Employees at the Hoyles Escasoni Complex know what Christmas is all about. They understand that it is not just about Santa and presents, rather Christmas is a time for giving, spending time with family and friends and showing the people you care about that they are loved.
It is often the case in long-term care homes that employees become almost like family to the residents they care for. Like many family members, employees at Hoyles Escasoni go above and beyond to make the holiday season special for all their residents. One way they do this is with the annual Kris Kringle Tree Project, which was started in 1999 by Occupational Therapist Joanne Hanlon and Recreation Specialist Kim Conran, who is now working at Agnes Pratt Nursing Home.
“The primary goal of the project is to provide residents who normally would not receive a Christmas present with a special gift during the holiday season,” says Joanne. “We wanted to let these individuals know that they are loved and valued and not forgotten during the holiday season.”
The Kris Kringle Tree Project involves the placement of two Christmas trees in the lobbies of both the Hoyles and Escasoni buildings. The trees are decorated with Christmas cards containing a nameless-profile of a resident, such as “70-year old female.” The cards are labeled with a code so that organizers know who the present should go to. Each year the project provides gifts to approximately 85 or more residents of various ages.
The Kris Kringle Tree is a tradition for employees from a multitude of departments at the facility. Since Kim moved to Agnes Pratt Nursing Home, Occupational Therapy Assistant Tennille Blackwood, Recreation Specialist Laurie Adams and Recreation Therapist Deanne Clancey have joined Joanne as the main contacts for the project.
“We all look forward to facilitating this project each year. I am very thankful that we have maintained and grown the partnership between the Occupational Therapy Department and Recreation Therapy Department at Hoyles Escasoni,” said Joanne.
Support expands into the community
In 2006, unbeknownst to the project organizers, a partnership with a local elementary school was forged. That year Ann Marie Furlong, a teacher at Roncalli Elementary in St. John’s, had a relative living at the Hoyles Escasoni Complex. One day during a visit to the home, Ann Marie noticed the tree decorated in cards. She was moved by the initiative and anonymously took two cards.
“I felt it was the perfect way to help teach my class of Grade 1 students that Christmas was not just about toys and Santa – but that there were people without the love of family and friends who could use a special gift during the holidays,” said Ann Marie.
The children were asked to bring in their pennies and other loose change to help provide a special gift for someone in need and the initiative was a huge success!
“The children were enchanted with the project; they spent weeks collecting loose change to buy their ‘special resident’ a gift and looked forward to making a Christmas card with their own personalized message inside,” said Ann Marie.
That year Ann Marie shared the idea with her grade level partner Shannon Goldsworthy, who loved the idea and decided to also take part in the initiative. Shannon has seen the impact it has had on the children she teaches.
“It is a multidimensional project,” explains Shannon.
“The students learn empathy, giving and what it is to be a member of a larger community and as an added bonus, the students also learn math skills, as they are the ones who count, roll and tally the money!”
In 2007, the two teachers shared the idea with other teachers at the school and the entire whole school got onboard. Since 2007, the school’s involvement in the project has grown. This year, the school will be helping out by providing 24 significant gift bags to those residents in need.
To date, Roncalli Elementary has purchased over 130 gifts for residents.
“The kids love wrapping the gifts and the parents think that it is a very worthwhile project that has become part of the fabric of Roncalli. It’s truly a win-win situation,” added Shannon.
Over the years this partnership has included visits by the students to the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex to distribute gifts and to entertain the residents by singing Christmas carols. Likewise, project organizers from Hoyles Escasoni have attended a school assembly to provide a project update and to personally thank the students for their participation.
Over the years, partnerships have also flourished with other community groups, including On Your Mark Daycare; the Sherriff’s Officers with the Department of Justice; and staff from the St. John’s Taxation Centre, who plan to take part again this year.
“It is truly inspiring to see how the community has embraced this project. Christmas is a wonderful time to remember others and ensure that they feel loved and valued. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to continue to fulfill the Christmas wishes of so many residents,” said Joanne.■
This story was written by Jackie O’Brien, communications specialist based in St. John’s.