Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 20, 2013

A new kind of gift giving

Kokomo Tribune

---- — Every holiday season I find myself wandering aimlessly among the masses at giant malls and tiny boutiques searching for the perfect Christmas gifts.

I look at hundreds of gizmos and gadgets and clothes and shoes and scarves and handbags and crafts.

Will my sports fanatic brother like this [insert random team name here] sweatshirt? Or did I get this one for him last year?

I call my mother for answers. She’s no help. As it turns out, she, too, is stressing out about what to get him.

We’ve fallen into this same pattern for years now.

We have the best of intentions. There’s nothing we want more than to make each other feel happy and special on Christmas day.

But our family is blessed beyond belief. None of us need anything. In fact, there’s not much we want either because when we want something, we go out and buy it.

This can make gift giving… well, a little bit challenging. By Christmas day, we’re all frustrated and worried we’ll let each other down with our less-than-perfect gifts.

That frustration is creeping in again this year. And it has me thinking. Maybe it’s time for a new family tradition.

Maybe we can take some of our money and buy presents for a family in need. Or better yet, maybe we can commit to giving back in February or March when the so-called season of giving has ended.

In fact, how much better would the world be if even one of our Christmas gifts to loved ones this year was to pay it forward in the coming year?

People always seem a little more generous in November and December as the holidays approach, but there are families who need our help every day of the year.

No one knows this better than Karen Smith.

She volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for an abused and neglected child in Howard County.

She’s that child’s voice during court hearings.

“You’re the one person that’s always looking out for the best interests of the child,” she told me on a recent afternoon.

She’ll meet with and talk to the child weekly. Then, she’ll watch the parents interact with the child. She’ll check in with doctors and counselors to see if parents are complying with the judge’s orders. Have they passed their drug screens?

Then she’ll write a recommendation for the courts. Should the parents get their child back?

She works at least 10 hours a week on behalf of her child and will continue that until the case is resolved. That could take years. But she wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“I really like it,” she said. “The things you learn or say really do have an impact on the courts.”

Smith said she’s one of about 60 CASA volunteers in the county. That’s not enough, though. There are many other children who need a voice speaking out for them.

Wouldn’t that be a special gift for my parents?

I’m sure any mom and dad would be proud to know they raised a son or daughter with a heart big enough and a mind steely enough to spend years serving as a voice for the voiceless.

And it seems to get back to the true meaning of Christmas – which most of us are probably guilty of forgetting from time to time.

Not prepared to shuck tradition for this unique gift idea just yet? That’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional gift exchange.

My family will be sticking with that this year, too.

But when you open up a box and find that weird gadget you don’t know what to do with, think of all the children Smith serves who were ripped away from their families this holiday season.

And instead of feeling disappointed, reach over and hug the mom, dad, brother, sister or spouse who gave it to you. I’m sure they worked hard to pick out that gadget just for you.

-Lindsey Ziliak

[friday] editor / struggling Christmas shopper