Sharing The Christmas Spirit While Helping Moms And Their Children

OPINION By Chip Minemyer The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Each year "The Santa Fund" helps to provide Christmas gifts for children whose families are facing financial hardship. This year the fund will partner with the "Nurse-Family Partnership" -- which works with moms from pregnancy through the baby's second birthday.

The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Lois Schultz and the staff at Nurse-Family Partnership work each day with new and expecting mothers -- many of whom face financial challenges even as they're learning the value of a healthy diet, good pre-natal care and a safe environment.

And many of those ladies face an unfair stigma, Schultz said, despite working various part-time jobs in an effort to provide for themselves and their families.

That's why her agency helped numerous clients complete applications for The Tribune-Democrat's Santa Fund program and made sure they arrived with the hundreds of others that poured into our office from Berlin, Gallitzin, and everywhere in between, during the past few weeks.

"It's wonderful to have this program as a resource for our clients," said Schultz, who serves as Cambria director for Nurse-Family Partnership.

"Many of them are low-income, which makes it difficult to have presents around the tree for their little ones."

Schultz has been with Nurse-Family Partnership for 12 years, including 10 years in the Cambria office.

"There are so many stereotypes that people have," she said. "What we see is these mothers who are trying -- some working multiple jobs -- who truly want what's best for their child. They're trying very hard."

Nurse-Family Partnership -- which works with moms from pregnancy through the baby's second birthday -- will reach 11 years of service to Cambria County in January.

A Somerset County program was launched recently.

The organization serves seven counties from a home office in Altoona.

The partnership is currently working with 121 families in Cambria County, and has reached the milestone of 500 families.

The women are counseled during pregnancy on healthy eating habits; avoiding drugs, alcohol and cigarettes; what to report to their doctors; and preparing their homes for the baby's arrival.

After the child is born, the partnership helps the moms with infant care; safety at home; and building systems to support themselves and their children -- and making connections to other agencies that provide early-childhood services.

"We get to know them well over 21/2 years," Schultz said.

"But we are always preparing them for after the child has turned 2, because we'll no longer be seeing them."

Schultz said she and her co-workers realized that the mission of the Santa Fund -- to provide Christmas gifts for children whose families are facing financial hardship -- was a perfect fit for some of the ladies who come through their offices.

"Many of the women we work with don't have much of a support network," Schultz said. "It really opened my eyes when I got this job how often that happens."

Each year, the Santa Fund serves 1,000 or more area children -- mostly through private donations to the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies.

Gifts are purchased at deep discount from Boscov's department store, and distributed with help from volunteers representing groups such as Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, Alternative Community Resource Program, the United Way of the Laurel Highlands and the Greater Johnstown School District.

This year, a new partner, 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial, will host the gift pickup between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Dec. 13.

For these agencies that help with the Santa Fund, and for Nurse-Family Partnership, the mission is the same.

"The aim is the child," Schultz said.

"It's so uplifting, and that's really what these families need," she said. "Yes, they need all of the necessities, of course -- food, shelter. But if you can't provide your child with a gift at Christmas, that really breaks your heart."

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