Gifts, surprises – and Santa – delight homeless kids at annual party

The number of folks associated with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office who participate in this annual giving event is astounding. Take a look at this, and find out just what the ‘men and women in green’ do, that delights so many kids …

MCSO Corrections Division Captain Raimond Adgers, and Liz Daily, Program Supervisor of the Facilities Security Unit at Inverness Jail, greet their guests: Students from the Community Transitional School.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It might seem odd for a reporter be delighted to visit the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s (MCSO) Inverness Jail in outer East Portland– especially just days before Christmas.

But even the ice storms of years past haven’t kept East Portland News from checking in on this event – held this year on December 16.

As heavy steel doors clanged shut behind us, the silence of the hallways gave way to laughter and delight bubbling from throngs of youngsters inside – enjoying a party in the jail’s massive briefing room!

As part of his “Jugglemania” show, family entertainer extraordinaire Rhys Thomas helps Kai learn to balance a spinning ball on his finger.

“It’s our 23rd annual Community Transitional School party,” greeted Liz Daily, who is MCSO Program Supervisor of the Facilities Security Unit at Inverness. “We provide entertainment, lunch, presents for the children – and, of course, a personal visit with Santa Claus – for children who attend this school.”

The planning and work that goes into this well-orchestrated annual party begins long before the day itself, Daily smiled. “We don’t just give the kids ‘random’ gifts. The school provides a list – each child gets two toys – and we work off that ‘wish list’. They also get needed clothing.”

With all the entertainment and activities at this party, students don’t seem to notice the hundreds of gifts that still await them.

This year, with 268 gifts to be purchased, about 300 MCSO sworn and non-sworn staffers put in the time to obtain the gifts.

Then, on the day before the party, Daily said a women’s inmate work crew decorated the briefing room. “They really seem to enjoy doing it. They always say that helping out in this way ‘makes Christmas real’ for them, even though they are in jail during the Holiday season.”

Volunteers load up their guests’ plates with hot pizza and other treats.

The program is simple. After singing carols, and following entertainment by the incomparable Rhys Thomas’ “Jugglemania” show, the exuberant youths tucked into a lunch of pizza supplied by Izzy’s at Gateway, and other treats donated by ARAMARK Food Services.

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton was all smiles as he mingled with the children at the event – eventually sitting at a table where he talked with kids while enjoying a slice of pizza with them.

Just before Santa’s entrance, Staton told East Portland News, “This particular day is the best, for me – to have these wonderful young people coming in. It’s so nice to see them so happy.”

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton listens to young students who confide their career plans to him.

Especially fun for him, Staton said, was learning a lot about the kids. “For example, the young lady talking with me right now says that she wants to be a veterinarian. She’s explaining to me what I can do to help her get there.”

About the staff who appear so dedicated to making the day a success, Staton added, “They are fabulous. They put in hours and hours of volunteer time to put this together. We all benefit from their efforts when we get to see the smiles, hear about aspirations, and learn what these kids want in life. They become part of our family.”

MCSO Corrections Division Captain Raimond Adgers, and Liz Daily, Program Supervisor of the Facilities Security Unit at Inverness Jail, show an illustration of the basketball court they’ll be constructing for the Community Transitional School.

MCSO Corrections Division Captain Raimond Adgers couldn’t wait to tell about the special surprise they had for the school. “With the help of community partners, we’re building a complete basketball court at the school this year.”

Adgers continued, “We enlisted Multnomah County Circuit Court Judges, Multnomah County Corrections Deputy Association, Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Management Association, Bernhardt Industries, Inc., The Rommell Architectural Partnership, Wieden and Kennedy Advertising, and Wood Village Lowes, as partners in the project.”

Santa Claus helps Xzavier pose for a photo, before listening to his Christmas wishes.

After the party got underway, Santa came in, sat in his sleigh, and listened to the Christmas dreams of each child at the party.

It was only then that Daily had a moment to reflect on why she’s chaired this event for so many years. “I love Christmas, and this is the start of Christmas for me. This, to me, is what Christmas is all about. I really enjoy it – I’ve done for seven or eight years, and I love it every year. It’s the best part of Christmas.”

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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