Children who worry about what is happening at their home can’t focus on their school work, said D’Lynn Koontz, the community education coordinator for the Yukon Public Schools.
That’s why more than 30 years ago, the school district created a program to help families in need.
Dianna Mann, the volunteer programs coordinator for the Yukon School District, said the Helping Hands program was created in the mid-1980s. Its goal is to make sure students have the resources they need to receive a proper education.
Koontz said when students are concern about things that are going at home, they are going to struggle in school.
“They are not going to get the education they need if they don’t have needs at home met,” she said.
“If there are a lot of things in their personal lives that worry them, they are not going to get the education they need. They are not going to be in the right mindset to even be prepared to learn at school,” Koontz said.
In many case, the struggles may be recent, such as a job loss in the family. For others, it may be a long-term situation, said Koontz.
Either way, it has an impact on the children.
“When we have those families that are falling on hard times, we try to find resources … to get what they need at home so they can come to school and be prepared to learn,” Koontz said.
During the holiday season, said Mann, those struggles can be worse with the combination of paying bills and the desire to provide a nice Christmas.
During that time of the year, the district has a Santa’s Helpers program.
Mann said the district’s counselors find families who are in need and surprises them with a gift of money.
The program is funded through payroll deductions from district employees. In addition, a number of local individuals and businesses donate to the program, said Koontz.
Koontz said the chosen parents are contacted and asked to come to the administration office, where they are given a check or a gift card to help with their financial needs.
The money can be used for virtually anything, although participants are asked to not purchase certain items with the funds.
“They have no idea this is happening. It is a really cool day,” Mann said.
Last year, the program provided 13 families with $500 each.
“There are a lot of tears that day. It is a lot of fun to play Santa,” Koontz said.
This year, the families are expected to be selected around Dec. 1 and the gifts will be awarded just before the start of the holiday break.
The number of families who will be assisted is based on the amount of money that is donated.
Mann said the goal is to make the gift to be large enough that it can make a difference in the recipient’s life.
While the focus of the program now is on Christmas, it does operate year round by providing things like clothes, coats and even prosthetics.
“Anytime we have a student with a need, we look through our Santa’s Friends to help get those things for the kids,” Koontz said.
So far this year, the program has given out at least five coats.
“It’s just now getting cold,” Mann said.
Both said the school counselors are a good source of information, and frequently know which families need the most help.
“It is based off of need,” Koontz said. “There is not a qualifier. We choose those who are in need the most.”
The group also works with a number of local churches when looking for support, whether it is clothing or shoes or some other item.
“If a kid is in need, we take care of it. We want to make sure they have a source of support. We work with churches and we have so many generous people in our community,” Mann said.
To donate to the program, go to yukonps.com and look for the community support under the district office tab.
‘Gift’ helps single mom of four
For Brandi, the thought of Christmas was a little disheartening.
The 36-year-old mother of four was facing a Christmas with little to spend on presents for her teenage children. She was struggling to make ends meet.
Things got worse. Her car broke down. Repairs were going to cost more than the car was worth.
Then she got a call and was asked to visit the Yukon School Administration Building on a specific date at a specific time. And that it was good news.
“I had no idea what I was expecting. I thought it might be a dinner or something,” Brandi said.
Brandi asked that her last name not be used for this story.
The single mother was in for a shock.
Officials at the school handed her a gift card valued at $500 to use however she wanted.
“I cried,” she said.
Brandi said being a single mother is difficult. Often times you have to buy small gifts, not what the children really wanted.
“Christmas is rough for a lot of single parents. Every little bit helps,” Brandi said.
The gift, which was part of the Santa Friends program sponsored by the Community Education division, was money donated by teachers and business leaders throughout the community to help families in need.
Last year, the program helped 13 families. Each received a gift of $500.
“I’m not sure who nominated me or what my application was,” she said.
Brandi said she used the money to purchase Christmas gifts — things her children actually wanted.
“It was going to be a very small Christmas. I was able to provide for them more than they asked for,” she said. “That made me feel good.”