime sky. It’s always just enough entertainment to help the kids work up an appetite for a full, catered dinner.
After the delicious food is devoured — and every year, many children carefully wrap leftovers to take home — Darol plans to speak about his own experience in the foster-care system. This is a special opportunity for Darol to let the children in attendance know that he understands, from his own heartbreaking experience, what it means to grow up in the system. He hopes that his message of hope and self-respect, coupled with hard work and education, will serve as the cornerstones for success for this special audience.
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And every year, in the spirit of the season, each child will receive a small stocking with cash inside, so they can treat themselves to something special. Typically, the excitement over such a gift is enough to start a rousing chorus of Christmas carols.
“The kids are always so excited,” says Cathy Crist, the Kansas Kids @ GEAR UP (KKGU) Region 2 Coordinator. “The highlight of the party is always the sleigh ride and Santa. Often times, foster youth don’t get to participate in holiday celebrations, and definitely not celebrations as large as the one put on by the Darol Rodrock Foundation. 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 will be the fourth year for the celebration, and for some KKGU youth, it will be their only opportunity to kick off the holiday season right.
“Recently, one of our foster youth was explaining how fun the party is to a new youth,” says Cathy. “He 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.”
“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.”
Still, there’s much preparation to be done — and this year the Foundation is asking Kansas City for help! Every year, the children show up in anticipation of a great holiday party, but many are under attired for the cold. A good number don’t have a winter coat, hat, or gloves of their own. The Foundation tries to have an assortment of warm clothes to hand out, so the kids can enjoy the holiday hayride without hesitation.
To that end, the Foundation is holding a Winter Coat, Hat, and Gloves drive through the Thanksgiving holidays. Gently used items are welcome and can be dropped off at any of the Rodrock Development community offices or the head office at 12643 Hemlock in Overland Park. Will you help the Darol Rodrock Foundation warm both hands and hearts this holiday season?
And make sure you stay tuned for some exciting news from the Darol Rodrock Foundation in 2018. New plans are brewing in the New Year, ensuring the coming months may be the most exciting yet!
For more information, visit DarolRodrockFoundation.org