Gratitude is contagious. Sometimes when we count our own blessings. we’re inspired to share what we have with others. In this season of peace on earth and good will toward all, the volunteers at three Keller-area charities that help local children clearly believe it is better to give than to receive.
Christ’s Haven For Children
Kendra Webb loves being a mom. It’s a good thing, too, since she has nine kids and a 10th on the way.
She and husband Gary Webb have four biological children (ages 4 and 11, plus 16-year-old twins) and they’re expecting their fifth this month. In addition, they’ve been parenting five teenage girls, ages 14 to 17, for the last year and a half, as part of their involvement with Christ’s Haven for Children.
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“We really love it,” Webb says. “It’s not just a job; it’s a lifestyle that really is our calling.”
Christ’s Haven for Children, located in a pastoral setting on Keller Haslet Road, has six cottages serving 48 children. The cottages are actually comfortable, spacious ranch homes and the charity is celebrating its 60th year of providing privately funded housing for disadvantaged children.
The Webbs’ nine kids blend together well, having dinner together daily and doing their chores and homework. The teens take care of their own laundry and the Webbs provide a model of healthy interactions between parents and children.
“Some of our kids have strained relationships with their parents or have a parent in jail,” Webb says. “Sometimes it’s a shock to have parents involved, checking grades and talking to teachers.”
It was not a big stretch for the Webbs to parent on a grand scale. Kendra has 13 years of experience as a special education teacher and Gary was an elementary school principal, while both have master’s degrees in education and training in child development.
While the Webbs and other houseparents focus on the children’s daily needs, donors work to ensure that Christmas is a happy time. Each year, Christ’s Haven donors host a Christmas party and ask each child what they would like to see under the tree. Last year, the teens in the Webb household received iPods.
“It’s amazing to see their faces light up,” she says. “When they get something nice, they feel like they fit in.”
Webb tells her teens that they don’t have to tell anyone they live in a children’s home “because they need to feel like they own their own story,” but adds that most of them brag about living there. For a child who lived in a car or spent time on the streets, she says it means a lot to have a room decorated with nice things that she got to help choose — a place where she can invite friends.
“We’re really careful to tell them your past does not determine your future,” she says. “Just because you came from a hard past, it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful in the future.”
Christ’s Haven also goes a long way to prepare kids for the future with a transition program. After high school graduation, young adults can stay for another five years in transition housing if they are working and going to college or trade school. Christ’s Haven donors pay for the additional education and even cars for the students to drive to work and school.
Giving kids a better present and a promising future makes houseparenting a worthwhile job, Webb says. “I really feel like we’re blessed much more than the kids,” she explains. “It’s an honor to be a part of their lives and an honor to be a part of Christ’s Haven.”
To learn more, visit www.christshaven.org.
Ellen Teall remembers growing up without a lot.
“We had eight kids in my family, and there wasn’t help,” she says. “I remember not having enough.”
When Teall heard about the mission of the Community Storehouse — to help children in need in the Keller and Northwest schools—she knew she wanted to help in whatever way she could.
“What they do, it’s changing lives,” she says.
A personal trainer, Teall began collecting toys four years ago for the Storehouse’s annual Holiday House (now known as Christmas House). The charity offers parents with great economic need an opportunity to find new toys, books, clothing and gadgets for their children for Christmas. Teall and other volunteers also help guide parents through the process of shopping at Christmas House and searching out special items for their children — a process that can be both emotional and rewarding. Last year, for instance, she worked with a mom who wanted boots for her teenage daughter, and they spied one pair across the room. They were just the kind the girl had requested and the perfect size 7. The woman was so grateful and happy that Teall was moved to tears.
“These are people who are ashamed to be there, but you hear their stories and what the Community Storehouse does,” she says. “If it wasn’t for them, the kids wouldn’t have Christmas.”
Last year’s Christmas House, held at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Southlake, provided gifts for about 3,000 children and the food for holiday dinners for almost 5,000. This year’s event is Dec. 19 and will also be at the church.
Teall is touched by meeting folks at the Christmas House. Some of them have lost jobs, others have major illnesses or are on fixed incomes raising grandchildren.
“They leave there different, with hope, smiling and full of joy,” she says. “It’s a huge blessing just to be there.”
After the season of holiday giving, Teall continues her involvement. She asks clients of her personal training boot camp to donate items like food or toiletries to the cause and each year, she holds a Fun Family Fit Day where families do a short workout together and all the proceeds go to the Storehouse’s summer food program.
“It’s a way to get kids involved and to realize that not every kid is like them,” she says.
Her 12-year-old son, Connor, also likes to help, especially when it comes to sorting toys from the toy drive.
Right now, she’s urging clients and friends to donate gifts for teen boys, an often overlooked group at the Christmas House.
Serving the Keller area for 33 years, Community Storehouse focuses on helping children succeed in school. In addition to their food pantry and summer lunch programs, the group has a summer reading program, can provide medical and vision assistance, vouchers for clothing and shoes at their two resale shops and hygiene items for middle and high school students. In November, the nonprofit started an after-school reading program.
“We want to make sure every child has what they need to remain in the classroom and be successful,” explains development team leader Megan Stiller. “We want to stop the cycle of poverty.”
About 8,000 KISD children in the Keller school district live near or below the poverty line as well as another 4,000 in Northwest Tarrant County schools. Last year, the Community Storehouse provided more than 18,000 services to assist families in need. Find out more at www.communitystorehouse.org.
Food for the Soul
When a lot of folks were losing jobs in the recession, Kim Sawler wanted to find a way to help those in need. She and some friends decided to host a clothing drive in 2009 at the Keller Lions Club.
“At the end of the day, a couple came up to me and asked, ‘Do you have any food?’ ” Sawler says.
They helped the couple and decided to tackle the problem on a larger scale. Sawler talked to the Keller school district about starting a backpack program.
Bear Creek Intermediate School was the first to implement it. At the first food distribution, Sawler recalls that kids “jumped up and down like they had won the lottery.” One boy told her his mom had said they were out of food that day, so he was excited that he could share what he received at school with her.
Every Friday, students at seven Keller ISD schools can receive a bag of kid-friendly food to take home for the weekend. While low-income children can eat breakfast and lunch for free at school, some of them don’t have enough food on Saturday and Sunday. Since the charity was founded, it has helped more than 2,500 families.
Tami Healy, community outreach coordinator for the backpack program, got involved with Food for the Soul a few years ago after hearing about it through coordinating Fellowship of Christian Students at Bear Creek Intermediate and Keller Middle schools.
“People want to donate ...,” Healy says. “A lot of people don’t realize that there are hungry people right here.”
Giving is a family affair for the Healys. Sons Corey, 14, Joshua, 12, and Luke, 9, help with the charity, as does husband Neil.
“We just love to do it,” Healy says.
She coordinates food drives with the schools, sports teams and clubs, encouraging students and families to give. The goal is to help kids make giving a habit.
“I’m a firm believer in you reap what you sow,” she says. “You work together at a young age, and you work together as a community.”
In addition to the backpack program, Food for the Soul gives groceries to families in crisis and puts together bigger bundles of food to carry families through the holiday season when school is not in session. The charity is a grassroots organization with no office front or salaried workers. Churches and benevolence groups help with monthly bagging sessions and local businesses provide storage space.
The message from Healy and Sawler is to start giving, even if you can only give a little.
Says Sawler: “Every little bit helps. For less than $5, you can feed a child for a weekend.”
More information is available at www.foodforthesoul.org.