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Antietam Exchange Club Christmas party boasts record turnout

Organization usually focuses on families and education, but Saturday's focus was on having a good time

December 01, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

It was with a sense of melancholy that Christina was attending her last Antietam Exchange Club Christmas party Saturday at the Masonic Lodge in Hagerstown.

Since she was pregnant with the first of her three children, Christina has been enrolled in the Healthy Families Parenting Program with the Washington County Health Department. That program has partnered with the Exchange Club to host the holiday affair since 2005.

“It’s really sad,” Christina said. “Healthy Families has been a blessing to us.”

Her oldest child is graduating from the program.

“Healthy Families is a program that works with first-time parents,” said Tracy Soffe, the program manager.

“The children come into the Healthy Families Program at birth and graduate at 5.”

Christina’s family and about 60 other families, including 79 young children, attended the party, enjoying a fried chicken dinner and receiving gifts.

“This is the largest turnout we’ve had since we’ve been hosting the holiday party,” Soffe said.

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The Exchange Club has been hosting the Christmas party for more than three decades, but the partnership with Healthy Families has helped the club reach its target demographic, young children, event co-chair Art Schneider said.

“They select, sign up and enroll people, including those that come here,” Schneider said of Healthy Families.

“In the beginning, being a first-time parent, they gave me a lot of tips,” helping her understand her daughter’s development and deal with behavioral issues, Christina said.

Christina’s oldest daughter was born prematurely, so Healthy Families helped connect her to the services her child needed. There also were periodic evaluations to assess her daughter’s development and to see if there were areas where she needed assistance.

Now, her oldest daughters are in preschool and performing well, and she has recommended Healthy Families to friends and relatives, Christina said.

Ebonee has been with the Healthy Families Program since she was six months pregnant. Her daughter will turn 5 in a few months.

“They teach you different ways of parenting. Not all parents parent their kids the same way,” Ebonee said.

Dealing with discipline, how to read and deal with a child’s moods, and postpartum depression were some areas in which the program helped her, Ebonee said. She also felt the periodic evaluations for motor skill and educational development were valuable tools.

“Our goal is to have children enter school ready to learn and with optimal social-emotional development,” Soffe said.

Families and education are major focuses of the Exchange Club, event co-chair Brenda Bush said.

However, on Saturday, the focus seemed to be on the parents and children having a good time.

“All of the kids get a choice of a coat or an outfit, a toy, and diapers or underwear,” Bush said. On the educational side, there were free books donated by Kohl’s, she said.

Putting on the party probably costs in excess of $10,000 if in-kind contributions are included, Schneider said. In addition to the free books, Kohl’s allowed the club to purchase gifts at “incredibly substantial savings” and AC&T provided the dinners for free, he said.

Besides serving the meal — and cleaning up afterward — Exchange Club members also brought homemade cookies and desserts. Schneider said. There was enough food at the dinner to allow guests to take some home, he said.

Each family got their photo taken with Santa Claus courtesy of Youngblood Studios, Schneider said.

“It’s grown from a very small, underfunded party to a very large, fully funded party,” said Schneider, who has been involved since 1980.

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