The Month of Madness - The Holidays
By Mike Hyde, The Webmaster
As I write this it is the day after Thanksgiving. Traditionally, the beginning of the Christmas Season. For many of us in privately funded facilities, It also signals the start of the month of madness. For many houseparents this one month is enough to drive them out of childcare, it almost did me. I have since come to understand how important it is to the facilities I have worked for and why most things work the way they do.
For us, our month of madness has preliminaries in late August. We spend about 2 weeks taking pictures for the calendar and doing the Christmas lists for the children. Christmas lists almost killed me, at least it seemed like they would. Here’s how we do them. We give the lists to the kids with instructions like: write down one gift under $55, one under $30, 2 under $20, 3 under $10, and for Christmas parties 5 under $15. They leave the lists sitting on their dresser for a week and do nothing with them, even though you’ve reminded them about ten times. Finally the day before you told them they are due and you’ve threatened them that you will fill them out yourself and ask for very practical stuff like clothes, they fill them out. The typical one looks something like this: $55 gift - Pro Skater Skateboard from CCS, $30 gift - Gold Designer watch, $20 gift - 2 Pair designer jeans, $10 gift - 3 double set, Top 40 greatest hits CDs and for the party gifts, various name brand pro sports apparel items. You look at it and can easily see the retail value of their list is about a thousand bucks. You send them back, they do it again, and sometimes they get it close the second time. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 times. When they are close, you used to go to the mall and department stores to try to find everything on everyone’s list and verify prices, today it is all done on the internet. This takes about two days of all your free time. They are finally done, you can turn them in, and wait for Thanksgiving.
It all goes crazy the Monday after Thanksgiving, preparation for the Open House. The facility PR Party Person comes and inspects. They give you a 10 page document describing all the things that need to be done over the next two weeks. The list includes things like remove all the debris from your yard, including all stray leaves and the lawn grenades left by the cottage dog next door. (actually on the list) Put up decorations from the approved list provided. Buy or make matching outfits for all kids in the cottage. Prepare baked refreshments for visitors, etc. The day before the event we have a dry run and everything is great. The day of the event a cold front comes through and blows a 10 inch blanket of leaves into your yard, rains out the living nativity that included live animals, and puts out the 3000 candles lining the 300 yards of sidewalk. A grand total of 5 visitors in two and a half hours come to your cottage because most didn’t want to walk in the rain.
Then there are the Christmas Parties. We will have between 5 and 10 Christmas parties in a three week period to various places. Some we have to drive a couple hours to. Not to mention the 8 school parties we have to provide refreshments and gifts for. That might not seem like much to some, but that’s on top of all the counseling, doctor, tutoring appointments and going to Church 3 times a week that we already do.
We make our daily trip to the supply room to pick up the gifts that have come in for the kids, take them back to the cottage and hope the hiding place we have for them is sufficient enough to keep them safe from the cottage thief. The last three days before school vacation is spent shopping for the kids that received money instead of gifts (many times donors will just send money and have you fill the child’s Christmas list.) so they have them for the cottage Christmas Party. The First day of school vacation is spent packing the kids to go with their family, friends, and sponsors during the Christmas Vacation. Finally all that is left is getting reading to spend the week with you birth kids and the kids that have no where else to go. (usually the ones that are less than pleasurable to have around.) I am sure others have their own similar stories.
If it were up to me I would be the first to say “STOP THE MADNESS!!” and that could be said for the Holidays in general. But, I am also a realist, and I know it’s not going away. So that leaves me with 2 choices: 1) Find a new line of work or a facility that doesn’t do Holiday fund raising. 2)Understand and deal with it. I have learned to deal with it for the most part and I think I understand it fairly well. Here’s what I have learned.
1) Some facilities receive almost HALF of their annual donations during the Holiday Season. Without these funds some facilities wouldn’t be around and neither would the services they provide to children and the community.
2) You can either work with the donors or against them. However, working against them isn’t going to get you very many donations. The reality is most donors want to give at Christmas time, whether it is money, parties, or gifts for the kids.
3) In most cases donors want to do something special for the kids, hence the Christmas Parties. Most have no idea you have so many others to go to.
4) Again, in most cases donors want to do something special for the kids, hence the Christmas presents for the kids. Sure some of the kids, are not going to appreciate what they receive, but most will. And for many this is their first chance to experience the Holidays in a somewhat stable setting.
5) This next principle is held by almost all facilities. The vast majority of donors want to do what’s best for the children and the facility. You could tell them your need and also the things you don’t need. However, with some you run the chance that if you tell them you don’t need what they want to donate or try to put a limit on it, you run the risk that they will stop donating altogether. They may think something like this, “ If they don’t want my fill in the blank, then they don’t need my monthly check for fill in the blank.” What if that monthly check is for five or ten thousand dollars. You don’t tell a donor 'NO' to something they want to donate whether it is something special for the kids like a Christmas party or gifts or the last rag tag scraps from their garage sale.
Those of us that choose to work in privately funded childcare need to accept that Holiday fundraising is a major part of our job. We chose private childcare for a reason, whether it be more religious freedom, less direction by the state, courts and social workers, or a number of other reasons. There are advantages and disadvantages to every childcare position whether it is privately funded or government funded. With that in mind we need to do the best job we can, keep a good attitude, and remember what we are doing is helping many children. Merry Christmas.
PS. I realize that not every Private Facility may do Christmas this way or that every Government funded facility doesn’t, it is just a general rule, so I treated it as such.