The Bryan County Children’s Fund made Christmas brighter for 450 children from 250 families in 2014. None of it would have been possible without those who pitched in to help in one form or another.
“This program wouldn’t exist without community members,” Bryan County Family Connection Director Wendy Sims said. “There are so many people to thank that I know, the whole list is like three columns long.”
And all are important, said Sims, who has been involved in the BCCF since 2003 and running it since 2008. That includes those who she has on her list, and others she hasn’t got on her list.
“There are so many people out there who help, and I’ll probably never know their names, though I’d like too” Sims said. “Whether they take an angel off a tree, or bring a toy to school, I’ll never know who they all are. But regardless of what or how they gave, they helped change a child’s life at Christmas, and they need to know that.”
Sims knows of what she speaks, since she’s hands on with the program. When it comes to the BCCF, Sims is all in. She runs the program by basically being the program. Sims shops for the gifts based on wish lists provided by the kids or the family. She wraps gifts, she delivers gifts. Tens of thousands of them over the years, not that anyone’s kept count.
“Honestly, this consumes my life from Thanksgiving to Christmas every year, right up to about Dec. 20 after we’ve finished delivering gifts,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, it’s organized chaos, but it’s very, very rewarding.”
And perhaps especially so since Sims is probably what one might call a “Christmas nut.” In a nice way.
“I love Christmas,” she said. “It’s such a magical time of year. So magical. Anything to do with Christmas, I love it.””
Still, Christmas gifts provided by BCCF don’t magically appear under a child’s tree. The majority are purchased through funds raised by the annual Santa Scramble golf tournaments, a production of the Good Ol’ Boys. In 2014, the group raised $18,000 – making it by far the biggest single fundraiser for the program. In 15 years of knocking golf balls around golf courses such as Sterling Links, the John Stevens Good Ol’ Boys Santa Scramble has likely raised more than $100,000 for the BCCF.
Sims is thankful.
“You think back to the guys who played golf back in November,” Sims said. “They’re just coming out to play golf and have a good time, so they’re probably not thinking about the BCCF while they’re doing it, but if they hadn’t played in a golf tournament, we wouldn’t have the funds to buy gifts. Their impact is really large, even though they may not think of it that way at the time.”
And if Sims is the driving force behind BCCF, she’s got help in getting things done. Pembroke Advanced Communications, which donates employees, space and a vehicle to allow the BCCF to work its annual mission to spread Christmas cheer to less fortunate kids.
“They’re just so very dedicated to this,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without them. Or we could, but it wouldn’t be near as organized or efficient.”
Bryan County Schools also helps, on both ends of the spectrum. School counselors help BCCF identify kids in need, and in 2014 schools such as Bryan County Elementary, Bryan County Middle, Richmond Hill Primary and Richmond Hill Elementary either adopt kids to buy gifts for or do toy drives to help add to the BCCF’s total.
A number of churches also take part. And, though the BCCF has long been the county’s single largest effort to provide Christmas gifts to less fortunate kids, and perhaps the only one that seeks to give children what they ask for – “Frozen” items were big this year, Sims said -- there are still those in the community who don’t know about the program.
But’s that changing.
“There are a lot of new people who helped this year,” Sims said. “New churches took part, so word is spreading. I credit some of that to Family Promise (A faith-based group which aims to help homeless families in Bryan County), because it has such a great network of Faith-based organizations coming together.”
And at the end of the day, it’s about the kids. Sims keeps her eye on that. Through her role as head of Bryan County Family Connection, she knows many of the families who need help, whether it’s through a food bank or through other sources.
So, Sims sees the need, and that it exists on both ends of the county and even went up in South Bryan in 2014. What’s more, the number of children receiving presents might’ve been larger in 2014, but the BCFC has a rule that families who apply for and receive gifts for three years running take a year off.
It’s aimed at making sure families don’t take advantage of the program, though some do. But Sims said even when that happens, it isn’t the fault of the children who get the gifts. And most families are grateful and don’t look to take advantage of the program, she said.
Many also give back when they can.
“I don’t enjoy seeing the need, but I love to see the giving end of it and I’m grateful when we can help those folks out,” Sims said. “And what’s really so rewarding is when families who have been in the kind of situation where they received can turn around and be on the giving end.”