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Spotlight

Local agency celebrates 178 foster families at annual holiday event

Posted December 27, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST

Santa and his elves host a holiday party that celebrates the 156 foster children and the 178 foster families who are part of the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina community. (Rawpixel.com/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina.

For the past 18 years on a Saturday in early December, a wonderland of holiday magic has emerged from an unexpected place: a school gymnasium.

The gym, located on the campus of the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina in Lake Waccamaw, N.C., is full of seasonal spirit on this special day. Santa and his elves host a holiday party that celebrates the 156 foster children and the 178 foster families who are part of the B&GH community.

Donna Yalch, the director of community based services for B&GH, described their annual holiday party as "a humongous family reunion." She shared the entire B&GH community is invited, including all of the foster children, all foster parents and their biological children, former foster parents who have adopted foster children during the past year, and – at times – even the biological parents of foster children who are attending the party.

Beverly Bissette, a licensed foster care parent who has attended the B&GH holiday party for several years, said it conjures up images of what Christmas is all about.

"To see folks loving on your foster children at the annual B&GH holiday party, it makes you feel so good and so welcome," Bissette said. "It helps the children to understand that they are not alone in this; to see that others genuinely care about them."

Yalch added, "The foster families really look forward to our annual holiday party. It gets bigger each year; last year alone, we hosted 210 guests."

The Recipe for Holiday Magic

So, what's the recipe for creating a memorable holiday party for a large and ever-growing family?

Yalch explained a dedicated army of volunteers brings the party magic to life through a mix of holiday decorations, Christmas carols, games, food, gifts and – of course – a visit from Santa.

"Basically, it's controlled chaos," Yalch mused. "Just one big party!"

Bissette said her foster children are big fans of the party games and there are activities for all age groups – everything from face painting and ornament making, to cornhole tosses and fishing for prizes.

"The party games are very engaging," she said. "The kids get so excited and they ask, 'Is this really for me?'"

Of course, no holiday party is complete without a visit from Santa. The children are given the opportunity to visit with Santa, share their holiday wish list, and have a photo taken with the jolly old man. Toward the end of each visit, Santa gives each child a stocking that is filled with a mix of small, practical gifts and a toy.

But the gift giving doesn't end with the king of the North Pole. Yalch shared that each B&GH foster child – both those who attend the party and those who do not – receive gifts that are hand-selected from their wish lists.

Yalch explained the wish list gifts are donated by B&GH friends throughout the community.

"We have a long-standing relationship with UNC-Wilmingto,n where they display an angel tree on behalf of our kids and generously provide many of the gifts," Yalch said. "The remainder is provided by loving supporters throughout the community."

After the children play games and work up an appetite, a meal is served by a husband-and-wife team who has donated their catering services for the last three years. Then dessert arrives in the form of a birthday cake with an icing inscription that reads, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!"

It Takes a Village

Just as it takes an entire community of pitching in to make this annual holiday party a success, it also takes a caring community to provide love and support for foster families.

Yalch shared B&GH has offices in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Kinston and Lake Waccamaw. The organization receives foster care referrals from the Department of Social Services in 25 North Carolina counties and has foster families in 30 different counties.

So, how do you score an invitation to the holiday party of the year? Yalch said it is as simple as volunteering to be a party-planning elf, or – better yet – to become a licensed B&GH foster care parent.

"The beauty of the holiday party, especially since we have such a wide geographical footprint, is that it allows us to bring everybody together in the same place at the same time," Yalch said. "Then, when we do, we can show our foster parents how much we care about them and how thankful we are for them."

This article was written for our sponsor, Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina.

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