Jr. Optimits bring Christmas to Head Start

By Michael Ullery

December 19, 2013


For the Daily Call


PIQUA — With wide-eyed enthusiasm 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in the city’s Head Start program were treated to an early visit from Old St. Nick Thursday morning. As the North Pole’s celebrated resident dashed between classrooms, he was accompanied by eighth-graders from the Piqua Catholic Schools Junior Optimist Club who served as “helpers.”

“Have you all been good boys and girls this year?” questioned Santa surrounding himself among the pre-school contingent. Responding with lots of affirmative nods but little dialogue, the shy youngsters one by one bravely made their way to Santa’s lap to have their photo taken and recite what they wanted for Christmas.

“Say ‘cheese,’” prompted one classroom aide as she snapped a photograph. “C-h-e-e-s-e” replied one timid youngster elongating the one-syllable word.” Carefully the children shared a litany of gift ideas with the Santa including a Batman toy, a choo-choo train, an Iron Man superhero, a refrigerator, doll, remote-controlled airplane, and an Ariel pillow among other hot-selling items for the holidays

For one youngster who asked for a ‘cat’ for Christmas, Santa Claus encouraged her to quickly write him a letter before Christmas Eve as the elves will be working overtime to fulfill everyone’s wishes. The festive mood was further heightened as Piqua Catholic Schools’ Optimist Club members helped the jolly guy in red distribute gifts to each child.

Adviser Joyce Thornberry, who teaches science and algebra at Piqua Catholic Schools, explained that “adopting” Head Start has been a tradition for the service club over 30 years. Each of the 27 Junior Optimist members in both seventh and eighth grades personally purchase and wrap between three to four gifts — valued around $5 apiece — for 102 children. A visit to the Head Start program on Robert Davis Parkway on Thursday morning was followed by a visit to the school by the Head Start afternoon contingent who also received gifts from Santa.

“This project,” explained Thornberry, “really enables the Optimist Club members to give of themselves and pay for gifts out of their own pocket. It’s in the Christmas spirit to help kids less fortunate than themselves.”

Her sentiments were echoed by two eighth-graders Ryan Pierre and Alanna O’Leary, who enthusiastically assisted the youngsters as they unwrapped their unexpected gifts. Alanna, daughter of Rob and Rosemary O’Leary of Piqua, observed the tradition “is important because it lets you see that others don’t get as much as I do” and watch their smiling faces. Ryan, son of Daniel and Vicki Pierre of Piqua, purchased monster trucks for three boys and a make-up set for a Barbie doll for the girl he selected. What children expected to be a normal day, suggested Ryan, became “amazing” by simple acts of kindness performed by him and his classmates.

In addition to the Christmas gift giveaway, the Piqua Catholic Schools Junior Optimist Club also sponsors Easter baskets for the Head Start youngsters and provide more than 40 dozen dyed eggs and candy each spring. The group also meets every other week to explore careers with invited guest speakers.