Cindy Compton, manager at the Village Mall reflects on how she and Rose M. J. Henton, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermilion County, met.
“We were at a Vermilion Advantage luncheon a few years ago,” Compton said. “Everyone went around the room, introduced themselves and gave a summary of their program. I knew there must be a way the Village Mall could partner to help kids at Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
Henton agreed. “We didn’t know at the time how or what we could do, but it was an exciting opportunity,” she said.
After that meeting the pair continued to discuss the needs of the children and how a partnership could be formed. One way would be to start an Angel Tree. The Angel Tree is a simple concept with a big impact. A Christmas tree is placed at the mall and Big Brothers Big Sisters designs “ornaments” for the tree with the first name of each child in the program and some of the items the child needs and wants.
Kala Hammer, Americorp/VISTA working for Big Brothers Big Sisters, designed the ornaments this year. Hammer said, “Each ornament includes items the parents tell us the children need and we have included hats, gloves and scarves. These may be simple items for most of us, but many of our kids don’t have them.”
An individual, “angel” takes one or more of the ornaments and then purchases items for the child. The gifts can be turned in at the Village Mall office or Big Brothers Big Sisters at 100 N. Franklin St.
“Last year we were able to give every child mentored through the agency and each child on the waitlist at least one Christmas gift and most times more than one,” said Bonnie Gaston, the agency’s office manager.
About three days before Christmas 2011, some tags were still on the tree. An anonymous donor gave Cindy cash to make sure all the children got gifts.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters was closed for the holiday, so I called Rose on her cell phone and together we spent a couple quick hours shopping for the remaining children,” Compton said. “That gentleman said as a child he was one of those children in need.”
This year marks the third year in a row the mall has put up an Angel Tree for children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters. This year the Village Mall decided to become even more involved and donated $250 to make sure all the kids get gifts. The staff also helps by supplementing gifts for children not being mentored, but in the same family.
“All my staff have very large hearts,” Henton said. “Last year we had some children not being mentored but in the same family. The staff spent their own money to make sure even the smallest family member received a gift.”
The staff also plays Santa and delivers the gifts all over Vermilion County.
Other ways the two organizations are partnering is providing gift wrapping services for those purchasing gifts at the mall.
“When people buy their gifts at the mall, someone from Young Women Aware or Young Men Aware will wrap the gifts on the weekends,” Compton said. “A donation is encouraged, but not required. All funds go to the programs and help provide for college trips in the spring.”
Gift wrapping is available from 1-5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from now until Christmas. Both programs are outreach projects of Provena United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation and Danville School District 118. The Young Women Aware program is facilitated and partially funded by Big Brothers Big Sisters. Young Men Aware is facilitated and partially funded by the Danville Family YMCA.
For information about these initiatives, becoming a mentor or Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl For Kids’ Sake, call 446-6601.