This December I had an opportunity to make a difference in my community through the Holiday Festival, a school-wide program which helps intercity kids from Roberto Clemente School in Paterson. The kids range from ages 5-13 and often come from less fortunate backgrounds. Students can each sponsor a child as an escort and buy them presents off of their wishlists. The escorts were given wishlists after signing up for the festival. Some of the activities we got a chance to participate in were decorating cookies, playing in the gym, taking pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Clause, and so much more. There is hardly enough time to hit all of these locations and do all of the activities offered.
My personal experience participating in Holiday Festival was an unforgettable one. It was my first year doing it and I did not know what to expect. I was nervous to meet the child assigned to me and hoped that he would like me and the gifts I picked out for him. In the back of my mind I knew that these may be the only gifts he received for Christmas and that if he did not like them he would have to wait until next year to hopefully receive better items from someone else.
The schedule for the school day was all messed up and flipped around. We were scheduled to meet up with the Roberto Clemente students at around 12 pm. The loudspeaker called us down at that time and I went to the downstairs history wing to meet up with Anderson, a small 11 year old boy.. My first impression of Anderson was that he was very shy and overwhelmed by the whole situation. I made small talk with him, but it was very hard to carry a full conversation with him because of his timidness. The one part of our periodic conversations that stuck out to me was when I asked him if he played any sports. He enthusiastically said
“Basketball!” and told me that he wanted to play in college. I was struck by the fact that he was so young and already had such a developed dream for his future. Right when he said this I immediately remembered that on his wishlist he had asked for a basketball. I felt a twinge of excitement because I knew that I got him a ball, and he would soon get to open it.
After making small talk and getting to know Anderson, we were called to go to our designated present opening rooms. We were in the cafeteria. I was excited and I could tell Anderson was as well, because he kept glancing at the big bag I was carrying around with me, full of presents just for him. We made it to the cafeteria and sat down. Anderson immediately took the bag after I put it down and started opening all of his gifts. He opened a superhero board game, a Rubix Cube, Leggos, basketball trading cards, and finally the basketball. When he grabbed the wrapped basketball out of the bag I could tell that he did not know what it was. He started unwrapping it and out popped the bright hue of orange that could only be a basketball. He whispered to himself in amazement, “It’s a basketball” and looked genuinely in awe. He put it down just long enough to give me a hug and then picked it up again, insisting we start playing with it. This reaction made me feel relieved and happy that he loved the gifts I gave him.
Once the gift giving was over, Anderson knew exactly where he wanted to go, and that was the gymnasium. He dribbled and bounced his basketball all the way to the gym and swiftly joined the other kids who received basketballs too. Anderson stayed dribbling, shooting, and playing with his friends for a solid 30 minutes. After that, we made a few other stops. We went in the bouncy house, and then collected socks, hats, and scarves for his 11 month old sister and his parents. After that we went to the cafeteria and decorated cookies, and then we picked out ornaments for his family and jewelry for his mom. After all of these trips around the school, we once again made a beeline straight for the gym, . I could tell that this was Anderson’s favorite part and there was no place he’d rather be. Seeing him so happy about being able to run around the gym and play basketball made me feel happy and grateful for all of the things I have.
I did not want the fun to end so abruptly, but two and a half hours went by insanely fast and now it was time for Anderson to get back on his bus and go home to his family. I could tell he really did not want to leave the gym and wondered if there was any form of a gym where he lived that he could play in. I would hope the happiness he felt and all throughout the day would last him a while and not wear off too soon. Finding the buses was a struggle, and waiting outside was a nightmare because of the freezing temperatures. Finally, his assigned bus Red 8 came around the corner and I started escorting Anderson onto it. We walked on and he found his seat, but not before giving me the biggest hug. He hugged me very tightly and said “thank you.” He said it very sincerely. My nerves from the day before and even that morning seemed so trivial now because I realized I had nothing to worry about. I felt happy that Anderson liked me and hoped he would remember me.
Overall, Holiday Festival is an awesome way to get involved in the school and to help those who need it, especially around the holidays. The looks on everyone’s faces were so priceless and as an escort it really is worth it just to see the bright smiles looking back at you. This was a fulfilling experience and I will never forget my fun day spent with Anderson. I hope he does not forget it either, and is looking forward to coming back next year for another day of fun. This was a great experience and an easy way to get involved to help those less fortunate. It is easy to forget that people are living in unideal conditions not too far away from me, and that help is needed and very much appreciated. After participating in the Holiday Festival, this is something I will keep in mind and remember.