The Gifts of the Giving Tree

Tue Dec 13, 2022 at 02:27 PM

Giving Tree Image

Each year, the Staff Association at Blue Ridge Community College sets up a holiday donation program to support causes such as the Salvation Army Angel Tree or BRCC Student Workers. This outreach has been a significant event at BRCC for over eight years, earning participation from employees across campus to bring a bit of holiday cheer to those who need it most.

In 2021, the Staff Association decided to support currently enrolled BRCC students that were experiencing some type of financial challenges. That’s when Student Success Coordinator, Wendy Smith, and Enrollment Services Specialist, Kathy McDaniel got to work. Together, they developed the Giving Tree Program.

“Quite a bit of work went into the initial program development in 2021,” said Wendy. “Kathy and I felt that having a virtual Giving Tree would allow easier access for participation. We knew that Google would be the best platform, because it would allow everyone access to edit and view the wish list documents.”

Wendy took on the challenge of designing the Giving Tree through Google, while also assisting Kathy in developing the process and guidelines on how the program would operate. Once the Giving Tree had established its roots, Wendy and Kathy contacted students and created categories of Wish, Need, and Read to guide students in creating their wish lists.

“Both years we’ve reached out to around 20 students,” said Wendy. “We support the students who reply with an interest to participate by the stated deadline. We had 11 students in 2021 and 15 this year.”

Once the anonymous wish lists are added to the Giving Tree, donors are free to sign up for the category(s) they intend to gift. The gifts are then collected, the students are contacted to pick-up their gifts, and hopefully their holiday season shines a little brighter.

This year, the Staff Association voted to continue the program, and Wendy explains that the planning was a bit easier because of the project design and process already in place.

“A new timeline was made, the Google forms were updated, and all other steps were the same as in 2021,” said Wendy. “Latoya Garrison (BRCC Career Services) offered to assist with the gift drop-off and pick-up process.”

Over the last two years, the Giving Tree has blossomed; supporting students in the Great Expectations program, which consists of students currently or formerly in foster care; Beyond the Blue’s free lunch voucher program; as well as those who received COVID-19 emergency grant support – all of whom may deal with food and/or financial insecurity.

“The students are so thankful for the support. Many have shared stories about how tough times are for their families, and how they were likely not going to have any extra for themselves,” said Wendy. “Some students requested things like winter coats, hats, gloves, and other necessities they may otherwise have gone without. A few of the students have their own families and are putting everything they have toward trying to make a memorable holiday for their children. This is a way they can be celebrated.”

The Giving Tree continues to be wildly successful among BRCC employees. Many of whom have supported a student’s entire wish list – or have even signed-up to support several wish lists.

The Giving Tree project is a tangible way for faculty and staff to support some of BRCC’s most vulnerable students,” said Wendy. “Most importantly, it has made them all feel special and celebrated during a time of year that can be exceedingly stressful.”