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Votes

A Time for Giving

FACETS helps children give presents to siblings.

— All year ’round, FACETS helps people in poverty in Fairfax County. It works with families living in public-housing communities and having an average income under $20,000 for a family of four. It also aids those who are, or recently were, homeless.

The organization also runs after-school programs for children and adults, all year ’round. There are boys’ and girls’ groups, homework-help groups, arts and crafts, plus ESL classes for adults. And in December, FACETS puts on Sibling Shops.

These events enable children to peruse a variety of toys, games and other items, select gifts for their brothers and sisters and have them wrapped. The shops are also holiday parties, involving food, games and crafts, and the nonprofit FACETS hosted five of them last week.

As the Christmas season approaches each year, FACETS obtains donations from the community for children, teens and adults so children can ‘shop’ for gifts for their brothers and sisters. Then, at each holiday party, volunteers walk them through and help them pick out age- and gender-appropriate presents.

FACETS also recruits groups to host and provide volunteers for each Sibling Shop. The first party was Monday, Dec. 10, at the Ragan Oaks Community Center in Fair Oaks. Volunteers from the Bank of America provided the decorations, games and refreshments and wrapped the presents.

The Dec. 11 event at the Old Town Hall in Fairfax was hosted by volunteers from Deloitte Consulting. GMU’s Alpha Omicron Pi sorority hosted the Dec. 12 Sibling Shop at nearby Robinson Square, and Brandywine Realty Trust hosted the Dec. 13 event at Barros Circle in Centreville.

A Sibling Shop for children not housed in one of FACETS’s family centers was hosted by Centrepointe Church. All together, these holiday parties provided some 160 children with gifts to give to their family members.

Jacob Berenbroick, FACETS community-development advocate in the Barros Circle neighborhood, helped organize the Centreville party with FACETS’ educational and community-development team.

“They do a lot of work, months out, planning and preparing, and getting various organizations and groups to volunteer their time,” he said. “They also solicit gift donations, set up locations for collecting the presents and get the decorations and arts-and-crafts supplies from the volunteers.”

At Barros, Brandywine supplied the food and wrapping paper, and children colored Santa Claus paddleballs and ceramic snowflake ornaments while they ate. And one or two at a time, the children took turns “shopping” in another room.

“It’s important because, due to a lack of flexible income in their families, these kids don’t have the luxury of buying their siblings something nice — or anything, at all — for Christmas,” said Berenbroick. “So this gives them the opportunity to do what every other kid does — pick out a toy for their brother or sister.”

And at the same time, he said, “They can enjoy their friends’ and neighbors’ company. This brings the community together for a great event where people can socialize and enjoy the spirit of the holidays.”

London Towne Elementary kindergartner Jazzelyn Carter, 5, selected a football for a 10-year-old sibling. And Saad Salim, 8, a third-grader at Deer Park Elementary, planned to get a football for his brother, 16. Meanwhile, he showed the snowflake ornament he was coloring.

“I’m going to give the ornament to my mom and tell her Merry Christmas,” he said. At the party, he enjoyed meeting his friends and eating a sandwich, cookies, pretzels and grapes.

Upstairs, Brandywine Realty Trust employees Natalie Dahlstrom, Ray Rosson and Kristy Kurrus wrapped the presents. “Our office manager, Stacey Madigan, organized [Brandywine’s efforts] and was looking for help,” said Dahlstrom. “About 10 people from our office are here.”

“I had just done something similar through a Secret Santa program in Alexandria and I liked it,” she continued. “And you can’t say no to something like this because it’s just such a good cause. It’s also a good way to meet other people at Brandywine because we all work in different offices.”

Rosson said it’s an enjoyable event and he likes volunteering. As for Kurrus, she said, “I love seeing the kids so happy, and what’s better than shopping? It sounded like fun to help them shop for their siblings, and it teaches them the giving vs. just the receiving.”

Three of the Alaalla siblings attended the party. Babiker, 10, a Deer Park fifth-grader, selected a Barbie doll in a purple car for his 7-year-old sister. “I like being able to bring her a present,” he said. At separate times from him, sisters Lojain, 5, and Fatima, 11, did their shopping. A Deer Park sixth-grader, Fatima enjoyed picking out a bath-products set for her 14-year-old sister.

Also shopping was Isaiah Word, 12, a seventh-grader at Stone Middle. He chose a watch for his brother, 8, and decided on a green bow to go with the wrapping paper. Said Isaiah: “I liked the food and picking out his present.”

Brandywine’s Debbi Vigna joked that she was a “personal shopper,” helping the children select their gifts. “They know what they want, right away,” she said. “They see it and that’s it.”

Delighted to participate, Vigna said, “I think it’s important that everyone gives back. This time of year, not everyone gets presents, so this event lets children experience the joy of giving – which is what it’s all about. And I think it’s just amazing that FACETS does things like this every day.”