September 27th, 2019
Project Elf wraps up the year
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Entering its third consecutive year, Project Elf has grown to become widely popular in the Rose community as a service project, engaging a total of eight Rose clubs this year: National Honor Society (NHS), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Future Health Professionals (HOSA), National Spanish Honor Society (NSHS), Rho Kappa, National English Honor Society (NEHS), Spanish Club and Link Crew. Project Elf is a community-led initiative that provides Christmas presents to foster children during the holiday season.
The program was originally created by 2020 Rose alumna Emily Schimdt following her family’s adoption of two foster children in 2018. The Pitt County foster care system is a community-based organization that aims at providing ideal foster and adoptive parents who can meet the needs of children who are in the care of the Department of Social Services (DSS). After personally experiencing and observing a need within the foster care system,
Photo by Murphy Fisher
Schmidt was moved to begin this initiative after noticing the government’s lack of funding for presents to foster children.
“It became really clear to [my mom and me] that the biggest need within the system that we could really help with was their Christmas toy drive that they do every year,” Schmidt said. “In 2017, which was the year before we started Project Elf, many kids who had submitted their wish lists were not sponsored and therefore really didn’t get any of the gifts they were looking for.”
As opposed to other holiday service projects, Project Elf caters to each child’s specific wish list. Schmidt feels this adds to the project's tendency to be more personalized to that specific child. Although Schmidt now resides in Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain scholar at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she chose to still continue the project, ending this holiday season by gathering gifts for over 200 foster children in Pitt County DSS as well as nearly 40 in the Raleigh-Durham area.
The seven Rose clubs involved with Project Elf sponsored a total of 34 foster children this year with the most being 10 sponsorships from NHS. Along with, NHS advisor Angie Byrne has sought out other avenues to increase gift donation and utilized Facebook as a resource to gather donors in her neighborhood, gathering approximately 60 sponsors. Clubs collect donations from members that fill the wish list of that particular child that were given and collected by DSS. The clubs then held “wrapping parties” to organize and wrap the gifts to be prepared for delivery.
“[Membership turnout] was absolutely awesome,” Byrne said. “Every single person brought exactly what was asked, and everything has been wrapped and delivered to DSS.”
After the gifts had been labelled and wrapped, they were then sent off to the Pitt County DSS which has been the centralization point of Project Elf for the past three years. DSS has nearly 200 foster children under their legal custody, and Project Elf has served a vital role in ensuring as many children as possible are able to receive the gifts they desire.
“We keep a masterlist of all our children that are in our legal custody...and we give the wish lists to the individual social workers of the children,” social work supervisor Chandra Newborn said. “They give it to either the foster parents or the children, they fill it out, they give it back to the social worker and the social worker gives it to me.”
Following Schmidt’s position from the previous two years, senior Annie Sullivan has taken the lead role in organizing all Project Elf events for Rose, and the DSS has voiced their gratefulness for Rose's involvement in being a leader for the project.
“Project Elf has been a blessing to this agency and we have been overwhelmed with the amount of toys and sponsorships people have done, especially in this pandemic where people’s lives are different,” Mewborn said. “There are going to be a lot of happy children when they wake up Christmas morning.”
Even amidst a pandemic, Project Elf has served as a community-building program that has filled a vital need within Pitt County. DSS and the foster care system feel very appreciative for the efforts made by Rose clubs to ensure these children can have a happy holiday.
“The kindness that Project Elf has showed us is the type of kindness that can move mountains, and we are thankful for y’all’s supportive and loving hearts,” Mewborn said.