By Jenelle Franklin
“Every year we reach out to the campus community and ask if they would like to adopt a family for Christmas or the 21Holidays, right now we have been collecting students that have a (WCC) case, that have come to us over the year, and we select students who need this service,” Elizabeth Orbitz said.
Departments are sent an email asking if they would like to contribute and “Adopt-A-Family” for the holidays. Each student fills out a form explaining their likes, needs, appropriate sizes and colors, these lists are then sent to the departments who volunteer to help one of 10-12 families per year.
Each department that volunteers has time to coordinate their purchases, “we try to match the students with the departments before the Thanksgiving holiday, some people like to shop on Black Friday,” Orbitz said.
Starting in 2010, Washtenaw Community College faculty and staff have helped a total of 120 families and 340 children, according to WCC’s most recent data.
In Michigan, “The mean age of a community college student is 25.7 years old,” according to the Michigan Community College Association demographic enrollment data.
By 25, a student has voted, driven, and it is probable that they have become a parent as well; 25 is the reported average age for first-time mothers of all races in Michigan, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The Student Resource Center noticed that student-parent families coming to campus were suffering over the holiday, struggling to buy gifts for their children,” Orbitz said.
WCC has a diverse student body, “Some student-parents and student-grandparents raising their grandchildren, were unable to afford those luxuries over the holidays. We decided to develop a program where we used the campus as a resource to provide that service to students. I think it’s really worth publicising, we have been doing this six years now,” Orbitz said.
When departments are small, they often partner with another department to garner the most for the family.
Each year, other forms of contribution are offered, such as a staff member’s family taking the program on as a personal holiday goal, or staff members who are involved with outside non-profit agencies ask if they may contribute and sponsor a family as well. “We’ve had that happen,” Orbitz said.
Julie Catanzarite, manager of new student programming at WCC has volunteered her department for the second time.
“We did it last year, primarily my staff is students and I was unsure of how much money they would be willing to donate. I was shocked at how generous they were,” Catanzarite said. “We were able to provide a really nice gift.” The student who received the gift was moved to tears, “They were overwhelmed that someone would be so generous,” Catanzarite said. “That was very inspiring, so I challenged us this year with a family of two.”
The goal of her department is to help new students with the resources they need to be successful, and this program is, “an ultimate way of being able to do that,” for the holidays Catanzarite said.
In 2015, Catanzarite saw her seven student staff members, which can change every year, as “humble, they were really giving people and generous. They didn’t realize the impact (their help) made,” Catanzarite said.
Rosie Van Alsburg, current WCC Political Science Club president, was on Catanzarite’s 2015 student-staff.
“It was really great to be able to participate in that program last year. WCC is a community, and I think they do a really wonderful job of helping their students,” Van Alsburg said.
Families that are chosen for participation in the program are not disclosed, exchange is handled by the case managers.