I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy. ~Kahlil Gibran
Christmas at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children
It’s all about the children at Kurn Hattin Homes, and there’s no time it shows more than at the holidays. The sparkle and magic of Christmas are around every corner, and the holiday spirit brings a twinkle to everyone’s eye. Especially at this time of year, there are so many examples of the kind of caring and generosity that have made Kurn Hattin’s mission a reality for nearly 120 years.
In his memoir, Kurn Hattin: The Story of Home, class of 1919 graduate John Hurd shared his memories of Christmas spent at Kurn Hattin in the early days:
The celebration started after supper on Christmas Eve when we gathered in the parlor and the tree candles were lighted. We sang Christmas carols with Mrs. Prince at the piano and Mr. Prince read the New Testament story of the Nativity. Then the pile of presents under the tree was distributed, a bag of candy for each kid and small presents, mostly handmade, from one kid to another, and from the kids to the [Prince] family. Before going to bed, chairs were lined up along the walls of the reading room, each tagged with a boy’s name.
With the kids in bed, Mr. and Mrs. Prince, with the help of a senior Big Kid, spent a long evening filling the chairs with presents. This was no problem for the kids who had family contacts: their chairs could be heaped with packages from “Mama” or “Uncle Ned and Aunt Ruth.” The trouble lay in choosing the right gifts for those who had few, or no, family presents. Several organizations and friends of The Home sent money or presents, and there were plenty of donated toys, games, and clothing to distribute. There was always pleasure and excitement in opening a package. Money contributions were used to buy sleds, skis, or baseball equipment.
The Spirit of Christmas
Some holiday traditions may have changed over Kurn Hattin’s long history, but the spirit of giving and of creating joyful childhood memories is still the order of the day. Every year, Christmas Trees of Vermont donates a tree for each cottage and common area of the school. Students from nearby Landmark College give gifts to the children. Local business owners from the Bellows Falls Rotary treat the children to a trip to the movies, and the Chester Rotary Club enlists Santa, Mrs. Claus, their elves, and even the Grinch to visit each cottage, singing carols and delivering brightly wrapped gifts to the children’s delight.
Not just at Christmastime but throughout the entire year, from monetary donations, to gifts of goods and services, to the many volunteers willing to share their talents and time, the children are nurtured, cared for, and shown that they matter.
The Night of Giving
As well as making a difference in the lives of children in need, these kind acts of individuals and organizations provide the dedicated staff at Kurn Hattin with an opportunity to seize a “teachable moment” – a chance to teach the children that they, too, can be generous, and that they have a responsibility to give back.
The Night of Giving is a newer Kurn Hattin tradition that began fifteen years ago. In the months leading up to this event, the children in each cottage vote on and select a Christmas giving project which will help those in need. Projects may include raising funds for children’s organizations, serving meals at local homeless shelters, gathering donations for food pantries or animal rescue centers, sending gifts to soldiers overseas, or singing for residents at a nursing home.
On the evening when the Kurn Hattin community comes together for its annual holiday gathering, a child from each cottage presents their chosen community service project, explaining why it was selected, what it means to them, and how it will make a difference.
Kurn Hattin’s Deputy Executive Director, Tom Fahner, explains the overarching aims of the event:
This lesson in life is essential for our students to understand, recognize, learn, and put into practice the importance of giving. It molds the shape of their character and allows them to focus on others while reflecting on their own life in a therapeutic, productive manner. Former President Bill Clinton, in his book, Giving, writes, “Almost everyone—regardless of income, available time, age, and skills—can do something useful for others and, in the process, strengthen the fabric of our shared humanity.” Strengthening the fabric of the children entrusted to our care is not only our goal, it is our passion.
This year the youngest boys’ cottage, Maude Parent Cottage, collected toys, clothing and other items from their own possessions to give to the family of a current Kurn Hattin student whose entire home and contents were destroyed in a fire. Another cottage spearheaded collections of non-perishables to donate to the Chester Food Shelf in honor of the Chester Rotary’s generosity to Kurn Hattin at Christmastime. The representatives read a short speech about how much they love the Chester Rotary event, including the Grinch! The Warner Cottage girls donated to a military charity that supports children in need throughout the world. Maysilles Cottage made cookie mix for each of the other cottages and delivered them to each houseparent last night.
Through these gestures of gratitude, the children have an all too rare opportunity as young people to give back, to make meaningful contributions to their community, and to embody the true spirit of Christmas.
This holiday season may you experience peace, childlike wonder, and the magnificent joy of giving.