Some Catching Up To Do...
Boy, I've been bad at updating this year! It's been a hectic season, but thought I would just drop in again to say hey and to fill you in the last few Holiday Express events. So here go...
December 7th (AM) The Collier School
Getting to the location was something of an adventure. The school is located in Wicatunk, NJ (where the heck is that) and when you pull up, you have to go along a windy, somewhat mountainous road. Keep in mind we were in Monmouth County, NJ where one doesn't usually encounter windy, mountainous roads. But at the end of the path, there it was.
The Collier School caters to a wide variety of middle to high school aged students, many with emotional or mental challenges. These were at-risk kids. And what's worse: they thought we were nerds. All of a sudden, memories of high school came flooding back to me.
But time and time again with this group, I'm amazed at how we can turn a crowd. Our fearless leader, Tim, said to the hesitant audience, "Hey, let's all just pretend we're 8 years old again, okay?" With that, Elmo and Cookie Monster came out and for most of the room, that was all they needed. It was awesome to see the ice broken and young adults acting like kids again, throwing their arms around Cookie Monster, swing dancing with Rudolph, doing a conga-line with The Grinch, and generally letting loose in a way that I feel they probably hadn't in a long time.
There were plenty of memorable moments thanks to everyone's willingness to loosen up and be a little silly. It was also pleasing to see a few of the kids break off from their groups and join the band, belting a few out. But my favorite part by far was seeing a young girl, who definitely wasn't interested in the beginning, bawling her eyes out when Santa came out by the end. See that? You're never too cool for Santa.
December 7th (PM) Trinitas Regional Medical Center
The Trinitas building is a rather imposing structure that looks especially intimidating as the sun goes down. It is situated in a pretty rough part of town and I can remember the first time I did the event several years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. There weren't many people around and it was hard to figure what to do or where to go. I remember heading down to the basement room where the party was to be and being met with a bright, incredibly well decorated room, filled with older adults you were ready to rock. Thankfully, Trinitas hasn't lost any of that spirit.
The people of Trinitas did not disappoint on Wednesday and were laughing and singing pretty much from beat one. One slight difference was the amount of children present with the residents. It seemed like there were quite a number of families there, which is nice because many times when we go to places that cater to adults, many don't have families to speak of. The kids were shy at first, but were easily persuaded to take the microphone themselves, allowing their inner divas to come out ("Do you guys know 'Jingle Bells?'" <little girl rolls her eyes as if to say "Yeah obviously I do">).
The singing kids brought a lot of energy to the band and the room. By the end, there was a wonderful warmth in the air, an emotional one that had nothing to do with the fact it was 95 degrees. How can the night not be awesome when one of your raffle winners was an older man named Joe Frazier?
By the way, Joe told me afterwards that he was not THE Joe Frazier. In case you were wondering.
December 10th - Market Street Mission
And now we're finally back to the present.
Market Street Mission is an awesome program in Morristown, NJ that helps the homeless and addicted in the area by putting them in their unique program. Today's party was a celebration with some of the program's graduates and those currently working through it. And WOW, what a party!
One thing I've noticed since volunteering with Holiday Express is that it's usually those who have been through the worst in life, who tend to be the kindest and gentlest. In the room today, I noticed no egos, no bitterness, and no resentment. It was all just gratitude and love for one another. They all hugged each other (and us) freely and easily and supported each other when one of them went to sing with the band, voluntarily or involuntarily.
At one point in the middle of the show, a choir of the graduates got up to sing a song they had learned in the program. You could tell that, although they may not have been in the program for some time, the words they sang still meant everything to them.
What a fun group. I love events like that. But the season is far from over. Tomorrow is a hike down to Philadelphia to visit with some homeless veterans.
And on to the next...
Santa makes his entrance at the Collier School in Wicatunk, NJ. Photo from the Holiday Express Facebook Page and taken by the very talented, Scott Longfield
Holiday Express on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HolidayExpressElf/
Scott Longfield Photography: http://www.naturalimagesonline.net/