'Better Christmas' contest: Final thoughts and a suggestion

December 21, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Elsewhere on this page are letters from three people who responded to the "A Better Christmas" letter-writing contest.

The letters were submitted by the Dec. 6 deadline, but somehow got shuffled into the wrong pile of paper in my office and didn't resurface until late last week.

For that, I apologize. The good news is that due to some timely donations, we will have money to give these people $100 apiece and copies of Joel Osteen's book, "Daily Readings from 'Your Best Life Now.'"

If you somehow missed the first several installments of this phenomenon, it began when a small- business person approached me about holding a letter-writing contest.


People would be asked to write, in about 100 words, about how they would use $100 to make someone's Christmas better.

The original donor gave me $2,000 and 20 copies of Osteen's book. Then a couple, who also wished to remain anonymous, came in with $1,000 and 10 copies of the Osteen book.

Other donations have been received since then, but I need to ascertain whether the donors want acknowledgement or anonymity before I report them.

This has been a humbling experience for me. People I don't know are trusting me and The Herald-Mail to see that the money gets to those in need.

Some people I've talked to have told me what a good thing I'm doing. I appreciate the kind wishes, but praising me for this is a bit like praising a dinner plate because the meal tastes good.

It is the donors who merit praise, not me, although The Herald-Mail does deserve the community's thanks for allowing me to run this thing.

Because it is so close to Christmas, I would ask that people not bring in any more donations. That's because we probably won't be able to get them to where they need to be in time.

If you know of someone in need and wish to be anonymous, ask a church or other house of worship to act as your go-between.

If you don't know of someone in need, I would ask you to consider a donation to the United Way of Washington County, which is trying to raise as much as it did last year, so that its member agencies won't have to be cut.

Over the years, I have served on the boards of three United Way agencies.

The first was Goodwill Industries, which provides employment and training to people who otherwise might not be able to get a job, or live on their own.

Because of the work this agency does, these people are taxpaying citizens, as opposed to needing taxpayer dollars to get by.

The next was Big Brothers, which has since become Big Bothers Big Sisters. I have been to their holiday banquets and seen the children with their Big Brothers. If you didn't know different, you would have sworn you were attending a father-and-son event.

The agency now runs a school mentoring program. I have participated in something similar at Fountaindale Elementary and saw the first child I was assigned go from a timid youth who had trouble reading to a confident child who was proud to show me how well he could read.

The last was the Parent-Child Center, which works in various ways to prevent child abuse.

Volunteers spend time, sometimes years, with families, teaching parents how to discipline without beating their children or telling them that they are stupid.

Other volunteers work with new mothers to teach them about proper nutrition and the need to hold and nurture a baby.

And then there is "Teen Voices, Teen Choices," in which teen mothers go to school assemblies and tell students how hard it is to be a mother and why girls should avoid getting pregnant and why boys should avoid impregnating someone.

United Way agencies provide services that citizens would otherwise have to pay for through their tax dollars. Agencies also recruit and train volunteers to provide services to those in need at a greatly reduced cost.

This is a generous community, for which I have one Christmas wish: Please remember that just because you can't see a need doesn't mean it isn't there.

If you can help the United Way, please call 301-739-8200 for information on how to donate.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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