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Antietam Exchange Club hosts Christmas party

December 01, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN

Maybe it was the holiday music or the brightly lit trees that had 75 children thinking of Christmas.

Or maybe it was Santa Claus.

What else could explain the level of excitement as the jolly old elf took time from his busy schedule Saturday for a quick visit to Hagerstown?

The youngsters had been anticipating his arrival for more than an hour before he walked through the door, delivering presents and a dose of holiday spirit.

He received a hero's welcome ? except for the child who tugged on his beard.

Santa's appearance was the highlight of a Christmas party hosted by the Antietam Exchange Club for participants in the Healthy Families parenting program.

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The event was at Zion Evangelical & Reformed Church.

Healthy Families, offered through the Washington County Health Department, is a program with a goal of talking about parenting, director Mary McPherson said.

Aimed at first-time mothers and their families, "we work on child development, parent-child interaction, age-appropriate activities for bonding and family self-sufficiency," she said.

The program includes weekly visits in the home and a support system for new parents, McPherson said.

There are 55 families participating in the program.

McPherson said this is the third year that the Healthy Families participants have been invited to the Antietam Exchange Club Christmas party.

"We're very appreciative of everything the club has done for us," she said. "To be part of today's festivities is special to everyone, from staff members to the parents and children."

According to club member Arthur Schneider, who co-chaired the event with Brenda Bush, the Antietam Exchange Club has held a local Christmas party for more than 20 years.

"Over those years, we have worked with various agencies that provide support and services to families in need," he said. "Our sole goal is to provide a special Christmas experience for families in our community."

Schneider said months of planning go into making the party a reality.

"We have a shopping team, and a team that holds fundraisers throughout the year to help support this program, as well as other programs we participate in," he said. "This is one of our feature programs."

The Antietam Exchange Club partnered again this year with local department store Kohl's, that provided not only financial support, but five volunteers to keep the festivities running smoothly.

"We're here to help out wherever they need us," said Theresa Russo, customer service area supervisor with Kohl's. "This is something we truly enjoy doing."

The Christmas party included arts and crafts, storytelling, caroling, lunch and a visit from Santa.

Each family was given gifts that included clothing items, toys, an ornament for their tree and a stocking filled with goodies.

Families also had an opportunity to take home a framed photo taken with Santa, courtesy of Youngblood Studios, which donated its time and services.

"This is a great day," said Sherry Strickland of Hagerstown, who attended the Christmas party with her three sons, Reece, 10 months, Lucas, 3, and Cooper, 4 1/2. "The kids have a lot of fun, but so do the parents. And being here with other program participants, it's like being with one big family."

Schneider said the response from those who have been invited to the Christmas party "has always been overwhelmingly positive, including letters and personal thanks from staff people and parents."

"They have a great time and so do we," he said. "It's a special day."

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