On November 30, Vandebilt Catholic High School seniors hosted just under 170 children from the Terrebonne Parish’s Head Start Program—the program that provides free services for local–low-income families—for their “Winter Wonderland”.
A tradition for many years with Vandebilt seniors, their annual “Christmas Project” is a way for Vandebilt’s entire student body and faculty and the communities they belong to, to give back to less-fortunate children in the area.
“The students who have gone to the schools have come back with some stories that are endearing and heartbreaking at the same time. A lot of them have come back and said, ‘You know, I’ve enjoyed Christmas project so much that I’m working with a local school while I’m in college.’ And I love that it carries over into their lives. It’s a project that never ends,” said Valerie Manns, English teacher and Senior Class Moderator at Vandebilt Catholic.
This year, the project was able to raise $12,000 through donations and various fundraising events.
“We’ve done bake sales at lunch and football games. We did a jailbreak activity where you issue these little fake warrants and have to pay money to put somebody in jail. That person can either sing a Christmas carol or pay money to get out,” Manns said. “We try to find fun ways to raise money, and the seniors come up with those ideas. We’re [the faculty] facilitating teams, but it’s their creation.”
The money raised abled the senior class to purchase toys, books, blankets, games and much more for the children of the Head Start Program.
“It turned into a senior leadership program several years back, so it’s been our senior moderators and religion classes that really have taken a focus on leadership for our students,” said Manns. “They also build the relationships with the kids.”
“It means a lot to the parents and the children enjoy it,” said Diane Powell, Director of the Head Start Program. “The blessing of an early Christmas is good for families and provides an opportunity to build community between the students of Vandebilt Catholic and the families of Head Start.”
Before “Winter Wonderland”, VCHS seniors met and engaged with the students they gathered the funds and presents for. They also plan to revisit the children in the spring.
“They start to form those relationships with the kids and get to know them. Then, they have to go and buy all the toys and clothes and try to figure out what these kids would like and understand them on their level. Then, the kids come for a day of play, and it kind of nurtures that relationship in a really positive way,” Manns said.
At this year’s “Winter Wonderland”, the sponsored children got to visit the VCHS campus and enjoy not only the gifts they received but also princess meet and greets, games, activities and visits with Santa Claus.
“It’s [interacting with the children] the heart of the project. We do give the kids toys, but it’s not just about that,” Manns said. “It’s about leadership for our kids, but it’s also about these younger kids who get this undivided attention from our students and a day where they are just celebrated. It’s really cool to see.”
“It means happiness,” said senior Olivia Benoit about what the day meant to her. “To bring joy to little kids who may not have a lot reminds me how blessed I am. To give them presents and share in the spirit of Christmas this time of year is what every child deserves.” •