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Giving tops some Christmas lists

December 23, 2011|By MAEGAN CLEARWOOD | For The Herald-Mail
  • The lobby at REACH of Washington County displays decorations for the holidays. In back are Crisis Worker Pam Johnson, left, and Shelter Case Manager Jill Parker.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Christmas lists might overflow with wishes, but some members of the community aren't hoping for something that comes in a box or a bag. For them, the holidays are a time to give back, not just receive.

Jodie Ostoich, executive director for REACH of Washington County, said she is constantly reminded of how difficult the holiday season can be for those unable to afford a roof over their heads, let alone Christmas gifts.

"My wish is that people would learn more how to put other people in front of themselves, and that there is dignity in every human being," she said. "Everybody has a story; everybody has a hurt. It's tough. It stinks to be in a homeless shelter at this time of year."

REACH operates a Day Resource Center and a cold weather shelter for the homeless, and raising support from the community has been particularly challenging this holiday season.

"While the community has been very helpful in many ways, from volunteering to donations, there are still areas which are a challenge," she said. "It's a tough time of year, and when a tough economy persists in a county like this, people begin to feel burdened and lose hope."

The United Way of Washington Couny also depends on donations and volunteers to help the less fortunate in the community. Leah Gayman said her holiday wish as executive director of that organization is "to bring the community together to serve as many people as we can."

The United Way raises money for member agencies throughout the county. Despite economic obstacles, Gayman expressed hope for those in need this Christmas.

"It's always difficult to fund-raise during difficult situations, but this community came together this season," she said. "We've seen more need, but we're also seeing more generosity."

This year, members of the military remain in Afghanistan, but American troops earlier this month withdrew from Iraq.

"From my point of view, I think it's fantastic," said Col. Cheri A. Provancha, commander of Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa. "A whole bunch of soldiers who didn't think they would be able to spend time with family get to come home, and I know they're very excited. Their families are ecstatic."

Provancha, who was twice deployed to Iraq, said her wish is "that all of our soldiers deployed around the world have a safe holiday and that they know that those of us at home are grateful."

One of those members of the military is Sgt. Derek Miller, a technical operator with the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg. Miller is preparing for deployment to Afghanistan in March, but in the meantime, the holidays are all about family.

His wish is to be able to fly home for the birth of his third child in May.

"I'm going to enjoy time with the family, soaking it all in. Christmas is special because we can all slow down and be thankful for what we have — a good job out there helping people," he said.

Christmas, on the other hand, is a family affair. Along with gift giving and Christmas Eve mass, Miller said he will use the time to get photo and video footage of his wife and children to take with him when he leaves.

"It's great to watch the kids open their gifts and see their eyes light up," said Miller, who will be away from home for six to seven months.

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox is also thinking about children for his Christmas wish.

"It's a simple wish, nothing material, just that all of our kids stay safe over the holidays and, for kids whose families are really struggling, that their families find peace," he said.

His students are not the only ones enjoying the holiday break; Wilcox said he is looking forward to spending quality time with his son and daughter.

Washington County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham not only was looking forward to Christmas, but to a promising new year as well.

"I hope that we can get more jobs for the citizens and county, and relieve the burden of the recession," she said. "It's the kind of altruistic thing you always hope for, and maybe it will happen in 2012."

Meanwhile, she was anticipating a cheerful Christmas Day surrounded by loved ones.

"I'm always  blessed with such a great group of family and friends," she said. "As a family and community, we seldom take enough time to enjoy each other."

Although Christmas is about family for many, others get caught up in the bustle of last-minute shopping.

"My hope would be that people take the opportunity to remember what the holiday is all about," said the Rev. Marty Nocchi, pastor of St. Ann Roman Catholic Church in Hagerstown. "God loves us so much that he was willing to come into this world and be with us."

This year, Nocchi's parish held a Celebration of Light. The  flame, which originated in Bethlehem, was a reminder of peace and good will in the face of holiday commercialism.

"Once all the business and prep is over, people do take the time to reflect on what it's all about," he said.

"I would wish for people to hear and recieve and rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas: Christ the Lord coming as savior," said the Rev. Larry Weber of Grace Bretheren Church.

Weber said his challenge each Christmas is reminding his parish that there is more to the holidays than price tags and tinsel.

"It's not a new phenomenon," he said. "Some hear the message and receive it, and others may hear it and either ignore it or think it's not for them.

"The amazing thing is the people who believe it actually have what was announced by angels: tidings of great joy. That's in the hearts of those who believe."

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