During the Christmas holiday season, many opportunities arise for people to help others in their community. This past Christmas was no different in the City of Jackson where the HomeLife Academy (HLA) office is based. HLA staff and counselors gave back to those in need through the #HLAserves outreach program, when they participated in the City of Jackson’s Tree of Warmth volunteer project.
December was the first year for the Tree of Warmth project, which was managed by The Ned Theatre in Jackson. The idea is simple, but the purpose was large.
“The purpose of the Tree of Warmth project is to bring warmth to the homeless people in the city who need scarves, hats and gloves. The tree allows the people to have access to those items any time of the day,” said Destiny Freeman with The Ned. “There are other places in the city that offer clothing, I know there are a lot of homeless in the area and if those places are closed, the people don’t have access to it. Those in need may just take what they need from the tree at any time.”
Cold temperatures did not prevent #HLAserves volunteers from showing up to help dress the tree. It was evident, from their enthusiasm, that volunteering is not new to any of the HLA people who were there to serve. HLA Marketing Assistant and Intern Team Leader Kailey McKee often volunteered while in high school.
“It was kind of just what I did and it was normal for me,” said Kailey who recognizes the privilege she has and was excited to give back to others in her community through #HLAserves. “The Tree of Warmth is such a great idea because of its simplicity. The project shows care for the well-being of and for people in our homeless or struggling community. Letting them know people care and want to help, I think, is a bigger blessing than the gloves and scarves themselves. Care and love lay in doing the simple things, so there is no excuse to not do it!”
Using the donated scarves, hats and gloves, the volunteers decorated the Tree of Warmth, which stands right outside in front of The Ned. By the time they were finished, the tree looked festive, warm and welcoming for anyone who needed one or more of the items draped on the tree. It definitely stood out among the other trees on the block.
HLA Receptionist Bry England enjoyed volunteering for the Tree of Warmth, which she refers to as a “creative and out of the box” way to help others.
“I think it’s inspiring to the community to see such a visible outreach project. It’s encouraging to know there are people who are working to make a difference and love on the homeless community. I truly hope we were able to provide physical comfort for those people,” said Bry. “Hats, gloves and scarves provide warmth, but I also hope it brought some emotional comfort, so they know they are not forgotten and someone cares.”
Freeman noted some other goals of the project, which includes The Ned donating some of the items it received to the Women of Hope organization and also to nursing homes.
“A lot of homeless people are men, but we get a lot of female scarves, so we give those to Women of Hope and nursing homes,” said Freeman. “
The Ned plans to make the Tree of Warmth an annual event, so all local HLA families are encouraged to participate in this effort or another volunteer effort of their choosing. Tree of Warmth donations will continue to be accepted at The Ned as long as the weather is cold. A donation box has been placed in The Ned lobby, so those interested in assisting may easily drop off their donations at their convenience.
“I enjoy volunteering and helping out when and where I can,” said HLA Assistant Manager and Staff Events Coordinator Rachel Adams who also serves through the local Jackson chapter of American Heritage Girls (AHG). “AHG has taught me there are so many ways we can help and serve others. It is one way we can honor God and show his love, which should be part of our everyday life.”
HLA Billing and Financial Services Team leader Toni Garner also took the #HLAserves challenge and gave back during the holiday. Although she was not able to dress trees, she volunteered through her church in gifting shoes to children.
“The project blessed many children with a new pair of shoes, which also blessed their parents by not having to come up with the money for another pair of shoes for that child at this time,” said Toni who liked the idea of taking the focus off of herself and her family and putting it on someone else. “It was also a blessing to our church by having enough people to pass out the shoes.”
Each one who volunteered during the holiday was blessed by the opportunity to serve.
“While we can’t all afford to donate to every charity or individual person in need, there are little things we can do to make a difference,” said Rachel.
If you are local to Jackson and would like to donate scarves, hats or gloves for the Tree of Warmth project, you may drop off your items at The Ned Theatre (314 East Main Street, Jackson, TN 38301).
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©2018 HomeLife Academy. Article by Jennifer Smeltser. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the publisher /.