This story reminds me of Gloria Estefan’s song, “Christmas through your eyes.”
Along with John Lennon’s, “so this is Christmas and What have you done’
It is not just a yearly Toy drive while we are in the season of giving. It continues throughout the year and the BIG bonus, if you will, is Christmas, when the Christ is born in each and every one of us
The season of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy, allow me to take you on a journey of how the Christ within was born in Make a Miracle and its founder.
Regina Champlin Igoe started working with Fort Lauderdale’s school kids as a
“Listener for children.”
The listener program is a part of the Mental Health Services department with Broward County, and is designed to work with under-privileged children who face poverty, neglect, and sometimes violence at home.
“Listeners” are charged with talking with the kids about their goals in life, cultivating their dreams and perhaps help them solve problems with a little adult advice. In tougher neighborhoods of South Florida, those conversations don’t come easily.
At the end of the two-day training the program’s administrators asked Igoe which children she wanted to work with. “I said, give me the worst school you’ve got.” recalls Igoe.
That “worst school” ended up being North Side Elementary, located near the corner of Sunrise and Andrews Avenue, a little south of Wilton Manors. It is only blocks from the Towering apartments and cute gentrified cottages of Wilma, North side elementary sits in a world completely separated from the prosperity of Broward County’s gay hood.
“The children looked like walking zombies.” said Igoe. “These kids suffer from neglect, from not enough food in the house…they were dead inside. I would look in their eyes, and there was nothing going on. They live in an area with guns and drugs and that’s all they see. They never sat at a dinner table together.
They think, “The only way I’m going to make any money is to become a criminal.”
Despite her efforts, Igoe said she couldn’t connect with the kids; they wouldn’t open up and share their thoughts with a stranger.
“I began to questions if I was accomplishing anything.” she said. “To take a child for a half hour and talk to them, and expect to get results from this white person who comes in, you’re getting nowhere.”
Nevertheless, Igoe stuck with it and after a year, she finally had a break through. During one of her one-sided question and answer sessions she asked a boy if he had plans for Christmas.
“He looked at me, and said “Christmas”? “I’ve never had a Christmas”, she said.
That conversation was the inspiration for Igoe’s organization Make a Miracle, which develops a safe environment for children by bringing them out of their homes and giving them family comforts most people take for granted. Igoe provides after-school help, she takes groups on field trips, she cooks them meals all at her own expense, buying school uniforms and books and food with her own money.
The highlight of the year is Christmas, when she gives them presents, which are usually the only presents they receive.
In 2008 Igoe turned her organization into a non-profit, and with the spiritual help of Unity Church of Fort Lauderdale, she wrapped and distributed over 1,500 gifts to kids from elementary through high school. Most of the gifts were typical: bicycles, video games, Barbie dolls. She was shocked by the number of kids that asked for basic items, including food.
“Some of the kids wanted eye exams, they couldn’t see the board.” She said. “So we got them glasses, and they began to pay attention in class and their grades went up.”
Igoe’s rules for her kids are simple: Yes, Rules…go to class, get good grades, don’t cause trouble and don’t get suspended, and you get a gift from your wish list. Break the rules, and you get a toy from the dollar store. Besides the disappointment of receiving a lousy gift, the kid’s competitive nature is what drives them to open up a gift from their wish list, rather than a gift not on their wish list.
When Igoe began her organization, North Side Elementary was a “D” school. Yet, after working with administrators to implement her programs, bringing the kids to the beach, cooking them dinner to teach them table manners-and most importantly persuading the kids to behave in class with the promise of Christmas presents –this year the school, once thought of as the “worst” in the district, received an “A” rating.
“In order to get an “A” rating, every child has to show growth.” said Michelle Brown, a guidance counselor at North Side. “Before we started this program, we had never received an “A”! People say we’re bribing the kids, but I don’t care. If it works, it works. And I know it works.”
Here is my sidebar on this concept: My Father and Mother, specifically my Father instilled in me education, all I ask is for good grades and every summer you will get a new bicycle and all your Christmas wishes on your list some way or another will manifest. Although most of my education was in private Jesuit schools the concept works for kids of all walks. I agree, it does work, and this is why, I have made a space on my blog for you.
“These are the people you won’t feel safe in a few years because they grow up so fast, Igoe said. “These kids become the teenagers in your neighborhood. However, when they are exposed to different things, they start to carry books, see plays…you’re introducing them into ways of living they didn’t know. It has been a long process, but there’s been actual change…my bank account is depleted, but the kids are doing great.”
The efforts are beyond a toy drive, here is another example of the depth of the program.
Igoe contacted Florida Agenda to tell them of a young boy she met, who was suffering harassment from other kids at school who tease him for being gay.
“This little boy is very intuitive, very sensitive, very aware of other people”, she said. “He’s the nicest little boy. And I told him, “whether you’re gay or not gay, whatever you have inside you is you, and you have to honor that, there’s nothing wrong with it.” I teach girls the same, they have to honor themselves as women, they cannot let men take their power away.”
Obviously Igoe knew how to pull at the heartstrings of the GLBT community. Their community extends far beyond the boundaries of “gay hood.” Florida Agenda felt a responsibility to reach out in some way. The GLBT community is great at raising money for their causes which is necessary, as they face a society that often ignores their needs and leaves them to fend for themselves but we can also put our talents to good use by turning to the world around us. So Florida Agenda became a proud sponsor for Make a Miracle for the 2009 Christmas Toy Drive, where they will collect toys for kids throughout Broward County. Assisting these children helps not only them, but our own community at large.
Sure hope this sheds some light on the meaning of Christmas, the message the birth of Jesus Christ directed to humanity.
Merry Christmas to the Spirit of the Christ that lives and dwells within each and every individual as the message is taken outward to the World.
Have a Season full of JOY!
If you are moved, please contact Founder, Regina Igoe at Make A Mircle 954-803-1780.
As most non-profits, contributions are low this year, with hope in their hearts and faith they know every child will receive the Joy of Christmas.