Students and parents at Riverview Elementary may not have known it, but they were setting a new holiday trend.
Instead of the traditional gift exchange between students, more than 60 kindergartners from three classes distributed gifts to the residents at Gracemont Assisted Living and Memory Care in Cumming.
Parents of the students were asked to donate small gifts.
Riverview teachers Lisa McAnally, Linda Williams, and Becca Wilson took their students to visit with Gracemont residents on Dec. 14.
As part of the schools community give back program, Spark a Spirit of Service, the students performed several holiday songs and delivered gifts of socks, tissues, homemade lotions, and mats inscribed with the words, This is made with love. The mats were created by the third and fourth grade classes of Riverview.
For Gracemont residents Jessie and Alvin Craft, the childrens enthusiasm for giving, was a gift within itself.
I think at our age its exceptionally nice to see these youngsters come down here, said Mr. Craft. Its a great way to bring the youth in to meet with the older ones. They must put a lot of time and expense into this, and you can tell these kids appreciate it. Just look at how happy and good they are.
Mrs. Craft said the childrens visit delivered a missing piece of the holiday spirit.
It does my heart so good to see these children that I could just cry, she said. They are so adorable.
The Spark a Spirit of Service, program is designed to teach students how to provide service to others and give back to the community that does so much to support them. Other projects include a school wide canned food drive for Ric-Rack, sponsorship of an Angel Tree, and acknowledgement of the Dawson County Senior Center as the special guest at the fifth grades music program.
Ms. McAnally said it can be complicated to teach young children what it means to give back, so the teachers use age appropriate examples to help the kids understand.
We are teaching them to give back and what we can do for others, said McAnally. But we teach it to them in their terms. We told them to remember when the Grinch gave back, and how his heart grew and grew and grew. This is one small way we can help them understand it.
McAnally also taught her students that its not always about what you get.
It is hard to teach that to this age level, so we had them help us prepare the baskets of gifts, and it also helped them to understand.
And if there were any doubts about the childrens comprehension of giving back, just ask 6-year-old Kyle Putnum.
I gave a guy two pairs of socks, and then I gave him a big hug, said Putnum. I like to give presents. It makes feel good.
Or, ask 5-year-old Jadyn Withrow.
I singed and we gave stuff to people, she said. And I gave them hugs and they gave me kisses, and its good.
Gracemont resident, Ruth ONeal said she could not ask for anything more wonderful during the holiday season than the gift of children.
I enjoyed every bit of it and it was so beautiful, she said. It is so wonderful to see children again during this season because they are the most fun part of Christmas.
For Gracemont resident, Rachel Higgins, and Riverview Paraprofessional, Darlene Satterfield, the trip held special meaning. Satterfield is a former student of Ms. Higgins Sunday school class at Cross Roads Baptist Church. She said it was special to introduce her students to the lady who had taught her how to give back.
Teri Girardeau, activity director in the memory care department at Gracemont added that the visit was therapeutic for many residents.
Its a light for everyone involved, she said. They bring the innocence and joy that you sometimes forget when you get older. So, its very fulfilling to see the interaction between our residents and the children.
As the children were waving goodbye and patiently waiting in line to load the bus, ONeal looked down at her lap, overflowing with gifts, shook her head and said, I have to get me a basket just to get all this stuff back to my room. I just cant carry it all!
And, as the Crafts watched teachers help the children load the bus, it reminded them of how precious life is and how the gift of giving yourself is evident in all people young and old.
We thank God that our health is so good that we can help some of the other patients, said Mr. Craft. We can help them up the stairs, and it makes us feel good to be able to do for others. I am so happy to see the gift being passed down to our youth.