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VOL. 126 | NO. 245 | Friday, December 16, 2011

Cos., Churches Deliver Christmas Cheer to Perea

By Aisling Maki

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Perched on a stool and wearing a blue-and-gray Memphis Tigers Santa hat, one-man-band Jeff Hulett led a group of preschoolers in singing “Feliz Navidad” Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Perea Preschool, located inside Klondike Elementary School in North Memphis.

Children from Karen Farmer and Claudia Lakey’s class open Christmas presents given by Smith & Nephew, which is a sponsor of two classes at Perea Preschool.
(Photo: Ed Bianchi)

Amid Christmas trees and colorful construction-paper candy canes and gingerbread men, the 3- and 4-year-olds delighted in dancing and clapping and waving handheld jingle bells as Hulett – a communications coordinator for the Church Health Center – played Christmas tunes on guitar, cymbal and kazoo.

It was part of the annual Christmas celebration and Adopters’ Day at Perea Preschool, a ministry of the Church Health Center, the faith-based Memphis nonprofit best known for providing health care for the working uninsured.

The preschool, now in its 12th year, provides a comprehensive, Christian-based education for young children who mostly reside in the surrounding neighborhood. Eighty-six percent come from families that live below the federal poverty level and 73 percent come from single-parent households.

Perea reaches beyond the walls of the school, conducting home visits and requiring parents to volunteer in the classroom and attend meetings and parenting classes. The school provides meals and babysitting to alleviate attendance barriers.

“We go further in our ministry beyond just resource needs to the structure of the family, the healthiness of the family, how we raise our children, what we say to our children and how we treat them,” said Perea Preschool principal Alicia Norman.

Crystal Landford, the mother of two children enrolled in the two-year program and another child who graduated from the school, said school staffers are truly like family to her.

“I wish all schools could have this kind of structure,” Landford said. “I love them.”

Perea Preschool is named for the region in the Jordan River Valley where it’s believed Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Wednesday’s Adopters’ Day included visits from a number of local churches who had adopted classrooms to bring Christmas to children who might not otherwise receive seasonal gifts or goodies.

“We have requests from families past and present for Christmas assistance,” Norman said. “It’s truly an answered prayer for many families in this community. It is a special time and it’s a special type of giving. So we also try to instill in our families teaching them to give. But it’s a time where little 3- and 4-year-olds only understand receiving. So we try to send a balanced message of giving and receiving, asking our parents to give of their time and be participants and supporters of Perea Preschool.”

First Baptist Church-Broad, Bartlett United Methodist Church, Germantown Presbyterian Church and Emmanuel United Methodist Church each adopted one or two classrooms, and Temple Israel adopted the entire school.

Lynn Thompson, youth director at Bartlett United Methodist Church, has volunteered at the school since its inception. Her congregation donated items that included educational games and books.

“The children are a part of my own personal Christmas tradition, and I just love them dearly,” said an emotional Thompson after a holiday sing-along ended in a massive group hug from all the children in her adopted class. “And the teachers or so inspired and have such a love for Christ. It just makes my Christmas.”

Representatives from local businesses also came bearing gifts. Local car dealership owner Jim Keras and his wife, Penny, who serve as volunteer story-time readers at the school, delivered gifts Wednesday, as did employees from Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc. and Smith & Nephew.

“It’s really rewarding,” said Smith & Nephew employee Lisa Tubbs, who has participated in Adopters’ Day for the past three years. Along with several colleagues, she delivered school uniforms, toys, goody bags and snacks to the children, all paid for with donations collected from employees.

“The old saying is true – that it’s better to give than to receive – because you get to see the joy on these kids’ faces, and that makes it all worthwhile,” Tubbs said.

Some Perea Preschool families deemed as critical in regards to their financial ability also received Christmas gifts of food and clothing at their homes, thanks to the generosity of adopters, including the Church Health Center.

“A lot of families are not fortunate due to layoffs and other problems,” Landford said. “They don’t want their kids to wake up on Christmas Day and have nothing. For the adoptees to put aside everything going on in their lives to make sure the kids have something, they’ve done a wonderful job today and all throughout the year.”

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