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NON-PROFIT HAPPENINGS - December 2003

“What will you do
to make a real difference?”

The Christmas Box House
By Carrie Switzer

Christmas Box House
For information about how you can help, call 259-1658.


Christmas Box staff: L to R (front) Chris Robbins, Marché Davis, Tammy Chapman; (back) Andrea Prior, Corry Marshall, Terri Nixon, Vesta Higgs, Jae Dutilly, Dianne Neuss.

I hate to admit that I read astrology columns, sometimes regularly. I’ve never mentioned one in a story for publication, that’s for sure. But this column beckoned a question that speaks very directly to the subject of this week’s Non-profit Happenings: “What will you do to make a real difference?”

The Christmas Box House employs a staff of eight people who answer that question in seemingly small tasks every day: a story read, an art project completed, a lap to sit on and a conflict free place to eat and sleep. “The Box,” as I’ve heard it referred to informally by parents who have had their children placed there temporarily, is meant to be a respite for kids ages 0-12 caught in a world of drugs and alcohol, or worse, physical and/or sexual abuse and neglect.

“When these kids come in, they are going through trauma,” said Terry Nixon, Child Welfare Support Supervisor for the Christmas Box House. “They have been removed from the only homes they know, and they are hurt and angry.”


Dirk Shumway, Administrator
Terri Nixon, Supervisor

Terry oversees the operation of the shelter and the staff, comprised of four full-time and four on-call people. Within a few days, Terry said she sees children open up; lighten up. They play games and come to understand that they are, for now, safe.

The children come to the house via a referral from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) following reports of neglect or abuse that may be under investigation, but are substantiated enough to compel state authorities to take temporary custody of a minor child at risk. Sometimes children are placed there if a parent has been arrested and there are no other family members available to step in and care for the child. The House is also used as a respite for foster parents, who get a few days off each month.

A shelter hearing is held before a judge within 72 hours of placement of a child. At that time a plan is set forth to determine when, how and if a child will be returned to their home, and in the absence of that, what other arrangements will be made. The Christmas Box House is a very temporary shelter only; children typically stay between 14 to 30 days.

December events and local giving for
The Christmas Box House

A relatively low-key charity, Moab Christmas Box House would not exist without help and contributions from the local community.

To date, the community has pulled together for the remodeling of the Christmas Box home, built a fence to allow use of a large backyard, provided some playground equipment, wood chips, volleyball and croquet. “Love Bags,” filled with personal hygiene items, an age-appropriate toy, a hand-made quilt and bag await every child who finds they are a temporary resident of the Christmas Box House. In November a woman dropped three large containers of pennies by, which the shelter received gleefully and will roll and deposit into an account used for clothing, treats, outings or whatever else a child may need, or perhaps just want. One local resident brings a check for $15 by every Christmas.

One wall of the shelter adorns the names of donors in three categories: Rock Level ($100-$200), Angel Donors ($200-$400), and Advocate Donors $400-$600). The Christmas Box Foundation purchases a rock leading up to the sculptured angel inform of the Christmas Box House for every “Rock” donor, with the full $100 staying at the local shelter. Local businessman Colin Fryer has his own plaque on the wall for continuous and generous contributions above and beyond those three categories.

This month, the shelter will host an Open House for donors, Department of Children and Family Services staff and others in appreciation of the level of giving that keeps the Christmas Box alive.

In addition, Christmas Box staff will place small, cardboard Christmas tree-tags in businesses around town with wish list items to help make the shelter more comfortable for children. On the list are big items and small, including a computer, a CD player, toys for Christmas, and even an outdoor playhouse for bigger kids.

All donations, cash, in-kind or gifts, go directly to the local shelter.

For information about how you can help, call 259-1658.

“After that, they start getting bored and unhappy,” Terry said. “They want to be with their friends, they want to live a less sheltered life.”

Foster homes take in children at that point if parents or family are unavailable. Children under three years old go to “Legal Risk” homes, which are foster homes already licensed for adoption. In the event the child is unable to go back home, there is less moving around if they’ve already been placed in a foster home that can become their adoptive home.

While at the Christmas Box House Moab kids continue to go to school, and children from Blanding or Price are signed up for school in Moab. Children also receive visits from their parents, which are supervised by the Christmas Box House staff.

“We keep parents informed about how their kids are doing,” Terry said, admitting that parents are usually unhappy with the situation and could easily blame the shelter staff for the removal of their children from the home. “We are here to take care of the kids. We have nothing to do with the circumstances that bring them here, and we don’t know about the case outside of visitation guidelines set up by the court. That helps take some of the pressure off. We’re not the bad guys, we’re the good guys.”

Named for a book written by Richard Paul Evans, and a concept further developed by the success of that book, the Christmas Box House was developed in the spirit of private-public partnership and continues to operate in that way. Moab is home to the first Christmas Box House, which came together with a commitment of property from the State of Utah, cooperation from the private sector, and operational funding for food, shelter and staff from the State of Utah. All of the “extras,” such as playground equipment, toys, “Love Bags,” decorations- everything outside of very basic necessities-comes from donations and contributions from the local community. Not surprisingly, the holidays are when contributions are needed the most.

In the four and a half years the shelter has operated in Moab, there have been children in the shelter for all but one holiday season.

“It’s fun for us because we can spoil the kids,” Terry said, emphasizing the “us” with unmasked sadness for the child. “We decorate something fierce. The state doesn’t pay for any of that, so we (staff) go out and buy it or bring it from home. We tell the kids ‘it’s okay, you’re going to have fun here, you’re going to get presents!’”

When school is out Terry said the shelter sees fewer kids. She thinks it’s because there are fewer teachers reporting incidents of abuse or neglect, or perhaps because older siblings are home looking after the young ones. In any case, Terry and her staff work together to “make a real difference,” every month. Evans himself, on a videotaped program about the project, says exactly that:

“This is really making a difference.”

“We’ve served 225 children since 1999, and although we don’t normally know what happens when a child leaves here, in a small town we get a sense from parents or the kids themselves when we see them,” Terry said. “And the staff we have here now is awesome. We are really here for each other, we do things together, and each of us brings a different strength to caring for the kids.

“Because it can get difficult, seeing what some children are going through, we are a great support for each other.”


Donors names are engraved in the rocks leading to the entry to the Christmas Box House.

 

 

 

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