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April 12, 2013

‘I can relate to them’

Volunteer knows what poverty is like.

Jack Newhouse still remembers his first “real” Christmas, back when his sister, newly employed at an aircraft factory, bought him and his two brothers caps and reversible jackets.

“That was the best Christmas. I don’t remember too many other Christmases,” said Newhouse, 83.

Thursday, Newhouse was named Goodfellows Volunteer of the Year, quite possibly because he has a bond with all of the families Kokomo’s oldest Christmas charity helps.

Raised during the Depression, Newhouse, 83, was the 10th of 12 children. The family accepted welfare, in the form of food donations. They didn’t have money for Christmas, at least until some of the older kids took jobs. Of the five boys he grew up with (two other brothers passed away while he was young), he was the first to finish high school.

“It’s a little hard to understand how they can make it on so little money. But I grew up in a poor family. I can relate to them,” he said. “I try not to be judgmental. I understand they’re here because they have children.”

Every family which comes to Goodfellows each Christmas season receives personal attention from a host of volunteers, starting with volunteers like Newhouse, who sit with the families, identify their needs, and see if they qualify financially.

Other volunteers meet the families at Meijer, help them shop for kids clothes, and if needed, give them a ride home.

“Sometimes you just want to reach into your pocket and give them something,” Newhouse said. “They are definitely in need.”

For 103 years, Goodfellows, started by Kokomo Tribune employees, has been helping families at Christmas. The charity averages helping about 2,000 kids a year, drawing funding from We Care, Meijer and donations taken through the Tribune.

Newhouse moved to Kokomo in 1947 to take a job at Delco, and then went into the Army National Guard as an officer. After spending decades away from Kokomo in the Army, working in civil service and farming beef cattle in Missouri, he moved back here in 2004.

A friend of his, Dick Seagrave, invited him to help with Goodfellows, and Thursday, his service was rewarded with a plaque and accolades.

In addition to recognizing Newhouse, Goodfellows also gave out scholarships and grants at its annual dinner Thursday.

Indiana University Kokomo’s Destination Education program, aimed at helping disadvantaged kids attend IUK, received an award, as did Ivy Tech State College’s scholarship funds. The local Special Olympics chapter, which is gearing up for the summer games in Terre Haute, received $3,000 Thursday, and the Club Kokomo Roadrunners’ “Coyote Kids” program received $2,500.

Goodfellows board president John Wiles said everything the group does is made possible by volunteers.

“We’re still the only Christmas charity which can say that every penny we receive from We Care goes directly to the children we serve,” Wiles said.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.

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