Miracles and happy endings were wrapped up and delivered at the Christmas party held for Lincoln County foster children and their families Wednesday night. The stage at the James W. Warren Citizen’s Center was filled with presents of all sizes and shapes. Members of the HOSA and DECA clubs from North Lincoln High School kept excited children busy doing crafts while they waited for Santa’s arrival. Volunteers served pizza and Christmas cookies, not necessarily in that order. Once Santa took the seat of honor on the stage, each child was able to share their Christmas wishes and then left with an armload of wrapped gifts.
The room was filled with happiness, but this emotion may not have been the norm for many of these children. Some had experienced tragedy that no child should, but their stories were at least on the way to a better chapter because of the work of staff at the Lincoln County Department of Social Services and the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center.
A Christmas party has been held for Lincoln County foster children for over two decades now and the benefactors change over the years. This year, members of the North Lincoln High School HOSA and DECA clubs organized crafts and purchased gifts, members of Denver United Methodist Church and the Lincolnton Seventh Day Adventist Church also purchased gifts, supplied food and drinks for the evening and an entire crew of volunteers wrapped gifts and kept the party going smoothly.
“The members of our church really embrace this ministry,” Steve Autrey, the senior pastor at Denver United Methodist Church and Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center board member said. “It’s amazing, people are always looking for more angels because everyone wants to be a part of it.”
While gifts can be purchased for the children, and a party can be organized and given, the need for more foster families continues to grow and those are harder to come by, Autrey said.
“It’s unfortunate that we need something like the child advocacy center, but it means a lot to see the community supporting it the way they do,” he said.
The Lincolnton Seventh Day Adventist Church has been a part of the foster children Christmas party for the past seven years.
“It’s a lot better here (at the Citizens Center) than at the little church we started at,” said Stormi Drake, who is a foster parent herself. “We’re a very small church and we have another family in our church that fosters as well. Sue (Gauthier) and I brought all the gifts up here this morning and organized them. I bring my kids here and they help give out the gifts.”
Sherry Reinhardt, the executive director of the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center, and her staff, including service dog Cali, and board members volunteered at the party.
“It’s usually mass chaos, but I hope it provides a good Christmas for each one of our children who are in foster care,” Reinhardt said. “It’s also a wonderful time for my staff, our law enforcement and other social service workers to see that child that they’ve seen at a really bad time now in a much better place.”
Many of the children in that room Wednesday night may not have ever experienced a good Christmas before.
“Some of them will give us a wish list and you’d be amazed at what’s on them, like ‘I want a pair of shoes,’ ‘I want gloves that will keep me warm when I wait for the bus,’ ‘I want a toothbrush that’s automatic,’ or ‘I want some cosmetics so I can be pretty, I don’t feel pretty,’” Reinhardt said. “One child this year asked for a dog. We couldn’t give him a dog, but I hope that the family they end up with one day can provide them with a dog. The people in Lincoln County are so loving in taking care of our children.”
There are a lot of moving parts and people involved in a child advocacy center like the one in Lincoln County. It’s also one of the costliest programs in the county, according to Reinhardt.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office deputies, several of whom work with the child advocacy center, helped out at the party giving out gifts.
“It’s very special and rewarding for us to see kids in a positive way rather than the horrible things that we see when we investigate,” Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dan Renn said. “To see them happy like they are tonight is a lot better than what we see on a regular basis.”