Almost everyone knows the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Yet, at the other spectrum of life, it requires a similar large collection of people to brighten Christmas morning for adults in need. At least this is the method that Volunteers for Mental Health have been employing for more than 40 years as they seek to help individuals in nursing homes, recovery programs, transitional housing and group homes. In this season of giving and thanksgiving, examining the process is not only appropriate but awe-inspiring.
Volunteers for Mental Health in Montgomery County (www.vmhmc.org) is an all-volunteer army of passionate people who wish to help others. The Christmas Gift Lift program is probably the group’s most visible outreach, but VMHMC also partners with others to offer youth counseling vouchers, has run a volunteer-based school support program called Teacher Friends, and coordinated Mental Health Month informational sessions through partnership with local newspapers and radio stations, to name a few of its efforts.
It is during the months leading up to Christmas morning that the volunteers energize the Montgomery County community to create a coalition of caring.
Youth are important to the success of the gift lift. One of the founders of the Gift Lift program, Beverley Turner, inspired her Southmont High School students for decades to participate in the program through wrapping gifts and other tasks. The Southmont heritage continues as FCCLA sponsors Jessica Barnhart and Kayla Datzman are coordinating their students’ participation in two VMHMC events with enthusiastic plans to expand involvement next year.
Sixteen years ago, then-NMHS tennis coach Jonathan Guthrie sought service activities for his students, and the annual Wrap-a-Thon was born. It continues today with student council sponsor Libby Allen joining in the coordination of many different service-oriented groups at North Montgomery to wrap thousands of gifts stuffed into more than 200 gift bags. The students will be enjoying treasures donated by Warehouse Bakery.
This year, Michele Enlow’s scout troop members are also pitching in to help with tasks at VMHMC’s home base. The takeaway values of seeing service in action will likely help mold these young people to become successful citizens.
Volunteers for Mental Health enjoys a home base through the generosity of First Christian Church who share their beautiful home with VMHMC for storage, operations and events. This huge heartfelt gift greatly supports the Gift Lift program. Very visible is a storage inventory system, containing donated products, and generously funded through a grant from Tipmont REMC’s Operation Round Up.
The Montgomery County community has always supported the Gift Lift program through local organizations. The large network of extension homemakers work tirelessly each year to raise funds for the drive. Local churches have also formed the ground floor on which the drive is supported. Service organizations such as Kiwanis and American Legion Post #72 have already made generous donations this year. Sororities, like Beta Sigma Phi and Psi Iota Xi, annually support the cause. (A complete listing of 2021 donors will be published at the conclusion of the drive to express gratitude for all donations received this year.)
Local businesses join the effort through monetary and in-kind donations. For many years, New Market Mini Mart owners have never forgotten the Christmas Gift Lift, and new community member, Christi Hubler, last year donated pens for the gift recipients. Large businesses such as Lakeside Book Company and Nucor Steel and their employees have made impactful donations to support the Christmas effort. Town and Country Homecenter’s print shop employees Zac Bradford and William Harmon are always quick to lend a hand in creating print products which share the messages of VMHMC. These gifts are just a few of the many that are made without effort for public acclaim, and the effect is immense.
For two years, a Volunteers for Mental Health project been supported by the United Way, in partnering with Dollar Tree, to put thousands of basic needs toiletries into the hands of Gift Lift recipients. United Way itself is supported by a vast network of individuals, schools, and large and small businesses who raise and give funds for United Way programming.
A bevy of local businesses and banks make room for Gift Lift collection containers, answer questions, and secures gifts. At Crawfordsville Main Street, Susan Lucas and downtown businesses, especially owner Susan Rosen of Milligan’s Flowers and Gifts, have welcomed VMHMC and other charitable causes to meet donors face-to-face during this year’s Downtown Party Night on Small Business Saturday.
The individual citizens of Montgomery County often lift a hand or a pocketbook to help move the Gift Lift from inspiration to execution. This year, the Montgomery County Leadership Academy has provided a portal for VMHMC and other non-profits to manage volunteers.
Anyone wishing to join the outstanding VMHMC volunteer board working at the annual Stuff-a-Thon at First Christian Church may sign up on Point, the MCLA volunteer app. (www.54leadership.com Click Volunteer 54.) The evening will begin with wish lists and end with wishes fulfilled. Papa Johns is stuffing the stuffers with donation of pizzas.
Every year, VMHMC receives a single $5 bill in an envelope, sent with love as a donation. This donation is emblematic of the most significant villagers of all — the people of Montgomery County who give at whatever level they can to help the Volunteers for Mental Health enact their annual effort. It is a point in time, when fueled by faith, hope, and love, that VMHMC somehow transfers a generous bag of gifts to the hands of waiting recipients. There is no single hand that produced this moment. This Christmas miracle is the product of all the hands of all the villagers who’ve contributed in some manner.
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