To say the Thomas F. Chapman Leadership Scholars’ Christmas for Kids party was heartwarming, is an understatement.
The annual event led by senior Thomas F. Chapman Leadership Scholars in the College of Business focuses on the service component of the leadership program, but it also filled the hearts of more than 100 disadvantaged area schoolchildren with joy.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to these children,” said Tammy Lee, a guidance counselor at Powdersville Elementary. “They’ve talked about this event for weeks, and it’s a big deal for many of them to see the campus. For some, the gifts they received here will be the only ones they will get this Christmas, so it’s very special.”
The Thomas F. Chapman Leadership Scholars Program was established in 2009 by Thomas F. Chapman ’65, retired Chairman of the Board and CEO of Equifax, Inc. The three-year program, which welcomes 10 scholars each year, concentrates on three pillars of leadership. Showing heart through community service is the third-year pillar, with the first two years focusing on intellect and courage.
Chapman Leadership Scholars plan and execute the December community service event by recruiting more than 200 volunteers, soliciting donations and organizing activities for the children. Each child is partnered with two students who buy them $50 in gifts and are their personal hosts during the two-hour holiday party.
“Christmas for Kids is a great way to combine all three years of the program,” said Charleen Fitzgerald, the program’s student services coordinator. “The skills needed for the event require intellect, courage and heart. Mr. and Mrs. Chapman are all about giving back and an important part of leadership involves serving the community.”
Two senior leadership scholars who put their hearts, and a hearty helping of intellect and courage, into this year’s event were its organizers, Emma Dilworth and Megan Donahue.
“It’s gratifying to see volunteers’ faces light up as they leave the event,” said Emma, an accounting major. “In addition to seeing the joy this brings our young guests, it helps us see that there is a different world beyond the university community, and it’s one that many of us wouldn’t otherwise get exposed to.”
Added Megan, “It’s such a rewarding experience. Being in charge of the planning is a great leadership experience for us,” the financial management major said. “But making sure these children get the kind of Christmas they deserve also exemplifies the benefits community service brings on both the giving and receiving ends.”
The planning of an event that hosts more than 100 elementary school-age children results in a certain amount of stress. This year, the pressure was dialed up when two weeks before the party, Megan and Emma lost their venue.
“Jervey Gym’s construction schedule was accelerated, so with very short notice, we had to identify another location that could host 300 participants,” Megan said. “In addition, logistical issues like parking and food had to be addressed, and fast. Fortunately, we had an awesome team and everyone chipped in, so we were able to make things happen for the children at Fike.”
Kimberly Rickmon is the legal guardian of the three children she brought to the event. By bringing love, discipline and education to their everyday lives, she intends to improve on the rough start they’ve had.
“An event like this means so much to them and because of it, they will have a nice Christmas,” Rickmon said. “I want to thank the Chapman Scholars and Mary Anne Raymond for bringing such a wonderful event to our community. It’s nice to know people care about making someone else’s Christmas special.”
Event organizers, Emma and Megan, said Christmas for Kids was a different type of leadership experience that was personally rewarding.
“In the process of serving to benefit others, we had the privilege of working with many people who helped bring joy to these children,” Megan said. “From local businesses’ generosity to guidance counselors, teachers and bus drivers, they all had a role in making this a special Christmas for a very deserving group of children.”
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