Moab Happenings Archive
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The Christmas Box—A Story for the Children (And Pinwheels…)
It’s Complicated…
by Nancy Kurtz

I’m speaking with Julie Nieman, the executive director of the Grand County Family Support Center, a nonprofit in Moab with (to me) a surprisingly low profile. I wanted to know what it was all about.

Family Support Center Staff, l to r: Elizabeth Chase, April Walker, Julie Nieman,
Corina Spence.

“You’re not the only one,” she tells me. “Lots of people don’t really know about the services we offer.”
What I did know: This group focusses on preventing child abuse, supporting the children and the families involved. And on March 31 of this year the group hosted a pinwheel planting at the Grand County Courthouse.

The designated planting spot is called the Children’s Garden, and the pinwheels, Nieman tells me, are a symbol of a happy uplifting childhood.

The Christmas Box idea started with Richard Paul Evans, a Salt Lake City resident who wrote a book entitled “The Christmas Box”, intending it as a gift for his own children.

Unexpectedly, the book hit the best-seller lists and he made a lot of money on its sales.
He and his wife wanted to give back. They discovered that there was no place for a child in an abusive situation to go, and he developed the idea to build shelters for them.

“Fun fact,” says Nieman. Evans established the first Christmas Box shelter in 1998 right here in Moab. Yes, there is a Christmas Box International. Yes, there are three Christmas Box Houses in Utah - Moab, Ogden and Salt Lake - no, the nonprofit is no longer supported financially by Christmas Box International.

See what I mean? It’s complicated --
Nieman wants to make it simple. The Family Support Center currently partners with the state of Utah and receives grants from the state legislature, as well as private donors. Additionally, they work closely with the State’s Department of Child and Family Services. Their contract spells out what authority each entity has. Julie Nieman was hired just last summer to replace then director Sherilyn Sowell. In addition to her administrative duties, she has focused on three events held during the year: namely, the pinwheels for prevention planting, a kite-flying event in May, and “Trunk or Treat”, an annual Halloween celebration for families.

But don’t take my word for it—the Center has an informative Facebook page complete with event photos and a picture of Evans, the writer who started it all.

There are three core services: An emergency shelter that can house up to eight children up to age 11; “planned respite”, a service that offers just that for exhausted caregivers - up to four hours a week set aside to take care of children while their parents take a break.

The third core service involves parenting classes.
Beyond that the nonprofit is obligated contractually to defer to the DCFS for placing children in foster homes, issues of guardianship, etc.

Nieman’s efforts to raise awareness are reaping results, “I think we’re making some progress.” she says, pointing to the FB page as well as an enthusiastic turnout for this year’s events.

The Nitty Gritty - 259-1658, the office number, is connected to a 24-hour crisis line. Check out the Family Support Center at the Christmas Box House on Facebook—and the Christmas Box House itself, the one with the pinwheels on the lawn, 180 S. 3rd E., Moab.

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