Woodward, Okla. —
Imagine it's Dec. 25 and you walk into your living room, but there's no sparkly lights, no Christmas tree, and no presents.
For many children in Woodward and across the area, they don't have to imagine not celebrating Christmas.
However, Western Plains Youth and Family Services is offering the fortunate in our community the opportunity to help provide Christmas and birthdays and even something as simple, but precious, as a new pair of shoes to the dozens of children that the agency serves through its youth shelter every year.
Western Plains is inviting those with a generous spirit to attend its first ever Christmas Gala this Dec. 7 at the Woodward Conference Center.
Nancy Greeff, one of the event organizers, said the Christmas Gala will be an evening in which attendees can dress up in fancy attire and enjoy cocktails and a catered meal, featuring bacon-wrapped filet. The event will also include musical entertainment, and even offer the opportunity to do some holiday shopping through live and silent auctions.
The live auction will include chances to bid on an autographed Taylor Swift guitar, OU season tickets, and a playhouse crafted by the High Plains Technology Center to look like the Western Plains logo, which features a red heart over the front door. There will also be several vacation packages auctioned off live, including a NASCAR racing package and a trip to the Napa Valley for wine connoisseurs.
The silent auction will feature Thunder tickets, Bryan White concert tickets, a turkey hunting trip, a makeover package, and autographed musical memorabilia, including a Justin Bieber photo and records by The Beatles and Michael Jackson.
HELP A SHELTER CHILD BY PURCHASING SERVICE ITEMS
"Yes, people can come out to experience an elegant evening and be able to bid on unique auction items and have a fabulous meal, but in the end it's all to benefit the children," Greeff said.
That's why in addition to the live and silent auction items, attendees will also have the opportunity to purchase "service items" to benefit the children in the shelter.
"Our idea for the service items was to provide something specific that people in the community can help us with," said Jamie Sherman, director of the Western Plains Youth Shelter.
Sherman explained that often there are people who call wanting to help the shelter but are uncertain about what to donate.
"We'll tell them something generic like diapers because we always need baby items," she said. "But we thought these service items would be more specific to help show the public what all we try to provide for these children."
The service items up for sponsorship during the Gala will include sponsoring a baby with a donation to cover the purchase of diapers, formula and bottles. But there will also be items for older children as well, including "send a shelter child to prom, where the donation will help us to provide the tickets, tux rental, meal, hairdo, everything you need for prom night," Sherman said.
Other service items include to give a shelter child a haircut; entertain a child with an evening out bowling or going to movies; provide a new clothing item of shoes, jeans, or coat; buy a piece of luggage for a child; and give a child a birthday party.
Sherman noted that "in the last 3 months, we've had 7 birthday parties at the shelter and that was for kids ranging in age from turning 4-years-old to a girl who just turned 17."
LITTLE THINGS CAN HAVE BIG MEANING FOR A CHILD WITH NOTHING
Sherman said that while many of us may take things like a new pair of shoes or birthday celebration for granted, often the children who come to the Western Plains shelter have not ever had those things.
She told the story of one 10-year-old boy in the shelter recently, "who was in desperate need of shoes."
"We took him shoe shopping and I asked him if he had any idea what size shoe he wore. He said he thought maybe size 8. It turned out that 8 was his size 3 years ago. So he tried on this one pair of shoes that was way too big for him. But he said, 'no, it's okay, I'll grow into them,'" Sherman said.
Although impressed by his willingness to make do, she told the boy that they would keep looking until they found a pair that fit him perfectly.
"He was so excited and said he had never had a new pair of shoes before," she said. "Then when he was packing up to leave, after he had been with us for about 4 weeks, he still had the Stage bag that the shoes had been put in as well as the actual shoebox and even the tissue paper that the shoes had been wrapped in, because having those new shoes were so important to him."
Sherman said that "shoes are always a big thing for us."
Another major item for the shelter is luggage, she said.
"Many of our kids will come in with what little belongings they have in a trash bag," she said. "But at Western Plains it is our goal that we don't ever let them leave with their things in a trash bag. We provide them with some piece of luggage or duffel bag of their own."
AN OPPORTUNITY TO SUPPORT 'A TERRIFIC CAUSE'
Kevin Evans, executive director of Western Plains, said the Christmas Gala is "a terrific opportunity to support the youth shelter."
"Typically we have wonderful response at Christmas with people thinking of us and donating to the shelter, this will just give them another opportunity to that," Evans said.
He said that Western Plains is always looking for new ways to raise money for its emergency youth shelter, especially as "the shelter has never been fuller."
"The gala will be a unique evening for supporters to come out and enjoy themselves and also raise money for a terrific cause," Evans said.
The Western Plains youth shelter provides services to children ages 0 to 17, with most of the children being in DHS custody awaiting foster care placement, Sherman said.
While children are at the shelter, she said they are provided with "of course, shelter, a bed to sleep in, meals, and we also try to provide extra opportunities for kids such as bowling or going to movies. We also try to take the kids on field trips during school breaks. We're basically like a house for 10 kids because we're a 10-bed facility."
The shelter is open 365 days a year; "we never close, we're always here even on holidays," Sherman said.
Last year the shelter housed "just under 200 kids, and the average length of stay was about 30-days," she said.
Tickets for the Western Plains Christmas Gala may be purchased by contacting Western Plains at 254-5322, ext. 115, or by stopping by their offices at 1213 Hanks Trail. You may also order tickets by calling Nancy Greeff at 334-5087 or Jerri Gadberry at 571-6103.